Wednesday, January 30, 2019

When You Don't Belong At Church

I felt it as a teenager.
It seemed like most of my peers had spent the majority of their life in the church. Whether they were related to a pastor or leader or had just been brought of up as a regular attender, it was the most comfortable place for them, where they shined and everyone loved them. Why were they so happy and satisfied here, involved in nothing deeper than volleyball games and pizza parties? Was I the only one getting lost in the darkness? The darkness of loneliness and depression and living in a home with dysfunction and brokenness? 
I felt awkward and different and ugly in this place, so the whisper in my ear said "These people don't understand. They don't love you. And you don't belong here."

I felt it as a new adult. 
I had a young love for Jesus in my soul, that was constantly at war with my natural tendencies and desires, and zero guidance on how to walk that out well. I so badly wanted to connect with people who shared that tension of passion and struggle, but couldn't seem to find any authentic version of it. These young, naive adults had never known any environment outside of the comfortable, sheltered inner circles of their church or christian school or homeschool co-op. They kept social outings and conversation so surface and shallow, it was almost creepy to me, in a Stepford Wives sort of way. I would be myself and try to break through to deeper discussions, only to be met with shock and awkwardness. 
I felt vulnerable and broken and bitter, and the whisper in my ear said "These people don't understand. They don't love you. And you don't belong here." 

But the friends I partied with and the guys I spent the night with all seemed to understand. Nothing shocked them and they were there for me. They didn't love Jesus, and they mocked Christians, but hey, I hadn't become a big fan of them either, so it was fine, right? They loved enough of me, which was better than nothing, and the whisper said "See? This is where you belong."

Over a decade and lots of growth later, I've still felt it as a wife and mother.
 I love God and His Word, attend church regularly, have a healthy marriage to a godly man, and am a stay-at-home mom (who, coincidentally, homeschools.) 
 I'm basically a walking stereotype of the 'Inner Circle' christian. These characteristics aren't going to give me any backlash in the church, if anything, I'll fit in even better because of them.
But there are still plenty of times that I'm met with weird looks and awkward silences. 
"People have a hard time with you."
"Your humor is weird and offensive." 
"You just have a really challenging personality."
"I just think that you'd be a better witness for Christ, if you weren't so much like.. yourself."

Those are all things that have been said to me, VERBATIM, by people in the Church. (Not in loving, convicting ways, but shameful, condemning ways.)
And there have been countless situations and relationships where it should have been safe and natural to get real and vulnerable about the hard things in life, and it wasn't.
In every one of those moments, the whisperer hasn't missed a beat to say:
"See? These people don't understand. They don't love you. And you don't belong here."

But the difference between then and now, is that I know exactly what those whispers are.

They're lies.

That's all they are. The truth is that I am known and understood. I am loved and accepted. And I belong with Him.
The One who bought me for a price, and redeemed me, and adopted me into His family. 

Yet the Enemy always has, and probably always will, tell me that I am less than.
That sure, I am adopted, but that the Extra Churchy People are God's "REAL", biological children who fit in better and have more of a right to be in this family than I do.

But the truth is that if we have put our trust in Jesus, then His family is our family.
And that we are ALL his real children.
And that we are ALL adopted.

Satan has whispered those particular lies to me, because those are the ones that have been the most painful and convincing to me (and with no shortage of evidence.) But he's going to use different lies for different people, and they won't all look the same, but they are all meant to accomplish the same thing.
They are meant to distract and hurt and deceive us. Meant to make us hide our face from our Savior, and withdraw from His people. Meant to make us find comfort and purpose and belonging in places that won't ever really give it to us. Meant to hinder us from using our gifts and our hearts to encourage and build up the Church. Meant to shame and condemn and separate us.

But when we know the truth, we can and have to speak it to those lies and fight to believe what's real and good, even in our pain. That is, in a nutshell, what it means to trust God. 
And, not so ironically, we desperately need each other to do it well.

Family is messy. The Church is messy. 
But let me tell you what I've also experienced in the Church, in addition to the rejection and loneliness, when I trusted God that this is where I belonged:

I've experienced friendship like I had never known before. Friendship with deep honesty and courageous vulnerability. Friends who have deep love and fierce loyalty for me, and I for them. Friends who see my best and cheer me on in it, and also my worst and have never been shocked or scared by it. Friends who I have reached out to in my darkest moments and have breathed life-giving truth and grace to my heart. 
I've experienced service and generosity like I've never seen otherwise. I've seen people at their neediest, surrounded by help and support. I've seen communities sacrifice everything they can to rally and carry those who can't carry themselves.
I've experienced and witnessed growth and humility that is almost unbelievable at times.
I've seen hardened, angry people become soft and gentle. Passive, timid people become bold and strong. Naive, shallow people become wise and authentic.
I've seen the kind of repentance and forgiveness that could change the world.

This is all Jesus, baby. 
This is what he does! He is in the business of making beauty from ashes.
Why would we want to miss out on any of it? Or not be an important part of it?

 If you have been an "insider" at church the majority of your life, it's really important to not be naive to the fact that it hasn't been a rainbows and sunshine experience for everyone. We have to be gentle and understanding to that pain, because Jesus is. 
We can't be so sheltered and superficial that we aren't willing to walk with people through their dark spaces. We cannot be out-of-touch weirdos. We can't become too comfortable or prideful to be honest and vulnerable about our own darkness (or be under the dangerous assumption that ours isn't as dark as others.) 
We absolutely cannot only accept and befriend and walk alongside people who are just like us, inside or outside of the Church.
Because if we are all of those things, did we ever actually know the Gospel to begin with?

If the Church must be anything, may it be safe.

If you are among the many who have felt like an outsider in Church or with christians, know that you are not as alone as you think. That the person sitting right next to you might feel, or has felt in the past, exactly the way you do. 
You shouldn't ever feel unwelcome because your personality, physical appearance, ethnicity, gender, marital status, salvation history, sexual orientation, mental health, or economic status. It hurts us to the core, to be rejected for these things, but I believe when we find a healthy church, that genuinely believes and lives out the Gospel, that we won't be. Find one with solid, biblical doctrine and that is lead by people who know and live like they desperately need Jesus.
There isn't a perfect church, every one is going to be imperfect and messy. But there is a huge difference between healthy and unhealthy, fruitful and dysfunctional.

Listen to me.
If God has called you by name, then you are HIS.

He loves you, He knows you, and He will never give up you.
He has kept His promises and He has always proven to be trustworthy.
When He calls us to something, we can trust Him that it's good.
So when He calls us to fellowship with other believers, to serve and to use our gifts, to sacrifice and to get vulnerable, to speak truth to each other... we can trust Him in that.

He has made this big, beautiful, diverse, messy family, that we are now apart of.

And it is exactly where we belong.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Sugar Cookies and Sanity

Photo courtesy of Erin Johnson

I love Christmas. Who doesn't, right?
It's just the most magical time of year! Staying warm and cozy inside, where it's beautifully decorated, while spending time with loved ones. Eating amazing food, exchanging gifts, and listening to Christmas music that makes us feel peaceful and nostalgic. It truly is just a fabulous way to end a calendar year.

But let's face it, it's also.... completely insane.

There are A MILLION THINGS to do. There are gifts to buy! And trips to plan! And baking to do! And Christmas cards to mail! And parties to go to! And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Then there's the fact that in the excessively Pinterest-inspired society we live in, we're practically drowning in a flood of cute ideas and precious traditions that JUST ADDS MORE TO DO. 

For example, WHO in their right mind came up with the concept of smearing toothpaste all over their bathroom and propping up a mischievous elf next to it so that their kids can enjoy the idea that their house is haunted by one of Santa's helpers? And then making sure that by the next time their kid blinks, this Elf (who is apparently the Lucifer of the North Pole) is making a brand new mess somewhere in the house for Mom or Dad to make AND THEN CLEAN UP?

I'll go ahead and bet that IT WASN'T A PARENT!

Can we just zoom out and think about this for a second? This is lunacy! Our parents would have never bothered with crap like this, because they were apparently the last generation to be burdened with practicality and common sense.

We, on the other hand, can't help ourselves!
We make extravagant advent calendars that have a different Christmas activity written on little notes every single day, that we have to plan our lives around or miserably fail at! 
We wrap up twenty five books and put them under the tree, so the kids can open one every day until Christmas!
(Let me do the math for you here: $17.99 per book X 25 days = A MILLION DOLLARS. Sorry kids, you're going to have to eat your new books for dinner, because now we're broke.) 
We even make Christmas light scavenger hunts! (Like... what?!)

Here's my point with all of this... we don't have to be like this. 
We don't have to do ALL THE THINGS that we like the idea of, but in all reality actually ends up sucking the life out of us and our families.

You know what we can and should do? Things that breathe life to our souls and families.

My friend Erin bakes and decorates the most unbelievably gorgeous cookies (shown above) that might as well belong in the Louvre. Clearly, she studied baking AT HOGWARTS and you know what? She loves doing it! She doesn't do All The Things, but this is her thing.

Every year, I send and hand out around 150 Christmas cards. Why? Because I enjoy it!
But every year, without fail, at least a one or two people who I give Christmas cards to immediately look defeated and go "Oh geez, you do cards? Ugh. I've never been able to get these done."
(Let's face it Ladies, if Comparison and Perfectionism were olympic events, we would bring home gold medals EVERY. DAY.)
Believe it or not, I didn't actually put makeup on, bathe my children, have a friend snap a picture of all of us, and order a bunch of cheap prints at Costco JUST TO SHAME OTHER WOMEN!
I honestly enjoy sitting down with a glass of eggnog and While You Were Sleeping playing in the background, and stuffing envelopes. It's fun and relaxing for me! It's my thing. 

But you know what wouldn't be fun or relaxing to me? Opening up a new note from a freaking advent calendar every day that gives me some sort of exhausting activity to do right then and there with my hyperactive children. I swear you guys, by day two I would be a walking Jack Nicholson impersonation. 
Not even from Cuckoo's Nest, we're talking THE SHINING here.
Trust me, no one would be having fun.

But I bet that's someone else's thing and it's not a complete life suck for them!

My point, again, is that you don't have to do it all.
Do some of it, do none it, it's up to you. But make sure you're not doing it because you feel like you have to. Do it because it brings you joy. 

And here's my other point: you also don't have to GO to it all.
You know ALL the parties and gift exchanges and relative obligations that you're expected to be at? 
Come close and listen to me....


It's true.
You do not have to be overwhelmed by the workload of packing or baking or shopping, if it's just prepping you for your next nervous breakdown.
You do not have to go into debt to show people that you love them.
You do not have to put up with the racist grandma or perverted uncle one more year, just because someone will be offended that you didn't show.

You not only have permission, but a responsibility, to prioritize your mental health over people pleasing.
Especially if this time is already hard because of grief or depression or broken relationships. Be kind to yourself. We are all human, which makes us a lot more fragile than we like to think we are.

You also have permission prioritize your own family over all of the invites and obligations.
A sobering thought that I think about often as a parent is that I only get so many Christmases with my kids. 
And then they're gone! 
They'll be grown and will have their own lives and families and maybe they'll celebrate some holidays with us, but they certainly don't have to. And either way, it won't be the same.
I really try to take that into account every holiday season. How am I going to remember these little years? Will I be resentful that I shared too much of my precious time with them? 
How will they remember me? Will they associate Christmastime with their crazy, stressed out mother acting like someone who should be institutionalized? I really hope not.

As fun and magical as the holiday season is, there is lots of wisdom in taking a deep breath and giving ourselves grace. In keeping perspective and not getting swept up in it all, as if we're completely out of control (which were not.)
That if we literally say NO to everything, and the only thing that we do this whole month is take a moment to thank God that He sent a baby, who will be coming again as a grown man to fix ALL OF THIS, then that is enough.

And most importantly, we can have hope that someday...
 Elf on the Shelf will finally meet his maker.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Current Faves: Fa La La Edition

Hello and Happy December! 

I don't know about you, but by end of November I'm feeling about as heavy and stuffed as the Turkey I prepped on Thanksgiving morning. 
This is compounded for me by the fact that my husband goes hunting every November, and the way I choose to spend my alone time is by vegging out and consuming around 10,000 calories each day between all of the bread, wine, cheese, and chocolate.

(In case it wasn't obvious, my spirit animal is an old, fat, Italian man.)

I try to include my friends in on this healthy, inspiring lifestyle, especially the ones whose husbands are also gone hunting. My friend Danni and I have made a tradition of getting together for Fancy Food Night every year when our husbands go up north together, where we let our kids play and watch movies, while we savor a homemade menu of delicious appetizers, desserts, and wines. (While wearing sweatpants and oversized hoodies.). 
This year we ate stuffed mushrooms, bacon-wrapped dates, sausage puffs, and brie pastry bites (shown above), one topped with wine-soaked blackberries, and the other with dried cranberries and fresh rosemary. 
It was all to die for and worth every extra chin we now have because of it.

I also got the special treat of having my dad in town the same week Luke was gone, which was so fun. He flew here for the week to sing with his old music ensemble, and in between his rehearsals and performances, we took advantage of every moment of our precious time together by doing nothing but watching Jeopardy! on Netflix, only stopping for bathroom breaks or to get another beer.

...I know. 
We are basically the quintessential father/daughter relationship that everyone is striving for.
But on a related note, we are both now super ready for a career move into competitive trivia, as soon as Alex Trebek calls.

"TEXAS...with a dollar sign next to it!"

Name that quote and I'll be your best friend. 
(Which is honestly not that great of a prize, considering how horrible I am at texting people back.)

My mighty, bearded hunter eventually came home, along with two dead deer and the stench of someone who hadn't showered in 4 days. 
(A hygiene lapse rare for him, but what people like me tend to call 'Tuesday'.)

He then proceeded to hang these dead animals in our garage and we butchered them together know, the way I was raised to help my future hunter/gatherer husband.


I took pictures of him with the hanging animals, but I decided not to post those here because even though I am now a full-fledged country wife who has become too dead inside to be grossed out by these situations, there's still hope for you! So get out while you can!

Anyway, once all of the vegging/eating/bonding/butchering was over, I've been trying to get back into my healthier eating habits again, so that by Christmas and New Years I can feel free to consume all the cookies and roast beef and champagne to celebrate the season without feeling like I'll have to buy new pants because of it. Because everyone knows that shopping for new jeans is just Satan punishing us.

Speaking of New Years, I feel like all of my current favorite things could be a blessing somehow to your holiday season or the fresh start we all appreciate getting at the beginning of a new year. 
Here they are:

1. ) Gay Girl, Good God

Not to be dramatic, buuut... the worst possible decision you could ever make in this life is to not read this book. 

I honestly cannot over-emphasize what a treasure this is.
Jackie Hill Perry (who I've followed for years) (on social media, not in real life) shares her incredible testimony, including the neglect and abuse she experienced growing up, her life as a lesbian, and Jesus calling her for Himself.
This is no story of someone responding to an altar call and cleaning up their act so that they can be a pretty, little christian. This is no testimony of how wonderful and righteous Jackie is or became.
This is a story of wild love and scandalous grace. And it's all Jesus, baby.

In addition to the work that God has done in her life, He has also given her an UNREAL gift in writing. Her writing style is so raw and breathtaking, it's almost... upsetting! You just don't read many books today that thread vulnerable story-telling, poetry, and bold truths together so exquisitely. While I was reading it, I kept thinking:
  'This is like if Maya Angelou and C.S. Lewis had a black, female, millennial baby.'


Please, pleeeeease read this book. 
Read it if you are gay or straight, christian or non-christian.
Read it to be in awe of God's goodness, over and over again.
Read it to be encouraged and convicted, like I was, to find all of the pleasure and satisfaction that I desire in Him.
Read it so that we can love our same-sex attracted brothers and sisters better than the Church has done in the past.
Read it to rid our hearts of religion and find freedom in the Gospel.

I'll stop there. No more spoilers. 
Order it HERE and then email me and tell me what you thought! 

2.) Salt Fat Acid Heat

Last week, in the middle of a rough day dealing with a head cold and some delightful anxiety, I sat down to rest and randomly turned this on, having no idea how much I would end up enjoying it.
Salt Fat Acid Heat is the most charming, relaxing, fascinating blend of a travel show and a cooking show, hosted by Chef Samin Nosrat, based on her bestselling book. In each of the four episodes, she takes you to a different country around the world, exploring the component of the episode's title, and how the quality and beauty of different foods and ingredients make dishes extraordinary.
This show is really unlike any other. Samin is such an endearing mixture of kind and fun and down-to-earth, and also so smart and well-educated. (Plus, not that I have anything against white, peppy, southern women who host cooking shows, I think we can all agree what a breath of fresh air an IRANIAN AMERICAN is to the food-TV universe. Thank you Jesus.)
Just trust me and go watch it on Netflix. It is so unique and inspiring, and will refresh your love for food and cooking and hospitality and the beauty of other cultures.

3.) Bible Reading Chart 

I’ve used this bible reading chart for the past two years and I love it.
 I love that it’s not a pre-made reading plan, but just a chart that you can use to track your reading and/or make your own plan with. After plenty of years of failing reading plans (by the way, who was it that decided that we all needed to read the whole bible in ONE YEAR? And why? Why one year? Why not 18 months or 2 years, huh?!), I had finally figured out some of the factors that made me constantly struggle with the type of consistency it required of me. 
First of all, setting up an entire year’s worth of daily bible reading has felt like making a meal plan for an entire year. Which would be so unrealistic! Because by week 2 or 3, life happens, and someone gets sick or you have company in town or you have to make unexpected trips, and plans change! And then getting caught up with The Plan becomes overwhelming and discouraging and it's all too easy to just give up. When that happens (which it has to me many times) it becomes more about The Plan, rather than the point of the plan. 

Which is to get to know God!

If He really is the author of creation, the One sovereign over everything, an unmatched, holy being who is powerful enough to wipe us all out and yet extends His love and mercy to us through His grand plan of redemption… WE NEED TO KNOW THAT GUY. 
And there’s no way we can walk away from any experience with God (and synonymously His Word) the same as we were before. 

Our motivation should ALWAYS be about our relationship with God, rather than a duty to a religion.

Second of all, as important as it is to read ALL of God’s word, and not just the parts that we like or make us feel good, there ARE going to be plenty of times in life when we do need to focus more on certain areas of scripture. Whether that’s for a bible study, or searching for wisdom that speaks to a hard situation, or we're in a season that pushes us to lean on specific truths like our lives depend on it. Not only is that okay, but there should be plenty of room for that in any “plan” we do. 
Because again, this is about relationship, not religion. 
Which means that God is not only privy to, but INVOLVED in all of those hard spaces of our lives, and His word will be living water for our thirst.

As cliche as it can sound, God’s Word really is spiritual food. And just as with actual food, life is going to call for different types at different times. There are going to be busy days when we grab a granola bar before heading out the door. There will be days when we are sick, and can’t handle anything more than tea and soup. There will be days when we will feast on rich, filling meals that we have the time to savor and enjoy. And then there will be all of the other days in between, when we will (ideally) eat consistent, healthy, and delicious food.
Our bible reading is going to look very similar to that fluctuation, because the only predictable aspect of life is that it's unpredictable. But that doesn't mean that we have to fall into patterns of ALL OR NOTHING with the habits in our life that nourish our souls and bring us peace.

Saying all of that to say, if your personality type or season of life lets you thrive with the help of pre-made bible reading plans and you're able to read through the whole bible once a month, keep on rockin' it. (And please share whatever steroids you're on.)
But if this has been an area of struggle with inconsistency and discouragement, know that you're not alone (Hi!) and that there are other ways and methods out there that can genuinely support and encourage you in your daily fight to know truth and grow into someone more and more like our Savior.

HERE is the link for this colorful and pretty reading chart that you can print out for yourself, and HERE is the link to a bunch of other different plans (including this chart) that could be exactly what you're looking for. 

4.) ThirdLove Bras

(If you're a dude, feel free to continue reading if it helps you shop for your wife for Christmas.. if not, Adios!)

Okay, I'm sure you've heard of this company because whoever is in charge of marketing over there totally slays on social media, and we've all heard of these people.
BUT I am here to tell you that all of their campaigning about being the most amazing bra out there is actually....COMPLETELY TRUE.
I've been very passionate about 'correct but comfortable' bra fittings since I was around 18. Because when you're fortunate enough (sarcasm font) to be shaped LIKE JESSICA RABBIT, you sort of have to be. For most of my life, I've been a really uncommon bra size, which has made it hard to shop for something that doesn't look bad and/or feel uncomfortable all day.

I ordered a ThirdLove bra a couple of months ago, after taking their My Fit test about which bra would fit me best, based on my body type and breast shape. It felt like a pretty big risk considering that their Classic T-Shirt Bra (which is the one I was matched with) runs at $68 each, but I took the leap of faith after seeing how many factors they took into consideration in their fitting test.
It came in the mail, and I immediately loved it. It is seriously the most flattering AND comfortable bra I've ever worn, and was worth every penny.
Which is their company's goal and mission: that you shouldn't have to sacrifice sexy for comfort.

I honestly just love their whole company.
I love that this company and these bras were created by women who wanted to help other women, instead of men who wanted to give other men something nice to look at.
I love that these women want to help every woman find the right size and fit for her and that they do free exchanges. I love that 100% of the exchanged bras get donated to organizations who help with disaster relief and the homeless population.
I love that ThirdLove is fighting hard to change the societal standard of beauty by including all types of shapes, sizes, ages, and ethnicities into their campaigns, through the models they use and the sizes they offer.

 THESE are the type of women who should be called "angels".
(See what I just did there?)

Go HERE to take their My Fit test and order your future favorite bra through them. You will not only love what you get, but you'll be supporting a wonderful company and good causes through it.

Well that's all for now, I hope you're enjoying the holiday season and are able to keep focused on what's good and life-giving, amongst all of the crazy busyness.

If not, just take a deep breath and watch some Jeopardy!.

Monday, October 22, 2018

DIY Home Sign + Gallery Wall

We recently freshened up the paint in our main living area (our life was in desperate need of some wipeable semi-gloss paint, considering how many dirty handprints touch them every day), and shortly before then I decided that I would use this opportunity to change up my gallery wall.

 I'm super happy with the way that it turned out, and how clean and fun and fresh everything looks.

This is what it looked like before. I feel like these look like Before and After weight loss pictures, you know where the Before Person is always really greasy and sad and the picture has intentionally horrible lighting? 
Well, the bad lighting on this wasn't on purpose, but it definitely contrasts what a nice change the new facelift is. 
The old wall served us well for the time being, but our pictures were all pretty outdated (the one of Luke and I in front of the red door is an engagement photo and we basically look like teenagers), plus the TV cords hanging down always made me really nutty. 

So we solved the ugly cord dilemma, got rid of all the glass frames, replaced our clock (which had broken multiple times and I fixed with a hot glue gun. #classy), and updated the signs and decor.
I think the only two things that made the cut were the framed J and the key.

I made the growth chart ruler myself, mainly because most of the ones available in stores or online only went up to around 5 feet. Like, I'm sorry but...who are these made for? The Lollipop Guild
Obviously I had to make my own for our very tall family and this one goes up to 6'6", WHICH WILL HOPEFULLY SUFFICE.
(Pretty sure if any of my kids go over 6'6", I'll be too busy going to basketball games to have time to lovingly measure them on my homemade growth chart.)

If you want to make one too, it's super easy and inexpensive- HERE's the tutorial I used.

The two clip picture frames are from At Home, but literally EVERYTHING ELSE is from Hobby Lobby. Another fun fact: every time I bought something (which was over a period of a few months), every single thing was 50% off.
So essentially that whole wall cost less than it would to take your family to Chipotle for lunch.

*Thrifty Shopper fist bump*

And then of course I made the HOME wreath sign myself, which was so simple that this hardly feels like it counts as a tutorial.
But either way, heres how I made it!

What You Need:
- 8" wooden letters - H, M, and E. (I got mine at the Walmarts for two bucks a piece.)
- A 1"x10"x6' wooden board, cut to be 32.5 inches long. (They can cut it for you at Home Depot.)
-a 10" mini wreath (You can find these at Michaels, Target, etc. I found mine at At Home for $4.99!)
-wood stain
- glossy black spray paint
-flat or satin white paint
-medium grit sandpaper
-wood glue
-heavy duty staple gun
-black drywall screws (1 5/8 in) OR D-Rings

What To Do:

1.) Spray paint your wood letters.

Funny story, my original plan was to make a sign that just said "Meh", but ended up changing my mind so I could add the wreath.

(Just kidding.)

2.) (Not Pictured) Lightly sand down the wooden board so that it's smooth, and then stain it. 
It doesn't really matter what color stain you go with, because it's just for the purpose of peaking through a bit after distressing the wood. But as usual, I used Minwax Dark Walnut.

3.) Paint the board white. I used spray paint, which worked just fine, as long as you give it good coverage.

4.) Once dry, use medium grit sandpaper to distress the wood.

(Fun Fact: Those gloves I'm wearing were a Mother's Day gift from my husband. He bought me legit mechanic's gloves for all of the projects I'm constantly working on. I love him. And the gloves make me feel very cool.)

5.) Find the right placing for your letters, leaving the right amount of room for the wreath, and mark it and/or use a level if you need to. 
Use wood glue to attach them.

6.) Lay the wreath where you want it and find a couple of good spots to staple it to the board.
If you move some of the greenery over, the staples should be hidden pretty well.

7.) Once the glue is dry, it's time to hang, which you can do multiple ways.
You can either use D-Rings if you have commitment issues or don't want to damage your wall, or you can be like me and cause MAXIMUM DAMAGE by screwing it straight into the sheet rock and studs.
For this type of home abuse, you'll need black drywall screws (1 5/8 inch).

Use a level and a pencil to mark where you want the sign to hang, because you are really committing here!
Drill in 3 screws, one into each black letter.

And voila! You're done. 
I love this sign because it's pretty, it's inexpensive (between $15-$20 to make), and for a DIY project it doesn't look homemade-y.

Another option would be if you wanted to invert the colors, by making the board black and the letters white! Or even if you wanted to just stain the wood and make the letters white. Lots of fun options.

Anyway, as usual, feel free to steal and copy as much or as little as you want. I swear, if none of us were allowed to mooch off of each other's decor inspiration, my house would probably look like a Dentist Office. Whomp whomp.

I'm so pleased with how my whole wall turned out. I love the creative energy it takes to plan these decorating projects, and the satisfaction of getting it completed.

But for the important purpose of always keeping it real, please do not ever mistake us for being The Joneses.
None of us DO live in or NEED to live in perfect homes.
Our house is small. It's got ugly wood baseboards and an unfinished basement. The tile in the bathroom is cracked and my couch has Sharpie stains on it. 
It never looks perfectly clean or organized and things are constantly breaking.
It's not the kind of house you use to show off how rich you are (which we're not) and it doesn't belong anywhere near HGTV.

And honestly... I love it that way.

I love decorating my small, imperfect house and making it feel like a home that reflects who we are as a family, which is one of the many ways that we express the artistic creativity of the God whose image we bear. 
But I want the beauty of our home to always be the warm and welcoming kind, not the cold, intimidating kind.  I love that people can be safe and real and messy in our house because IT is safe and real and messy, and so are we.

There is nothing wrong with having beautiful or newer homes, because God has us all exactly where He wants us for His purpose and His glory. But in this Pinterest/Fixer Upper world we are so immersed in, I think we all need the occasional reminder of the beauty and blessing of REAL life, including it's broken tile and imperfections.
It's all about perspective and thankfulness for the grass in our own proverbial yards. (Whether that is our homes, our bodies, our husbands, our kids, or our professions.)
When we stay focused on that, it will fight our discontentment and tendency to constantly compare and compete with each other.

What an awe-inspiring Creator we have, who reflects His glory in bright yellow trees in the fall and bright yellow clocks in living rooms.

And all God's Hobby Lobby Shoppers said Amen!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Ex-Boyfriends and the Blood of Jesus

A couple months ago I flew to Colorado, to be there to support and help my parents for the art and music event they were having.
It was one of the first times in a while that I had been back there without my husband and kids, which made it easy to feel all of the nostalgia (and, consequently, regret) that comes with being back in the city where I spent so many of my formative years.

One of the days before my parent's event, my mom and I were running errands to get all that we needed for the reception. On our way into the entrance of the grocery store by her house, a guy walked out of the store and said "Hey, you want this cart?"
My mom said "Yeah thanks", took it, and they walked their separate directions.

And there I stood, almost frozen, watching this random and casual hand-off between my mom and MY EX-BOYFRIEND.

He was right there. Two feet in front of me.
They didn't recognize each other and he didn't notice me.

I just stood there, like an idiot. Wide-eyed and motionless, all of my quick-wit and flair for on-the-fly conversation making were suddenly GONE LIKE THE WIND.
I watched him walk away, and not a single sound came out of my open mouth to stop him.

I staggered into the store behind my mom. "That was David!" I said.

"What? Seriously?!" We were both befuddled. What are the odds?

We went about our shopping, but I was still shaken. Why couldn't I just say something?

I don't know even know what I would have said.
It's been almost ten years since we met. It was at an Irish pub that he bartended at, where I was drinking with friends. (Under age, mind you! HOW CLASSY IS THAT?!)
He liked me from the interaction we had that night, looked me up, and I agreed to go on a date with him. We dated for a few months and enjoyed each other's company, until I eventually broke up with him. Twice, actually.
(Quick Pearl Of Wisdom: Getting back together with someone who you've already dumped for legitimate reasons is generally not wise.)
(And if you need me to needlepoint that on a pillow for you, I will.)

But the bottom line was that he loved me and although I cared for him, I didn't love him back. And that's a crappy feeling to walk away with.

The pit in my stomach that seeing him again brought stayed there for a couple weeks.
I mentally kicked myself for not saying anything. But what would I say?
Hi! How are you? Sorry I broke your heart! Bye! I don't know.. SOMETHING!

I went back to Colorado a month later, and when my dad and I happened to go to the same grocery store as before, I found myself looking around for him. I don't know why... it's not like he works there. I think I was just looking for a second chance.
But I didn't see him and I didn't get that chance.

I came home, still feeling annoyed with myself over this missed opportunity, and I cried out to God.

"Ugh. Why didn't I just say something??"

And what I felt from the Holy Spirit and His Word was this:

"Why do you need to? Why are you trying to earn forgiveness for something I've already paid for?"

Just like Jesus would.
Piercing our hearts in the hard places that He wants to break and heal back stronger.
And He was absolutely right. I wanted to tie up loose ends that weren't in my power to tie up and maybe weren't ever meant to be.

I saw this guy and just let myself feel haunted again by all the regret and shame.
It was regret that I dated him even though I never intended to marry him, and that my selfishness and boredom hurt someone. I had been hurt before in much similar circumstances, by someone who was bored and selfish and didn't love me the way I loved him. So I knew that pain and didn't want to feel guilty about being the one that caused it this time.
It was the regret and sadness that I spent those years of my life running from God (not that you can actually do that.) That I used drinking, smoking, pills, and the constant company of men to anesthetize the cloud of depression I lived in, the brokenness in my home, and the hurt I felt from the Church instead of crying out to Him daily and letting His Word make me whole. (And finding a Christian community that actually was safe.)

After years and years of His intervening grace on my life, He's made me a very different person than I was back then. New, even. He has healed and forgiven so much brokenness and shame, has softened my hard heart, and is continually growing me in what it looks like to give my burdens to Him DAILY. And He has used the Church to heal my wounds from the Church.
Even though I barely recognize the Old Elise, God still loves me too much to let me have a moment with an ex-boyfriend that could tempt me to feel like I get to earn some of my redemption. He gets all of the glory for the work He's done in my life, as it should be.

I was talking with someone recently about our human inclination to feel like part of the process of healing is to forgive ourselves from past sin.
But the fact is that WE JUST CAN'T. No matter how hard we try.
We have no ability to forgive ourselves for the sin of our hearts and our bodies and our words, because it's not a debt against ourselves and we haven't actually paid for it.

The debt was against God. And not us, but Jesus, paid for it. And His blood was enough to cover it all.

That, my friends, is the sweet sound of amazing grace.

I think sometimes we hate grace. Because we feel too good for it and our pride loves to feel like we've earned as much and deserve even more. Or because that same pride makes us feel like we're too bad and too ugly and too far gone to be saved. Like our darkness is somehow stronger than His light.

But His light is stronger. The nails in His hands were necessary. And His Blood was enough.

It was enough to wipe our slate clean.
It was enough to free us from our chains, the ones in our past and ones we still hold onto.
It was enough to make us new.

As painful and uncomfortable as it can be, I'm so thankful that He lets us feel the need for Him in our lives. And that He is so faithful to remind us of and flood us with His grace over and over again.

It's time for me to move on, feel free to join me.
We don't need to be hung up on the past anymore. If anything, we use it to display how beautifully stronger His light is than our darkness.
We can ask Him if there's anything we need to do or change or anyone we need to repent to, and then beyond that.. it's all Him.
We wash our face and look forward and trust that He will redeem it and that it's all been paid for.

Because His blood was enough.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; 
behold, the new has come.
2 Cor 5:17

Friday, September 28, 2018

Current Faves: Pumpkin Spice Edition

Hello and Happy Fall! 

If you've read any of my last few posts, you know that life has gotten a little heavy for us as of late.
It's definitely felt like a lot to face and deal with all at once, but God has been so good and so faithful to carry us through it.
And we've also officially entered the best season of the calendar year, which seems like a timely reminder to enjoy some of the beauty of life in the midst of the storm.

I'm writing this from Colorado, while I help take care of my mom after the hysterectomy she had a couple days ago and to make sure that my dad doesn't starve to death.
Even though cancer isn't anyone's preferred reason to make travel plans, it's already been so great to spend time with my family and take in the stunning mountain scenery again. The timing couldn't be more perfect to have a quiet weekend away to take a breath and recharge.

And while I'm doing so, I wanted to share some of the most recent things that have been bringing me joy, even amidst all the craziness:

1.) My new Shark DuoClean Vacuum

Confession: The vacuum that Luke and I had been using for our entire marriage was one that he had gotten as a housewarming gift DURING COLLEGE. Just to give you an approximate time frame of how long ago my husband was 19 years old, this was pretty much The Original Vacuum Cleaner. It was huge and heavy and dirty and barely sucked anything up. After years of lugging this thing around my house, I had so much resentment in my heart towards it that it was time to finally upgrade.

We went with a Shark, because of how many friends and family have and absolutely rave about them. And let me just say- they were not wrong! I LOVE THIS THING.
Here's why:
-It's super lightweight (under 10 pounds)
-The suction and cleaning power is incredible, it actually pulls you forward a little bit when you have it on the highest setting, which is impressive for something so compact.
-The swivel head makes it very easy to maneuver around and underneath furniture.
-The duo brush system vacuums every surface, so between the two power levels it offers, I basically do my entire house in one fell swoop- including the hardwood floors, linoleum, tile, rugs, and high pile carpets.
-It has a quart-sized dirt bin, which could not be any easier to remove, empty, and put back. Which I do often, because it sucks SO much dirt up.
-It easily detaches from the floor pedal and the stick, and becomes a handheld vacuum- working great for ceilings, upholstery, and curtains.
-It's quiet and has LED lights in front to highlight any unseen dirt and particles on the floor.

I am absolutely smitten with this vacuum and will pretty much find any excuse to use it.
 I feel like someone who has come out of a really horrible relationship, but who has a new found love that makes me feel good about myself and life again. Swoon.

And YOU TOO can dump your bad vacuum boyfriend and find true love again!
Get it on Amazon HERE.

2.) Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee

Meet my new Netflix obsession.

Jerry Seinfeld hosts this amazingly original series which is sort of a hybrid of a talk show, that almost has a 'Making Of' Featurette feel to it, with a little bit of Top Gear thrown in.

In each episode (which range anywhere from 10-30 minutes, there's pretty much no consistency) Jerry picks out a classic car (that usually pairs with the personality of whoever his guest is), picks them up in it and they drive around and go get coffee.
That's it.
They do anything and talk about anything they want! They get serious, they joke around, they connect over food and movies and family and the life of comedy- nothing is off limits or predictable.
It just has this whimsically unscripted and weirdly down-to-earth feel, that I find so charming and appealing.

I was never really a watcher of Seinfeld, nor have I seen his stand-up, but after this show-I am just a huge fan of Jerry Seinfeld. He is so good at connecting with and having fun with all of these fellow actors and comedians, I think partially because this is his own little project, so he only has guests on that he actually likes and finds interesting! So there's this factor of authenticity that you just rarely see in any sort of talk show.
You can tell that he has so much respect and appreciation for all different types of comedy and characters, and is so good at perceiving and encouraging others in their specific talents.
One of my favorite things about him is how hyper-observant he is to all of the tiny little nuances and details that make for being funny. He's so genuinely entertained by all of his guests, that the laughter and fun they have together is just contagious.
So while I don't think that this is one of those shows that's going to necessarily be everyone's cup of tea, I think if you appreciate those things, you'll love it as much as I do.

Some of my favorite episodes were the ones with Will Ferrel, Tina Fey, Jim Gaffigan, John Mulaney, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, Stephan Colbert, Norm Macdonald.... gosh there's just so many. 

Watch some of those and get back to me. I don't think you'll regret it.

4.) My New Kitchen Shelves

A year or two ago, I went over to my friend Stephanie's house, where she showed me an entire wall in her upstairs loft that she had turned into a library with huge industrial pipe shelving. Yes, the library itself was all very wonderful, blah blah blah, but what I became immediately obsessed with were the incredibly cool shelves that all of these books were on. I started dreaming and planning where I could incorporate shelves like that into my house, and decided that the big wall in my kitchen would be perfect.

I love them so much.
They are each 5 feet long and 8 inches deep, giving me a ton of room to hold all of the decor and kitchen accessories that I want.
I bought the wood boards and the pipes from Menards (although they're both available for around the same price at Home Depot too) and spray painted the pipes black to give it the look I wanted.
I stained the wood with Minwax Dark Walnut (which is, in my opinion, the Beyonce of wood stains.)

As far as the decor goes, I got the plant and white pitcher at Ikea and the giant EAT letters from Hobby Lobby.
(Psst! They're actually CARDBOARD letters that I spray painted metallic! It cost less than half of would it would have if I had bought the actual metal ones, which cost around $30 per letter. And I'm giving you permission to be a cheater like me.)

This adorable scale was my present to myself last week from Chip and Jo's line at Target Hearth and Home. It's classic, it's functional, and it's only 15 bucks. Sold!
The cookbook stand that has kitchen conversions on it is actually from the Target Dollar Spot right now! 3 dollars. Yes it is. Go get yourself one.

I just love the versatility of these shelves. I feel like they could work with so many decor styles and different rooms of a house. I actually have a small one in our guest room and am planning on adding one to the bathroom as well. I'll probably need an intervention at some point or they'll be on every wall!

3.) Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pancake Mix

I was raised in a pancake family.
Pancakes have always been my dad's thing to make, to the point where he's even well known for it outside of our family. He has his own special recipe, always made from scratch, so I don't think I was actually aware that pre-made pancake mixes existed until I was a teenager. (I'll go ahead and pull my 'I was raised in Europe' card for that one too though.)
So obviously there is a little bit of pancake snobbery here that I was always bound to have when raised this way and I prefer them made from scratch.
HAVING SAID THAT, these pumpkin pancakes are amazing. I've actually made pumpkin pancakes from scratch before but prefer this mix. They're thick and fluffy and the perfect blend of spices to enjoy on a fall morning. And if you want to elevate them to an even fancier level, top them with a blend of apple butter and mascarpone cheese. To die for.

A box runs around $1.99 and is now available at Trader Joe's until the season ends, so get them quick!

That's all for now, I hope you can find as much joy in these as I have and that you are loving Fall with wild abandon.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Fosterhood: Too Attached

Two months ago we met a baby in a hospital.

She had been in the NICU going through withdrawal from all of the drugs she had been exposed to in the womb, but once she was through the worst of it, we were able to take her home.
We have all been totally smitten with this beautiful little girl and have adored every day and sleepless night that we've had with her. We've prayed for her every day, that God would fiercely protect her and that she would come to know Him someday. 
And we prayed that she could be a part of our forever family.

But in the foster system, nothing is for certain and anything can change in an instant. 
A relative of hers came out of the woodwork and wanted to have her. They cleared the background checks and that was that.

Yesterday her social worker came to get her. She left and I probably won't ever see her again.

And as I packed away bins of baby stuff and moved an empty bassinet out of my room, my heart was broken from disappointment. Because I love that baby girl like one of my own. And more than anything, I wanted to be her mom.


People say to me all the time "Oh I could never do foster care, I would get way too attached!"
And what I always gently say is this:

The point is to get too attached.

You SHOULD get too attached.

What these kids need, what ANY OF US need, is for someone to love us with everything in them to the point where it actually hurts. Becoming a foster parent is basically signing up to be that someone for children who desperately need it.
If I could make the decision over again, to say yes or no to taking in this baby who we all fell in love with and who made our hearts hurt like this, I still wouldn't change a thing.

These kids in the foster system, and their parents who are broken and hurting, are made in the image of God and are so, so valuable.

I've shed many tears over this little girl, for fear for her future and sadness that I'll always miss her and that I won't get the memories I thought I would with her. 
Because she is valuable and worth crying tears over.

I've shed many tears over her mother, for what she's already been through so early in life and just imagining the pain of being a post-partum addict out on the streets.
Because she is valuable and worth crying tears over.

And then I think If I care this much about them, how much MORE does God, their maker, care for them? 

As much as I wanted this baby girl to grow up in our home, where I knew she would have a mother who loved her and an amazing dad who would be loving and protective... God will always be a better parent to her than Luke and I could ever dream of being. And unlike us, He will ALWAYS be with her, no matter whose home she is in.

We're trusting God in this, even though it's so hard. It's one of those really confusing times in life where it's so easy and natural to wonder what His plan in this is. How could this be what is best? But faith wouldn't be faith if we could see everything in front of us and knew how it was all going to turn out. 
We are leaning on truths like Romans 8:28 while we wrestle with the uncertainty. "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."

This will work together for good. And for a purpose. And God's glory will shine brightly in it.


Being a foster parent isn't just about being willing to share your time and money, it is just as much about being willing to share your heart and soul.
It's beautiful and painful and will wreck your life.
But I truly believe that it wrecks our lives for the better.

When we are giving each one of these kids a piece of our own heart, it is basically an exchange- we hurt more so that they can hurt a little less. 
And there is nothing that represents God and His love for us more than that. He IS that one who has loved us so much that it actually hurt.
There is no one who has shed these tears or felt this pain more than Him, who gave up HIS OWN SON to bleed out and die for us, so that we could be His children too.

We NEED Him for this job, because it's only when our heart is so overflowing with His love and His grace and His strength that we are able to share it with others, let alone hurting kids and broken families.
We love because He first loved us.
And we hope because He has promised to redeem all of it.

Luke and I are both so incredibly thankful that we got these past couple months with this beautiful baby girl. We gave her up knowing that she has had such a good start to life (in spite of her initial rough circumstances), being held and fed and changed and sang to and prayed for and loved on. 
It can be easy to take for granted how developmentally important all of those basic ways of nurturing are, until you've been around kids who didn't get that as babies.


I woke up this morning, after my first night in two months of not having to get up for feedings.
I stayed in bed for a while, snuggling with my kids and staring at the wall that I want to paint.
When I got up and looked around my weirdly empty house, I felt a peace that I wasn't expecting to feel instead of sadness.
I poured myself a cup of coffee and helped August get some cereal.

It's going to be a good day.