Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Traditions

Christmas is such a special time of the year to me. I have so many wonderful memories. I love Christmas traditions, and knowing that "some things will never change" makes me happy, and yes, that's probably due very much to my personality and slight-OCD tendencies. lol I love knowing that certain traditions will be continued every year, and I also love creating new ones as Tim and I start our own family traditions. I wanted to share with you a few of my favorites, and I hope you'll share some of yours as well!

Finding the perfect Christmas tree. Growing up, this was one of my favorite family events. We would drive out to Tom's Christmas tree farm, traipse up the big hill, and then search out "the tree." We'd argue, all in fun, and finally settle on the perfect tree. Then, we would head to King's for breakfast, hoping to sit next to the window so we could make sure no one stole our tree off the truck! Last year, Tim and I were unable to fit a real tree in our townhouse, but this year, in our new house, we had plenty of space, so off to the tree farm we went! :) We found the perfect tree, and Timmy had it down in 30 seconds flat. After several attempts to get the tree in our trunk, the guy at the farm just strapped it to the back of Philippe. And we were off......... :) We made it home in one piece! The great thing about a real tree is that the extra branches you cut off to get it in the stand are perfect for decorating throughout the house! Nothing goes to waste at the O'Brien home! haha

Decorating the house for the holidays (takes at least an entire day in our home lol) I love to decorate, as you know, but Christmas decor takes it to a whole new level. I've never had so much space to decorate before, so it definitely took awhile. As I decorated, I couldn't help but thank God over and over again for giving us a home that far surpassed our dreams. I've always wanted a mantle and banister to hang garland, He gave us both with this house~how fun! I love my decorating day. I wear sweats all day, barely eat, and get covered with sparkles~it's the life! haha

 Advent study. We tried to do an Advent study this year, but unfortunately, it is difficult with our current life schedule (Tim being in seminary). While we had to forgo the study, we are making an effort to think and talk about the gift of Jesus more this December than ever before. If you are looking for an Advent study to do with your family, check out this Advent Study from Women Living Well. I didn't know what Advent was for a very long time, but once I realized that an "advent study" is to prepare our hearts in the weeks leading up to Christmas, I loved the entire concept! I think it's especially important when you have little kids. In a world filled with ingratitude and selfishness especially this time of year, I think it's so important to share with your kids that Christmas isn't about them, and it's certainly not about stuff. An advent study is a great way to share the true meaning of Christmas with your family.

Setting up the nativity...or nativities. :) We have several little nativity sets throughout our home. I want there to be reminders everywhere of why we are celebrating this special time of the year. It's easy to get lost in the fun and traditions, so we want to keep Christ our focus, especially this time of the year! 
Someday I want to purchase the Willow Tree set because it's so beautiful and simplistic, but no matter how big or small your nativity, make it a special part of your Christmas decor. We love our outdoor nativity display. Doesn't it warm your heart when you drive by a home that has Baby Jesus prominently displayed for all the world to see? I love it, and I love the privilege to display our faith, in this relatively small way.

 Where's the Christmas owl? Tim and I personally have chosen not to participate in the "Elf on a Shelf" fad (even when we do have kids.) 1. It's expensive. $30 for a creepy-faced toy seems silly to me. (Great marketing though!) haha 2. While many people choose to celebrate Santa with their children, we choose to never pretend his existence. I don't write this to be controversial, but rather, if you feel the same way about either of our reasons for not doing the elf, maybe you'll like our alternative "game"~the Christmas owl. :) I purchased a little Christmas owl (like $2 at a craft store) and we play hide and seek with it over the Christmas holiday. When you find the owl, you get to hide it again. Tim and I have had a blast with this silly game. I wanted something fun like the elf game, and I think this is a great alternative! (It's currently hanging on the doorjamb on the back of the door of the red bathroom --we'll see if my hubby reads my posts...haha!)

Attend and host parties~the more the merrier! Tim and I attended our first "ugly sweater Christmas party" this year. How fun! We looked hideous and it was a blast! What a fun way to laugh with friends. We also hosted our monthly couples night-Christmas version this weekend; we always look forward to the fun fellowship while celebrating our Savior! This year we started a new tradition with my side of the family~a Christmas movie night. We had "movie theater" snacks like popcorn and candy and watched Christmas movies. It was blast and a wonderful new family tradition. On the night of Christmas Eve Eve, we always enjoy a family game and appetizer night at my parents. It's one of the highlights of my Christmas season. Spending time with family and friends is such fun, and it seems to happen more often over the holidays! Everyone is happy and laughing....there's just something about this time of year! So sponsor a movie night, have a cookie exchange, just fellowship and spend time with those you love! <3 And have sweets....lots and lots of sweets! 

Craft or bake. Find a way to show those you love some extra special care over the holidays. As you saw above, I baked cookies for an entire day! These cookies were used at some parties as well as in Christmas tins for our neighbors. A tin of cookies, a "thanks for being our neighbor" note, and the gospel will be given to show our neighbors love. Nothing big, expensive, or super fancy, but we hope to show them love by the thought and time that was spent on them. Also, I made Christmas wreaths for some family and friends. They weren't really part of their Christmas gifts, yet they were just a small token to say, "I love you." For the group that attends Tim's nursing home Bible study we purchased inexpensive little ornaments, wrapped a ribbon and a handwritten tag around each one, and gave them to the sweet elderly people. They were so grateful for the gift and I was so blessed to put smiles on their faces. They were so pleased to show off their gifts through the hall from "the pastor and his wife" as they call us. Maybe you aren't crafty, but you could make a meal for someone during this season. Or anyone can buy an ornament and tie a ribbon on it! Find an inexpensive way to bless those around you~I promise you will be more blessed by the act of giving the gift! :)

 Christmas is absolutely my favorite time of the year~everything about the season is wonderful. We spent extra time with family and friends, we buy gifts to show our care to those we love (I love buying gifts! :)), we stop and think about our Savior more (although we should be doing this more in the other 11 months than we do!), we put up Christmas lights (o my soul!), and everyone around us is just more jolly! It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

I would love to hear about your Christmas season traditions! Please share them with us.

Wishing you the very Merriest Christmas!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Showing Love~October

Is anyone else SHOCKED that October is over?!?! October flew right by me. lol I'm not ready for the cold and snow yet. :/ October was insanely busy for us, but I have been making a conscious effort to go out of my way each week to encourage someone. Here are my October "Showing Love" activities.... :) I hope they encourage you to keep on your giving path right on through Thanksgiving!

 I have a coworker who is always on the go. She works insane hours and I doubt has very much "relaxing" time, so I put together a little "relax" bag with a PINK lotion, a candle, and a book of short stories for those in love. (She's getting married this coming summer.) I don't think people usually treat her this way because she comes across as very tough and "I've got this" so I think a gift recognizing that she's a girl and needs a breather, was really surprising to her. She was visibly moved by the gift and it was a good exercise for my heart as well. 

Another coworker who has been a wonderful and sweet friend to me over the last year and a half received a "Friends" glass (with awesome colored ice cubes lol) and a little devotional book. She has a little toddler and a busy life and I'm hoping the short devotions encourage her to seek Christ. I really focused on my coworkers without even consciously choosing to focus on them. I picked up breakfast one morning for another coworker (since she and I are typically the first two in each morning). It filled me with such joy to see my coworkers's faces light up from feeling loved and appreciated. I was amazed at how unexpected a kind gesture was. Says something about our culture doesn't it when a small gift or kind gesture shocks someone.

I also had another amazing opportunity to serve others and show them love by hosting a surprise birthday party for my Mimi. Our home was bursting at the seams with people, and I loved every single minute of it! :) Mimi has spent her whole life loving on us and it was such a joy and privilege to serve her back in this way. We also were able to have our cousins stay overnight with us and that was truly a joy as well! God has blessed me with an unbelievably wonderful family, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to love on them!

I also had the opportunity to treat a friend to dinner. It's nothing special, but it's a little way to say, "I care about you." I know that not everyone is in a financial situation where they can maybe do something like that, and that's okay! But, it's not an excuse to never show love either! Perhaps a great option for you would be to invite a friend over for coffee and some fresh baked cookies. I did that the other week as well, although it was mostly for time sake and because my house is more comfortable than Starbucks. lol I needed to make a dessert for the following day, so I popped some cookies in the oven while I prepped the dessert, and my friend sat at our island and we chatted while being productive! It was great! I was able to fulfill my obligations while spending enjoyable time with a friend. 

My point is, it doesn't have to be extravagant, it just has to be thoughtful! You can do it! Keep up the good work, only a few weeks left until Thanksgiving! You've got this!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

You Are Not Alone

Last weekend I had the privilege to attend a women's conference about 45 minutes away from our house. I was beyond nervous to attend because I wasn't going to know anyone there. I had communicated briefly with one of the conference coordinators and she was so gracious and kind via our facebook messages, but I was still shaking inside as I walked in the door on Friday evening. I went up to the third row and sat down, alone. Behind me a sweet lady introduced herself. I couldn't even talk because I just wanted to cry I felt so out of place and alone. I said hello, and then turned back around trying not to cry. (I later found out that that sweet woman had lost her husband a few weeks ago and was deeply grieving. It made her reachout so much more special knowing her story. She continued to reach out to me throughout the two days and we had some great conversations.) Two seats down from me was a lady and her friend from work who looked over at me and asked if I was saving the seat next to me for someone, I said no, I'm not saving it for anyone. She said, "Do you go to this church?" "No ma'm." "You're here all by yourself?!" "Yes, I do not know anyone here." (then started the waterfall of tears lol) She pulled my stuff to the chair next to her, put her arm around me and said, "Honey, you're sitting with me and my friend tonight. You know us. And if you are back tomorrow, and I truly hope you will be, you'll sit with us again." And the next day, I sat with them, ate lunch with them, and made two new friends. God is so  amazing!

The theme of the conference was "What's Your Story?" and the purpose was to uplift the name of Christ through the stories of His daughters. We all have a story (our life story) and no matter how crazy, exciting, or boring we think our story is, God has given us our unique story for a purpose: to bring glory to Him. The speakers each shared her life story and showed again and again how God had brought her through, and every single one of them directed the praise and glory to God. It was awesome. The conference was 1) to encourage women to share their stories, maybe not in a huge group setting, but when God pricks your heart and whispers, "Tell her your story..." that we would be willing to swallow our pride and reflect glory to Him no matter the setting, and 2) that we would recognize God in our story. Challenging and powerful....I really want to share with you, briefly, some of the things I learned and loved....

As far as the overall conference goes, O MY SOUL. I was inspired, encouraged, and uplifted in my walk with God. Other than God's orchestration of Tim and I meeting, this was one of the most "God-specifically-orchestrated-this-for-me" experience of my life. I had no doubt in my mind that God wanted me (little me, special and loved by God) to be there. The way all the pieces fell into place, I couldn't argue with Him about going. I knew I needed to, even if it meant going alone. 

I am not alone. I witnessed testimony after testimony of God's work and grace in the lives of the speakers. Some had backgrounds that far surpassed anything I could even imagine because I've had such a "perfect" life, and others brought me to tears as women who had grown up in church and were pillars in their church were open and transparent and admitted for God's glory, that they struggled too. I've struggled a lot since being married of feeling like I'm the only one...the only believer who struggles to read the Bible and pray, the only wife who falls short daily, the only daughter who doesn't call often enough, the only church member who sometimes just doesn't feel like going, the only friend who stinks at keeping in touch, and the list goes on and on. I'm not. (insert deep sigh of relief!) I'm not alone in my struggles; God repeated this truth to me through these Godly women over and over and over again during these amazing two days. One amazing woman contemplated telling her story, and until she actually shared her story, her friends and co-speakers weren't sure she'd have the courage to do it. But by God's grace, she opened up and shared her story, and that connection was the biggest of many God moments I experienced that weekend. I am truly grateful that she took God's prompting and shared her story. 

Pride has no place in a life that desires to bring God glory. I'm so tired of Christians who pretend like they are perfect. It's sickening, and it absolutely doesn't bring glory to God. It's hypocritical and prideful, and we need to stop it. Like, right now. And I'm as guilty as the next gal. When we put on this front at the house of God, or even just around believers, we lie to our brothers and sisters in Christ; we lie to ourselves; we lie to God. He has given us a story to be used for His purposes, not so that we can hide all the bumps in the road and pretend like we are perfect. Gag me. To see these Godly women get up, open their souls, and let us examine their struggles to see a lesson or God's hand, was powerful; I truly can't find the words to express how powerful this lesson was to me. I don't want to be a fake that has no impact for Christ. I'm not saying that we have to bear our souls to just anyone and everyone and allow them to use our struggles as ammunition against us, but I am saying that I just want to be real. No more games. No more pretending. We can't be helped, encouraged, or prayed for, when we refuse to acknowledge that we struggle, and we can certainly never help a sister in Christ if we refuse to get off of our high horse. (Not sure what that phrase even means, but you know what I'm trying to say, right!? lol)

Recognize God EVERYWHERE. Mia, one of the conference speakers and a way talented musician, repeatedly said "But God" throughout her sessions. I fell in love with that concise truth. We can all say this throughout our stories, no matter how "mild" our testimony. But God. I would be married to an unsaved, Godless man, But God. I wouldn't have the most incredible Godly husband who far surpasses any dreams or expectations I could have ever had, But God. I would have never attended Christian school and college and made lifelong, eternal friends who I call "The Family," But God.  I wouldn't have grown up in an incredible Christian home with my awesome, loving parents, But God. I wouldn't have the job I have or the beautiful home Tim and I share, But God. I wouldn't have made it through difficult seasons, But God. Are you seeing a pattern here?! :) He directs it all. EVERYTHING we have, every experience,  every blessing, every trial would end so differently if God didn't intervene in our lives, save us as His children, and guide our steps as we seek Him. How scary would our lives be without Him?

Christ connects us, and it's a beautiful piece of our story. I went into the conference scared and alone to be in a room full of "strangers." I left with many new friends. I left with hugs and tears and promises to get together again soon. Christ brings us together with strangers; He binds our hearts together with a common love. We may have totally different backgrounds, stories, etc., but He is always the same. I'm thankful that God has been teaching me this truth over the last  two years or so. People can do things differently than we do, and they can still love Jesus! Crazy, right?! Someone might worship, serve, prayer, or study differently than we do, and that's not a problem as long as their ways don't disagree with the Bible! I'm thankful that God has been stretching me with this truth, because I have met and learned from women who I would never have encountered with my old, closed heart.

God moved in that auditorium, and it was awesome. I want to praise Him for giving me the courage to attend by myself. That may seem to silly to you all that know me, because I'm typically pretty outgoing, but this wasn't on my turf, or in my home, this was so uncomfortable and scary for me. I also want to praise Him for wrapping his arms around me and showing me that I have a story that's worth sharing, and the purpose of that story is to bring Him glory. I want to thank him for showing me that I'm not alone in this journey. There are other sisters in Christ on this journey with me! Throughout the last week, two phrases have echoed through my mind, again and again....

But God....

I am not alone.

I hope these truths wrap themselves around your heart and encourage you to persevere. 

With love,

Please check out these two music videos:

Mosaic - Women's Conference 2014 A beautiful video of pictures from the conference featuring Mathew West's "This is the Story of Your Life." (theme song of the conference)

You Are Not Alone - Mia Koehne If you aren't crying by the end of this video, you need to replay. :) Mia has such an incredible testimony and life story. Her joy is contagious!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Showing Love....Challenge Continued.....

September Week 3 didn't go as planned since unexpectedly the friend had to cancel our lunch, so I was a little behind going into last weekend. I made up for it with two ideas over the weekend, one for week 3 and one for week 4. :) Both involved cooking for others. Not something I'm super good at, but in this case, I just really felt like my cooking attempts would be "just the thing"! 

First of all, I made some star shaped sugar cookies for a man at our church who just found out he has cancer. He and his wife have been so sweet to us and are one of the first couples we remember meeting our first week at Grace. He found out at the end of the week prior that he had cancer, and all weekend he had been on my heart and in my prayers. I kept thinking about the fact that the God who created the universe who cares about the tiniest bug, who knows the number of hairs on our head, he cares about Glenn and his cancer and He hadn't forgotten about him. I wanted to share this with Glenn and his wife, hoping that this truth would comfort them during this difficult time. I settled on the verses, Psalms 8:3-4, that talk about the God who created the beautiful heavens who placed each star in the sky cares about us. The verse says, "What is man that You are mindful of him?" God created such fantastic things around us, yet he cares about little ol' me....that's incredible! So Glenn got a star decorated bag of cookies. I prayed that as he ate those star-shaped cookies he would be reminded that the God who created and hung the stars in the sky cares about him and isn't going to abandon him through this trial.

In addition to this sad news though, we got wonderful news as well. Our newish (lol) friends Andy and Gena had their baby boy Caleb! Andy, Gena, and Jonathan have become such a wonderful part of our lives over the last few months and we couldn't wait to go meet Mr. Caleb! While I have never had a child, I can imagine that it is very difficult to add a new baby to a household and still have all the housework done and meals on the table and chase after a busy 4 year old, so I figured a meal would be helpful and show how excited we are for them! 
I put together a little basket with a cheesy-alfredo bake, homemade rolls, mini pumpkin desserts, a few little treats for big brother Jonathan, and paper products (baby printed paper products, leftovers from a baby shower I hosted~how perfect and festive!). No dishes to wash is always a welcomed treat, right?! We dropped off the meal on Sunday night and got to take a little peak at the baby~he's so tiny and precious! Jon told me the food was really good and if the picky 4 year old eats it then I guess it was okay! Success! haha!

Have you been participating in this fall challenge? How have you shown someone you care this week? I would love to hear about it! If you haven't participated yet, it's never too late to start showing those around you love! 

Here are a few ideas if you're stuck:
  • When you are the grocery store this week, pick up a little pumpkin or a fall mum and drop it off to an elderly neighbor or family member.
  • Write your pastor or youth leader an encouraging note and give it to them on Sunday.
  • Call someone from the past, who you think about often but are just "too busy" to call, and spend actual time on the telephone. (I know you're busy, we all are, that's why this would be an act of sacrificial love!) Show you care by giving them 20-30 minutes of your time. 
  • Bake cookies for someone.
  • If you have little kids, have them draw some fall pictures or do crafts and then drop them off at a local nursing home and ask the workers to hand them out to some of the residents.
  • Offer to babysit a friend's child(ren) so she can get some housework or shopping done.
Showing love to others doesn't have to cost a fortune, it truly is the thought that counts.

Hope you have a blessed weekend,

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Finding Our Church Home

Moving churches can be difficult. I know this firsthand because I've done it twice in the last year and a half. The first move was due to our marriage. I had grown up my entire life in one church, my "preference." I moved to my new husband's church when we got married, and it was very difficult because it was his preference. Both taught the Bible, but were organized very differently. The second, and very recent, move was as a couple weeks ago to a church that God has fitted for us perfectly, together. I'm in awe of what God has done in our lives over the last two months, and because this has been such a big part of our life lately, I wanted to share with you what I've learned. I've jotted down a few things that I believe are very important in a "church search." Many of these are my preferences, but if you are truly lost in your search and looking for some practical, easy guidelines, I invite you to read on. I hope that what we've learned over this time will help someone else! As a quick preface let me just clear one thing up: I do not believe there is one church for everyone, which is why this isn't a post about how everyone should come to Grace, but rather, I hope these principles will help you as you determine what ministry is best for you and your family. As long as it is a Bible-believing and teaching church where you can grow spiritually, more power to ya; I can't argue with you about what that looks like for you. :) I do believe that God has a place for every single person, it's just a matter of finding that place! Find a place that makes you "glad" to go. (Ps. 122:1)

Eleven Practical Things to Look for in a Church Home

1. Biblical and Practical Teaching and Preaching: Are you able to learn more about the Bible when you attend classes and services? And, are you able to apply the teaching practically to your life? Sure, Bible facts are very important, but it is also extremely important that you are able to learn how to apply the Bible to your daily life! Some teachers are great at giving facts, but you walk away thinking, "but what does that mean to my life?" It's important that the teaching affects your daily walk.

2. Spiritual Mentors: Are there men and women older than you that are willing and able to teach you about life? When you look around at the people older than you, do their lives reflect Jesus in a way that you desire to imitate? (1 Thes 1: 6) If you look around and can't find an older believer that you respect and desire to be like in their walk with God, their marriage, their child-rearing, etc., that should be a red flag! The Bible is full of examples of spiritual mentorship, and I have found this to be a huge desire of my heart to have Godly older women who can "teach the younger women (me)."

3. Spiritual and Uplifting Worship Music: Is the music a concert or personal worship to praise God? Does your heart feel uplifted in worship to God when the music begins? Do the musicians purposefully or subconsciously draw attention to themselves over the songs? Music is such a preference item. I prefer hymns in church, Tim likes hymns but is more familiar with the contemporary stuff. For us, Grace is the perfect combination. Sunday morning is a combination and Sunday nights are solely hymns. I personally love holding my hymnbook singing the beautiful lyrics from the past! No matter your style preference, do you lose yourself in worshiping God?

4. Growing, Thriving Ministry: Are there visitors? Is the church growing? It doesn't have to be a mega-church, I'd prefer it not to be lol, but if it's been the same people for 20 years, that might be an indication that it is not a thriving ministry. This also is important with what we refer to as the "core families." If it's the same 5 people doing everything, that's not good, and it's certainly not healthy for those 5 people. The work has to be spread around or you will have 5 burned out people. There's nothing I love more than seeing "surprise" people show up at a work day or ask to serve in a ministry! It's so encouraging and believers desiring to serve is a sign of their personal spiritual growth. 5 people can't do everything--they will get burnt out or the ministry will never expand because there isn't enough manpower. Also, if you only have a few people doing all the work, they subconsciously can get more and more into the "ministering" and less and less into being "ministered" to. That's a dangerous place to be, and often the person serving doesn't even realize they are getting burned out until it is too late!

5. Leadership is Involved and Available: Is the leadership involved in non-teaching ways? If there's a work day, a prayer breakfast, serving ministry, is the pastor, assistant, deacons, elders involved or attending? I believe it's dangerous for a pastor to believe his only responsibility is to preach. It's very hard to get members to be involved when the pastor or leaders are no-shows except when they are preaching/teaching. It's so much easier to serve and be involved when the leadership is right next to you. Who wants to attend a Bible study on an extra night of the week when no leadership ever attends? It's hard to get members to attend a Bible study when you don't attend yourself. It's like my job, when my boss asks me to do something extra, like work late into the night, but he is right there with me working as well, it just makes the whole experience better because there is comradery among "the troops." :) Additionally, is the leadership available when you, as the congregant, need them? If you can never get ahold of your pastor or leader, then maybe that congregation isn't the place for you. It's important for us as believers, as we go through every day life, to have that support system and leaders who are there for us. 

6. Godly Friends: Life is hard, and it's incredibly harder to go through it without Godly friends to encourage and pray with you. This point is not necessarily only found in your church, you might have friends from the past or college or someone who moved away, but a really great place to find friends should be your body of believers. This "friendship" is not "I'm kind to, I pray for them when they mention a request in church, I try to be friendly to her..." I'm talking about someone you communicate with outside of Sunday. Someone you can call when you need prayer, and someone you lift up in prayer throughout the week. Do you have a friend like this? As you look around your church, do you see even a glimmer of hope to having this type of spiritual friend?

7. Structure and Order: This is soooo important! There is actually a point where disorganization can distract from ministry. For someone with a personality like mine, that point is much sooner than for someone laid back like Timmy. The Bible says that order is good (I Cor 14:40). If you are unable to hear the preaching because of the disorderly atmosphere of the service, or the distractions going on, then that's a clear sign that you are not in a good environment to learn. And if you can't hear the preaching, it doesn't really matter how Biblical it is, now does it? Church doesn't need to be solemn and cold, but structure and order are mandatory for a church to reach it's full potential.

8. Age-appropriate and Topic-appropriate Classes: Are there classes for your kids? Is there a nursery? Is there a class for you to learn about marriage? Child-rearing? Classes are such a great way to fellowship and learn from others in your same age-group or life-group. I think it's so important for your toddler to be in the nursery because they are learning age-appropriate lessons and learning to interact with kids their age. Both lessons are so important! We have been so blessed at Grace to have the opportunities to be involved in men's Bible study, ladies' Bible study, and a marriage class! These classes are perfect for who we are and where we are at in life~I'm loving it! And someday when we have a family, there are classes for our kids and teaching on raising kids to love Jesus! Specific teaching is a wonderful blessing!

9. Opportunities Throughout the Week: Are there opportunities to get refreshed and rejuvenated throughout the week or is it one time on Sunday, and you have to take that fellowship and try to spread it out throughout the entire week? Of course, personal devotion time is imperative to making it through the week, spiritually, but opportunities for learning and fellowship throughout the week really get me through working in a secular environment. This family of believers is my refuge, and I love the opportunities all day Sunday and throughout the week to spend time with them and be refreshed. 

10. Near Your Community: Is your church near your community? It's very hard to get your neighbors or coworkers to visit your church when it's 45 minutes away from your community. The New Testament shows us an example of churches in every city (yes, I'm aware that they didn't have cars to travel distances...), and I think that's a very practical example for us to follow. Grace is somewhere between 5-10 minutes away from us (depending on Monroeville traffic!) and this closeness allows us to often invite our neighbor, old man Dave, to join us. He hasn't accepted yet, but it's close enough that we feel like we can invite him. Also, it is easier for us to be involved throughout the week when it's near to our crazy lives. Our last church was almost 30 minutes away. We lost about an hour in travel every time we were there....makes it hard to want to make that trip when you are tired after a long day at work... We have really enjoyed being so close, and therefore easily involved at Grace.

11. A Refreshed, Blessed, Encouraged Heart: Do you leave each service feeling refreshed, blessed, and encouraged? Not much explanation needed here. It's a simple question. I love that every single week when we leave church on Sunday morning, I have a big smile on my face, and we talk the whole way home (7 minutes or so lol) about how much we enjoyed every aspect of the morning service. We feel spiritually refreshed from the worship and practical preaching, we feel blessed to have interacted with our new friends and family in Christ, and we feel encouraged in our heart about the gift of this church and how God is already using it in our lives. Every week I leave with a sigh of relief.

In summary, these aren't all straight from the Bible, these points are more practical and mostly my opinion. But, we've put much thought in the last few months of what we desire in a church, and I just felt like maybe our list would encourage you. We have found all 11 of these things at Grace, and I believe that God can direct you and your family to the perfect place for your family as well. Don't settle for things that make you uncomfortable or that aren't Biblical; don't settle for a mega church where you will get lost if you don't like that; don't settle for where everyone else thinks you should go; please don't settle for mediocre teaching, and don't settle for less than God's best for your family. And if you are looking for a church home and you live anywhere near Monroeville, we would strongly encourage you to check out Grace Baptist Church, ( because we love it! :)

Praising Him for directing us to our church home,

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Bowl of Soup Challenge?

I have been extremely inspired by an incredible blogger that I follow, Janelle at Comfy in the Kitchen ( She loves to cook, and she uses her love of cooking to bless others. She uses her gift as her ministry (she calls it meal ministry)....shouldn't shock me since that's a very biblical though, but I still think she's got the most clever thing going! :) She has encouraged me, through her blog, on several occasions to take a meal to someone, specifically older people, those who recently were in the hospital, or those who just had a baby. Girls, it's so incredibly fun to bless others in this way! You really MUST try it! This fall, I would like to encourage each and every one of us to go out of our way to bless someone weekly~whether that means taking them a meal, actually purchasing a stamp and sending them a sweet note (Let's be honest...who doesn't love to get "real" mail! :)), making a hospital visit, or simply dropping off a little gift that says "I was thinking of you today"...

It's amazing how someone's simple act of kindness can make such a huge impact on our day. For example, on Sunday evening, a sweet new friend came up to me with the most sunshiny yellow gift bag with a big sunflower card on the front. "This is a lil something for you," she said to me. I was shocked, couldn't really say anything but "thank you." I'm usually the one trying to be thoughtful, and to be on the receiving end of that, from a very new friend, was just shocking....and I felt awesome inside! I couldn't believe she cared about me enough to spend her precious time, thoughts, and money on me. I felt so loved. It reminded me that I need to redouble my efforts to show love to people through the love languages. For me, I thrive on the love language of gifts. The unexpected gift, no matter how small, screams (in a good way!) love to me~a note on the mirror, flowers on the table, a's not about a specific amount of money spent or the size of the gift, but rather, the thought behind it.

So I would like to invite you to take on this challenge with me: Go out of your way to bless someone every week from now until Thanksgiving. I know that that seems like forever away, but it will be here before we know it! It's only 12 weeks away....only one dozen thoughtful little acts....think you can handle it? I KNOW YOU CAN DO IT!

Each week I will share with you how I tried to bless someone, and I would love for you to share with me as well! Let's help keep each other accountable! :)

I started this challenge myself, last here's what I have to date:

Week 1~September 2014

The Lord has blessed me with an incredible mom, mother-in-law (I know I'm blessed...I've heard "those stories!" lol), and Mimi (grandma)....these wonderful ladies are always there for us and support us in every endeavor of our lives. Last week I was in my seasonal wreath-making-mood, and I decided to make them fall wreaths to just show them I love them. I got to do something I love ( and I got to say "I love you" all at the same time! How fun and awesome is that! Check out their fall wreaths:

(To clarify: the one in the middle actually had an "O" instead of an "M" for Mom O'Brien, but this was my still-working-on-it-pic and I just tossed the "M" on there as I was working on them to see how a letter looked. lol)

 Week 2~September 2014

We have the cutest little old man that lives next to us...we call him "Old Man Dave," not to be disrespectful, but because he is legit old and his name is Dave. :) Monday evening I decided to make homemade tomato basil soup (tomatoes and basil from our garden! :)) and 3-cheese grilled cheese (homemade bread) for dinner. (Please pause with me for just a moment if you would and relish in that word "homemade." lol I was like way-super-domestic-wife for that one meal. haha And I was pretty darn pleased with myself for being so homemakerish. ;) Yes, I just made up that word. Also I used my immersion blender for the first time~o my soul! If you don't have one, go, right now, and buy's A BLAST! haha) 

Anyways, back to the point, I often think of Dave when I'm making dinner because he has no one to cook for him and I always wonder what he's eating and if he can To make a long story short, I packed up a bowl of  soup for him, made some streusel muffin type things, wrapped a fall ribbon and leaves around them, and we delivered them to him. He's the cutest thing, "Oh, well thank you. You guys are just too good to me." It warmed my heart and hopefully his as well. We want to show him that we care about him! All in all, the "project" probably took me a little over an hour, but what an investment of time because it was for a person that God loves. What a better way to spend my time then hanging out on my couch watching HGTV which is probably what I would've been doing!

To conclude, it's all about relationships. All that matters in life is people. Who cares how big your house was if you never opened it up to others? Or how nice your car was if you never used it to visit someone in need? The world around us is constantly telling us to be selfish and think of ourselves only, but it's so much more fun to show love to others. In the words of Caylie Grace, "It makes me happy." (insert big grin) So will you join me on this journey? Get your kids, your hubby, your friends involved and go out and bless someone's day!

Don't forget to let me know that you are joining me on this adventure~I can't wait to hear your ideas...maybe they will inspire me for one of my future weeks! 

Come enjoy the journey with me~

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Shared Truths

Every once in awhile, when someone finds out that I like to blog, I get the question, "Do you write your own stuff or just copy other people?" My response is, "Some of both." lol I like to write when God puts something on my heart. I like to involve the Godly girlfriends that I know and love when they have something to share. I love to include recipes from my family and friends... But sometimes....I read something from a blogger I follow (check out "My favorite blogs" on the right side of my blog) and I feel so compelled to share their thoughts with you (always giving them full credit). I'm not trying to "steal their thunder" lol or anything like that, but I truly think that someone out there that I know and love might also benefit from the truths as much as I did. I'm going to try to share these thoughts under a new category that you will be seeing going forward, called "Shared Truths." This means that I am not the author, but rather, believe the original blog post will bless your heart and that I want to share the truth they shared. I will include maybe a brief summary or my own thoughts and then give you the link to the main post. I hope you enjoy these Godly women (and occasional men) that I have grown to respect via the blog world. They have been such a blessing to my soul and my walk with God in a time where I don't feel like I have the real life mentors, these long-distance women have become my go-to girls on spiritual issues. I'm very thankful for their ministries and for the technology that allows me to learn and glean from their ministries even though they are hours and hours away from me!

So for today's Shared Truth...

I read this guest post by Lisa Jacobson's (Club31Women) husband Matthew on The Time Warp Wife. Matthew is one of the few men's posts that comes across my screen because he is often featured on Lisa's blog. He always brings excellent truth. His post on submission was wonderful. I wish I could print it out and keep copies of it with me and when people question my "old-fashioned, crazy, insane, dumb" belief that God calls me to be a submissive wife, I could just hand them this post. haha! It is exactly how I wish I could articulate what I believe about submitting to Tim. 

Two specific things really caught my attention while reading this:

"Submit to Him? No problem (we say). He’s good, righteous, just, merciful, and possesses all power and authority. There’s no qualification to be placed on the authority of Jesus and the Bride’s, the Church’s, responsibility to submit to Him. But then there’s the ‘S’ word directed to wives about their own husbands. Submit to him? Not so fast."

“I don’t submit to my husband because I want to.  I don’t want to. I don’t submit to my husband because I like to.  I don’t like to. I don’t submit to my husband because it makes me feel good.  It doesn’t make me feel good. I submit to my husband because the Scriptures command me to.  I do it out of obedience to Christ.” ~ Elisabeth Elliot

I truly hope you'll take a few minutes and check out the following link. You won't be disappointed!


Stay encouraged in your walk,

Monday, June 30, 2014

Seeking Him at the Crossroads

This past weekend, a verse was pointed out to me during church that I feel like I've never truly seen before. It literally JUMPED out at me and I haven't been able to get it out of my mind; I just keep mulling it over and over in my head....

Ezra 8:21 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict  (humble) ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. 22 For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him. 23 So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of (listened to) us.

When big decisions arise in our life, where do we turn? Do we google? Ask our friends? Panic alone? Pray and seek God? I'm guilty of often trying to reason my way through a situation, making the best decisions I possibly can. I pray some, I seek good counsel, and then I think....and think....and think some more. :) Add that to my natural lack of patience, and you have a very intense week or so of thinking, hard. lol Ezra 8 really caused me to stop and listen to what God was trying to teach me through this verse: when the Israelites hit a tough decision they 1. stopped and 2. sought God. 

A second thing that I found extremely important in this verse was the phrase, "and for our little ones." Though Tim and I do not have children yet, it is so important that we make good (God-directed) decisions now, because it will affect our future little ones. It's easy as a couple with no children to make decisions that seem to just affect us, but I think the Holy Spirit included this phrase in this chapter to remind us that our decisions and choices affect all areas of our lives. Our decisions matter!

This study led me to Jeremiah 6:16, which says, "Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein."

Like Ezra 8:21-23, this verse reminds us to stop and ask God what path He would have for us, and stop rushing into what we think is best. "Ask for the old paths" to me seems to suggest "seek Godly counsel." Another important step in the decision making process that we often overlook. 

My online study continued on to Acts 13 where we see the early church leaders seeking Christ's leading through fasting and prayer:

Acts 13:1 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called themAnd when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.

The leaders gathered together as fellow believers. They sought God together. They came to a decision together. If you and your spouse or you and a group are seeking a "crossroads" decision, I think the Bible is pretty clear that it should be a group decision and that means everyone is involved in the prayer, fasting, and resolution/decision. Until there is peace throughout the group about the decision, I think the Biblical examples are to just wait (as hard as that can be!) and continue seeking God.

Nothing overly profound in any of these verses, but I wish I could explain to you how they jumped out at me! :) As Tim and I encounter big decisions in our life, it is so important that we remember that first and foremost, we HAVE to seek Christ, and like the Israelites and early church leaders, we must stay put until we have clear direction from God. 

The other thing that I love about each of these passages is the resolution. In each example, we see how the groups were directed by God through their fasting and prayer to choice the "correct path." If their lives were anything like ours, it probably wasn't as quickly as they wanted, but the point is, God "came through" when the diligently sought Him. Prayer can be difficult, and fasting can be physically unpleasant, but the end result of God's clear direction on what path to take, is more than worth it!

What decision are you  facing right now? Are you tempted to just make your best choice, or are you sensing God's instruction to "Be still (cease striving) and know that He is God" and He has everything in control. Seek Christ and then....wait. He won't fail you.