Monday, February 29, 2016


"a portrait of each of my children, once each week, in 2016"

Cruz: Spent a good part of the afternoon outside on Saturday, playing with toys in the garage, pretending to be spies with our neighbor, Rush, and later, finally getting on that bike and pedaling on the trails at George Wyth.  His confidence on two wheels (plus training wheels) has grown exponentially since last summer, and we're excited for lots of walks with him riding beside us.

Mila: She's been attached to my hip since I returned home from my work trip to Las Vegas last week.  Her high-pitched, whiney little "mommy, do it," is quite effective on me, but proving to be a little problematic at bedtime.  She's breaking her dad's heart!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

leap day - and a february wrap-up

"Scripture instructs us to live presently and joyfully, resisting worry and believing Jesus set us free for freedom's sake.  We have an abundance of good and perfect gifts that often look like a messy house full of laughter, a ten-year-old running through a sprinkler, a heart unburdened by comparison, an afternoon nap, joy in using our gifts and leaving the rest to people better suited.  Our generation is so hamstrung with striving and guilt, we no longer recognize God's good and perfect gifts starting us in the face."

Jen Hatmaker, For the Love
At the IF conference a few weeks ago, one of my favorite pieces of scripture we explored was John 15:5: "I am the vine and you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.  Apart from me, you can do nothing."  The speakers talked about a vine, and that it literally wraps itself around a branch and clings to it until it would seem as if they were one thing.  And through that process, the vine and branches grow fruit or flowers, oftentimes beautiful and eye-catching blooms that draw us in.  But Jen Hatmaker spoke and warned us about focusing so much on the fruit, that we forget the source of that fruit.  Our gifts fail to bring glory to Him if we make them about us.

I am guilty of this often, getting so caught up in myself, that I fail to recognize God through the big and small gifts in everyday life.  But the more I acknowledge this weakness, the more I see Him pruning away at my shortcomings, allowing me to see the light through all that unnecessary muck.  It's a hard thing to do, but the more time I find to read a few pages in a good book, or talk to a friend, or weave simple indulgences into the daily grind of my day, like fresh lemon slices in my water or a new lipstick heading out the door, the more I feel myself recognizing the abundance of good that surrounds me.

I'm bringing back my good things posts, for they serve as reminders of the simple and beautiful things in this season.  One last February post - we made it through these winter months and now it's time for spring!

219.  Orchard Hill Dance Party.  We took the kids last Friday night and they had a blast.  I love that our church is young enough to see the importance of transforming our community center into a dance party, asking one of our worship leaders to play DJ for the night, and giving little kids the space to run and dance and drink way too many glasses of lemonade while their parents talked and laughed and planned what we were going to do after all our children crashed in their beds.  

Mila wore her dancing skirt and piggy tails and found more enjoyment eating popcorn than dancing.  Cruz ran lap after lap in the gym, before connecting with his buddy, Jaxon at the foosball table.

220.  Mila's soft pink room and all the sweet little details that fill her window bench

221.  My new recipe box from Rifle Paper Co., and my recent quest to gather all my favorite recipes and get them on paper in one, pretty place.  In this Pinterest day and age, I sometimes shudder at the thought of not having handwritten recipes to pass on to my kids.  So I'm collecting my favorites, writing them out with sweet notes in the margins, smiling as I recall the stories that accompany each recipe recorded.  

222. Speaking of recipes, thanks to my friend Kate and her periodic "PSA" texts, we had a week of free meals to try from Plated.  We scheduled them for the week leading up to Valentine's Day and had so much fun pretending we were sous chefs and trying something completely new.  We had roasted chicken with brussel sprouts and home fries, spaghetti marinara with ricotta meatballs, and fried green tomato po'boys with a creamy remoulade and roasted sweet potatoes.  They were delicious, and it was so nice to not have to worry about meal planning and groceries for a week. 

223.  And speaking of Kate, I got to spend a half day with one of my favorite women and her precious family a few Sundays agoWe spent a good part of the day gathered around the table, passing egg casserole, fresh fruit, and blue-eyed baby Drew, and afterwards, curled up on the couch with endless cups of coffee, and caught up on life, travel, parenting and Fixer Upper, and I never wanted the morning to end.  It's so easy doing life with these people and I am so thankful for our friendship.

224.  Facetime.  We made good use of this app last week while I was in Vegas for a work conference.  Our first afternoon, we found some time to sit by the pool and it was fun to give the kids a live peek at my digs for the week.  Technology has allowed us to stay so close, and I love getting to see their sweet faces every day I'm gone.

225. Chocolate milk breaks (and mustaches to go with it).

226. Fresh greens, homemade dressing stored in weck jars, and pretty napkins gifted from my mom.

227. Big girl cups of hot cocoa and favorite pink sweatshirts with pockets.

228. Our home, exactly one year later

229. A watercolor banner, with a pennant painted by each of us.

230. Lego builds by Cruz, and that little barrette in Mila's hair.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


"all of life is a whirling mash-up of the big and little things - the things we see and think and remember and feel, the deep values that guide us and the dirt under our fingernails, the undercurrents of belief and doubt and the coolness of sheets right when we slide our toes down to the bottom of the bed.  It's about food, and it's not.  It's about life, which is to say it's about everything."

-Shauna Niequist, Bread and Wine

Someday, I want to write a book about my journey learning to love to cook.  I think it all started in my brother-in-law’s kitchen in Dows, Iowa the first year Beau and I were dating.  His wife, Gina, was out of town, and for some reason, we found ourselves there on a Friday night and decided to make dinner.  In their new hickory kitchen, Gabe put Beau and I to work, giving us chefs knives we had never used before and teaching us how to chiffonade fresh herbs.  We drank white wine out of big glasses, danced in the kitchen to Frank Sinatra, and dined on roasted red pepper and wild mushroom quesadillas and grilled pork loin with a sage blackberry sauce.  This was one of the first times I noticed just how sensory the act of cooking is – the chopping and smelling and tasting, all became very alive to me and I was sold.  We started cooking together in Beau’s college apartment kitchen, spending date nights drinking cheap bottles of Black Swan wine and attempting to perfect a simple marinara sauce, kitchen messy and music loud.  We perfected that one, indeed, and although the recipe is memorized and no longer needed, I still get that first Sopranos’ Family Cookbook out every now and then, brush my fingers over its wine stained pages, and go back to those first days of learning to communicate, connect, and love one another through food.   

This love of food and cooking has only grown since.  The kitchen is my favorite place in the world to be, the place where I feel most at home.  And the older I get, the more I realize how much I love sharing that place with others.  In one of my favorite books, Bread and Wine, by Shauna Niequist, she writes that “food is the starting point, the common ground, the thing to hold and handle, the currency we offer to one another.” I have learned to love a group of people congregated around our kitchen island, and find much joy in making this space inviting, safe, and beautiful.  It’s my love language. 

Maybe this is one of the reasons Jesus sent me to the IF Gathering with Jamie that Saturday.  One of IF’s spiritual practices is to encourage women to connect beyond the weekend conference, and do that through starting an IF:Table.  This concept spoke right to my heart in every sense of the word.  The task is simple: six women, once a month, share a meal around the table and talk about faith and life and all that exists in between.  There are conversation cards to guide the discussion, but its intentions are low pressure, low stress, and completely focused on growing together with a group of women through Jesus Christ. 

I’ve always felt a sense of longing for a smaller group of people to connect with, have talked to many people who feel the same way, but these moments of conversation have always ended with the typical, “oh, we should get together more,” statement that you know in the back of your mind will never come to fruition.  But this weekend felt different.  I felt this nudge, more like this fire, to follow through this time and make something of this.  I felt like God was handing me this opportunity on silver platter, and knew that if I didn’t act on it, I would regret it later.  After talking to Beau about it that night, he encouraged me to act while the momentum was there, and not think twice about it.  So three days later, we had plans for our very first IF:Table.

 I made two pots of soup, my favorite butternut squash and an Italian zuppa, and others brought salad, dessert, wine, and appetizers.  I planted succulents in little terra cotta pots as place cards, a little gift for each friend to serve as a sweet reminder of our inaugural night together.  I typed up three Bible verses on brown paper and stuck them at every place setting.  I even rehearsed a prayer.  I was nervous about it feeling awkward and forced and surely overthought every thing.  While most of us knew one another, it felt different this time.  Above all, I just wanted everyone to feel safe, supported, and invited to share, to be heard, and to want to come back!

I should have had more faith in the women that gathered together that night.  The conversation flowed as effortlessly as the wine, and each woman shared their heart in such a beautiful way.  I learned that although we are all different, we all shared similar desires of creating this very space.  There was no pressure, no competition, no gossip, and no agenda, and I savored how easy it felt.  We talked about what we wanted to gain from the If:Table, we shared our verses and about the challenges of being a mom or a wife, and about our own personal longings for community in what feels like a sometimes lonely world.  There were tears, there were laughs, and I didn’t want any of them to leave my house that night.  It was a God-thing and I am so grateful for His plan.

I love that Jesus saw the power of the table.  During his time on earth, he was continually inviting others to join him for a meal, and shared this truth that spiritual life exists everywhere – when we laugh, when we talk with friends, and when we gather with others for a meal around the table.  And as I continue to work on myself and walk this faith journey, I pray for many more lessons around my table.  In one of my Equip readings, one of the ladies talked about the power of hospitality.  She said that “in the final judgment, Jesus will say to the righteous, I was a stranger and you invited me in.  Hospitality, in a sense, is being willing to see Christ in others.  It’s the intentional practice of putting yourself in a situation to both receive Chris in others, and extend Christ’s love to others.  It’s as much about about attitude as it is about food.
But let’s be honest – the food is pretty important, too. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

If:Gathering 2016

When Jamie asked me if I had interest in attending this year's local If:Gathering at Nazareth the first Saturday in February, I was honestly on the fence about it.  Typically viewed as a confident, self-aware woman to the world around me, social settings surrounded by lots of other woman tend to cause me a little anxiety.  And because I am realizing more and more of my introverted tendencies, my first instinct is always to think of twenty good reasons why it just isn't a good idea to spend an entire Saturday learning about Jesus from women who are beautifully put together from head to toe, raising oodles of kids, and still finding time to host conferences for 500,000 women across the world, writing best-selling books, and starting global missions that preach the word of God to people who have never heard His name before.  These women inspire me, but their big presence often leaves me feeling inadequate and unequipped to do anything big with Jesus right now.  As a working mom striving to earn a doctorate and raise two little ones, I find it hard enough to keep up with laundry, make dinner, listen to my husband, and play with my kids, and by the end of the week, I'm tired and overridden with a sense of guilt for not being enough.  My Saturdays and Sundays are my reset days, my much-needed time to hide in my house with my kids and earn back their love and most importantly, my self-worth as a wife and mom.  Debilitating, but real for this season I'm in.

For five years now, I have embraced my role of mom in every sense of the word.  Sure, society deemed me a "working mom" because we like to label and compartmentalize, and then judge based on those labels, but I did my very best to underscore my mom role and be everything I could for Cruz and Mila.  Don't get me wrong, Jesus has blessed me with an amazing job that has provided for us and offered many accomplishments along the way, but above all, I just wanted to be a mom.  Work provided some long-term stability, some meaningful relationships, and motivating opportunities, and that, with my family, was more than enough.  Or so I thought.  In the back of my mind, I always sort of felt like something was missing.  Deep connections with other women in this very same season of mine, supporting each other, being there for one another, and growing as people and disciples of Jesus together was something I desired, but didn't think I could commit to.  I started praying for this, started saying yes to more things, even when those twenty excuses seemed so legitimate, and soon enough, His grace found me at the If:Gathering with Jamie that first Saturday in February.  It was a hard day, but a day I walked away from with a deeper sense of what it means to be a woman, a friend, and disciple of Jesus Christ.

I remember attending my first Rocky Mountain High youth retreat when I was in high school and the total high I felt upon returning home.  I was on fire for change and didn't want that high to go away, even though there was a clear disconnect between the experience and the reality of everyday life.  That is one of the things I loved most about the women that coordinated IF.  Instead of hearing from amazing women with jobs and experiences that made me feel inadequate and unrelatable, I heard from amazing women who are real and raw and on the same journey as I am, living every day the best they can as they juggle and balance and wrestle with what it means to live in the name of Jesus.  They invited us in with such true application - simple ways I can live with greater intentionality in my day to day life.  And, they opened my eyes to the power of women and the complicated yet critical importance of connecting with a village of women who talk faith and live it together.  And most of all, although not surprising to me, is that this day away that I thought was time away from what was most important to my Saturday, ended up being a blessing for my family.  I came home, opened up to Beau about my learning, was intentional about being present with the kids, and felt excited to let my learning sit for awhile and listen and be receptive to the nudges I felt from God following our day away (more on that later).

I had three big takeaways after IF.  My first lesson was a reminder that God is the author of our faith - not us.  And all we have to do is search and long for him and he will show up.  One of the speakers encouraged us to look for ways to create space for Him, and be aware of those times He creates space for us.  She said she used to find herself consistently waking up in the middle of the night around 3:00.  She would get so frustrated by this and spend her thoughts willing herself back to sleep.  When it kept happening, she decided to instead turn her thoughts into prayers and spend that time in the middle of the night talking to Jesus.  She soon found that this time became such an important part of her faith journey.  Since then, I've started looking for these moments in my daily life - those frequent drives from school to school to observe students, those early few minutes I wake up before my alarm sounds, or those ten minutes I find myself mindlessly scrolling through Facebook.  I've been loving my daily subscription to IF:Equip, and encourage all of you to sign up to be on their email list.  Every weekday, they share a passage of scripture, and through short video segments, women from IF process it together and apply it to their lives.  I've always found these daily, deliberate times to engage and reflect in God's word so powerful.  I truly believe God works through us in these moments, giving us the desire and power to do what pleases him.  It's my daily compass moment, and resets me in the right direction.

Lastly, the IF Gathering reinforced the importance of community.  We see so many people throughout our days and engage in so many different relationships, but the ladies of IF stressed the importance of locking arms with a few women in a deeper, more deliberate way.  A village, who you can be real and raw with, and learn from and grow with.  Shelley Giglio summed it up best when she said that the expectations of women are hard and complicated, and we need each other.  She revisited the story of Mary Magdalene, one of the most important women in the Bible.  As the first woman to see the empty tomb, and later, the face of her friend, Jesus, after he rose from the dead, three things happened.  First, she saw His power.  Then, she heard Him, speak directly to her.  And then, he told her to go and tell the good news to everyone she knew.  When we see Jesus in our life, we are called to do the same as Mary Magdalene.  To go, share Him with others, and make disciples of all nations.  Whether that be in our schools, in our towns, or around our tables.  


Monday, February 22, 2016


"a portrait of each of my children, once each week, in 2016"

Cruz: Has had a bad cough the last few days, a lot like his mom gets after a cold.  Beau took him to the UNI basketball game on Saturday and after a smoothie and ice cream, Cruz decided it was time to go with about 15 minutes left in the second half.  "I'm afraid my cough is bothering the people around me," he said. :)

Mila: While the boys were at the game, the two of us enjoyed a little girl time and our very first walk outside this year.  Mila sat still for longer than she has all winter long, holding purple baby close and pointing out every bird, airplane, dog, child, and car she spotted.  It felt like spring this weekend and the fresh air was amazing.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Our Valentine's Day...

// paper sack Valentine's bags filled to the brim // a pajama party for Mila, complete with her favorite pink boots, of course // so many suckers // 17 handwritten "Cruz's", all unique and just right // top knot buns by Paige // a Friday night teepee creation // excited, sugar-filled kiddos who were not ready for bed

// a lazy Saturday // books and chocolates in the tent // messy faces and wet kisses // uncharacteristic cuddles and soft curls // gifts and visits from Grandma // a surprise cookie cake and afternoon coffee // charcuterie dinner // sleeping bags and movie nights

// a Valentine's Day Sunday // little red corduroy dresses and big girl Sunday School // a pink potty watch and half hour bathroom breaks // dollhouse playtime while the boys wrote potty songs // science experiments and food coloring catastrophes // dance parties and twirly skirts // family game nights turned silly // 


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