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Scripture says to " rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15). The rejoicing part tends to come more naturally, for me anyway. Celebrating anniversaries. Promotions. New babies. Getting a good grade. How can you not join in the excitement and cheer. But what about the mourning? When the going gets tough. When you do not have something to celebrate and you are just trying to make it through another hour. Another day. When something tragic happens to a friend. Are you mourning with them? I must admit that this is not something I do very well. I am horrible at consoling and words never seem to come out the way I want them to.
 Last fall one of my good friends since high school lost her boy friend in a car accident. She text a group of us to inform of us of what had happened. I had no idea what to say. I have not experienced a loss so deep and for that I am thankful but I also know that having gone through similar situations is a valuable tool God gives to offer comfort. 
 As I processed her words, I immediately prayed and that is how I responded. I am praying for you. The words seemed empty and hallow at such a time as this. Yes, I know the power of prayer and believe God will work this for His good as only He can but that does not change the reality. Or change the feelings. Or answer the questions. It sounds cliche.
 As I prayed, God reminded me of the power of music. I love music. I grew up singing songs like Chapel of Love by the Dixie Cups and 1982 by Randy Travis. My parents had quite the array. My friends would joke that I knew every song that came on the radio. Since becoming a follower of Christ, it continues to amaze me how God uses music to speak truth and love and hope. And that is when He gave me the idea of a playlist for her. Did I mention her birthday was just a few weeks after the accident? This is the same friend who battled cancer in high school. She is an incredible lady, let me say. Going through my CDs and various mp3s I kept thinking about myself in this situation. How would I handle this? What if that was me? That is how these songs were chosen. With lots of love and prayers and God's leading. I came across the saying music is what feelings sound like and it solidified the compilation.
Recently, a friend told me about her battle with cancer. She has two sons, four and almost two, and was excited to find out she was expecting a third. What she thought would be a season of happiness turned to be one of mourning when she found out it was a molar pregnancy and it turned to cancer. I cannot imagine. No words. That is when God again reminded me of this playlist from the fall. I gave her a copy, too. As she fights and people pray for her during this season of mourning, I pray that God comforts her more than she has known before. I pray that if you are going through a time of mourning that this music would comfort you, too. In the darkest moments I pray that God would speak life and love in to your inner most being. If you know a friend who needs encouragement and God, feel free to pass it along to them, too. 

Here is the playlist, besides one song that was not available on Spotify. This is my first time using it, and so far it is fabulous.

And just in case you would rather see a list of the songs: 

1. hold us together - matt maher

2. live like that - sidewalk prophets
3. by your side - tenth avenue north
4. move - mercyme
5. strong enough - matthew west
6. build your kingdom here - rend collective
7. beautiful things - gungor
8. what faith can do - kutless
9. you have won me - bethel music
10. movements - rend collective (not available on spotify)
11. before the morning - josh wilson
12. love has come - mark schultz
13. healing begins - tenth avenue north
14. brokenness aside all sons & daughters
15. this is what you do - bethel music
16. one thing remains - bethel music
17. cast my cares - tim timmmons
18. 10,000 reasons - rend collective

This is a little cover I whipped up to go with the CD, just in case you find yourself needing one. Note, I printed this on 8.5 x 14 paper or else it is too small to fit in the CD case. It can be printed in black or grey.

Here's to more rejoicing than mourning and more of God's presence and love when the mourning comes. 
I have had a love affair with anything DIY since I can remember, yet my constant future career was always a solid: a teacher and a writer. My elementary school years were littered with homemade books with topics ranging from flowers to adventure and of course my personal journal; all the while playing school with my siblings. I even gave homework. Somewhere God intertwined this desire in my soul from my birth and writing has always been my decompressor, if you will. My constant place to go when the going gets tough or something needs to be articulated better than I can verbalize.

At the start of high school, one of my best friends was told by our English teacher that she should join the journalism class. She also liked to write and really is amazing at it, too. Little me had no idea there was such a thing and was bummed that I was not asked. Oh little me. Did I mention how shy and naive and insecure I was back then? I will spare you but trust me. Looking back, this was my pivot point, where I started going after more creative projects and ended up perusing fashion design and merchandising in college. I loved designing though. And still love it now. But. But. But. But this is point where God calls me back to His purpose for me. Back to my other love.  Back to my roots. Back to writing.

For the last year and half, God has been whispering and telling and calling me to write. I wrote a little for myself but really did not pay that much attention to it. Why not? I am not sure, really. I like to think I am usually obedient to His calling but for some reason I hesitated this time. Not that I did not want to write. It just did not seem that important and all of those fun DIY projects on Pinterest luring me to make them did not help. It was not until this past week that I finally started listening. Finally started writing more. Sometimes I really need a flashing sign with DO THIS written on it for confirmation or maybe just a sermon entitled "The Next Step," with a guest speaker who says he also did not listen to God's call for a year. Isn't God funny that way?

Recently I came across a post about taking pictures of daily life and how it made the mundane beautiful. While I totally agree and pictures are of high value and importance to me, the first thing that came to mind was writing. For me, writing takes out some of the mundane and adds sprinkles of character and light. The right word changes the entire situation. Not to take away from the smiles and laughter only caught in the perfect moment of a photograph. Writing on the other hand adds elements that a picture can only take so far. It adds emotion where there once may not have been. It provides a back story and possibly a hope for the future. It adds more time than a picture possibly ever could.

There is almost something sacred in the stringing together of words to form the memories of moments past and still to come. They are owned by the writer. No one can take that from them or add to it. Anyone can take a picture of someone posing with a birthday cake but no one will have the same thoughts or feeling about that moment captured in time. They belong to the writer. The inventor of that moment as it played out in their head as the final candle was blown out. That is beauty. That is the gift of daily life. That is God's gift of words.

I have no idea what this writing thing looks like or what God wants to do with it. It is out of my comfort zone, which seems to be a constant in my relationship with God; He's pretty funny that way, too. It is easy to write down words that make sense to me but to write them and allow others to read them, well that is another story. I know God will continue to give me things to share. Things He wants me to share. This week alone has been filled with random tidbits and pieces already. So this is the part where my stomach ties itself in knots and extra prayers are prayed and God and I go out on another adventure together. I wonder what it will look like this time around.
When I thought about becoming a mom I never thought about what it REALLY entailed and entered it blindly with visions of ruffled dresses and head bands dancing in my head. I had such a hard time coming to grip with the fact I was going to have a baby that the reality of  what it meant to have a baby hardly came to play. The fear of having a healthy baby overtook my thoughts of what motherhood had for me. I have been around children since I was one myself. I babysat, helped in children's church and just about anything else you do with kiddos. I really enjoyed it and never thought anything of motherhood except that one day I would enter in to it. Dirty diapers and teeny cut vegetables were easy enough.

Motherhood is nothing like I thought it would be. For that I am extremely grateful but a little heartbroken at the same time. As your wedding vows state: for better or worse, the same goes with having children. For better or worse. Better when they sleep through the night. Better when they listen to your request. Better when they tell you they love you as you kiss them good night. For worse when they throw themselves on the ground in public. Worse when bad habits like nose picking reveals itself. Worse when they tell you they do not want to listen in a not so nice tone.

The journey thus far.

Being a mom is about giving up more of yourself than you ever thought possible or ever really wanted to give to begin with. It is about learning to be consistent, yet knowing when to give in and give that last minute cookie before bed. It is about doing things out of your comfort zone all in the name of fun. It is about getting back to your roots and relearning what fun really is. It is seeing Jesus being lived out in the little lives of those he has given you for a short while.

Motherhood breaks you forever. It takes you to places you don't want to go and teaches you lessons you don't want to learn and forces you to truly rely on God. For comfort during the tough times. For thankfulness during the good times. For him to watch over them as they head out in to the world to do what he ever so carefully placed them here to do for a time such as this. For grace when you mess up. And trust me, you will mess up but thankfully you have grace to cling to!

Motherhood is a journey. A real adventure filled with toothless smiles and shrieks and piles of laundry and messy hair and snuggles and first laughs. It is a beautiful mess. It is something that changes you before you have a chance to see where it happened. Somewhere between the positive pregnancy test and the first cry there is a shift in your soul and motherhood hits you and God shows up to guide you.

Part of me wishes there would have been some class that really prepares you for this stuff. Tells you really how hard it will be and just how tired it is humanly possible to be. Takes you through it all and then asks you in a monotone voice: do you wish to continue? I wish to continue? 

Really, there is nothing that I would enjoy doing more than being a mama. It is not for the faint of heart but somewhere along the line, another switch is flipped and God makes you strong enough and brave enough and allows you to do things you never thought possible. To feel things you never thought possible. It is truly a little miracle wrapped in God's love and mercy. These are the tiny people God has given to you to love and to mold you and change you in to the person he has made you to be. 
Somewhere over the years I've grown to dislike getting messy. Sweat from the heat.  The "outside smell" that comes from being in the sun. Those types of things. Not to say I do not do those things, although I did avoid them for a time. Now, God keeps reminding me of the importance of it all and I find myself enjoying it all. 

When I was little my older sisters would ask us younger ones not to splash by them in our backyard swimming pool for fear their hair would get wet and messed up. Lest they would have to do it all over again. My mom was the same. I was baffled at the fact they were forgoing underwater swimming on account of their hair. Swimming underwater is the reason you get in the pool. However, for them their hair style was of utmost importance. Of course, us younger siblings had to have some fun and accidentally kick our feet in close proximity to them.

It is amazing how something so small, like that of your hair, can change the situation. You become more focused on not doing something and staying away from another that you lose out on the enjoyment that is right in front of you. And the proof that supports it, like that awesome tan from a day at the beach or wet hair from going under the water.

God designed you to have joy. Joy that comes from him alone. Joy that is made complete in him. When you are standing on the sidelines pointing out what you don't want to happen or like about the situation, such as the sweat from the sun or the dirty hair, you are choosing, yes choosing, to give up your joy. Giving up your peace and trading it in for anger or annoyance at the little sister who just splashed you or the daughter who emptied her bucket of dirt all over the patio after you asked her 156 times to keep it in the dirt.

These small moments affect us daily and when we allow ourselves to get too caught up in what we don't want to happen, we lose out on a great opportunity or a teachable moment. Who needs perfect hair, right? 
Our pastor gave a sermon a while back explaining how our journey IS the destination. He was referring to our lives being the destination as opposed to focusing on heaven being our final destination. The lives we are living now are important.

While brushing my toddler's teeth, trying ever so hard to get some brushing on the teeth themselves, as she wiggled and moved and grabbed at the tooth brush, God whispered this to me again as I wished she would just sit still for surely that would make the task easier and we clearly do not want cavities. The journey is the destination. It is the tooth brush dance that matters as opposed to getting her to bed. If I get angry here, no one wins and cavities just might pop up to taunt me.

It's in the way we are getting ready as we head out the door. It's in the way we respond when we are trying to get things done  There is joy and beauty in the chaos of these little moments when you are trying to grab keys and snacks and buckle car seats. It is up to you have to find it and choose joy. God is always faithful to give it.

It is all about perspective, too. When she runs away from me when I grab her jacket, she might just need some extra tickles to get it on. And when she gets up for the 134th time to use the bathroom at bedtime she might just need to know I am there and there are no monsters approaching her door.

It's the way I am reacting to these things that she is learning. She is surrounded by my reactions and short comings as I wrangle her to get her teeth brushed or shoes put on or ask her to listen in the grocery store. These are the journeys of everyday life that are building her character and molding her in to the person she will become.

Most days are good but I'm still learning patience. Thankfully, she learns my good habits, too. And thankfully God gives me grace.

As I saw the emails coming in from (in)courage this year about the conference, I did not know what to think. Last year was the first time I had heard of the blog and the conference. I had also transitioned from apartment living to home living. That is when God kept nudging me to host. To open my home up to strangers. To be obedient in his guiding, all the while serving chocolate and yummy snacks. And that is what I did. 

This year, however, I found myself in a new situation. Still at the same residence but this year, our home was a little fuller. My son was born in December and as the (in)courage emails came pouring in about the up coming conference I asked God, "are you sure about me hosting this year? I have a toddler running around and an infant in my arms, how will this happen?" 

And God assured me that he would show up. He assured me that it was what he had in store for me and asked me to ask for help. I cannot do it alone, which is funny since that is what the whole conference is about - community. My friend said yes and God showed up. 

We planned and crafted and baked and met ladies. We hosted it as a women's event for our church and 40 ladies attended, most of whom had never heard of (in)courage, which did not matter in the slightest.

I loved the theme this year, we need your story. It was such an eye opener of how God uses our testimonies for his witness and to weave us in to the lives of others.

While reading my bible, God reminded me that the people in the bible had stories to share and are still sharing them with us today. They were messy and full of pain and joy and anger and wrapped in God's grace and love and mercy. Joseph spent thirteen years in Egypt as a slave. Thirteen! But God was not finished there and used that time to build him up, gave him favor in the eyes of everyone he met, which culminated with saving the lives of the Egyptians, as well as those of other. Wow!

The same is still the same with us today. We may not be written about in the bible or any book for that matter but our stories just may be written on the hearts of others. Of those we have touched through out our lives. Of those God has used us to speak life in to. Of those God has blessed us with as sons and daughters, husbands, aunts, moms, and dear friends. 

It was a beautiful experience and I am so thankful God continues to push me outside of my comfort zone to accomplish things I never think are possible. And of course for an awesome partner who made 99% of the decor and came up with most of the ideas. 

behind the scenes crew, minus the photographer