weekend.

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We’ve had an unseasonably warm winter here in Columbia, which is perfect for the various projects we have going on.

And we have a LOT going on. This may be a good time to tell you that we’ve found a home for our church, Columbia Pres! We just signed a long-term lease on a building in the Cottontown neighborhood of downtown. It’s right in-between where we live and where CPC currently meets on Main St.

We’re so excited about our new space! It’s in a really fun area, and a coffee shop is about to open next door! We start major renovations in the next few weeks and hope to be in the facility in several months. I’m so happy for David and our associate pastor, John, because after nearly four years, they’ll finally have offices in the same building where we gather for worship.

All of that to say, here are our three projects, all happening in the next 4-6 months:

  1. A house addition
  2. A church renovation
  3. A chicken coop

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David said to his friends, “I’m not sure which of those three projects will be my undoing first.” Ha ha. The chicken coop being the joke, sort of.

This is a very happy season for our family, but a stressful one too. Actually come to think of it, we haven’t been in a non-stressful season since starting the church. But I’m guessing you are all in your own stressful seasons too, right?

That’s just life.

I heard a great podcast interview with Sally Clarkson where she said, “Do yourself a favor and stop waiting for life to not be hard. Life is always hard. Parenthood is always hard. When you accept this reality, you can begin the work of learning contentment.”

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I’ve been pondering that a lot and it’s surprisingly helpful. I’m not sitting here waiting for our addition to be finished and CPC to be in our new building (and the chicken coop to be finished). Because those things will be wonderful, but then I’m guessing our family will be facing new challenges.

What God wants is to give me grace for right now. For today.

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This is waaay easier said than lived out, for me at least.

Yes, we have some idyllic photos of baby chicks running around the yard and this amazing chicken coop that David designed and is building from scratch, but the truth is we get tired and cranky and selfish. The coop project turned out to be way bigger than either of us expected. We fought this weekend about how to spend our time (I’ll let you guess who didn’t want to spend it painting a chicken coop). David can be too driven and I can be too selfish.

Both of us have realized of late how easy it is to take one another for granted when life is stressful.

We’re pouring all we can into work and the kids and the house. And I don’t know why but it’s all too easy to take it all out on the person who’s the very closest to you — who should be your safe place and biggest cheerleader when life is crazy. It’s easy to let resentment creep in, to start keeping score and blaming one another.

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We’re fumbling our way along, but I think the biggest key we’ve found is repentance. Lots and lots of it. It’s hard to stop, to look your spouse in the eye, and say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” And it’s even harder to shut your mouth and listen to them tell you how they feel, how you’re treating them and how much it hurts. It’s hard not to give excuses for your behavior, to act like a victim.

But we’re practicing this simple act, and we’re also trying to pay attention to one another.

To give kisses hello and good-bye. To stop and look one another in the eyes. To say, “Thank you for washing the dishes tonight.” We work hard and talk out our disagreements and usually end up meeting somewhere in the middle, which is probably the best place to be.

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We left all the addition noise and craziness and went for a long family hike at the Congaree swamp Friday. My parents came and helped paint Saturday afternoon, and David’s parents cooked us dinner.

Yesterday afternoon turned out to be a very sweet balance of resting and then getting outside in that beautiful sunshine and doing a project together.

And I guess that’s what Sally Clarkson was saying. Life is hard now. Life will be hard in six months. What matters is today. How am I trusting Jesus to show me what’s most important in just this hour? How am I giving thanks for the gifts in my life, instead of focusing on the negative, instead of waiting for the next season?

How am I loving the people around me well and making them feel special? How am I giving up my rights and dying to myself? How am I pursuing fun and joy and laughter? Today?

Happy Monday!



what worked and what didn’t in 2016.

Hello my friends!

I hope your Christmas was great!

We had a wonderful holiday weekend, and then I woke up on Monday and wanted every single decoration taken down, stowed away in the attic, pine needles swept, and our house organized.

As you well know, I have a much lower threshold for clutter nowadays. All the kids have to purge some toys before Christmas or birthdays, but we did even more on Monday, and reorganized their rooms to accommodate new things without losing dozens of Lego pieces throughout the house (which David and I inevitably step on).

Now our home is back to normal and everyone’s at peace and getting excited about Noah’s birthday tomorrow!

Last year I wrote a post about what worked and what didn’t for me in 2015 (you can read it here). It was so fun and helpful to think back over my year in that way that I decided to do it again.

I like to end on a positive note, so I’ll start with:

What didn’t work in 2016:

1. Not taking our kids out on dates
For years we’ve had lofty goals of doing some sort of weekly date night with one of our kids, or letting them take turns staying up late to have time with the two of us, but we neglected to make it happen with any consistency this year.

That’s something we’ve begun to change in the last couple months, with sweet results. It’s easy to get in a rut of our weekly schedule and to-do list, to begin looking at our children as a herd. It means a lot to them when one of us grabs one of them and goes to Barnes and Noble or to the river with a Sonic milkshake, and we realize that it means a lot to us too.

Some weeks are just too busy for dates, so we’re trying to be intentional to take a kid or two to run errands and use the opportunity to give them our attention.

It’s a chance to show all of us that we see our kids as individuals and we’d like to continue getting to know them better.

 

2. My stomachaches
I have chronic problems with my stomach, and that’s still hard. I was diagnosed with IBS years ago, and finally had a doctor shoot straight with me this year and tell me I most likely did irreparable damage to my stomach taking antibiotics for 16 months in India.

I can obsess over finding answers, trying different elimination diets and natural healing methods. Certainly avoiding some foods or eating out too much helps, but then I’ll suddenly be sick after eating something perfectly healthy. Lately I’ve tried instead to find a place of acceptance. My body is broken and will be in some way or another until I go to be with Jesus. I’m careful what I eat and drink, I’m trying to find healthy ways to deal with stress, and sometimes my stomach still gets really sick.

It reminds me that some people live with chronic pain and illness way worse than mine, and I have much to be thankful for.

 

3. Crowds, groups, coffee dates
If you’ve been reading the blog this year, you know about my panic disorder, which has made social settings (even small groups and one-on-one) very difficult. I quit so many of my commitments, things that used to be fun and bring me joy, but suddenly became distressing and impossible.

Anxiety and depression are things that affect my life on a daily basis. I work hard to find ways to manage them both and discover which areas of life I can pour into while I’ve got limitations in others. But even with medication, counseling, and exercise, they are a constant background noise.

Just like stomachaches, I’m learning to accept that this is my reality.

Some days are really hard, and many are just fine. I’m finding ways to give thanks and fight for joy, and God truly helps me. He’s meeting me in this hard thing, teaching me slowly but surely through it to live one hour at a time, to turn to Him and ask for help all throughout my day. He’s teaching me that He’s just as worthy of worship whether I’m having a good mental health day or a bad one.

I pray more than anything that this suffering makes me a kinder, more compassionate person, rather than resentful and isolated.

I pray that God shows me day by day what He’s calling me to do, and that I let go of the rest and live in peace.

 

4. Having too many friends that are like me
Don’t get me wrong — I have wonderful friends and family, who have both loved me well and graciously given me space in a difficult year. But I really long for diversity in my friendships. I miss living overseas — where many other things came hard, but that one thing came easy. I miss having friends who look different and think differently from me, I miss the way they stretch and challenge my views on life.

I miss their stories.

Last month I made a friend from Afghanistan and she asked me to be her English conversation partner. All that really means is that I’ll stop by her apartment for tea once a week and we’ll sit and chat and use lots of hand motions and practice English. She’s expecting her fourth child and so maybe we’ll roll our eyes and laugh about motherhood, maybe she’ll teach me how to cook some Afghani food.

For whatever reason, when I’m with people from other countries I don’t feel anxious or nervous. I just feel like myself. It doesn’t necessarily solve the diversity issue, but perhaps it’s a place to start.

 

5. Cupcakes
You guys, I’ve made cupcakes for years and years, and for whatever reason this year they’ve been a disaster. They taste great but look terrible, spilling over the sides, sinking in the middle. When I finish this post, I’ll go try to redeem Noah’s birthday cupcakes with a generous mound of frosting.

Can anyone tell me what I’m doing wrong!!!???

 

And now, here’s what worked for me in 2016:

1. Exercise
Last year, my goal was to exercise for 30 minutes four times a week. I can’t say that I’ve fully reached that goal, but I’m closer than I was. On average I exercise three times a week, and I split that between running and doing a Daily Burn routine. David, Amelie, and I continue to do a stretching video at night.

I wish I could tell you I ran my first 10K this year, but I didn’t. I stopped training for it, and I currently stick to my two-mile neighborhood loop (but on hills!!!). I’m interested in running a 10K at some point, but right now I’m okay with what I’m doing.

Whenever people ask me how on earth I find time to read, I tell them, “You make time for what’s important to you. I love reading, so I find time to do it.”

I don’t love exercise, so it’s easy to say, “I’m too busy.” But this year I’ve learned to make it important to me.  And so I’m discovering that I really do have time to do it; even more than that, I start to feel really uptight and restless if I’ve gone a couple of days with out it.

 

2. Switching back to normal shampoo and conditioner.
If you’re newer to the blog you may be like, “What…!?” Well, a few years ago I went shampoo-free and began using baking soda/water to wash my hair and an apple cider vinegar solution for conditioning. I think that officially crossed the line into way too granola for David, but he indulged me.

I did it for three years and then all of a sudden, at some point this year, I thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” So I stopped! I picked up a bottle of normal, chemical-filled $3 shampoo from Target and have never looked back.

My hair smells so nice now.

I will say that when I wasn’t using shampoo I could go longer between washing my hair, and I miss that. I don’t like the way my hair already looks oily at the end of one day. But I still try to go two days between washing and use dry shampoo from time to time.

 

3. Getting highlights
Apparently since I began dumping chemicals on my head again, I felt like the next logical step was to go all the way and get highlights (it’s a slippery slope, you guys).

I highlighted my hair blond all throughout college and have always missed it. This year I looked at photos of myself, post-adoption, mid-anxiety disorder, and thought, “Oh dear. I look haggard.” And so the natural solution to any problem? Highlights!!

Do I need them? Nope. Are they a luxury? Yes.

But I love having them. They remind me of sunnier places, like Orlando and Barbados, and while I really don’t mind looking older, I enjoy looking just a little less exhausted. I love my friend Erin at Roxy Salon in the Vista, who’s been cutting my hair for years. She knows I won’t get my roots done but a couple times a year, so she makes them very natural. No one really notices in fact.

But I do! And they make me happy.

 

4. Simplifying dinners, printing recipes, and our Sunday food tradition
I still meal plan weekly and have been trying to take the guesswork out of it as much as possible by simplifying our schedule:

Monday – Soup or Pasta, Tuesday – Mexican, Wednesday – leftovers, Thursday – Indian, Friday – homemade pizza, Saturday – burgers with David’s parents.

We’ve also come up with a Sunday meal tradition and we do the same thing every single week. Breakfast is oatmeal with lots of toppings, then for lunch, David and I eat a salad topped with canned wild caught salmon mixed with lemon juice and mayo (the kids have sandwiches). Then if we’re home we have Breakfast for Dinner in the evening (usually bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches or homemade waffles).

I really enjoy having every single meal figured out for that one day.

My friend Alison was visiting last month and showing me some of her favorite recipes in a binder, and I thought, I need one of these! I found an old plain black three-ring binder in our house, filled it with page protectors, and now print out any favorite or go-to recipe. I really, really don’t like following recipes from the laptop or iPad, and this binder is becoming one of my new favorite things in the kitchen.

I went over to my mother-in-law’s house and told her about our brilliant revelation, and she proceeded to immediately pull out her own bursting-at-the-seams binder of recipes. It seems the idea isn’t so new after all.

 

5. Bullet journal!
David and I been devotedly using a bullet journal for two solid months now and we’ll never go back to a regular calendar or dayplanner. Never fear, this topic will get a post all its own next week!

 

6. Using Goodreads to track my reading
For the first time last year I actually wrote down every book I read in a Word document and wrote about it here. This year I decided to use Goodreads instead. It’s been a much better way to track my reading, and from time to time I’ve found a great book while browsing the website. I really enjoy seeing the book cover images as I scroll back through my reading list.

 

7. Waiting for our home addition
This time last year I said, “If our master bedroom addition is finished by next Christmas, I’ll be happy.” I thought I was being terribly generous with that timeline.

Well here I am a year later. Still waiting. Not even sure when the addition will begin, much less be completed.

Last year I wrote “One bathroom for a family of 6” in my “What’s not working” list, but you know what? Clearly it is working. It’s all a matter of perspective, no?

In 12 months we haven’t had one single bathroom accident (although we’ve come close), and I potty-trained my fourth and last child in about two square feet of space.

Having said that, full confession; I was taking a shower just yesterday when yet another kid came in the bathroom to poop and I just burst into (silent) tears. I know, I know, one day our children will all be teenagers and won’t want to be in the same room with us, much less poop in the same room, and we’ll look back on this season wistfully. I’m looking forward to that time.

Here’s to laughing a little more and crying a little less about our home inconveniences!

 

8. Counseling/therapy

It was difficult for me to make the choice to begin counseling this year, but I’m very glad I did. I plan to write a bit more about my anxiety in the new year, but in summary: taking medication, exercising, getting enough sleep all helps with symptoms. But going back to counseling helped me realize that there were some underlying issues that, unless addressed, would’ve landed me right back in the same situation again and again.

It’s hard work, and even after a few months I can’t say I look forward to going, but I’ve begun to find some noticeable healing in my illness, and so it’s been worth every minute.

 

9. Being married to a preacher

I end with this because it’s one of the very tangible gifts of going to counseling: honestly, when I began, I did  not want to be married to a preacher anymore. I told David, “I don’t want to do this, I want you to find a different job.” I was in a desperate place, and also I think, burned out.

My counselor helped me examine some of those feelings and begin to distinguish that the problem isn’t David’s job as a pastor, the problem is my driving need to perform and please people and protect my reputation.

She helped me realize that yes, there are unique challenges to ministry, but if those are my underlying motivations in life, I will be burned out and unhappy whether David’s a pastor or an engineer. That’s not our church’s responsibility; it’s my responsibility.

Now I can say, at the end of 2016, that I’m very happy once again with our calling. David loves his work, and his enthusiasm is contagious. This year he’s done a better job than ever of learning boundaries and guarding family time and help me be free to disconnect in some areas so I could heal and find things that bring me joy.

Our family loves our church. So, so much.

I overheard Amelie saying the other day, “We’re so lucky that our dad’s a pastor.”

Happy New Year, friends!

 

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six things on friday.

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Happy Friday, dear friends!

Here are six things that are making my life a little happier these days:

1. We have a holiday and birthday cinnamon roll tradition. David’s birthday was October 7, but we had a few busy weekends in a row, so I finally made his cinnamon rolls this week. Homemade cinnamon rolls are something I was intimidated by until my friends in India showed me how very easy they are. Now I’m teaching Amie how to make them.

If you’re interested, here’s our tried-and-true recipe. I prepare them the night before and then bake them the next morning and whip up a quick glaze.

2. A monumental event happened in our house yesterday: at 11:45 AM I told my children I was going in my room to exercise for 30 minutes, and I’d make their lunch when I was finished. Well, they got hungry and decided to make their own lunch (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), and the big kids made one for Noah.

Of course they scampered in and out of the room asking questions, chatting with me, picking up free weights to follow along, but I did it! I did the entire work-out and when I was finished: my kids had eaten lunch, carried their dishes to the sink, and we could move on with our day!

This may just be the dawn of a new era, folks.

3. One more note on fitness. A few weeks ago, David and I started ROMWOD, which is the CrossFit daily stretching program. I am not a CrossFit person and doubt I ever will be, but I can carve out 15 minutes a night to stretch alongside my husband. We do it immediately after we put Gabe and Noah to bed, and the big kids often join in. It feels very restful (so much so that Amie has been known to fall asleep on the floor by the end of the routine).

This habit has been so, so good for us! I’m gaining some flexibility, my posture is improving, and my form is better when I exercise. Perhaps best of all is that my psychiatrist and doctor have been after me to do daily deep breathing exercises for my anxiety, and ROMWOD includes that.

Having said all of this, fitness and exercise still do not come naturally for me. I’m learning that, at the end of the day, taking care of my body doesn’t involve some grand game plan or even subscribing to an expensive program but small, daily choices to get up and move around.

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4. I’m cautiously optimistic that my anxiety is lessening. I don’t know if it’s the deep breathing, the medication, the therapist, prayer, boundaries, or all of the above, but David and I noticed this week that in some ways I seem to be much more like my old self.

Anxiety is a funny thing: I can now become obsessed with looking for these improvements and then spiral down if I have one bad day, so I’m trying to be very even-keel about these latest victories. We had a wonderful new members’ class at our house two weeks ago with 40 people here. I felt happy and calm and loved cooking chili for them all. And we’ve had a couple other social events this past week that I thought would send me into a tail-spin of panic, but turned out to be enjoyable.

Now the other temptation is to say, “I’m all better!” and start stacking back up commitments and obligations. So I’ll resist that. My life continues to be stream-lined to the barest of necessities. And when once in awhile we add something in and it goes well, I give thanks.

I know this probably deserves a blog post on its own, but I really can’t describe how good this time of my extreme limitations has been for my family. I’m home more. I’m not rushing around frantically trying to please a whole load of people and live up to an image I’ve given myself. I have more energy for homeschooling and for gardening and exercising.

I feel like I’m truly learning, in tiny fits and starts, to live out of a place of rest instead of a place of performance and striving.

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5. I’ve started my first bullet journal!

This is something I’ve had my eye on nearly this whole calendar year, through the blogs I follow. At its simplest, bullet journaling is just using a blank notebook to create your own day planner and organizer, tailor-made to your needs. I thoroughly read these two posts as I got started: one from the official Bullet Journal website, and this detailed one from the Lazy Genius Collective, and at their advice, practiced for a couple of weeks in a cheap notebook to make sure I like the method.

Per both of those websites (and a post here for all you Modern Mrs. Darcy lovers), my bullet journal is very plain and simple. No fancy drawings or artwork. I love looking through the elaborate journal spreads on Pinterest but I know that trying to keep up with that would stress me out. So I stick to the basics.

The biggest reason I like the bullet journal method: all the random thoughts and bits of paper scattered throughout the house and notes on my phone and craziness in my head are now consolidated into one place. It travels with me in my purse. It keeps me from staring at a screen. I even use my bullet journal for my grocery list.

David has seen how well this new system is working for me, and ordered his own notebook today. Actually Amie started her own bullet journal with a pretty notebook someone gave her, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that thus far her pages are as fancy and colorful as mine are plain. I love it. Soon I’ll give you a blog post with our favorite tips.

6. And finally, the things we see/hear on news are depressing, but there is so much good in the world, you guys. Let’s look for the good and also be apart of the good, in small, faithful ways. One story: our friends from church, Ben and Jeanette, are approved to adopt a five-year-old boy from China (see photos of him on Instagram @thewalkersadopt). They had an adoption fundraiser on Sunday night with live music, chili, and s’mores, similar to ours in 2014.

And they raised $10,000 in one night.

That is just one example of many I could tell in the life of our church and our community. The generosity and courage of the people around us is heartening. God is at work.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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an ode to book and tea club.

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Happy Monday and happy April!

I hope that even if you live in the north, you’re beginning to shed layers and see signs of spring. The pollen is starting to ease up here and as you can see from the photo, the azaleas are bursting into bloom, which is one of my favorite things about this time of year (also: open windows, longer days, not having to remember jackets for four kids).

We’re headlong into year two of the Book and Tea Club that my mother-in-law, Linda, and I started last January. It was born out of a longtime dream of mine to start a book club, and the years of wisdom and experience Linda has gained being part of some really wonderful, inspiring book clubs.

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We meet on the last Saturday of every other month, and discuss an entire book at a meeting. We always have tea, of course. And everyone brings a tea treat to share (as you can see, we never suffer for lack of food). It’s been interesting to trace the ebb and flow of our group over the course of 15 months: we started with a bang with 20 or so ladies, dwindled down to about 6 some months, and now seem to have found our stride at around 10-12. To me, that’s a perfect amount for really great discussion.

Our Book and Tea Club is yet another example to me of how so many good things take time and patience. I enjoyed our group from day one. It was great last year. But I’d say this year it’s awesome. I look forward to the meeting for two months, try to save the current book as long as possible before our discussion so it will feel fresh, and take notes of things I want to chat about. And I’m not even the discussion leader!

It just took us all some time. To figure out our dynamic, to grow comfortable with one another. To draw in some new voices.

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My favorite two things about Book and Tea Club right now (besides the obvious: a tea party!!!) are that right before and right after our meeting everyone is busy chatting — that’s a sign we’re getting to know each other! And I love that discussion often veers from our wonderful leader, Jessica’s, questions and takes off in its own direction.

To me those are the signs of a successful book club.

For whatever reason, we have an intimidating number of teachers and former-teachers in our midst. They are smart, you guys! I love hearing about their diverse experiences, and their passion for learning is so contagious. I want to be like them.

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Okay, enough gushing, because I know you really just want to know what books we’re reading! That’s what I’d want to know!

Thus far, we read only novels.  Most of them are new-ish (“new classics?” is that a thing?) This year we voted as a group to read Southern authors. Everyone submitted ideas, and Linda and I nailed down the final list. So far, we’re loving it (I could seriously talk all day long about A Lesson Before Dying).

January, 2016 – Cold Sassy Tree, Olive Ann Burns

April, 2016 (moved to after Easter) – A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines

May, 2016 – Walking Across Egypt, Clyde Edgerton

July, 2016 – Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

September, 2016 – The Water is Wide, Pat Conroy

November 2016 – Broken Shells, Deena Bouknight (local author who we hope to have join our discussion!)

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“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”

– Rainer Maria Rilke



lately.

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Hello friends! I can’t explain the feelings of relief and joy I have now that March is here and spring is around the corner. I remember that it’s around this time every year (right around the time I can wear flip flops once again) that I begin to feel more like myself.

I don’t like to use the word “busy,” but I’d describe our winter and this coming month as full. Very full. I began leading a life group, David’s doing three weddings in four months, we’re searching for a new worship place for our church, we’re starting on our house addition, and of course we have normal life and school and work.

How do we survive all of this? Well, we’re careful to look at our schedule together each week, and plan “down” days and evenings interspersed with all the activity. By now we’ve begun to learn just how many days and nights a week we can have plans and how many we need to be at home to avoid total exhaustion.

We try to be super intentional about what we say “yes” to and what we say “no” to — we don’t say no because something isn’t good; but because we know that we just can’t do everything. We’re going to bed early and waking up early to have some quiet moments in the morning. We’re exercising regularly and giving each other space to get out of the house alone once a week.

Making this rhythm a priority is saving our sanity and keeping us from feeling overwhelmed. Actually, we’re really enjoying life right now! This is the most normal that it’s felt since the adoption, and also, in my opinion, the sweetest season in the life of our church so far.

My anxiety is still very present, but I’m pressing on and learning ways to cope, and it really doesn’t have the power over me that it did even a few weeks ago. More on that soon.

Here are a few photos of what we’ve been up to!

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We all got sick a couple of weeks ago, which finally necessitated a trip to the doctor. Two kids were fine, one had an ear infection, and one a sinus infection. But the good news is that during our sick week at home I took the opportunity to potty-train Noah! He was a champ this time around, and it feels really amazing to have everyone out of diapers.

 

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We’re still enjoying swimming and ballet. I may or may not have started showing my kids some Olympics videos on YouTube to begin brainwashing them into becoming Olympics fanatics with me this summer.

 

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I’ve been doing some baking! David’s aunt left me with the cookbook from a gluten-free bakery in Seattle, and I’m trying one or two recipes a week. So far I’ve made orange raisin scones, blueberry cinnamon scones, and buckwheat biscuits, and the family has enjoyed them all! It feels so good to bake things I can actually eat.

 

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After a slump for few weeks this winter, school is going really well again. Judah even said the other day, “Mom, do you think we’ll do school this summer? There are some things I need to practice.”

 

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As you can tell from the blog, David has been grabbing a kid or two and hiking in the Harbison State Forest. Last week we packed lunch and took our first whole-family hike since the boys came home. It was so fun and and I’ve decided that the secret to raising three boys will be lots and lots of hiking!

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We try to sneak in some girly activities with Amie, and last week my friend Kelly and I took Amie and Caroline to see the ballet, Cinderella, at the Koger Center. Two of their friends from church performed in it, which made it even more fun.

 

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February 24th marked 10 months with our sweet boys!

 

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And finally, we had a big electrical project done on the house to prepare for our master bedroom addition, so we spent last weekend at Kenny and Shari’s. There’s really nothing like being under the same roof for 48 hours to get all caught up, is there? We had such a great time playing, chatting, eating good food, drinking good drinks, and us grown-ups even had a game night and laughed more than I’ve laughed in a long time. Thanks, McWilliams, for taking on our family of 6 for the weekend!

 

Happy March!

 



easter party.

Easter is the most important holiday of the year for David and me, because it’s our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. For most of our marriage, we’ve tried to celebrate in style, whether it was brunch and mimosas with friends during seminary, a rooftop terrace get-together in South Asia, or buying our kids a special Easter gift each year.

Because this is our day of days; it’s the reason we have for the hope within us.

And so this year we threw a party in our backyard for our church, a week late to allow more folks to come. The band who played at our adoption fundraiser, Volcanoes in the Kitchen, was such a big hit we brought them up from Charleston again. Everyone pitched in and came laden with food and drinks. There was laughter and introductions between newcomers and old friends, and good music and lots and lots of kids jumping on the trampoline (with no injuries, thankfully!).

Here are some of the people who have become family to us over the past two years. They make our life immeasurably rich. They are the reason I love being a pastor’s wife.

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particularization.

“Particularization” is a fancy Presbyterian word for when a church moves from being a mission church to being a fully organized church with elders and deacons. We had a service two weeks ago celebrating CPC’s particularization.

And it was truly a celebration. I was overwhelmed looking out over a sea of faces I love, some old friends and some new, thanking God for how many people worked and prayed and gave to help make this dream a reality.

From day one things have raced along at an incredible speed, and I suppose that’s a good thing in that we haven’t had half a chance to settle down and grow comfortable. And now we’re looking to the future, to the three church planting families we’re sending out: to east Lexington, to Orangeburg, SC, and to Southeast Asia.

Starting a church is not easy, just as pastoring it now is not, but there is nothing like this experience of being on a team which is also a family, working as one toward a common goal that’s so much bigger than us. We’ve seen God do incredible things in the last year and a half, and we fully expect that He’ll do many more. I feel deeply honored to play a small part.

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All photos by Ashley Nicole Photography



monday gratitude.

20. my kids played for 2 hours with their friends after CC this afternoon
21. John is ordained and was officially installed as associate pastor yesterday
22. my in-laws are now members of our church!
23. seeing healing and joy on the face of a friend who was broken and despairing a year ago
24. money to buy groceries
25. the relief of dinners planned out for the week
26. a meeting with a group of women I love in a home I love tonight
27. Bleak House tv series
28. ideas for positive ways to discipline from Boundaries With Kids
29. the comfort of having my husband home after a weekend away
30. our new habit of going to bed early and waking up early
31. an email in my inbox saying books are waiting for me at the library
32. money given toward our adoption

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day 13: church noise.

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photo source

I want to talk about one more layer of noise that keeps us from a life of purposeful simplicity, and it’s church noise.

Christians have come to live lives that look very similar to that of everyone else, caught up in this vortex of busyness: we work, we go to school or home school, we do extra-curricular activities, we do outreach, we go to church events. We go, go, go and do, do do, our lives are filled-to-bursting with all this racing around.

We’re so scared of missing out on something that we say “yes” to everything. We put our kids in all kinds of activities so they’ll grow up with every opportunity possible. We become chauffeurs driving them around town. We wonder why we’re tired, burned-out, bored, and discontent. We complain to everyone around us about our busyness. We’ve forgotten how to be still.

And somehow we drag all of this baggage right into our churches. We do Bible studies and pot-lucks, and mission outreaches, and VBS, and Sunday school and serve on committees. We’re always being asked to participate more and volunteer more. And so it is that church becomes, more often than not, just another source of noise.

It’s easy to blame this on church leadership, but I’ll venture to suggest that we American Christians actually want this noise, even though we complain about it. We press our leadership to provide bigger and better — better programs for our kids, bigger youth group, better Sunday School teaching, more service projects and good causes. We cast blame when they’re not provided. We look around town and compare our church to other churches. We want what they have.

Here’s my fear in this cycle: My fear is that we’ve begun to equate church noise with Christianity.

I fear that we’re so busy doing things — good things, not-so-good things — and so busy demanding better, that we’ve lost our first love. We’re skimming the surface, rushing around like Martha, instead of sitting at the feet of Christ like Mary.

Church is not busyness.

Church is not bigger and better.

Church is not here to serve me or my family.

Church is not like the PTA or my gym or any other institution I show up to to receive services and demand my rights.

No, my friends. Church is way, way better.

Church should be a haven from purposeless busyness. It should be the one place that quiets the noise outside our hearts and the noise inside our hearts.

Church does not exist for my family; Church is the Bride of Christ, and we all exist as a body to worship Him.

My heart for Christians is that church be simple. That it be purposeful. Church is for worship of God and for reaching a hurting world.

How will we ever reach this world if we’re inviting non-believers into just one more cycle of purposeless busyness? They can get that at their country club.

I am not pointing a finger, saying that programs at church are wrong. What I’m pleading for is thoughtfulness. I’m asking that we not keep doing all of these activities without first asking the questions: “Does this help me worship God better? Does this help me reach people who don’t know Jesus?”

I’m asking that we as church leaders stop doing something just because we’ve always done it or because the church down the street does it, and evaluate what we’re doing — what we’re asking our church members to do, and to treat one another with great care.

By our requests for help are we pulling members into a cycle of busyness God is not calling them to? Are we taking them away from their families? Are we taking time away from sharing Christ with neighbors and coworkers? Are our outreach projects leading to actual living-and-breathing relationships with people? Do our church members have margin in their weeks for pursuing deep friendships with one another? Are our activities producing real, lasting fruit: Lives changed by the gospel and new believers in Christ?

My heart’s desire is to continue on this journey of purposeful simplicity, even when it goes against the grain, because if we as church leaders don’t model this kind of life, we can never ask folks in our body and folks outside our body to live it. If we don’t find our ultimate rest and identity and purpose in being rather than doing, if we don’t find delight and joy and laughter in a quiet life of loving just a few well and worshiping the God who saved us, then our preaching and teaching becomes hollow.

Christians often think being counter-cultural means avoiding immorality and doing good things. But I believe that to be truly counter-cultural in this day and age is to walk away from purpose-less busyness. That’s a life choice that people sit up and take notice of. It’s radically different. It’s something they start asking questions about: “Why don’t you do ______? Why are you so rested? Why are you so happy? How do you have time for hobbies? How do you have time for me? I want that too.”

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one year old.

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This weekend Columbia Presbyterian Church turns one year old.

David and I have a joke that there’s going to be a big age gap between our kids because the church plant is our third child. It sounds like a stretch, but there are many aspects of planting a church that are similar to carrying and giving birth to a human child.

Trying. After South Asia, some friends approached us and asked us to consider planting a church in Columbia with them. This idea became a dream in our hearts. It felt so vulnerable at first, almost like we didn’t want to get our hopes up or tell too many people. But the very thought made us smile.

Pregnancy. By a miracle, we jumped through the hoops and got our long list of approvals. We were expecting! We started making contacts and gathering a community. We started core group meetings. There was awkwardness and trouble-shooting and so many unknowns. We still felt scared to get too excited. What if this whole thing folded? But we stepped forward, one day at a time. We came up with a name. We started a small group ministry, which we call Life Groups. We found a space for Sunday worship.

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Birth. On September 7th, 2013, Columbia Presbyterian Church was born. Next to our wedding day and Judah and Amelie’s births, it was the happiest day of my life. All the hoping and praying and working and waiting were worth it. We were filled up with joy.

Infancy. CPC grew and changed every single week. Things moved fast, so fast. Every week there were new delights and growing pains. We were way out of our comfort zone. Our brains hurt trying to figure out always-changing logistics.

David had a sermon to write each week as well as a never-ending list of people to connect with. John planned out our worship services and sermon series’ and crafted our liturgy. Kenny learned how to lead worship. Jonathan figured out bulletins and coffee hour. Shari tried to keep up with the ever-expanding nursery ministry. I connected with newcomers and helped them get plugged in and we had lots of people over for dinner. We needed more chairs for morning worship. New faces showed up each week and we wanted to talk to everyone, to make them feel welcome.

We held our first church membership class this spring and welcomed 91 members. It felt like we were collectively treading water, just keeping our heads up. We had so much help and so many hands willing and eager to serve. It was one of our favorite seasons of life.

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Walking. This summer we experienced another big growth spurt — a shock to the system — as we realized we needed to add another worship service. We also held nominations for Elders and Deacons. We hired John full-time as pastoral assistant to help with evangelism, mercy ministry, worship services, and Life Groups. We began interviewing candidates for a church planting resident, who will go on to plant our first church in early 2016, and then hired a wonderful family who moved here in August.

If you have a mission, you have to constantly remind yourself of it, to plan and work hard to keep it always in front of you — no matter what each week brings, no matter what the host of opinions say. Otherwise you’re just doing crowd control.

We rearranged Life Groups and welcomed new members. We learned how to suffer together, to carry each other’s burdens. We learned to confess sin and cry and rejoice together. Masks were removed and we grew more real and the roots of our friendships stretched down deeper.

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Birthday. And here we are, today. CPC is one. I know the analogy falls short because David and I aren’t parents of this church. CPC isn’t our church, our “project.” It’s God’s Church, the Bride of Christ. His Spirit grows it and pilots it. We’re just vessels He uses. We’re a tiny part of a much bigger story.

We love this church deeply and also our hands are open.

Our heart for CPC has always been for it to stand and walk on its own two feet. We hope to be here serving and worshiping with this group for years and years. But at the same time, it’s important that CPC functions as a church family wholly separate from us. If something happens to David or me, the church needs to carry on, to be Spirit-led and to follow God’s mission. That’s the end we’ve worked and planned and prayed toward this whole year.

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And today we’re humbled to say God has answered. We feel like beaming-proud parents as we show up on Sundays and work and watch people scurry here and there, setting up chairs, and setting out donuts and coffee, welcoming visitors and hugging one another, tuning up guitars and placing name tags on children, giving generously and exchanging phone numbers and heading out the door to eat lunch together. Church members are friends on their own, without us. They’re texting newcomers and leading Life Groups and praying with those who are hurting.

Columbia Presbyterian is a living, breathing, unique and very, very special body. This is God’s Church and even though the work is hard, I would never trade the daily surprises of seeing Him at work. His kingdom is growing, friends. There’s no stopping it.

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Planting this church has changed me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Sometimes I’ve felt stretched to the breaking point in these past two years. Church planting isn’t for the faint of heart. Change is hard for me, and our weeks are full of the unexpected and demand that we learn flexibility.

It’s chafed and hurt sometimes but it always reminds me that my life belongs to Christ. I don’t live for my comfort here and now. I pick up my cross and follow Him each day, trusting what I can’t see.

The reward, my friends, has been priceless. Happy birthday, CPC. I love you.

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All photos by Lucas Brown.

Columbia Presbyterian Church website