Life in ministry….

Life in ministry is hard y’all….

This is no secret. Most people know it. If you have lived it then you totally get it and understand exactly what I mean. I’m not even being exclusive to full time pastors right now. We have done both- ministry while working full time jobs as well as being a full time pastor. Over the past 18 years that we have spent in ministry, we have learned many, many (many, many, many….) lessons. We have transitioned from youth leaders to full time youth pastor to associate pastor leading both youth and kids. Through all of this, there are many rewards and victories and moments of celebration. There are also moments filled with doubt, fear, uncertainty and loneliness. Life in ministry is hard.

Our family is in an extremely busy season of life and ministry. We are keeping up and making it all work, but there are certainly days when we have multiple things going on. We have to communicate a lot and stay organized to keep up with our calendar. We also make a point to try and schedule downtime for us all to unwind/rest/relax a little. I think back to October 2014, when Otis and I were on a flight to NYC to attend the Hillsong Conference. Otis was sleeping in the seat next to me. I was settling in to read a book, when the Lord clearly spoke to me. Something that He specifically told me was that I could not do the ministry that He had for us with my current work schedule. (You can read all about that here)

If you know me on a personal level, you know that unfortunately I tend to take things very personally. When people make random comments that they may feel as harmless…. it’s like opening a window to my heart and allowing doubt flood in. I know that isn’t a great habit to let happen, but if I’m being honest… that’s the truth. I’m working on it and have grown, but it does still happen.

Anytime that you are in ministry, there are a million opinions on EVERYTHING. We can find dozens of things to disagree on or choose to not like. These things can be used to divide and destroy us. As ministries grow, more and more families become involved and that equals more and more opinions.

As people who work in youth and kids ministry, there is a certain level of pressure to cater to each families needs. Parents are not shy about telling you what they think you are doing wrong and what their kids want. Some want constant fun and games… others want more teaching… others want events and activities. It can be difficult to manage everything and you can truly wear yourself out trying to do just that. It’s so easy, and almost natural, to become overwhelmed and stressed out about keeping everyone happy.

Y’all- it’s impossible.

We have learned that we just have to step back and take a breath. It’s important to remember the point of it all. Our goal and job is to point others to Jesus. It is that simple. We can plan all of the events and stay busy for the rest of our lives and not fulfill our calling at the same time. We are not full time child care. It is not our job to entertain. It is our job to teach about Jesus and help students grow in their faith.

Stay focused on that truth and the Lord will handle the rest. Don’t get me wrong, activities and fun events and outreaches can all be used to nurture growth…. but it can also be empty calendar fillers.

To all of the exhausted workers out there, don’t lose faith. The work you are doing is important and is making a difference. Don’t cave to the pressure to people- please. Be faithful to Jesus and trust that He has it all under control.

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Too close to home

Yesterday there was a shooting at a shopping mall here in Charleston. This is sadly not the first shooting at this mall, one happened right before Christmas. This particular mall is one that my family and I go to frequently for Target. There was one HUGE difference between the shooting before and the shooting yesterday. The difference was that I was there with my children yesterday. It was scary and emotional and made for an exhausting day.

We stopped by the mall yesterday afternoon after Allie’s weekly Bible Study that she attends with a group of homeschooled girls. Allie had some gift cards left from her birthday and wanted to spend them. We parked where we usually do, which is right outside the target & food court entrance. We walked through the mall to go to Belk and then walked to the opposite end to go into Journeys. We had spent longer in Belk than I had anticipated, and by the time we got to Journeys I was ready to leave. I was thinking ahead about how I needed to get home and make dinner, finish laundry, and all of that usual randomness. At this point, it was almost 6. As we finished up and walked back toward the food court, we were passed by a running security guard. No one else seemed alarmed. He wasn’t shouting warnings or anything. I definitely thought it was odd that he was running past us, but I figured he was being called to handle a shoplifter or something. It got my attention and I knew something was going on, but I didn’t imagine anything close to the truth.

As we approached the food court area, we noticed that stores were closed. They had the bars down and everything was suddenly very quiet. When we got to the corner of the food court, my kids were hesitant to go any farther. We could see the reflection of lights flashing, but still didn’t know what was going on. I asked a man working at a cell phone kiosk and he told me that everything was on lockdown and that two cars had been shooting at one another.

My kids were ready to leave. They wanted me to exit from the other end of the building. We started walking the opposite way toward another entrance. I could tell their thoughts were becoming more and more panicked. We just stopped walking and paused for a moment to hug, cry, breathe, and calm our thoughts. They were panicked because of the unknown. Was the shooter in the mall? Was it safe to be in the building? They wanted to be anywhere but there and safe. I explained to them that the safest place that we could be was right where all the action was because that was where the police presence was so heavy. I told them that we were going to go back to the food court and I was going to talk with a security guard to find out exactly what was going on.

I sat them down at a table and walked up to the door. A security guard was posted there and was not allowed to let anyone in or out. This was all a safety precaution and he was given the instructions by the local police. As I approached him to verify the situation instead of basing it off of what everyone else was saying, he was being yelled at by a woman that was complaining about the lock down and saying that she had to get to work. This poor man! What is he supposed to do! What a thing for her to be yelling about- they were trying to keep everyone safe!! After she left, I asked the officer to just verify that we were in fact on lockdown. He did. He informed me that all entrances were on lockdown and that no one could go in or out at this time. I questioned that there was basically no way of knowing how long and that the best thing to do is just to sit and wait. He then quietly told me that there was actually a victim outside and so the area was a active crime scene.

I went back to the table and sat with my kids. We sat right in the middle of the food court and prayed together. We thanked God for His timing and talked about how He kept us safe. Remember how I mentioned that I was tired and ready to go? Well, if we had been done twenty or thirty minutes sooner… we could have been out there when this happened. We talked about all of the little things that happened that we saw in hindsight as a part of God’s protection.

– we were stuck behind a little old lady that was literally taking forever to check out at Belk

-we had to make a bathroom stop

– we noticed a janitor mopping the floor and decided to walk all the way around his area so we would not disrupt his work

We are choosing to recognize those simple circumstances as examples of how God had His hand on us. It was about 30 minutes later when they let everyone leave. Then there was a new problem to face. Those that were parked inside the yellow tape weren’t able to get to their cars. It was a crime scene- they couldn’t move them. People were calling for rides and everything. We looked and our truck was the row next to the tape. We were able to get in our vehicle and leave.

It made for a stressful evening. Lots of open conversations about why some people would carry weapons and just shoot someone else. No one was hungry or interested in dinner. They wanted to stay together and watch a movie when we got home.

No arguments here. We had a little movie night and as we prayed before bed, we thanked God once again for keeping us safe.

This world can be a very scary place. I can’t reassure my kids that we will never be in a situation like that again. Unfortunately, they are happening more and more frequently. I can teach them to pay attention to everything and everyone around them. I can teach them to keep their mind clear when they are in the middle of something like that so that they can make wise choices. I can teach them that God is with them always and there is no shame in calling out to Him anytime and anywhere. I am teaching them that no matter what they face in life, God will never leave them. They are never hopeless if they choose to put their hope in Him.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.””

‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭31:6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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What a year!!!

I am sitting here in the middle of clean house thinking back about what a year it has been! We have been cleaning this morning to prepare for a NYE cookout tonight with our youth group, so now I have a few moments to spare that I wanted to use to write a post. If you don’t pause and take time to look back over your wins and your losses, how can you successfully move forward and grow in the future. I need to take the time to reflect. I want to learn from my hard times and mistakes so that I don’t have to repeat them. I also want to acknowledge the amazing moments so that I can appreciate them and give thanks!

This year, our family celebrated many milestones. We have been in our house for ten years- holy cow!! We also started our seventh year of homeschool… including Allie’s ninth grade year. (Highschool!!!😳)

We have traveled a lot this year. We went on a week long missions trip in NY city. We also took some of our youth group (including our daughter for her artwork- so proud!!) to Houston, TX for national competitions. These trips took our family of four to thirteen different states this summer! That’s amazing to think about!

We spent a week on vacation with some of our best friends at a beach house. It was a great time of relaxation. We even started the year off with a crazy-for-Charleston-weather snow storm! Our family went stir crazy after a few days of playing in the snow and we desperately needed to make a grocery store run! 😂

We absolutely had a year full of many blessings! Like all of you, our year also had many hard times.

We weren’t immune to drama and heartache. We lost our sweet husky, Jasper, this year and it was devastating for our family. We faced some really tough financial moments. We have had stresses and health scares. We faced all of these hard times as a family and have made it through.

We are facing the next year full of hope and dreams. I feel like I say this every year, but I do believe that this will be our best year ever. I can see where God birthed new dreams within us and even aligned partnerships along the way. I believe that our steps are ordered and that dreams that have been placed within us will be coming to pass. I’m excited for this year. Walking in faith is scary and exhilarating all at the same time. I cannot wait to see how God works all of this out for His will! I’m so thankful that we serve a faithful God that is with us through the hard times and the celebrations!

What are your dreams for this year? Have you taken time to reflect? Do you write your goals out? I do!! This is the first year that I am choosing a word for the year. I have seen where people have done this before, but I never have. I may reveal my word for 2019 in a future post, but for now it is just going to be mine to pray over.

I hope that all of our family, friends, and readers have a safe and happy New Years celebration!!

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Stranger Things Filming Locations

A few weeks ago, we took Allie on a tour of filming locations from the show Stranger Things. We love the show and we did this for her as an early Christmas present. We had so much fun and only had a couple of disappointments. I received a ton of questions and feedback asking how we found the spots and things like that. Everyone apparently LOVES the show… so I figured that I would share my research. Now you can go on your own adventure!!

My Planning-

We did not purchase tickets with a tour group or anything like that. Stranger Things tours do exist though!! We had other plans during our weekend trip and so we wanted to be able to make things work with our schedule. All of this research was simply done online by google searches or on pinterest. I did find at least three different sources verifying each address (who wants to drive all over Georgia just because someone posted the incorrect address). I went into the weekend with a notebook full of my plans with triple verified addresses. I was feeling quite confident. The filming locations were scattered all over the Atlanta area of Georgia. I thought that we would get to see everything on my list in one day. Needless to say, I did not take into account the crazy traffic!! For example, two stops were supposedly twenty five minutes apart and it took us over an hour and a half to get from one to the other. So my advice would be to allow yourself plenty of time and to not get frustrated. We ended up seeing a few things per day off of my list over the course of three days. It was great and we had so much fun!

The locations-

The first stop we visited was Starcourt Mall from season 3. This is an actual mall (Gwinnett Place Mall). The day that we went they were filming that night , so there were lots of tents and equipment outside. We got as close as we could without being approached by the security guard who was carefully watching us 😂😂. We could see Hawkins police cars and the station wagon that belongs to Mike and Nancy in the parking lot. We drove around to the next entrance and they had the actual Starcourt sign up. We walked right in the mall and wandered over to where the barricades were set up for filming. We could peak through and see how the store logos were changed to the eighties logos. The mall is located at 2100 Pleasant Hill Road in Duluth, Georgia.

We also had addresses for all of the homes used during filming. Most of the homes are right in the same neighborhood, so you can see them all in a matter of minutes.

The Wheeler’s House is locates at 2530 Piney Wood Lane in East Point, Georgia. This home did have signs in the yard that said no trespassing- pictures from the street only!

Lucas’s House is just one house over and is located at 2550 Piney Wood Lane.

Dustin’s House is actually the first House we saw when pulling into the neighborhood. It is located on 2886 Piney Wood Drive in East Point.

Barb’s House is also on the same street. It is at 2980 Piney Wood Drive.

We visited the scene of El flipping the Hawkins Lab van. It is located between the houses at 3782 and 3788 Sarah’s Lane in Tucker, Georgia.

The last house that we visited was Max and Billy’s home. As I followed the navigation directions to this address, my husband thought that my research was wrong. You literally pull into a cemetery. There is a dirt road that takes you around to the left and then you can see that there are homes back there. The house is located at 5280 Moore Street in Stone Mountain, Georgia.

We had to find Hawkins Lab and get a picture there! This spot was also being filmed at on the day we went. We saw tents, catering trucks, and equipment. You can actually drive all the way around this building to get the view or picture that you want. Hawkins Lab is a building on Emory University’s Briarcliffe Campus. The address is 1256 Briarcliffe Road NE in Atlanta.

The arcade was a fun spot to see in person. There was a security guard sitting in his car on site, but we got out, took pictures, and looked inside the windows with no problems. Although the sign isn’t up, we could see the arcade sign inside. It was all pretty empty on the inside except for the infamous Dragon’s Lair video game! The arcade is located at 6501 Church Street in Douglasville, Georgia.

Benny’s Burgers from season one was also on our list. This place is an actual cafe (Tiffany’s Kitchen) and the parking lot was pretty full on the day we went. The location is 7413 Lee Road in Lithia Springs, Georgia.

We wanted to visit the grocery store that El goes into and steals waffles. It is a tiny little place in a pretty small town. I could see the employees watching us walk up through the windows and as soon as we walked in they said, “Stranger Things?” We all laughed and they welcomed us to come right in. We were told to grab some waffles and take as many pictures as we wanted. Everyone was super friendly. We even bought a box so that we could take a pic walking out. The address for the store is 504 Center Street in Palmetto, Georgia.

Hawkins Middle School and Hawkins High School are the same actual school. It is just two different entrances. We made sure to visit this location on Saturday when there was no school in session. There were actually other fans wandering the property that day and taking pictures as well. The actual school is called Patrick Henry and is located at 109 South Lee Street in Stockbridge, Georgia. We looked through windows and could see familiar hallways. We may or may not have climbed up on a bar to get a glimpse inside the gym!

Our last stop was at Melvad’s General Store where Joyce works. From standing in front of the store, you can see the courthouse and also the radio shack is right next door (RIP Bob). The location of this spot is 42 S. Mulberry Street in Jackson, Georgia.

The misses of our trip-

I can only think of three things to mention that we’re misses on this adventure. Number one- Bellwood Quarry. Although I had read conflicting reports on this location, I figured to give it a try. After all, those would have been beautiful pictures!! The address led us to basically a ditch. Not only a ditch, but it was in a dead end sketchy area. This was the only time of the trip that I felt slightly unsafe and that was only because someone turned around when they saw us turn and started driving toward us which could’ve blocked us in. Of course, we made it out safely!! From my research, it sounds like the state owns this land and they are turning it into a park. The side that is used for filming ( it’s been in several other movies/shows besides Stranger Things) is not accessible from public roads. That being said, if you find an address…. just be safe!

Number Two- Hawkins Police Station. We didn’t get to visit this location. The day we went there, the town was having some sort of festival and all of the roads were blocked off. We tried to drive around to the other side, but of course it was blocked off completely. There were tons of people and not a lot of parking, so we didn’t think it was worth it to try and park to find it on foot. This festival was not show related. So if you go on a trip of your own… the address for the police station is 8485 Courthouse Square West in Douglasville, Georgia.

Number Three- Lucy Lu’s Coffee. This little shop is not in the show. It is just right by the location of Melvad’s General Store. From everything that I’ve read, their menu is Stranger Things inspired and they have a drink called The Upside Down. We arrived 15 minutes after closing and so we were just bummed that we didn’t get to try it out. If you are going on this trip, plan around their hours- it sounds like it is worth it!

We had so much fun! This is the kind of stuff that I love to do!! If you live close enough to make a trip, I would highly recommend that you do!! We all enjoyed it and are now even more pumped for season three so that we can see all of the places we have been!!

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A great story to tell: God cares about every little detail of your life!

You guys! Otis and I received the greatest, unexpected blessing this weekend!! I knew immediately that I was going to write a post about it!

If you know me or follow me on social media, then you know that one of my favorite bands is Needtobreathe. They are from Charleston, and so they always play here during every tour. We ALWAYS buy tickets to go see them. We have even traveled to be able to see them at other venues. We have seen them in concert eight times now and have loved each new album they release.

They played here this past Sunday night and we didn’t have tickets. 😞

There were a few reasons why we didn’t purchase tickets. The main one being that the struggle in our finances has been major lately. So much so, that we have considered putting the kids in school and me going back to work. That’s a hard choice to make. We know that God led us to where we are…. and we don’t feel led by Him to make that change yet…. so we are just doing our best to wait on His plan and are trusting Him each week to provide and take care of us. The second reason that we didn’t have tickets is because we had the opportunity to purchase twenty one pilots tickets for our daughter as an early Christmas gift. If you haven’t seen the video on my Facebook page… she cried like a baby when she opened the gift! ❤️ That purchase took any spare money that we had saved up. Of course, as parents we are going to put it towards her instead of ourselves.

That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t feeling a little salty when Sunday rolled around. I’m seeing the bands social media posts and am just thinking about how this is going to be the first tour in years that we won’t see. Then I’m blaming myself, like ‘well, you’re the one that isn’t working so you can stay home and teach your kids. It’s your own fault.’

Across from the concert venue is a shopping center with some restaurants and a grocery store. Those restaurants have outdoor seating that faces the venue. I mentioned to Otis that we should go to one of those places during the show. That way we could at least sit and listen for a little while. We came home from lunch and Otis started feeling sick. He laid on the couch and I could tell that he really didn’t feel good. So, I wasn’t sure if we were even going to go at all. He knew how much I wanted to go and got up anyway. #besthusbandever

We drove across town and as we were getting close, Otis said half joking with a laugh, “Lord Jesus, I just pray that someone gives us free tickets tonight.” I laughed and then told him “no, for real, go ahead and pray for that!” He did and as we turned into the shopping area to find a place to park and there were tons of security guards and parking attendants. I guess that they were trying to keep people from parking there. We got really nervous because we didn’t want to get yelled at for trying to park and listen. Some of the places were closed since it was Sunday evening. There is a restaurant in that strip that we enjoy going to as a family, but we couldn’t get parking on that side. On the opposite side of the shopping center, there was a subway open. We parked there. Otis said that he was going to walk through the restaurant and out the other side. He was hoping that since the show had already started that they might be selling any unsold tickets for super cheap. As soon as he walked through, the subway employee just looked at me and asked if I was buying something. I was already nervous about getting in trouble, so I told him that I was! I bought two cookies and a drink. Otis came back and told me that the available tickets were regular price. Disappointed, we went outside and sat down. At least now, we were paying customers. We were going to set some kind of record for how slow we ate these cookies! Haha!!

We sat down and just talked for a minute. Three people came and sat at the table next to us- they had purchased some snacks from the grocery store and it looked like they were planning on just listening as well. I joked that I had already planned my sad IG post where I was going to put a pic of us sitting outside and then video of the outside of the venue. However, we were happy to be there at all and settled in to listen for a little while before heading home.

As we sat there, the line and crowd of people waiting to enter the venue had disappeared. We were just casually chatting. We watched a lady walk from the venue, across the street and right up to our table. She asked us if we had tickets and our response was to ask back if she was trying to sell hers. She replied that she was not. Her date was a no show and she wasn’t going in alone. She told us that we could have her two tickets since she didn’t want to just throw them away.

I’m sure we looked like a couple of deer in headlights. We asked her if she was serious and then thanked her as we gathered our things to leave our table. We couldn’t believe it! Sure we had prayed it, but we just couldn’t believe that it had really happened.

So, Sunday night we were able to go to a concert that we loved! We have been able to share that story and brag on how amazing God is and the fact that every little detail of your life matters to Him!

Some of the things that just amaze us about this story are:

– Otis suddenly feeling sick after church and us almost not coming at all.

-Our half joking but totally serious prayer!

– the fact that we randomly walked into subway and I bought cookies out of fear/guilt that caused us to hang around right there instead of walking to the other end of the shopping center to our usual restaurant.

– the fact that this lady walked right from the venue to our table. I mean she came straight to us.

It was all amazing and left us feeling excited. It is always a nice reminder, especially when you have been in a difficult season, to feel that fatherly love.

You might think this is no big deal… that it was just a random concert.

It meant so much more to us than that. It was a blessing straight from God.

He sees and hears AND He cares.

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Fun Things to do in NYC

This past summer, we took a group to NYC for a missions trip. We planned our itinerary so that we would have a couple of days for sight seeing as well. NYC is a huge place with tons of options to choose from as far as where to go and what to see. It is possible to pack a lot into just a couple of days if you plan accordingly!

One of the first things on our list, was to take our group to Time Square. We wanted them all to be able to take in this iconic place!

We purchased tickets for one of the sightseeing bus tours. It was a great way to see the city and to get from one place to another.

Honestly, the tour guides themselves were not very impressive. They did give us a couple of gems each time as far as famous landmarks. I honestly took the earpiece out and just took pictures as we went. They seemed to be making some of the information up as they went along and then begged for tips as people got off the bus.

Having said that, I would absolutely buy the tour tickets again. If you read the details listed on the brochure, there are tons of attractions that you are able to visit for free with your tour ticket. So, it can be totally worth it if you are able to go to numerous landmarks. I think that next time, we will just walk from one attraction to the next and not even worry about the bus.

We were all anxious to visit the 9/11 memorial site. With our tour bus tickets, we had free admission to the museum. It was all humbling and overwhelming.

We spent several hours there… Otis could have spent all day at the museum. There was so much to read and take in. We will absolutely go back.

As we went over the list of attractions that we had access to, we noticed Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. We headed there and probably had too much fun! We laughed so much through crazy poses and took hundreds of photos! It was such a fun experience!!

Another place we went to was Top of the Rock. This was also included in our tour bus ticket. When I visited NY as a teenager, we went to the top of the Empire State Building. Comparing the two, I prefer Top of the Rock. At this location, the Empire State Building can also be in your pics!

Many students in our group had never been to NYC. Of course, they wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. Instead of taking the tour to the statue, we opted for the Staten Island Ferry. This was free. It gave us all a nice ferry ride where we went right past the Statue of Liberty. We were able to see her, take lots of pics, and see the skyline from the water.

We were able to fit all of this, plus some shopping, in about two days!!

One more excursion that is totally worth mentioning is Broadway!! If you have the time and the budget, go see a show! We took our group to see The Lion King. Y’all it was so phenomenal!!

If you know me, you know I am a Disney fan anyway…. but I literally started crying during the opening song. They are all singing Circle of Life as I have tears rolling down my cheeks. Otis may have laughed at me. 😂😂 It was all so magical and well done. The tickets aren’t cheap, but definitely worth it!

If you only have a couple of days in NYC, plan well…. you can fit a ton in a short timespan!!

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Whispers of Lies

This is something that we have all dealt with at some point in our lives. Truth versus lies is probably the longest struggle in all of history. It should be easy to differentiate between the two. Sometimes though that is my greatest struggle.

Advice that I have given students over and over and over again is that Satan is a master at deception. He doesn’t have to destroy your life in one day. He only has to get you to make one bad decision after another and slowly you end up far away from where you started. He slips lies into your thoughts. Those whispers of lies can have an impact on how you view yourself and others. This deception can hurt relationships and your own self worth.

The absolute worst part is that Satan knows your weak areas. He knows what lies will cause the most damage. He knows what he can whisper in your ear in such a way that you struggle to not believe it. You find yourself allowing the lies to tell you more about yourself than your very Creator.

Help us, Jesus.

It happens to all of us. No one is perfect. We all have weak spots, past circumstances or sins that create easy targets.

I’ve shared on here before that I didn’t have the easiest life as a teenager. My relationship with my mom was very broken.

I never had a career in mind growing up. I knew I liked photography and I even thought about being a teacher. I just wasn’t sure. I only knew one thing for sure. I wanted to be a great mom. I wanted to have a happy family. I wanted to be the team mom that spends her time running kids around and has a cooler of Capri Suns in the back of the mini van.

I love my kids. I love our family.

But there are times….

Times when Otis and I might not agree (ok,ok we are fighting about whatever) …. Satan whispers in my ear that my marriage is not any better then the marriage of my parents. And even though my marriage is nothing like theirs… and we have beaten the statistics, since we have already been married longer than they ever were. Those lies still attack me every now and then.

Times when I’m having a tough moment with my kids. Moments when I doubt our calling to homeschool. Even moments when I end up losing my cool and yelling at them out of anger. The enemy whispers to me that I am no different than her. That my kids are going to look back on their childhood and remember that mommy yells when she gets mad. That I am not any better and I will never change the cycle.

Those moments pierce my very soul.

They tend to leave me broken and emotional. If I linger on them- listening to the lies and allowing them to echo in my heart- I feel worthless.

But those lies are NOT the truth.

I know my God that has transformed my life. I know that Otis and I have built a life that breaks several cycles that we faced growing up. I know that even though I am not a perfect parent, that I am a good parent. I know that His grace covers me…. even when I yell.

And some of you might even be surprised to read any of my above confessions. I might appear to be a pinterest mom that has it all together. And I try to be that a lot of the time. 😂😂 We all have times when life is messy.

All of that to say this… It’s so important to know the truth. Know what God says about you. Know that you are His treasure and that your worth is so much more than past circumstances. The things you went through in the past may have left scars on your heart, but it does not define your future. You have to have it engraved in your heart whose you are. If you don’t know for sure who you are, then lies will try to creep in and define you.

My hope and my life are found in the truth.

“Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭25:5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

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I’ve had the intention of writing a post. There has been so much going on, that the subject keeps switching. I want to include it all, but am not sure that each merits it’s own post. So, here is a post with all the ramblings that have been rolling around in my brain the past few weeks.

Summer of a lifetime

It may still be summer weather, but summer itself has come and gone for our family. It was a crazy one for sure!! Over the course of the summer, we were blessed to fit in a vacation with some of our best friends and two major trips. We traveled to or through 11 states during the past two months with our family and Youth. We went on an amazing missions trip to NYC where we partnered with the Dream Center for a week. Literally a month later, we made the drive to Houston, Texas for National Fine Arts Convention. Three of our youth, including our daughter Allie, qualified for nationals when we participated on the state-level back in February. Our summer was full of ministry, trips, and adventures. We reminded our kids throughout the summer, what a blessing this all was to be able to attend. We truly had the summer of a lifetime!

Back to school, Back to school

We have started our 7th year of homeschool. We love it and it fits perfectly for our family. The flexibility that it offers, allows us so much freedom. This year, we started a week earlier than the county. I am already thinking about a conference that we go to in the fall, and that extended Christmas break that we enjoy as a family. I figured that we could go ahead and get a head start. 😁 We are less than two weeks into the school year, and we are still transitioning for sure! The kids are in 9th and 4th grades this year. The workload is a little heavier. Our 4th grader is struggling especially- some school days for us have been nine hours long. That’s too much for this mom! I told him very quickly that this was not going to be how our year looked. I know that everyone is working to get back in the routine of school….. I just wish it would happen in like two days, not two weeks. I’m trusting that we will all finish week two strong and that week three will be even better!

Our Sweet Jasper

I can’t write a post about an amazing summer, without including this terrible note that it ended on. We had planned on starting school a week earlier than the public schools in our county, just to get a head start. I had honestly contemplated pushing it back just to give us more time to recover and lounge after our travels. Unfortunately the Friday before we were scheduled to start, our Sweet husky Jasper passed away. I decided to stick to the early school start, because I knew that the kids would need the distraction. If we had another free week, then it would be a week full of tears. It all happened so quickly and unexpectedly with Jasper… it completely broke our hearts. Jasper had been in our family since he was five weeks old. It was like we lost a six year old kid. It’s been really rough on all of us. We still find ourselves crying at how unfair it is that he is not here anymore. We are working on a project to honor our Sweet Jaspy, and so I’m sure there will be a post in the future detailing what happened as we work to raise awareness. Our family was truly rallied around by our church and family members when this happened. Calls, texts, messages, cards, packages in the mail, and ALL the hugs…. we are so thankful for all of the hugs and love that we received. It carried us through.

Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings. This is my family and just a glimpse of my heart. ❤️

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Our trip to Magnolia in Waco, Texas

Y’all. Who doesn’t dream of one day visiting the place made famous by Chip and Joanna Gaines on Fixer Upper!?! As soon as I found out that we would be in Texas this summer, I did a search to find out how close we would be to Magnolia. It was a couple of hours away, but we combined it with some more sightseeing and it was absolutely worth it! As soon as we were close and could see the silos, a few of us may have squealed with excitement!

Our group arrived around three in the afternoon. I had read that later in the afternoon was usually better as far as crowds go. We walked up to a line at the bakery, of course, but as every article that I had read stated- it moved fast.

We spent about two hours here and loved every second.

We visited the bakery and purchased some cupcakes, muffins, and cinnamon rolls to go. Many of the articles and blog posts that I had read raved about the shiplap cupcake- a vanilla cupcake with cream cheese icing. I purchased one of those along with a few other options to try. The way the bakery works is that they pass you a card that has all of the available options and a pencil. You write your name and make your selections while you are in line. Then as you enter the bakery, you hand your card in at the register. This helps things run so smoothly. You pay for your purchases and then simply wait for them to call your name. They will have them all boxed up for you.

The shiplap was good, but not my favorite. Make sure that you check out their seasonal options. During our visit, they had a peach cobbler cupcake. This was my favorite. If I was going back tomorrow, I would buy two of those! It had graham cracker crust on the bottom, was a super moist peach cupcake, and was topped with peach purée cream cheese icing. I may have already checked the website, and unfortunately they do not ship.

The seed shop was so cute! It was a small little shop that had all sorts of succulents and gardening goods for purchase. Everything there definitely had the feel of their style.

The center of the property has an area called “the green” where families can play corn hole or toss a ball around. They have numerous food trucks around (I counted eleven when we were there) and TONS of seating. We purchased some burgers and hotdogs, along with a few mason jars of sweet tea to enjoy for lunch. Even though everything is outside, they really do their best to make it as comfortable as possible. There are fans and misters at the larger seating pavilion and when you are standing in line for the bakery.

We ate lunch before we wandered into the store.

We all had so much fun! It was absolutely worth the drive. We loved seeing it all in person!

Since we were in the neighborhood, we also drove to Harp Design to take a picture.

We did not get to visit the restaurant. It is located nearby, but not on the same property. If you go or have been, let me know how it is!!

If you have never been, I would definitely recommend it. There is enough to do that it makes for a fun and relaxing afternoon!

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Tips for Traveling By Train

Last month, we took our first ever trip by train. We went all the way from Charleston to NYC! It was a twelve hour ride and we were in a group of ten. Needless to say, I was nervous since we had never travelled that way before! I searched online for tips and articles. I wanted to write a post sharing the things that I felt were MOST helpful.

We loved traveling by train and are already talking about when our next trip might be. It is so much more affordable than flying… and not to mention much more comfortable!!

Here are my favorite lessons learned:

1) Don’t stress about your luggage.

We did not want to check any of our bags. Like I said before, we were traveling with a large group and we were going to be gone for an entire week! We stressed to our students to make sure that their bags weighed within the carry-on limit. Our bags were never measured or weighed anywhere. We figured that our local train station was so small compared to Penn Station in NY, that they might weigh them when we were on the way home. They did not.

2) Bring Snacks for the ride.

You are allowed to bring your own food/snacks on the train. We didn’t take full advantage of this on the way there, but we did on the way back home! One of our trains had a full dining cart and the other only had a cafe cart. I had read people complaining about how outrageous the food prices are on board. We ate both times at the cafe cart, and didn’t find it too astronomical. I would find it comparable to eating at a sporting event. Our family of four ate for about $50.

3)Pack a few clothespins.

This is a tip that I read…. didn’t do… but wish I had. Our first trip was overnight, but this would’ve been helpful on both trips. The curtains on a train can be pulled to cover your window, but they don’t stay put. If you toss a few clothespins into your bag, you can simply clip your curtains shut and sleep in peace with no sunlight peeking through!

4)Buy a neck pillow!

Most people that travel a lot already have one of these, but I did not. As soon as we decided that we were taking a train, I knew that I wanted/needed to buy one! The best deal I found was at Ross. I was able to get one for each of us for about $8 each and they are memory foam. I cannot imagine taking that trip without that pillow! Seriously, it was a game changer!

If you have never traveled by train and have been thinking about it, I would encourage you to plan your trip! It is so much fun! The seats are so roomy!

They recline, swivel, have a footrest, and a table. There was so much leg room! I was so surprised when we first boarded. You do not need to buckle up and are free to walk around from car to car. Our trip took us through Washington DC and we could see the monuments as we passed through. It was so much cooler than flying!

It was surely an adventure!

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