July 31, 2014

gratitude | v. 04

gratitude-4

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

  • Seth starts preschool in less than two weeks. Pinch me. I never thought I'd be anxious for the day he'd start school, but this kid needs it! Obviously, he's a little stir crazy. And marker happy.
  • A closet full of brand new school clothes.
  • On that note, I'm thankful I survived our first school shopping expedition. There were moments I didn't think I would, honestly.
  • Teaching my dad how to hunt for geocaches.
  • I have our beach pictures edited and ready to share. It took a long time to go through them all! Beach photography is challenging but I'm happy with what I got. I'll share the best ones first thing next week!
  • Salt water taffy on the pier.
  • We came home from the sticky beach to a hometown experiencing a fall weather preview. You all know how I feel about summer. I'll take 59 degree mornings and 84 degree afternoons with no humidity all year long, thank you very much.
  • I'm happy my kids got to experience two vacations this year. We rarely leave town, and I've been anxious about the fact we needed to escape and our kids needed to see more of the world. God really blessed us with opportunities for exploration this summer!
  • Just found out Starbucks is opening a new store in the community where we spend most of our free time. Yay for not traveling to the other end of town for lattes!
  • A pile of clean clothes to sort and put away.

July 29, 2014

we're back!

OK... so, our family has officially travelled more in the last month than all of the last three years. Crazy, huh? I'd love to be the sort of family that visits a lot of places, but I have to admit that vacationing with kids is far more exhausting than relaxing. Eric and I have talked about this a lot over the last few months, though, and we agree that we want to do more traveling when the kids get older.

Eric's family rarely took trips outside the state of Alabama when he was a kid. My family, on the other hand, vacationed every year and usually went out of state. We'd alternate going to the beach one year and the mountains the next, but we never left the Southeast. I've travelled a little into the Midwest and West as an adult (and once, when I was thirteen, I took a school trip to Washington, D.C. and New York City). We want to take our kids all over the U.S. and maybe even visit the other side of "The Pond" one day!

I'm going to spend the next few days going through the pictures I took on the beach. I haven't put all of them on my computer yet, but here is one from our first night in Panama City Beach:

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I was amazed how much little Hawk took to the beach. The surf was rough the whole time we were there and the red warning flags were raised most of the weekend. He was totally unafraid! Last time we went to Panama City, Seth was only a little bit younger than Hawk is now, and he was terrified of the water. Seth has a much more anxious personality, anyway, and this just illustrated the differences between our sons further.

Hawk could not stay away from the water's edge, even after he took a few face-first tumbles into the waves. He just kept getting back up and heading right back into it! His curiosity and courage actually frighten me... I'm sure he'll be the kid that keeps us going back and forth to the emergency room one day (hopefully not soon).

The trip to the beach was virtually spontaneous, as far as we go. We rarely do anything so spur of the moment! Eric, especially, is very much a planner and likes to live with an agenda that's decided pretty far in advance. We only decided last week that we were going to take this trip, and the plan was to travel with my parents. They backed out of the trip at the last minute, but Eric and I decided to hit the road anyway.

My aunt has a house two blocks from the beach, and we met her and my cousins there. It was a fun weekend, if not relaxing! The weather was great and it was nice to be with family that I hadn't seen in a long time. They got to meet my kids and we had a good time catching up with each other.

As for today, I've got mountains of laundry and errands. It may take some time to get back to normal! I'm so glad we were able to get away for a little while, but it's tough to get back into a regular routine. I hope to have some more pictures to share later this week.

How about you: what's the furthest you've ever travelled from home?

July 24, 2014

#BRB

Hello, friends! I just wanted to drop in this morning and let you know I'm still ticking along. I'm dying to get back to normalcy. I have so many ideas running around in my head that I'd just love to write about, but life happens and I just can't do it right now! This is the first chance I've had in four days to even crack my computer open... it's been crazy.

My daddy had surgery to repair bones in his ear Tuesday morning. I'm happy to report the surgery went very well and he's on the road to being able to hear from that ear for the first time in a few years! We traveled to see a specialist in Huntsville (two hours north) for his procedure and my parents ultimately decided to stay one more day to get rested up before heading home. Hotels are like amusement parks to small children, so I didn't mind at all.

We got home yesterday afternoon and now I'm in full-on prep mode for our beach trip. I spent a month planning our Chattanooga vacation but this trip to Panama City Beach was a quick decision made when the opportunity presented itself and I haven't even sorted out a budget for the trip yet. I'll spend all day today tying up loose ends and throwing together our travel bags.

That said... I had plans to spend yesterday preparing a few posts to keep ya'll entertained over the next week, but it didn't happen since we spent an extra day in Huntsville. Sorry, not sorry. So... give me grace for the next week, eh? And I promise I'll be right back.

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Keep up with me on Twitter and Instagram while I'm gone. I'll have something nice for you all when I get back!

July 21, 2014

I'm feeling wanderlusty.

Today, the boys and I will be traveling north a little ways with my parents. Daddy had surgery at a clinic in Huntsville to repair his hearing about a year ago, and he's returning for a little tweak to the bones in his ear canal tomorrow morning. They need me to be his driver after the outpatient procedure because my mom isn't in good enough health to drive long distances. We plan to treat the trip like a holiday and take the kids to the Space and Rocket Center while my dad's in surgery.

As if that weren't enough, we're planning an (almost) impromtu trip to the beach for this weekend. We'll load up and head to Panama City Beach on Friday afternoon after Eric gets off work. We haven't decided yet if we'll take two cars so that I can stay a little longer with the kids. My aunt has a house two blocks from the beach and this trip will be a family reunion, because it's been years and years since our little family was all together.

Due to our sketchy schedule over the next two weeks, I may be posting only sporadically. In the meantime, you can check in with me on Instagram and Twitter. Have you followed me yet? I'd love to see you there!

In honor of all the traveling we've got up our sleeves, I thought I'd share some wanderlust-y pics straight from one of my Pinterest boards! I wouldn't be surprised to see any of these show up on my "100 Wishes" list at some point... If you like these images, see t h e r e for more:

Wanderlusty

Image Sources: Turks and Caicos | Positano, Italy | Wasatch National Forest, Utah | Morocco (by Jose Villa- original image no longer posted) | Milos, Greece

I'd love to travel more than we do. I know it's just this season of life we're in- me having no income and spending my days raising small children and Eric working seven days a week to keep us fed. One day, I hope we can take these boys all over the world! There's so much Creation begging to be seen.

Walt Whitman quote
Image Source, edited under Creative Commons license.

Do you travel? What's your favorite place to visit? Are there any places you dream of visiting one day?

July 18, 2014

#groundcoffeeart by Liv Buranday

Liv Buranday uses her fingers and a toothpick to meticulously arrange coffee grounds into art. She posts photographs of her arrangements on her Instagram account, which has 35,000+ followers at the time of this writing and was featured on the Instagram blog a few months ago. I just found her account recently, and was mesmerized by the whimsically creative coffee collages:

#groundcoffeeart by Liv Buranday

July 17, 2014

serve day 2014.

I'm finally getting an opportunity to sit down and write about Serve Day. This week has been a wreck! I told you our air conditioner broke. That actually occurred in the overnight hours prior to our Serve Day project.

Also that night, Hawk had his very first incident of night terrors, a fun (sarcasm...) little sleep disturbance that Seth also suffered between one and three years of age. Fortunately, big brother grew out of it, and hopefully the little one will, too. I truly think all the forces of hell were trying to keep me from showing up and serving! My friends, it didn't work.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
Serve Day is an annual outreach day organized by the Church of the Highlands. Everyone in the church is encouraged to participate. Serve Day has been a part of Highlands culture since the church was founded in 2001, and has grown with the church so that more than 13,000 service projects were registered across the state of Alabama this year! Take two minutes and press play on this video:


The group I participated with decided to help out Ms. A, a schoolteacher who just had knee replacement surgery four weeks ago. She hasn't been able to clean her house for a while, so we arrived bearing an assortment of household chemicals and willing hearts. I captured the day with my phone's camera:

Serve Day 2014

Serve Day 2014

Serve Day 2014

Serve Day 2014

Serve Day 2014

Serve Day 2014

Serve Day 2014

Serve Day 2014

Serve Day 2014
  1. #OOTD. 
  2. (Hands and) feet of Jesus.
  3. We gathered around Jamie's phone for the 9 a.m. broadcast from Pastor Chris.
  4. Stanley observed all the proceedings very carefully. Occasionally, he'd laugh at one of us. Which is always encouraging.
  5. Team Office at work.
  6. Donut break.
  7. Attention to detail.
  8. Wrapping up. Jamie tried so hard to get a picture of that dog.
  9. (L-R) Satina. Jamie. Me (awkward). Shundrea. Kara. Javacia.

July 14, 2014

our chattanooga vacation (part two)

Well, hello again Monday! I want to tell you all about my weekend, but honestly- I don't have the energy. There were some wonderful happenings, but in the middle of all of it, our air conditioning unit went kaput. Saturday's weather was so mild that the house was still bearable. I covered all the windows with blankets, turned the fans on high and we rode it out. Sunday, we came home after spending the day with family and the house had turned into a sauna. I packed the kids up and we went to spend the night with my parents, and I'll be looking for an AC repair service today!

I originally scheduled this post for Friday, but then God prompted me to post something else. I planned to write about Serve Day for today's post- and believe me, I will soon. Now my blog schedule is upside down and the type-A part of my brain is having convulsions just thinking about it! (#FirstWorldProblems) I imagine I'm the only one bothered by all this, so let's move on... I promised more pictures from our vacation.

I really can't decide what my favorite thing about Chattanooga was. I'll be honest, by the end of our trip, I was getting a little homesick. At the same time, there are some things that made me want to stay. Seth definitely wants to move there, no question. And I could probably feel right at home in a little time, myself!

I like the atmosphere. Chattanooga has a certain artsiness- a je ne sais quoi that makes me feel welcome and inspired. Heck, the town has it's very own typeface, have you heard? I like the city-wide commitment to sustainability. The people we met were beyond friendly.  Given the opportunity, I think I'd hop at the opportunity to put down roots in a city like Chattanooga!

As promised, the second installment of photos from our Chattanooga vacation:

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  1. Petting stingrays at the Tennessee Aquarium.
  2. "Look, Daddy! A butterfly landed on me!"
  3. Light streaming through the mist in the tropical butterfly habitat.
  4. Seth's favorite thing about the aquarium is the penguin exhibit. He loved watching them dive.
  5. Well, hello. 
  6. Mesmerizing view underwater.
  7. Little mister fell asleep. 
  8. Note that we left the aquarium with a stuffed shark in tow. His name is Gill (because sharks have gills), and he goes where we go.
  9. Splashing in the hotel pool.
  10. Chattanooga's public bicycle rack ($6 for a one day rental).
  11. The last half of our trip, we travelled exclusively on foot. So many things are walking distance from downtown, including the Walnut Street Bridge: longest pedestrian bridge in the world.
  12. Just on the other side of the river from downtown lies Coolidge Park, where we rode the antique carousel.
  13. Splashing around in the fountains in Coolidge Park.
  14. We stopped for shaved ice on the way back downtown.
  15. The patriotic and festive umbrella display outside the Creative Discovery Museum, where we participated in the annual Red, White and Blue Day party on July 4th before heading home.
  16. Splish, splash.
  17. Pretend play in the river boat-esque playground galley.

July 10, 2014

unequally yoked.

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)
In the backseat of a '63 Chevy Nova, on a sweltering Alabama summer afternoon, my mother fingered the lace edge of her Sunday dress. Sweat trickled down her back and the skin on the back of her legs stuck to the leather seat. In the front, her father was banging the dashboard and yelling at her mother.

"I don't care what you say, Ruby. I will never believe that horse crap. There is no such thing as a loving God."

Ruby, who would become my Granny, took a deep, calming breath.

"Donald, nothing I say ever will make you believe. Only the Spirit of God Himself will take those scales from your eyes."

Less than one year later, my alcoholic Papa met Jesus at a revival. He went on to follow a calling into ministry and became a traveling pastor and Bible scholar. Papa went home to be with our Savior in 1984, and all I remember of him is kindness. My mother, however, remembers who he was before he became a Christian.

Holding hands

I grew up in church and by the time I came of age, I knew I shouldn't date unbelievers. I knew it in a common-sense knowledge kind of way, but I had a wayward heart that tended to rebellion. When it came to falling in love, I left my common sense at home.

Following my heart led me through some painful years, but God never left my side. One day, I'll tell you all about it. Some of those things come back to haunt me from time to time and I'm sure one day they'll come nipping at me heels, begging me to write about them.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. (Psalm 139:7-8)

I met Eric during a dark time in my life. I looked up from sweeping the floors in the coffee shop one morning, and there he was. His breath came out like fog in the cold air as he opened the door into the cafe, rubbing his thick bear hands together for warmth as he approached my register.

"Large peppermint cappuccino," he ordered. My thumb grazed his as I took his debit card from him. I glanced at his name on the card, then back to his warm green eyes. He smiled, broad and shyly. My heart flew away in that moment, off to follow him through his days in my imagination.

Then my morning shifts became precious. I was eager for that moment when he'd pull his Honda Civic up to the curb outside. My morning companion, an African immigrant named Jackie, caught us glancing at each other and she began to tease me as the six o'clock hour drew near each morning.

"Ah, you are waiting by the window for your big man," she'd say, her accent lovely. I'd blush. "Ah ha, I knew it. You can't keep a secret from Jackie."

Eric and I were married about a year and a half later. We said our vows in a traditional ceremony, in a garden underneath a trellis covered by honeysuckle vines. His uncle, a Baptist preacher like my grandfather, prayed a blessing over our marriage and presented us, man and wife, to a modest assembly of twenty or thirty witnesses.

It wasn't until I was pregnant with Seth that I realized Eric didn't believe the same things about God. We weren't churchgoers in those years, and we didn't talk about religion. But God was working on me: He was whispering in my ear and I grew hungry for His word again in a way that I hadn't for more than ten years.

Here, almost five years later, God has returned my heart to flesh and restored my faith. I couldn't begin  here to share all the grace He's shown me in the past few years: the miracles He's woven into my story and the life He's given to my spirit. It will take a long time to write this story out and I can only tell it a little bit at the time.

Eric still isn't a believer. I love him so deeply it hurts, but we can't find common ground when it comes to faith. Yet my Father tells me, when I rest my soul in His presence, I love him even more than you do, My precious daughter. I am working the stone of his heart into clay in My own way.

Ring

I know Eric is meant for me. I have to believe that my husband will be saved one day. I long for that day with an ache that I can't put into words. God is refining me through this season, teaching me to depend fully on Him for comfort. I have to draw near to the Lord and trust Him to work our story out in a way that will exalt Him only.

I'm astounded at God's grace for my life: that even when my ears weren't turned to the the sound of God's voice, He led me directly into His will for my life. He was there with me when I had walked far from the right path and He's with me even now as I navigate the thorny trail back into His purpose for me.

I've learned that God's will is not waiting on things to be "right" in our house. All I am guaranteed is this moment and my ministry lives in how I live my life today. There is no perfect circumstance for living the life I've been called to live, and my testimony doesn't depend on someone else's approval to take flight and become a beacon of grace for hurting people.

Praise God for our sisters and brothers that give up their earthly possessions to be missionaries in distant lands. Sometimes though, the people that need Jesus the most are the people nearest to you. Sisters, is there anyone around you now that desperately needs to see God's love through you? Let's not wait for another time to live the life He's called us to. The mission field is under your feet right now.

Image notes: all images used under Creative Commons license. The photographs originally used in this post have been changed. Sources: 1 | 2

gratitude | v. 03

gratitude v. 3
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. (Colossians 3:15-17, MSG)

  • Eric is such a good daddy. He is enamored with our kids and I know he'd do anything for them. Last night, he was singing Hawk to sleep and I thought my heart would stop in that moment.
  • Finding the sweetest little gelato shop in Chattanooga. You know I loved those tiles more than anything!
  • My brand new hot pink blowdryer.
  • Coming home after a week away.
  • All of us are a little tanned from all the time we spent outside last week.
  • Seth cuddled up in my lap while Eric and PawPaw lit fireworks Saturday night. He'd jump every time one went off, as if frightened, then he'd lift his hands and say "blast off!" just as it popped in the sky.
  • Serve Day is this weekend.
  • Seth starts K4 kindergarten in a little more than four weeks. What?!

July 8, 2014

our chattanooga vacation (part one)

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you know we took a family vacation last week! We don't often go out of town for any length of time. It's been at least four years since the last time I was out of the Birmingham metropolitan area, and Eric has travelled only for work. We took a weekend trip to the beach when Seth was a baby, and that was the last time we travelled together for the fun of it. Needless to say, our Chattanooga vacation was long overdue!

When traveling, it's hard to resist the temptation to do all of the things instead of leaving margin to be spontaneous or relax. I'm type A, and so is my man, so we like to have our days all planned out. That said: yes, I did write an itinerary. No, we didn't follow it exactly. But I'm glad that I did at least create some structure for our trip because Chattanooga has so much to do. Without a little forethought, we'd have been in chaos trying to pick activities! I even planned one day for just exploring, and that was probably my favorite day of all of them.

On our way in to Chattanooga, we stopped at Lookout Mountain to check out the scenery. That alone could keep a family occupied for several days! We decided to visit Rock City after grabbing a quick lunch at the Purple Daisy Picnic Cafe. On the second day, we visited the Hunter Museum of American Art. We found lunch at a Chinese buffet that afternoon (after following a wild goose chase led by my Yelp app that led us to several diners that were already closed for the day), followed by a visit to the Chattanooga Jump Park, which all my boys declared the most. Fun. Ever.

Here's my favorite photos from the first two days of our vacation:

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  1. The meandering stone trails take visitors through beautiful mountain gardens and whimsically named rock formations.
  2. My boys and I posed on the swing-a-long bridge. The littlest one slept wrapped up on my chest all afternoon: you can't get a stroller through many of the passages inside Rock City (see no. 3)...
  3. ..."The Needle's Eye" isn't nearly as tight as "Fat Man Squeeze", where I thought I might get stuck and didn't even have room to maneuver my camera up for a picture.
  4. OMG, the view. Worth every penny. 
  5. Rainbow Hall.
  6. The iconic "See Rock City" birdhouse.
  7. Lover's Leap.
  8. See seven states!
  9. The lobby inside the Hunter Museum.
  10. So thankful for a husband who knows without being told when it's best to take the kids for a walk so I can have some one on one time with the art.
  11. Center: Around the Clock with Red, Helen Frankenthaler. Left: River of Ponds III, Frank Stella. 
  12. Feeling sad that I didn't note the names of everything I liked. The mood in this room was palpable.
  13. The roof area overlooking the river, my boys' favorite place in the whole museum.
  14. Eric preferred the classical art: he's very literal.
  15. So lovely.
  16. "Art is not about art. Art is about life, and that sums it up." (Louise Bourgeois)
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