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

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

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.

 

 

Marriage Mondays: Don’t Get Married for the Wrong Reasons

As you probably know about me at this point, I think marriage is awesome. You can check out past Marriage Monday posts and see that I find great value in marriage [to the right person]. That being said, so many people get married for the wrong reasons. They think that marriage is a magical fix-it band-aid that will make everything better.

Newsflash.

That is not what marriage is.

Marriage is a commitment to love someone until your dying day and demonstrate that love by standing by them through the ups and downs of life. Staying with them when you’re swimming in money. Staying with them when you don’t have two nickels to rub together. Being with someone during sickness, health, and everything in-between. Marriage is REAL y’all! It’s supposed to be for forever.

That being said, so many people get married for the wrong reasons. If you’re single, in a relationship, engaged, or whatever the case may be, check your heart and make sure you’re not about to get married for the wrong reason.

5 wrong reasons to get married to someone:

  1. You want a fancy wedding.

Maybe you’re reading that and scoffing at it. Yeah right, who would get married for a nice wedding?  We all know that girl who has been planning their wedding day since they could talk and walk. Some people even have Pinterest boards that have their whole dream wedding documented and they’re not in a relationship yet – I’m not throwing shade, I promise – but some people get so caught up in a beautiful wedding they forget that after the wedding there is an actual marriage to tend to. I think that if people put the effort, time, and energy into their marriages that they put into their actual wedding day, you would see an abundance of relationships thrive. The point I’m making is this: your wedding day is one single day. Your marriage is supposed to be the rest of your life. Invest!

2. Your boyfriend/girlfriend sucks, but if you marry them all of their suckiness will go away.

NOT TRUE! NOT TRUE! NOT TRUE! Can you tell I’m screaming this virtually from my use of caps? The number one mistake I see is that a person marries someone thinking that they can change them. IF YOU WON’T MARRY THEM EXACTLY AS THEY, ARE DON’T MARRY THEM. If they are a terrible person beforehand, don’t think that solely because you have put a ring on their finger they will suddenly be magical. Marriage doesn’t magically make a terrible person a better one. Don’t marry someone for this reason.

3. You hate being alone.

Marrying someone because you hate being alone is just not enough of a good reason to marry someone. Do you hate being alone? Join a book club. Find a church. Go to a paint party. Yes, companionship is wonderful and marriage is beautiful in that you have a friend and a partner to walk through life with. However, marrying someone on the basis of not being alone is just not enough. Know yourself. Spend time alone. Learn to be content independently. I firmly believe you’ll be a better spouse!

4. It’s part of your 5 year, 10 year, ___ year life plan.

Perhaps you are one of those life planner people. For example, it goes like this: By 25 I want to be in a serious committed relationship on the way to engagement. By 26, I want to be engaged. By 27,  I want to be married. By 28 I want to have my first kid because I CAN’T HAVE KIDS IN MY 30S OMG WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF I HAVE A CHILD IN MY 30S.  Calm down. There’s nothing wrong with having a plan! But here’s what I’ve learned: life plans are funny. Most of the time we plan away and there are certain things you can’t control. Don’t settle for someone who isn’t the right person for you so you can check it off your life plan.  A lifetime is too long to be with someone just because it fell into your five-year plan.

5. you’re tired of dating. 

I once heard someone say, “This is the last relationship I plan on being in because I’m tired of dating and just want to get married.” They didn’t mention being in love, whether the person they were dating had the qualities they wanted or anything along those lines.  All I could think to myself was, “Well, that’s some love story to tell one day.” They just wanted to be done with what they felt like was the grueling process of dating. From what I can see from the outside looking in [people not wanting to be committed and living in more of a hook-up type of generation] I can only imagine how exhausting the whole dating process must be now.  Especially when so many people play games. However, it’s not a good reason to settle. Forever is too long. If you’re tired of dating, take a break from it for awhile. Don’t settle for some Joe Schmo who you don’t really care about. It’s a waste for you and that person and will cost you both in the end.

All of this to say, marriage is awesome and if you are going to get married to someone, don’t do it for the wrong reasons. Xo!

 

8 Years Married: 8 Lessons I’ve Learned

Jose and I are celebrating 8 years of marriage! I am kind of in awe of that. I’m not surprised that we’re still married, but I can’t believe it’s been 8 years already.


It feels like just yesterday I was floating down the aisle towards my high school sweetheart, a bundle of nerves in my stomach but so sure in my heart. Eight years later, I am still so sure and so in love. In a culture that minimizes the importance of marriage and practically scoffs at commitment, where divorce runs rampant and marriages apparently face some kind of ‘7-year itch’ I can shout from the rooftops that MARRIAGE IS BEAUTIFUL. I still love it!

8 Lessons I’ve learned in 8 years of marriage:

1. Teamwork really does make the dream work.

I think part of what has helped our relationship flourish so much is the fact that we are a team. We team up on pretty much every single thing in life. His dreams are my dreams. My goals are his goals. We do what we can to support one another. I found that this is especially critical when it comes to parenting. We have always parented and continue to parent as a team. There is nothing that is deemed something that only mom does or dad does [okay, except maybe wrestling but I’m just not a wrestler!] We support each other. If he’s had a busy day with clients and has been out all day, I know I may have to step up when it comes to cooking, cleaning, or getting school things together for the boys. If I’ve had a challenging day and his day is slow, it’s nothing for him to cook dinner, do laundry, and pick up the kids from school. He is always willing to help me and vice versa. This is so integral to any relationship, in my opinion.

2. You reap what you sow.

You have heard this a thousand times. Why is that? BECAUSE IT’S TRUE. You will get out of a marriage what you put into it. If you treat your marriage like a piece of garbage, that’s what your marriage will eventually become. If you don’t prioritize your relationship or each other, it will reflect, I can promise that. Something that’s big for us is quality time. We can live in the same household and be two ships passing in the night if we don’t prioritize spending time together and having conversation. Because this is essential for the both of us, we make sure we pour a lot of that into our relationship, even if it means turning down other engagements [sorry family and friends – I still love you!]. I always want to sow into my relationship so that we can see the benefits of that.

3. for better or for worse truly means for better or for worse.

Life isn’t a fairytale and sometimes crap hits the fan. Life gets SUPER REAL all of a sudden. For Jose and I, three years into our marriage we faced the challenge of infertility. When our boys were born, they faced quite a few medical issues. The first year of their lives was SO hard! After that, one of the boys had a medical diagnosis that presented more challenges. And the list goes on and on. The point I’m making is that for all of the mountaintops we had, we had a ton of valleys. Our vows were tested repeatedly. Don’t go into marriage with the false assumption that you will ride off into the sunset and it will always be a fairytale. Yet, know that when you hit the hard times, these challenges will be a catalyst for growth if you allow them to be.

4. There’s no room for selfishness.

Marriage for me was a reality check that the entire world didn’t revolve around me. Growing up as a middle child but the only girl out of two brothers meant that I was the apple of my family’s eyes, especially on my dad’s side. I usually got what I wanted. I scoffed at the idea of cooking and cleaning because it wasn’t “fun” and I “didn’t like it.” I stood firm all the way up to the wedding day that I wouldn’t cook or clean and I shouldn’t have to because it was a gender stereotype that I was supposed to. A whole lot of words to sum up me being selfishness. Guess what? When I got back from the honeymoon and realized my new husband and I had to eat food, I learned to cook pretty quickly.

5. The Words you speak to each other matter.

I wrote a post already about this one, so I won’t repeat myself too much except to say this: you can’t take back words. Words have the power to bring life to your spouse or to destroy their spirit. Choose wisely and recognize that many marriages are destroyed over words.

6. romance and intimacy are important.

Sometimes couples get really comfortable and start to think this doesn’t matter or start treating their spouse like more of a live-in roommate. Don’t fall into that trap! Go on dates. Get creative. Try new adventures together. Protect your marriage and recognize that a little romance goes a long way! If you haven’t read the 5 Love Languages, I recommend that for any married couple. Find out your spouse’s love language and start speaking it. For me, whenever Jose gives me a handwritten card my heart just melts into a giant sappy puddle on the floor. Written words from him always make me cry for some reason. He can get me an amazing gift, but the card and his note to me is what always gets to me! It’s the little things!

 

7. The Two C’s: Compromising and Communication

Being married to my husband has taught me a lot about compromise! We have completely opposite tastes in a lot of areas. We enjoy doing different things. We don’t like the same kinds of movies. We have varying tastes in music. BUT the fun part is compromising with each other and as a result, stepping out of our comfort zones and tastes to do what the other loves! Communication is an obvious one, but it’s essential! I’m not a mind reader and neither is my husband. We have to communicate our struggles, desires, dreams, the bad days, good days, and everything inbetween. Also, just to talk. Unplug. Put phones away and have solid conversation.

8. No marriage should be an island.

Support and community matter. For our relationship, the wisdom of people we respect and admire has strengthened us during the hard times of life. There’s something powerful about knowing that people have your back and that you have people you can trust and talk to. I especially love talking to people who have a marriage I admire, have been married a long time, and are filled with wisdom and experience! They’ve been there! They get it! Go find those people, talk to them, hang out with them.

In eight years, I can still say marriage is beautiful. It’s what you make it. We aren’t perfect people. Far from it! Yet I’m so happy I married this guy and am looking forward to spending the rest of my life with him. Here’s to growing old together.

  

Finding Peace in the Midst of Chaos.

My Pastor has been bringing some really powerful truths to our church. For the past month, he’s been doing this awesome series called, “First Things First.” We are on week two of the series and some of the words he spoke felt like a big slap on the face. Not in a bad way, but in a way that shouts: HEY YOU! FIX THIS AREA OF YOUR LIFE.

As I thought this message over, I felt really convicted and challenged as I wrestled with the question of whether or not I’ve been prioritizing God in my life.

  1. Is the Bible the first thing I read?

  2. Is He the first one I talk to (prayer?)

  3. Is He first in every area of my life?

When I answered these questions truthfully and also somewhat begrudgingly, “Well, mostly…” I didn’t like what I saw.

This morning when I felt like stress was trying to strangle me before I even hopped out of the bed, I thought of Psalm 23. I decided to read it.

 “The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.” Psalms 23:1-6

As I read the words, I felt stress release its ugly grip. I felt peace as I reminded myself of some powerful truths from this Psalm:

  1. God’s got me. I have everything I need.

  2. I can rest in Him. He is my peace.

  3. God gives me new strength on the daily.

  4. He shows me where I need to go and what I need to do.

  5. When everything goes to hell and I can’t see the light, fear has no place. He is with me.

  6. God has my back. I can cry to him and He’ll comfort me.

  7. He pours out His blessings over me in the face of people who hate me or don’t want me to do well (hint – these are not always clearly seen enemies).

  8. My life OVERFLOWS with blessing.

  9. His goodness and love literally chase after me and will continue to do so as long as I’m alive.

  10. I have eternity with Him.

If you are going through what feels like a trial or just a really tough spot in life, I encourage you to read Psalm 23. This is a Psalm you have heard a million times. You have probably read it so many times, BUT I challenge you to read it with fresh eyes, a fresh heart. Read it out loud. Feel His peace calm you in the middle of a torrent and remind yourself of the promised rest that comes with knowing Christ.

xo – Until Next Time

 

How to Trust God When It’s Hard

Have you ever been in a season of your life where your future seems so uncertain? You are trying to look a few steps ahead but can’t even see what’s in front of you? You feel anxiety creeping in, doubt screaming in your face, and fear threatening to consume you? Maybe you find yourself in a situation you simply don’t understand? How do we trust God when it seems hard?

I’ve been there! I’ve said the words, “God – I want to trust You. But it’s hard.” Yet, I recognize that true peace and freedom is ONLY found in complete and total surrender and trust to God. And it’s not hard.

The question is – how do we do it? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Commit to prayer.

Coming to a place of trusting in God starts with talking to God. Make this a part of your every day life by inviting God into every aspect of Your life. I used to run to my comfort zones when I was stressed out about things and made turning to God secondary, or sometimes the last resort. It was “easier” to distract myself with other things – mindless entertainment, hanging out with friends, shopping, etc. Yet, the end result of that was pain for me because it always left me desensitized and apathetic.

Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. – 1 Chronicles 16:11

Commit to prayer when you feel like running or turning the television on. Have an honest and open conversation with God – He hears you, He cares.

2. Commit to His word.

Commit to reading the Bible every day. Replace checking your Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and all of the like with opening the YouVersion Bible App. The more you do it, the more habitual it will become. Seek HIS truth. If you are in a place where you need answers or guidance, there is no more solid place than the Word of God to start with.

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. – Psalm 119:105

God’s word will give You clear direction and guidance.

3. Commit to spending time with people who will build your faith.

I learned this the hard way. The worst thing you can do when you are struggling with trusting God is to surround yourself with people who are in a similar boat. NO.

Don’t fool yourselves. Bad friends will destroy you. – 1 Corinthians 14:33

Surround yourself with people who will speak life, encouragement, and faith over you. Spend time with people who will remind you of all that God has done in Your life. Go out for coffee for a friend who will pray WITH you and remind you of God’s wisdom and promises.

4. Commit to remembering what God’s done in Your life.

I recently heard in a message, “Sometimes you need to recount the victories.” It resonated in my heart because it’s something that God reminded me I need to do! Take a minute to remember all of the amazing things God has done in your life. You’re still breathing aren’t you? There are times where we look back and can so clearly see God’s hand of protection over us, perhaps we remember His clear guidance or direction on a topic. REMEMBER these things. The same God that’s taken care of you then, is the same God watching over you now.

Our Lord, I will remember the things you have done, your miracles of long ago. – Psalm 77:11

Sometimes I read through my prayer journal and am amazed at how many prayer’s God has answered. It’s encouraging!

5. Commit to worship.

I was listening to a worship song and the singer said, “Don’t let fear steal your song.” Those words landed on my heart with a thud. I was so worried and letting anxiety consume me, that I didi just that. I stopped worshipping God and started focusing on my problems. When we worship God, we take the focus off of ourselves and onto HIM. We take the focus off of our problems and worries and onto HIM. I don’t know what worship looks like to you, but to me it’s putting on some worship songs and sitting on the floor, listening, praying, singing…walking around. I look at these songs as more than just a song – declarations they are. Of my total trust in Him.

6. Commit to surrender.

This means that we let go our fears and worries and we literally give them over to God completely. We recognize that we have no control and God has all of the control. We recognize that at the end of it all, God opens the right doors and closes the wrong ones.

Surrender to God All-Powerful! You will find peace and prosperity. – Job 22:21

A surrendered life is a peaceful life.

7. Commit to trusting Him.

Wait, is this a trick  Nope. It’s not. How do we trust God when it’s hard? We trust Him. Even when it’s hard. We just DO. We know He holds our time in His hands, our life in His hands. We know that if he cares about the birds, how much more does He care about us? We know we can trust Him. So trust Him.

Thanks for stopping by and reading a topic that’s been so close to my heart lately because God has been working with ME in this area. Until next time!

 

 

 

Expectation vs. Reality – Christmas Pics 2016

Christmas pictures. When some people hear this phrase they feel excited as they anticipate taking family pictures and choosing from a variety of lovely photos. When I hear this phrase, I feel…slight dread. You see, I am a twin mom of two toddler boys. Getting two energetic little guys to stay still, smile, and pose for an indefinite amount of time is nothing short of mission impossible.

Still, I put my best foot forward and decided to do a portrait studio this year if only for time’s sake. My favorite picture takers are my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, who typically take our Christmas pics but I decided to give them a break since my SIL is preggers. So, off we went.

On the way up, JoJo was in a bit of a mood. “This was a bad idea, wasn’t it?” I asked my husband as we drove along, regret lacing my tone. He shrugged in resignation and sighed, “We’ll see.” When we got to the place, all was going well it seemed. Both boys were playing with some of the toys left out and having a good time. TOO good of a time, I started to notice.

“Um, do you think it’s going to be easy to get them out of this section to take pics?” I asked my husband nervously.

“I don’t know…” his voice trailed off unsure. Uh-oh.

So off I went in search of reinforcements. I.E. bribery tools, I.E. candy. After I purchased some favorites, it was our turn. Immediately, Josiah wasn’t having it. He started to cry and my hopes of an easy picture session were dashed. The more we tried to get him to smile, the worse it became. I went in for the reinforcements, grabbing the jelly beans and offering them up as a token of peace in exchange for pictures. Here’s the thing – Josiah didn’t want to let go of the jelly beans. So he didn’t. So they were in literally the majority of our pictures because we’ve learned early what battles to fight and knew this wasn’t one of them.

Josiah – One.

Parents – Zero.

Meanwhile, Micah was striking a pose like he was David Beckham, being a complete ham for the camera.

Nonetheless, the pictures appropriately captured what being a twin parent of three years old is like and overall, I’m happy.  We did get some pretty good ones! But I had to laugh because of expectations vs. reality. Here’s what I expected….

Here’s what actually happened:

Here were my expectations…

Here’s what reality delivered.

Thank goodness we can laugh about it! Here’s to another Christmas session checked off the list.

And here are some of the solid ones:

Until we meet again, photographers.

Why Giving is SO Important

livinggenerouslygraphicLately, God has been teaching me about giving. Through different people, through His word, through different sermons, through hard life lessons.

The conclusion that I’ve come to is – GIVING IS ALWAYS GOOD. GIVING IS RIGHT. BE GENEROUS.

We reap what we sow. It’s a biblical principle. Check it out:

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. – 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

Why should we give? Why should we live lives of generosity?

  1. The bible tells us to.
  2. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.
  3. God is able to bless us and make sure we have all we need. *Note that needs and wants are different!*

We DO NOT give because…

  1. We want something in return.
  2. We feel forced and want to check it off the list.
  3. We want the pride, affirmation, accolades that come with giving.

We don’t give with an attitude either. “Okay, God. I’ve given so this is what I want…” God is not a genie. If you want a genie, check out Aladdin. We give to others because God has given to us so freely. First, we have salvation and it’s something completely FREE. God loves us and we don’t have to earn His love. We can’t buy our way into heaven or into His promises. But when we give, we are so richly blessed.

We should give AT ALL TIMES, even when it’s really hard!

But my spouse lost his job. We are really tight right now.

GIVE.

But I am single parent struggling to make ends meet.

GIVE.

But I’m going through a really hard time in life right now.

GIVE.

I’m speaking to this because I have been there. We have been in situations where we have been on one income. We have been in situations where we have watched the lives of our children flash before our eyes. We have been in situations where people have hurt us. Nonetheless, I have experienced the overflow of God’s blessings every single time without fail when we have been consistent in giving. We have always experienced his provision. We have never been without what we have needed.

Giving should flow from a heart that is willing and pure. If you are ever in a place or even a church where people are guilting/coercing/begging you into giving, RUN! It needs to come from a heart that wants to be generous because in the end, YOUR HEART IS WHAT MATTERS THE MOST. If you give with a crappy attitude, you might as well not give. I think motive matters greatly.

Can I give you examples of how God has provided for us through challenging times?

  1. When the boys were sick as preemies and I had to take a longer maternity leave without any disability, God used a blogger friend to supply a case of expensive formula Micah needed just when we ran out. Formula landed on my doorstep from TEXAS. During that time we also received random checks in the mail, hand me downs from others, even a check from the mortgage company. God took care of us.
  2. At the end of my school year, after my long maternity leave, I had a crazy check come in (by the thousands) that was completely unexpected to the point where I e-mailed my HR director asking her about it. She explained how it was rightfully mine, even though I couldn’t believe it! I don’t even remember her explanation, all I remember is being so grateful.
  3. When my husband left the only job he ever had for over ten years, God opened up a door for him with a job where he eventually became a real estate agent, which has been a huge blessing for our family.
  4. When my husband was in a sudden transition between brokerages, God used someone anonymous to supply us with a $500 grocery gift card and $250. This is all without us asking or even announcing it (our Pastor mentioned it at the end of a Sunday service, our church responded by being generous…anonymously! We are grateful to be part of this kind of church.)

HE HAS ALWAYS TAKEN CARE OF US WITHOUT FAIL. Everything I have I owe to Him. Therefore, I can give to others and live generously!

The Bible tells us this story of Jesus sitting down in the temple watching everyone give. All these rich people are throwing in tons of money. Then, all of a sudden, this widow comes up and she drops in two coins only worth a few cents. Jesus points her out and says, Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

This tells us Jesus isn’t impressed by a monetary amount. You can’t buy your way in. This woman gave from the depths of her heart because she literally gave all that she had. Jesus essentially says, “Hey guys! This widow here? She nailed it. She gets what it means to give.”

I want to be like her. I haven’t always lived generously, but I have come a long way and want to continue to grow in this.

Look out for part 2 – What Giving Looks Like, where you’ll find practical applications and ideas/thoughts on how to give.