Saturday, November 30, 2013

it feels like home.

It feels like home. This cliche statement is really speaking to me right now. As of last Friday, Dustin & I are homeowners! We are so excited and thankful. When we got married, we rented our first home in Kentucky and then moved ten months later to another rental home in Illinois. We loved both of our rentals, but there is something about having your name on paper as an "owner" that gives you this feeling of being settled, and a "grown-up." This packing and moving transition has been a really positive time of learning and growing. I felt the urge to post about what God has been revealing to me through it all. 

A few days after signing our contract a month ago, Dustin & I started talking about packing, moving and how it was going to be a crazy next few weeks. Dustin brought up dreading the move (the physical aspect of it) and asked how I felt. I was kind of stunned that my honest feeling about the move was relief and excitement. For me, the physical act of moving isn't a big deal anymore. I counted it up while we were talking, and I have moved about 18 times in my life so far between Kentucky, Tennessee, and now Illinois. Growing up in a blended family will do that. This is not a dig at my parents but rather just the facts. I know God has and will continue to use all things for our good. I also wanted to really take time to look at my past and how it has shaped me.

Each move I can remember my mom being quick to unpack our boxes and get the house decorated and feeling like home. Every year in college she helped organize my dorm room. She wanted me to feel settled. However, thinking back to the last 8 years in particular has revealed a trend in my life: I rarely unpack-- in some ways physically and in a lot of ways mentally. I don't really allow myself to feel settled or connected. Embarrassing fact: Until we moved to this house, in the 15 months that Dustin and I have been married (and really since before college), I have lived out of my travel toiletries bag. Meaning, every morning and night when I brush my teeth, I grab my toothbrush from my travel bag and return it when I am finished, along with all my other necessities. It has become "normal" for me to be ready to go at any time. I think college especially ingrained this "habit" as I was going home every weekend. In our first rental home together, I left several boxes packed in a room and the walls were pretty bare. When we moved to our rental home in Illinois, I had a goal of making it feel a lot more homey than our previous home. I do feel like that goal was accomplished with the help of our moms!

Now as we are settling into our new home -- our first home -- I have a new goal: I want to unpack. Both physically and mentally. I want to allow myself to connect. To our home. To our community. To our church. To our new friends. To this season of life. I want to decorate each room of our home with things that make us happy and remind us of who we are and where we have been. I want to break down the walls that I have built up over 18 moves because I have been avoiding getting attached to something or someone only to pack up and leave a few months or years later. I don't know how long God will have us here at this new address. I don't know what is yet to come. But I do know this: God knows and I am done with living out of a packed travel bag. I am done with putting up walls. Because really, is that even living? I can tell you, it isn't. If we live our lives with walls up and our bags packed and ready to go, how are we truly enjoying and appreciating the gift of the present? A quote is on our back porch, one of my favorite parts of the house. I loved it when we saw the house for the first time and I am so glad the previous owners left it behind. Each day is a gift. I want to start living like it. 

Thank you for reading some words and thoughts that have been heavy on my heart and mind lately. I pray that they give hope to anyone who may be in a similar situation. If you haven't unpacked in your current season of life, please do so. God has used each move, each house, each town, each state, each season to bring me to here and now. I know He will do the same for you. He has provided for and never left me just as He promises in His Word, no matter how high I built my walls. Now, the only walls I want to think about are the ones in our home that need our personal touches and decorations on them. I am thankful for each move. For each season. For each lesson, especially this one that I am just now learning. I am so thankful for our new address and that it truly feels like home.

Have a blessed day, y'all!

Let's not forget it is a gift. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

thoughts on thankfulness & a call to action

Writing my 1000 gifts in this journal has been an amazing experience for me. I love taking time each morning to write my blessings down on paper. I am a lover of lists, and this one is by far my favorite. I can feel my attitude and outlook changing more and more each day. If you haven't started your own 1000 gifts list yet, I cannot encourage or recommend it enough. One Thousand Gifts, along with Love Does and several sermons at church, have shown me that gratitude needs to be so much more than an attitude-- it is must be an action. Yes, we should give thanks and even count our blessings but it can't stop there. A quote that I have heard several times lately is:

We are blessed to be a blessing.

What are we doing with the gifts we are given? How are we living out our thankfulness? How are we blessing others with our blessings? Ann Voskamp writes daily on her blog & a quote that has stuck with me from a recent post is:

"Thanksgiving that doesn't come from ThanksLIVING isn't thanksgiving-- dare we say it's thanksdead. It's thanks nothing."

I don't want dead thanks. I want to live my thanks. Everyday. This time of year especially, there are so many opportunities to live our thanks. Samaritan's Purse is launching their Operation Christmas Child campaign. Food banks and pantries are in need of groceries to extend to those who are hungry-- physically and spiritually. Churches and communities everywhere are preparing for ways to sponsor families during this holiday season. 

My encouragment to you is to use the talents and desires God gives you to serve others. As you know, food and nutrition are near and dear to my heart. My heart aches knowing there are people hungry in our community. More than just thinking about it, I want to do something. Our church collects weekly for the food pantry and also organizes volunteers for a Meals on Wheels type program. God placed it on my heart to dig deeper to find ways to serve these ministries. I can't wait to see what opportunities He provides. 

Maybe food isn't your thing. Maybe you're great with technology or great at leading or great at organizing or great at encouraging or maybe God has blessed you financially. I think I can honestly say if you are reading this blog on a computer or smart phone, you are blessed financially. Dustin & I are learning more and more that our money is not our own-- it is ultimately His. Thinking of our finances in these terms has drastically changed things for us. We want to be good stewards of all that God gives us. Whatever your talent, blessing, or passion is: use it to serve. Here are some ideas for putting your gratitude into action:
  • Write notes of encouragement to those you know are experiencing a difficult season.
  • Consider using your bonus to give to the local ministries in your area. 
  • Rather than writing a mile-long wish list for Christmas, try writing a longer list of ways you can contribute to your community. 
  • Even if you feel like money is tight-- trust me, we all know how that is-- you can always find ways to cut back on your spending. Give up that drive through coffee/sweet tea/Diet Coke. Mark the chips and extra treats (that aren't really healthy anyways) off your grocery list. Use the money you save to contribute to a cause that you are passionate about.
  • Donate your time by volunteering at a local soup kitchen or shelter. 
  • Go through your closet and donate those sweaters, coats, and mittens that aren't being worn.
My point is, we can talk about our gratitude, pray about our gratitude, & even list our gratitude-- but we have to do something. What gets you excited? What is your passion? What speaks to your heart? Use your blessings to be a blessing. I would love to hear your ideas or ways you put your gratitude into action. The New Living Translation of Hebrews 10:24 says it like this: "Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works." That is my goal here, friends. To motivate you to acts of love and good works. Just as I have been encouraged and motivated. 

Let's be thankful. 
Let's live our thankfulness. 
Let's encourage each other to do good. 

Have a blessed day and be a blessing! 

Friday, November 15, 2013

"one thousand gifts"

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope that you are staying cozy and warm as the days get cooler. My mother-in-law (seriously, let's make a new name for these mommas-- extra mom, bonus mom, second mom, mother-in-love, etc.-- because mother-in-law is much too detached) sent me this photo this week because I couldn't find a photo to use for this post. How cozy does her fireplace and coffee mug look!? I couldn't wait a minute longer to share another book in my Library. This book is one that I started and finished a couple of months ago, but I have mentioned it several times since and cannot stop thinking about it. With Thanksgiving coming up, now would be a great time to start it if your schedule allows. If it doesn't, add it to your list of must-reads ASAP! 

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp is absolutely incredible and has given me so much to think about when it comes to being thankful. I am fortunate that my parents raised me to be grateful-- my momma had me writing "thank you" notes as soon as I was old enough to scribble. My daddy made sure I used my manners and appreciated my things. While I have had many learning experiences and times that I have failed to be as thankful as I should be (always a work in progress), having that example and guidance growing up has definitely impacted my daily life in a positive way. Reading this book has added to the foundation they set. 

Ann's book outlines her process of taking the time to physically count and write down the gifts God gives as a way to give thanks. Everything from major life events to seemingly meaningless tasks. The happiest of times, and the darkest moments. By consciously thinking about every moment as a gift, your mindset changes. Research even shows that people who adopt an attitude of gratitude are happier, less stressed, and more energetic. Who doesn't want all of that!? 

More than the personal benefits of gratitude, I have been so thankful to give more glory to God. He so deserves it, does He not? He loves us so & everything He gives is love-- yes, even those difficult moments. One of my favorite quotes from the book was this: 

"Humbly let go. Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control… Let go of my own way, let go of my own fears… Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small and let God give what He chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper surprised 'thanks.'"

How often do we try to control our situations? I have confessed that I am a control-freak. We think all of our striving and doing will make things happen our way. Sometimes maybe it does, but when we simply let go, open our hands, and receive God's will for us we will realize He only gives love. Since starting my 1000 gifts list, my heart has grown to know so much more peace and so much more love. When we take the time to actively search for His gifts, we realize that they are all around us all the time. The dishes piled in the sink are evidence of a meal that was prepared and enjoyed. The leaves covering the yard are a display of the Creator's beauty. The good news about a job shows His provision. The moments of weakness and desperation are times when His grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect. 

Ann's beautiful, descriptive writing captured my heart in this book. I could taste the delicious baked goods she described. I could see the beautiful fields she ran through capturing photos of creation, counting them all on her list. I must admit-- some of her vocabulary was so advanced that I had to look them up, but the life-learner in me enjoyed the process. I loved how she constantly used to Scripture to show that giving thanks is essential for worship and our relationship with God. My book and Bible are covered in blue from all of the notes and underlining I did. I love it! 

I do hope you will check out this book soon. Even if you don't have time to read the book, consider writing down the blessings in your life in a special journal or even going through your Bible to see how often "thanks" is mentioned. Our lives and the Word are full of gifts and The Giver is so worthy of praise. 

Have a blessed day & give thanks! 

Thursday, November 07, 2013

7 on the 7th: warm, cozy comforts

Happy November Y'all! I love this month. Since reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, I am trying to keep thankfulness always at the forefront of my mind. However, I can't help but think about being grateful even more during this month. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, second only to Christmas. The combination of faith, family, friends, and food is just perfect to me. 

I also love the coolness of this time of year. I joke--but really I mean it--with Dustin that I will cancel out the air conditioning I use during the summer by not running the heat in the winter. As much as I love summer, my sensitivity to heat makes me enjoy cooler seasons a bit more. A couple of weeks ago at the little family-owned grocery store near us, the lady ringing up our purchases told us that we were in for a bad winter. She said the nut trees have been overflowing with nuts this year and the squirrels have been scurrying around even more collecting and storing them for the winter. Isn't it neat that nature can give us clues to what is coming? I just love that. Hopefully it won't be too bad!

For this month's 7 on the 7th I thought I would share some of my favorite warm, cozy comforts. Since the nights are getting longer and the air is getting cooler, I thought it was a perfect time for these favorites.

1. mug sweaters
I have seen mug sweaters all over Pinterest and Instagram for several months. I think they are the cutest.   Dustin's Nana started making them a couple of weeks ago, and even taught me how. I still have a ways to go, but I was so excited! Not only do they keep your tea or coffee or soup warmer, they protect your hands from getting too hot. I love the color they add to mugs as well! 

2. our wedding quilt
Dustin's mom, great aunt, and grandmother made a quilt for us when we got married. I was absolutely thrilled when they asked if I would like one. Of course this old soul would! I have loved having such a beautiful, sentimental piece of art that warms our feet and hearts. At first, I kept it on a quilt rack because I didn't want anything to happen to it. Lately though I have been curling up in it regularly. I want it to be used and enjoyed. It is so pretty on the rack, but I love it even more wrapped around my legs while I drink a cup of tea on the couch. One of my favorite parts of the quilt is a little patch on the back where Aunt Bobbie wrote that the quilt was made with love for Dustin and I--such a sweet gift that we will cherish forever. 

3. hot tea
I am a coffee girl through and through. When I was younger, I would stay with my Nana and have "little girl coffee"-- milk, sugar, and a little bit of coffee. As any true Southerner, I love tea as well. For most of my life, I thought tea was only supposed to be iced and syrupy sweet. I can't lie, the "House Wine of the South" is still one of my favorites. However, a few years ago on a mission trip in Northern Ireland, my love affair with hot tea began. Since then, I regularly enjoy hot tea of kinds-- chamomile, peppermint, earl grey, chai, and more. In addition to the cozy comfort hot tea provides, there are nutritional benefits as well. The antioxidants in tea can help fight a wide range of cancers, while also keeping you hydrated. The lower caffeine levels compared to a cup of java are a positive aspect as well. The tannins in tea can interfere with iron absorption so for those with anemia it would be best to limit your tea intake and avoid consuming hot tea with meals. Also, it is important to check the labels of the tea that you purchase-- there are many varieties of teas that are not pure tea leaves, but rather a blend of tea and artificial ingredients.  Rather than reaching for a spoonful of sugar, try a bit of local honey to sweeten your tea. You'll love it!

4. fireplaces
Who doesn't love a fireplace!? They scream warm, cozy comfort! This photo is the fireplace at my dad and Karen's house. Don't you love the festive mantle as well? In addition to the practicality of a fireplace, I love the look of them. Fireplaces give me a feeling of relaxation like no other! 

5. soup
Soup is food for the soul, just like the popular book title says. They warm you from the inside out. When the air gets cooler, I immediately start craving soups-- vegetable, potato, chili, chicken and rice-- I love pretty much all of them! Soups can easily become unhealthy with excess calories, fat, and sodium, but they don't have to be! I recently tried Bobbi's African Red Bean and Sweet Potato Soup and loved it! This soup is full of flavor and real ingredients. My philosophy when it comes to eating is that the foods and items without an ingredient list are the best, but when choosing ones that do have labels, go for the ones that have the shortest list with words you recognize and pronounce. This recipe fits right in with my philosophy!

6. cuddly puppies and husband
I am a "cuddler" by nature. Physical touch is definitely one of my love languages-- I really do have a blend of them. I am never more content than when my sweet puppies are in my lap and my husband is right beside me. Callie and Chloe, our adorable fur babies, are the sweetest. Mr. Curtsinger is pretty sweet as well! When my lap is full from two pups cuddling up, my heart overflows.

7. {Psalm 119:76}
May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.
More than mug sweaters, quilts, hot tea, fireplaces, soup, and cuddly puppies, God's unfailing and unending love is the ultimate comfort my heart desires. I am so thankful for His Word and the peace and life it gives. Like my favorite soup warms my belly, my relationship with Christ warms my heart. I want to seek Him first for comfort and contentment in all circumstances.

What warms your heart and soul? I would love to hear your favorite cozy, comforts!

Have a blessed, cozy day!