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. 

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