Making a Difference

 Someone took this picture of me, Rob and Bo one Sunday morning during worship last summer. This picture is priceless and is part of the reason I know why God has me here in NY.

Someone took this picture of me, Rob and Bo one Sunday morning during worship last summer. This picture is priceless and is part of the reason I know why God has me here in NY.

I remember first moving here to Long Island, I knew no one. I had Rob’s family which made things a little easier but I didn’t have a church family or anyone aside from my boyfriend (now husband)’s family and the transition to living in New York was a bit rough for me. I felt like a fish out of water. I missed everything about what I always knew home was — the south. I had lived in many places but there was something very different about this new environment and culture that had me feeling pretty claustrophobic and anxious. I was bound and determined not to get comfortable here. I started my new job, met some of Rob’s friends from high school and their wives but I kept a safe distance because I figured, why should I get close to anyone if I don’t plan on staying here?

Rob and I finally found our church after a year and a half of living here and even though I felt a sense of belonging after so long of feeling unsettled, I still kept a safe distance from people. I didn’t want Rob to think I was getting too comfortable and have a crazy thought of us actually staying in New York for good. I kept up with this ridiculous notion for years. I struggled so bad with the torn feelings, so much so that before we got married, I — for the first time in my life — saw a therapist, thinking I didn’t want to ruin a marriage before it started because of the resentment and helplessness I felt about living here on Long Island. That therapy didn’t help because it was a deeper rooted issue that would take me years more to discover. Once we started going to our church, after we were married, I met with my pastor’s wife one day, bellyaching about my woes of missing home. I remember her telling me that I should start praying differently; instead of begging God to get me back home, I should condition myself to accept that I’m going to be in New York forever and ask God how he can use me while I'm here. I didn't like that answer one bit. I continued on my quest to get the heck out of Long Island, New York, of course to no avail.

I'm not sure at what exact point I started to lose momentum of fighting to get off this island, maybe it was after the zillions of possibilities of moving which led to the zillions of letdowns. I was tired of feeling disappointed which turned into resentment, and so on and so forth. It could have been when Bo was born and I decided shortly thereafter that I didn't want to wish my life away when I had an answered prayer physically in my arms. For the last few years, something shifted in me, that I do know for sure. Of course I still miss so many things about what I will always feel is home to me but in the same regard, I think what I begged God for for so many years, I finally received. PEACE. I can't even count how many times I'd have an internal meltdown because I was still here in New York, I'd tell God I was giving everything to Him and that I just wanted His will for my life, and then I'd beg Him to show me what He wanted me to do next. This was a vicious cycle, over and over and over but I think deep down I really wasn't willing to completely let go of the dream of going back south. After many life changes throughout the course of these last 2-3 years, going through a desert season, coming out on the other end and then looking over the course of my life and seeing so much that I hadn't really noticed before, it was like the scales fell off my eyes and heart.

I don't have it all together and shoot, who really ever does anyway?! I do, however, truly feel like in so many ways I'm walking in God's will. I recently felt the nudge to volunteer for our church's youth group. TOTTTTALLLY out of my comfort zone so it must be God, right?! I don't know in what capacity this new venture will be and what it will look like but I answered what I felt was the call. I feel like I sound like a broken record because I've shared this with so many people but I figure if I can help at least one teen girl not go down some of the paths that I went down, that's a win/win. It's a win for the teen girl who doesn't have to feel regret or loss for mistakes that she may avoid and it's a win for God because all of this is about Him anyway.

As of December 6th of this year, it will be 8 years that I've lived here — yes, E I G H T! It's mind boggling to think I packed up all of my earthly possessions and moved, what feels like, a million miles away, 8 years ago. I don't have a clue how much longer God will have us here but I'm finally ready to stop kicking and screaming, and shush and listen to what exactly He has me here to do. Oh I know that He has been working through me and for me since the day I stepped foot on this island but I also know that I spent many years here not waiting well and that has stopped. I want to make a difference in the lives around me. I want to wait well as hard as it is sometimes. It's so easy to just coast as a christian but what fun is that?! We have a crap ton of things to get done on this earth — just look outside your window, there's a hurting world out there no matter what part of the planet you're on! I may have my bad days where I just really want to get a hug from my mama or sit out under the stars out back in my Aunt Mildred and Uncle Bill's yard, listening to the choir of frogs, crickets and cicadas but I know that God knows way beyond today and He has me right where He wants me. Even though I don't understand half of what He does, I know it's for my good and I know it's way better than what I've ever tried to plan.

• My life verse: Jeremiah 29:11-13 •

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

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F O U R

 I don't know what it is about taking pictures of your kids when they're asleep but I took this grainy one in the wee hours this morning. Bo tends to find his way to the couch at some point in the middle of the night/early morning on most days.

I don't know what it is about taking pictures of your kids when they're asleep but I took this grainy one in the wee hours this morning. Bo tends to find his way to the couch at some point in the middle of the night/early morning on most days.

On this day F O U R years ago you became an answered prayer and made me a mama. You, my Bo Bear have been a light in mine and your daddy’s life since the day you came into this crazy world we live in. It’s hard to believe you’ve only been here for four years because it feels like there’s never been a day without you. We’ve had fun days, not so fun days, belly laughs, stand offs, and lots of snuggles but most of all we’ve shared countless moments. The big ones, the little ones, all the moments that have summed up these 1,460 days with you have been crazy life lessons. Lessons on living in the moment, on loving fierce, having just a teeny bit more patience with others and with myself, putting down what “has” to be done and sitting on the floor to mold together PlayDoh in the shape of a truck or construct a LEGO creation. Life with you has been nothing short of a blessing.

Tonight as we end the final day of festivities for your birthday, I pray that you remember these FOUR very important things:

F — Always be FAITHFUL, be honest, tell the truth and be loyal. Be a boy, and eventually, a man of integrity even if it’s not the popular thing to do.

O — Stay OPTIMISTIC. In a fishbowl full of negativity, be the fish who is looking up and staying positive. We know where our Source of joy comes from and don’t forget it. You’ll go through hard times and me and Daddy will help you in every way we can but a relationship with Jesus will make this life a whole lot brighter and fulfilling. Don’t be a Debbie Downer or a Negative Nancy, be the light in this dark world.

U — Stay UNIQUE. God made you YOU. He only made one of you so be the best you. That means taking up for the less popular kid. That means if you are that less popular kid, not trying to do things you know aren’t right in order to fit in. Be the sweet, caring, loving, goofy, super smart YOU that me and your daddy love so much. God loves you too, just as you are.

R — Run towards Jesus. Life has a way of wanting to knock us down. This mean world we live in has a way of making sinful things look appealing. I promise you that what your daddy and I teach you now—the Bible verses, worship songs, stories about Jesus—those are the things that matter. Those are the things that I pray so hard are engrained in your smart little mind and that equip you for this sin-torn world we live in. Run to the arms of Jesus and you can’t be steered wrong. His ways are good and His ways are RIGHT.

You are loved way beyond words could even begin to describe. I have had to catch myself several times today as the tears wanted to form because of the thought of how quickly you are growing and how much I love you and prayed for you. I wish you could stay my little Bo Bear forever but I know God has some crazy awesome plans for you my sweet boy and I can’t wait to see what those plans are.

Happy 4th Birthday sweet Bo Bear! 

I love you to the moon and stars and back,

Mommy

 

 

Soaking It Up

 CC outside a few weeks ago, rocking brother's hat.

CC outside a few weeks ago, rocking brother's hat.

Y'all! How is it already August?! I know Michael's started putting up their fall merchandise back in the spring but still, it's starting to get legit now. Summer is almost over. Back home, down south everyone is starting to register for school and some have already started back (excuse me while I go have a good cry over the fact that my baby sister just started her Senior year of high school!!!) while up here in New York, we are all scrambling to soak up the last month before school starts. I know some parents are ready for Labor Day to come and go so their children are back in the teacher's hands. While I must admit that I'm looking forward to Bo going back to school and starting his 4K year (he LOVES school), I'm not chomping at the bit for summer to end. For me, summer ending means buckets (or shovels, rather) of snow are just around the corner and though I'm a glass-half-full type of person, let me be honest in saying ain't nobody got time for that!

Yesterday was my sister-in-law's birthday so after church me, Rob and the kids hopped on our little boat and met the family near Cupsogue Beach (for those of you who may read this and don't have a clue where I'm talking about, it's in the Hamptons...West Hampton to be exact). It was CC's first time on a boat and also the first time she'd ever been in a lifejacket; needless to say she was hating life but she warmed up to the idea of being a live version of "Randy" from A Christmas Story. The weather was gorgeous and aside from some choppiness on the way out to the island, it felt like I was back home on the lake. Seeing all the boats and jet skis out, people actually waving at you and enjoying themselves on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, it took me back home and gave me one of those random feelings of contentment. Rob driving the boat as I clung to our two kids, then spending time with family, doing absolutely nothing but hanging out, it was a really good feeling. I hope we have more weekends like that.

I often find myself wondering where we're going to be in a year...five years...10. I definitely did not see myself still living here when I left South Carolina nearly eight years ago. It's still so surreal even typing that amount of years. Will we end up staying here on Long Island and watching our kids grow up on the water? Will we relocate down south and watch them grow up in the open fields? These thoughts used to send me into a tizzy, feeling like I needed to know right now what tomorrow holds but when I get that urge, I now take a time out and remember that God has tomorrow and He trying to show me something in today. Regardless of what the future holds, time sure does fly...but it snails along at times too. I really feel like since having kids, the months and years go by so quickly. I'm forcing myself to reevaluate where my time is spent lately. As drawn to work and creating things as I tend to be at times, when Bo asks me to sit down and play with PlayDoh, I do it. When CC brings books to me because she wants to be read to, I stop what I'm doing to sit on the floor and read them to her even if she's only still for a millisecond. Time is fleeting and as the saying goes, "babies don't keep." I know I've mentioned it before but for the past year or so, Bo has brought us to a season of needing a lot of patience and navigating his strong-willed personality. It's on the not-so-fun days of tantrums and constant discipline that I feel like life is moving at a snail's pace. I find myself thinking, When is this phase/season going to be over?! Is it always going to be like this? A battle of the wills. But often times in the same thought, I remember that he's still so little and we have really really good days like yesterday that trump the bad ones. I consider the fact that I'd take the bad days over the thought that my baby boy, my first born, the one who made me a mama is growing so quickly and won't be a baby much longer. It's surreal to think that Bo will be four years old in just a few weeks. I get ahead of myself and ponder the realization that next year he'll be starting Kindergarten...that's a tough pill to swallow.

So for now, while it's still beautiful and sunny out, and while my babies are still babies, I'm going to do all that I can to soak each moment up of what we have left of summer. It's hard at times because I get tunnel vision and I think of everything on my to-do list that I feel I must cross off but then I think about five years from now, how I will have an almost 9 year old and a 6 year old who are going to be independent and not need mommy to hold them anymore. It's so sad to think about but I know God brings us into each season with a whole lot of grace, and thankfully babies don't grow up overnight, though at times it seems that they do.

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Expectations, True Joy & Green Grass

 One of our okra plants in our raised garden. Our little homestead is lush and green because it gets lots of attention.

One of our okra plants in our raised garden. Our little homestead is lush and green because it gets lots of attention.

On December 6, 2010 I embarked on an unknown journey. I was 24 years old, hopelessly in love, seeking happiness and a sense of belonging. I had expectations for my life up until that point and things hadn't gone quite the way I had imagined. I thought for sure I'd marry my high school sweetheart, be married by 21 and have my first kid by 23, the same age my mom was when she had me. Instead, I hopped between states, in and out of an unhealthy relationship, finally forced myself to finish school while also working at night. By the summer of 2010, I had long gotten out of the bad relationship I was in, dated other people and finally found what I felt was real love (or really, it found me), I had a 2 year college degree, a good job and was living completely on my own, supporting myself. Things were great but my new found love was long distance and I didn't want to wait for whatever the future held. I wanted us to be together right then so on that early morning in December, I left the south, my only real sense of home and stability, and took a chance on love. Even then, flying by the seat of my pants, I had underlying expectations. I was leaving "home" but I expected we'd move to New York for a few years and then start our family down south. I expected he'd propose shortly after I moved especially since I was leaving my life behind and starting a new one with him. I expected so many things but I quickly realized as much as I felt like I wanted to control and dictate how my life was going to play out, it just didn't happen that way. What I thought was going to be a year or two here in New York, turned into five and now I'm going on eight years of living on Long Island. We got engaged 6 months after I relocated here, got married 11 months after that, and what started out as my rant of, "I will not have kids here!" has now turned into us welcoming two beautiful, healthy children at the same hospital here on Long Island and bringing them home to our humble but quaint house.

My expectations were high, even of that real love I found in Rob. I have my own theories of why I became the way I was with guys, love and a sense of acceptance but that's for another day. The bottom line is, I was longing for someone to want me and be enthralled by me but also be the "perfect" guy in terms of character, looks, spiritual life, etc. I kept seeking love and happiness, only finding disappointment after disappointment, falling on my face, and earning regret which only left me feeling even more empty than I already felt, like something was missing. When I met Rob, it started out the same as any relationship I had before except I really felt we connected on a deeper level. There was a real friendship aspect that sparked it all but there was always something there that I could not quite figure out. Once I moved here to Long Island that deep connection was still there but my deep sense insecurity crept up. I was suspicious of things, I never felt like I was good enough for him and in turn, the first few years of our relationship had some major rocky points. Part of my insecurities proved to be true after digging, which then screwed up my whole view of my expectations of Rob that led me on the road to finding true joy. I remember one night, after having a long discussion with him about some things that we were dealing with, he proclaimed something to the effect of, "you have me on this pedestal and have these expectations of me but I'm human and I'm going to fail...it's a lot of pressure to have on someone." It hit me like a ton of bricks in that moment that he was so right. My whole life I've had expectations of people, probably because I have so many expectations of myself and have always been very hard on myself. Needless to say, because I've had expectations on myself and others, I've been disappointed and let down a lot. People are not perfect, people can be good but they are not perfect. Sitting in our room that night after that painful realization, I looked at life a lot differently. It didn't happen overnight and it's something I still struggle with at times, but especially with Rob, I force myself to remember that he is human. He is man and man is fallible. That includes me too. I'm not perfect, far from it actually. I have the best of intentions sometimes but at the end of the day, I mess up just as much as the next person and I have learned, more so in the last 7+ years that true joy, hope and peace lie only in one place and that's a relationship with Christ. A man can't meet my expectations or give me true joy, a career can't do it, kids can't do it, hobbies and passions can't either. Those things can make me happy but as it's been told time and time again, happiness is fleeting. Happiness depends on your happenings, joy is eternal.

Rob and I had a lot of issues because of my expectations of him. The biggest elephant in the room was the fact that I developed resentment because I had expected that we wouldn't be on Long Island for as long as we were (and have been). I also still struggle with this from time-to-time and it creeps up but I recognize it's the devil trying to shake things up. Once I really grasped the fact that I can't depend on Rob to make me happy or my kids, or my work, and that I needed to depend on God for that, I began to loosen my grip and thoughts of what was going to me happy. At the end of the day, I knew I had to trust that my (now) husband was looking to God for guidance and trusting Him, coupled with the fact that God is GOD and what He says, goes. All this time I've had my husband in the seat of God, looking to my husband to fill my needs and depending on him to get me "home" when really God has a mission for me here and when that mission is completed, maybe, if it's in His will for me and my little family, He'll open doors for us elsewhere.

I'll admit there were times in the beginning of our relationship when things weren't going my way and my expectations weren't being met, I contemplated what life would be like if I left and went back south. I went through some dark times as well as times of doubt. Was he really worth staying here? I felt lied to and duped at times but I remember someone once saying, "the grass is greener on the side that is watered." Talk about a slap in the face! How true is that?! So many people can only see what's right in front of them--their kids are a mess, their marriage is a mess, their finances are a mess, the list goes on and on--and they think if they could have what so-and-so, has they'll be happier...the grass would be greener on the other side. I may be only 32 years old but I'm here to tell you, I've learned a lot from other people's mistakes as well as my own and the grass is not greener on the other side. It's an illusion. Like the illusion of water you see in a desert...it's non-existent. Think of how harmonious everyone's lives would be if we expected nothing from eachother, looked to our Creator for fulfillment and joy and stopped comparing our lives to others. Imagine if we stopped wishing for what was on "the other side" and began nurturing and tending to what we do have, what our marriages would look like, our kids, our work, our life as a whole. Life would be pretty sweet and a whole lot less complicated.

I challenge you, whoever you are who may have stumbled across my little corner of the world wide web, to examine yourself. What are your expectations? Where does your happiness lie? Do you even know the feeling of joy? Have you found yourself wishing for someone else's life, wanting the perfect husband? The perfectly groomed kids? The cookie cutter life? The greener "other side"? I challenge you to start watering the grass you're standing on as you read this. Is it wilted? Is it nothing but weeds? Start watering by asking God to help you see the good in what you have. Instead of looking at all the negativity (because trust me, friend, you can find negativity in anything these days!), ask God to show you one single, solitary good in each area of your life. You'll be amazed at where you'll be led when you surrender your expectations and look to the One true source of joy to help you see that lush, green grass.

From This Day Forward

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Imagine yourself standing in front of all of your family and closest friends, a preacher and God Himself, making the biggest decision of your life in a single moment. It's pretty intense and it's a big gamble, considering that the biggest decision you're making is vowing to stay with one single person for the rest of your time on this earth. That could be a day, a week, a month, or 60+ more years!

I made that big decision on May 27, 2012 but for me, that decision actually hit me a few days prior when Rob and I went to apply for our marriage license. We were sitting in the office we were advised to go to at the courthouse, sitting at a desk and individually filling out our applications. I remember writing down my date and place of birth, then my parents, and I got an overwhelming, "oh my goodness, is this really happening?!" moment. That moment when you have a mini panic attack and wonder if you're making the right decision, if you're jumping into this thing too quickly, and if you're 110% sure you're going to be in this forrrrever, even in the really ugly times. I filled my application out, signed it, took a deep breath and handed it in.

I come from a broken home where my parents divorced when I was 4 or 5. Rob comes from a broken home where his parents divorced when he was a year or 2 old, and many people don't know this but he himself went through a divorce. I always wanted the cookie-cutter marriage and live in a cookie-cutter life. In reality, cookie-cutter doesn't exist. The edges of our marriage, our children, and our life as a whole are not finished off with perfect edges like when you use a cookie cutter to press out beautifully shaped sweet treats but rather, our edges are tattered and torn. There's sharp and rounded edges but what's inside those edges sure are sweet.

I remember declaring before we married that we had to have a strong foundation. We had to find a church and get involved or I wasn't sure how we would get through life together because this world is an ugly place. Yes, there is beauty in it but generally speaking, we live in an ugly place and without God as their cornerstone, I'm not sure how couples make it through. Rob agreed. I was in love with the idea of marriage but when it came down to really thinking about it and the massiveness of the commitment, I was terrified because I'm not good at failing. I've been surrounded by divorce my entire life and the ugliness that it brings so I told myself that I'd only do marriage once especially once kids were involved.

In February of 2012, Rob and I joined a gym and started working out, in preparation of our wedding. At that gym, I met a woman whose name was Michele. After weeks of working out and seeing each other in the mornings, we struck up a conversation and one particular morning in April, I overheard her talking to someone about her church, how her dad was the pastor and she was the praise and worship leader. For months before this encounter, I had been seeking a new church, one where I felt like I belonged. When I moved to New York, Rob and I started going to his family's church--the church his grandparents married in and many of his family members attended, however, I was not in an active walk with Jesus like I knew I needed to be. I was going through the motions and not getting anything out of the sermons. I was living in sin with Rob, missing my home and the things I was accustomed to, sitting in on sermons on Sunday and feeling pretty empty. I was not in a good place spiritually. So on that morning at the gym, balancing on a bosu ball, I heard Michele talking about her church and my ears perked up at the conversation. I asked questions about her church, what type of music they sang and when she told me all about The Journey Church, my heart leaped and I would have gone straight there right then, sweat and all. I told her that the following Sunday we already had plans to attend Rob's sister's lacrosse game in Connecticut but the Sunday after that, I'd definitely visit. The Sunday before we were to marry (exactly two weeks after talking to Michele about her church and one week before our wedding date), I went to The Journey by myself. I remember exactly where I was sitting and I remember bawling my eyeballs out, finally feeling a sense of home when for the previous 14 months I had felt so lost and alone. Exactly one week later, Rob and I promised each other that from that day forward, we would love and cherish each other in good and bad times, through all the storms and trials of life.

We stood true to our agreement to have Christ as our center and the weekend after we returned from our honeymoon, we both attended The Journey together. We jumped into serving, even though we were new and only knew Michele. We attended every class we could and God started us on a wild ride. We settled into married life while navigating what it was like to live a life sold out for God versus living in the world during the week and putting on our Christian selves on Sunday. There were secrets and lies that were kept that eventually came to the surface which was the beginning of a rough season in our early marriage and brought me back to the afternoon we were sitting in that office in the courthouse, filling out our marriage license applications, wondering if I was making the right decision. That season was the first major "in good times and badwe were going through. I had to make a choice whether I was going to give up and walk out or if I was going to hold on to Jesus, stay true to the vows I made to Rob and love him and forgive him like Jesus did for me in my darkest, dirtiest moments.

It took many tears, late night talks, pushing through insecurities, advice from godly counsel and a whole lot of praying but we got through the darkest season of our marriage thus far. We had a few setbacks but every step we took back, I feel like it just made us both lean into Jesus that much harder. I'm not going to lie and say that I don't have moments of doubt or insecurity, or that we don't have moments of struggle and temptation but overall, Rob and I came out of that   season stronger in our faith and closer to each other than we'd ever been. I personally feel like even though, I of course would love the idea of a cookie-cutter life, it's the really tough trials and storms that make me stronger as a Christian and a person, and if it takes a storm to knock me off kilter so that I'm drawn down to my knees and in a posture of surrender to God so that He can impart in me a life lesson and supernatural strength, than the storm is worth it...as crazy as that may sound. I know it's so cliché but you can't get the rainbow without the rain. Rob and I have walked through many other dark times like having trouble conceiving, losing two babies and going through a financial crisis. All of those things made us cling to each other and more importantly, cling to our Cornerstone. We've only been married 6 years so I know we've got a slew of more storms to walk through in our marriage, I pray that they aren't tsunamis but even if they are, I have the hope that our marriage is built on the strongest Rock you can imagine and we'll hunker down together...the three of us.

And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. -Ecclesiastes 4:12

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Battles of the Wills

 Bo and CC peering out of our hotel window last Saturday evening on our trip back from Alabama.

Bo and CC peering out of our hotel window last Saturday evening on our trip back from Alabama.

Since returning from our vacation last week, life has been at full speed, complete with news that we have to get a new septic system, a new tire on Rob's truck (even though he just got all brand new tires the week we left for vacation), playdates, work, tantrums, and the list goes on. It seems like the more I pray for guidance and patience, the more things get thrown my way that question what on earth God is doing and the more my patience is worn thin.

If you're a parent, I'm sure you can attest to the fact that it's legit the hardest job in the world. Though there are zillions of books written on parenting, our children are not born with owner's manuals. No one child is like the next, similar perhaps, but not exact. It's a beautiful and an ugly thing all in one if you ask me. Bo will be 4 next month and CC will be 14 months next week, both are literally a dream come true for me as I've always wanted to be a mom, however, both push me to my limits and make me question my abilities. I've really been struggling with Bo for a while now--mostly in the last year--it's a major battle of the wills with us, and it's all consuming and all exhausting. He has my personality in a lot of ways and I wonder if it's just the way God made him or if a lot of it is learned, and it's so hard to figure out the best approach in dealing with it. His strong will, I pray, will someday be the driving force in his faith; that he stands his ground for Jesus and leads others to Him. Right now that same strong will leaves me in tears sometimes. I firmly believe in corporal punishment but I feel at some point, it's beyond the power struggle and all spanking does is fuel the fire, so I'm trying every method imaginable. There's good days and bad, and most of those bad days I'm at my whits end, thinking to myself, "when is this season going to be over?!" but in the same thought process, asking for forgiveness. I don't want to rush through any season because I know there are lessons to be learned and grace to be received and given. It's on the really tough days that God gives me a dose of grace which can often look like Bo randomly saying to me, "I love you to the moon and stars and back, Mommy" or him coming and laying his head on me and looking totally content, or like last night, him asking me to help him find worms for the chickens and saying that I look like a princess in my dress. Deep breath...grace.

Lately I've thought a lot about the parallels of me parenting a 3-year-old (going on 13!) and God's view of us. How many times do we tell God we want something and when He says "no", we have a hissy fit, kick and scream and yell, "I don't like you God! Get out of here!" (I hear this from Bo on a weekly basis lately)? I can't imagine the feeling He has when we throw our little tantrums, yet He loves and cares for us anyway because if I had to guess, every time He says, "no", it's to protect us from what we don't see or to protect others from us and our decisions (much like me defending CC because she can't defend herself from her brother and his unwillingness to share or show gentleness in his actions sometimes). For me, thinking this way helps me have a little more patience when dealing with the unruliness and allows me to not take the jabs so personal. After all, I'm dealing with a whole lot of personality in a small body who is trying to navigate his feelings and emotions. I often question my parenting though--am I too hard on him? Do I nag too much? Do I have unrealistic expectations? Do I do enough activities with him? I have such mama guilt half the time it's not even funny. However, I know the way I was raised--to speak to adults with respect, use manners and respect others, especially my brother. I know he's such a well-behaved child and kind hearted but even though I feel like that's the way God made him, it's also been mine and Rob's parenting and a demand for respect. I see other children his age and they get away with so much more than we would allow for Bo to get away with so in those circumstances, I am grateful for the hard days because I know that we are forming him into a respectful young man who is naturally so smart and loving, even though we have pushback.

The principals I've learned in these short (almost) 4 years of this whole parenting thing, I feel have also strengthened my faith and my sense of God's will on my life personally. I've hit a lot of roadblocks and I've had a lot of disappointments and times that I've kicked, screamed and asked God, "but why?!" in my most whiny tone. I, however, have looked back on the past 7+ years and seen the hand of God all over my life and decisions. While I still don't know what that it thing is...the specific calling...the monumental "this-is-what-God-has-created-you-for" thing, I remind myself often that life is a journey. A journey has hills and valleys, all kinds of weather, happy and sad times, but most importantly a journey is unpredictable and depending on how you look at it, it's a lifetime of learning and growing. While I may not have all the answers or be the best at this journey I'm on, I will strive to be the best me I can be, continue to ask for grace and guidance, and for God's will, not mine, to be done.

Vacay from a Vacay

 Within seconds of us pulling into Uncle Bill and Aunt Mildred's driveway, Bo was begging to ride Uncle Bill's new tractor. His little 3-year-old self was pleased as punch when He finally got what he'd been talking about since the last time we were all in Alabama back in October.

Within seconds of us pulling into Uncle Bill and Aunt Mildred's driveway, Bo was begging to ride Uncle Bill's new tractor. His little 3-year-old self was pleased as punch when He finally got what he'd been talking about since the last time we were all in Alabama back in October.

It's been 2 weeks since I last posted. I had all intentions of maintaining an appearance when we left for vacation because I guess that's what good bloggers do? I internally chuckle at myself as I type this because I surely am not a blogger but rather someone who simply loves to write when inspired. I'm trying this new thing with living for the present so when it was bedtime last Monday night and it dawned on me that I failed to post, I thought to myself, oh well, it's late, I'm on vacation and it can wait until next Monday.

We had a great vacation. We left around 5 a.m. two Fridays ago and drove what ended up being about 14 hours to my dad's house in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (it was supposed to be 12 but when you travel with 2 kids, ages 3 and under, you just roll with it and accept that you'll get there when you get there). It was the weekend before my dad's 60th birthday and he had no clue we were coming so it was fun surprising him. We spent two nights there and then continued our trip down to my family's place in Moulton, Alabama. As I'm sure I've mentioned in previous posts, crossing out of Staten Island and onto the mainland always gives me a sense of release--from stress, busyness and the rat race that I often feel I fall into living here in this fast pace culture--and even more so, pulling up to my great aunt and uncle's place in north Alabama gives me a sense of home. Being in the wide open country, getting my kids out of their carseats and allowing them to just roam is a good feeling.

Rob and I spent the majority of the week helping my great Uncle Bill and Aunt Mildred in the fields of their produce farm. It was still our summer vacation so we made time to relax and do things with the kids as well; Rob had acquired an old .22 and refinished it for Bo so he had his first real lesson in weapon safety and shot his first gun. We celebrated the 4th of July at our family's cabin with many members of my extended family on my mom's side, which was the first one I had been at in 8 years (the last one I attended was also the last time I saw my cousin, Callie, alive). My kids saw an up-close firework show for the first time (it was definitely CC's first and it was Bo's first that I know of), poor CC was exhausted and fell asleep toward the end but Bo was in his glory. Every year everyone sets out chairs on the lawn of the cabin while my cousin's husband puts on a firework show fit for an official municipal event. It doesn't matter that this year it was muggy as the day was long and the mosquitos were out in droves. Everyone ooed and awed at the colors and lights that sprinkled the southern night sky.

While we were away we also celebrated Rob's 36th birthday. My mom had come from South Carolina to stay a few days and see the family so thankfully she watched the kids so Rob and I could go out for his birthday. We went to a restaurant called Cotton Row in Huntsville. Y'all! If you are ever in that neck of the woods, you MUST try it out! The ambiance was beautiful, the service was on point and the food was slap-yo-mama good. We enjoyed our dinner, then walked around the downtown area, and ended the evening by stopping in at Cabela's (or as Rob referred to it, "Disney Land") and Rite Aid because you can't go on vacation without at least one of your kids getting the sickies. I think all-in-all he rang in his new age successfully.

We got back late yesterday afternoon and thankfully, we pretty much have a routine down pat when it comes to going away for an extended period of time, which means returning wasn't complete chaos. It was just a matter of putting everything away. However, just as many others can probably attest to, I feel like I need a vacation to recoup from our vacation. Aside from restocking our groceries and running errands, I have a laundry list of projects and orders that need to be tended to and completed. When I think about what all needs to be done and their deadlines, I get a little panicky but as my mama always says, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!"

I miss the south and everything that comes with it (except for the reality of poisonous snakes and spiders of course) but I'm ready to get back into my routine and get work done. It's always bittersweet leaving what feels like home to me but I know God has a plan and for once in my 32 years, I'm content with where I am, wherever that may be on the map. I'm ok with whatever He decides because I know that I'm in His perfect plan and in His perfect peace.

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G. R. A. C. E.

 My glimpse of grace.

My glimpse of grace.

Lately I've been seeing this word a lot. GRACE. It's such a nice sounding word and I've heard it my whole life but don't feel that I've ever truly grasped it's meaning. It's also a popular name, in fact, it was almost CC's name until a person I know named her baby Grace.

God's GRACE. What's all the hype about? I didn't have some crazy conversion to my faith--I grew up in church, I accepted Jesus in my heart when I was 7 years old. I knew from a very young age that Jesus was the only way. Yes, I drifted throughout my adolescence, I sinned (and still do) as all people do, but I never went to rehab and/or relapsed on drugs, I never was much of a party girl, I didn't have an earth-shattering realization of God and His grace. It's freaks me out a little if I'm being completely honest because I think to myself sometimes, "oh my goodness, is something bad going to happen--am I going to fall flat on my face and do something awful in order for me to have this crazy grace moment?!" I've expressed this fear in the past to Rob and to other participants in a small group I was in at church and the general concensus was that I was blessed to have not had some crazy story and that I've still had moments in my life that have revealed the grace of God. This is very true but I still find myself peeking around the corner in angst at times. 

God's

Relief

At

Christ's

Expense

I looked up this acronym because I wondered if one existed already. Much like the acronym for FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real) that I learned long ago, this acronym for grace helps me put God's character in a nutshell, as silly and impossible that pretty much is. Have you ever had a thought or a feeling that was so complex that it was so hard to dissect and put into words that made sense? That's grace for me. It's so vast and so complex to me that it's hard to pin point what exactly it means. This acronym simplifies it well for me because I tend to make things more complicated than they are sometimes. God's grace really is a simple concept if you truly think about it. It can be summed up to one word: sacrifice. God's relief at Christ's expense...Jesus, God's only Son was a living sacrifice to atone for all of our screwups, to put it bluntly. While this is a hard concept for me to accept after a lifetime of knowing Jesus, I feel that as I've gotten older and more spiritually mature, and as I'm now a parent myself, I'm slowly but surely beginning to understand grace better. As I've mentioned in a previous post, I have a bad habit of thinking of God as being a dictator, in that if I screw up, if I get frustrated and a not-so-nice word mutters out of my mouth, or if I completely lose it on my unruly 3-year-old, something bad is coming my way. One Hundred percent of the time, I immediately feel guilty and I apologize for my attitude and pray for forgiveness, still with the thought that I'm going to really get it from God. That isn't grace and it surely isn't how God works. I know this but yet I still struggle with truly knowing God's character. I'm a work in progress though. Grace, right?

I picked up a book at Target last week called Grace Not Perfection and whoa buddy was it written for me! You would think that God breathed the author, Emily Ley's, words right into her book because it basically encompasses the majority of my guilts, thoughts and prayers as of late. Even some of her stories are insanely parallel to my own, including a story about her surrendering her will and plan to God and how that happened through the birth of her first child. I too had a supernatural God moment in the birth of my second child, CC. Of course Bo was our miracle baby (as was CC but Bo was a whole different kind of miracle) but my entire pregnancy and then birth of CC did not go as planned at all and resulted in a much-feared, much-dreaded C-section where I literally had nothing to grasp but Jesus. I was laid out on an operating table, not able to move, praying in my head, "I trust you, Lord. Please don't let me die. I trust you, Lord", over and over. April 20, 2017 was a pivotal moment in my walk with God. I had set out on a journey months before, seeking to really know His character and boy did He show it! Even in my doubts and my sin, even in every ugly corner of my being, He showered me with grace.

I still struggle everyday with the concept of grace, I am super duper hard on myself and I drag myself through the mud but when I'm in the middle of giving myself a fat lip and a black eye because of one reason or another, I stop mid-punch and remember that Jesus paid it all already. I remember that God loves me (and you!) so much that He let His Son die a horrible death. He could have easily bypassed the death altogether, He could have plowed over the soldiers nailing His Son to the cross but He didn't. Why? Because He loves us that much. Because of His amazing grace.

School's Out for Summer!

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As of this past Friday, our little 3Ker is now headed to 4K and this mama's heart is hurting thinking about him graduating next year and then moving up to Kindergarten...but those are tears for another day! I've been enjoying having Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays to devote to work and errands since Bo is usually at school all day, however, I'm bound and determined to find a happy balance of work and play for the next few months while I'm home with both kids. Today we had a great time up in Port Jefferson; it's right on the harbor so we could see the ferry coming in and out, headed to and from Connecticut. There's also a little beach area where the kids can play and a fun sprinkler they can run through. We met a friend and her family up there this morning, then went to have crêpes in the village. Now we're home and both kids are napping--hallelujah!

My kids have always been on a schedule/routine and I'm not sure how anyone survives without one. I'm not as OCD with the schedule now that I have CC but for the most part, they still eat and sleep roughly around the same times everyday. However, with Bo having started school back in April, he wasn't taking naps on the days he had school--he and his classmates would rest on their mats but he would never fall asleep. Now that he's home everyday for the summer though, I would like to keep him on a routine much like he has at school in that he has a scholastic time where he traces letters and numbers, colors and so on. We shall see how that works out!

If I'm being completely honest, it's been a struggle lately with maintaining my sanity with Bo. Don't get me wrong, he is such a great boy! He is one of the smartest kids I know, he has a sweet heart and he's so goofy. However, bless his heart, he is like his mama and has a strong will. Ok, for all of those who may read this, I ADMIT IT! So you can imagine trying to tame a small child with a very strong will is like peeing in the wind. It stinks and it gets messy! The issue I have now come to is how to properly discipline without damaging my child and his view of me as his mommy. Of course I want him to have the time of his life everyday but the fact is, I have another child who needs attention too and who needs to be defended since she can't really defend herself, a budding passion/potential career and a household to run, and there's only one me. I'd love to go off and do fun things everyday with the kids but I know that costs money and as crazy as some people may think it sounds, I don't want to put on like we're going to go and do something out every single day. Maybe my philosophy is jacked up, I don't know, but I feel like there should be a balance between doing fun, extra things and being at home. Today was so much fun and he had such a good time--he listened and obeyed, and of course he's going to be a 3 year old boy at times so I'll have to repeat myself to, "sit down on your hiney" or "chill out and use your inside voice because we're in a restaurant" but overall, he was so good today and he usually is when we're out and doing things. It's when we're home and he and his sister are playing freely that things really get hairy most of the time. I know there will be sibling rivalry and all that but I don't condone Bo being ugly to his sister and/or CC having to just take it. She is starting to fight back by attempting to bite him or she just whines and cries every time he messes with her which drives me batty.

I find myself yelling at Bo because I've told him for the umpteenth time not to touch his sister or not to take whatever the latest "thing" is away from her, then I start being sarcastic in my tone and I forget that he's only 3. I don't want him to think that his behavior is acceptable and that he can continue with how he's acting but I also don't want to fly off the handle and he think that he can do that towards his peers. It's a very thin line between discipling and completely jacking up your child's thought process of how to act. Let's get real, I don't know of any toddler that you can reason with. It just doesn't work and no person on the face of the earth can tell me it does. I've gotten so desperate at times that I've tried it in order to keep the peace and to not have to deal with a tantrum but all it does is open a loop hole for the child to think he or she can negotiate their way through just about anything they want. So reasoning with my strong-willed son is out of the question. I fully believe in spanking but I think there's a time and place for it, and I try with all my might to pull that card if nothing else will get the point across that I need to get across. So now I'm back to how in the world do I discipline a strong-willed child without it feeling like a constant fight and struggle.

My goal for this summer is to maintain some sort of structure even at home. It's so hard sometimes because I'll get involved with something, even washing dishes and picking up the house, so the kids just play and do their thing for a while. However, all hell breaks loose because CC touches something of Bo's and it's game on. I get so wound up when this happens that it could take a feather to break me; it's like an avalanche and then by the time Rob comes home, I'm snippy and moody even with him which I know isn't fair for anyone. I do feel though that with me maintaining a similar structure to what Bo was used to at school, he will hopefully be able to concentrate on his task at hand and not get distracted with whatever CC is doing. Lord knows, I hope and pray!

I'm not all stiff-nose when it comes to parenting, I promise! We are looking forward to a 9 day vacation to Tennessee and Alabama starting next Friday. Bo will be doing {hopefully} a few VBSs this summer as well as trips to playgrounds and the waterpark. Last summer I felt more overwhelmed than anything trying to go out and do things because CC was an infant and not mobile at all. I also constantly felt like I had to be working in order to appear that I was "earning my keep" so I'm really looking forward to doing some fun things away from home with both of them this year and focusing on the valuable time I have with my kids being little. I know the summer is going to fly by so I'm going to trust God that He has a plan and I'm going to try my hardest to cherish every second, even in the chaos. I read something the other day that said, "you only have 18 summers with your kids so make the most of them" and I fully intend to do that.

So here's to the summer of 2018, all the fun that will be had, and the mamas to strong-willed kids! I know I'm not alone so feel free to reach out with tips on how to tame the 'tude!

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If Walls Could Talk

Imagine rounding a bend in the road, looking off a short distance and seeing a long driveway situated between two rows of trees. At the end of the drive, there's an old rustic cabin that looks like it's been there for centuries, nestled just in front of a forest of trees. This description may sound like it comes from a book but it is indeed a real place. My family's place. Jessie and Callie's Cabin to be exact. It's funny--well sad, really--how you can have something in your family for what feels like your whole life, possibly even see it every day, and not truly appreciate it.

The way the story was told to me was that for years my family would gather for dinner once a month and on holidays, usually at my Great Aunt Millie's (one of my grandma Thelma's 6 sisters) house. Over the years as the family grew, space began to shrink so in 1991 a few of my great aunts and uncles found an old, 100-year-old cabin in Tennessee. They purchased it, took it apart piece-by-piece and traveled back to Alabama where they re-constructed the old structure on a lot of land owned by Aunt Millie's sister, Mildred and her husband, uncle Bill. Over the years additions have been made to the original structure of the cabin. When I lived there (or possibly shortly before I moved there), a long dining room/fellowship hall was added and a gorgeous fireplace was built by my uncle Bill. After moving away, another wing was added and a beautiful wrap around porch that spans the back of the cabin was also constructed.

If walls could talk, the cabin's walls would tell stories of family weddings, baby showers, holiday celebrations, times of mourning, welcome home parties, lots of laughter and fun, tears and hugs. The family has a potluck dinner the first Saturday of every month and that has been a tradition that goes back as far as I can remember. The 4th of July is a big bash that used to involve a several-day-prepping pig roast finished off with homemade ice-cream and an evening of fireworks over the pond behind the cabin. Christmas was always special and so absolutely beautiful with wreaths made from real fruit and strands of popcorn garland decorating the tree. When I lived there, my brother and I would spend summers playing in the creek that runs behind that old place. We would fish with cane poles in the pond and spend the night upstairs in the cabin. When it would rain, I'd never get sleep because of how loud it was beating against the metal roof. But oh the memories! My brother and I would run around in the yard with our cousins, and I remember at least one fall (autumn), we had a blast jumping from one bale of hay to another that had been neatly bound. And that's just our family memories.

Since I moved away so many years ago, the cabin has been a staple in the Kitchens Mill community of Lawrence County, Alabama. People rent it out for their family gatherings, church Christmas parties, and the list goes on and on. I can't help but get misty-eyed thinking of how ridiculously proud I am to say that that old cabin is part of me and how I was brought up. Unfortunately, I moved away when I was 13 and don't have near the memories that my cousins have who were born and raised there but now that I'm an adult, I'm making every effort possible to be part of at least some of the family traditions again.

One of my favorites is the annual stew. This Brunswick Stew tradition started back with my great grandparents, Jessie and Callie Russell and for as long as I can remember, it's always been the last Saturday of October, every single year. The night before the stew, a bunch of the lady cousins get together, bowl and peeler in hand, and they peel pounds upon pounds of potatoes. I remember growing up, I wanted to help so bad and I finally got my chance last year but that was a total fail. I was wearing CC, it was her bedtime, and she was not cooperating so I gave up after a while and walked away, trying to hold back tears and failing at that too, miserably (lol! I know, I can be sensitive sometimes but I try not to show it). It may sound silly but for me it was a special moment that I had looked forward to for so long, being one of the long lost cousins who finally found her way back to the fold but at the same time, feeling so beyond out of my element and like I didn't fit into my own family. It was a very sad feeling but I brushed it off.

The next day, Saturday, is an all day affair with cooking the Brunswick Stew. The day starts early in the morning with three huge, black, cast iron stew pots. Lord knows how long those things have been in our family! The fires are started under each one and the aunts get all of the ingredients together in them. I've never actually witnessed this being done but I just know that it's the same thing every year. Last year was Rob's first stew so him being him, he fit right in, he even got to stir the stew with the huge wooden paddle (again, Heaven only know how long that thing has been around in the Russell family). I guess he's a keeper since he jumped head first, right into one of my most favorite family traditions and was able to be a stirrer, whereas I've been in the family 30+ years and that's never happened. :) 

As a kid, I remember a senator coming one year to the stew--there's really no telling who will show up to any of the family functions. My great aunts have been the backbone to our family and have also always been so giving of the community. For the stew, anyone is welcome to come and enjoy as many bowls as they'd like and then at the end of the afternoon, they pour whatever is remaining into huge pickle jars and sell them. They also give jars to the elderly neighbors and friends who may be homebound. They do this with every event I've ever remembered having at the cabin.

I've always been a deep thinker and have had a sensitive heart, thinking of others and trying to see the good in people but unfortunately I've also taken people for granted and my great aunts are some of those dear people that I've missed over the years. They are in a way, my grandma Thelma, whom I've never met because she passed away before I was born. One of the sisters, Aunt Jean, passed away a week after Bo was born and it was such a heartbreak not being able to travel down to be with the family during that first big loss since I've been alive. I know it killed my mom not to be able to be there too since she was here in New York with me.

My great aunts have created something amazing with that old cabin; it's not just a structure, it is a rare gem that not many (if any) families have today. A common dwelling to be part of, to experience the ups and downs of life in. I guess if I really think about it, a safe haven. It's so much more than a venue to me, it's almost like a member of the family, as if it had arms and legs and could talk. It has changed so much but one thing remains the same and that's the sense of belonging when I walk into that old place and breathe in the smell that floods my mind with so many memories. Whether I'm a million miles away or a mile up the road, Jessie and Callie's Cabin will always hold a special place in my heart.

*ARTICLE WRITTEN ABOUT THE CABIN*

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Right in Front of Me

 Whomever invented italian rainbow cookies should be inducted to the Hall of Fame. These little gems are one of the many things that i love about Long Island.

Whomever invented italian rainbow cookies should be inducted to the Hall of Fame. These little gems are one of the many things that i love about Long Island.

I’ve naysayed this place I’ve lived in pretty much since I got here more than 7 years ago. Even if something was nice or beautiful, I’d look at the negative. I’m generally a positive person and try to find the good in people/things but I’ve been on a mission not to allow myself to like any part of where I am for fear that I’d never return “home” (the south) if I so much as saw a glimpse of the good here. Shame on me.

Back in December I was able to break away from everyday life one Saturday morning and attend a ladies event at my church; it was an IF Gathering which was a pre-recorded conference. Man did I want to lay face down on the floor and just cry. I felt so convicted and guilty yet so open and inspired by the words of the key speakers. Jennie Allen, the founder of IF made some profound statements about today’s society— more specifically the women—and how she fears that the new generation coming up will not have the older generation discipling them. She touched on how we need to stop looking and thinking that bigger is better, that we’re trying to go big but God wants us to go small. That’s not to say He doesn’t want us to be successful or stifle ourselves but rather instead of sitting behind a computer and posting inspirational things, instead of worrying about how many followers we have on Instagram, we need to get back to basics. We need to take the girl next door to coffee, get to know our sisters on a personal level, break bread with them and gain their trust so that we can minister to them and then they can go minister to others. A chain will form and that older generation is me.

Sometimes seeking the will of God for my life can feel a bit overwhelming. Today's society is all about self-help and me me me. What can I do to better myself? What can I do to make myself happy? How can I become more successful? I'll admit, at times I tend to get caught up in that whole mindset and forget the big picture. While it's a great philosophy to want to better yourself, that's not what life is about. We were created to be beacons of light, pointing others towards Jesus. Not exhausting all efforts to be happy. That gets old if you ask me. There's a huge difference between happiness and true joy. Happiness is a feeling based on your happenings...on your current situation. It's short lived. True joy is eternal and comes from fulfillment that only God can provide. If you've been looking all over kingdom come, trying this and that to feel fulfilled, don't you think that maybe you're missing one essential nugget? A true relationship with your Creator perhaps?

It's so easy to get wrapped up in what others are posting on social media these days--everything is filtered, looks prim and perfect, their lives look so put together but I'm sure most of those people (ok let's be real...all of those people) have hurts and problems just like you and me. Life gets them down and feeling overwhelmed. No one is exempt from the craziness of this world we live in. The difference though is where our hearts are positioned. Are they positioned in an "ok this other thing will make me feel fulfilled and happy" or "life may not be perfect but I serve a perfect God who gives me joy every morning and I'm going to shout it from the rooftops and share with whomever will listen"? I definitely need polishing in the field of discipleship and to be quite honest, I'm still navigating what exactly that looks like, but after that If Gathering a few months ago, I left feeling challenged to stop getting so overwhelmed with trying to keep up with the artist next door and what her Instagram is looking like, and get back to basics. Be my authentic self. The core of my image for MAGNOLIA+PINE boutique is to spread the word of God but if in doing that, I'm losing site of what He really wants from me--not to get wrapped up in comparing my stuff to others and trying to be successful with sales, followers, etc.--I'm working my tail off in vain. Sure, it's great to have Instagram followers and a platform that could reach the corners of the earth but if I'm not doing my part locally, taking the girl next door (so to speak) to lunch and asking her, "hey, how are you doing...truly?", I'm missing my mark.

The thought of discipling is intimidating to me not only because I'm a mom to two small children with a truck load of tasks and responsibilities so time away from home is few and far between, but also because even though in most situations I come across as an extravert, I truly am much more comfortable in my little shell. However, I feel like God continues to remind me of that December day and the importance of the small, basic things. I've always been a dreamer, since I was a small child I remember having big dreams, and that has carried on into adulthood. My dreams now look a little different than when I was 5; instead of me being a professional figure skater or gymnast like the girls I saw on T.V., I now dream of having a successful loving marriage, well behaved children who will one day choose to serve God and a successful business. As I've grown and matured spiritually though, I have begun to see the importance of others over myself. More so in the spiritual realm than in the physical. I still have to remind myself often that this world won't always be here and if anyone who isn't remotely a believer who happens to read this post will probably think I'm a looney-tune, but it's true. When your time on this earth is done, is it really going to matter how many Instagram followers you have? Is it going to matter how many comments and likes you had on any of your social media handles? What really matters is where you're going and who is going with you. I know where I'm going, now it's just a matter of me bringing as many people with me when it's my time to go. It seems like a daunting task but it's really so simple. It starts with a simple invitation to go for a walk or grab a cup of coffee. Dream small.

"If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won't be honest with greater responsibilities." -Luke 16:10


Provided to YouTube by The Orchard Enterprises Dream Small · Josh Wilson Dream Small ℗ 2018 Black River Christian Released on: 2018-03-02 Auto-generated by YouTube.

Early Thirties Crisis

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Have you ever felt the itch for change? This happens to me every so often--probably about once every 3-6 months--life just gets to where it feels stagnant and I need a boost. When I was a kid, I used to want a different bed spread every other year or I'd want to rearrange my room and switch of the furniture. I find myself wanting to do those things even as an adult but I also tend to try new things more often as well. Like this whole gardening/homestead thing. It's so funny to me because homesteading was the way of life back in the day--it wasn't the latest trendy thing to be self sustainable. I'm sure I'm overthinking it but if I'm being honest, I'm terrified of completely failing on growing my own food. Sounds silly but I don't do failure well and that would include killing the food we just planted. Rob set up the watering system on a timer so there's half the battle; I either over or under water and it's usually the latter. Part of my goal in this new endeavor is to teach Bo how to be self sustainable early on; I don't want him to be a kid with his hands glued to a device or sitting in front of a T.V. all day. I remember how fun it was when I was a kid and spent hours outside, sometimes even having to pick out of my great aunt and uncle's garden. Some of my best memories were made outside! I'm not naive to the reality that my children are being raised in a different environment and culture but I've never been much for conformity in scenarios that I didn't completely approve of. I have to find a happy medium. Bo was probably two before I even let him touch a phone and now one of his favorite things to do at night before bed is to use an Apple pen and draw on Rob's iPad. I wasn't completely kosher with that idea at first but I know times are changing and it's inevitable that he will have more access to technology than I did when I was his age. However, having responsibilities early on is a must in my book and I'm hoping that starting this garden and having two chickens can be fun tools to teach Bo and CC with.

I'm not sure if it's part of the journey of finding out God's calling on my life or if it's part of the itch for a change but I feel so all over the place with many parts of my life lately. I've always had a touch of complacency but I can look back on the last year and see it layered on a little thick. I don't like it. Maybe that means God is working on something monumental because I can't seem to get comfortable or settled? Maybe it's my upbringing and feeling like every few years I need a change of scenery? Maybe an early thirties crisis? I don't know what it was about turning 31 last June that I felt like something big was going to happen. I mean, yes, turning 30 was a big milestone of course but I have a weird way of thinking sometimes and when I turned 31 last year I immediately thought of Proverbs 31. You know, the chapter in scripture that is all about the ideal woman. I remember thinking and praying that God would reveal part of, if not all of, His will for my life. Even just a glimpse of what He created me for. I think this past year has been even more of a searching season for me and His will than ever before. Hence, my wondering if maybe I'm in an early thirties crisis. I know, sounds ridiculous, right? I digress.

I'm still seeking and I'm still trying new things until something fits. One example of something that sounds so materialistic but for me is a small way of trying to force myself to be consistent about something is getting my nails done. Go ahead and laugh. I've never been one to do things for myself but at the beginning of this year, I decided (with Rob's blessing of course) to get my nails done every two weeks. He gets his hair cut once a month while I might get mine cut once a year so his response to my saying it was unnecessary but asking what he thought about the idea was, "well you getting your nails done is about as necessary as me getting my hair cut so I don't see anything wrong with it." Ok cool. So now for the last 4, almost 5 months, I have one hour every 2-3 weeks to myself with no kids and no responsibilities. It's a change/new thing that I started and thus far I've stuck with it even when I feel guilty about it sometimes. Last week I also got a wild hair (no pun intended) and decided to chop my hair off. It was the longest it's ever been--to the middle of my back--and about 9:30 on a random night, after the kids were in bed, I looked up a tutorial on YouTube and whacked my locks off. Yeah not the brightest idea I've had but I didn't care. It wasn't awful but definitely needed to be touched up so I went two days later and had the girl who cuts my hair once a year clean up my cutting job.

But seriously, what is wrong with me?! Does anyone else ever do random stuff like this? Just needing a change? On the surface it would seem that I simply wanted a fresh start with my personal appearance--hair, nails--but it makes me question the deeper meaning because, well, I'm a deep thinker. I feel like there's a root to everything. Every thought, every action. The way I see it is I get stuck on a hamster wheel in life and things start feeling mundane so I need to throw in a little spice to liven stuff up.

My 32nd birthday is rapidly approaching, in a little more than two weeks to be exact, and I can't help but wonder what the next year will bring. I'm praying for wisdom, discernment, and especially direction on what God is calling me to do and be. I know that despite my wandering, God is working and what He's got planned is far more than what I could ever conjure up.

Here's to keeping the garden going, the chickens laying and my nails dazzling...

PART I: It's Never Too Late

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I'm embarrassed to see the last time I wrote a blog entry. I have the best of intentions but let's face it, life happens and then you look back and see that it's been exactly 3 months since you picked up something that you thought you were going to be intentional about.

I digress.

Lots has happened since my last post. Bo started school (3K), CC celebrated her first birthday, my mom graduated college with her Associates Degree at the age of 55, and so many other things sprinkled in between. I'll delve into details in future posts (I guess that means I have more to write about than I thought...?) but I wanted to share something monumental today. It may be minuscule to some but for me, it's in a way turning over a new leaf.

I was visiting family in South Carolina and Alabama this past week for a few special occasions (my mom's graduation in SC and my cousin's wedding in AL) which was a great trip even though it was just me and CC, and I missed my boys. The second half of my trip was spent at my family's place in Alabama; my great aunt Mildred and uncle Bill who are in their 70's have a produce farm where they grow, maintain and harvest an array of vegetables, fruits and herbs. Aunt Mildred is also a pro at growing (and keeping alive) gorgeous plants and flowers, including a few peony bushes that belonged to her mother, my great grandma Callie. Our trips to Alabama are never long enough for me to really soak up lessons on growing and maintaining plant life but every trip we take, even with my two brown thumbs, I leave feeling inspired to keep trying with this whole growing food/flowers thing. After all, it's in my blood. My great grandaddy Russell (his first name was Jessie and he was Grandma Callie's husband) was, as my mom described it, a "truck farmer" where he had a produce farm much like Aunt Mildred and Uncle Bill but he drove around selling it out of his truck. I've never been one to keep things alive -- aside from my children of course so I must have something right -- but seriously, try as I may I either overwater, underwater or just flat out neglect what I plant. The thought of growing things has always been fascinating to me, to be able to be self-sustaining, live off the land like the natives did, and just know what's in your food. It's just super cool in my mind. A lot of hard work, yes, but you reap what you sow (ha, pun intended!) and to be able to literally go from farm-to-table is so much more than the latest trend to me; it was my family's way of life back in the day and it's very admirable in my book.

So anyway, this monumental moment for me today! Rob made me a huge (to me, anyway!) raised gardening bed for Mother's Day. He's very practical with his gift giving but I love him for it because if he didn't support half of my outlandish dreams and random thoughts, I'd probably still be sitting on the couch binging on Netflix. Not really but for real, he's the fire-slash-confidence I need to jumpstart most of the things I come up with, including this whole urban farm wannabe thing. I figure, hey, what if God is setting us up for our next adventure?! Who knows? You won't know jack until you leap out there and try it. If I kill all the plants, so be it but at least I know I tried with my two brown thumbs.

This morning I took those same thumbs and went to work with Rob filling up that ginormous raised bed with compost. He borrowed a Bobcat machine digger thing (yes, I referred to it as a thing) to move the compost and I raked it out in the bed. There was a constant drizzle/pouring rain but the kids were still asleep and it was kind of fun being out there in the rain and muck setting up our little garden before most of the neighbors were even awake. It gave me a sense of nostalgia, thinking of Aunt Mildred and Uncle Bill, how they were probably already out in the fields on their north Alabama produce farm. It also gave me a sense of pride that Rob and I were tackling this new thing head on together and knowing that as long as we really stick to it and stay on top of it, we will be growing our own produce. Peace out grocery stores! Not only will we be able to enjoy fresh veggies this summer but I get excited thinking of learning to can tomatoes and [hopefully] okra for sauces, soups and chilis in the fall and winter.

One of the last times we were in Alabama together as a family with the 4 of us, Rob and I decided we wanted to make everyone an authentic Italian meal with as many ingredients from the farm as possible. We planned the whole thing out and decided, based on what was still in season, we would make chicken cutlet parmesan, eggplant parmesan and penne alla vodka. Aside from the basil, all other veggies and herbs came from the farm. Even the tomatoes were canned from the farm. We fed close to 20 of my relatives, including Rob and I, and everything was a hit. That was the first and only time we've almost literally had a farm-to-table gathering. It was truly special to us.

So here we are with a box filled with dirt and by the weekend, we'll be planting. I've planted in years past, only tomatoes and zucchini, some turned out pretty decent while other attempts were a complete flop. However, this year we're going to try our hand at adding squash, okra, a variety of herbs, maybe peppers, spinach and I'm thinking possibly a fruit but I'm not sure what just yet. Fingers crossed, y'all! It's never too late to learn new things!


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Rob operating the Bobcat thing.

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Ummm hellooooo how gorgeous are these tulips?! I'll be 32 next month and this morning, for the first time ever, I cut my own bouquet that I grew myself (with the help of God of course!). Before I started helping Rob level out the compost, I cut several of the tulips I planted as bulbs back in the fall and made this arrangement, as well as a tiny, 3-flower arrangement. I was pleased as punch at how beautiful they came out!


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Skewed Views

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I woke up this morning singing the Jesus Culture song, "All Consuming Fire" in my head and I'm not sure why other than the fact that maybe this is what the Holy Spirit is singing over me today.

I started this blog as an outlet to jot down everyday musings, whether those musings be a funny story about my kids, something inspirational or challenging for myself or you...whoever you are reading this.

CC woke me up around 5 this morning and I wasn't able to go back to sleep; something kept telling me that I needed to write a post. I sat down on the couch, read a chapter out of Ezekial (because for the past month or so I've been trying to read the book even though at times, I feel as lost as a goose in the woods navigating through it), then came to write a post. Crickets. Not a clue what to write. I resorted to my thoughts of, "well, I don't have anything funny to say and I don't want all of my posts to be serious and deep-in-thought, so I just won't write today." However, the lyrics of that song kept playing in my mind so here I am, back in the post.

Reading the lyrics of this song, I'm drawn to one word, love. I think my view of God has been so skewed my entire life, and still today at times. I've been a christian for as long as I can remember, though I did some major backsliding in my late teens and college years; I've always known and acknowledged God but I think subconsciously I've seen Him as being unreachable and judgmental. Though I've seen miracle after miracle and have experienced blessing after blessing through and by Him, if there's ever been a bad thought in my mind or something bad that has happened in my life, I immediately think, "what did I do wrong?" or "is this God punishing me", or even, "this is too good to be true, something bad is going to happen." How jacked up is my way of thinking?! And this is coming from someone who has always known and loved God! In the past few years I've really tried to tackle this view I've had of God. A friend of mine has mentioned numerous times about the character of God and one of the last times I heard her say those words, I really thought about that statement and evaluated my assessment of the character of God. That is when I realized that I've had a pretty messed up view of His character. Yes, when we sin, there are consequences but that's not God condemning us. He's not some dictator sitting on a throne, ready to throw flames at us for the things we do wrong. He's not out to get us. I've always been a worrier; I remember my mom calling me the "worry wart of the family" as a child and I think because I've always been a worrier, I have had the mentality that something bad is just around the corner. I remember when I was in my early twenties, I would pray that God would let me be a wife and mom, and to please not let the world end until I could experience motherhood. So fast forward to after the miracle of Bo being conceived and born, I remember one day having a mini internal anxiety attack thinking, "oh gosh, my prayer was answered and I'm now a wife and mom...am I going to die now?!" or "is the end of the world coming now??" I know, jacked up. I sit here and shake my head at myself thinking of how ridiculous those thoughts are. I still find myself having fleeting thoughts much like these at times, especially when something good happens in my life but now I stop and often have an internal comin'-to-Jesus meeting with myself. The God I serve is the God of love. I often hear He is love--that's His pure nature and character. I'm 31 years old and still trying to fully grasp that. I know I can only absorb and understand but so much because I'm human and it's very difficult to see God for Who He truly is but as much as my minuscule mind can grasp it, I will continue to strive to see Him for Who and What He truly is. Love.

All consuming fire
You're our hearts desire
Living flame of love
Come baptize us
Come baptize us

All consuming fire
You're our hearts desire
Living flame of love
Come baptize us
Come baptize us

All consuming fire
You're our hearts desire
Living flame of love
Come baptize us
Come baptize us

All consuming fire
You're our hearts desire
Living flame of love
Come baptize us
Come baptize us

Let us fall more in love with you

We wanna know
How high, how deep, how wide is
love, love love

*All Consuming Fire by Jesus Culture | Songwriters: Cassie Campbell / David Brymer / Misty Edwards

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Dry Bones

 Faith in Jesus is the breath that gets us through the dry, desert places in life.

Faith in Jesus is the breath that gets us through the dry, desert places in life.

Life has been a bit busy during the first month of this new year..but what else is new? I have a lot on my plate but yet I find myself spinning my wheels--not sure if it's the wait 'til the last second philosophy I've always had. I don't know what it is about me but even if I've got a zillion-and-one things to do, and I plan and hash every detail out, I can't seem to focus on accomplishing the tasks at hand until the last minute. I might be a hot mess when finally getting to said tasks but by golly, I get them done and everything always works out. What can I say, I work well under pressure! So now I find myself with a crap ton to do work/creative wise but my mind is all over the place because I feel God doing something new but I'm not quite sure how to navigate it all. Do I jump...what if I fall? Do I continue to wait...what if I miss an opened opportunity? There's so many factors and pieces to what I feel God is possibly doing but I've thought I've felt Him moving before (with the Clark house two years ago) but was obviously wrong and was utterly disappointed in the end. My mama always told me that if I didn't know what to do or where to go, to not do anything, be still and just pray. My praying life isn't what anyone would probably consider to be a traditional one, especially as of late. Maybe I'm wrong for it, I don't know, but I tend to "think-pray" as odd as that sounds. My friend Alex said something a few years ago that I can totally relate to--that in high school, she would pray all day, it was almost like she had a continuous conversation going with God and that's, in a sense, what I do. I have all these thoughts and ideas rolling through my brain all day and during them, I find myself wondering if what I'm thinking is God's Will, or if He is orchestrating the things that I'm thinking. Of course I'll whisper little prayers to Him too and of course I also have those sit down, coming-to-Jesus meetings with Him but mostly it's just a continuous barrage of thoughts and "is this You, God?" prayers. Yesterday Rob took Bo to run an errand and CC was napping so I finally was able to have a little quiet time since I couldn't yesterday morning. I've been reading Ezekial. Have I retained everything? No, not one single solitary bit. I wanted to read Ezekial because of the story of dry bones which I've read (and highlighted in my Bible) before but I wanted to read the entire book to get the full picture of what led to the valley of dry bones. Needless to say, I'm going to have to read the book again when I'm done because all these conversations and visions that are exchanged between Ezekiel and God is too much to keep up with. Nevertheless, I forced myself to sit down and read a chapter yesterday while the house was still and quiet, then I knelt face-down in a fetal position on the living room floor and just stayed there for a few minutes. I heard recently during a sermon (can't remember whose) that sometimes you need to go to God in prayer and not speak, just sit and listen so I laid there on the floor and just listened...to myself breathe. It's so frustrating when you genuinely want to hear from God, are all but begging for some direction and all you hear is yourself breathing. I know I get distracted easily, I know I don't spend as much time in the Word as I should, I know I don't pray like I should, but when I finally still myself and get into a physical position of "ok God, I'm listening!!!", and all I hear is myself breathing, I find myself feeling silly for getting on my face to pray and glad that no one saw me down there. I know it sounds awful but I'm keeping it real. I'm ashamed to admit that when I finally uttered words to God while on my face, I started my conversation with, "if You're up there...". Now I could see someone saying that who truly had never had a relationship or encounter with God but me?! I was raised in church (not that that means a hill of beans but for arguments sake, I know better), have seen the hand of God move in more ways that I can count, but I found myself in a desperate state of "What do you want me to do, God??? What is my next move here?!" The words came flying out of my mouth before I could reel them back in and as soon as they left me, I immediately thought back to the miracle of Bo, and I felt awful for even stooping to that level of desperation and doubt. I know God is there. I know He hears my every prayer (so ironic to see myself type those words because CC had a sticker placed on her shirt at church on Sunday that read those same words). I'm so terrified of making the wrong move and falling on my face or getting my hopes up with one thing or another and what I truly feel God is calling me to is really just my own doing. How do I sift through the muck? I know, I know--most (if not all) would say to be in His Word, meditate on it and He will speak. But where do I even start? I'm in His Word everyday. Am I not in it long enough? Am I not reading what I'm supposed to be reading? Am I not desperate enough to hear His voice? I know He's there. Even though it's my human nature to doubt (and honey, let me tell ya, I am as human and imperfect as they come!), I can't bring myself to say, "peace out God, I'm not going to pass anything by you or acknowledge Your existence". He's engrained in me and always has been even when I've felt so far from Him. I've mentioned in a previous post about me having been in a dry, desert season and that I've finally felt that I'm coming out of it. While I'm not quite completely out of it, as Lauren Daigle's song exclaims, "breathe O breath of God...we call out to dry bones, 'Come alive!'". In my continuous waiting for direction, more than wanting answers and guidance, I pray that God would breathe some life on the dryness of my prayer life and that I can once again feel completely in sync with Him. I know the distractions that need to be tamed and/or eliminated so I guess that's the first step in watering these dusty, dry bones.

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Waiting Well

 It's funny how as long as I've been in NY, I've always had a magnolia tree somewhere near me. This shot was from our yard in the cottage we lived in before buying our house 5 and a half years ago.

It's funny how as long as I've been in NY, I've always had a magnolia tree somewhere near me. This shot was from our yard in the cottage we lived in before buying our house 5 and a half years ago.

I'm internally snickering at the subject of this post. "Why?", you may ask. My answer is because my entire life, I've been the one with the least amount of patience. For real. I don't know what it is about waiting but I can't stand it--if something isn't happening in the amount of time I'd like for it to be, I just grab it and do it myself.

But God.

A few days ago I received an e-vite from my pastor's wife to attend the Kingdom Hearts women's conference this year. I attended for the first time two years ago and was completely in awe of the presence and details of God that entire day. I remember the excitement of having a girls day with a small group of ladies from my church and being a bit envious, yet hopeful when I walked into the building and saw a whole slew of vendors set up, wishing I had known about the fact that one could set up shop there. Looking back at my journal from that year, I found my notes from the day of that conference--it was held on April 23, 2016; the day before, I had written an entry describing myself sitting out back here at our house, under our pink magnolia tree watching Bo play with trucks. I wrote about how I had been so excited for that tree to blossom but was disappointed because we had gotten a cold snap (including a late snow) that killed the blooms that were to unfold, but that after sitting there under the tree and studying it a bit, amongst the dead blooms, I could see green shoots and a few traces of pink. "Even in the ugly, there were traces of beauty", I penned. I went on to say that the magnolia, in some ways, was me--that even though I had allowed the enemy or circumstances to take hold of me at times and my trust wavered, I would wither and appear to be drained of life, but when I surrendered to God and put my full faith and trust in Him, I'd begin to be and experience the beauty of what He had designed for me to be.

Back to the day of the KH conference, I walked into the main hall and there, set up as a prop were two wooden pallets that had been handpainted on with the scripture: Jeremiah 17:7-8, which reads, "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is in the Lord. For he shall be a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes, but its leaves will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought nor cease from yielding fruit." The keynote speaker that day was Francie Winslow who spoke on trusting God as well as the condition of our hearts. This morning I sat down with that old journal and looked up the scriptures from that day. I also looked at the sermon notes from the next day at church--my good friend's (now) late mother had given that sermon on Elijah and how God will always provide when he sends us on a mission, how He takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary, how He answers prayers even when we're still speaking, how we are to believe that He will provide and answer prayers, that God orchestrates everything according to His plan, how if we're faithful in little things, He'll give us bigger things, and that He's able to do anything, even what seems to be impossible. Then, I continued to read journal entries from that week which led to sermon notes of the following Sunday which was a sermon by mine and Rob's good friend, Mike who spoke on the subject of "seasons". Something that he said that stood out most to me was, "We need some seasons in our lives where we are drawn to our knees so we reach out to Him, and what follows a desperate season is a season of fruitfulness." WOW. Mind blown. I had no idea that the season that I was stepping into was a dry, drought-filled, wandering, silent, at-times-dark season. I thought I had God figured out, and that Rob, Bo and I were to purchase that old farm house on 34 acres and relocate to Alabama (if you missed it, that story is here) that following year only to have the wind knocked out of my sails just four months later when the deal fell through. I also had no idea that almost a year to the day of that conference, even in my dry season where, though I knew God and was trusting Him on blind faith but not waiting very well, I would be blessed with a daughter, even though I was so apathetic and complacent. 

But God.

So now here I am nearly two years after that conference, with an invitation to attend this year's conference. Upon receipt of the invitation to attend this year, I did some thinking and research, and found myself on the phone with the very sweet vendor coordinator for Kingdom Hearts. Guess who's going to be a vendor at this year's conference? Yep, you guessed it. MAGNOLIA+PINE. I wanted to get a feel for the keynote speaker and her message topic so I looked her up yesterday; her name is Chrystal Evans Hurst and if you're familiar with well-known pastors and Christian speakers, her dad is Tony Evans and her sister is Priscilla Shirer. Anyway, I came across Chrystal's blog and she recently did a podcast with contemporary Christian artist, Meredith Andrews (listen here). Y'all! I started listening to that interview and was glued. They spoke on what it means to be faithful in every season, making room for your gifts (i.e.: how to juggle home life/mommin' and using your God-given gifts and passions), and finding time to rest for it is when you {wait and} rest that you often hear God. It's hard for me to get out of my rut and focus on a sermon at home sometimes but I could listen to that podcast over and over. As we started this new year, I wanted so bad to turn over a new leaf and really get a groove with MAGNOLIA+PINE but of course to still be present at home with Rob and the kids, I just didn't know how in the world I would be able to maintain brain space and momentum. But God, right? This podcast came at just the right time. Chrystal and Meredith spoke about snippets and how so many women feel like it's all or nothing with getting something done. That is totally me! I feel like whether it's a devotional or design, blog post or creative vision, if I sit down to finally get something accomplished--either Bo needs his truck fixed or hiney wiped, or CC is screaming and wants the boob--I lose all concentration and say, "forget it, hopefully I can finally start on _____ tomorrow during their nap". These ladies spoke about how, even if you have a thought, word, vision, whatever it is, and you can speak it into your phone notes, do it! Grab whatever snippet you can and then go back and fit the pieces together. It's so hard for me to imagine myself doing this because I've always been a perfectionist and at times, a bit OCD, but when I sit and really think about it, getting things done in the manner of which they're suggesting is almost like a mosaic. You may be putting tiny pieces of random gibberish together but when it's all finished, it's a beautiful work of art. Such is my life.

I didn't know seven years ago that I'd still be living in New York. I didn't know two years ago that I'd be about to step into a desert season. I didn't know last week that I'd be starting a new year this week and having the sand wiped from my eyes, looking back at an old journal and literally reading the promises of God in my hand writing, in black and white. I say it all the time but when I'm caught up in a lesson He's teaching me, it just absolutely blows my mind. I can't help but feel a little guilty and want to kick myself for the times I haven't waited well, especially during the last seven years. But God. He has been teaching me firsthand His character, His lovingkindness and His grace. I've always had faith and held on to hope but as my dear friend, Shell recently shared, "let us be more aware of Him"; I know He's always working and orchestrating in my life but sometimes I go days on autopilot and not really seeing what He's doing. However, if I just sit for a second and wait...listen instead of speaking...I realize that He's always always always at work, even in the mundane. Even in the desert.

 

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Lessons from a Stomach Bug

 My poor Bo Bear on Day 3 of the stomach bug.

My poor Bo Bear on Day 3 of the stomach bug.

Oh wow! Looking and seeing the last time I posted is just sad...December 6th. Three weeks ago today. I've tried so hard to get into a routine with writing and working on product but unfortunately I can't seem to find a good balance between work and home life. I digress. I envy the lifestyle bloggers who appear to have it altogether with their gorgeous photos, product and whit--I can't promise I will have any of those going for me but what I can promise is I'm going to keep it real. I'm a stay-at-home mom with dreams and passions but my number one priority, above anything I ever can accomplish or succeed at, is my husband and children (second and third only to my faith, of course). So three weeks...a lot can happen in a minute, let alone three weeks. These past weeks have been jam packed with one thing after another, hence, the fact that I've been MIA from our website; my dear sweet friend, Jenn, has an annual holiday market that I've been participating in when I'm available and this year I was able to, thankfully! It was a total success as I sold several candles, two signs and took a handful of pre-orders for miniature candles. This market was by far the most success I've had at one single event so I was definitely a happy camper and left there with a newfound boost in my creative mojo.

The following weekend my mom came up for a visit since she couldn't be here for Christmas. It was so great to see her, however, her visit was overshadowed with a death in Rob's family and the start of what was to become a vicious stomach virus. By the evening of when my mom left to go back to South Carolina, I was hugging the toilet bowl...as were Rob and Bo. Unexpected and not fun. The three of us found ourselves laying around between mine and Rob's bed and the couch bed for the next 2-3 days. I hated seeing Bo so sick--he's a little guy anyway but I felt like he was beginning to look like those sweet babies you see on TV who are skin and bones. I wanted to cry everytime I saw him just in a diaper. At several points during last week, he was lethargic--a limp noodle--just staring into space. Then, last Thursday night, 4 days after the bug hit us, we had to take him to the ER for dehydration. Rob and I had been on the mend for 2 days by then but Bo just couldn't seem to kick the bug. Thankfully it was a matter of giving him an anti-nausea medication so that he could orally rehydrate--after two more days of a bland/BRAT diet, he was back to his normal self. I can't think of any enemies I have but I wouldn't wish that stomach bug on them! Now after a week and a half, it has gone through 5 more family members, including my mom. There was a lesson I learned during the week of spoon feeding my 3 year old, racing said toddler to the bathroom to puke, putting cold wash rags on foreheads and rubbing backs--it was one of total gratitude. I've never been one to be good with people getting sick or anything medical related, I don't even like seeing my own puke, let alone someone else's; however, there was one day last week where Rob went to work so I was left at home with both kids sick and needing my attention. That day I had hoped to get some work done--whether it be sanitizing my house or attempting to make money with working on product...maybe even get a blog post done--but by the time one kid would be settled, the other one needed something. Normally I'd be feeling frustrated and defeated that I couldn't get anything done but that particular day, I just felt the Lord showing me that even though my household was a straight up hot mess, I was doing exactly what He had called me to do. Take care of my babies. My treasures. At the moment I had that realization, I babied my sick, helpless son a little more and held my fussy daughter a little tighter. It didn't matter that I hadn't posted not a single social media post on my business page in several days or that my website was looking like I had fallen off the face of the earth. The fact was my babies were sick and they needed their mama's undivided attention. So that's what they got.

Thankfully the bug came and went by Christmas and we were able to enjoy Callie Jude's first Christmas, without being sick. Every year we switch off holidays with my family--last year they came up for Thanksgiving and we were in South Carolina for Christmas so this year we stayed home for both holidays because of our big road trip back in October and were with Rob's family. I actually bought a tree and decorated it since we were going to be here. Since Bo has been alive, we've never had a legit tree. I wanted to start the tradition of buying a real tree but with us being down south every other Christmas, it didn't happen. Two years ago I actually decorated my art easel to look like a tree. It was made up of lights and garland so my 16-month-old at the time loved it and that's all I cared about. However, this year I decided to get my act together and I erred on the side of our budget and bought an artificial tree for $50. Growing up, I never had a real tree that I can recall so I always said when I grew up and had kids of my own, we'd get a real tree. Rob and I bought a real tree the year before Bo was born and that was the extent of our "real tree tradition"; after a few conversations with some family members this year, I came to the conclusion that I'd save our money by purchasing an artificial tree. I figure it'd be just as special to say that we bought the tree the first Christmas that we were a complete family--CC being here and making us a family of 4--and let the kids pick out an ornament every year. There ya go, our new family tradition! At the end of the day, Christmas isn't about trees, ornaments and all the trimmings but it does give me all the warm and fuzzies to have traditions with my kids that maybe someday they'll pass on to their families.

So here we are, two days after Christmas and five days before a new year. I'm excited for 2018! Lord knows what the new year will bring but I have that giddy pep in my step that reassures me that He is up to something great. Whether it be business successes, marital blessings, or just the fact that I'm living my dream of being a mom and wife, and that I'm able to stay home with them, and watch them grow and develop--I'm eternally grateful for what He's done thus far in my life and where He is taking our little family. Of course I have tons of dream and plans conjured up in my mind that I will attempt to bring into fruition but after years of struggling with control, I've finally given up in the best way that I can, and that is letting God be God. I'm too busy to try and take that role on anymore.

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PART IV: Caught Between Two Worlds

 Many times Bo will randomly ask me to take a picture of whatever toy he has in his hand. This was one of them. I know I'll look back someday and wish my babies could be babies again.  In a million worlds, I'd choose you.

Many times Bo will randomly ask me to take a picture of whatever toy he has in his hand. This was one of them. I know I'll look back someday and wish my babies could be babies again. In a million worlds, I'd choose you.

I've always loved the poem by Robert Frost entitled, "The Road Not Taken". I'm a visual person so every time I've ever read it or thought of the words, I envisioned a fork in the road--one veering left and the other, right. Seven years ago today, I took one of those roads with not a clue where it was going to lead, but me being me, I was willing to take the chance. I chose to pack up all of my earthly belongings to follow love. I was living in sin and I knew it was wrong but I did it anyway. Thank God for mercy and grace though! Rob and I started off just wingin' it but together, we got right with God and He has blessed us beyond measure.

Life is about choices--there's no way around them. Good and bad, right and wrong, "do I take this job or that one?", "do I spend little or much?". Our life is consumed with choices. As I mentioned in my first post of this little series (that, by the way, I didn't know what going to be a series until I realized after a while, I probably should cut off my story at some point before I lose and/or bore y'all to tears), the only thing I ever was sure about in life was that I wanted to be a mom and a wife; however, I eventually found my passion in art and design...creating things...and it was then that I really found myself caught between two worlds. Everyday I find myself standing in a wide open field--or in my case, my house with toys, diapers, big boy underwear, two babies I've always wanted, dishes in the sink needing washed, mounds of laundry needing folded, toilet bowls needing scrubbed, a desk of open projects and orders, and an Instagram account that keeps nagging at me to stay on top of posts in order to draw attention to little 'ole me and my business I'm trying to build up--with two paths that I have to choose which to go down. Usually I'm just a hot mess express attempting to barrel down both paths--one foot on each until the paths start to curve a little and I'm almost doing the splits--but that only leads me to being stressed to the max, discombobulated, and unorganized (as a lifetime perfectionist who has really gotten better with having to have eeeeeverything just so, being unorganized really sends me in a tizzy). I always tell myself when I try to do too much that my faith and my family come first but sometimes I just feel like throwing in the towel and giving up on everything that isn't family-related because I feel so mentally overwhelmed. I can't even tell you how many times I've thought about Joanna Gaines, and her and Chip's decision to shut down their shop to raise their kids after she felt God leading her to do so (the story can be found here). I haven't felt the prompting to quit altogether but as Bo gets older and closer to school age, and now that CC is mobile, I wonder what God wants for our family next. Rob and I have had many discussions on homeschooling but is that for us? Do I have the patience? How will I find time to do homeschooling and run a business and keep up with house chores and make quality time with God and make sure my husband's needs are met. Talk about a Proverbs 31 woman! Gracious day!--those few things would make any person's head spin I'm sure. I know as long as I keep giving it all to God, He will direct my steps and lead me down the paths I'm supposed to go but Lord have mercy is He teaching me some mega patience! I'm a "ok, let's do this right now" kind of person but God is a "hold up, wait a second, I need you to learn A, B and C first" kind of God. We butt heads...a lot...that's life though, right? Making the choice whether I'm going to fly by the seat of my own pants or wait for God to lead me. It sure isn't easy but I know it's a lot less bumpy of a ride. I know He didn't bring me to where I am, having blessed me the way He has and shown me visions of possibilities for using my talent and passions, just to leave me stranded. Life is always going to be filled with juggling acts and choices but at the end of the day, I know that as long as He's my Pilot, everything else will just sort of fall into place. 

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PART III: Caught Between Two Worlds

 Me holding CC at 3 weeks old.

Me holding CC at 3 weeks old.

My 30th birthday came and went—summer of 2016 I was on Cloud 9 thinking that a new change was coming. Rob and I had been in the midst of preparing to make a huge move to Alabama where my mom’s family is. I lived there for a while when I was a kid and spent time there during the summers before moving there. When I moved away at the age of 13, I never saw myself going back but as I got older and started visiting again more, I felt myself being drawn back to my family roots. I’ve always been the sentimental one and interested in my heritage, the stories and memories of my family.

In July of 2016, Rob and I flew down with Bo to visit my family and also looked at a beautiful old farmhouse that belonged to a family member. She was looking to sell and we were seeing hearts and dreams. That old farmhouse was built in 1912, was white with black shutters, a wraparound porch and sat on 34 acres. In my mind’s eye, it’d be on the cover of Southern Living. It needed a whole lot of work but man did I have visions for that place! Rob and I were spitting out the dreams and plans for that old place—a farm-to-table restaurant, an event venue, a family friendly place where we would have craft fairs with food and live music. The thoughts and visions were endless. The last day we were there, Rob and I went down to the house and literally laid hands on it—we stood outside on the porch, just the two of us, and put our hands on the house, praying out loud and asking God if it was His Will, to make a way for us to get that house. It was a big deal, a big undertaking, but we were ready and willing to take it on together and we were so excited about it. However, the following month the whole deal fell through. We were so devastated. It was as if someone had taken a thumb tack and poked it in my happy balloon. I wasn’t mad at God or the family member. I was just so disappointed and my feelings were crushed. At the moment that Rob got the call that the deal was off, I went into a recluse place spiritually. I didn’t understand what God was doing. I didn’t even have Alabama on my radar to move to and then out of nowhere we were set to move there and I was surprisingly ok with it—I felt that surely it was God orchestrating the whole thing—only to be left feeling completely clueless and empty. I had prayed for almost 6 years to get back “home” to the south and I thought this was it. It was finally happening! I had officially entered into the Mohave Desert inside. I didn’t know how to pray anymore. I didn’t know what scriptures to read, what devotional to study. I was just dry as a bone.

Another month went by, I was still walking around the desert and found a cactus rose. I was pregnant with baby #4. Rob and I didn’t tell anyone at first because of the last two miscarriages, and because at my first sonogram, they discovered that I had a subchorinoc hematoma which is what they had discovered during pregnancy #3. They weren’t sure if that was why I lost the last baby but said it was a possibility and that this pregnancy was a 50/50 chance of miscarriage since I had had two consecutive ones previously. Something felt different for me internally with this pregnancy—I had a peace that everything was going to be ok even though from the very beginning, it was one issue after another. I lost count of the sonograms I went to—between checking the hematoma, checking the placenta and so on—I was in somewhat denial that I was pregnant again but was also trying to embrace it and all but begging God to speak to me and help me out of the desert I was in. I didn’t know what He was trying to show me or leading me to but I had a complacent feeling and decided to just roll with it.

Rob and I eventually decided to tell our worship team one Thursday night at band rehearsal—I didn’t want to be congratulated because I still felt so blah and empty—but I also didn’t want to go through a miscarriage again, and at the end of the day, I was grateful that God saw fit for us to have another baby because I remembered my state of desperation in wanting to get pregnant with Bo. Our team laid hands on us and started praying “African Style” as we call it—I just sobbed as they prayed over us and our unborn baby. It brings me to tears even writing and remembering that moment. My friend, Alex was standing closest to me with her hand on my belly and said she just saw light radiating from my stomach and that she could see a dancer. I knew from the beginning of that pregnancy too that it’d be a girl. It was just a strong feeling I had. That Christmas we announced that we were expecting a girl. Before we found out she was a girl though, I randomly had a thought one day that if the baby was in fact a girl, I wanted to call her CC for short. Don't ask me why because I really don’t know where the thought came from. I knew her name would be Callie but I still thought of my cousin when I said the name outloud—I guess I hadn’t full grasped the fact she was gone and every time I uttered her name, her face would still come to my mind. I thought of the classic movie Beaches and Mayim Bialik/Bette Midler’s Character, C.C., when the idea came to me but that was the extent of my reasoning. That movie always makes me think of my best friend from high school, Jenn, so maybe that was another factor? Who knows. I just knew CC would be her nickname. I tried to think of a middle name that started with a “C” so that the nickname would make sense but either Rob didn’t like it or the name didn’t fit. A week or two before Christmas though, we decided on the name Callie Jude. Callie, of course, after my late cousin (she had been named after my maternal great-grandmother so it was extra special to pass down this family name) and Jude after Rob’s paternal grandmother. It was set—we were having a girl, her legal name would be Callie Jude but we would call her CC. She was due May 9, 2017 but in true fashion of my entire pregnancy, I had a distinct feeling she would come early. Bo had been born at exactly 39 weeks but I had this eery feeling she’d come even earlier. Throughout the majority of my pregnancies, I was in excruciating physical pain—my sciatica back pain was through the roof—but with CC it got to the point that I’d be in tears by the end of the day. On top of that, we found out fairly early on that she was breech. Of course ! I ended up going to a chiropractor to try and aliviate the back pain but also try and coax her to flip on her own. I also tried moxa acupuncture therapy. I was so petrified at the idea of a C-section, especially since I had birthed Bo totally natural with no meds. However, deep down in my gut, I also didn’t want to go through the traumatic natural birth and losing way too much blood experience that I had with Bo. Essentially I just wanted her to be born miraculously and not have to do all the medical stuff (haha!).

On Good Friday of this year I went in for my last sonogram to confirm that CC was still breech (I already knew she was because I could feel her head in the same spot it had been for months). I had Bo with me, thinking I’d be going to my chiropractor appointment afterward and then dropping him off with my in-laws so Rob and I could make it to the city for our 8 P.M. Billy Joel concert at Madison Square Garden. Yes, it was our final hoorah/babymoon/datenight/Valentine’s Day/early 5th wedding anniversary gift to each other and I was so looking forward to it. I was not letting anything stop me from getting to that concert that cost a small fortune and was worth every penny for the look on my dear sweet husband’s face when he found out we were going. Anyway, I walked into the sonography room simply thinking they were going to tell me the baby was breech and we’d go ahead and schedule a C-section, however after a few minutes, the sonographer called in the doctor and a midwife to explain that the baby essentially failed the test they conduct when a pregnant mother is that far along. CC scored a 4 out of 8. She wasn’t moving like she should—actually not at all—she was in a loose position rather than a tight fetal position and there was one other thing but the next several hours and months have caused me to forget. I had previously been told that CC’s cord was wrapped loosely around her neck so I figured that was a factor too. The doctor and midwife told me that they wanted to hook me up to a fetal monitor in order to monitor the baby’s heart rate. I was confused because I saw and heard her heartbeat on the sonogram but they explained to me that the sonogram is only a snippet of what the baby’s heart rate would be and that they needed to monitor me for a longer period of time. They told me that they would monitor me for 5-10 minutes and if the heart rate was ok, they’d let me go to the hospital by myself for further monitoring rather than be taken by ambulance but that either way, I’d need to go to the hospital for extended monitoring. I tried to remain calm because Bo was with me but when I had to start making phone calls—to Rob to inform him of what was going on and that he needed to get to the midwife’s office, and my mother-in-law to come get Bo—the tears started flowing. I laugh now thinking back at that moment because I was sweating so bad because of nerves, I was crying because I was scared but I was smiling because I was trying not to freak Bo out or make him feeling worried because Mommy was upset. I was a hot mess. Rob and my mother-in-law arrived. She took Bo while Rob and I headed for the hospital. The person at the registration desk in triage took my information, and I made sure to stress the fact that my husband and I had Billy Joel tickets for 8 P.M. show that night, and it’d be great to get in and out of there so we could make the train in time to get to that show at MSG. She laughed and said they’d see what they could do. Thankfully after a few hours of being monitored, they released me with papers that said to keep track of the baby’s movements and call the midwife if I had any concerns.

Rob and I made a mad dash for home to change clothes and then headed to the LIRR to make the train, bound for the city. We had an awesome datenight and got back home super late. The next morning we grabbed breakfast and headed to our Easter band rehearsal. Our church normally has two services but for Easter (and occasionally Christmas), we have one huge service at a local middle school auditorium. My discharge papers had said to monitor the baby’s moments but even after several hours, I hadn’t felt even a flinch from her. I didn’t want to go back to the hospital but I also didn’t want to risk something being wrong so ultimately we decided to call the midwife who, of course, advised to go to the hospital to check things out. As soon as I walked into triage, CC started flipping around and when I was hooked up to the fetal monitor, she started really showing off. While I was at the hospital, the midwife scheduled me for a Version for two days later—Monday, the day after Easter—in order to externally try and flip CC so as to avoid a C-section. An hour later we were headed back to band rehearsal. Easter Sunday came and went, and Monday finally arrived. I was instructed to pack a hospital bag in the event that the Version put me into labor and I had to have an emergency C-section. The Version was not fun...at all...and it was unsuccessful. I felt so defeated. I literally held on to the gurney rails, and Rob and the midwife’s hands for 10-15 minutes, in excruciating pain while two medical residents and a doctor tried to literally turn my baby around from the outside (and at one time, the inside) of my body, only for it not to work. I had my little breakdown moment and then I was done. I knew I had tried everything—chiropractor, acupuncture, Version, nearly standing on my head at home (FORREAL...I really tried this!)—and it was left up to God of how my birth was going to go. I trusted Him. I was scared about dying during childbirth but I trusted Him. There was no other option to me. I had an appointment for the following Monday to schedule my C-section but around 11 p.m. that Wednesday, two days after my Version attempt, I went into labor on my own. I didn’t have a chance to work myself up about an impending C-section date—at 1 A.M. we headed to the hospital and it was confirmed that I was indeed in labor and that before it became an emergent situation, they would perform a C-section once the OR became available. I was literally shaking like a leaf. My chest hurt from shaking. I was so scared but trying so hard to keep it together. I leaned my head back on the exam chair in my triage room, closed my eyes and started praying hard while also rebuking the devil. I know the devil can’t hear your thoughts but I rebuked him in my head anyway. I kept saying outloud to Rob, “I reeeeeally don’t want to do this. This sucks. Can we just go home? I don’t want to do this.” And he finally said to me, “Babe, I know this isn’t what you want. This isn’t the birth you or I wanted for our girl but I can’t help but think maybe this is God’s way of looking out for you. You lost so much blood with Bo—like a lot—so maybe this is His way of protecting you.” Wow. I never thought of it that way. I was still scared but I had a peace and I was just ready to get it over with.

God is so cool with His details. The doctor on call that night/morning was Dr. Brian Hunt. I didn’t know him from Adam’s housecat—he looked a little familiar because I had probably seen him in my midwife’s office at some point during my pregnancy—but I had never met or talked to him. He came in right before I was to be wheeled to the OR and introduced himself. I don’t go many places or speak to many people around here who don’t catch my accent and ask where I’m from, and it was no different that day as I was meeting this random doctor who was about to cut me open. After asking me where I was from, Dr. Hunt informed me that he got his Undergrad at The Citadel. As in the prestigious college in Charleston, South Carolina, two hours from where I had lived for 10+ years of my life and still called home in my heart. Where my mama was. I think I laughed internally and thought, “Ha! God you really are in the details!” After he went through the whole schpill of what was about to go down, the doctor asked if I had any questions for him. I simply requested that he not let me die. He probably thought I was nuts but I was super scared about surgery as it was the first legit, major surgery I’d ever undergone. Shortly after all the logistical talk, I was wheeled back to the OR and at 4:57 a.m. on April 20, 2017, Callie Jude made her grand entrance. She was so tiny—much smaller than Bo had been at 8 lbs., 1 oz. and 21.5” long—she weighed 6 lbs 9 oz and was 19” long. Our tiny dancer.

Life has been crazy and at time overwhelming since she joined our world 7 months ago but, as so many people assured me, I can’t imagine what my life and what our family was like before she was here. I want to squish her every time I see her. She is the most beautiful baby girl—she’s a total mama’s girl which drives me nuts sometimes—but she is such a good, sweet baby and so funny. I never thought of it before I started this little blog post series but she’s my little desert rose. My desert kiss* from God Who has set me on the journey back to Him.

 

*Words inspired by the song lyrics of my dear friend and mentor, Shell McGovern.

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PART II: Caught Between Two Worlds

 I started 2016 reading, "the prayer of jabez: breaking through to the blessed life" by bruce wilkinson. the book made my heart skip a beat and put a pep in my step after such a dark several months. this piece was created during that new awakening season.

I started 2016 reading, "the prayer of jabez: breaking through to the blessed life" by bruce wilkinson. the book made my heart skip a beat and put a pep in my step after such a dark several months. this piece was created during that new awakening season.

Here I sit a week after writing my last post feeling the same as I did last week. I must admit I sat down last week and started writing as a way of venting and release but as I got underway with my story, my stress began to lift and my vent became a feeling of gratitude as I went back in my mind’s eye to the tangible blessings He’s given me.

So after a week of toddler throwdown tantrums, infant neediness, running from pillar to post with errands, and tidying the house, to being mentally overwhelmed trying to keep up with M+P social media, filling orders, and so on, I found myself frazzled and mentally spent this morning after church. I thought back to my last post and all that has taken place since Bo was born. All the ups and downs. All the unanswered prayers. All the answered prayers. All the tragedy. All the blessings.

Bo was such a happy baby and I just sort of stuck him to my hip and took him wherever I went (still do except now he can walk, thankfully, because he’s heavy), even to the basement to work on orders. He would play in his exercauser while I would sit on the cold basement floor, painting my signs by hand. I remember Rob’s uncle Frank came over during one of these painting sessions and snapped a picture with his phone. I was looking a hot mess in my paint clothes with Bo hanging out—I remember him telling me something about looking back on that picture someday and seeing where I started. Humble beginnings I guess?

When Bo was about 9 months old, Rob and I found out I was pregnant with baby #2. I wasn’t happy about it at all. I was so enraptured by Bo that I couldn’t fathom loving another baby like I did him and I swore he’d be the only child even though I always said I wanted 3 kids someday. It took me a while but I started to warm up to the idea of another child and as soon as I was really beginning to accept and embrace my second pregnancy, my world got rocked. I got a call from my cousin, Brittney, around 7 a.m. on July 15, 2015 that her little sister, Callie, had died at the age of 25. The circumstances around her death were so tragic, and too much to fully grasp and understand. I wanted to throw up when I hung up with Britt. Instead, I called my mom and my brother in tears to relay the message, then began to arrange for me and Bo to fly to Alabama to be with my family for the funeral arrangements. Rob stayed behind to work. Up until the day I found out about Callie’s death, I had started to think of baby names but nothing completely stuck, however as I reflected on all the times I had with her and the memories from my childhood, I shared with Rob that I thought it’d be nice to name the baby Callie if it was a girl. Unfortunately though, the day I got the call about my cousin was the day I started to miscarry that baby. That was a Wednesday—I had started to spot a little so I called my midwife’s office—they said to try and take it easy and not to lift anything heavy which was easier said that done since I would be traveling from New York to Alabama with an 11 month old and two layovers. The entire time I was in Alabama, the spotting continued and about two hours after I landed back in New York that Sunday, I was having a full-on miscarriage. It was not a fun process and I think the emotions of the previous days with my cousin’s funeral and traveling compacted the situation. I was sad and emotionally overwhelmed but more than anything, I felt guilty. I thought because I didn’t think I wanted more kids and because I didn’t embrace my pregnancy at first, that the miscarriage was my punishment and that God took the baby away because I didn’t want it bad enough. Of course I know God doesn’t work that way but at the time, I was really beating myself up about it. Eventually I healed from my miscarriage—physically and emotionally—it gave me a different outlook on some things and it opened my eyes to the potential of what God had in store for me. Bo turned a year old the following month, then we turned around and flew to South Carolina for my other cousin’s wedding that I helped decorate and coordinate. Life continued and I trucked along, juggling life and trying to really live and love each day even though I missed home. Shortly after Bo’s birthday, we found out I was pregnant again. This time I was still reluctant but really tried to push aside the thoughts I previously had when I was pregnant with baby #2. My brother and I had always been close and I wanted that for Bo, so I tried to keep that thought in the forefront of my mind. I was actually getting excited of the thought of Bo being a big brother because I could totally picture it and I knew he’d be the best big brother, especially to a sister—I don’t know why but I kept picturing him having a sister. From early on in my third pregnancy, I felt like I’d have a girl so again, I told Rob I wanted to use the name Callie if it was a girl. That November we made the trek from New York to Alabama for Thanksgiving and for my brother’s wedding. Before Thanksgiving dinner, I pulled my cousin Callie’s Mom, Sam, aside (Sam is my mom’s first cousin—their moms were sisters) and asked for her blessing to call our baby Callie if it were a girl and she tearfully said yes. The following Friday, December 4, 2015, I went to my midwife’s office for my 12 week sonogram. I went in thinking all was right with the world only to be sucker punched by the sonographer—she informed me that there was no heartbeat and that it appeared that the “fetus” had stopped growing at 9 weeks. Talk about a punch in the gut! I had Bo with me so I tried not to show much emotion because I didn’t want to upset him but inside, I could feel my heart aching. The doctor came in and explained what the next sequence of events would be as far as passing the baby because my body hadn’t naturally started the process. Two days later was the 5 year mark of me living in New York, the day that would have been my cousin, Callie’s 26th birthday, and the day that I was scheduled to attend my good friend Alex’s baby shower that I had helped decorate and organize. I left the shower and went home to start the medication that would make my body start miscarrying. I didn’t want to do it. My midwife said that I could take some time and see if maybe my body would start the process but that I didn’t need to be at home by myself when I did it which is why I had decided to do it when I did because Rob would be going to work the next morning. When the medication kicked in, the next several hours were filled with calls to the midwife, standing in the shower, towels, and praying for it to be over. I went back for another sonogram a few days later only to find out that I didn’t pass everything so I had to do another round of medication which left me in excruciating pain physically and emotionally. It took me 3 months to pass everything—I refused a D&C but that would have been the next step. Thank the Lord I didn’t have to go to that step because to me, they would have been even more emotionally trying. That February Alex had her baby at home—I remember that day like it was yesterday—I was so beyond excited for her but I kept having little breakdown moments where I’d be so happy but sobbing my eyeballs out. I finally got to her house to meet her baby boy, RayJ, and I had to leave before I could even hold him—I could barely get two words out before I’d be sobbing. I realized that day that I was finally truly mourning the losses I had. I knew that the first miscarriage I had, if the baby had survived, would be born within a few weeks of baby RayJ. That realization hit me like a ton of bricks that I wasn’t expecting. I held on to Bo tight and thanked God for him more than ever.

In June of 2016 I turned 30 and was ready to take on what God had for me next. I was ready for a new start and a breath of fresh air but had no idea I was about to enter a dry desert—wow the cactus flowers that popped up though!—it’s amazing the beauty you can find in a desert place when you’re clinging to Jesus. 

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