365 Days

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I nursed my baby girl tonight for the last time as I tucked in an 11-month-old, prepared to wake up to a 1-year-old. 2017-10-28_0001

12 months ago, I resolved to nurse my baby for 12 months. I had never done it before with the other two kids (nursing Navy until 7 months old when he decided to start using my tender anatomy as a teething toy, and Knox until he was 3 weeks old due to my stroke complications). I was determined. I set my mind to it.

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I did it.

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I took this little photo session the other day because what it means to me to have nursed Brighton for 12 months is indescribable to me. She is my special baby girl; the one people told me not to have. The one I was warned against trying for. The one who left us all on pins and needles after the trauma surrounding Knox’s birth. But we did it anyway. And after the proverbial rug of breastfeeding was pulled out from under me with Knox, I was determined to make Brighton my breastfeeding mission. And I did. And I wanted these photos, for me. For her. To look back on and remember; we did it, baby.

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As I put her to bed tonight, knowing that I wouldn’t offer her this nightly ritual again tomorrow, I prayed for her. I prayed that someday she would have babies of her own and that she would be able to nurse them as I nursed her. I thanked God for her. I thanked God for all of the moments we had in that exact position over the last 365 days. I kissed her head. I held her hand. I listened to the sounds she made. I took it in.

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She’s my precious baby girl. Tomorrow she’ll be my precious one-year-old.

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So much more than just picking apples

Every year, I look forward to picking apples with my kids. We’ve made it an annual tradition, schlepping up to Stover’s U-Pick Orchard at least once each Autumn. This Fall, though, has been B A N A N A S (BANANAS I TELL YOU!) and we barely made it to our favorite Fall pastime (spoiler alert: we went today). 2017-10-26_0007

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I have fallen into this photography hobby/business/whateveritis and now I have a whole new appreciation for photographers in October. All of you: send your favorite professional photographer a bouquet of flowers, a bottle of chardonnay and a couple servings of ZZ-Quil on November 1st, because this month is no joke in the world of family photos. I am loving it, and my photography skills are growing every day. I’m grateful for the opportunity to do something I’m enjoying, that is stretching me artistically and vocationally, but also allowing me to spend the days with my kids. However, in addition to the normal daily grind of a mid-size family, AND a budding photography side-gig, AND volunteer responsibilities AND church commitments AND still being available for friends and family AND AND AND… It all became too much.2017-10-26_0002

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This month has been a learning month for me. Early in the month, we had some illnesses circulate the house, one of which required a little trip to the ER for Knox (who is 100% fine and only needed a special treatment for his breathing). Any time you take your kids to the ER, it’s sobering. I don’t care if it’s for a broken arm, a breathing treatment, an illness or a splinter. It makes you pause. It makes you cancel things (anything) that would get in between you and your little one. So a decision was made for me that day; in order to care for Knox and be with him and stay close to my den, I had to say no to a commitment that had been on the calendar for a long time. Several other little incidents arose that felt like I was saying “no” to my family (my most important Thing) in order to say “yes” to a lot of less important things. My priorities had gotten all out of whack. I was carrying it all, dealing with the emotional burden of it, feeling exhausted but surviving… until the straw that broke the camel’s back. I looked at the calendar for the month of October, into November, and there was no time (read: none at all) to go apple picking with my children. All of our white space was gone. My “Yeses” had all been given out and they went to things that weren’t apple picking. And quite frankly, there were very few items on the calendar that contributed AT ALL to my children’s memory banks.

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2017-10-26_0004So after praying about it, talking to Stockton and some trusted family & friends, I made the decision to restructure a few things in my life (important things that I care deeply about) so that I could better allocate my time to the things that really matter. I started saying no to prospective photography clients. I started being more strategic with my photography to take better photos in-camera and spend less time behind the computer. I started being jealous of my time, for the sake of my family. And while I have had to say no and goodbye to things that I will miss being a part of, I will never miss carving out the time to pick apples, and assemble puzzles, and wear pajamas all weekend with my kids. There will be time for that other stuff later.  And God willing, it will all still be there when I’m ready to say yes to it. And if it’s not, then it wasn’t meant for me to return to. 2017-10-26_0008

Have you read The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst? Honestly, the title alone is pretty self-explanatory and just having that phrase in my arsenal has strengthened our family enormously. Stockton and I reference “Best Yes” at least 3 times a day (each) and try to make every decision around the notion of “is that my best yes?” My friend and a wise leader to me, Don, wrote this in an email last week: “We have a few universal gifts we can give the world around us, one of which is the power of our ‘yes.’ And when we say ‘yes’ to something, we say ‘no’ to something else, because we have limitations. And God’s design on our lives is for health, impact, and rest.” Wow. My soul needed to hear that at the exact time he sent it to me. 2017-10-26_0010

So we didn’t magically gain some white space on a Thursday morning – Stockton intentionally took the day off work because it was the best chance we had at making this tradition happen this year. Not an ideal way to go about making time and space, but I am grateful for his sacrifice today. We’re learning. We’re getting better. It is important for us to not be flippant with our “yeses” and every day we’re getting better at that. You know who I do want to say “yes” to as much as possible, though? These people.applepicking-48applepicking-49

Today was about so much more than apple picking. They may never know that, but I hope someday they realize we are doing the best we can to make all of the puzzle pieces of our lives fit together. Some months (some years, even) it may be easier than others. But we’re doing the best we can. For them, and for each other. 2017-10-26_00092017-10-26_0011

Home

We have spent three whole nights sleeping in our new home. And it’s finally that; home. More than just a building across the street from my parents with a bunch of selections I’ve made (which by the way, can the selection process be over yet? My brain, you guys… it’s good for nothing anymore. I have exactly zero capacity to make another decision regarding this house).

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Now the exhausting exciting part really begins. The part where we stay up too late every single night trying to unpack boxes and organize rooms while the kids are asleep because during their waking hours there is literally no way in Hades I can make progress on anything except slicing their bananas and helping them find that super elusive lego piece. I mean, hypothetically.

I recently read Jen Hatmaker’s book, Of Mess and Moxie, and one of the most beautiful passages she wrote was about opening up your home to others. My whole intention with creating this home was to open it up; to friends, neighbors (all 3 of them), bible studies, whiskey clubs, women’s groups, play dates, parties, moments of celebration and moments of gut wrenching crisis when all you need is a friend and a cup of coffee. I want to be here for it all. I want to have an open door and a hot cup of coffee for every dear friend who needs one.

So back to Jen. She so thoughtfully and earnestly laid it out for me, and I’m so grateful for the timeliness of her words. “Making your home pretty is nice, but making it nourishing is holy. Sister, paint that chair or hang that mirror, sure, but for the love, don’t wait until everything is done before putting on a pot of chili and inviting new friends over for football. Your neighbor wants to belong far more than she wants to be impressed.” And all God’s people said AMEN! JEN HATMAKER FOR PRESIDENT!

So my goal and mantra with this house is centered on community and living life with others. Which, I must admit, is a titch out of my comfort zone. Ok, there’s the zinger. I think I’m an introverted extrovert (which I’ve heard is a thing but have spent exactly zero minutes researching). I love being with people, I don’t mind being in front of others, and I even enjoy a crowded room. But I also love me some jammies, Netflix and foregoing a bra every once in a while, and CAN YOU BLAME ME!? The whole jammie/netflix/no bra part of me functions best when I have a little bit of S P A C E to breathe. Even from my own family I need to give myself a timeout every once in a while (like right this second where I begged Stockton to please lock me into my office for 15 uninterrupted minutes or I might lose what’s left of my mind because I CANNOT UNWRAP ANOTHER GRANOLA BAR FOR SOMEBODY WITHOUT SNAPPING). He recognizes that some solitude is good for my sanity every once in a while.

But I want to find a place where I can have my solitude, engage with my family and always keep an open door at the same time. And here’s my firm belief: I don’t have to try to manufacture any of those things, if I’ve invited the will of God to happen in this home. If I’m communing daily with Him, opening myself up to what HIS plans are for my day and foregoing MY plans, I know I will be able to live in peace and that this place will be exactly what it should be for everyone. Every morning, I want to pray that this space will be welcoming, nourishing and safe. For my family, for my friends, and for my family’s friends. He will create the space I need, and He will bring opportunities for community as well. As long as I say “Lord, you know what you have for my today; Holy Spirit, help me accept the plan and fulfill the mission today” (to paraphrase Dr. Bob).

So let’s get down to that nourishing business. I’ll start with re-sharing a favorite recipe (which seems to be about an annual tradition around here) and you can kick off your September with some nourishment for your belly.

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And remember; my door is always open. Come on in. Don’t mind the mess. Stay a while.

 

 All the crazy

Guys, I don’t even know which way is up right now. We are t-minus 3ish days away from plopping right down in the middle of our new house and telling everyone who works there “You may now finish your work around us and all of our eleventy million bits and baubles that have yet to be put away” because I am DONE with this nomadic living, y’all. I have given my children permission to wear exactly three articles of clothing until further notice because if you even LOOK at that suitcase with the intention of unpacking it I will end you. My parents (God bless their souls) are in Florida right now and have invited us to spend the week at their house so that we can be within earshot of any “Where does this pendant go, again?” sort of inquiries (which seem to be endless. For the love, can you please just label the box after the first time I tell you?). Every time I walk into my house, no fewer than 3 subcontractors descend on me asking questions about what goes where? does this get a dimmer? have you gotten notification about the disposal? do you want the good news or the bad news first?

I. Am. Done.

Or undone.

I’m a hot frickin mess, is what I am. And today, for instance, I am sitting across the street from my 99% complete home ITCHING to get in there and start making beds and organizing the pantry and TOUCHING ALL OF MY POSSESSIONS. Because when you live out of a handful of suitcases for almost 2 months, you start feeling like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day (this shirt again?). I think Stockton has worn the same pair of pants for 50 days straight and I’m pretty sure he has big plans to BURN THEM at the earliest possible moment. (RIP unicorn transitional work pants: you were put to the test and did not disappoint, but now you must be fumigated and retired, permanently. Or at least for a very, very, very, indefinitely long time).

To distract myself the last few weeks, I have been busting out my camera and snapping as many pictures as I can. Pictures of BB not-napping (merrrrr), pictures of my sister being a lady-boss with her new paper company (Lined Goods), senior pictures, family pictures, profile pictures, pictures of Legos (oh, the Legos… soooo many Legos. Dear Lego Corporation, can you please just send me a lifetime supply for my sons? I would sell my plasma for this stuff, that’s how much Navy loves it). So my camera just lives in a permanent state of easy-access. Here are some of the pictures that have kept me from just following our builder around the house watching his every move in the last week (I am a darling client, can’t you tell?).

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We are beyond the point of craving normalcy and routine. Craving normalcy was 5 weeks ago. Now it’s like we’ll barter body parts for the chance to tuck ourselves into a home that is our own, eat food that we purchased ourselves, cook an ever-loving meal in a kitchen with my own spatula (so help me if I darken the doorway of another fast food restaurant). Our families have been beyond generous with us in the last couple of months and for that, we are unspeakably grateful. There are no amount of “Thank You’s” that could cover the depth of our gratitude.

And so it is, our current state of affairs. Crazy. Messy. Almost-normal, but so very far from normal at the same time. 🙃

Jack of all trades, master of none

What’s your thing? The thing that everyone knows you excel at, or the thing you are known for? The thing that sets you apart as your area of expertise? What would people come to you for advice about?

I ask because I have no idea how to answer the question, myself. It’s a topic that’s been haunting me for a while (perhaps all moms who take the leap into the Stay-at-Home-Mom role struggle with some form of identity confusion). See, it would appear I am a jack of all trades, but a master of none. And being only __% competent at things (some fluid number always far less than 100) can become defeating at times. Especially when you hold yourself up against those whose mastery of (insert skill or talent here) is greater than yours. There are so many things I wish I were great at.

While I walk around with heart eyes (and some shred of envy if I’m honest) of those who are vocationally or creatively excelling, I know that even the greatest craftsmen, performers, writers and teachers, all have more to learn; they will be perfecting their crafts until their death, never to reach 100%, because life isn’t a math equation and the sum total of our efforts is not always 100. But I sure would love to find my thing. Whatever that thing may be. And I’m afraid there are too many other things distracting me from focusing on a thing. Here’s the short list of things that I have dipped my finger into, never to fully commit and excel. Let’s start with the obvious:

  1. Blogging. I would love to be a blogger. I am (based on my statistics) a 10% blogger. That is, out of the 365 days in a year, I have blogged 40 times. That’s pretty puny compared to the bloggers whose sites you flock to as a part of your morning coffee ritual or lunch break reprieve from work. I have desired to be a bigger influencer in the blogging community off and on for the last year and it’s a subject I have wrestled with continually. What will I write about that will engage people? What do people even want to read about from me? What is my motivation (encouragement?vanity? affirmation? sharing experience?)? Am I funny enough? Do I dress well enough? Am I still being authentic and real? I would love to collaborate with that company. I don’t want to sell out and collaborate with that other company. I don’t want my content to become watered down because I’m meeting deadlines and writing based off a script. I have great plans and dreams of content, but will it fall on deaf ears and be a waste of my creative energy and time? You catch my drift.
  2. Singing. I am on the worship team at our church and it is such a high honor I have to use my voice to lead our congregation in worship. But based off how many weekends per year I lead, I am a 23% worship leader and thus a 23% singer. I don’t feel at all like a master of this craft, and I have so much to learn. I was, in the last year, invited to be a part of a song-writing collaboration, and I have written exactly zero songs. Where is the time? Every time I sit down to the piano my fingers freeze up and my mind goes to creating mental lists of doctor appointments and grocery lists instead of major and minor chord progressions. Not to mention I am stunted by the intimidation of “whatever I write will be a laughing stock compared to what actual artists are writing.” And so I give my 23% and the remaining 77% sits in the corner waiting for me to come and engage it. Screen Shot 2017-07-29 at 9.59.05 AM.png
  3. Photography. I have recently fallen head over heels in love with my camera and spend as much time as I can taking my best attempts at beautiful photos with it. I don’t know how much of a percent of photographer I am, but if you just dip your toe into the online world of photography, as I have, you would agree my breadth of knowledge and talent probably make me a <1% photographer. Talk about a craft with a lot of artists! I am basic in comparison to most, but I have the heart for it. And still, every time I hit “export”on a final photo, the first words out of my mouth are “Is it OK? I can redo it if you don’t like it!”

Other areas I dabble in and wish I were more proficient include entrepreneurship, writing (in a more significant context than blogging), mentoring, cooking, painting, beauty, fashion… But I’m a dabbler. A taste-tester.

I wonder… what do you feel I can offer? What is something that when you think of Courtney Schultz, you say “She seems proficient or experienced in ____ and I would ask her advice on _____”?

I can sit here all day and write soliloquies about my musings and dabblings, but what value am I bringing to you? What do you come to me to gain? What can I give? Where can I strive for 100%? If you have a word or two to share, I would be ever grateful for the guidance of trusted friends. ❤️

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Adoption from the home front

My sister and brother-in-law adopted their precious little girl this week and are currently in China finalizing the legal end of her homecoming paperwork. Kaley has been blogging about their story and it is most definitely worth a read. Her transparency and openness on their journey has been a light to our family and to so many people who are hanging on their every update.

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But there are a lot of sides to the adoption journey and all of us on the home front are also experiencing so many emotions and feelings as we watch and wait for little glimpses into their new life together. Let me emphasize this: adoption is amazing and adoption is hard. When Kaley had her last biological daughter, Tatum, almost 3 years ago, we were all IN the delivery room during labor, IN the waiting room as she delivered, and back IN the delivery room about an hour after birth. We were in and out of the hospital for the days she was there and then we were in and out of their home, regularly checking in, helping, and showering the newest family member with all of our love. With Quinna’s adoption, we have been unable to do any of those things. And yet, adoption is as much a miracle of new life as birth. So how does a family that is SO close and SO involved in one another’s lives navigate a “birth” that they can’t be a part of? It’s been emotional on so many levels.

On the night Kaley and Rob got Quinna (because of the 12 hour time difference, they met her at about 4am our time), I don’t think any of us slept. We knew it was coming, and it was like being told “she’s 10cm and ready to push” so obviously we were wide-eyed and refreshing our phones every 10 seconds. HOWEVER, unlike a newborn baby that sleeps most of the time and is generally unaware of her surroundings, Quinna was very aware of her surroundings (particularly, of that fact that her surroundings were NOTHING like those which she has only ever known). So Quinna’s first day and night with Kaley and Rob were hard. Really hard. Sunday morning (in America) rolled around and we attended church as usual, knowing that what was going on in China was hard and gut-wrenching for all parties. Quinna was grieving. Kaley and Rob were doing everything in their power to comfort her and show her love, but she had no idea how to receive it. Throw in a language barrier and all she hears is unintelligible strings of sounds meant to comfort that only confused. When I saw my parents at church, it was evident we were all short on sleep and high on emotions. We clung to each other during the service and worship, taking turns bawling and embracing. A great victory had occurred! Quinna was united with her forever family! What a celebration! And yet, in her entire life she had maybe never felt more confused, scared and abandoned (by her nannies and all familiar caregivers). And so, while we wanted to raise our hands in victory, we clung to each other feeling a heavy burden of sadness for our new niece and granddaughter. Taylor, one of the worship leaders at our church, sang an incredible song at the end of the service that had us all weeping and couldn’t have been more relevant.

For hours and hours following church, I would listen to the song and let the tears fall. It was the strangest mixture of emotions that I can ever recall feeling. While I listened and wept and prayed, it occurred to me that in this experience, so far away from those who we wanted to be near more than anything, there is very little I can do to “help” them. But maybe (just maybe), God was transplanting some of Quinna’s grief onto us to lighten her burden. We couldn’t be there; we couldn’t hug them or hold her; we couldn’t provide food or basic needs; but we could cry all the tears. And so we did. While Kaley and Rob have been keeping their bravest faces on for their girl, we have been letting down our guard and welcoming the wave of emotions to roll over every part of us.

After that first 24 hours, things started looking up for Kaley, Rob and Quinna (more of which you can read about on her blog). Still, we cling to every morsel of information they can offer us through sporadic texts, Instagram updates and stories, and blog posts. We desire to see her and know her so badly, but this road of respecting her space and her attachment to her parents is not nearly over. For weeks (months?) we will need to give her plenty of space so as not to confuse her as the identities of her nuclear family are cemented into her brain (and heart).

She is fragile. So are our hearts. Kaley has said this for many months but adoption is a birth of the heart. A beautiful, painful, emotional process.

Not flesh of my flesh nor bone of my bone, but still miraculously my own. Never forget for a single minute, you didn’t grow under my heart, but in it. (Fleur Conkling Heyliger)

If you can, continue to pray for my niece. Pray that she continues to grow in attachment to her mommy and daddy. Pray that Kaley and Rob would continue to learn and employ the best techniques to comfort their precious Quinna. Pray for their three other daughters back home – two weeks without your mom and dad is no joke, and they will surely be missing THEIR home and parents fiercely. Pray for safety as they travel throughout China and then return home next Friday.

Baby you’re almost home now. Please don’t quit now. You’re almost home to me. 

 

 

Knoxy

Do we have any middle children in the house? 🙋🏻

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Stockton and I are both the middle of three kids. But our personalities don’t necessarily follow traditional birth order psychology (OK, mine is birth order to a T, but Stockton is in a league of his own, always mature and responsible and VERY UN-MIDDLE-CHILDISH).  This year has been an interesting one with our precious Knoxy. He has been dethroned as the baby of the family, he had some behavioral challenges that warranted a change of school, and in the most general terms of all, he’s three. Three is hard. (And all the mamas of 3 year olds said amen). Read More

A Lenten Covenant

Lent. What do you think of? I’ll be honest, the first thing that comes to mind for me is giving up chocolate, or tv, or booze… some feeble attempt to temporarily give up something that you consider to be no good for you. For what, though? So you can scratch those 40 days off your check list and feel vindicated? In a way,  it feels slightly like New Years Resolutions: Part II.

But as we enter into this Lenten season, I wanted more than that. I want to grow closer to Jesus. I want to be pushed out of my comfort zone. I want to give and sacrifice and be uncomfortable. I want to make an impact without an ulterior motive (i.e. giving up ice cream, which would happen to coincide with dieting). Enter: a personalized daily calendar of Lenten offerings.

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My sisters and I all put our heads together to create what we feel is a meaningful and challenging calendar of Lenten activities to strive toward accomplishing every day of this holy season. Maddie, my sister who is the creative talent behind Lined Goods, graciously designed this beautiful calendar for us (available for download later in the post, or in her etsy shop). Kaley, Maddie and I group texted and conference-called our way through each day of the calendar, really fine tuning the commitments for each day with the goal of making them universal enough that we believe almost everyone can participate. I hope this is something you print out and hang on your fridge for the next 40ish days as a reminder of each daily sacrifice, challenge or gift that you can practice in continued effort to grow closer to Christ. Take a peek at the calendar and then I’ll break down some of what you see to explain our thought process.

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So here’s the lowdown on Lent and how it influenced our calendar…

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“Lent is a period of fasting, moderation, and self-denial traditionally observed by Catholics and some Protestant denominations. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday.  The length of the Lenten fast was established in the 4th century as 46 days (40 days, not counting Sundays).” (Source) With that as the guide for creating our calendar, we tried to include a varied spread of gifts, sacrifices, reflection and fasting throughout the duration of lent. Some things we considered as we made this:

  • There are 4 opportunities to donate your possessions to a charity of your choice on “Pack a Bag” days (every other Friday during Lent). We were inspired by the opportunity to reduce our possessions while giving them to others who are in need. You may consider simply donating your bags at the local Goodwill or Salvation Army drop boxes, OR you can find a local charity that could benefit (for instance, if I packed a bag full of baby and maternity items, I could take this to the Women’s Care Center which aids pregnant and new mothers right here in our community).
  • There is fasting each week. This should be done with some common sense, and I am not a medical professional, nor do I have much experience with fasting, so I’m not going to give medical advice around this issue. Here’s what I do know. We live in a country where we are extremely blessed with abundant amounts of food and nourishment. Even the hungriest among us eats more than a large percentage of our global population. It should come as no surprise to you that America tops the charts on average daily caloric consumption charts, so to skip a meal or two or three will not kill any of us. However, we all have extenuating health circumstances to be aware of, so please (again) use common sense. I, as a nursing mother, need to keep up my caloric intake to feed my daughter. On fasting days, I will be doing a food fast, but I will allow myself caloric beverages so that I am able to feed her. I’m planning to drink juices and milk those days to nourish my body enough to nourish hers, while still experiencing the hunger that will point me toward God. (This blog post was helpful to me as I endeavor to learn more about and begin practicing spiritual fasting and you may find it helpful also).
  • In addition to dietary fasting, we included some other fasting that we think you will find challenging and also very beneficial. Four times during the season of lent, you are asked to “Unplug” and take a social media fast for the day. Again, this falls under the category of making us uncomfortable, forcing ourselves to “go without” something that we are heavily attached to, and spend that time doing something else that would be more beneficial (like prayer, service, or simply plugging in to those around us).
  • Tithing above and beyond. Each Sunday we are encouraging participants to give over their weekly tithe. If you follow this plan exactly, you will be giving an additional $105 to your place of worship during the season of Lent. Start by slipping an extra $5 in the plate the first Sunday and each week add $5 until by the last Sunday you’re giving an extra $30. Again, this is supposed to challenge us and push us outside of our comfort zones. We understand that everyone’s financial limitations/abilities are different, so please adjust this to your ability to give. Maybe you throw an extra dollar in the plate. Maybe your ability to give is in the neighborhood of $100 extra per week. Regardless of your level of giving, I encourage you to give sacrificially during this season and see how God blesses you in the process.

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I will be doing Instagram Story updates throughout the season to keep up with the “why” behind some of the days and to give support and encouragement for anyone else participating. I sincerely hope this calendar can be a blessing to you. If you love the thought but want to fill in your own activities, Maddie has provided a blank calendar for you to write in your own daily goals. Download here.

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Do your best. Set your heart on God. Forget about the chocolate. Do what will draw your heart closer to your maker this season. I’m praying for you and for what the Lord will do through your obedience, sacrifice and selflessness.

John 3:30 – “He must become greater; I must become less.”

Pray & Purge

I have been in a major purge mode lately as I prepare for our move later this year. Everything I own is on the chopping block it seems. And if you are a local friend in a certain Facebook resale group, you can totally attest to my random postings (old kids shoes, platters, my Christmas tree… nothing is safe). I realize I’m not moving in the NEAR future, but near enough that I would rather be prepared for what’s ahead instead of feeling like I’m simply moving my mess from one house to the next. So I purge. And purge. And purge. Because while not all of these things I’m selling are really inconveniencing me all that much, there are certain things that are really causing me some anxiety. Too much of a (good or bad) thing is just that… too much. And I’m happier without some of it. Or at the very least, the thing itself wasn’t making me happy, so its absence from my life is a better thing than its presence. You know what I’m saying?

There are other things, too. Non-material things. Things that are cluttering my life. Things that are making me feel a certain way or infiltrating my thoughts, uninvited. Things that I wear around like a weighted vest and not only allow to burden myself, but ultimately burden others vicariously through me. Things that I should purge. FOR INSTANCE. I have an app on my phone that gives me data about another certain social media app I use. I downloaded this app when I was on my big wanna-be-a-blogger kick (a kick I have since kicked – this here blog is nothing more than a shared journal of my thoughts anymore). It was recommended that you have this app to track growth (and loss) and other stats that were not provided by the social media site. So I had it, and I developed a bad habit of checking it. Often. And what I saw on it burdened me. It pressured me. It corrupted my motives. It started to possess my thoughts and my actions and plainly, I hated it. But it took me until just today to purge myself of it. So I Prayed & Purged. I prayed that God would take control of my thoughts and that He would release me from the burden of this fact-hub app that was fueling all of my insecurities. And then I purged. It’s gone. Forever. For good.

What is it in your life that’s burdening you? Holding you in a pattern or a place that is less than what you know the Lord has for you? Maybe it’s an addiction. Maybe it’s a person. Let’s practice praying & purging.

“Lord, you are the God of my body. I pray that you would take control of this food addiction I have and that you would obliterate the thoughts of self-deprecation and replace them with the thoughts of self-love that you intend for me to have. Into your hands I commit my mind and my body.” Now go empty your pantry and purge the junk.  

“Lord, this person is no good for me. We aren’t meant to be. But I know you love her. I pray for peace to come over her and for there to be no animosity between us from here on out, but I pray we will benefit from separation until a time you see fit to reincorporate our lives. Until then, Lord, remove the distractions from my life that are causing me low self esteem and let us both continue with our lives, amicably apart.” Now go and hit that unfriend button. It’s ok. God didn’t make you (or me) to be everybody’s friend. He made us to love one another. But sometimes our best bet at loving someone in a Godly way is to stop watching their every move and casting (or receiving) judgement.

Pray and purge. Pray and purge. 

But you can’t purge without the pray (and I’m not referring to your sock drawer, you go ahead and just clean that out, in the holy name of Jesus). If you purge without the pray, you’re missing the point of asking God to take control over The Thing that is burdening you, and now you’ve removed The Thing, but your motives are wrong. And what happens when you endeavor to do something with the wrong motives? It isn’t God-ordained! Let’s take my example of a relationship. Let’s say you’ve been laboring with a relationship at work that just isn’t appearing to be beneficial at this point. So you take matters into your own hands and say “Y’know what? I’m done. I’m never speaking to that person again.” Now you will be a) consumed by the drama of your declaration because drama follows human decisions around like Pepe Le Pew’s signature scent, and b) you’ve just slammed a door shut on something God may have wanted to bless. At the very least, by praying over it first, you could have alleviated some conflict in the break room when you inevitably bump into that person getting your coffee refill. If you pray first, you are asking God to take control of the past, present and future of that relationship, trusting that He knows what’s best for both of you because he loves both of you.

And here’s another free tip on the matter: if you have to ask yourself if The Thing is worth keeping in your life, it’s probably not. See below:

Cheetos. 
That extra winter coat that I haven’t worn in a few years.
That friend who cuts me down or damages my self esteem.
That second (or third, or forth) drink.
That website.
That status symbol.

If you even have to ASK, then you probably know the answer, right pals?

Pray and purge. Pray and purge.

Lord, in a way only you can do, I pray that you would give someone permission to get right of The Thing in their life. The Thing that they can’t get off their mind. The Thing that is making their life toxic. The Thing that is slowly hurting them. Continue to reveal MY Thing(s) to me and with your help, allow me to graciously get rid of them. Leave only room for the things that allow me to do your work and bless others. In the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.

Picture This

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Last Saturday, I attended a workshop that has been on my bucket list for several years. Stockton and I bought a DSLR camera before we got married in 2010 and it took me several years before I tapped into the potential of that camera. I shot in manual for my business (product photography and product modeling) using the secondhand knowledge that both of my sisters shared with me after taking this very DSLR workshop themselves.

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Fast forward to this past Christmas when I opened up a shiny new Nikon and I decided that once and for all, I needed to get myself to Joanne’s workshop myself and hear from the pro’s mouth how to use this beautiful new camera to take beautiful pictures. Even though I was used to shooting in manual on my old camera, this newer and more sophisticated camera set me back several steps as I needed to relearn so many features that were different and more advanced. Also shooting a stationary object for product photography is WAY different than trying to capture lots of movement (hello 3 and 5 year old boys), emotion, and human features. Enter Joanne!

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Joanne has been taking our family photos for years (she shot our engagement session back in 2009, which I believe is the first session we ever had with her). She is an incredibly poised professional behind the camera and she makes you feel confident and secure in front of the camera.

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When she started giving these workshops several years ago, I remember wondering why in the world she would train other photographers (some of whom went on to open and grow their own photography businesses!). In a world where people are so protective over their trade secrets and intellectual property, it was completely foreign to me to hear of someone laying out all of their cards to others. I LOVE THAT SHE DOES THIS! Not only because I was lucky enough to benefit from her sharing, but because in this world of competition, I think it’s beautifully refreshing to see someone whose focus is on community instead of competition. YES! MORE OF THIS, PEOPLE!

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We had a gorgeous model named Aria who was so pleasant to work with. She was patient and poised, which was helpful since it takes me about 100x longer to get my settings dialed in than Joanne. Everyone would have their chance to listen to Joanne’s instruction and then take their own photos, applying her tips for camera settings, posing, composition, etc. I was taking so many notes throughout the day just trying to soak up her every word.

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Of course, in typical generous Joanne fashion, she was incredibly willing to follow up with any of us who have questions after the fact, even offering to critique our finished work (hey Joanne, if you’re reading this, feel free to critique away!). She sees continued communication as a part of our ongoing education and what we paid for with this class. Yet again, she goes so far above and beyond as a photographer to be a teacher as well.

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She offers other courses, also, including how to shoot newborns and weddings. Her studio is in Goshen and it’s well worth the trip and the expense to familiarize yourself with your DSLR equipment and start taking better photos of your family and others. Hopefully this is the beginning of a lifelong hobby (I have a feeling it is). Thank you, Joanne. Thank you for teaching us that the pie is big enough for everyone to have a piece and for being a powerful witness of how we can thrive in community with each other, not in spite of each other.

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Outfit details: Distressed white denim, Military Anorak,  Tie-Front Fleece Top, Steve Madden Sneakers (similar here).

Josephiney Photograph LLC