Haiti 2015

In just a few days, a team of our dearest friends leaves for a week in Haiti. We were originally supposed to be part of that team. Deciding not to go was a very hard decision for Grayson and I, but after much prayer and lots of thought, we finally decided together what we already knew: the right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing. The Lord made it very obvious to us that it is the wrong time for us to go (through many different things) and we had to trust His voice.

All year, throughout the planning, the saving, the fundraising through Renmen Abonde, and the conversations about our upcoming trip, I have had an unwavering feeling in the back of my mind that something was going to happen and we weren’t going to be able to go. No matter how much I prayed about it or how much I searched my heart, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was not going to be going to Haiti this year. I tried ignoring the feeling, I tried writing about how I felt, I tried begging God to give me clarity… and despite it all, I think I knew deep down that something wasn’t right.

When we found out the first week of October that we were going to have a baby, I still tried convincing myself that we could make this trip work. I wanted to go so badly. All the while, Jesus was tugging at both of our hearts, saying “BE STILL!” I don’t know if that lingering feeling in the back of mind was God’s way of preparing my heart for the choice we were going to have to make, but we finally realized that sometimes, it takes as much faith and obedience to listen to God when He says, “DON’T go” as it does when He says “go!” Nevertheless, my heart did not feel at peace until we fully decided that we would not be joining our team on this trip.

We were so nervous to tell our team about our decision. Fear of letting them down or being misunderstood wrecked our hearts, but we knew we had to do it. The night that we met with them around our friend’s kitchen table and shared our hearts ended up being sweeter than anything we could have hoped for. Not only did they understand, they supported our decision and even further confirmed that we had made the right one. They prayed for us, one by one, around that table. Prayers for our torn hearts, prayers for peace of mind, prayers for the growth and development of this baby… it was one of those nights we will always hold in our hearts. That’s really what it’s all about, anyway. Jesus, community, growing closer to Him and those He’s put in our lives.

I’m asking you, if you’re reading this, to join me in prayer for this precious group of people that are spending a week in Jacmel, Haiti sharing the love of our Savior. The Haitian people are special. They are so receptive to the Gospel, so hungry for the love that only Jesus can give, and they have hearts that are bigger than anyone who has not experienced it firsthand could imagine.

Kelley, Bobby, Amanda, Jon, Jeremy, Hailey, and Mike will be telling everyone they come in contact with about Jesus, how He died for our sins, how He is in Heaven preparing a place for us, and how it’s a free gift to all who repent of their sins and ask Him to come into their hearts. They’ll be answering tough questions from our Haitian friends who have already asked Jesus into their hearts and are eager to understand more and grow closer to our Father. They will see heartbreaking situations, pray over sickness, rebuke the Devil in places where voodoo is prominent, and continue building relationships that began many years ago. Please pray for their safety, for wisdom and guidance, and for the hearts of everyone they meet and share the Gospel with. Pray that people are saved, that lives are changed, and that seeds are planted.

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Momma

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a Momma. Just that word- Momma- could easily be considered my favorite word, which I’m sure, is the result of having the best Momma in the world, myself. My Momma is a true Proverbs 31 Woman, a woman of strength and Godly character, a woman I’ve always wanted to be just like. She taught me everything about what being a Momma means, through the good times and the bad, through the tears and the laughter, through every season, through every mountaintop and valley.

For years, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to have a baby. I was terrified that there would be something wrong with me when that time came to start “trying,” and that I would never get to experience carrying a life inside of me. I don’t know where this fear came from, but it took root in my heart at far too early of an age to even be considering this kind of issue and it only grew stronger and more haunting as I grew up. I remember talking to Grayson about it when we were still engaged. The topic of how long we wanted to wait before we started a family had come up and I shared with him that not being able to have children was one of my biggest fears, something I thought about almost every day. “Just the word ‘infertility’ absolutely terrifies me,” I told him. He wrapped me up in his arms and said not to worry, that Jesus had already written our story, and reminded me of the passage in Matthew 6 that tells us not to waste time worrying about the future.

Getting pregnant after only nine months of marriage was nowhere in our plan. It’s ironic to me, how terrified I’ve been of not being able to have babies, like I’ve always planned (and dreamed and hoped for), because although God has blessed me with what I’ve always wanted, He’s still teaching me through the timing of it. He’s teaching me that my plans really don’t mean anything. 1 Peter 16:9 says, “In his heart, a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” We have two choices there: we can either let it terrify us, or comfort us. It took me a while, but I’ve finally learned to let it be my greatest comfort. How incredible is it that my Father has already written my story, that He not only knows the number of hairs on my head, but cares about the intricate details of my everyday life? He’s a good, good Father. Knowing this compels me to trust Him. It compels me to pursue His heart and crave His closeness. It draws me in and makes me want to wholeheartedly chase after whatever season He’s called me into: and this time, it’s motherhood. I know I have so much to learn about what that word means, and as scared as I am, I have never been more excited in my life.  I get to be a Momma.

Cheesy Chili Pasta Bake

When I first found this recipe on Pinterest, I knew it would be the perfect dish for a night when I was craving comfort food. Cheesy, warm, and savory… what more could you want for a December evening?

This dish is super easy to throw together and feeds about 6 people (or makes for great leftovers). It’s hearty and filling, and it requires ingredients I usually have laying around the house.

Ingredients:

  • A drizzle of vegetable oil
  • As much chopped onion as you want (I used a little over half of one)
  • 1 pound of ground beef
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/2 pound of small shell pasta
  • 15 oz canned tomato sauce
  • 14 oz canned diced tomatoes with green chilies
  • 15 oz black beans (drained)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/4 cups water
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • As much sour cream as you want for topping
  • As much chopped green onion as you want for topping

Instructions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a large skillet, drizzle the oil and saute the onions for about three minutes.
  • Add the ground beef to the onions and cook until no longer pink.
  • Once the ground beef is cooked, add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes with green chilies, beans, chili powder, cumin, and water. Stir.
  • While that is simmering, cook the pasta per package instructions and drain.
  • Add cooked pasta to skillet mixture and stir.
  • Pour the chili-pasta mixture into a 9×13 dish, smooth with a spoon and sprinkle with cheese (and by “sprinkle,” I mean cover haha).
  • Bake for 30 minutes until cheese is golden brown and serve immediately.
  • Top with sour cream and green onions.

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*Note: I adapted this recipe from the one linked above, leaving out the cayenne powder (I don’t like spicy food).

 

Christmas Announcement Pictures

I never win anything. Seriously, never. That’s why I was totally and completely shocked when I won a collaboration giveaway (for a 30 minute photo session and 50 free Christmas cards) on Instagram with Ariana Clare and Pink Toast Ink. All you had to do to enter was use their hashtag on one of your photos and they randomly chose a winner, which just so happened to be me! This happened right after we found out we were pregnant, and had already decided to announce using our Christmas cards. How perfect could it be?  Seriously, Jesus is so good to us.

Just a few of my favorites:

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Happy Anniversary, Baby!

One year ago today, I woke up in a hotel room with my Momma and all my closest girlfriends. We ate breakfast together and took our time getting ready with the assistance of my friend, Melissa, who came to do makeup, and my beloved hairdresser, Meghan, who spent her busy Saturday morning right before Christmas making sure my hair was exactly what I had envisioned. My aunts were busy in the rooms next to us with a complete flower shop set up, right there in the hotel, working tediously to make sure we had breathtakingly beautiful bouquets and boutonnieres. My cousins were busy hanging lights and moving tables and setting up decorations at the reception venue, which, although I had set the tone for the atmosphere I had in mind, I couldn’t wait to see the finished product. So much love from so many people went into making every detail of our wedding day unforgettable, and there’s no amount of thank you notes or hugs or tears that could ever even begin to express my gratitude.

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I had an overwhelming sense of calmness about me that day, in the midst of the hustle and bustle and little details that could have easily stressed me out, but didn’t. I wasn’t stressed at all, in fact, in the quiet of my heart, I felt like Jesus had given me a gift that I would treasure for the rest of my life: peace when I needed it the most. It was like everything that had led up to that day: the years of goodbyes to the long-distance boyfriend of mine who I couldn’t wait to spend forever with, the months of planning, the weeks of marriage counseling with our sweet pastor who I’ve always considered family, and the last few days of running around like a crazy lady tying up all the loose ends… had all come down to the (second) most important day of my life (with the first most important day of my life being the day I asked Jesus to come into my heart) and all I could do was sit back and relish in Jesus’ goodness, in His faithfulness, in His provision, and in the love I knew could only come from Him.

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When I met Grayson the first weekend of my sophomore year at Appalachian, I knew something was different about him. However, I never imagined that three years later I would be walking down the aisle to him smiling from ear to ear in a black tuxedo with tear-filled eyes. Only Jesus could have written our story, and I’m so glad that He did. Although Grayson and I did not see each other before I walked down the aisle, we did meet on the front steps of the church to pray together, with the front door separating us. Our hands were shaking and I could hear his gentle, but strong voice searching for the right words to say to the woman who would soon become his bride. We prayed over the marriage we were about to enter into and thanked our Father for leading us to that very moment, that very day. It is a memory I wouldn’t trade for anything, and it made the anticipation of seeing each other in just a short while that much greater.

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My groom sang to me during our wedding, and I’ll never forget it. The words from Coffey Anderson’s “Better Today” felt like they were being written on my heart, and he looked into my eyes with every word. Our family came to the altar and laid hands on us in prayer, “I do’s” were promised, a sweet, simple kiss was exchanged, and we were announced as husband and wife for the first time. Then, we headed to the reception, where we ate and danced the night away with our friends and family and church family – all who had traveled to be with us for our special day – in the dark, in the cold, in the middle of December, right before Christmas, when they could have been anywhere else. It was like we were being wrapped up in the warm arms of so much love, and it was the greatest feeling in the world.

What a year it’s been! In the last 365 days, we have grown so much, both as a couple and as individuals, we have learned more about life and love and Jesus than ever before, and we have fallen even more in love than we were this time last year, on that crisp December day. We have experienced so many triumphs this year, accompanied by heartache too, like the death of a cousin we loved dearly and the tragic fire of the beautiful place where we became husband and wife. We have trusted our Father, we have seen His hand in the details, we have learned how to better work together and serve each other in love. It’s been a year of transitions and tears, but also of laughter and adventure. There has been so much joy, so much wonder, so much promise.

As we look back and reflect on this first year of marriage, we are thankful for where the Lord has brought us and excited to see where He’ll take us. We are excited about the new season of life that we are entering into, now, as parents-to-be, expecting our first baby in June 2016! This unexpected blessing has already taught us so much about Jesus’ goodness, and we are so thankful for the life growing inside of me that only Jesus can create. His will is perfect, His timing is perfect, and every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17).

So, happy anniversary to my forever love, my college sweetheart, my best friend. You point me closer to Jesus every day, you protect my heart, you challenge me to be better, you love me with tenderness and sincerity, and you are going to make a wonderful daddy. I am so thankful for you and this life of loving you, growing with you, and walking hand in hand through whatever adventures we face. The way you choose to love me every day, pursue my heart, and make Godly leadership of our little family your number one priority makes me love you even more. I can’t wait for 100 more years of loving you and holding fast to His promises. The best is yet to come!

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Photo credit: Wedding day | Erica Serrano
Pregnancy Announcement | Ariana Clare

Haughton Family Christmas 2015

The Haughton Family has a very special place in my heart. They’ve been life long family friends and growing up with Christiana and Cameron has been so much fun through every different stage and season. A little over a year ago, Christiana and her husband had beautiful twin boys who have brought so much love and laughter to this sweet family. I love any opportunity to capture their precious little faces.

Just wanted to share a few of my favorites from our Christmas session:

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The Cheery McDonalds Worker

Isn’t it funny how sometimes God uses the most unexpected things to put life in perspective for us? This morning, He did it for me using none other than a McDonalds bag.

My alarm went off at 6:00 am. I didn’t get up until almost 6:45 am. I laid there, not wanting to get up, dozing off, cuddling with my dog, mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, and dreading getting up. When I finally did get out of the bed, I rushed around the house like a crazy person to get ready in time, and finally left for work. Now, I know this doesn’t sound like it, but I truly am a morning person. I love getting up early, getting my day started, and taking time to relax, drink a cup of coffee, and spend time with the Lord before the rest of the world starts bustling around. But, sometimes, I just get in a slump, and I would be lying if I said that it’s caused by anything other than ungratefulness.

On my way to work, I still wasn’t thinking about anything other than the nasty, misty fog that seems like it will never go away or how much I wish I could have a day off to get to the never ending list of things that “need to be done” around the house. That’s when I pulled through McDonalds for breakfast and it happened. It was like Jesus took my face in His hands and said DO YOU GET IT NOW?

I have a nice office job at a very prestigious company that’s been around for over 100 years (since 1902)  and I was fortunate enough to intern with the company every summer through college, and then come on full time as soon as I graduated. However, the neighborhood around my office is slowing deteriorating, and getting more and more unsafe. The McDonalds I stopped at is right beside my office, and I pulled through the drive thru without giving it a second thought.

I placed my order, waited my turn, and pulled up to the window to pay and get my food. Instead of a bag being held out the window and a monotone recitation of the price of my food, I was greeted with a warm, genuine smile and a sincere compliment of my outfit (which I hadn’t had much time to think about this morning). The girl in the window had sparkly eyes and a cheerful spirit that made me take a good hard look at myself.

It was like Jesus said, here is this girl in such a bad part of town, working at McDonalds, and she’s finding more joy in where I have her right now than you are. Here I had complained all morning about having to get up and go to work, drive in the fog, and not have time to do the things I felt like “need” to get done, and this girl definitely got up before me, drove into work before me, and is doing a job that pays less and requires more physical exertion (as far as standing on her feet and opening a cold window all day). I stared at my bag of food and what did it say? I’m lovin’ it.

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Jesus definitely has a sense of humor, because at that moment, it felt like that slogan was there just for me. For ungrateful, too-sleepy-to-function, tired-of-the-same-old-routine me. The truth is, no matter what I think I “need” to be doing, gratefulness for where Jesus has me right now and trust in His perfect plan has to come first. I have to be lovin’ it. I have to find joy in where He has me. I can’t let myself get so burnt out or tired or frustrated that I loose sight of the joy Jesus gives when we focus on Him.

I write all this to say that if you’re like me, and it’s easy for you to get distracted by life’s ups and downs and lose your focus on the Father, make it your first priority today. Instead of putting your to do list first or your frustrations first or your worries first, put Him first, and the rest will just fall into place. He’s a good, good Father.

I would also like to thank the girl at McDonalds who allowed God to speak to me through her smile this morning. I know there’s a slim chance that she’ll ever stumble across this blog, but just in case… I want her to know she had a huge impact on my life today. You never know what a smile can do for someone!

Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving 2015 came and went before we knew it, and although it was a whirlwind, it was truly a time to reflect on how blessed we are. I have always loved Thanksgiving more than almost any other holiday, and my family’s traditions make it extra special.

This year was our first married Thanksgiving, so we had lunch with his side of the family and dinner with mine. We consumed so much food in one day! It was marvelous. We’re thankful to both come from families full of amazing cooks. The creamed corn and mashed potatoes are always my favorites.

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In July of this year, the church that Grayson grew up in and we got married in caught fire and the sanctuary was quickly completely engulfed in flames. It was a terrible day that left many broken hearts and tear stained faces, but we have faith that God is going to (literally) bring beauty from the ashes. Grayson’s mom got us a very special ornament that the Ruritan Club in Bethlehem, NC is making this year. We will treasure this for years to come, and are so thankful to have a piece of such a special place hanging on our Christmas tree as a reminder of our beautiful Christmas wedding.

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Our car broke down on Thanksgiving day, while we were traveling from his parent’s house in Hickory, NC to my grandparent’s house in Banner Elk, NC. Needless to say, Jesus is constantly teaching me to #1 see the good in all situations and #2 not be so caught up in my “plan” that I can’t function when things change. We were lucky that it happened in a safe place, that we were close by enough that I could call my family to come get the groceries out of our car so they could get in the refrigerator, that I have a AAA Membership and we were able to have the car towed for free, and that we were still able to make it in time for Thanksgiving dinner with my family. I guess you could say we’re just adding adventures to our list!

On Friday morning, Grayson and I cooked breakfast together for my whole family, which was so much fun. Before my grandma died, she taught Grayson how to make her famous biscuits and gravy (a recipe that takes quite a while to master and is hard to write out on an index card). Watching him make her recipe just filled my heart with such overwhelming gratitude. I’m so thankful to have found a man who loves my family and appreciates traditions like I do.

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Another Thanksgiving tradition we have is that the weekend after Thanksgiving, we always go pick out our Christmas tree on my uncle’s tree farm in Avery County. Some years, it’s freezing or pouring snow, and some years it’s a pretty fall day with that crispness in the air that only fall can bring. This year, it was unusually warm with blue skies and it was so nice. I have taken the same picture of Grayson pulling our tree behind him holding the chainsaw every year for five whole years! It’s crazy to think that God has already given us the opportunity to make these traditions our own… it’s such a gift! My uncle, Bill, is such a special man. I love him so much, and I’m so thankful for any time we get to spend with him.

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My aunt, Tootsie, lives on a beautiful farm in Crossnore, NC and every year, we get a beautiful wreath from her for our front door. There’s nothing like the smell of a freshly made wreath, and knowing it’s been made with love makes it that much better.

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Leaving the mountains is always so bittersweet for me. There’s a piece of my heart that will always belong there, no matter where life takes me. Although I love coming home, I get homesick quite often for the quietness and peacefulness that comes with this view.

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Now, as we approach the Christmas season, I am excited for what Jesus has in store for us. This new season is going to be filled with a kind of joy that can only come from our Father, I just know it.