Don’t Let Your Praise Be Silenced

This Wednesday we have our night of worship coming up at our church. I’m really excited. First off, I love nights of worship. I don’t think there’s anything better or comparable to lifting up the name of Jesus and joining with other people in setting our eyes on someone who is so much bigger. With the Eagles winning the Superbowl [YAY EAGLES!] and the exuberance from its fans: fans literally stayed in the streets all night with excitement, joy, and straight up exhilaration at this amazing team finally taking the win. It was historic. You couldn’t stop them even if you tried!

Yet how many times do we allow hard times and difficult circumstances to silence our gratitude? I have been there! It’s so easy to express praise and thanks to God when everything is going well. We feel like our needs are being met, we feel like we are getting everything off our checklist. We look around and see blessing upon blessing.

But what happens when everything is ripped out from under you? What happens when you lose someone that you love? When you or someone you know is suddenly diagnosed with cancer? When you lose your job? When life just doesn’t seem fair? What’s your response?

For a long time, I would allow circumstances to dictate my response to God. If things were going my way, I could get my praise on at the drop of a hat. It was sooo easy to express gratitude. My life plan was going exactly how I wanted it to go. Graduated from college, married to my high school sweetheart, first home purchase, new job: life is perfect. But then came the next phase in my life plan: babies. Then came something unexpected we had to deal with: infertility. IVF. Shots. Appointments. Pregnant. Not pregnant. Preemie babies. Sick babies. Job loss. To curse God or to praise Him?

Every day we are faced with an opportunity to choose praise. I’ve made it a life commitment to choose praise even when it hurts or when it’s hard and I hope you’ll do the same. It will change your life.

Why My Praise Can’t Be Silenced

1. I know what God has done for me.

Jesus laid His entire life down for me. That alone is enough for me to have a praise break! When you think about who He is: that’s enough to have a dance party! Now add to it and start thinking about all of the ways He’s shown His faithfulness in your life. I’ve written about the power of REMEMBERING WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR YOU! REMEMBER. 

2. I know it’s a weapon.

Praise makes the devil mad. Darkness trembles at the name of Jesus. When we choose worship in the face of horrible circumstances, we are saying we know that God is in control! That He is unchanging! Here’s what the bible has to say about it:

‘We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. ‘ 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 

3. praise takes the focus off of me and onto god.

The world does NOT revolve around us. Contrary to what culture dictates to us. There’s something about worship. When you worship and truly engage, you are taking the focus off of yourself and onto someone who is bigger, greater, higher. Jesus. The Bible tells us that we can lay down our burdens and all of the things that make us feel so heavy. It can be challenges of work, sickness, pain, sadness. Jesus calls us to Him and tells us:

‘“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 28:30

I just want to encourage someone today. Maybe you feel like your fighting a battle, you’re tired, worn out, weary. This is NOT the time to shrink back. This is the time to stand strong in who God is and in His mighty power. This is an opportunity to choose praise and to press on. To keep fighting. To keep declaring who God is in the midst of the impossible.

I love you all so much, faithful readers. My heart is for you and for you to experience the working power of God in every aspect of Your life. If you are a local, I would love for you to join me for our night of worship tomorrow at 7 pm! You can check out all the details here. 

How will you choose to fight your battles?

 

How to Avoid Ministry “Burnout”

How to Avoid Ministry Burnout

Have you ever felt burned out doing ministry?

I’m a Pastor’s kid. Being involved in ministry from a young age through teen years and into my adult years, I feel like I’ve seen so much, both good and bad. I’m not a seasoned veteran, yet, I still feel like I can offer some words on this subject. My goal here is to encourage anyone who feels like they are burned out and want to quit. Why? Because I’ve been there myself! There are times I’ve wanted to run to the other end of the earth and just live under a rock for awhile avoiding people, ministry, and the responsibilities that come with leading.

I have watched families in ministry bloom and blossom. I have watched and experienced the toll that ministry can also take on a family if there are no boundaries in place. If you don’t stay close to God’s heart and cling to HIM, it can chew you up and spit you out. It can leave you broken and your family broken. I believe that there are practical things that you can do to protect yourself from ministry burnout and I’m going to share a few things I think work. These are things I’ve learned and have also OBSERVED from people I truly respect and admire!

how to avoid ministry burnout:

Remember the why.

Remember why you are in ministry in the first place. I hope that if you’re in ministry it’s because you feel like God has called you to do it. Whether that’s lead worship, lead children in children’s ministry, work on the logistical aspects of the church- go back to your why. WHY are you here? How did you end up here?

‘But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.’ 1 Peter 2:9

For me, I know that God has called me to lead. Whether that’s through worship or leading people, I know in the bottom of my soul, that I’ve been called to do that and it’s what God wants me to do. How do I know that? It’s what I’m passionate about. When I feel like running away, I remember the why. God’s called me to do it.

Remember the who.

This is the most important! Ministry for the sake of ministry is utterly POINTLESS! I am involved in ministry because I love Jesus. Because I love Jesus, I love people. Because I love people, I want to see people thrive in their relationships with Him. As a result, I can always go back to the fact that everything and anything I do is for the glory of God. Not man and not for myself. I’m not interested in building the name of Natalie.

‘So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. ‘ 1 Corinthians 10:31 

And another favorite:’

But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.’ Acts of the Apostles 20:24 

Ministry is about Jesus. If ever you get to a point where it’s not about Jesus, I daresay run.

Create healthy boundaries.

This actually ties into a topic of rest. What I mean by this is create a perimeter around yourself. Don’t allow people access to you at every moment of the day. I don’t mean ignore an emergency, a death in the family, a serious issue: what I do mean is if it can wait then let it wait. An article I read here explains it even better than I can.

Prioritize your family.

This is where so many people and families get it so horribly wrong. They prioritize ministry FIRST over their family and over everything. If you can’t do ministry with your family, don’t sacrifice your family trying to minister to the world while they’re dying. My greatest regret would be that I poured my entire life out for others but neglected those closest to me (Jose, Micah, Josiah) and I’m determined not to live like that. I’ve experienced the effects of this and it’s not worth the amount of devastation that it leaves behind. Trust me!

But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers. – 1 Timothy 5:8

Prioritizing your family means that you show your family that they are important and valued. Time with them is important. Set aside a specific day of the week that’s considered “sacred” family time. This means that nothing and no one interrupts it.

Prioritize times of rest.

This one is essential. Yet this is one of the top things that are neglected. Without rest, you will burn out quickly. The Bible often talks about the Sabbath, a day where people would take out time for rest and reverence to the Lord. I think it’s important that as people involved in ministry, you prioritize periods of rest so that you DO have something to offer the world. It’s important to know that people will take all that you are willing to give them until you are dry. It’s not their intention but it’s part of human nature. Unless you make rest a time of importance and schedule it into your busy schedule, you will feel dry, empty, and flat out TIRED.

Mark 6:31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

I am a big fan of getaways, small or big. If I have a break as a teacher and finances allow it, I always try to plan a 2-3 getaway where we can actually remove ourselves from our surroundings and take time together as a family. Times of rest don’t have to be dramatic and should be regular. Carve it into your day, week, or month. Find a way to include it in there.

Surround yourself with the right people.

YOU ARE WHO YOU SURROUND YOURSELF WITH. Show me a man’s friend’s and I’ll show you who he is. These are sayings and cliches that you’ve heard before. The Bible puts it this way:

‘Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” ‘ 1 Corinthians 15:33 

When you are involved in ministry, people are watching you. There are many who are watching to see if or when you will mess up. Not everyone is cheering you on. It’s so important to make sure that you spend time with the right people. People who are toxic or are not a good friend will drain more life away from you. They will leave you burned out with nothing left to give. Protect yourself from that. Find people who will speak life when you feel like death. People who will bring out the gold you have within you.

Have mentors.

If you can connect with someone who has done ministry well, connect with them and learn from them. What did they do right? What did they do wrong? Listen to their stories and examples of success, failure, and how to do better. I personally love to talk to people who I admire who have a family they love, have a great marriage, and have a ministry that’s thriving and have LONGEVITY. Time is a great teacher.  Learn from the mistakes of others and the victories and use it to help veer you on the right path.

Most importantly, Prioritize your time with God. doing ministry does not equal spending time with God.

I think sometimes we equate being busy for God as an equivalent to actually spending time with God. THIS DOESN’T SUBSTITUTE YOUR ACTUAL TIME WITH THE LORD. You will quickly burn out if you are not connected to The Father.

‘But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. And they will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion.’ Isaiah 40:28-31 

Those that trust in God find NEW STRENGTH. They run and don’t get tired! If you get anything from this post, this is the most important thing. Trust in the Lord, rest in Him, and He will strengthen you so that you can keep running the race with joy.

Thanks for reading along! Do you feel like you’re burned out and ready to throw in the towel? Find rest, take time to seek and pray, and continue to fight the good fight of faith.

How to Avoid Ministry Burnout

Remembering What God Has Done.

‘But then I recall all you have done, O Lord ; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.’ Psalms 77:11-12

Tonight as I was listening to worship music and praying over people and situations, this verse popped up in my heart.

This Psalm is a really interesting one to read. The Psalmist is questioning everything:

‘Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me? Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion? Interlude’ Psalms 77:7-9 

How many times have we asked these very same questions? I know I have!

  • Does God not even care about me?
  • Does He love me?
  • Are His promises true for my life?
  • Has God forgotten about me? Where is my compassionate God?

WHERE ARE YOU GOD?

I think this verse is so awesome because was see the humanity of the Psalmist. We have all been there at one point or another, regardless of how spiritual or Christian you are, at one point or another you’ve had a question for God. Perhaps you were diagnosed with an illness and don’t understand the why. Maybe you’re experiencing relationship problems and facing divorce. Maybe you have a terrible relationship with your parents or have never felt the love of a mother or father and want to know WHY. I appreciate how real this Psalm is but I love what comes next:

But then…

Whenever you see the word “But” in literature, it signifies a change, a turnaround, a change of thought. The Psalmist asks all of these questions but comes to a:

But then…

Notice he doesn’t stay in a place of questioning God. He pours out his heart to God and continues on:

But then…I remembered. I remembered everything you have done.

But then…I remembered the great things you did a long time ago and I can’t stop thinking about all of the awesome things You’ve done.

Some of us find ourselves in the questioning part of the Psalm and the scary part is that we stay there and never quite get to the “But then…” I so firmly believe that’s such a strategic ploy of the enemy. If he can get us to stay in a place of questioning God and never coming back to the conclusion that God is awesome and Has done amazing things, he will have succeeded.

So tonight my encouragement to you is this:

Remember.

Remember all of the things God has done. Recount them all. Write them down. Share them with someone. Praise Him for it.  Don’t find yourself in stuck in the doubt and the questioning to the point where you are blinded to all that God HAS done in your life.

 

A time of reflection. Tis’ the season.

I blinked, two months flew by, and suddenly we were in the month of December. Um, how did that happen?!

So much has transpired in the past few months. When I reflect on this year actually, I am pretty astonished at all that’s unfolded. Through the good, the bad, the ugly, the sad, the amazing: I can say I’ve seen God’s hand and His mercy at EVERY turn.

I’ll be honest and say that this year I haven’t been in a particularly Christmas-y mood. With the hustle and bustle of life, I’ve really been looking forward to the AFTER Christmas. The time where things get to slow down a bit and life takes its deep breath. So here I am, left to reflect on this year and what better way than to write about what I feel this year has taught me so far?

What 2017 taught me:

1. God is faithful.

When I can’t see what’s in front of me, I can trust that He has my back. When I don’t know what the next day will bring, I can trust that the author of my days has my life in the palm of His hand.

‘The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.’ Lamentations 3:22-23

2. My joy doesn’t depend on my circumstances.

There were parts of this year that flat out stunk! I’ll be honest. I found myself putting my joy in people, material possessions, wealth, career, etc. If any of those things faltered or failed, there went my joy right out of the window. God taught me that my joy isn’t dependent on whether or not I’m crushing every aspect of life or whether I can’t see the next step in front of me. This is my prayer for myself and for you!

‘I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.’ Romans 15:13 

3. I can be happy with little. I can be happy with a lot. I’m not defined by what I have or don’t have.

I really struggled with this! When finances were tight I felt like my joy was threatened. My husband is in a profession that can fluctuate at times. When business was great I felt like I was slaying life, but I found it hard to be happy when things were slow or I had to stick to a tight budget. God REALLY challenged me this year on that and I felt like He was asking me to put my hope and trust in Him and not material possessions. For the better part of the year, I fought Him on this kicking and screaming. “It’s not fair…” I would think or “Okay God, I get that you’re trying to teach me something…can I have an A on this and move on?” I would think. The answer to that was a resounding NO. The secret was found in this verse:

‘Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. ‘ Philippians 4:11-13 

4. good friendship should be cherished.

The past few years and as I entered my 30s I think I recognize more and more what a gift true friendship is. I have had the blessing of experiencing this through a few people and a few solid woman who are like sisters to me. I have had people I thought were friends pass through or walk alongside me for a season and then be gone for the next. This has taught me that good friendship is worth holding on to and that if it’s a meaningful friendship, BOTH sides will hold on to it for dear life. If not, thank God for the season that He allowed them to be in your life and move on.

5. Hard circumstances will bring you and your spouse closer if you let it.

The harder things got, I think the closer Jose and I clung to each other. When you’re walking through things that are challenging, it can be super easy to turn on each other. My advice is this: don’t. Turn TO each other. Share. Vent. Encourage. Strengthen. Be real, honest, and open. Holding things in will do good for no one in the relationship. Whenever I felt like I just wanted to cry or scream, I would sit with Jose and tell him.

Sometimes I felt really bad because I didn’t want to make him feel bad (especially if it related to a financial stress or something like that) but at the same time, I didn’t want to carry my burdens alone. I found that we’ve endured a lot together that could have destroyed us. We’ve endured things that some couples divorce over (infertility, family issues, sick children, job loss, etc.)  but I think the only difference has been the fact that Jesus matters so much to us and we want to live a life that pleases Him and we have true love for each other. I know that I can be honest with him and he’ll hear me and vice versa.

6. being busy for god doesn’t substitute an actual relationship with god.

People love to talk about how busy they are. I do it sometimes! I’ve even whipped out the good ol’ Google Calendar for people who think I’m being flaky or trying to avoid hanging with them. I’ve also found that being involved in ministry, it’s ridiculously easy to get so involved in the ministry that you actually neglect your relationship with God. Busyness is not a substitute for authentic communion. Also, I have nothing to offer if I’m empty and haven’t spent time with the Lord or in the word. Relationship is everything.

7. be present.

In the age of cell phone technology, it’s super easy to replace actual conversation and true blue communication with it…IT’S NOT THE SAME. If you’re hanging out with friends, actually hang out with friends! This is a work in process but I do try to make sure that when I’m talking with someone, my phone is away or on the side and that I can learn to actually be present and in the moment and enjoy that person and that moment for what it is. Be present in the moment.

8. godly counsel will save you from a lot of headaches.

I learned that if I’m going to make any major life decisions my process should look like this: pray about it, speak and pray with my spouse about it, talk to Godly leaders and pray about it. I’ve written about it before. Talking to people we trust about some of our big decisions has saved us some serious heartache! For example, this year Jose got a job opportunity we weren’t sure about. On the surface, it looked like a great opportunity and a great fit but we lacked a complete peace about it. We spoke to our Pastor and he confirmed how we felt about it by just pointing out some valid practical points about this whole thing. We passed it over and God ended up bringing some awesome things our way that were a billion times better than the opportunity was.

9. parenting gets better and better.

They say it doesn’t get easier. To that I say, yes it does in a lot of ways. I enjoy each year more than the last and each age has something special but I really love the older the boys are getting and how our family dynamic is changing! IT’S SO FUN!!!

10. the best is ahead of me.

‘That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”’ 1 Corinthians 2:9 

More than anything, I know the best is ahead of me. I don’t say that as a cheesy quote and I’m not saying that I expect life to go perfectly and for everything to go in my way. As a Christian, I feel like we always come out with hope and victory because our life is rooted in JESUS. Nothing can take this away from me and for that, I know my best days are ahead.

These are just some of the few things that 2017 taught me! I wish you an incredibly joyful Christmas! BE IN THE MOMENT! Enjoy time with your family!

Love,

The Lopez Squad

Marriage Mondays: How I Met Your Father

I thought it would be fun to do some Marriage Monday’s flashbacks. That is, little snippets of the past!

Today I’m going to write about how I met Jose.

I met Jose through one of my best friend’s: Gabby. The first time I saw him was on a Third Friday event in Millville. To be honest, I didn’t think anything about him at all when I first met him.

I just thought, “Oh another new friend Gab made at her new school.” Then, we went to a football game and he was there. I remember thinking he was cute but that’s it. Jose back in his teen years was a hot mess. Always trying to fight people and a lot of drama! I thought of him as, “The friend of Gabby’s that I really need to pray for.” Gabby would always update me on his latest drama/saga.

Jose finally caught my eye at Gabby’s Sweet 16. He looked FINE!

It was the first time I ever saw him dressed up and he was handsome. He had a vest with a piano on it. Terrible fashion choice now, but I thought he had it going on. Still, he seemed like he had a lot of things going on so I made a mental note of his cuteness and didn’t think a lot about it.

Gabby started inviting him to church. He would come in with his baggy pants and baggy shirts. The more he came to church, the more I started noticing him, but I didn’t think we had much in common. It wasn’t the way he dressed, it just seemed like we both were completely different people. That all changed when one day, Jose went up for prayer, and asked God to change His life.  That’s when I started to pay a little more attention!

After that, we all went over to Gabby’s house. We started talking about our lives, interests, and hobbies. Jose and I seemed to have some things in common. My heart was skipping a beat. Fast forward a few days later and I hear my brother talking to him on the phone: my brother’s room was downstairs in the basement and I was above his room, which meant that if I listened through the vent I could hear everything he was saying.

You can bet I eavesdropped! I wanted to know what they were talking about. Soon, I realized I wanted to be the one talking to Jose on the phone so I called him to “check up on his salvation.” Jose gets a kick out of retelling this part of the story. I didn’t really know what good reason I had to call him so I told him I wanted to follow up to see how he was doing after Sunday and after his prayer! From there, I started asking him silly questions. If you know me, you know I get a thrill out of asking silly questions and listening to what people say. The more I talked to him, the more I liked him.

From that point on, I was SMITTEN. The funny thing is, I wasn’t the type to pursue someone or to pick up the phone and just call a guy. I was more old-fashioned and introverted. Nonetheless, I had to talk to this boy! So we started to talk on the phone regularly and through AIM. Guys, this was during the day of no cell phones. We had to talk to each other the “old fashioned way.”

Give it a few weeks later and we were on our first “date.” Valentine’s dinner at Adelphia’s. His gift to me was a stuffed animal and an origami rose. What can I say? We were broke! Not even sure how we paid for Adelphia’s. He wore this HIDEOUSLY UGLY shiny shirt that had Coqui Frogs and Puerto Rican flags. I remember thinking it was the ugliest shirt I ever saw, but it was too soon to tell him. It was a wrap. I was in L-O-V-E.

To be continued…

 

The Power of Community

It’s the night before church. As I’m sitting here thinking about how exciting it is to attend church and be encouraged with people who love Jesus, I am reminded of how many times I’ve heard the phrase: “I don’t need to go to church. I can have church on my own in my living room.” Yes, we are the church and the body of Christ. You can connect with the Lord anywhere, but biblically speaking it’s so essential to gather with other people who love Jesus and connect. I thought it would be great to write a post that focuses on the WHY when it comes to church and in general, the power in community.

No man is an island. At least, no man should be an island. As humans, we are wired to be people of connection and intimacy. Yet, do you know how many times in my life I’ve heard people say they don’t need anyone or don’t like to be close to anyone? Heck, when I am down in the dumps and going through something, my first fleshly tendency is to isolate myself from others. In the instances I’ve done that, I’ve NEVER thrived or done well. Do you wonder why that is? Read on.

Right from the opening scene in the Bible, the Lord recognizes that it’s not good for man to be alone and on His own. He sees this and decides to make a companion for Adam. Hi there Eve!

Then the Lord God said, “I see that it is not good for the man to be alone. I will make the companion he needs, one just right for him.” Genesis 2:18
In the New Testament, we see multiple examples of community and how much power there was when people got together. It’s ALL OVER ACTS!
“And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity —” Acts  2:44-46 
There are so many examples of how important it was to be with other people, to encourage, to uplift, to share with one another.

Reasons why Community is so important:

1. it’s good for you.

The two verse above tell you how important God thought it was and still is: connecting with others is good for us!  So good that God gave Adam someone because He knew it wasn’t good for him to be a lone ranger. So good for us that in Acts, it’s all we see. People together, spurring each other on. They didn’t just throw around the phrase, “let’s do life together.” They actually did life together! What does that look like today? It means connecting with someone outside of Sunday services and it may feel awkward or strange, uncomfortable. It might mean putting yourself out there, not sure what you will get in return. If you are a person who is used to flying solo, I encourage you to step out of the comfort zone and try to connect with someone who will inspire you to be better.

2. it helps you avoid doing stupid things because it gives you accountability.

Accountability. What does that mean? It means someone can call you out on the carpet for how much of a mess you’re being and vice versa. I think this is good to have even outside of your spouse. Yes, I call my husband out all the time and he does the same for me when I need it! Outside of each other, we have pastors and Godly leadership who will let us know about ourselves. This makes us better people and helps us avoid stupid mistakes!

Proverbs 18:1 One who has isolated himself seeks his own desires; he rejects all sound judgment.

People who cut themselves off from others are looking after what they want and don’t want to listen to other people. In easy terms, it means you’re being selfish. I have found myself in this trap at times! It’s that phrase “I’m gonna do me! I’m pursuing what I want and forget about everyone else…pursuing my dreams…” you’ll basically hear a lot of me me me and my my my with something missing. That something missing is: What does God actually want from you? When you are tempted to say, “FORGET YOU WORLD!” be reminded of Proverbs. It’ll reel you back in.

3. it helps you slay life.

The verse that Jose and I used at our wedding was this one:

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9,12 

Having people behind you will strengthen you and help you succeed! If you’re trying to do everything on you’re own, you become really vulnerable to attacks: spiritually, emotionally, and in so many ways.

4. it’s encouraging.

Having a solid group of awesome people is encouraging because you are constantly inspiring one another to do better and be better. Look at what it says in Hebrews: DON’T STOP MEETING TOGETHER AND ENCOURAGING EACH OTHER! Keep at it! Atta girl! Or boy! In fact, let’s think about how we can motivate one another to love each other and to do great things. I can dig it!

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25 

5. you have someone else to carry your burdens.

This is probably my absolute favorite part when it comes to community: people who will not only walk alongside you when stuff hits the fan but will actually help you carry that heavy load. In times of my life when I felt like I was riding full force on the struggle bus and things in my life were hard, messy, and flat-out awful, I knew I could carry some of my burdens to dear friends who would not just say, “It’s going to be okay” but would actually bear that burden with me. They would cry with me. Sit with me in silence. Laugh with me. I could share it with them knowing that they would pray for me and help me. This has made all the difference in so many of my life circumstances.

“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.” Galatians 6:2-3 

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Can you see the power in COMMUNITY?! Can you see why it’s important to get together with others and actually do life with them? Yes, the phrase can be cheesy but I think it’s important.

When people see me at this stage in my life, I hope they see someone who not only loves community but enjoys bringing others together. For me, this is so important, because I know what it was like to isolate myself when things weren’t going great in my life. It was easy to want to be around people when things were amazing! Who doesn’t want to share when life is fabulous? But when I was going through, my first instinct was to isolate myself and to revert to my introvert ways. I am actually a natural introvert. Ask my parents, look through my childhood pictures. Now though, I like talking and getting to know people. I will ask you questions others are probably afraid to ask.

There is so much amazingness in community and people and if you aren’t experiencing that in full force, pray about it and ask God to help you. Reach out to others. Give people lots of grace. Find a church. Plug in. Find your people. And connect.

 

 

Weekend Snapshot: Fall Fun!

I haven’t blogged in awhile! Mostly because I’m adjusting to the new rhythms of life with fall back in the swing of things! I thought it would be fun to do a weekend snapshot of what our weekend looked like and an update on the Lopez Twinsies and what’s been going on in our neck of the woods!

Lopez Twinsies:

  • Slaying preschool: Amazing teachers, new friends, learning so much – I LOVE PRESCHOOL. I will miss this school deeply when they have to move on to kindergarten. They’re learning to read which is awesome and I feel like my babes are so loved.
  • Fiercely Protective of Each Other: Mess with one twin, you are messing with the other. “Don’t do that to him! That’s my BRUDDER [brother]…” this is a line you can hear them saying often. I love how they have each other’s backs.
  • Extremely Entertaining: If you want to be entertained, listen in on a conversation between four-year-olds. In the morning, Micah stands over Josiah’s bed shouting “WAKE UP JOSIAH! WAKE UP! THE SUN IS OUT!” We have unplugged the light in their room, removed the lamp, done all we can to try to keep it dark (room darkening shades) and buy us more sleep time in the morning. They are still up at 7 am or earlier every day. Yes, I know some parents are up earlier but what we wouldn’t trade to sleep until 8 or later!!
  • Fighting/Whining is Super Real: You haven’t lived if you haven’t listened to toddlers fight and whine for 48390284 in a row. This part of this age is not too fun! We have been working on how not to be a whiny baby all day long. They are still works in progress.
  • Snugglefests Going Strong: I’ve said it before, I’ll say it a thousand times. One of the things I love most about this age is the unrestrained, uninhibited love, snuggling, and just affection these boys shower me with. It hasn’t stopped at four (as it shouldn’t!) and hopefully it never stops. Love being a mommy to these two!!

 Weekend Snapshot: 

This weekend was really nice because it consisted of a lot of family time! Hubs and I can have a schedule that can be opposites at times, so it’s a really fabulous thing when we can be at the same place at the same time and dedicate time to some solid uninterrupted family time!

Friday night we decided to carve the pumpkin we got from on the boys’ field trip this week to a farm, which was a blast!

Friday Night:

Spent time carving the pumpkin, as mentioned before. The boys were super excited, even though daddy obviously did most of the carving. It was fun and a nice tradition that we started last year and plan to continue with them.

After pumpkin carving, towards their bed time, mommy got to catch up with one of her besties and have a night out which included in typical mommy fashion: Panera Bread and Target. AND I’M NOT MAD ABOUT IT. Praise Him y’all.

Saturday:

The boys and I spent some time meeting up with a friend and her daughter at a local park! They had the chance to walk through trails and explore which they love to do. This also gave Dad some time to do some things for work and around the house without having us all follow him all the time (which is honestly what we all do haha).

Sunday: 

Favorite day of the week for so many reasons! First off, it’s the day we have our church service. I love Jesus and love my church! Sundays are a huge highlight for my family. Today I had the opportunity lead worship, which is always a blessing! My highlight for this weekend though, was heading down to the shore with my babies. We told them that we had a surprise for them and were taking them to a “surprise.” After church finished and we got in the car and told them where we were going, THEY WERE SO EXCITED. Like their mom, the beach is one of their absolute favorite spots to go to and I knew this was probably going to be the last hurrah as the weather starts to cool down. I’ve written about it before but it is our fave!

We wanted to grab a bite at our favorite pizza spot, but we couldn’t get to it because it looked like the boardwalk had been torn up and it was blocked off around that area! Because we were starving, we went to Manco and Manco’s instead (which is our second favorite spot for pizza) and made do.

Manco and

After that, we went to grab some ice cream!

The boys decided they wanted to walk around on the beach. They insisted on being able to run into the water, which meant drenched jeans and rolled up pants, but they had a blast! It was such a breath of fresh air being able to take some time as a family and go to our favorite place. Especially before we dive into a really hectic week!

 

As the boys were playing in the sand and I was watching them play together, all I could do was just be GRATEFUL. Grateful to have a happy, healthy family. I’m a blessed woman.

Hoping to get back on the blogging bandwagon regularly again soon! Until next time!

Our trip to Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh, PA

Every year my husband and I take a three-day trip somewhere just the two of us. We have the blessing and good fortune of having my mom watch our boys for us each year so we can do this. We try to go away for our anniversary and this year we chose Pittsburgh, PA!

Why Pittsburgh?

  1. We’ve never been to Pittsburgh.
  2. It was within driving distance.
  3. I’ve always wanted to go to the “Steel City.”
  4. It’s one of the top cycling cities in the country.
  5. It’s known for being a unique city.

And guys, it didn’t disappoint! We had SO MUCH FUN. I’ve written before about the importance of dating your spouse. For my husband and I, getting time away together without interruptions or distractions is so essential for us. We get to unwind, spend solid uninterrupted quality time together, and continue to appreciate why we love each other so much. It’s also so cool to reflect on all that’s unfolded in our lives up to this point. And did I mention that it’s just plain fun? It’s a great experience to discover new places and new things with your spouse.
Here’s the breakdown of how we spent our time and what we did.

Day 1:

It took us a little over five hours to get there. Jose and I LOVE road trips. Particularly without the kids (we love you Micah and Josiah but overly long trips in the car are not fun for any of us) because we listen to new music and have good conversation. In this instance, we downloaded a bunch of new albums, listened to some amazing sermons, and asked silly/random questions!

We checked into our hotel and decided to head down to this spot called The Strip. We weren’t sure if we would Uber there or drive there but we found out that the hotel had a free shuttle where you could call and get a ride within a few miles of the hotel. Um, you had me at free. Waiting for the shuttle took forever and it was the only time we decided to use it! Nonetheless, we headed over to The Strip District and walked around! It was really cool and had a bunch of cool little shops. We had lunch at Bella Notte, a bar that happens to serve really yummy Italian food. After that, we perused some of the shops and headed back to the hotel.

Cambria Hotel and Suites, Pittsburgh, PA

Waiting for our ride to The Strip.

After we relaxed at the hotel a bit, we decided to check out downtown Pittsburgh. We headed over to Point State Park, which is an amazing park located next to the Allegheny River with a great view of the PNC Stadium and downtown. Guys, downtown Pittsburgh was so pretty and clean. What I loved so much about it was that it wasn’t super crowded and crazy. I love cities but HATE CROWDS. Downtown was really relaxing and stunning during the evening.

Point State Park view into Downtown Pittsburgh.

My favorite shot of downtown.

You could walk around the River and look at the stadiums. Loved walking this area while holding hands with my man! Reminded me of the dating days!

Cool fountains at Point State Park.

 

We hung out here at night and then headed back to the hotel. It was a great start to our three-day trip.

Day 2:

Day 2 we decided we wanted to some activities that included us being active. We started our day off with a delicious breakfast at legendary Pamela’s Diner, which came up time and time again when I looked at what the MUST EAT places were. Pamela’s came up every time. Pamela’s was located on The Strip so we had the chance to check it out again in the AM.

The Strip District Pittsburgh, PA

The Strip had a pretty cool vibe.

Parking here isn’t a hassle during the week, but I can see where it would get tricky during the weekends. Anyway, Pamela’s Diner didn’t disappoint! The food was AMAZINGLY GOOD. And I’ll be super honest, I normally hate diner food. The vibe here is retro and you feel like you’re stepping foot in a 1950s diner with tons of original pictures of the owners and all things Pittsburgh.

Pamela's Diner in Pittsburgh, PA

Crepe Style pancakes were to die for!

Pamela's Diner in Pittsburgh, PA

Such a fun, delicious diner!

Pamela's Diner in Pittsburgh, PA

Fueling up in order to be ready to take on the day!

After we had a delicious breakfast here, we headed downtown because we wanted to rent some bikes. We looked into different rental options but decided to go with the City Bikes. They were cheap and got the job done! We wanted to explore Point State Park during the day and ride along the river. We parked easily, rented our bikes, and were on our way!

Riding along the river was a blast! You can rent mountain bikes at an actual bike shop too if you’d like, but we wanted to stay close to downtown so we opted for the city bikes.

Wind in my hair, sunshine on my face, a perfect summer day! Fun fact: it was 70s the whole time we stayed and the weather was extraordinary!

What’s bike riding without a few obnoxious pics right?!

We did this for quite awhile! Afterwards, we headed downtown. They had a cool Irish Festival going on so we hung out there for a bit. After that, we and then went over to the other side of the river to try our hand at Kayaking. Once you cross over the river, you hit the museums such as The Andy Warhol Museum, The Children’s Museum, and more. PNC Park is located right next to the Kayak rentals as well, and we toyed with the idea of catching a game at night but decided not to. Maybe next time!

Anyway, Jose wanted to go kayaking. I’m not a huge fan of the water because I’m not the most amazing swimmer in the world. That being said, I wanted to compromise and do things he wanted to do and it did seem relaxing, so off we went. Parking on this side of town wasn’t too bad either. Off we went!

Love is all about the compromise!

Smiling because Jose just promised me he wouldn’t let me drown. Hooray!

I’m not going to lie. The first few minutes I was panicky. If you know me, you know one of my weaknesses is assuming the worst. What if a giant boat hit us?! They gave us tips and pointers and Jose was surprisingly good at kayaking like he’d done it a bunch of times before or something! So we stayed safe and soon it was relaxing.

Where you kayak, I will follow *to the tune of Gilmore Girls*

Once we got the hang of it, I pretty much wanted to stay in the water. We did this for about an hour! It was a fun experience! We had some amazing views of downtown.

View from being on the river.

Once we were finished, we walked past PNC park to get to our car. Pittsburgh fans are passionate! There was a certain festiveness in the air. Next time, I think we’ll catch a game.

Outside of PNC park.

We went to Target to grab some things and then came back downtown to have some lunch. We ate at a burger joint called BRGR, a burger chain specific to Pittsburgh,  and had some delicious milkshakes.

Yes please.

At this point, we were tired and ready to head back to the hotel. Once we got to the hotel, we took advantage of the swimming pool. Felt so good! It was time to call it a day.

Day 3:

Sleep in time! Day 2 wore us out. We had to check out by 11 and still wanted to check out the Duquesne Incline. We took our time packing up and headed out to the last place we wanted to see in Pittsburgh. When we were biking downtown and hanging out at Point State Park, we kept seeing people go up the incline in this cable car type of deal. We wanted to try to this before we left. It’s basically a super old cable car that pulls you up to the top of the incline.

Guys, WE WERE SO SCARED being pulled up! This thing is super old and when you get close to the top it starts to slow down and it gets slower and slower until you’re sure it’s about to snap and send you crashing down. When we finally got to the top I urgently whispered to Jose, “GET OUT!” and practically shoved him at the door. I may have kissed the floor.

Moving right along, the view was worth it. From this point, you can see all of Pittsburgh and it’s just plain BEAUTIFUL.

Duquesne Incline, Pittsburgh, PA

Goals: I would like to survive this.

Duquesne Incline, Pittsburgh, PA

Okay, I suppose it was worth it.

This is also located on the South Side of Pittsburgh. The South Side has a very unique feel to it. It reminds me of Philly a bit, without the traffic. Very quaint, cute area and insanely steep hills.

After this, we were ready to head home. We always get the third-day itch, where by the third day we are missing our boys so much and are ready for the comfort of our own home.

We had such a good time! The next time we visit Pittsburgh I want to check out the Andy Warhol museum and the P&G zoo. The next time we go, we definitely want to bring the boys! Overall, Pittsburgh exceeded my expectations and hit the mark when it came to being a place where we could relax and enjoy the city without the stressors of a city.

What I loved about Pittsburgh, PA:

  1. City feel without the drama of a city.
  2. City in the mountains, which made for gorgeous scenic views.
  3. It has a very relaxing feel to it.
  4. Tons of biking opportunities.
  5. Inexpensive city to stay in.

We will definitely be back!

Marriage Mondays: Growing Together

Tonight I thought I would write about the importance of growing together as a couple. When people divorce, you often hear the phrase, “We grew apart.” How does that happen? I think it probably starts subtly. It likely creeps in and before you know it, you feel like you don’t recognize the person you’re married to. I strongly believe any good marriage takes work. When I look at couples I admire who have amazing longstanding relationships and are still in love, I hear the same thing! What you put into it, you’ll get out of it.

But back to my point, how do you fight against the whole growing apart? I think you learn to grow together! This is something my husband and I try to work on daily, weekly, and just make part of our relationship. We don’t always get it right but we constantly are evaluating what we can do to do better, be better, and love each other better.

Here’s the thing: there are so many times we fail! We snap at each other, attitudes get the best of us, we want to be right so pride kicks in, and the list goes on. I can probably write several books on our imperfections and shortcomings. But I want to be married to this man for forever because I love him. This means I will do everything I can to continue to strengthen and build our relationship.

What I’m sharing here is what we’ve done in the past and what we are currently doing. Please share what you and your spouse do, would love to hear it!

Ways You Can Grow Together: 

1. Pray together and keep a prayer journal together.


This is simple and if you think you don’t have the time, I promise you it’s not some long drawn out process. Also, there are times where we miss some nights. Give yourself grace, don’t be hard on yourself, and get back on the horse. Anyway, we sit down together and we come up with a list of things we want to pray about. Topics are sometimes broad but usually super specific. The more specific the better. We write these down and take turns praying for each one. This isn’t longer than ten minutes. I really like doing this because I feel like I get to hear about what’s on my husband’s heart, different parts of his day, and what he feels a particular burden for. Then I can share with him what’s on my heart and we can share that together and pray about it together. We’ve seen God do some amazing miracles in our lives in direct correlation to what we’ve prayed about together during our sessions.

2. Find hobbies or interests you enjoy together.


My husband and I are really similar but we’re also complete opposites in a lot of ways. The things I like and the things he likes to do vary on a really wide scale. In the past, I’ve focused more on just what I liked (because God is still working out the selfishness in me – don’t judge me y’all) but recognizing that marriage is about compromise. The things we enjoy doing together are reading a book together out loud and talking about what we’ve read, watching comedic shows, riding bikes, and singing/playing music together.

3. Take a genuine interest in each other’s life.

I live for pillow talk!

Ask questions! Don’t get so comfortable that you forget the wonder of each other and the wonder of marriage. Be interested and engaged in what’s happening in your spouse’s life. If you know me, you know I love to ask about 101 questions. Sometimes I drive Jose crazy because  I will ask about everything. He’s a realtor so when he gets home I’ll ask him about the houses he showed, the clients, his day, anything else, and it may drive him nuts sometimes but I am genuinely interested in what’s going on in his life! This is because I am highly interested in HIM! Never stop asking questions, never stop caring, don’t just ask mundane questions but be specific. Can you tell I’m all about the detail?

4. Challenge each other.

Challenge each other to be better and do better each day. ENCOURAGE. Push. Build one another up. Don’t do it in the form of nagging. It’s really easy to slip into the nagging mode, which I know pretty well! Ha! Don’t be afraid to call each other out on the carpet. My husband calls me out and I call him out. I don’t mean to publicly shame your spouse. I mean that when you’re on your own time, don’t be afraid to call them out/call them up to all who they are as needed.

5. Hold each other accountable.

Earlier this year I asked my husband to write down a list of his goals: specifically what he wanted to accomplish this year. I asked him to share those goals with me and then we talked about it. I shared my goals with him. Because we both have an idea of what we are aiming for individually and as a family, it’s easier to hold each other accountable. For example, I know of my husband’s goals is to cycle more. It’s a hobby of his and he enjoys it. Because I know this, when I see life getting hectic I’ll ask him if he’s cycled this week. If the answer is no, we’ll look for a way to pencil that in so he can do that. It may seem silly/simple but it was something on his goals list. One of my personal goal’s was to work more on a story that I’ve been writing. I enjoy writing. When there is down time, my husband will say, “Hey, how are you doing with your story?” or “Why don’t you take some of this time to write?” In this way, I feel like he’s holding me accountable to my goals. This kind of goes with #4 and it’s important that we don’t nag, but it’s nice to know that I have someone who will hold me accountable and push me forward.

6. Serve together.

This is probably the most important! Grow together by thinking outside of yourselves and thinking of others. So much of a healthy marriage is about living a life of selflessness.

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  1 Peter 4:10

For Jose and I, this looks like serving in ministry together! We both serve in our local church. We have always served in whatever church we have attended together because it’s important to us. Find a place or a way you can both serve together.

These are just a few things that we do that work for us and that, in my opinion, help us grow together. What are some things that you and your spouse do to grow together? Would love to hear your thoughts below! Thanks for

When It’s Time to End a Friendship

I am grateful for friendships. I believe that powerful, healthy friendships can inspire, breathe life, and encourage you in the valleys of life. These friendships will challenge you, correct you, and push you to do better and be better. When God places this kind of friend in your life, you hold on tight. I’ve written about that before about two of my closest friends.

Yet, I wanted to tackle this subject from the other side. What happens when a friendship is no longer life giving and instead seems to choke the life out of you? When instead of feeling challenged you feel defeated and instead of pushing you to your best, this friendship brings out all the ugly sides of you? What happens when a friendship is no longer very positive and produces no good fruit in your life? What do you do?

The Bible does say after all, “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” – ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭17:17‬ ‭NLT‬‬

But what happens when a friendship turns toxic? What choices do you have? In my opinion, a pretty simple one. You end it and love from a distance. What I’m NOT saying: drop your friends at the drop of a hat anytime they’re struggling. Nope. I’m talking about a “friend” that consistently and continuously drains all the life out of you and more. Keep reading.

How do you know when and if you should do that?

1. The friendship is no longer life giving for either of you.

If friendship is supposed to be refreshing for the soul and it no longer happens to be, then it’s time to move on. A friend should not feel like a burden. When I spend time with good friends, I leave feeling happy and encouraged. The Bible says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17. If the only thing that’s sharp about this friendship is the attitude given both ways, re-examine. 

2. You are constantly pouring in with very little return.

Have you ever had a friendship where you’ve given your all only to receive nothing in return? Yes, it’s better to give than to receive, but a friendship where you’re always giving with very little reciprocated will suck all of the life out of you. These are the “friends” that you never hear from unless they are in crisis. Then you are supposed to drop your life to tend to theirs and if you can’t, you aren’t a good friend. No. Just no.

3. It’s always all about them with little interest in your life.

I love to talk, but even more so I like to listen [but don’t get me wrong, I can talk too].  I like to ask questions and learn more about a person. There’s a 90% chance I’ll ask something that’s personal or that most people might not dare to ask. I know this because my husband tells me all the time to relax on that end, but I can’t because I genuinely like learning about people. However, there are people who will demand that your entire world revolves around them without a simple, “HOW ARE YOU THOUGH?!” This isn’t cool. If very little interest is given to what’s going on in your life then it may be time to reevaluate.

4. It brings out the worst side of you.

If your friends bring out the worst aspects of your personality, it’s time to say #byefelicia. I won’t even elaborate on this one because I feel like it’s pretty self-explanatory.

5. It’s full of drama and they are petty as all get out.

I HATE DRAMA. There are people who thrive on drama and would love nothing better than to eat, sleep, and breathe it. Drama with a side of crisis please. No thanks! Save the drama for your mama. High school was more than ten years ago and I have zero interest in going back! People who will get mad over petty things (LIKE OMG, CAN YOU BELIEVE SHE DIDN’T SAY HI TO ME OR INVITE ME TO HER PARTY! *Insert Hair Toss Here*) have no place at my table. I’m a middle school teacher who deals with pettiness all day long (SO AND SO TOOK MY FIDGET SPINNER!) and will be over a petty drama filled person in two seconds flat. Ain’t. Nobody. Got. Time. For. That.

Questions You Might Have:

  • But what if we’ve been friends forever? He’s my childhood friend!

Just because something has been going on for a long time doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a good thing. It may be a friendship of comfort or convenience. In my opinion, that is not enough of a good reason to maintain that kind of friendship if it looks like the reasons that I listed above.

  • What if my mission is to help them? After all, I really want to help them.

If you feel you have been specifically called by God to do that, then, by all means, go forth and do so. But so many times we try to save something or someone that we have no business saving.  There comes a certain point when helping someone begins to hurt them instead of helping them. You will wear yourself thin trying to constantly help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.

Real Talk: I didn’t write this post because I have always been the epitome of a perfect friend. There have been a lot of times where I’ve failed and times where even now, I still get it wrong! But as I get older, I want to surround myself with people who will build me up, encourage me, challenge me, and put me in my place when I need to be put in my place. In the same regard, I want to be that person for others!

So here is my final thought: take a close look at some of the friendships in your life. Take a close look at yourself. Evaluate.