Thursday, August 18, 2016

scripture for a new mama's heart

I have sat here and sat here, trying to think of encouragement for the new mama heart, but I realized none of my words could come close to the words of scripture that I clung to in those early days and continue to hold on to as I press on in motherhood. They're beautiful and sacred days, but you can never be really prepared for the challenge you face. My prayer is you read these and the Lord speaks to and calms your heart. You may feel more alone than you ever have before, but take heart. God is WITH you. He SEES you. He is fighting FOR you. Lean in and rest in His promises. He loves you and trusts you to care for the sweet, sweet child he blessed you with. You ARE enough. He WILL equip you for this job. It's a season that will be gone in the blink of an eye. Soak it up and relish in the beauty of His creation. I love you and I'm here for you. Never hesitate to reach out if you need a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. I've been there.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. [Psalm 72:26]

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. [Psalm 127:3-5]

For you created (baby's name) inmost being; you knit them together in my womb. I praise you because they are fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Their frame was not hidden from you when they were made in the secret place, when they were woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw their unformed body; all the days ordained for them were written in your book before one of them came to be. [Psalm 139:13-16]

I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give them to the Lord. For their whole life they will be given over to the Lord.     [1 Samuel 1:27-28]

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. [2 Thessalonians 1:11-12]

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens... He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know there is nothing better for people than do be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. [Ecclesiastes 3:1;11-13]

For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, "Do not fear. I will help you." [Isaiah 41:14]

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

steps of faith.

The second I stepped foot in Christ Fellowship during our interview last June, I knew I wanted to be a part of what God is doing here. By the end of our week of interviews, Clint and I both felt confident that he'd be a great fit on the team. The following week, we prayed and talked and were in agreement we'd accept the job if it was offered. It was a huge move, but there was complete peace in our hearts because we knew God was opening the door and going before us.

During all of that excitement and dreaming, imagine our shock when the offer was less than we were expecting. Much less. We'd made the decision that I'd continue to stay home with the kids wherever God took us next and, in my mind, there was no way we'd be able to live in South Florida off of the salary offered. As soon as I got off the phone with Clint when he told me what happened, I burst into hot, angry tears. I was furious at God. How could he open this door, get us excited and confident about our journey, and then slam it in our face?

In the midst of the anger and disappointment, I felt God speak to my spirit, "I didn't close the door. You're the one trying to do that."

We prayed and we prayed that God would change the offer. We countered and talked and budgeted and worried. I tried to get a budget together that we could do more than survive and I just wasn't seeing it. It just didn't seem to be enough.

In the end, God didn't change the offer. He did something even better. He changed our hearts.

We decided to trust His promises in scripture and take a step of faith, into the seemingly impossible, and definite unknown, even when it didn't make sense. Matthew 6 came to life for us. We decided to seek His kingdom and righteousness and trust that these things-- our basic needs-- would be given to us as well. We couldn't worry about tomorrow and what it would bring. Just take it one day at a time.

And real talk, y'all... it's been hard. REALLY hard. There've been times we have had less than $20 in our account, the gas light is on in the car, we have hardly any food in the house, and still have days until we get paid again. It can be frustrating, embarrassing, and not always a lot of fun.

But the good greatly outweighs the bad. God is faithful to His promises. In some miraculous way, God has met every. single. one. of our needs. Be it a "random" check in the mail, friends throwing together a last minute dinner party with leftovers out the wazoo they send home with everyone, gifts cards we forgot we had, or an offer of a ride somewhere, we've never been without anything we need.
God has blessed us beyond measure. He's truly blessing our stewardship efforts and obedience. With the help of far more financially savvy friends and God's crazy way of working, we were able to pay off over $8,000 worth of debt in under 6 weeks. In a time when we're bringing home considerably less than we ever have, God provided a way for us to become debt free! It allowed us the breathing room we desperately needed. That only makes sense through God's power.

Beyond the trust and faith I've learned to put in God, He's used this season to teach us that life isn't all about money or the stuff it can buy. Life is simpler now. We have lots of dates after kids go to bed, lots of dinner and games at friends houses, and lots of evenings spent at the beach. Life may be simpler, but we are filled with more joy and peace than they ever have been. Knowing we're where God wants us and it is a place we LOVE is worth every penny pinched. Clint and I each say at least once a week that we can't believe we live here and get to be a part of CF and all God is doing there. We're choosing to find our contentment in HIM, not a number in our bank account.

I say none of this to brag on us or anything we've done "right". Literally all we've done is take step after step in a crazy path the Lord has led us on. He's done everything else. Faith can't be conditional. If God is calling you to do something, do it. Even if it doesn't make sense. Even if it's scary or unknown. Even if you don't think you can. Do it. And prepare to be utterly amazed at how the Lord will bless you in ways you never imagined.

Monday, December 7, 2015

when a messy house becomes a heart issue

I've mentioned it before, but I've never fancied myself a good homemaker. I wouldn't do laundry for over a week, I'd leave dirty pans in the sink "soaking" for days, the sink would fill up with dirty dishes while clean dishes were ready to be put away in the dishwasher, and more and more toys would make their way from the play room into the living room, never to be put away again. I was constantly stressed and always had a lingering to-do list in the back of my mind that I was putting off.

I had a LOT of excuses.

I was making memories with the kids.
I was busy.
I'm just not naturally a tidy person.
I never learned to clean from my mom. (Love ya, momma ;-) )
I'd learn how to clean... one day.

Then, a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of hearing Christine Caine speak two times in three days and God opened my eyes to something.

I was NOT being a good steward of the life He's blessed me with.

I was living in chaos and stress by choice. And by making that choice, I was making it for my family. I was stressed, short tempered, and overwhelmed and no where near the wife/mom I so badly desired to be. God gives us 24 hours every single day and I was choosing to waste them away because "I'd learn to clean one day when the kids are older/we have a bigger house/nicer house" and "I'm just not a good homemaker by nature."

Christine said a couple of things that were game changers for me.

We talk about what we don't have and where we're not instead of what we do have and where we are now. Unless you value this moment now, you'll never value that moment then.
Saying 'but God' is putting our inadequacies above God's ability to use us.

God has put me in this (not-so-nice) apartment with a toddler and baby right now. Why do I think that I will magically become a good homemaker when the kids are older and we live somewhere nicer? When I tell God I'm just not good at it, I'm saying that He's not big enough to give me the discipline I need to learn.

This last week has been a total 180. I did major cleaning Monday. The main living part of our house was spotless. So much so, that a friend who comes for dinner every Monday walked in and said, "Oh my gosh, Steph. You've got a kitchen!"

Tuesday I totally reorganized and cleaned the play room and Wednesday I tackled Reuben's room and bathroom. The kicker to all of this... it's all still clean. 

I'm doing simple things like actually putting away laundry every load. What a novel idea. Oh. And I'm putting things away when I'm done with them. Right when I'm done with them. Genius. I load the dishwasher throughout the day, run it at night, and Clint unloads it in the morning before work. It's all so attainable and... dare I say it... easy. *GASP*.

This is in no way a "Go ahead and give me a pat on the back" sort of post. It's more of a "you can do it" post to all the other struggling mamas out there. There is grace in busy seasons of life, don't get me wrong. But wasting your time and being a bad steward of it is just not ok to settle for and dwell in. Pray, pray, pray. You can't change anything in your own power, but through God changing your heart and spirit, you can!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

3 tips to enjoy the beach with littles

We've been in Florida for almost three months. In those three months, we've been to the beach WAY more than I figured we would've. We aren't huuuuge beach people (we burn way too easily), but I feel like we're finally getting the hang of it. I'm definitely no professional, but I'm learning more each time, so I figured I'd share some tips here!

1. Don't go in the middle of the day.

That may sound like a "duh" kind of thing, but it seriously makes the biggest difference in heat, crowds, and overall moods for everyone involved. I made the mistake of taking the kids right before nap time (like 11ish) and it was awful. People everywhere, crazy hot, and everyone was hungry and tired. Since then, we only go in the morning or around dinner time. If we plan on going in the morning, we're out of the house by 8:00 and normally back in the car no later than 10:30. It's cooler with way fewer people. We've discovered lately that our favorite thing to do is to take dinner and eat on the beach and then play in the ocean for a little while afterwards. It's even less crowded and cooler than the morning and who doesn't like picnicking on the beach?

If you don't live at the beach and are just visiting, I'd recommend going back to the rental house/hotel for lunch/nap and then doing something indoors or the pool during the middle of the day heat. Basically something that's way less work intensive ;-)

2. Only take the necessities. 

I MAJORLY overpacked the first couple of times we went to the beach. Now, I take a towel for each of us, a bluetooth speaker to play music, a sippy cup of ice water, a tent for Ellie to hang out in, and Reuben's floaties. Changes of clothes, snacks, toys, sunscreen, etc all get left in the car and used before/after the trip. It makes it 100x easier to get there when you're carrying way less. I can fit everything (plus a huge king size blanket to sit on) in one Thirty-One Deluxe Utility Tote. If we're taking dinner, I make sure everything fits in a thermal tote. Clint carries that, I wear Ellie, and hold Reuben's hand on the walk. Piece of cake.


We hate sand. Like, hate it. All the rinsing in the world doesn't seem to rid us of it, and with a toddler who just wallows in it, there are parts you can't rinse off in public if you know what I mean. I can't remember where I heard it first, but someone told me that baby powder helps get sand off of you. Guys, it's life changing. A generous sprinkle of it on anything sandy and the sand just falls off. It's magical. We never go to the beach without it!

What's your best tip for making the beach with littles easier?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

last week's food wins//black beans are our friends

It's been a while since I've been able to compile the food we've been loving. A teething baby and a two year old in the midst of... well, being a two year old, will do that to you. We've still been eating at home 95% of the time and loving it. We've settled into a pretty good rhythm and meal planning and shopping for it is getting easier and easier.

We've been eating a LOT of black beans lately since we've been cutting down on meat. These three recipes are so good that I've made them each twice in the last 2.5 weeks!

The biggest win in the last few weeks were these black bean burgers. I mean, Pioneer Woman. Yup.

I follow the recipe pretty closely. The only change I made is using sriracha in the place of regular hot sauce and using a little bit of cayenne to add a nice little kick. We put some cheese and toast the buns up nicely and they're just so, so good. And really easy to reheat on the griddle with just a smidge more oil.

The next recipe we LOVED (including Reuben) are these black bean and cheese enchiladas

Real talk- I completely skipped the whole making my own sauce because a'int nobody got time for that. I just used a can of Old El Paso from Winn Dixie (because we don't have Kroger down here :-( ) and called it good. So basically, it's a can of black beans, two cups of cheese, 12 corn tortillas, and a can of enchilada sauce. Doesn't get cheaper or easier than that. These are TASTY!

The last great recipe was this southwestern black bean casserole

Again, this is so easy (notice a trend here?) and tasty. Reuben loves it and we do too. I always use a few more tortillas than it recommends because I like tortillas a lot. Let's be real. Oh, and I leave out cilantro just because I can't find it at Aldi and I don't feel like going somewhere else for that one ingredient when it tastes great without it.

What are you and your family loving this week?

Monday, October 19, 2015

when will I become a super mom?

My mom came down for a visit last week (hence the blogging break) and we had a fantastic time!

We saw sea turtles, ate dinner on the beach, and did lots and lots of shopping. Between all of that, we had some down time at the house during naps and after bedtimes. During that time, I was blown away with how much my mom could get done in such a short time. Stuff that would take me over an hour, she had done in less than half the time.

She can do dishes, laundry, and pick up simultaneously. My dishes came out of the dishwasher cleaner than I've ever seen them and she cleaned clothes I didn't even realize I had. She even cleaned out my CAR. None of that was asked for and it was all on top of hanging out with us, doing naps and bedtime with Reuben, and cuddling with Ellie. Oh. And with a bum hip. She's getting it replaced in less than a month!

I don't know about you, but I struggle with daily household stuff Will I get these mom superpowers one day, too?!

I sure hope I do. It'd make me that much more like the best mom in the world. :)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

the Lord gives, the Lord takes away. part 2

Here is part 2 of our story. Make sure you've read part 1 before continuing on here. It's crazy to read back through this two years after writing it. By God's grace, we've added another baby to the mix, born only 5 days after the two year anniversary of saying bye to our first. Our sweet, sweet first baby may've not been here long, but it had a lasting impact on me and Clint. We are so very thankful for it's short life and so look forward to meeting it in heaven!

So, the Lord had given us a baby.

And then the Lord took that baby away to be with Him.

I had been meditating in the fact that no matter what, the Lord was to be praised, but seriously? Why couldn't he have just given us that precious babe and never taken it away? Why did he have to bring that scripture up to me over and over and over again? It was like rubbing salt in a wound. Every time I thought of it, I'd instantly be angry that I had to know the side of praising the Lord even when He took something away. Let's be real. It's easy to praise the Lord when He's given us something! When he's taken that something away? It gets a lot harder.

The days following the miscarriage I cried. A LOT. Like an ugly, ugly cry. I'd never felt pain/hurt/sorrow like I did in those days. I was mad at God. SO mad. It wasn't fair. And I felt broken. Why couldn't my body carry a baby? And I felt so, so, so alone. Every where I looked was a reminder of the baby that wasn't going to be coming home with us in December. 

But you know what?

Through all of it, God was good. More than good. He was great.

I'm honestly having a hard time putting into words how well He took care of us and how much he blessed us through the following days, but I want to share some moments so that He gets the glory and so that I'll never forget. Some of them are huge and some of them are so small you'll probably laugh that I even consider them a God thing. But every single one was proof of God not leaving us and was loving us so, so well...

- On Sunday, before we knew for sure what was happening, we jokingly said if we lost the baby, we'd tack on a trip to Disney World before our cruise because "You can't be sad at the happiest place on Earth." When we got off the phone with the nurse on Monday afternoon, Clint said, "Looks like we're heading to Disney." We had no money for that. Like zero. But we needed to get away. To put our minds somewhere else after the 48 hours of torture they'd already endured. Well, between Monday afternoon and Tuesday night before we'd gone to bed, we'd gotten a little over $500 out of no where. We hadn't asked anybody for a single penny, but between friends and family feeling prompted by God, we'd gotten close to $225 and then opened an envelope from our bank that had a $300 check from "overages on our escrow." I asked my dad if that happened a lot and he said no and we've never seen a check like it since that night. The money we'd gotten covered our gas, hotel room, tickets, and food in the park PERFECTLY. None left over, but nothing uncovered.

- Our friends went above and beyond taking care of us. We let our small group know what was going on Sunday and they jumped into action. Our friends Micha and Hunter came over with lunch, watched a movie with us, and prayed over us before they left. Our other friends Cara and Jason dropped off a surprise on our doorstep of goodies for our trip. We had constant texts telling us they were praying for us and encouragement for the long road ahead. God has surrounded us with the best friends we could ever ask for.

- A guy who works in our student ministry as a volunteer worked for Gaylord at the time and told us earlier in the year that he'd hook us up with a room at Gaylord Palms and a car to and from our cruise ship for only $100. We gladly took him up on the offer! So fast forward to Friday. We're exhausted by 6:00 pm because neither of us had been sleeping well so we decided to peace out of Magic Kingdom and go to our room and try and get sleep before our cruise. When we got to our room, we found out it wasn't an average room. He'd gotten us a suite that was bigger than our first apartment! It was gigantic. and perfect. and exactly the surprise we needed to lift our spirits.

- Sitting in our massive suite, our moods still started to droop. Night times were just so hard. Clint was getting ready for bed in the bathroom and I was sitting in the living room, trying not to cry when I heard a knock on the door. I opened it and It was a tray full of goodies with a note from JB. Not only were there goodies, they were my FAVORITE goodies! It was Dr. Pepper, Diet Coke, chocolate chip cookies with milk, Peanut M&MS, and a few bags of potato chips. There was no way they knew those were all of my favorite guilty pleasures. It was a God thing. He knew I needed that little ray of sun in that moment.

- We booked our cruise in March 2011 and had it paid off 4-5 months before any of this ever happened. It was not a coincidence that it was 6 days after our miscarriage. The Lord knew we were going to need to get away and had provided it, before we ever knew it was a need. 

Those are just the moments that happened the week after. There've been countless more. Like the fact God put me in a small group of staff wives where 4 out of the other 6 had experienced pregnancy loss. Or the time two dear friends prayed over me, at two different times, saying they felt like the Lord was going to give us another child soon, while I was already pregnant with Reuben and had no idea!

My relationship with Clint and with God changed completely on April 22, 2012. I know, love, and trust Clint in a deeper way than before. We grew up a lot. We were forced to be honest with each other. We saw sides of each other we'd never seen before, even after being best friends since middle school. And I know, love, and trust God more now than I ever have. I had to rely on him. He was my only hope. My only constant in a crazy storm. The only one who had any answers and who could provide comfort that passed all understanding.

Yes, we have a sweet child here on Earth with us now. And pray that we'll have more and more. But there will always be a special place in my heart for that baby. I long for the day I get to meet them in heaven. Until then, my prayer is that their life, no matter how short it was, will count. That what I learned from it will be able to help other women going through the same thing. You are NOT alone.

I would never, ever, ever, ever, ever ask to be put through that. Like, EVER. But.

God is good, all the time. All the time, God. Is. Good.