a year of firsts

Nov 27, 2013

Today is a huge milestone around here! Noah is officially one as of 12:13am! (Birth Story Part One & Part Two) I seriously cannot believe that it's been a year since I gave birth to our sweet little guy. There is no way I could effectively put into words all that he means to me or just how strongly my heart beats for him. It's amazing how quickly little ones change in a year. He went from completely helpless to being able to crawl around, do lots of things for himself, and babble up a storm. 

A little about Noah.....

He'd rather be naked. 
His vocabulary includes "mama", "dada" (meaning Michael), "daaaaaaa-daaaaaa" (not referring to Michael, but not sure what else!), "mouse", "out", his own version of "light", "hot", and "nana". 

He can sign "more", "finished/done", "out", "eat", and we think "dog". 

He knows what sound a dog makes and laughs when we do other animal noises, especially "moo" and "meow". 

He eats just about anything unless it's green. We have to hide meat until he's had some of everything else or that's all he'll eat.

His favorite show is "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse".

He is in love with my hair. He has to have it while nursing or falling asleep with me. 

His biggest smile ever is when Michael walks in the door from work. 

He's been on two big trips that required flying, one to Charlotte, NC and the other to Lincoln, Nebraska.

He's been to a Nebraska Huskers football game and got stopped at the door for not having a ticket....at eleven months (no joke!). 

He'd rather be naked.

He think it's funny when he sneezes. 

He cries when I put on glasses. 

He now asks for "broo...broo...." when he wants to nurse and pulls at my neckline. 

He loves being on Michael's shoulders.

He won't wear shoes. 

He bangs his head on the ground when I won't let him get in the fridge. 

He retreats to his pop-up tent for solitude when he has to poop. 

He's pooped in the bathtub. 

He'd rather be naked.

I was a little worried when I found out we were expecting a boy. I was sure I was destined to by a girl mama only. Boys were just annoying and weird. But then Noah came along and stole my heart, and now I can't imagine that I ever was worried. I love being his mama. And I'm excited to be his mama at two, seven, twelve, sixteen, and into adulthood. I'm so proud of him and am thankful to celebrate a whole year of our sweet boy.

Operation Smile

Nov 26, 2013

Not long ago, I was asked to speak about Operation Smile and one of the companies that supports this charity. I'd heard of Operation Smile, but had never taken the time to look into the services they actually provided. After heading to their website and learning more about it, I'm happy to share their mission with you.

Here are a few Q&As right from their website...

"What is a cleft lip and what is a cleft palate?
A cleft is an opening in the lip, the roof of the mouth or the soft tissue in the back of the mouth. A cleft lip may be accompanied by an opening in the bones of the upper jaw and/or the upper gum. A cleft palate occurs when the two sides of a palate do not join together, resulting in an opening in the roof of the mouth. A cleft lip and cleft palate can occur on one side or both sides. A child can suffer from a cleft lip, a cleft palate or both."

"Does a cleft lip or cleft palate cause problems for a child?
Ear disease and dental problems occur frequently, as do problems with proper speech development. Children who suffer from a cleft lip and/or cleft palate may have difficulty eating. To address these issues, a child and family may work with a team of specialists — a pediatrician, a plastic surgeon, dental specialists, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist), a speech-language pathologist and audiologist, a geneticist and a psychologist/social worker."

"How frequently do cleft lips and cleft palates occur?
Cleft lips and cleft palates occur in approximately 1 per 500-700 births, the ratio varying considerably across geographic areas or ethnic groupings. (Source: World Health Organization International Collaborative Research on Craniofacial Anomalies)"

According to their site, every three minutes a child is born with a cleft lip. Operation Smile steps in and offers an option, something many of these children have yet to been given. In their thirty years, they've sent over 5,000 medical volunteers from 80 countries into some of the darkest, most hidden places to perform corrective surgery and educate families on this condition.  Children that were once shunned because of their deformity are offered hope. Children whose deformity prevented normal living, eating, drinking, and smiling, now have the opportunity to eat without struggle and pain, and to smile without hiding their face. Interesting in learning more? Watch the video above, then visit their site at OperationSmile.org

A company that has partnered with Operation Smile is Campus Book Rentals. They've got a pretty cool program going on now called RentBack, a new initiative that allows students to rent the textbooks they own to other students... which is awesome because it makes them 2-4x more money compared to what they'd make through buyback options! It wasn't that long ago that I was in college and buying and selling back textbooks each semester was something I dreaded! With Campus Book Rentals, not only can you rent the books you need at a much lower cost, you can rent out your textbooks to other students and make money! Not only do they offer free shipping both ways, flexible renting periods, and the freedom to highlight, but they also donate to Operation Smile with each textbook they rent! Pretty cool, huh? Interested in how RentBack works? Watch this video!

Have you ever heard of Operation Smile? 

Boy Behind the Blog | Part III

Nov 21, 2013

Today I'm linking up with Mal Smiles for my third installment (her sixth!) of The Boy Behind the Blog, a post once a month where we ask our guys to take over the blog and answer the five questions of the month! I'm glad Michael is willing to participate! Let's see if we can get a little more out of him this month than the last...
1. Who is your favorite band/musician?
That's a tough one! Pink Floyd or the Allman Brothers depending on the mood I'm in.
 2. What was your first CD/tape?
My first CD was probably Little Feet, their album called "Down on the Farm". They're a band my dad used to listen to when I was little. They're not very well known, but they were big in Baltimore and Atlanta and had a regional following.
3. Who was your first concert?
The Newsboys on their 'Love, Liberty, Disco' Tour. I was twelve and it was in a blowup tent.
4. What is your favorite Thanksgiving food?
Stovetop Stuffing. 
5. Finish the sentence: I am thankful for...
...Kelsea, Noah, and a job that supports us and allows us to accomplish the plans we've dreamed up together. 

There you have it! Another testosterone-filled post from the guy who says it all with as few words as possible (and is really great at forgiving!). Thanks, honey! To see more of the boys behind the blogs, visit here!

The Thankful Project | my man

Nov 20, 2013

Today's prompt for The Thankful Project is "something about your significant other". 
Michael & I at the Nebraska Huskers game in Lincoln, NE this past weekend
I love being married to my best friend. Michael and I have been together since we were sixteen and married for two and a half. In our almost nine years together, he's taught me a lot. I've seen all sides of him and we've been through quite a bit in our relationship. 

He's good at a lot of things, and I mean a lot, but if I had to choose one characteristic of his to celebrate, it would be his ability to forgive, and forgive quickly. This is something I struggle with doing, especially if I am very hurt. I tend to hold on to things and let them fester. Michael, on the other hand, might need a little bit of time to get his frustrations simmered down, but he not only forgives, but is also able to let go. 

I'm usually the one who is mad about it a month later when a similar situation creeps up, or a sensitive topic is breached. I dig down deep and yank that hurt back up, and usually throw it at him! He's the complete opposite. Each offense is its own. He's forgiven the past offense and doesn't lump it into a new problem. I'd like to think he's rubbed off on me, or at least opened my eyes to my own struggles in this area. Isn't that what marriage is for? Sanctification...never a clearer picture since the cross. I'm thankful for him (and that there aren't two of me in an argument!). 

What do you love about your spouse or significant other? 

Cara Box Reveal!

Nov 18, 2013

This past August was my first time joining in on the Cara Box Exchange put on by Kaitlyn from Wifessionals. I enjoyed it so much that I was excited to sign up when September's exchange rolled around! I love getting to know people and putting thought into their gifts, and I mean, come on...who doesn't love getting gifts in the mail? 

This month, I was thrilled to be paired with Kaitlyn herself from Wifessionals (the mastermind behind this exchange!) to send a gift to and Kenzie from The Ashcraft Bunch to receive one! Both ladies have blogs I read on a regular basis and I loved the opportunity to get to know them a little bit more!  Also, Kaitlyn changed the time frame from one month to three, and boy did I need it! It was nice getting to take my time and put together a box that didn't feel rushed or thrown together. 

I was thrilled to get my box from Kenzie a few weeks ago. As soon as I opened my box up and saw what she had sent, I could tell she really put a lot of thought into it. Here are the goods...

one | beautiful lead & nickel-free earrings  two | gold bar necklace with "grace"  three | essie polish in "Mink Muffs"  four | the cutest pink bag of coffee I've ever seen  five | A beautiful khaki scarf    six | two scentsy "Pumpkin Roll" bars for my burner - smells like heaven! 

A huge thanks to Kenzie for my wonderful box! It gave me everything I needed to jump right into cold weather mode! I put my wax in the burner first thing and I'm already through one entire bar. The house smells like I've been baking! And I'm loving the jewelry. I've been transitioning from silver to gold recently and love the way gold looks with my skin tone and hair. I took advantage of the awesome polish color from Essie and painted my toenails for the first time in a few months! I also love scarves and this is a cute addition to my collection.

Are you visiting from the exchange link-up? If so, what was one of your favorite items from you Cara Box? If you haven't signed up for the Exchange and want to give it a shot, the next sign up period is December 2-4! For more information on how it works, Kaitlyn explains it all here!

Today, I'm also over at Simple Moments Stick, talking about what I'm thankful for and giving away a necklace as part of a group giveaway! Head on over to check out the other goods and enter!

The Thankful Project | a blessing

Nov 14, 2013

Lunch time with DocMcStuffins!
Today's prompt for The Thankful Project is "a blessing".

Oh my, this post could get long if I listed all of my blessings. I could talk all day about the blessing of a home that shelters us from the cold, vehicles, a job that provides, a supportive family, an education, our good health. And then there are more specific ones...the blessings of trials, the encouragement of a friend, the love of a spouse, the family you were born into, the people God brings into your life. Personally, one of the biggest blessings in my life is being able to stay at home with Noah. I've dreamed of staying home with my children and educating them myself for a long time, and I'm thankful daily that that is what I get to do. 

I've been blessed with all of those and more from a God whose love compels Him to give me even my next breath, when I really don't even deserve that. I've wrested with defining the term "blessings" because really, anything God sees fit to give us, whether a trial or a gift, is a blessing. If we have hard circumstances, is God not blessing us? If we're going through a trial, is God withholding grace?

 I have a hard time believing that. I don't think God hands out blessings as rewards in return for our good behavior. I think that He loves us, wants to give us good things, and is saddened when our decisions have natural consequences.  I also think that when we shift the focus of life from ourselves and our happiness to the true purpose of lives -giving glory to Him- we begin to view blessings in a completely different light. They're not just the comforts of a first-world country. They're not just things and people and circumstances. We are blessed, regardless of circumstances, because of our ability to have a relationship with God. This life and its temporal blessings, determined I suppose by your culture, society, etc, are temporary. If we have, or have not, we're blessed regardless.

The Thankful Project | an opportunity

Nov 12, 2013

Today's prompt for The Thankful Project is "an opportunity". 

I was a little stumped by today's prompt! I've had so many amazing opportunities, many of them already talked about on the blog. But then I got to thinking about this little blog, and how even though it sounds silly to call it an opportunity, that's exactly what it has been. 

In college, it was an opportunity to express myself during a time I needed it the most. I was busy, somewhat depressed, confused, and my creativity was stifled. I was able to write freely about what God had been doing around me and what was going on in my life at the time. I was seeing God for who He was and I was overwhelmed by the concept of Grace. Thus, "Overwhelmed by Grace", a title I had up until about two months ago.

After college, it morphed into an outlet I'd escape to whenever I needed a place to get what was inside on the outside, in words. I documented some wedding plans, I talked about our trip to Jamaica, I talked about struggles I was having, and it was an opportunity to get real with whoever was reading, but mostly to get honest with myself. 

Once I got married, the blog was an opportunity to write about life as a newlywed. Writing about things that were going on with us, recipes I was trying (and failing at!), and an avenue for our baby announcements! I was working a job I was burnt out in, navigating married waters, and the blog was my place to hash it all out.

Now, at an even more different place in life than in the past, this blog is an opportunity for me to express myself. I share what's on my heart, what inspires me, what I think is beautiful, what I struggle with, general life news, the latest thing we've done as a family, cute pictures of Noah's squishy butt (kidding, but it is squishy and cute!), and fun, new recipes (that I'm slowly getting better at cooking!).

Out of all of the opportunities this blog has afforded, though, the one I'm most thankful for is the opportunity to be connected with others. Not only am I able to share with people already in my life, but I've been able to meet so many other bloggers and interact with many of you every week. I love the encouragement I receive from comments and emails and the inspiration I receive from reading the words that others have chosen to translate from their hearts to their blogs.

So thanks to all of you who come here, read what I have to say, and are kind enough to give feedback in the form of sweet, encouraging, and sometimes challenging words. I'm thankful for the opportunity this blog has given me to allow our paths to cross.

The Thankful Project | a memory

Nov 11, 2013

Today, I'm joining The Thankful Project again to talk about a memory. Today's actual prompt is something I've learned, but I'm a few days off and this post was on my heart!
A memory I've been recalling lately, especially as we near Noah's first birthday, is the day we brought him home from the hospital. Our stay there had been as relaxing as a hospital stay could be, and to my enjoyment, we pretty much were left to ourselves. We did have nurses come in periodically and check on us and Noah during our stay, but we didn't feel bothered or micromanaged. 

We knew that we were able to go home that morning, but the time had crept up on me. I was expecting a very rigid release schedule, with nurses asking tons of questions, having me fill out a stack of paperwork, and then, I don't know, maybe they'd all stand there and watch us leave? I'd never done any of this before and I was pleasantly surprised, and a little thrown off, at how easy the process was. So much so, that I really didn't have any of my things, or Noah's, ready to go when we got the go ahead.

I did have a rough moment earlier that morning, before the easy release, in which some confusing information from two different nurses left me in a ridiculous discharge class by myself, a hormonal, tearful mess. My morning nurse had told me I couldn't bring Noah with me to the class and that our parents couldn't keep him in the room because they didn't have designated wristbands. Michael was at his parents' hotel down the street getting an hour nap so he could drive us home, so I was forced to walk Noah down to the nursery, in tears the entire way from anger and physical pain, and leave him there while I walked all the way back to the class I had to take. Long story short, it turned out that the nurse was wrong and Noah could have come with me to the class. Instead, I had to leave him in the nursery, something we hadn't done the entire time we were there, and walk back to a class full of parents holding their babies. Michael wasn't there, I was still in a lot of pain, and I was livid. Once I finally walked to the nursery again and wheeled Noah back to our room, I had a little emotional breakdown.

At that point, it was still early, but I just wanted to get out of the hospital. I laid back in bed, nursed Noah, talked and cried good tears with our parents, and then we were told we could go ahead and get ready to go. I signed a sheet of paper, they did one last assessment of Noah and me, and I never saw the nurse again. I guess I was waiting for someone to come back in and walk us out, but no one ever did. We gathered up all of our things, got Noah dressed in warm clothes, brought in the car seat, and made sure he was strapped in well. Before we left, Michael's dad prayed over us and for Noah, and I think it was then that I finally realized what parenthood was going to mean for our lives.

 We walked out the door, found our way to the parking garage, and I stayed with Noah while Michael went to get the car. Michael's mom stayed with me and as we were standing and waiting with twenty other people, I remember thinking that I just wanted to go back up into that room. It wasn't the room I wanted, really, but the security, the protection, the last place where he was inside me and safe from the world. Now he was exposed, and I felt exposed, too, and a little nervous. 

We loaded into the car, said our goodbyes to Michael's parents, and started for home. I remember telling Michael, "Can you believe this? He's actually here, he's coming home with us, I can't believe it". It was an exhilarating feeling. Reality set in, and the reality was beautiful and scary and wonderful all at the same time. And the reality now is somewhat the same. Motherhood is a scary, beautiful, wonderful journey, and I'm thankful that I get to experience that with Noah.

If we were having coffee...

Nov 9, 2013

....that it's been a long week, and I'm thankful that it's finally Saturday so I can have a long weekend with my guys.

....that I wish Noah would just sleep already, because I need just a little bit of unbroken shut-eye. 

....that for the first time in what has felt like a long, long time, I feel hope. 

....that I can't believe Noah will be one in a few weeks, and that I've been crying when I think about it lately. 

....that living on a budget is hard, because I've had too much fun making a Christmas wish list! 

....that it's been hard living in limbo, and that sometimes I wish we could move already so I could move on with plans.

....that I feel my heart changing as I'm processing and working through challenges and relationships.
....that spending fifteen minutes before bed picking up really helps keep my stress level down the next day.

....that I'd love to start decorating for Christmas, but Michael is adamant about his "no Christmas until after Thanksgiving" policy. 
....that I've decided to blog for ME again.

The Thankful Project | The Job

Nov 7, 2013

So, I've realized that all this week while I've supposed to have been writing about things I'm thankful for, I actually have written all about how something good was made out of something awful! That's something to be thankful for alright, but not every situation in my life has been lessons learned from something terrible. The stories about my struggles in Jamaica, my bittersweet piano skills, and how I ended up dissecting a frog three times may not exactly brighten your day!

So instead of telling you about every dumb retail/food service job I had from 15 to 21, and how I'm thankful I experienced them because they made me disciplined and also made me work even harder at getting my degree so I didn't get stuck in a job that I hated......I'm going to talk about Michael's job.

Michael is a Mechanical Engineer and graduated from Virginia Tech. Yep, I married an engineer. You know what that means. That means I married to someone who takes apart our lawn mower engine just for kicks in his free time. That means I'm married to Mr. Logic. That means that I can't just rig something up. Instead it's got to be taken apart, analyzed, and fixed using some engineering skills of which I have none. Seriously, though, I think Michael is one of the smartest people I know. Either that, or he's really good at making stuff up. I think it might be a mix of both! 
A little engineer humor to enlighten you...
To the optimist, the glass is half full.
To the pessimist, the glass is half empty.
To the engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be. 
A few months before he was set to graduate, M had been applying to different positions and had a few phone interviews. He either wasn't interested or he didn't hear back. VT was putting on an engineering job fair and Michael decided to go. He walked around, stopped by a few tables, skipped out on the ones with long lines, and just happened to walk by a specific table. The man he met there was the Engineering Manager who would be Michael's boss if he was offered the position. Michael talked with him for a few minutes and found out that the position was located right outside of the town where Michael's late grandfather's family originated. The man was really excited about talking with Michael again and he left with a scheduled official interview.

Michael had no trouble in the interview and the entire panel was excited about him. It wasn't very long afterwards that he was asked to visit the job's location and have one final interview. We knew the job was pretty much a given at this point, but some formalities needed to be taken care of. He and I went down, got a hotel, and spent the weekend looking for places to live. He was offered the job and that May, after graduation and a month before our wedding, we packed up all of our stuff and set out for our new house in our new town. 

There's a whole lot more to the story than that, but the part I'm most thankful for is that God provided a job for Michael. Really...for us. This job, and Michael's hard work, has allowed us to be able to choose me staying at home with our kids, and eventually homeschool them. I realize that not everyone who wants that is afforded the opportunity. I'm so incredibly thankful that God worked in the details. The insurance is good, the pay provides, Michael enjoys what he is doing, and he has some pretty great opportunities for the future with this company. It may not always be what God has in mind for us, and we don't take it for granted at all, but I'm thankful for how it, and Michael, has provided for us.

The Thankful Project | That Time I Took Biology....three times.

Nov 6, 2013

Today's Thankful Project prompt is 'a failure'. I'm just a little bit familiar with that word. But because I've written about it before, I submit to you an older post that should have been entitled...."That time I took Biology 101.....three times". 

Here are a few more things I'm thankful for...
 (from left to right, each row)
one | Noah and I have been enjoying some time outside on warmer days. I'm trying to implement more sensory activities and this particular day we explored all the different kinds of leaves in our yard. two | Ladybugs are back! They're not as bad as they were when I was little, but I have had to flick a few back outside. three | Michael has been riding his bike more often and Noah and I have been tagging along and waiting at the park after we drop him off. A blanket, a breeze, an open field, and my baby= perfect day. four | The view from our front door. Beautiful colors. five | The beautiful blue sky while we were at the pumpkin patch. six | Coffee date with my two favorite and quite handsome guys. I love them. seven | Another day exploring outside while I was tearing out ugly plants in the flower bed that had been killed by the first cold night. eight | This boy loves his bath time!

What are you thankful for?

Tradition & Treats | Sponsor Highlight

Nov 5, 2013

Lately I've been pinning up a storm, mostly late at night when I'm up nursing Noah or just can't sleep. I adore the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and have all kinds of recipes and decorating ideas waiting and ready for when I get enough motivation and time to complete them! If Michael would let me decorate now, I'd be all over it! I'm super sentimental around this time of year and I love the idea of sharing recipes with friends and loved ones.

That sentimentality got me thinking about some of my first sponsors ever last month, and how fun it would be to talk traditions and treats. Each of these ladies and I partnered together last month to help each others' blogs grow and I'm so grateful to know each one of them. I asked them to talk a little bit about their own Thanksgiving traditions and share a recipe they'd love to try during the holidays. Without further ado, meet some of my lovely sponsors!

Bloglovin' | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Pumpkin Pie Recipe
Bloglovin' | Facebook | Twitter | Doughnut Recipe

Bloglovin' | Instagram | Pinterest | French Toast Bake Recipe

Bloglovin' | Instagram | Twitter | Trifle Recipe

Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram | Stuffing Recipe

Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram | Vegan Sourdough Stuffing Recipe
Don't those recipes look amazing? A huge thanks to you all for sharing your favorite memories and recipes. Go check out and follow these lovely ladies' blogs! Also, be sure to check out my other post linking up with The Thankful Project!

I'm linking up with Jessica and Ashley today for Taste of Tuesday! 

The Thankful Project | Piano

Today's Thankful Project prompt: A talent you have. 

Whenever I'm asked about my talents, piano comes to mind. I started taking lessons when I was eight years old with a professional music academy a few towns away. My mom said that I was always singing when I was younger and it was clear that I had an early love for music. If you ask my husband, he'll tell you that is still true!

My first teacher was Sonya. I remember lesson after lesson in her basement studio, and I remember even more the knot in my stomach before each lesson if I hadn't practiced well or wasn't prepared. I was classically trained and my teachers were hard core. I was supposed to practice at least 45 minutes a day, and that was when I first started taking lessons at eight. The requirement got progressively longer each year! They were training me for a profession in music, not just to play for enjoyment. I remember days where I'd dread practice time. We were home-schooled and my mom scheduled it into our school day curriculum. I would do everything I could to avoid practice time, purposely create distractions during it, and love when I could convince my mom to let me skip today's practice if I could double up tomorrow. 

I can't count the number of recitals I've played in. Before each one I'd be a nervous wreck and always compare myself to the other students...more serious than I am, more dedicated that I am, more talented. When it was my turn, I would pray the entire way down to the stage that I wouldn't trip and fall on my face in front of a hundred or more people. I would walk to the piano, turn to face the audience hands at my side, shoot a glance at my teacher, and bow before taking a seat at the bench. You never just sat down and played. You always adjusted the bench, either forward or back or up or down. We were required to play by memorization and never had music with us on stage. My biggest fear was that I would lose track of where I was in a song and not be able to recover if I messed up or missed a few measures.

Once my skill level improved, I was able to widen my horizons. I began playing in church for special music and offering time and grew more comfortable with performing. There are a few things I never worked hard enough to get down pat, and sight-reading is one of them. I can read music, obviously, but I cannot just open a piece I've never seen before and play it through. It takes just as much work for me to learn a piece as it did when I was a teenager. It was around sixteen that I decided I was done with training this way. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, I was burnt out and lazy, and finally grasped on to the little bit of freedom I felt to make the decision. 

During my time off, I realized I wanted to go back. I had decided I would be a music teacher and knew I needed guidance in my last year of high school to be able to be accepted to a school of music. Sonya, my first teacher, was booked, so I began lessons with a teacher who had just recently moved from New Mexico. I enjoyed my lessons with her and we prepared my audition pieces until the month before my first semester of college. I had decided on Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee and after making a trip down with my mom to audition, I was accepted. It was so exciting to get that acceptance letter in the mail. 

Looking back on my time at Lee, I realize now that I hadn't made as much progress as I should have made, and that my ability to pass an audition really didn't correctly quantify where I was skill-wise. I was taking collegiate lessons, learning advanced music theory under brilliant professors, surrounding myself with talented peers, but I wasn't making progress with my piano skills. It was discouraging. One, because I was still reverting back to my old habits of putting off practice and being lazy when I did make it to the practice room. And two, because I felt stuck in that rut. I struggled with wondering if it all boils down to the work you put in, or if some of it is just purely God-given talent.

It was a really hard first year of college. I suffered from depression, didn't reach out to anyone, stayed holed up in my room, was not thriving in my classes and lessons, and dealt with feelings of failure. Looking back, I also lacked maturity to be able to pull myself out of that. I didn't have the same passion I had once had for music, and after giving a third semester a try when I transferred to Liberty, I decided that while I wasn't good enough or committed enough to play professionally, I also didn't want to be a music teacher. It was a hard transition to make, formally changing my degree. Music had been a part of what felt like my entire life, and I had to work through feelings of disappointing not only myself, but others as well. 

Since then, my musical ability has changed and morphed into something different. I've veered from having to focus on classical and have taught myself improvisation and some worship style playing. I've found that I really enjoy playing in church when the opportunity presents itself, but my technical and theory limits hinder me even in that arena. I still break out my old music books and either play old songs or try to learn new ones. My sight-reading hasn't gotten much better, and I've forgotten the names of songs and composers I used to play. It's bittersweet. I miss the music culture...the conversations, the lifestyle, the beauty, the respect. It's hard to think about the regrets I have...the laziness, the depression, the feelings.

But there's also a sweetness in being able to look back on the sequences of my life so far and see where  I am now as a result of those decisions. I'm able to clearly see the grace of God, that even in what feels like failure, he was able to work and bring about beautiful things. I also am able to see how much of who I am is different because music was and is such a huge part of my life. I learned discipline (even amidst dodging practice times!) and met many diverse people through the academy. Music touches a place in my heart where not many other people or things can go. Understanding music makes me feel a part of something beautiful. And even though my part in that something beautiful might not be what I had once hoped it would be, I'm thankful that music and piano has added such a richness to my life. I've worshiped with my fingers, I've felt invigorated when my hands have touched the keys, I've had musical victories, and I'm thankful that the gift of music has been a blessing in my life.

The Thankful Project | Jamaica

Nov 4, 2013

Today is day 4 of The Thankful Project. Find out more about it and link up here! Today's prompt: An Experience.

A little over three years ago, I learned about a Deaf school in Jamaica through a friend who visited during a missions trip with her church. My dad is deaf and the Deaf culture has always had a place in my heart. When I heard about the school, I knew I wanted to learn more about it. 

Both traveling and serving had been on my heart for awhile, I had just graduated college, Michael was getting close to graduating, and I knew that although we weren't engaged yet, our future together was going to start sooner than later. I knew God was putting this school on my heart for a reason and I contacted the school to find out what they needed. I was praying all along about going and helping out and it turns out that they needed some help with teaching. After contacting the school several times and working out the details, two friends who also wanted to go and I spent a couple of months trying to raise funds and plan out our trip. God really was in those details. We threw a concert at our church and raised a huge percentage of the funds we needed. It still wasn't enough, but slowly the last little bit trickled in as people were convicted to give.

We were set to leave the day after New Years Day. A few weeks before, Michael had proposed, and it was even harder to leave, knowing that we had such beautiful plans ahead of us. But I knew that for whatever reason, God had opened these doors for Jamaica and I followed. Our original plan was to stay for one month. Michael, my mom, my sister, & my friends' sister were all there to see us off. Walking onto that plane was the first time it hit me that I would actually not see anyone again, or my home country, for a whole month. 
Left: The three of us with the school's headmaster | Right: The students standing for prayer during devotions
Once we got to Jamaica, the school's headmaster picked us up from the airport and took us up the mountain to the school. There were so many things that were different...the traffic, the smells, the landscape, the people, the cultural norms, the driving style, the houses, the stores. We arrived, met the precious students, and were shown to our rooms. The school is a boarding school, so students live there whenever school is in session. There were two twin beds in a guest room right next to an entire room of bunk beds for the female students. I remember us deciding we'd take turns sharing a twin bed than be split up. 

We were out of our comfort zones as soon as we stepped foot out of the airport, but it was such an opportunity to trust God. The real kind of trust, the kind where you realized that He really was the only one in control at the moment, because we were so clearly out of control of our surroundings and circumstances in a new country.

We fell in love with the students. Many of them had heart-breaking stories. We met with teachers, learned their stories one by one, and spent our days working with the students during their school day. After school, we spent time playing with the kids and helping the older ones work on their spelling for an upcoming Deaf spelling bee. We had so much fun meeting every one of them, learning their names and name signs, trying to talk with twenty of them at once, and listening to their silly stories and learning the games they had made up. At night after bath time and getting into their pjs, the students would gather in a main room and watch cartoons for the evening before bed. Those couple of hours we spent with them were probably my favorite. All the kids in one room, playing games and laughing at Looney Tunes was so much fun to be a part of.
A couple of the milder roads and neighborhoods we traveled through.
It wasn't an easy trip and we encountered several struggles along the way. After a few days, the school began having trouble with their water supply. We went with the headmaster to petition the city water company, but they weren't helpful and dismissed us. The house down the road from the school with old pipes was getting plenty of water, but the school was getting zero water, even though they had just paid for new water pipes from the city. I was mad. I wanted justice. I wanted to bang on the lady's desk and demand to talk to a superior, but I was quickly humbled as I was reminded that it didn't work that way there. I couldn't just pull out my "wanna-be lawyer-talk" and ramble on about how they could be held responsible for the malnourishment of the children! The school ended up having to pay for a huge water truck to bring water up the mountain and fill up their tanks. We had limited showers because we were trying to save as much for drinking and cooking as we could.

One of my friends and I ended up getting sick, I lost my voice from coughing, I had a bacterial infection, and of all the times to get my period, I got it then. Think minimal showers and you get the picture. I remember laying in bed at night and just praying through tears and coughing, asking God what He was trying to do with us, and what it was that He wanted to teach us. We loved the students and our time with them, but ended up having to cut our visit short at two weeks because we weren't getting any better. It was one of the hardest decisions to make, but we knew it was for the best.

There were so many things about the trip that I wish I could write about. It would take me days. There were so many amazing experiences, and lessons learned, and perspectives gleaned. There are things even now that I'm learning by looking back on that trip and seeing what God was doing in our lives. I'm really torn on how I feel about short term missions, but I do know that the trip served a purpose. I struggled with the purpose of it for awhile...why we were called there, why we got sick, why there is poverty, why there is heart-break. 

I'm thankful for the trip, grateful for the joy, regardless of the struggles. We were able to leave the rest of our money for the last two weeks with the school and they shared with us that the money was a huge blessing. They were able to buy food for weeks with the money and take care of some of the school's needs. We were able to be home and get medical attention. We were able to learn about each other as friends, learn about ourselves as followers of Christ, and learn about the ways God can use what He calls you to do.

First Birthday Scheming

Nov 1, 2013

Wasn't it just last November? Wasn't Noah just a tiny little eight pound baby? When did he grow into an almost-toddler? In officially 33 days our baby will be ONE! Someone just slap me then give me a drink! Alright, it's not as dramatic as that. I'm actually loving every single stage we're going through. He's my first born and in a lot of ways, I'm growing with him, right through every milestone.

I've been thinking about what to do for his birthday. I want to throw him a party, and make it super cute and fun, and have awesome decorations. But part of me realizes how much work that is! It looks like we'll be home in Virginia due to a trip Michael needs to take that puts us close, so I'm excited that we'll get to have his party there with family and friends. And that also means I can call upon Noah's Nana and Gma and Auntie Meg for help! 

I've got some fun ideas in mind, thanks to Pinterest. I'm still not sure exactly what theme I want to go with, but here are a few that have caught my eye and have me excited.....
Bowtie Theme [via]
Woodland Animals [via]
Dapper Bowties [via]
Vintage Circus [via]
Vintage Farm [via]
Aren't those the cutest? I'm really torn, and want to do all of them! I guess a common theme among all of them is vintage, so it's obvious what I'm drawn to. In reality, I feel like first birthdays are really for the grown-ups. Okay, okay....it's really for me. Noah won't remember at all and he could care less what theme I choose. He'll have a good time of course, but he'd have a good time even if there weren't handmade decor scattered around the house. 

Before I make what I'm excited to do sound super pointless, I will say that it feeds my creativity, I love getting people together,  I'll love having pictures of the day, and family and friends will enjoy it, too. Who doesn't love a good party? Alright, I feel a little better already. I'm excited to celebrate our sweet boy and make every birthday a special one. 

Do you adore party planning? Or would you rather leave it to the pros?

Today, I'm linking up with the Five on Friday gals - Natasha, Darci, April, and Christina!
Also, don't miss my separate post today joining Kenzie at 
Chasing Happy for The Thankful Project! Talking about my sister, today! 

The Thankful Project | sisters

Starting today, I'll be participating in The Thankful Project, a link-up created by Kenzie from Chasing Happy that focuses on intentional gratitude and thankfulness. I've had a rough year emotionally, and I need this. I need to focus on the blessings of my life and get a foothold on my perspective. I'm so excited to get creative with the prompts she gives and share more about myself and my life, too! These won't be my only posts this month, as I've got other posts in mind and might have some days where I publish more than one post! I've been inspired lately, so I think November will be an enjoyable month to write!

Today's prompt? A person. And the first person that came to mind was my sister. 
The relationship I have with my sister Megan is one of my most cherished. We're a month over two years apart. Growing up, we argued just as much as we got along. There was that time she stabbed me in the arm with a pencil and the time I made her sleep in her own room while I had a sleepover with our friends (I still feel guilty for that one, to the point of tears. All she has to do is say, "Remember that one night..." and I start crying. She still knows my sore spots).

The sister relationship is unlike any other you might have. Ours is, anyways. You know each other arguably better than most people in your life, you've seen each other at your ugliest and worst, you've shared a childhood, you can look at each other and instantly know what the other is thinking, and she's the one you want to call when your husband has made you cry. She's also the one you call to vent to when you have a five minute break at work, she's the one who is hard to call sometimes because you're reminded of how much you miss her and home, and she's the one who you've forgiven long before she does anything needing it.

As we've grown up and entered adulthood, our relationship has changed a little. We've taken different paths, we've got our own families now, and even though it's hard to think about sometimes, we've slowly become different people than we were four, five, or six years ago. The thing I love about my sister is that even through all that change, and even through ups and downs and feeling distant and feeling close, she's still my sister. She's still the one who's got my back, and she'll always be the one who feels a little bit like home.

I'm so thankful that God chose to give us to each other. I wouldn't be who I am today without the opportunity of growing up alongside her. She's challenged me, encouraged me, pissed me off, taught me what it looks like to give, and been utterly blunt when I'm being ridiculous. I love that no matter the people that come or go in our lives, we'll always have each other as sisters and best friends.