Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014: What Happened, What I Learned, and How I Plan to Move Forward

2014 has surely been an exciting year! Looking back at January 2013, I can’t believe how different our lives looked like compared to now. I love taking a journey back into the previous year as the new one closes in. It’s sometimes hard to see all the things God shows us and teaches us throughout the year, and I find sifting through all that has happened gives me a better perspective as I move forward.

January 2014

So many big changes in Ben’s life took place at the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014. He received the news that he had been offered a job at Citibank (on his birthday, no less!) and finished the last class of his undergrad career. Graduating early and refusing to settle for just any job allowed us to buy our home later in the year. Watching Ben work hard to graduate early, spend hours upon hours searching for jobs, and then taking the leap into his first “big boy” job was a truly amazing experience. I knew very early on in our relationship that Ben was not your ordinary young man. His ambition and desire to make God look good in whatever he does inspires me every day. I am so thankful for him! It was such a joy to have him come home during those first few weeks in January talking nonstop about all the new things he was learning about Citibank.

I have to laugh when I think about Ben’s first day at Citibank, however. Sioux Falls was attacked by a fierce cold snap the week he started, with the temperatures plunging well below zero. Ben’s trusty Oldsmobile proved to be not so trustworthy during this cold snap and wouldn’t start as he was headed to his first day on the job. I actually dropped him off that first day! We decided we were tired of driving an unreliable car and ended up buying our Ford Fusion. It was a slight upgrade, to say the least!

Goodbye Oldsmobile! 


February was a relatively low key month. I did a book signing and discussion at the Yankton library, which was a blast. A few women came because they had questions about writing and how to get started on their own dreams. I absolutely love encouraging people to go after their dreams, and any advice I can give I am happy to do so. I also did a book signing at Rexall Drug in Yankton later that month. I am sometimes tempted to allow myself to be discouraged when only a few people show up to these events, but I keep plugging on because I know the message of salvation inside my books is worth it. Marketing and selling my books is harder than I ever thought possible, but again, it is worth it. So we will keep moving forward!

I was of course spoiled on Valentine’s Day. Praise God for my husband!

My book signing event at Rexall Drug, Yankton, SD 


We bought a house in March! You can reread my blog post about this here:

And laugh with me about how differently things have turned out for us since then. While we were dreaming about bringing home a puppy, planting a garden and preparing our house for foster children down the road, God was formulating a plan of his own. We wouldn’t know about this plan for two more months, and I am grateful that he is the one in charge, not me.

Our first house! 


April brought move in day, and I have never experienced a more beautiful and smooth moving day experience! It was sunny and warm and we were blessed with an amazing group of family and friends to help us.

We got started right away transforming our new house into a home by painting our living room and putting up curtains. I love the way it turned out, and I love even more tackling these projects with Ben.

I also turned 21 and was spoiled by the after-school kids I worked with and Ben, of course. It’s nice having a handy man around!

From boring white to blue and orange!

the bathtub might be the one reason I fell in love with our house. Ben's gift was spot on!

A third grader brought me flowers for my birthday! It was beyond sweet


In May I watched my baby brother go to his last prom and celebrated with my family as Katie came back safely from Central Asia. Best of all, though, I got to meet my baby for the first time! Remember how I said Ben and I had all these big plans for a puppy and foster kids? God had a different plan! While his plan looks far different than the one we were crafting, we know his is greater and cannot wait to become parents.

Handsome young man! Proud of him

Katie came home! Love my siblings 

Welcome baby Whitley 


In June Ben and I celebrated one year of marriage. One year flew by so quickly! I also got to hear baby’s heartbeat for the first time!

We experienced our first hardships in homeownership when torrential rainfall in June caused our basement to flood. We were not hit as hard as some were, however, and for that we are grateful. We were able to pull back our carpet, rip out the pad underneath and save the carpet instead of having to throw it all out. We were blessed by both our dads and a good friend who helped us vacuum up the ridiculous amounts of water that kept seeping into the basement as we got this all figured out. We have finally gotten everything put back together down there and are just happy that we were able to get it all fixed relatively easy.

We celebrated with Ben’s dad in June as he married the lovely Jody! What a fun day that was.

I was crawling through the first trimester during June as was suffering from some pretty nasty morning sickness (although some days it lasted ALL day. Not fun). We jumped right into baby mode by buying a stroller, and I watched with amusement as Ben assembled it. Our strategy was to purchase baby supplies throughout the pregnancy so as not to be overwhelmed by the huge cost later on. And because I couldn’t resist getting ready for our little button J

Celebrating one year of marriage by eating stale cake! 
Ben puts together the stroller 
Congrats Jody and Troy!


July was very low key. Besides starting to show off my beautiful baby, I can’t recall anything major happening that month. It’s hard for me to appreciate slower times in my life because I am action oriented, but looking back I can see that it was a good thing. I was working 40 hours a week at the summer program and those were some pretty miserable days out at the park and the pool. Being able to just come home and relax after those long days was wonderful.

I used to be this size???


My wonderful husband took me on a surprise vacation in August! He spoiled me by taking me to a Switchfoot concert—my all time favorite band! We caught a baseball game beforehand, and the next day wandered around the Omaha Zoo. It was a quick little getaway, but it melted my heart. I married such a sweet man!

We also got some precious ultrasound photos of our baby. What an amazing appointment that was.

We ended the month selling books out at Lifelight—what an experience that was! It rained and rained and rained and rained. Still, we managed to sell quite a few books and talk to many people about Jesus.

Baseball game/Switchfoot Concert

Omaha Zoo

Our outdoor Lifelight Booth. Hoping to get back indoors next year!

The muddy mess out at Lifelight! We went shoeless most of the weekend 


I started my last regular semester at USF in September. In the spring I will be at Minnehaha County Human Services completing my internship and then it’s on to graduation!

We got even more fun pictures of our sweet baby in September. At our previous appointment the ultrasound technician had trouble seeing the spinal cord and just to be sure everything was in place we had to go back in for another appointment. Everything looked great, and I was happy to get such amazing pictures!


Ben and I celebrated six years of togetherness in October. We went out to eat at Spezia and giggled like teenagers as we played hangman and tic-tac-toe on the paper tablecloth at our table. I love this man!

We also had some fun with our sweet niece Mariah by decorating pumpkins and going trick-or-treating. She’s going to be a great cousin!

Date to Spezia
She loved this!

Sweet little Berry 


November was busy, busy, busy! We attended two book signing events and sold lots of books! We also threw a 25th Anniversary party with Emily and Shane for our parents. We were spoiled at our baby shower and then spent an entire day cooking freezer meals. We haven’t been able to fit anything else in our freezer since then!


Oh, December. What a mix of emotions for me. I spent hours upon hours working on a huge case study project for my social work with individuals and families class, where I essentially built a case from scratch and developed an intervention plan for my client. Since I will be working at the county welfare office I built my client off of a typical client that I will work with at the Safe Home branch of the county welfare program. Safe Home is a program that provides stable, long term housing for the chronically homeless, alcoholic population of Minnehaha County. I had the opportunity to spend a few days shadowing at the program back in October and absolutely fell in love with it. The work I will be doing at the county will be mostly emergency resources, which is a program that provides interest free loans to struggling families to help pay for a number of different things, such as deposits for apartments, rent money, and help with utilities. This type of social work is known as case working, which means the relationship is short term. At Safe Home, however, I will be a case manager, meaning I can build long term relationships with the residents and work with them over months and years. Even though my case study project took me FOREVER to construct, I loved it. As a freshman in the social work program I had absolutely no clue what social workers did. By the end of my first semester I was thoroughly freaked out, overwhelmed by the extent of knowledge and skills social workers need to actually help people! It wasn’t until the end of this class that I finally saw all the pieces fit together. I feel much more confident in my ability to meet with clients, conduct an interview, gather the needed information from them, and work with clients to develop a plan of action. I am so excited to move forward with my internship!

It was a little bittersweet to end the classroom portion of my college career. I love learning! It’s going to be a major transition for me come spring when I don’t have to plan for a fall semester of school—a good transition, though! I have already been scanning job opportunities and am praying for God’s guidance in that process.

December brought one of the toughest challenges for me. I walked through a storm I never thought I’d ever have to walk through. I won’t divulge any details because it is personal, and know that my health, baby’s health, Ben’s health, and the health of everyone close to me is perfectly normal! My self-esteem took a major hit and I was left reeling for a few days, but I know, as cheesy as this sounds, that God has a much bigger plan in store for me than I had for myself. I have come to terms with what happened and am choosing to learn from what happened, put the past behind me, and walk forward with my head held high. I am blessed with a supportive husband and parents and a wonderful church staff who prayed for me and offered priceless advice to me as I walked through my trial. I learned a lot and beating myself up for what happened is not worth it!

Although the year didn’t end as I would have liked, I was able to recover fairly well and I had a wonderful Christmas season. Being first time parents we didn’t want to risk traveling and delivering early so we decided not to go home to Yankton and instead hosted our families in Sioux Falls. I loved hosting! I also got to spend some much needed time with my sister Katie before she heads back overseas, and we ended the year celebrating 23 years of life for Ben. Thanks to all who helped make his day special! Love spoiling him J

23 Years Old! 

Tolly/Swanson Christmas. Love all the cousins I inherited! 

Hosting the Watt's for Christmas Eve

What I learned

Although this is nothing new to me, I came face to face with the fact that God’s plans are much different than my own this year! I find nothing wrong with planning ahead—I think it’s wise—I know that we need to plan with an open mind and heart. God took Ben and me in a much different direction than we thought we would go in 2014, and now we can hardly wait for God to give us our sweet little button!
Back in November when my thoughts were more focused in on thankfulness, I was struck with how blessed I am. I’m living life with my best friend, a husband who seems absolutely hand-picked just for me! Family on both sides live close by. I was able to pay for my last year of college without any extra loans, and I am getting a wonderful education in a field I adore by amazing professors. I get to come home to a cozy house and a well-stocked fridge. How many people are denied the very things I take for granted every single day?

But then something hit me. I know all the things I listed above are blessings. God has given me so much more than I deserve. But what if he didn’t? What if things never worked out for Ben and me? What if I was still single and living at home? What if I couldn’t afford to go to the school I love? What if God wasn’t giving me all these wonderful things? Would it be as easy for me to lift my head up in church each week and sing thank you? Would I be able to say thank you at all?

I’ve been reading (very, very slowly, I might add) through a book by John Piper called “How to Fight for Joy: When I Don’t Desire God.” The whole point of this book is to show readers how God is supposed to be our one and only joy. We should never let God’s gifts take the place of his holiness in our lives. He alone is enough. But if I think really hard about it, I am not 100% sure that if the gifts were taken away the praise would still be there. I’m not at that point in my faith yet, and this realization pains me. I have followed God for many years, but I still rely on what he gives me to reassure myself that he loves me. The absence of what we would call good gifts does not reflect his love for us! A favorite quote of mine by John Piper helps me refocus myself when I am tempted to worship the gifts, not the giver: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” If the blessings were stripped away, I want to be able to life my head in worship and still sing thank you. I want to show the world that even when our plans unravel and it feels fitting to shake our fits at God that our only response should be one of worship. I like to watch this video every once in a while too, to help me refocus.

I’m thankful for the gifts God has given me. And I want to move forward into 2015 knowing that the good things I enjoy now might not always be there, and that my only response should be one of praise. In the good times, praise him. In the bad times, praise him. He is always good, always right, always holy and in complete control.

May you all experience his goodness, righteousness, holiness, and control in your lives in 2015. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Broken Together

I have always loved a good fairy tale. I often drifted off to dreamland as a little girl with stories of princes and princesses dancing around in my head. Maybe that’s why when I stumbled upon the tv show “Once Upon a Time” the other day I can’t stop watching it! There is just something about the timeless story of a brave knight in shining armor rescuing the beautiful princess that never fails to warm my heart.
While many people in today’s world scoff at fairy tales, I’ve always thought that the story of a prince saving a princess is such a neat parallel to the Christian faith. While there is some truth behind the idea that fairy tales can cause damage to young girls who take the idea of a handsome, flawless man riding in to rescue them to heart, I still think these stories are worth reading and watching. It is utterly unrealistic to believe that any person can save us. No one but Jesus can do that, and when reading and watching fairy tales I look at them through a lens of faith, praising God that he sent a perfect savior to rescue me from my bondage of sin.

Even though stories of princes and princesses have always enthralled me, my practicality kept me from looking for perfection in a dating relationship as a teenager. Ben and I both brought plenty of brokenness into our relationship, and I am happy that both of us were smart enough to know that looking to the other to fix our brokenness wasn’t a good idea. (Thank you, parents, for raising us right!) I scroll through Facebook and get so discouraged by the many, many posts I see about how relationships aren’t worth it and that it is better to either stay single or simply enjoy as many casual flings as you can. After all, if the person I’m in a relationship with can’t fulfill all my needs, make me happy all the time, and fix my every problem, it’s not worth it, right?

So wrong!

I’m walking through a big trial right now. I have never felt more broken than I did on Friday. When talking about it with Ben, though, he never once criticized me or tried to ask me why in the world this happened. He didn’t try and fix what I had broken. He was just there. He listened. He offered good, Biblical advice. He held me and assured me that yes, this trial is difficult and it’s something we’d rather not deal with, but God is still faithful and will always provide for us.

He has never once tried to fix any part of me, and for that I am so grateful. Our relationship works so beautifully only because we’ve both realized that God alone can rescue us. We are broken people, and trying to fix each other will only lead to failure. As Ben has walked beside me through this most recent trial I am so thankful that he has looked to God for guidance and not tried to fix me.
Rest assured that baby is completely fine and everyone is healthy! It will take me a while to heal from what has happened and Ben and I would both appreciate your prayers as we prepare for baby’s coming in the next few weeks. In February I will have to leave my new little one and return to school to complete my internship, and I will begin searching for a full-time job as well—it’s going to be a stressful spring for me! While I know in my heart that God has my future already mapped out, it is always difficult to trust completely when I am in the dark.

Praising God that he gave me Ben, and that we can be broken together.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Very Brief Update!

Today I am celebrating because I finally feel like my cold is going away for good! I’ve been battling this darn cold for a week and a half and am just now starting to feel back to normal. Looking back at October I realize the reason I probably got this cold in the first place is because I spent basically every single day running around like a crazy person while being pregnant and working with germ-infested elementary school kids. Roughly three out of my five weekday mornings were spent shadowing at the agency I will be completing my internship at in the spring—Minnehaha Health and Human Services—and then running off to class, work, and school. Ben and I also took a childbirth class on Monday nights during October, which was hilariously and awkwardly fun and informative, and on Wednesday nights I headed to my church to work with 6th and 7th grade girls at youth group. It was no wonder I got sick—literally every minute of every day was full and I finally broke down. However, I am down shadowing and my mornings have been freed up to catch up on some much needed sleep and allowed me to spread my workload out more evenly throughout the week.

Regardless of how tired October made me feel, I am at the point of my pregnancy where I realize I should have been more thankful for the second trimester! My schedule has been freed up considerably and yet I feel even more tired than before! That dreaded exhaustion that I left behind from the first trimester has returned with a vengeance, but now all the fun things like a constant backache have also crept up, and I am just plain tired. But so very, very excited!

I have never been more excited for any aspect of school like I’m excited for my internship. For the last month I have simply been watching case workers handle cases and I have very much enjoyed interacting with clients and learning the ropes to this agency. Going in, I had the misconception that clients would come in “living” off the money from the county and never making changes to improve their lives. But I was wrong. Minnehaha County Health and Human Services isn’t a free for all where people can come in and get a handout. The assistance given out to these people is a loan that is required to be paid back, and if caseworkers have a suspicion that assistance wouldn’t really help the client—that they’d just be back in the office a month later asking for more help—the help isn’t given to them. There are strict income guidelines that case workers have to adhere to, and the goal is to simply help struggling people get back on their feet and to give them the tools to be successful after the county has given them assistance. I’ve learned about all kinds of agencies in Sioux Falls doing wonderful things for people, and it makes me thankful to live in a community that cares about “the least of these.” There is good help available in Sioux Falls for people who desperately need it, and the biggest thing I’ve learned throughout the last month is that it is dangerous to write people off as lazy before you know their story. It is not up to me to decide if someone is “worthy” of my help. It’s my job to listen, to offer them the help available to them or point them to a place that can help them if I am unable to, and to NOT judge them. I have come face to face with my faith, realizing how unworthy I am of God’s love and acceptance when I have done nothing to prove to him that I am worthy. If he can give me grace and forgiveness when I least deserve it, I can give understanding and assistance to people too—even when I feel they least deserve it. I could go on and on about this, so if you want to talk to me about exactly what goes on at Minnehaha County Health and Human Services and why I love it so much, please ask me about it!

And of course, I am so excited to welcome our baby into our lives so soon! I have roughly 11 weeks to go and I am both elated and terrified. I won’t get as much maternity leave as I would like because I need to be back at the agency by mid-February, so add me to your prayer list if you would! I am going to be relying on your prayers to get me through the first rough months of parenting and trying to balance my professional life. It’s going to be a very emotionally trying time for me, and know that your prayers and words of encouragement impact me much more than you will ever know.

That’s my brief update on what I’ve been up to in the past few weeks! Thanks for partnering with me in my whirlwind life.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Life Lately: Killing my Garden & Self-Diagnosis

Ben and I began going to open houses just for kicks and giggles the fall right after we got married. We knew it would be quite a while until we could actually buy a house, but it was still fun to dream together. When Ben got his job at Citibank in January, though, that dream became much more real! I have my mother’s flair for decorating and was eagerly looking forward to making a house transform into the kinds of cozy homes my mom always provided for me. We moved in in April and although we’ve already dealt with some of the not so fun aspects of owning a home, it has been a joy taking care of something we can truly call our own.

When I knew I was going to have a yard, I got really excited about starting a garden. I have fond memories of watching my parent’s garden grow and thought “How hard can it be?” I will admit I got caught up in the magic of my childhood memories: the excitement of picking out just the right seeds with my dad at the store, watching him prepare the ground for planting, and pushing those tiny seeds into the ground with the hopes that they would grow into something wonderful. I can remember watching him come home over his lunch break and turning on the garden sprinkler to give the thirsty plants some water, marveling over the first green shoots that poked their tiny heads out of the dirt, picking the first fruits of all that labor.

What I don’t remember is doing any work! We had gardens when I was pretty young, so of course I didn’t participate in any of the hard work; I had dolls and make believe worlds to tend to! For a few summers I was in charge of watering the flower beds out front, but that chore took all but fifteen minutes of my time during the summer and mom and dad did all the weeding anyway! Now, before you go chasing after my parents for not making me work hard or instilling in me the value of a hard day’s work, I assure you they instilled those values in other ways J. But when it comes to gardens, I was pretty clueless about just how much work it takes to make anything grow.

And so, with magical childhood thoughts dancing through my head I announced to Ben that we should plant a garden. My sweet guy disassembled the broken swing set that the previous owners had left for us and transformed the frame into a garden bed, then prepared the ground for me. What a guy. A trip to the Home Depot came next and with a smile on his face he watched with amusement as I selected just the right seeds and tools we’d need for the garden. I researched which plants should live next to each other to help each other grow the best and then we got our hands dirty and just like I did as a kid, we pushed those tiny seeds into the ground and dreamed about the harvest that lay ahead.

Then I got pregnant and started working full time at the summer program, where I would spend 80% of my time outside at the pool or at the park.

I never knew the depths of what my mother went through four times in order to bring us into the world until I got pregnant myself. I never knew exhaustion until I experienced the first trimester! Even if I spent most of my time at the pool sitting on a lounge chair in the shade watching the kiddos splash around in the pool I would still come home feeling like I did a cross country workout. The last thing I ever wanted to do after coming home from work or on weekends was work in my garden!

And so it sat. I have to say, Mother Nature did a better job watering that dang garden then I did. When I noticed things were looking a little…sad…I would force myself to water it right away when I got home in the afternoons, but weeds had already taken over and I knew that the damage had been done. I accepted the fact that I had neglected this thing that I had once been so excited about, but I realized that even if I could save it still, I didn’t have the energy or excitement to do it anymore.

If you walk into my backyard anytime soon expect to hear a disclaimer about my little weed patch! I’m not one to beat myself up too badly about things like this and I am able to look at the situation and say: “You know, I have many talents and passions. Gardening is clearly not one of them!” and I am okay with this.

Now, this is more than a humorous tale of my sad, unfortunate garden. As the summer has passed and I have progressed further into my pregnancy, I can see clear connections to myself and that darn garden. I have always been a practical, perceptive person and taking social work classes has further sharpened these tendencies—it is hard for me not to look at my life situation with a tiny bit of fear that my life is soon going to look very much like my garden.

I am so thrilled to be welcoming a baby into my life in January. I want to gush about it to everyone I meet, but people don’t always make it so easy to do this. The same thing happened when I got engaged. I wanted to be the head-over-heels in love bride-to-be and talk about it every chance I got, but my life situation made people give advice that wasn’t asked for and frankly, wasn’t appreciated. Those closest to me and Ben knew our history well, knew that the dreams we had for our lives could easily be accomplished as husband and wife. But others felt the need to ask and say things such as this: “Don’t you think you’re a little young?” “You know, marriage isn’t what you think it’s going to be. It’s a lot harder than you probably think!” And on and on. The world has this idea that you need to do XYZ before you can do anything in your life or you will one day look back on it with disappointment. So far I’m not disappointed. Am I living in a dream world where I think life and marriage will always be this easy? Nope. Like I said, I am practical and perceptive—I know that tough times surely lay ahead for us, but we’re choosing to build our marriage off of Christ and seeking Biblical wisdom in order to make it work.

I have kept much of my excitement about our baby to myself because I fear the reactions of people who think they need to offer me advice. I know that I am young and I will honestly not have a clue how to take care of a newborn, you don’t need to tell me this. I am scared enough without your reminder. I know that my situation is unique. I wish I could capture “the look,” as I like to call it, when I explain what our winter and spring is going to look like. When I found out I was pregnant in the spring, my first worry was that I wouldn’t be able to finish school on time and that I’d have to extend my senior year by one semester. God has blessed me with a kind and understanding advisor who pursued her own social work degree later in life as she was raising her children. Knowing that it would be possible—tough, yes, but possible—she assured me that I could get done on time. In two weeks I will start my final semester of classes, have this sweet baby in January when I don’t have to take any classes thanks to interim, and in the spring I will complete my degree with an internship at the County Welfare Office. I realize that I will have a full plate; that I will be running on lack of sleep and that I won’t want to leave my little one at daycare. But it’s what I have to do! I don’t want “the look” when I explain my situation—the sad smile you give me because things will be difficult. Believe me, I am completely aware that my life will no doubt resemble the sprawling patch of weeds in my backyard that used to be a garden. The organized, quite life I am living now is going to transform into something I won’t recognize. The phrase “post-partum depression” has begun hanging around in my mind and I am so angry that simply the fear of being sad and overwhelmed about welcoming my sweet baby into the world is already crowding out the overwhelming joy that used to be there! I’m trying to be practical by realizing that this winter might not be everything I thought having a baby would be like, but I don’t want to self-diagnose myself and walk into the next few months with fear dragging me down.

But then I take a step back and look again at my garden. Sure, I neglected it. Even from the beginning it never got the care it deserved, but it grew anyway. It rained just enough in May and June to give it a healthy start, and even though the weeds came up and the ground cried for moisture as the weeks went on, it continued to grow. The harvest will not look anything like I imagined it would, but I will still pull a few things out of that mess and gosh darn it, we will enjoy it J. Looking back, I know I could have done things differently and the garden could have grown into the kind of garden my parent’s always had. There are simple steps I could have taken to make things better. The fact that it grew anyway reminds me that some things are simply beyond my control. Maybe I will be completely overwhelmed and maybe I will experience “the baby blues.” But I am confident that whatever weeds threaten to choke me out will not completely overwhelm me because, unlike my garden, I have a gardener with a much more caring, compassionate heart. Someone who won’t be too tired to stoop down and pull those nasty weeds from my life, who will give me water when I need it most and who won’t give up on me when things begin to look bad. My harvest won’t look like what I always dreamed it will—raising my family will be messy; it will require more work than I ever thought possible. But I’m not the one it charge and thank goodness for that!  

Maybe God is smiling down as I shake my head at my sad little weed patch. Maybe he planned from the beginning for this to happen because he knew I would over-analyze it and come to the conclusion he knew was there all along:

This mama is gonna be just fine.

I’m going to be just fine because He is the one wearing the gardening gloves and because I know from watching weeds take over that there are steps I can take to make it better when it seems like everything is out of control. This winter and spring, and for the rest of my life, really, will be a time of learning. Of making mistakes and realizing that I can’t do it on my own. Of being humble enough to reach out to others for help.

So while I have thought through all the different scenarios of what having this baby will be like, ultimately I know I won’t fully understand what it will actually be like until the time arrives! If we run into each other in the meantime, let me work through these conflicting thoughts with you—let me be completely, blissfully happy, let me be scared. Pray for me and offer me good, Biblical advice. Keep “the look” to yourself and just walk beside me.

Remind me who is in charge.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
            —John 15: 1-4  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

How Pregnancy is Turning Me into a Huge Sap and What it's Teaching me About Christ

I consider myself to be a fairly un-sappy girl—well, before pregnancy, that is! I used to poke fun at people who could tear up during a movie or while reading a sad book, but it looks like the tables have turned on me, especially now that I am in my 13th week of pregnancy and the risk of miscarriage has dropped significantly. The thought of losing this baby has been in the back of my mind since day one, and I’m breathing a sigh of relief and praising God that for now, everything seems to be right on track.

I spend quite a bit of my day thinking about the little one we’re so excited to welcome into our lives in January, which of course, makes me really emotional! I find myself smiling at and watching new moms cuddling their new babies at the pool when I’m watching my summer program kiddos. I’ll feel a marble well up in my throat thinking about holding my own baby. I wonder what his or her sweet face will look like. I have so many dreams and plans for this little one that it almost overwhelms me.

Something completely new overwhelmed me, reducing me to tears while driving down a busy street in Sioux Falls today. I was listening to “How He Loves” by David Crowder, and I just could not handle thinking about the deep, deep love that the Lord already has for this baby! Please listen to the song before reading on:

God already has all the physical traits of our baby etched out. He knows what the baby’s sweet face will look like—he’s already picked out what splash of color the baby’s eyes will be, he’s carved the dimples that I’m just absolutely positive will grace his or her face, and he’s already counted out the number of hairs that will cover the baby’s soft little head. But more importantly—far more importantly—he is preparing our baby’s heart to hunger and thirst after him. Jesus says in John 4:13-14 to the Samaritan woman at the well that “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst again.” Our baby will understand physical thirst—and it will understand spiritual thirst as well. God has programed us to desire something in this world. As Christians we know that the desire can only be filled with Christ. God is preparing our little one to battle this spiritual thirst, and I am already praying that he or she will choose the living water of Jesus, and not the physical “water” that the world will offer up. I find it amazing that even as this little one is still growing, God is already pursuing his or her heart! As the song says, he loves this baby! Passionately, richly, deeply, and with a power that is so all satisfying that it made me a teary, blubbery mess right in front of Target today just thinking about it.

I’ve heard it said that you never truly understand what it means to love another until you hold your baby in your arms. I’m looking forward to that moment. But I am so, so thankful that God is already holding our baby in his strong arms. I am thankful that God is revealing his heart to me during this pregnancy; offering up just a tiny taste of the love he has for me as I love my own baby. Seriously, this little button is only the size of a peach and already I can’t comprehend the love I feel for him or her! How could anyone love anything more than this? Rereading what Christ accomplished on the cross puts it into perspective in a hurry. You can read about it here: 

I can’t wait to see our child learn about what Christ has done for him or her! I hope that their eyes fill with tears when they truly realize the depth of what Christ has done for them. I can’t wait for the day when they make the decision to become a follower of Jesus. How wonderful will it be to be both a mother and a sister or brother in Christ to my child?? I find so much peace and comfort knowing that in all the ways I will fall short as a parent, in all the ways I won’t love this baby adequately, that God’s love will always be there for my little one—that he will never, ever fail him or her. His love will always run deeper than mine, and for that I am truly grateful.

I’m also a little bit emotional about it J

Thirteen Week! I realize the writing is super small....oops! Baby's fingerprints have now formed, the head makes up 1/3 of his or her body, is 3 inches long and weighs about 1 oz. Mom feels SO MUCH BETTER than two weeks ago, and even though its hard to tell in this picture there IS a little baby bump happening, folks. It's a baby, not cookies, I promise :) 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Oh, Baby!

I had a flashback the other day, sparked, interestingly enough, by a birthday notification on Facebook. Most of you know that Ben and I have known each other for essentially our entire lives. We were always in the background of each other’s lives. If you look through pictures of each of our childhoods, you’ll see glimpses of this—there Ben is standing behind me on the bleachers during a Christmas play at church, there I am on the sidelines in photos of Ben’s AWANA years. Church was our common ground, so when we made the decision to begin dating we wanted the church to be a part of our relationship. The easiest way for us to do this was to get an important role model to both of us involved—our youth pastor Jeremy Nelson! His recent birthday brought back a sweet memory, although one that was not always so fondly remembered. I went in for a meeting once with a Jeremy and a few other people and I was the first to arrive. Ben and I had only recently begun dating and Jeremy said something like this: “So, you and Ben are dating now, huh? I think that’s great! I think it’s awesome that you’re ready to look forward to being a wife and a mother!”

Now, those were not his exact words, but I do know that he mentioned both marriage and parenthood, which at the time completely freaked me out. I was only fifteen, for crying out loud! Thinking about walking down the aisle and having kids with someone I had only just begun dating terrified me—but it did get me thinking. We all know that relationships—especially high school relationships—end in one of two ways: eventually it ends heartbreak or it leads to the wedding alter. With this in the forefront of my mind, I began to wonder if it was worth it to jump into a relationship. My dad had spoken similar words that had me thinking along the same lines, words that up until recently didn’t make sense to me.

Date for marriage.

My fifteen year old brain did not understand this. Did he mean date with the intention of getting married? Who would tell their fifteen year old to do this? It wasn’t until later that I understood that he meant to date in such a way that my eventual husband would be honored. We had no way of knowing that Ben would one day become that husband, of course, but I think all of us are glad he did!

The thought of being married and a parent is of course not so terrifying to me now. Well…the married part isn’t…the parent part is still a foreign concept to me! God has richly blessed us in the last year with a wonderful full-time job for Ben and a new house, and with these two blessings we began to plan. We planned for foster children to enter our house soon. We planned to build a fence in our backyard and bring a puppy home to run around and make messes in.

God planned for us to have a baby, instead!

We are of course thrilled to welcome this little Whitley into our home. Being a mom is the one thing I have always been sure that I wanted to do. Before I wanted to be a writer, before I wanted to be a social worker, I wanted to be a mom. (Ask my own mother how many hours were spent rocking and tucking in baby dolls in our house!) But this does not mean we’re not overwhelmed and scared—but I suppose every new parent to be feels the same way! Things are going to get tricky. I have one year of school and an internship to get done in the midst of being a new mom and I am overwhelmed by the decisions and purchases that need to be made before we can bring our little button home with us. I will be the first to admit that I dip slightly into the “Type A” Personality Type. I love lists and being organized. I am a planner, which if you’ve been watching my Pinterest activity over the past few weeks you’re probably smiling and laughing. I’ve pinned so many lists and plans about baby needs and delivery that I’ve lost count. I just want to be prepared! I want to be organized and on top of everything.

God always has a way of bringing just the right amount of chaos into my life to help me balance myself out, however. Last week Ben and I discovered quite a bit of water seeping into our newly carpeted basement, which forced me to reevaluate how I respond to negative events in my life. We have two girls living in our basement this summer, and the water caused the girls to take residence elsewhere—one of those places being my living room floor! Suddenly four people were stuck upstairs, using the same bathroom, and we were all a bit frustrated by the situation. I could have easily whined and pouted (okay…maybe I did to my husband just a teeny bit) but what would have been the point? I watched my dad, Ben, and a good friend tackle the water and I knew the queen sized ben laying in the middle of the floor wouldn’t be there forever. Sooner or later things were going to go back to normal—and it wouldn’t be because of me stressing out and being upset.

Guess what? The basement is dry and everything is back in its place! Well, sort of. I have been experiencing some of the worst days of pregnancy so far, and I am just not feeling like myself. Remember how I told you I like to plan things? That includes our meals for the week, but being so sick and tired and has made doing so much harder. Pregnancy brain is a real thing, folks—I am forgetting things left and right. Normally I would stress all day if I knew I didn’t have a dinner plan, but recently I have been able to shrug it off and say “Ya know, I got through this day in one piece and I kept everything in my tummy! That’s good enough for me. Pizza Hut is on speed dial anyway!”

It has been freeing to allow myself to relax. To let the clutter in the closet build up and be able to just shut the door and make the decision to not let it bother me. To forget about dinner plans and tell Ben to take me out for the second time this week. To realize that when a baby comes into our home, the organized life that I have planned for us on Pinterest is probably not going to be a reality.

But you know what? I am so happy that organized home will probably never be a reality for us. Because when I think back on the life my mom and dad gave me, I don’t remember organized closets and Tupperware that had matching lids. I remember sitting around the table laughing and sharing meals that had most likely been thrown together by my amazing mom after a day of laundry and loving on her kids. I remember snuggling down to family movie nights and thinking, “This is what the word ‘security’ means. I remember my dad tickling my nose with my pink blanket and teaching me how to pray to Jesus as he tucked me in at night. I remember love. Chaos. Clutter. Security. Safety. Jesus.

I want to give our little button those things. I want to forget all about what I think I need to do and focus instead on what God has called me to do. To love the little life he has blessed us with and raise this child to bring glory to his name.

I can hardly wait to get started.

 The actual due date in January 15th!

 Mom has nooooo idea that in a few weeks she will feel very much not like herself! Still enjoying lots of energy and a good appetite at six weeks

Baby at 7 weeks old! We thought you were a bit older and are bummed we have to wait a few more weeks to meet you. You'll be worth the wait, though!

Still smiling despite the exhaustion and morning (wait, no. It's ALL DAY) sickness! Baby is 11 weeks on tomorrow!