Why Not Be Good At It?

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“We have to do relationships everyday. So…why not be good at it?” -Jill Kern


Over the summer, my home church (Summit) hosted a women’s series called “For Her”. I cannot say enough amazing things about how much I love this series every summer. I could definitely write a blog post about each talk and how it has impacted my life…and maybe one day I will. But, for now, I just really have it laid on my heart to share and remind myself about the talk that one woman in particular shared.

Jill Kern is one of the most intentional, genuine, caring, detailed, and Godly women at my church. She runs Base Camp, which is our church nursery. But, her job is so much more than making sure volunteers show up on Sundays or babies get fed and changed. Her intentional planning and heart for children’s ministry is something that, as a mama, I value more than almost anything else at our church.

The focus of Jill’s talk was “Moments”. The overlying message was how to make the most of our moments with the people God has placed in our lives. She broke down our relationships into three different groups of people: Intersection People, Pathway People, and Front Porch People and spoke to how we can become better with our interactions with these people so that we can make the most of our time with them.

Now, I want to make sure I say this from the get-go, that the majority of what I write to you today is going to be Jill’s words and not my own. I fiercely jotted down as much wisdom from Jill’s lips as I could to remind myself of just how important the interactions and intentionality in our relationships are. So, again, this is not my wisdom, but hers–with a few of my own thoughts and ideas scattered throughout.

I hope this speaks to your heart today and challenges you to be good at relationships, too.

We have to do relationships everyday,…so why not be good at it?

Focus on the person and not the situation.

(These two ideas will be the thoughts we continually come back to.)


Intersection People: These are the people we intersect with everyday at stores, restaurants, school, family, friends, etc.

  • Talk first and talk positive.
    • Essentially, be the initiator, rather than waiting for others to initiate relationship with you. You can set the tone for an interaction, so set the tone by being positive.
      • “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” -Colossians 3:12
  • Be courteous and give compliments.
  • Thank someone for something you think they should already be doing without any thanks.
    • This one is huge, because it takes EFFORT on your part. We all assume that people should do their job and do it well or correctly. But how often do we give recognition to those people for doing a great job? How often do you stop a server to give an extra thanks at a restaurant? How often do you thank your child’s teacher for loving your child and teaching them every single day? How often do you thank your mailman or the cashier at Target, or the pastor of your church?
    • Sometimes, the biggest thing you can do for someone is SEE them, RECOGNIZE them, and let them know that what they do matters, even when they don’t feel like it does.

Pathway People: These people journey with us for a certain amount of time.

**Keep doing the previous things but add to it.**

  • Ask questions–become good at this.
    • This is something that I am working on right now in my own life. I often feel like a conversational dummy. As extroverted as I tend to be at times, I am also incredibly introverted and doubt myself around others often. I am much more comfortable when someone else is driving the conversation. It feels safer and less intimidating. But man, oh man…how often I miss out on opportunities to learn more about others or deepen relationship with them because I’ve held back the question I really want to ask.
    • Do you have any go-to conversation starters or questions that help foster community and relationship? If so, please share in the comments below!
  • Listen (not waiting to respond)–do this with everyone but listen to the part that’s about them. If someone is sharing an opinion or view that’s not like yours, this is all the more time to listen and ask questions.
  • Encourage someone as long as you have breath in your lungs to encourage them. Don’t wait for someone else to do that. Be that someone.
    • Great golly gosh…this one speaks so deeply to me. My primary love language is words of affirmation. I know how life-giving words can be. I know that on my worst of days that if even just one person speaks encouragement to me…oh, how it changes my whole spirit.
    • Ya’ll I know this one can be hard. Encouragement takes effort and intentionality. But when you think about the times that someone has reached out to you, spoken life into you, saw you when nobody else did…didn’t it make a world of a difference? What would have happened if they didn’t? Someone has to make the first move. Someone has to speak life and truth. So…why not let that someone be you?
  • Spend time. Relationships are an investment.
    • New mamas, I see you. Busy college student, I see you. Single mom, I see you. Overworked teacher, I see you. Girl, I see YOU. We all have “stuff” that is going to take up our time. A lot of it is even important stuff. But the “stuff” will always be there. Relationships are so important. Make the time for the people that matter. Find the people that understand that you’re busy and that can relate because they’re busy too, BUT that seek out relationship with you anyway.
  • Believe the best. Don’t assume the worst.
  • Encourage your friends with that too ^
  • Talk about Jesus. Encourage your friends to read the Bible and encourage them to be the person that God created them to be.
    • I’m so very thankful that in this season of life, God has gifted me with some incredible women that I get to learn about Jesus with and do life with. My ‘Women of Wednesday’ ladies…ya’ll are the reason my faith is as strong as it is right now. Thank you for sharpening me and holding me accountable. Life with you is so full and rich because you reflect Jesus to me.

Front Porch PeopleThese people will be at your funeral or you will be at theirs. This is the deepest level relationship.

**Again, keep doing the previous things but add to it.**

  • Reassurance–you tell them you’re not going anywhere. Commitment and longevity is key.
    • Try your best in times of frustration to never show your kids that they are too much to handle.
      • Your kids shouldn’t have to “earn” your love or your respect. When you love them the way Jesus calls us to love one another, there is no merit required. They should know that no matter what they do, they can’t push you away or make you love them less. Every kid needs a champion in their corner that roots them on and loves them.
  • Forgiveness–we will be hurt and we will hurt. Say sorry as much as needed. Forgive as often as you need to forgive. We forgive because God forgave us first.

So, I don’t know about you…but this outlook on relationships has been a huge heart and mind shift for me. There are so many things that I’m still working on and I am by no means an expert at relationships. But, using these notes from Jill, I have a pretty great outline for where I’m headed. God did not intend for us to be isolated or lonely people. He created fellowship and community because He knew that we need each other. So…why not be good at loving each other? Why not be intentional? Why not make the most of the time we have with the people beside us while we’ve got them?

Which areas are you working on? I’d love to hear how you plan to be intentional with your relationships.

Cultivating Our Marriage

 

“Tending is about continued progress, not perfection.”

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I don’t know about you…but I often find myself going through the motions. Our little family gets in a rhythm with our routine and it’s quite easy for me to just keep doing the next thing because it’s “what I’m supposed to do” or I’m just idly checking things off of my to-do list. Although on the surface it may seem like everything is great and growing fruitfully…there are definitely dry seasons and seasons where there is little growth truly happening. 

I recently started reading this incredible book called Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life by Lara Casey. I’ve only been reading it in my free time for the last week, but I’m over halfway done and it has been life-changing. She writes about what a cultivated life looks like and challenges believers to evaluate areas of their lives that need to be tended to more intentionally. She uses really relatable analogies and metaphors of her garden and how it relates to growing our faith and our relationships. I feel kindred with her as a fellow wife and mama that is seeking to tend to the little people in my life, all while also trying to keep up with a house, friends and have a full-time job.

In chapter 7, she challenges you to think about the things that matter most. She says that if it matters, make a “tending list” and tend to those things purposefully. Cultivating is a choice. It sounds so silly to have to think about what matters most or to write it out to remind yourself. But for me, at least, I found great excitement, focus, challenge, and purpose in making my tending list. There are a lot of good things in my life. There are a lot of important things, too. But, not everything demands my everyday or every hour attention. I easily get distracted with other tasks, with my phone, and by the end of the day, I’ve poured so much of myself into my job, my friends, my kids, my household, and my phone, that I’ve forgotten about one of the most important relationships God has given me–my husband.

I’m not a bad wife and my husband is not a bad husband.  But if we are honest? We spend a lot of time tending to other things and co-habitating instead of cultivating our marriage and putting it as a priority. We often get so caught up in kissing boo-boos, cooking dinner, playing trains, giving baths, putting babies to bed, grading papers, writing lesson plans, watching Netflix, and then spend maybe 5-10 minutes talking about things that actually matter.

It’s not that we don’t care.

It’s not that we don’t love each other deeply.

It’s not even that we even realize it majority of the time.

But, life is so busy in this season we are in. Our small kids and our jobs as teachers is exhausting. The same could be said about most seasons we are in though. I’ve found that it’s when you’re in the thick of it–in the middle of the hard–when it’s easiest to lose sight of or make time because you’re just so plum tired and you develop a survivor mindset. Anyone else?? Man, I’m so thankful for the grace my husband shows me daily. I’m even more thankful for God’s grace.

Above all else, guard your heart,

for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:23

So, last night, I was scrolling through Instagram and I saw a post by one of my favorite Christian authors, Jess Connolly. She posted about her friend that’s an 8 on the Enneagram test. At first I was so lost because I had no idea what an Enneagram test was. In short, it’s a personality test. So, I was curious as to what I was and took a free test online to find out. It turns out I’m a 2 (the helper), a 6 (the loyalist), and a 3 (the achiever). My jaw literally hit the floor as I read the descriptions about “How to get along with me”, “In intimate relationships”, “What I like about being a ____” and “What’s hard about being a ____”. It was like I finally had a card I could hold up to show people, “Hey, this is me, this is what’s great about me, and this is what’s really hard, so, please love me anyway!”

I shared my results with Dylan immediately. He is my most intimate relationship and while nothing shocked him in my results, it really helped him understand deeper how he could be more intentional at cultivating a relationship with me.

Some of the things to note about a type 2, 3, and 6 person: Reassure me that I am interesting to you. Reassure me often that you love me. If we are in an intimate relationship, tell me I’m attractive and that you’re glad to be seen with me. I have low self-esteem. I feel drained from overdoing for others. I don’t do a lot of things for myself for fear of being selfish. I get upset when others don’t tune into me as much as I tune into them. Listen to me carefully. Don’t judge me for my anxiety. Gently push me toward new experiences.

That is just a few.

I made Dylan take the test too. We sat and talked for almost an hour about our results and how it’s easy to focus on the negatives of our personalities, but that there is so much beauty and power in the things that we like about our personalities. We are so different because we make up for and fill in the gaps where the other struggles or lacks. Marriage is beautiful and messy. When two become one, big things can grow.

In my last post, I opened up about how hard this season of life has been. Our little family seems to constantly be sick or broken in some way. We spend most Sundays sleeping, resting, laying low, and keeping our germs to ourselves, instead of going to church or being out and about. This morning was the first time since Easter that we got up and got to church because everyone was well (5 minutes early, might I add)! When we got home, we ate lunch and miraculously, both kids went down for naps at the same time (a rare occurrence lately). During nap time, Dylan invited me to come outside with him so that we could replant our garden…together. He took what we had talked about last night and put it into action..inviting me into his world, his element, his domain, because he knew it would mean a lot to me. He didn’t need my help. I probably just slowed him down asking all of my questions and making him take the time to teach me about what each plant needed. But you know what? He didn’t mind at all. He was inviting me into something bigger than just planting mint, basil, beans, and tomatoes…he was inviting me into deeper relationship and joy with him.

Side note: Dylan loves to garden. He spent almost six months a few years ago before we got engaged up in Woodstock, NY living with his Uncle Matt and Aunt Kim on their farm. He learned so much about how to grow all kinds of things. He learned patience, endurance, the potential of growth that can come from trusting to plant small things. He was saving for an engagement ring, but he was learning practical skills and life lessons in the process. A lot of the things he learned in that season have made him the incredible, patient, loving, tender husband that he is today.

After hearing me gush all week about this book I’m reading, sharing the things I’m learning about how to tend to our family better, it spurred him on to restart our garden. Some of the things we planted today were already sprouted, baby, or slightly mature plants. Others are seeds that have not even begun to grow yet. As I look at our little garden in our backyard from the couch where I sit typing this post, my heart is so full and happy.

This garden is like my marriage with Dylan. Just like the established plants in our garden, our relationship has been growing for some time now. There is fruit and fullness from the almost nine years that we have been growing our relationship. Like the baby plants in our garden, we are tending to real babies in our home. They need lots of care to make sure they flourish and thrive. We don’t want to over-water them or neglect them. We want to give them all the good things they need, but also take the time to stand back and trust that God is growing them in the roots that we cannot see from the surface. Likewise, with the new seeds we planted today, I’m encouraged and hopeful for the new things God is trusting us with. Things we don’t even really know about yet or understand what they will grow into.

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for;

it is the evidence of things we cannot see.

Hebrews 11:1

Our garden does not have to be perfect. Our garden will go through seasons of dryness and neglect, perhaps becoming too saturated or overgrown. But it will also see many seasons of growth, life, and beautiful fruit. It’s about the continued progress. It’s about trusting that the Lord is at work in the dirt. In the middle of the messy and muddy parts. He is making sure that our faith in these plants grow roots that spread deep and wide.

My tending list is simple, yet profound for me:

  • My marriage with Dylan
  • Raising Blake & Nora
  • Saturating my day in prayer all day long
  • Reading God’s Word daily

If I do these things…I trust that everything else is going to fall into place. I’m going to focus on taking small steps forward, making little-by-little progress. I want to slowly cut away the weeds that distract me and try to take root in my life, distracting me from the things that are the most important.

It’s okay to grow slowly. All good things do.

What’s on your tending list? How are you working towards cultivating a life that matters?

Today, we took small steps towards cultivating our marriage deeper. We made time for each other, did an activity together, laughed and felt great joy from being alone and intentional with each other.

A Season of Hard

Do you ever go through seasons where you just feel like nothing is going to get better? You of course, know in your head that it will…but doubts creep in and emotions win and you are left constantly feeling like you’re just barely treading water, on the verge of death or great defeat.

I am in one of those seasons.

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I try not to be a whiner. I try so hard to be positive or at least appear on the outside like I have myself pulled together. I put on a brave, only somewhat sincere smile on my face and tell others that “I’m fine. It’s just a season.” But if I am truly honest…I’m not fine. Bear with me as I know this will be a long post. It’s just that I’ve been internalizing so much of this for months and I feel like if I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) then maybe it will help be therapeutic for me. Perhaps you’re in a similar season or a similar circumstance. Maybe we can encourage one another.

Ever since Christmas, my little family has not been able to kick sickness to the curb. My husband and I, as well as our kids have passed sore throats, double ear infections, double eye infections, several colds, two bouts of the flu, and two stomach viruses around. Throw in a crazy spider bite that turned infectious as well as a teething baby…and you get a tiny glimpse into the past few months.

But really…this season (for me personally) of feeling weak, tired, sick, and like I’m slowly just dying on the inside, began about eight months ago. I’ve been dealing with an inward battle with my health. I’ve been really sick and I have many debilitating days where I honestly just struggle to even get out of bed. But as every mother knows, you don’t get sick days or days off–especially when it has been as frequent as it’s been these past eight months.

In August of 2017, I started experiencing really uncomfortable and inconvenient symptoms. I constantly felt nauseous and was frequently running to use the restroom. I took about five pregnancy tests because I felt like I had to have accidentally gotten pregnant somehow. Why else would I be feeling so sick all the time? But every time I took a test, it was always negative (praise Jesus, because ya’ll, I am NOT ready for a third yet!). I started rapidly losing weight. I literally worked my booty off for a year after Blake was born to get down to a size 8, and now, after about half that time, I’m back down to a size 8 again. It’s just not exactly the way I would’ve liked to get there. I’ve had more times than I can count that I’ve laid in bed crying, feeling so sick and helpless. I lie there feeling so guilty and broken while I hear my husband in the other room taking care of our kids, making dinner and being super dad while I slowly just waste away, not helping our household at all. He is truly the hero in my home. I would not survive this season (or any season) without him.

So, like any busy, full-time working mom and wife, I ignored it. I continued to just “deal with it” and feel absolutely miserable for about five months before my husband finally convinced me to go to the doctor.

I don’t hate the doctor. I’m not against going to the doctor. It’s just not fun and it’s just not convenient in my already busy schedule. But, when your dear husband (who hasn’t been to the doctor himself since the summer of 2010 mind you) worriedly urges you and then begs you to please take care of yourself and go to the dang doctor…you listen.

Flash-forward to December of 2017…I finally went to my primary care doctor. She told me it sounded like I just had IBS, but to be on the safe side, she ordered some blood tests, a CT Scan, and referred me to a gastroenterologist for follow-up. The CT came back clear and my blood work revealed some idiosyncrasies…but nothing too crazy. I met with my GI (who is awesome by the way) right before Christmas. He listened to me as I described what I’ve been experiencing and indulged me as I asked a million and one questions, before thoughtfully answering each one. His initial thought was that I was experiencing the early symptoms and stages of Ulcerative Colitis, so he ordered for me to have a colonoscopy to verify. He wanted me to stop eating dairy and red meat and if possible, go gluten free and then grain free. So, over spring break (the day before my 27th birthday) I had a colonoscopy. It wasn’t terrible…but I’m definitely relieved I won’t need to have another one for a long time.

During my colonoscopy, my GI took several biopsies. He wanted to see if I had UC, he checked for parasites, and he checked for bacterias like H Pylori and SIBO. When I got my results two weeks later…they all came back within “normal range”. Yet, nothing about what I’ve been feeling or experiencing has been “normal”.

So, once again, I met with my GI to discuss what the heck else this could be. He has now ordered an ultrasound of my gallbladder to check for stones and inflammation that may not have shown up on my CT, and a stool test to check for another bacteria called Giardia.

During this season, I’ve tried to remind myself to keep trusting in God’s plan. A song came on my Elevation Worship Pandora station. The words were literally like someone had looked deeply into my heart at all of the pain and frustration I’ve been facing and then put it into poetic words that reflected exactly what I’ve been praying over these long months.

I know if You wanted to You could wave Your hand
Spare me this heartache, and change Your plan
And I know any second You could take my pain away
But even if You don’t, I pray

Help me want the Healer
More than the healing
Help me want the Savior
More than the saving
Help me want the Giver
More than the giving
Oh help me want You Jesus
More than anything

You know more than anyone that my flesh is weak
And You know I’d give anything for a remedy
And I’ll ask a thousand more times to set me free today
Oh but even if You don’t, I pray

Help me want the Healer
More than the healing
Help me want the Saviour
More than the saving
Help me want the Giver
More than the giving
Oh help me want You Jesus
More than anything

When I’m desperate and my heart’s overcome
All that I need, You’ve already done
When I’m desperate and my heart’s overcome
All that I need, You’ve already done
Oh Jesus
Help me want You more, than anything

-Natalie Grant More Than Anything

I mean…goosebumps. Every. Time. Tears…every time.

I’m so tired of being sick.

I’m so frustrated at not having answers.

I don’t want anything to be wrong with me.

But, I do want answers. If I had answers as to what this is, then maybe we could move forward with a plan to treat it. All of this guessing and eliminating, testing and retesting is just hard.

I want to feel better and I want to feel like I’m not constantly broken all the time. I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling broken physically, it usually coincides with me feeling broken emotionally and mentally as well. Everything starts to ware on you and your whole being just seems to break down.

Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary trouble are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.      -2 Corinthians 4:16-19

I’m trying really hard to remain positive, friends. But it is hard.

Like, really hard.

I’m trying to take each day as it comes. Trusting that the Lord is good and that His plan is perfect…even when I just don’t feel like that’s true. I’m taking each day that I don’t have a flare up of these horrible symptoms as a day of victory and I’m trying really hard not to see my days of sickness as days of great defeat. I’m also just really longing for the day foreshadowed when

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. -Revelation 21:4

This world is so broken and full of things that seem unfair and devastating. But, because of Christ, we have hope. I know that my reality, my suffering, and my eternity does not end with pain. Because of Jesus and His love for us, we have the hope and promises that we will dance, rejoice, and be completely whole again in Heaven. Oh what a sweet, sweet day that will be.

But until that day…would you pray for me?

Elevate

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Word of the year: elevate

Elevate–to move or raise to a higher place or position; to lift up.

The past couple of years, I jumped on the “word of the year” bandwagon. I liked the idea of choosing a word that could encompass many of the things I hoped to work on during the year without feeling the pressure that seemed to follow specifically listing out “goals” or “resolutions”.

Last year, I chose the word savor because at the beginning of the year, I was hoping to savor the last few months we would spend as a family of three before Nora was born. I then wanted to savor the moments of her being a newborn because that was something I truly struggled with after having Blake. I wanted to savor sweet, tender, everyday moments. I also wanted to savor the big, obvious moments that come every year through holidays, birthdays, and vacations. I wasn’t always perfect at savoring every single moment…but I don’t think that was ever the goal. I wanted to be more intentional at recognizing big and small moments that were worth savoring, and I did.

This year, I’ve chosen the word elevate.

I want to focus on building up the people in my life and myself better. Yes, it’s something I already try to do…but I want to do it better. God has called me to be the cheerleader in many areas of my life. First and foremost, I am the helpmate to my amazing husband, Dylan. I’m so thankful because God has truly blessed our marriage and helped us to get through many hard times. It’s not always easy to have two kids under the age of three. If we want alone time together, our options are basically nap time and bedtime or pay a babysitter. I’ll admit I’m not always the best at putting Dylan first. At the end of a long day teaching, cooking, cleaning up toys, and dealing with whiny children, I tend to collapse after the kids’ bedtime. I want to be selfish and just take a long, hot shower and go to bed. I don’t want to be touched, I don’t even really want to talk sometimes. I want to be unneeded. But God hasn’t called me to be a vegetable after my kids go to bed. I have a hard-working husband that needs to be elevated through conversation, physical touch, uplifting words, and love. If I’m honest, I need all of those things too.

Second, I have two little ones that look to me to understand the world around them. My husband and I are the two biggest influencers in their life (for now at least) and we have to make it count. When my kids look to me, I want them to see someone who is constantly lifting them up and pushing them forward. The world is already negative enough. In my home, I want them to always know that they are loved, safe, important, and a child of God. Yes, there is a time for discipline, and I’m human, so I know there will be times when I lose my temper, yell at them, or don’t set the best example for them. However, my goal is to elevate them. I want to lift them so high that they feel confident and ready to handle whatever the world throws at them. I want them to look at their mommy and see her walking with the Lord, speaking sweet words to others and herself, and always putting others first.

Third, I want to elevate the women (and the two men) that I work with at my job. This school year has been a bit different than in years past. We have a new assistant principal, and she is incredible. Her first priority is for her staff to feel supported, encouraged, and empowered to do the job set before us. She has been a constant source of love and support to me from the first day I met her. She pops in my classroom at least three mornings a week to tell me that I am “awesome blossom” and to wish me a wonderful day. She asks if I need anything and truly wants to know so that she can do something about it if I do. My second grade team is also amazing. It’s the first year that I truly feel like I’m on a team that gets along, works well together, and aims to be the best. The ladies on my team have had to work at it. We’ve had to be vulnerable and honest–even when it’s been hard–but the outcome has been that we are close, connected, and unstoppable. I want to continue to and even bump up my elevation of them. I want to find ways to go out of my way to encourage them and uplift them.

Side note: Did you know that teaching is a hard profession? Hug a teacher the next time you see one and tell them that what they do matters and that they are stinkin’ awesome. I guarantee that they probably haven’t heard someone say that to them that day. It will, without a doubt, put a smile on their face and help them to press on to teach another day.

Fourth, I want to elevate my students. Again, these are all things I already do–but I want to do them more intentionally and do them more! Just like my own children need to be told that they matter and that they’re loved and important, so do my students. I can’t guarantee that they hear words of affirmation and encouragement at home. But, for the time that I’m blessed to pour into them during the day, I sure as heck want to make sure they know it from me. Every day. No exceptions.

Fifth, I want to elevate everyone around me. Again, the world is negative enough as it is. People are not always kind, friendly, thoughtful, or uplifting. With the amount of shootings, suicides, wars, and bullying today…I want to be an example of positivity. I want everyone I come in contact with to know that I see worth and value in them, even when the world is shouting the opposite at them.

Finally, I want to elevate myself. Negative self-talk is a big thing I struggle with. I am my own worst critic. I see my faults and failures before I recognize anything good. Anyone else? But again, in a world full of negativity, I can’t always rely on those around me to elevate me. Sometimes it has to start within me. Apart from choosing this word for the year, Dylan and I each decided to challenge ourselves to read at least one book a month this year. I’ve already picked the first four I will read and I’m super excited about them. My hope is that through reading these books (and reading my Bible, praying, going to church, etc), I will continue to open my eyes to the beautiful way God has created me and that through those eyes, I can pour into others and uplift them as well.

Do you have a word of the year? Do you make goals and resolutions for yourself? I think those things are great and we should always try to keep challenging ourselves to be better. But, I also think there is this tremendous amount of pressure to “fix” ourselves with each new year and I don’t think that’s what God intends for us. He sees us as broken, but beautiful. He wants us to draw near to Him and through that continued closeness with Him, we start to transform and change. The closer I draw to my Father, the more I feel elevated and I want others to feel that way too.

So…lookout 2018. You’re about to get ELEVATED!

Jesse Tree Advent {Tradition}

Last week I posted about a new tradition that our little family started this year. However, I didn’t get into the specifics too deeply because there was so much I wanted to share and I knew it would take a whole separate post to share it all.

If you missed my last post, no worries! I’ll start from the beginning!

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Our Jesse Tree! We had two trees this year–our regular tree with family ornaments and crafts the kids have made, and our Jesse tree. Don’t mind the lights that went out…I literally waited one day too long to take this photo.

Dylan and I decided that this year, we would start a new tradition for Advent. It’s one that I had heard about years ago, but wanted to wait to begin when I had children of my own. I wish I hadn’t waited so long because this tradition doesn’t require you to have children (although, that has made it fun!) and it certainly doesn’t take a huge chunk out of your day. It’s called the Jesse Tree.

At it’s simplest, I would say it’s a special way to tell the Redemption story, beginning with Creation and walking through the Bible all the way to the birth of Christ at Christmas. It illuminates how the Bible from the very beginning, directs us to Jesus.

The idea began in Isaiah 11:1

“A shoot will spring forth from the stump of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots will bear fruit.”

You read a verse each day during the Advent season and talk about the story it came from, say a prayer, and there’s a corresponding ornament that goes with it. I bought the book The Jesse Tree Advent – Devotions for Children and Adults to prepare for the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas off of Amazon because it gives you everything you need to facilitate the discussion with your family! They use some KJV language, but you can easily pull up another translation that you prefer instead if that’s more of your style.

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I bought the devotion on Amazon for like $15 and it was worth every penny!

So…where do these ornaments come from you may be thinking? On top of everything else I have going on in my busy holiday schedule I have to create 25 cute little ornaments??

Yes and no…

I decided that I wanted to include all of my friends and family in this tradition, because in my opinion, traditions are way more fun when you include the people you love! So, I hosted a Jesse Tree Ornament Exchange Party.

A what?!

A Jesse Tree Ornament Exchange Party! I texted all of my friends and family members that lived close by and I explained to them what this awesome tradition entails. I then invited them to join me in celebrating Advent in this way by helping me make some ornaments. The idea was to try to find 25 ladies (holy cow!) and have each one of them pick one of the days. They would then make 25 of that same ornament to bring to the exchange so that everyone would have that ornament and they, in turn, would collect the other 24 they needed from the other ladies at the party. At the end of the party, each lady would walk away with 25 awesome Jesse Tree Ornaments to use year after year with their families.

However, it’s kind of hard to find 25 ladies. Or maybe it was just hard for me! Regardless, I was unable to find 25 people to participate, but that didn’t stop me from still hosting this memorable event. Instead, each lady that committed to coming, chose multiple days instead of just one. But, instead of having to make 25 of each ornament, they only had to make 10 of each because there were 10 of us that came.

I gave everyone a month before we met up to do the exchange so that everyone had plenty of time to make or buy the ornaments that they selected. That’s the key here friends, TIME! If you host a Jesse Tree Party, make sure you start talking about it a few months in advance and give everyone plenty of time to scour Pinterest or chip away at them a little bit each weekend or during their kids’ nap time. It will definitely make it less daunting!

**Also, you do not HAVE to make your ornaments. There are TONS of printable ideas and resources on Pinterest that you can use if the whole arts and crafts scene isn’t your thing. I’m a 2nd grade teacher and I love using a glue gun, felt, and my Cricket any chance I can. To each her own. There is no wrong way to do it!

If you choose to buy the book I used (see above again) then here is the list of ornaments you would use along with the photos of the incredible, creative, beautiful ornaments my friends and I made. There are many different versions out there on the Internet, so just make sure you find one that correlates with the book you choose or find one that has all of the symbols and scriptures laid out so you know what to do each day!

 

Jesse Tree Symbols & Scriptures:

Day 1: globe/world/Earth (Genesis 1:1)

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Day 2: an apple & snake (Genesis 3:1-10;23)

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Day 3: an ark/rainbow (Genesis 6:5-8, 7:17-23, 9:16)

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Day 4: camel & tent (Genesis 12:1-7)

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Day 5: lamb (Genesis 22:1-13)

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Day 6: ladder (Genesis 28:10-17)

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Day 7: colorful coat (Genesis 37:3-36, 50:18-21)

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Day 8: tablet with ten numbers (Exodus 32:15-18, 20:1-20)

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Day 9: cluster of grapes (Numbers 13:1-2, 17-23, 27)

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Day 10: sheaf of wheat (Ruth 1:16, 2:5-17, 4:14)

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Day 11: slingshot (1 Samuel 16:1,13; 17:1-9, 40, 45-50)

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Day 12: scroll or bible (2 Kings 23:1-3)

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Day 13: stump with fresh shoot or green leaf (Isaiah 11:1-5)

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Day 14: lion & lamb (Isaiah 11:6-10)

(I made this one double-sided with the lion on one side and the lamb on the other. My son thought it was hilarious!)

Day 15: dove & crown (Isaiah 9:6-7)

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Day 16: lamb & shepherd’s staff (Isaiah 40:11)

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Day 17: cross (Isaiah 53, Luke 2:8-18)

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Day 18: heart with writing on it (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Acts 16:31)

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Day 19: Bethlehem town silhouette with star (Luke 2:4-7)

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Day 20: fiery furnace (Daniel 3:19-29, Jeremiah 1:8)

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Day 21: brick wall (Nehemiah 1:3, 2:18, 6:15, 16, Malachi 3:1, Revelation 22:20)

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Day 22: star (Matthew 2:1-12, Revelation 22:16)

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Day 23: candle/light (Luke 1:26-38, 2:32)

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Day 24: angel (Hebrews 1:14, Luke 2:8-14, Romans 6:23)

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Day 25: baby in a manger or nativity scene (Luke 2:1-10, John 3:16-17)

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Aren’t those ornaments incredible? My friends and family are pretty awesome, if I do say so myself! We had so much fun making them and then exchanging them. It was the perfect way to kick-off the Advent season. Our holiday season was pretty cram-packed full of fun and meaningful events. We were very busy and it wasn’t always easy to remember the reason for why we celebrate Christmas. But, having this daily time together where we could sit and read God’s Word, sing Christmas hymns, and pray together at the end of a busy day, was the most grounding and humbling part of each day for me. I hope you’ll consider starting this tradition with your family next year too, because I promise you, God will use your time and your efforts and make Himself known through that time.

My daughter is obviously too little to understand any of it this year, but Blake was at the sweetest age where it made the time so special (not every night!). He even started asking “Mommy, time for Blake to put ornament on tree now, peez?!” each night. He may not have grasped some of the deep, profound theology behind the stories we read and why they are so pivotal to the foundation of our faith…but I’m learning that this journey in raising Godly kiddos is a long-term, lifelong thing. If I truly believe that God is alive, present, powerful, and King of my life and my family’s life, I have to keep at it…even when it seems like it’s falling on deaf or distracted toddler ears.

I hope your holiday and Advent season were truly wonderful. I hope that you were able to find some quiet time during the hustle and bustle to huddle with your family and talk about Jesus and why He came down and made Himself as tiny as a baby for us. But if you didn’t…don’t worry! The wonderful thing about having a relationship with God is that even though Christmas is a great reminder of His coming, you can still spend every day living your life worshiping Him and making Him known to your family. You don’t have to wait until next year at Christmas to gather your family up for time in the word together. Isn’t that awesome!?

Does your family have a special tradition that you do during the holidays? I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

Advent {the coming}

When I was growing up, my family began the Christmas season by celebrating Advent. We had special candles that we would light after my dad read from our Advent book. He would let us take turns lighting the candles and reading excerpts from each chapter. We also had a vertical, red felt countdown with 25 candy canes tied by ribbons to signify the number of days left until Christmas morning. On Christmas Eve, we would put on our Christmas dresses, load up the minivan, and head to the Christmas Eve service at church. My favorite part of the service was at the end when we each got to hold a real, lit candle whilst singing O Holy Night or Silent Night. When the song ended and everyone blew out their candles, it always smelled like the smell you smell right before you get to eat birthday cake…a glorious smell for any child (or let’s be real, adults too!). Then, we would drive home, put on our Christmas jammies and eat way too many Christmas cookies while my dad read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. We would protest sleep for as long as we could, claiming that we were way too excited to fall asleep, even if we tried. I’m sure that many of you can relate to some of the traditions I just described.

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As an adult that is now married with children of my own, I have to say that this time of year gets me really excited. I remember how special my parents always made the holidays. They always tried to make sure that our family was together, that there was always good food, and that we never once forgot the reason for the season. I hope to evoke those same feelings in my children some day.

When Dylan and I were preparing to get married, we did premarital counseling–something I highly recommend any engaged couple should do! During one of our sessions, we were asked to discuss our family’s traditions–what we liked, what we didn’t like, what we hoped to do with our own future family, etc. I remember getting really excited, worked up, and a tad hostile having that conversation because I truly felt like my family had the important holidays pegged perfectly and there was no room for improvement. My future babies would follow suit and have a basically identical childhood as me, because I thought I turned out super great.

But, the funny thing about marriage and families is…there’s another family being joined to yours and you’re not just a one-sided party any longer. It’s now two adults with separate families, traditions, rituals, and backgrounds merging together.

If you truly know me…and know me well…you know that I don’t like change.

Even more so, I don’t like change when it’s going to disrupt something I’ve always done and I’m forced to compromise. The OCD, Type-A personality, selfish side of me turns a little queasy and panicky.

During this premarital counseling session, I had to shut up. After I gushed and gushed about my wonderful family traditions, our pastor had to cut me off and let Dylan have a turn. I was forced to be quiet and just listen. Many of the things he shared put my mind to ease because they were similar to mine. But, there were also many things he shared that were different…and I didn’t like that. Our pastor shared with me that just because Dylan or his family does something “different” from mine, doesn’t make it “wrong”. You may be sitting there shaking your head or thinking “duh…” But to me, it was profound. I’ve had to remind myself of that statement MANY times during our five years of marriage.

The conversation then turned from what each of our separate families did and we began to discuss what our new, little, Dylan and Audrey family traditions might look like. We began to dream, vision-cast, share, veto, and agree to revisit some things later. Over the past five years, we’ve had to split our time between families and it’s not always been easy since they live two hours apart. We’ve had to pick and choose our battles, but ultimately keep the perspective that family is the most important thing and everything else will eventually work itself out.

Now that we have two, sweet little kiddos, the holidays are even more exciting and exhausting. I’ve felt more pressure now that Blake is getting older to make sure that he doesn’t miss out on what’s most important. I’ve made lists and reminders in my phone, prayed endlessly, huddled with my husband, and been a little too hard on myself at times to try to make things perfect. Anyone else?? Man, the stress of the holidays can really put on the pressure!

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In light of all that we’ve discussed and began implementing in our little family over the past few years, we decided that this year, we would start a new tradition for Advent. It’s one that I had heard about years ago, but wanted to wait to begin when I had children of my own. Honestly, I wish I hadn’t waited so long! This tradition doesn’t require you to have children (although, that has made it fun!) and it certainly doesn’t take a huge chunk out of your day. It’s called the Jesse Tree. Have you heard of it?? Well, if you’re unfamiliar, it’s basically a special way to tell the Redemption story, beginning with Creation and walking through the Bible all the way to the birth of Christ at Christmas. It illuminates how the Bible from the very beginning, directs us to Jesus. You read a short devotional, say a prayer, and put a cute ornament on the tree.

[I will be doing a separate post about this tradition and how I got all 25 ornaments. So be on the lookout for that!]

Our time each day doing these ornaments and time of devotion to prepare our hearts for the coming of our baby King has looked considerably different depending on the day. Some days, you would find us all curled up on the couch, telling our kids the Bible story that went along with our ornament, praying together and singing sweet Christmas hymns. Other days…you would find us hurriedly putting the ornament on the tree and giving a brief version of the story as we rushed our kids off to bed at the end of a long day. Still other times, you may have found us yelling at our toddler to stop throwing the ornament across the room, sit down, and just listen for goodness sake! Does that make me a bad mom? I don’t think so. I think it makes me human and probably in good company with many of you. My oldest sister actually pointed me to a woman she follows on Instagram (@catherinesallison) as she shared her not so neat and tidy Advent experience and it gave such encouragement to my heart. She posted:

Parents: If you feel like your family advent reading times don’t exactly match the pretty pictures you see online…if your children aren’t pleading with you to “tell me more about the incarnation, mommy, won’t you please tell me more?”…if it all feels more like a circus and less like a sanctuary…SAME. One of my darling children looked us in the eyeballs tonight and said, “This is all so pointless. I know everything there is to know about Jesus and the Bible already. It’s all borrrrrring.” So. That’s fun. But you wanna know a tip from a non-expert and fellow struggler? Do it anyway. Because I’ve decided that if God’s Word is really alive + active + sharper than a double-edged sword- if this is something I’m ACTUALLY going to believe- then I have no choice but to believe it has the power to bust into THIS crazy and wreck some little hearts this Advent season. Including my own.

So, if your Advent season didn’t look like the neat and tidy picture of quiet children in jammies, clinging to your every word as you taught, explained, prayed, and sang…please know, you are in good company. There will be days and years where you feel like you’re missing the mark with it. But I keep reminding myself that I get to be like an Israelite mother to my children and use ornaments instead of stones to tell stories of all that God has done in our lives. I get the amazing privilege of telling Blake and Nora the meaning behind each handmade ornament we hang. I want them to hear the story of God’s faithfulness to His people and how that applies to our lives today. Whether my small children sit still and listen and soak in God’s Word or not, I know that this time is not wasted. God is still using this time to teach me and to fill me so that I can pour into them.

Intentionality

In the summer of 2015, I was struggling with postpartum depression. I had just had my first baby and to be quite honest, we had been through a lot. I thought I was prepared for all of the physical changes that would happen to my body after labor. But, until you go through it, you don’t really understand. I wasn’t prepared for all of the physical, mental, and emotional changes my body would endure because no one really talks about it. I don’t know if it’s because it’s unpleasant and people don’t want to gross others out, or maybe they think they are being dramatic, or quite possibly, maybe they believe the lie that they are the only one who must feel this way.

Social media often gives the impression that people are doing better than they actually are. New moms that seem to not be struggling because their pictures are perfectly lit with filters that take away any imperfections and the quote or caption that is so meticulously chosen so that any onlookers think to themselves, “Wow, she really has it together.” But in reality, the photo of her baby that was posted is probably the twentieth one she took because the baby kept rolling over or crying or slouching down in the chair, and she had to google the quote she used, because after getting little to no sleep, her brain is fried and original thoughts or creativity is nonexistent.

Umm…I’m that mom!

Half the time, I try to make everyone think I have my life together because the romance of the perfect pictures with the perfect quotes seem so much more ideal than the reality that I live in. My life is messy. No one wants to see the real us.

Ya’ll, that summer, I was depressed and my own husband didn’t even know it for a month. I wore quite the mask to hide it. I was scared that to admit that I was depressed would mean that I was ungrateful or that something was wrong with me. I had this beautiful, healthy, happy little baby boy, and all I could do was wait and pray for bedtime because it meant I could take a shower and cry in there without my husband knowing. What was wrong with me? Was I broken?

I felt like no one understood what I was going through, and so rather than talking about it and seeing if someone could relate, I held it all in. I never had thoughts of harming myself or harming my baby. I never felt like leaving and never coming back. But I was sad and I felt empty.

I don’t know about yours, but my husband is amazing. He never lets me off the hook. He looks at me and he sees me with eyes that don’t see stretch marks. He calls them my battle scars from growing and birthing the most beautiful boy. He says that they are my reminder that I am blessed to have grown such an important gift inside of me. He sees me with eyes that don’t see the extra weight I carry. When I look in the mirror and burst into tears because nothing fits me right and my face has gotten so round, and we are running 20 minutes late because I can’t find anything to wear, he puts his arms around me, wipes away my tears and tells me that I’m more beautiful today than the day he married me. He’s not always the perfect husband–he does have flaws–but he knows how to be intentional with me when it matters. He sees me with eyes that I can’t see with myself.

That summer in 2015, he helped pull me out of the deep, dark hole I thought I was going to be stuck in forever.

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That same summer, we made some new friends at church. The Connect Group we had started earlier that year had fallen apart due to job changes and people moving out of state, and probably the fact that we were the only ones that were going to have a baby. (That tends to scare newly married couples away sometimes.) One couple remained from our group though, and I’m so thankful for them. After Blake was born, the four of us saw it fit to try again to form a new group. Several couples joined and over the last two years, they have become like a second family to me. They have loved on my babies and loved on me. We have cried together, studied God’s Word together, enjoyed countless meals, cookies, Friendsgivings, and three new babies being born together.

I could gush all day about each one of those couples and tell you how much they mean to me and how they intentionally grow with me on a weekly basis. But most recently, one of the couples moved away and I feel like a huge piece of my family and of my heart was ripped away. Whitney and Ryan are two of THE most intentional people I’ve ever met in my life. No one has ever pursued my husband, my children, or myself more than them. I was looking through photos in my phone the other day and almost every picture I found of Whitney and Ryan on my phone is of them holding one or both of my children–reading to them, snuggling them, playing in their pool with them, or letting them climb all over them like a jungle gym. If I had to pick a picture of what intentionality looks like…well, I’d pick one of those.

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I recently finished reading a book that my friend Lindsey recommended to me called Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist. She had some amazing thoughts on friendship that when I read the words on the page, I had to stop and read them again out loud, and then I cried some ugly tears as I realized that my sweet friends Whitney and Ryan embodied those words in such a real way in my life. I realized that if I have any hope of having such a deep and meaningful friendship like I have with them with others, then I need to work on my own intentionality.

That’s what friendship looks like to me. Friendship is acting out God’s love for people in tangible ways. We were made to represent the love of God in each other’s lives, so that each person we walk through life with has a more profound sense of God’s love for them. Friendship is an opportunity to act on God’s behalf in the lives of the people that we’re close to, reminding each other who God is. When we do the hard, intimate work of friendship, we bring a little more of the divine into daily life. We get to remind one another about the bigger, more beautiful picture that we can’t always see from where we are…

True friendship is a sacred, important thing, and it happens when we drop down into that deeper level of who we are, when we cross over into the broken, fragile parts of ourselves. We have to give something up in order to get friendship like that. We have to give up our need to be perceived as perfect. We have to give up our ability to control what people think of us. We have to overcome the fear that when they see the depths of who we are, they’ll leave. But what we give up is nothing in comparison to what this kind of friendship gives to us. Friendship is about risk. Love is about risk. If we can control it and manage it and manufacture it, then it’s something else, but if it’s really love, really friendship, it’s a little scary around the edges…

…the closer you get to someone, the more that friendship gives you and the more force and power it has to make your life bigger and richer. –Shauna Niequist

Yes. Yes. So much yes. Over and over again, yes.

Isn’t that what we all want in life? We want to have deep and meaningful relationships with people that are going to see us at our worst and still want to have dinner with us on Saturday night. That see the ugliness of our heart, but they say, “Hey, let’s go have coffee and adult conversation because I know that’s what you need.” They see how tired you are and offer to watch your babies for a few hours because they know you need a break.

This is what I’m working on. I feel so blessed to have friends in my life that are intentional with me. But it goes both ways. I want people to think of me and know that I am actively seeking them out to do life with them. I want my life and the lives of my friends and family to be bigger and richer because we are in it together. I want my children to know that they are more important than my phone and that dinner time is not about sitting in front of the TV and instead about having meaningful conversations about the day.

What does intentionality look like to you? Is it sending a friend a letter in the mail to encourage them? Or reaching out to a friend to grab coffee and catch up? Is it calling them on your way home from work to let them know they’ve been on your heart all day? Is it leaving a note for your spouse to tell them you noticed all of the chores they did around the house and you’re so thankful for them? Maybe it’s just setting aside 30 minutes every night where your family doesn’t watch TV or use their phones and you all play together or talk together or snuggle on the couch.

I challenge you to be intentional this week.

Live beyond the surface level in your relationships. If you’re feeling sad and forgotten about because no one is being intentional to you or seeking you out, realize that your friend may be feeling exactly the same way. They may need you to reach out first and remind them that they’re worth hanging out with. That they are remembered and cared about.

It has to start somewhere.