Saturday, November 30, 2013

Family Snapshot

What it's like to be us, right now. November 2013.


Likes: spending time together as a family, quiet weekends, regular exercise, paring down his diet to include as much raw and unprocessed food as possible, then trying to get the kids and I to try it! 
Dislikes: Hmm, you'd have to ask him... but I know a big one is that this time of year, it's dark out when he leaves for work and it's dark out when he comes home. Not seeing the sun all day must be really awful. 
Can be found: reading the Bible to our kids at dinnertime, The Chronicles of Narnia series to Robbie at bedtime, hitting the pavement around town or making good use of the Prairie Path, working hard at the office, up first with the kids on Saturday and Sunday mornings so that I can catch an extra hour or two of sleep, volunteering in Ellie's Cubbies room at Awana at Church on Wednesday nights, next to me on the couch at the end of exhausting days.
Is heard saying: "Let me do it." (Usually in reference to a chore or task I loathe.) "Thanks for dinner!" (Usually after a sub-par showing of my culinary skills.) "Hang in there." (In reference to all my little grumblings about whatever, spoken sincerely.) "Do you feel up for it?" (Never pushing me, always considerate.) 
Defining physical attributes: super skinny and fit, thanks to nearly a year of marathon training and healthy eating! 30 is the new 20. ;)
Something I don't want to forget about this period of time: how attentively supportive he is to me as I carry our fourth child. The vast number of times he's cleaned up dinner and loaded the dishwasher for me. The many times he's forgiven my (sometimes hormonally-induced) offenses. The way he overlooks my shortcomings on a very daily basis - not holding things over my head... (not that I have many examples. But for instance, two weeks ago when I backed out of the garage and nailed the side mirror of a rental van and shattered the mirror and cracked the frame... or the way the kitchen is perpetually cluttered, mainly with pastries (me) and crafts (kids) right now... or my sheer inability to complete the week's laundry in a single day and it becomes a permanent fixture, just hanging out on the side of the family room like a guest who won't leave and begs for attention.) The way he is constant and even. His texts early in the morning encouraging me or pointing out lovely things about me. His leadership in our family and all the time and effort he spends on loving each of us well, the way we need him to. His discipline in nearly every area of life. His strength.


Likes: my morning cup of espresso {christmas blend} coffee alongside the dark and quiet first hour of the day as I try to spend time with the Lord each morning. Blogging my thoughts and hopefully encouraging other women in their spiritual journeys. Taking the kids to school and picking them up, then talking about what they're learning and experiencing. Helping them learn to see God in everything, teaching them how to pray, teaching them how to serve and love others well. I also like a good hot ham and cheese sandwich. I still like my makeup but I'm not insecure anymore without it, and I use a lot less of it. I love a good hot bath at the end of hard days, bath bomb included. I like getting involved in new ministry opportunities and the way it expands my heart and perspective. I really like any amount of time I get with friends to talk about the good, important stuff of life. I like the occasional Starbucks, and the relationships that are slowly forming with the kids who work there (seriously, sometimes they call me ma'am, so referring to them as kids is no longer a stretch). I love giving things away right now. I also love the idea of turning Christmas on it's head and really living out what we believe at this important time of year, but that's another post for another day. I love the way God is showing me new things about myself, both beautiful and ugly, and is lovingly pruning me. I really love the time I get to spend with Rob and the kids, and cherish it... and I also love the time I have alone during the day or week. 
Dislikes: how far away my best friend Kacey is. How sassy the kids seem to be this week. The way I have rapidly put on weight with this pregnancy (eek)! How infrequently we are able to see family members who live far away. Being out of breath after exerting any amount of physical energy - the stairs wind me! ha. The occasional nightmare about one of the kids getting the stomach flu, and the pathways I continue to fight to close in this area that causes me anxiety - thankfully, so much less than it used to. Laundry, crumbs that seem to perpetually live under the table, tasks that add up to more than my energy level. The way I often feel relationally exhausted. Also, I really, really dislike what has been going on in Congo and what continues to play out to this day. I had no idea until recently. 
Can be found: reading as much as possible (mainly early in the mornings and late at night), driving kids to and from various schools and activities, taking pictures to capture all the sweet and sassy of the moment, and generally attempting to convince little people to put on clothes, stay in buckles, eat their well balanced meals, stop fighting and use kind words, wipe and flush and wash. Once a week I can be found at church leading Bible study (although that recently ended); periodically you'll find me spending time with a sweet young woman from Congo and her little boy; in the mornings you can see me through our front windows at my 'Bible study table'; in the late afternoon and evening I'm anchored in the kitchen. Once a week I'm spending time mentoring the greatest college student you've ever met. In between all that, I can usually be found at playdates with friends, popping into our favorite resale shop downtown to visit my sweet friend who owns it, and enjoying the occasional one-on-one time with each of my kids.
Is heard saying: "That is NOT what a Livingston does/says." and "I love watching you ___ ." and "Please stop sassing me." and "You're so beautiful in the morning! I missed you while you slept!" - on repeat, ever day. Generally going on and on about the Refugee Resettlement Ministry our church has that I am dipping my toes in. Because it's amazing and God is changing so many hearts and lives through it, on both ends.
Defining physical attributes: Ever-growing belly. Ever-blond hair that was recently heavily low-lighted and quickly bleached back out. Problem skin and tired eyes but hopefully the happiness I have in my heart right now outshines these things!
Something I don't want to forget about this period of time: How miraculous it is to have life growing inside of your belly. The sweetness of my very little children, trying as they may be. How blessed I am to be married to my husband. The awareness I have of how powerful God can be in my life if I so choose and allow Him to be. How much I am growing as I learn more about myself and the Lord every day. The way it feels to be poured completely out every single day, and then miraculously filled to overflowing again and again.


Likes: Legos, Kindergarten, playing with friends, rediscovering his trains in a box in the basement, keeping track of time, backseat driving, generally monitoring all things and keeping a frighteningly accurate and long memory. Morning hugs, routine, learning about anything new, wrestling.
Dislikes: disorder, running late, white milk, when things happen differently than he was expecting, being 'tested' in any way (so much anxiety), when a sharp tongue lashes out at his sensitive heart, being drug along on grocery shopping trips, getting vaccinated (you'd think we were cutting his arms off).
Can be found: independently moving through the routines of the day, playing in the playroom, being with his sisters, working intently on homework, reading EVERYTHING.
Is heard saying: "Mom, did you know..." and "Remember when..." and "SHE WON'T STOP BUGGING ME!". When asked what he's going to do for the baby when she comes: "Tummy time!"
Defining physical attributes: No meat on his bones. Growing so fast right now, face thinning out and looking so much older every day. Bruises up and down his shins. Sweet puffy eyes in the morning. The way his waist is a size 5 but his long legs require a size 6 (nearly 7!) in pants. How much he resembles his daddy, in pretty much every way. How I love his skinny-limbed hugs and loving gazes. The kisses are becoming few and far between but the love is certainly there. 
Something I don't want to forget about this period of time: How strong and tender he is at the same time. He loves being with other kids his age, especially other boys. His incredible ability to memorize and learn quickly. The way nothing escapes him. The way he and Ellie discuss orphans, and their honest conversations (without me) about whether we should adopt one someday into our family. How sincere his faith in God is. His imaginative play and love of superheroes. How he can still seem so very little and young, and yet very old and mature all at once. The way he reads to his sisters - and really well. How incredibly proud I am of who he is and how deep my love for my son is. How much he teaches me.


Likes: nurturing her little sister. playing with her brother, whom she adores. being read to, held, fussed over, physically loved on. any and all animals. praying at dinnertime. going to preschool. putting bandaids on everything. talking about all the things she's going to do with me for the new baby when she arrives (so far her role is clearly defined as bottle feeding the baby and kiss her).
Dislikes: being on time. getting dressed. going to bed easily. submitting to my authority. being challenged. having tangles brushed out of her hair. having to stop to use the bathroom. being alone in any situation. not sitting by mom at the dinner table. showering. cleaning up her toys.
Can be found: dashing urgently to the bathroom. coloring incessantly. playing babies with maddie. singing sweetly in the car. saying the lines to whatever movies she's watching. crafting. potty training maddie (ironic).
Is heard saying: "But Mommmmmm...!" and "I love you SO much." and "Don't worry...".
Defining physical attributes: Thinning out - we might be able to wear the same pants for a whole year straight! Her long wavy hair continues to be the envy of every woman who meets her. She's taken up with picking at her nails and often needs bandaids for little ouchies she creates. 
Something I don't want to forget about this period of time: how she moves so quickly between emotions. her ability to apologize and forgive quickly and completely. her love for praying - ask to pray at dinnertime and she will pitch a fit because SHE is our prayer warrior. :) how she is nurturing towards maddie, especially at ballet class when maddie needs corralling or comforting. the ways she is honestly trying to learn to restrain her negative reactions and emotions. the hundreds of times a day that she walks up to me and kisses my belly, talks to the baby, tells me I'm the most beautiful mom in the whole world, or that she loves me. 


Likes: being with her siblings, playing independently, apple juice, dancing, playing on the iPad, reading her books (especially the ones with the bubbles you can pop on each page), running ahead of her siblings to press the automatic button for the handicapped door or elevator. her paci and lovies (specifically the one with the birds on it).
Dislikes: finishing any meal or cup of milk, being put down for her afternoon nap, when someone tries to buckle her into her car seat (she can do it by herself thankyouverymuch).
Can be found: wherever her siblings are. sneaking into Ellie's room and rifling through her toys and desk drawers. flashing her best smile when I'm giving her a stern look for disobedience. 
Is heard saying: "No, I DO IT by myself!" and "Gimmie dat, Ellie" and "Where'd Bobby go?" every day of the week while he's at kindergarten. "The Bay-bee" with a funny southern-like accent.
Defining physical attributes: still my skinny little minnie. tiny waist, skinny arms and legs, the smoothest delicate skin, still-strawberry hair that has just enough curl, blond eyelashes, and as if that weren't enough to make you want to eat her up, she cannot pronounce her "S"'s correctly. All "s" sounds come out "th", with that cute little tongue poking out between her teeth. Perfection, if you ask me. "Thankth!"
Something I don't want to forget about this period of time: How dependable, adaptable and flexible she is. Her love of routine. The way she puts herself to sleep, but always asks for "huggie-kissie?!" before being tucked in. Those sweet paci-kisses and hugs, complete with gentle pats or rubs on my back. Her occasional request of "you rock me?". I scoop her little body up, drape her long legs on either side of my baby belly, she gently and sweetly lays her head on my shoulder and I sway back and forth, stroking her hair and telling her how much I love her. The way I have begun to feel that old familiar panicky feeling that soon my youngest will no longer be my baby. And will I have room in my heart for ANOTHER child? (yes, always) The way she proves to me every day that she has been gifted with a spirit of independence. She is the child that showed me that no matter how badly I feel like I am failing as a mother, I don't have to fear that I am ruining my kids because God's plan and love for them is bigger than me. Maddie is quite possibly my happiest child, and she is the one who stared up into my sad eyes for months as a little babe, her own cheeks catching my tears at times. I worried that she would carry my sadness somehow as she grew up, and the opposite has been true. She brings me so much joy.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


I've been thinking a lot lately about Exposure.

I protect my children from being exposed to certain things. I try to protect myself from being exposed to too much as well, if I'm honest. This isn't something we tend to readily admit. But I'm kind of in this place of processing out loud, of being very honest with myself about who I am and how I live, and my friend Kacey has a beautiful, brave heart that makes you want to be brave and bold, too.

So here we are.

I hide. I run from things I don't feel like I can affect or help with or contribute positively to in any way. I shut myself off and self-protect because sometimes it hurts so much. I feel like I cannot bear to witness suffering without dying a little inside myself. That feeling is pretty uncomfortable, to put it mildly. And when that is coupled with the feeling or belief that you're paralyzed to do anything about a given situation?


I loved the way Kacey admitted that she uses numbing mechanisms. Girlfriend, so do I. Some of them, I wasn't even aware of. Some of them I've been fighting for years. Some of them are obvious and common to many of you, or common among women or mothers or Americans, etc.

But some of them are surprising.

Here are the ones that God has unexpectedly shown me:

- I run my kids to the doctor when I doubt myself, which is altogether too often.
- I use 'schedule/time management' as a reason I don't get more involved in ministry opportunities.
- I try to create this hedge of protection around myself and my family by always having 'enough' on hand. Our pantry, linen closet, and clothing closets are proof that this is an issue for me.
- I give things, gifts, money when my heart longs to show love or care. It's so easy to just give STUFF. But it actually keeps me from having to give sacrificially. This one hit me right between the eyes, because I always saw myself as having a generous heart. And while I do think this is a mostly good characteristic that God did create me with, it's become a handicap for truly loving others well, creatively, or in a life-giving way. It keeps my gaze on the tangible and material, which is not good.
- I back away from situations when they hit too close to home, or when they start to cost me something I wasn't prepared to give. I call it protection, or sometimes (falsely) wisdom. It's faithlessness, most of the time.
- When I want to tune out any stress or heartache I feel, I tend to turn towards the beloved pastry. I put something sweet in my mouth, something warm and soft on my body, and I tend to sleep more. Want to know how Kacey is doing? Look at her cuticles (so she says). Want to know how I'm doing? Look at my countertops. In the last 3 weeks we have amassed cookies, donuts, and flavored breads in such quantity that it's shameful and impossible to ignore. I'm trying to cope with deep spiritual issues by consuming (or self-comforting with) sugar and flour.

None of these things is inherently wrong. Some of these things are actually good, for the most part, in moderation or at the right time (I suppose you could argue against the pastries, but I wouldn't advise it. I AM pregnant, you know.) Here's what I'm learning - when I do these things repeatedly? When I am always doing them, buying them, engaging with them - at times when I am hurting or at a loss... they become numbing mechanisms. Especially when they are the first things that I turn to. They are dangerously close to becoming idols, and when they take the place of God in my life? Or when they're my first stop when I need help, comfort, hope, guidance, or reassurance? They've been elevated to a dangerous level in my life.

Today I was forced to come face to face with the possible damage of something that we all protect, and rightly so. I have spent a lot of time trying to preserve and protect this 'something', and it was threatened today. It is currently being threatened.


Fear. Anger. Confusion. Guilt. A sense of responsibility. Doubt. Urgency. Instinct to protect. A desire to recoil.

I gathered myself, and started to process things as objectively and unemotionally as I could.

What did I know to be true? What did I need to do as an immediate next step? What information do I need? Where can I get it? What can I control? What can I not control? Whose guidance do I need to seek? What decisions need to be made, and when?

Friends. God is so faithful. I will say this every day that I live, a thousand times if you'll let me. He is good and He is true. He is ever-present and all-knowing. He loves us so much more than we can even comprehend.

He has walked with me, leading me with tenderness and love. Into spaces that are unfamiliar, disturbingly so at times. I have never felt an absence of His presence. I reminded myself of this over and over today. He is with me. He sees all of this. He is never surprised. He has led me here for a reason. This is no accident or oversight.

As I thought more about what my response should be, what I WANT it to be, I realized that I needed to be careful to set my mind on things above. To consider what Jesus' response was in similar situations, what His response might look like today if He were me. What would he value? What would he fight for? What would he do and say, how would he lead this family through something unexpected? How would he show the love of the Father in all ways, every time?

I thought about the way that Jesus never ran or hid. He came to look right into the face of pain, suffering, poverty, abandonment, brokenness, sickness, death, and sin. He never shrank back from it. He never put on gloves. He was never content to just scrape the surface.

You guys. He dove into the mess. He touched lepers. He walked into rooms and tombs where the dead lay and brought them back to life. He commanded demons out of sons. He ate with outcasts. He defended vulnerable women. He pulled children onto his lap. He washed dirty feet. He stayed in the homes of others.

I am so broken over the thought that I have often made choices so contrary to Jesus' choices, never realizing it. I prefer to stay in places that are clean and sanitary. Since we're being honest, I also prefer an aesthetically pleasing environment. I like it when people smell good, when they bathe regularly before I am in close quarters with them. I'm all for giving to causes but rarely do I build relationships with the people who are suffering or struggling. I keep my distance in so many ways. I hate to say it but I dread funerals. The stench of death and the idea of coming face to face with mortality and loss - it overwhelms me sometimes, makes my heart pound just to think about it. I don't wash many feet, and if/when I do, I am certainly not running towards the ones who threaten to betray me. No, I am content to wash feet that are already clean.

Loving and serving others, in Jesus' name... it's not natural. Not if we're going to do it the way He asks us to. Today I find myself faced with a choice that's complicated on one hand, but also very simple on the other. Will I continue to follow Him where He leads me? Will I continue to love in His name? When it's hard, messy, scary, and totally countercultural? Who will I listen to - those around me who might encourage me to 'be careful' with good intentions, implying that I ought to back away? Or will I listen to Jesus, who asks me to consider His ways, His example, and love the way He loved and still loves? Will I continue to dive in, or will I self-protect?

The rub is this: Jesus' love cost him everything. Social status, friends, followers, and favor. Relaxing days, a carefree attitude, ignorance... none of these were afforded to Him with the path God had laid out for him on earth. His ministry, the purpose of his life, it landed him nailed to a cross, blood pouring out. And that was the plan all along.

Why do we think we can love without it costing us something? Why do I assume that I'm the exception to the rule - that I can love someone else well, in the name of Jesus, and not have it be costly or painful?

Here I am again, examining my stingy little heart. Happy to have it busted apart, yet again, as I learn what it means to really love. To really care for those Jesus asked us to care for. To give in ways that I didn't realize I could - beyond means and resources and stuff. To start giving of myself in ways that are meaningful.

It might be obvious, but you can't really give of yourself without being broken apart and having something worth offering, an actual piece of yourself to hand over. When I run from the breaking process, I have very little to offer that is worth giving. And whatever I do give at that point? It has very little to do with me, and very little Jesus in it.

On the other hand, when I splay my life out before The King, and say "it was all yours to begin with, every piece, and it's all still yours today"... when I stop pretending that I have control over any of it, that I can actually protect it in meaningful ways, for good reason... then I am able to take a real, honest step of faith. I can lay my Isaac on the altar (whatever that might be, whether it's dreams for my future, my children, our happiness, our health, our routines and schedule, our relationships, our purpose or our ministry). I can lay it before Him in trust, knowing that He is a good God and He will provide for us in all ways that He sees as best. He will bring Himself the most glory every time, and He will make me more like Himself in the process. Every time.

If that includes being pressed? It's ok. If that means loss? I am desperate to grasp that and say it's ok. If that means the death of something I was trying so hard to breathe life into? Well then God help me, I will step back and let Him have whatever I cling so desperately to, knowing it's futile to fight God's plan.

I will admit that I have no idea how to do this. How do you gather up your courage enough to say "I'm ok with things not turning out the way I had hoped. I am ok with being brokenhearted."?? I do know one thing - I don't have it in me, by myself. I need God to do this work in my heart.

I realize that He is at work every day, trying to help me learn these lessons incrementally. When a lesson feels particularly harsh or abrupt, often it's because I've been lazy or ignoring His nudges. I've been undisciplined to study what He says in His Word, and I haven't been growing the way I should. At the same time, when a lesson feels harsh, I am learning to turn the sting of correction into thanksgiving. Thank you, Lord, for not leaving me in the place that I was. Thank you for loving me enough to change me to be more like you, by your power and strength. No thanks to me, but all glory to You.

The more I am able to see life the way God sees it, the less I hold on so tightly to my idea of how things should be. By God's grace, day by day I am learning to release my grasp of things I never really had control over to begin with. If and when those things are taken from me? I hope I am able to still praise God - because that is my desire. To be so totally caught up in Him, so fully trusting and following Him wherever He leads, that the consequences are worth it. Or not worth comparing to what He has given to me in exchange, and what He has promised to me for eternity.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

God is here. {part 2}

"Your eyes will behold the King in his beauty." - Isaiah 33:17

"The more you know about Christ, the less you will be satisfied with superficial views of Him; and the more deeply you study His transactions in the eternal covenant, His engagements on your behalf as the eternal Security, and the fullness of His grace that shines in all His offices, the more truly will you see the King in His beauty. Learn to look at Him this way. Long increasingly to see Jesus. Meditation and contemplation are often like windows of gold and gates of silver through which we behold the Redeemer. Meditation puts the telescope to the eye and enables us to see Jesus in a better fashion than we could have seen Him if we had lived in the days of His earthly sojourn. Our conversation ought to be more in heaven, and we should be more taken up with the person, the work, the beauty of our incarnate Lord. More meditation, and the beauty of the King would flash upon us with more splendor. Beloved, it is very probable that we will have such a sight of our glorious King as we never had before when we come to die. Many saints in dying have looked up from amidst the stormy waters and have seen Jesus walking on the waves of the sea and heard Him say, "It is I - do not be afraid." Yes, when the building begins to shake, and the mortar falls away, we will see Christ through the studs, and between the rafters the sunlight of heaven will come streaming in. But if we want to see the King face to face in all His beauty, we must go to heaven for the sight or the King must come here in person. If only He would come on the wings of the wind! He is our Husband, and we are widowed by His absence; He is our fair and faithful Brother, and we are lonely without Him. Thick veils and clouds hang between our souls and their true life: When will the day break and the shadows run away? Let the long-expected day begin!"

Charles Spurgeon, Morning & Evening


I truly wish I were a better, more articulate writer. I wish I could have captured, somehow, all that my eyes have seen in the last few weeks. All the wisdom and sweet words {and even atrocities} that my ears have heard others speak and teach and expose me to. At the end of the day there really isn't a way to put simple words to the intricacies of the heart. The fragile wavering between hope and despair. The way a heart swells to nearly bursting, without any indication to the rest of the world but the steady stream of leaky tears. That sweetness that washes over you when you realize you are smack in the middle of a moment that God has come near and revealed Himself, and you stand in unexpected awe. When a lightbulb goes on and it all starts to make sense as pieces fall into place. I've had what feels like 100 of these moments this month.

The thing about this life in Christ, of walking with God and following where He leads, is that even when it's hard it's beautiful. Even when there is evidence of death and destruction and sheer evil, we know Truth and Mercy and Grace have already overcome, and will ultimately overcome in the end when Jesus returns and brings resurrection and life to everything that death tried to steal. We have hope. I've never been more thankful for the hope I have in Christ, in His beautiful gospel, than I have been in the last week. Without Jesus' saving work on the cross and His victory over death at His resurrection, there really would be no hope. For any of us.

The gospel He has given to us - His story that we tell over and over - it's so beautiful that I can hardly breathe some days. I'm learning to preach the gospel to myself over and over, to allow God to speak it to my heart repeatedly without tiring of it's familiar but arresting message, to consume it every day and absorb it to the point that it seeps out of my pores. That every time I'm pressed or crushed, it's the gospel that comes pouring out of me. It's the life that flows through me - His blood in my blood.

If the King of Kings is this majestic, this beautiful to me now... how much  more so when I see Him face to face!? How will I ever pick myself up off the floor in holy worship... how does a mouth form any words or sound at all. What is there but "Thank you... I love you... I worship you..." to be spoken?

Something else that I'm realizing is that the farther I walk down the road of ministry to others {namely, currently, to refugees}, and the more poverty, brokenness, abuse, and sin I see in this world that is being opened up wider to me, the more I see God's beauty. The more I am able to rest in His sovereignty and power and wisdom. Sometimes our instinct or gut level reaction to something awful is to try and fix the situation, to get to work changing it all. To start tending to the walking wounded and burying the lifeless and gathering those who are left to safety. And while there is a time and a place for all of those things, I find myself more and more responding with a new kind of stillness. Allowing the Peace of Christ to rule in my heart first, reminding myself of His Truth and His character and His promises, and what He says about this life. And only then stepping forward into the fray.

It helps me to remove myself from the equation. It helps me set my doubts and fears aside, and it silences the questions I don't have answers to. My gaze is on His beauty, and I can take a step forward when He is in my line of sight. Because the truth about all of it is that this life, this ministry, it's all dependent on Him. Every word spoken is able to be spoken because He has loosened the tongue. Any mind that can take Him in and absorb His Truth is ready to receive because the Holy Spirit has enabled it. Any heart that turns to Him has been prepared over time, tendered by His pursuit and relentlessness. Any means of escape - escape of any kind - has been ordained by Him. It's not up to me. It's all dependent upon His plan, His grace, His power, His wisdom, His loving kindness and His ability.

Do you know how much peace that leaves us with? His grace is ENOUGH. Enough to cover me when I make mistakes, when I have good intentions but am misdirected. When I think about how awful life on earth really is for some, and when I think about what I can do in the face of that... one very small, limited person.

I'm not meant to be the hero. I'm meant to be the ambassador, the conduit for His grace and mercy. The empty vessel that is willing to be picked up and used in any small way. The one who looks at Him and then looks out and says, "what do you see? what are you doing? how can I be a small part? how can you use me? what needs to happen?"

The beauty I've seen in the month of November is staggering. The way God comes to us and offers us everything our hearts have ever wanted and needed. The way He says that we are HIS BODY, and then moves us to actually understand this concept and participate in such a holy, spiritual activity as coming together to love and serve others. The life He brings through relationships, the awareness of our condition that brings new dependence on Him, the forgiveness that He never ever withholds, the patience He demonstrates as we are slow to learn and trust and really see... All of it. It makes for staggering beauty that would make any heart burst.

It's true that perfect love casts out fear. I'm running into that love, sitting quietly in it every day. Fear melts away and love boldly takes its place. Thank you, Lord.

Only Jesus Can
Vertical Church Band

Can he breathe into the dust?
Can he make sons out of us?
Life is in his mighty hands
Our life is in almighty hands

He can do it, yes, he can
He will prove it, our God can
No one else can save us, redeem us
Create a new life in us
Only Jesus can

Can he love His enemies?
Can he make them family?
Life is in His mighty hands
Life is in almighty hands

Can He heal the leper's limb?
Can He cleanse us from within?
Can we drink from living streams?
Can we ever be redeemed?
He has healed the leper's limb
He has cleansed us from within
We have drunk from living streams
Surely, we have been redeemed.

Friday, November 15, 2013

God is here. {part 1}

Friends. I am in love.

The last week has been intense, full of activity (sometimes planned, sometimes spontaneous) and exhausting in the best way. For about three weeks now, I've been learning from my friend Annette about this world of refugee resettlement. And in that time, we have been preparing for three families to arrive in the States to make their permanent home. (Three families that we were told would not be coming this year!)

I thought this happened frequently, that refugee families were resettled here in our town. As it turns out, it's not quite as frequent as I thought it was. However, Chicago and its suburbs are one of the two areas in the US that resettle the most refugees (Dallas being the other). And so when the government gave the refugees that were on hold the green light to come, things began to happen very quickly.

I'd love to paint a picture of what all has happened, from my perspective, for several reasons...

1. Until recently, I didn't understand how this process worked. Therefore, I didn't understand how I might be a part of it.
2. As I engage more and more with this ministry, I have seen how many opportunities there are for more of YOU to get involved in ways that work and are meaningful to you. Some of you have participated in the preparations over the last few weeks and I want to show you the bigger picture now.
3. I want to capture my thoughts and all that I am learning before it's hard to recall. I have fallen in love with people I could call strangers, which is part of the mystery of being a Christian and part of the Body of Christ.
4. God is bringing himself glory in 1,000 ways and that is worth shouting from the rooftops! You should know - He is an amazing God. I would like to explain just why I think this is true, in detail. :)

Annette is the one God used to help draw me into this ministry, in His perfect timing. I had been inquiring about getting more involved with others in the church who help with this ministry, but my personal connection with Annette is what really brought me understanding and a passion that would turn into a commitment. She sat down with me for a few hours one day, and explained how the process works. She helped me brainstorm ways that I could get involved as a young mother to small children. She poured her story out and shared her heart with me, and encouraged me to open the door to serving refugees by simply coming alongside me. She made time for me. She has allowed me to become more than a partner in ministry though, she has given me friendship. As she has put her trust in me with pieces of this process, I have had the opportunity to explore what God might do in my heart and through my service. All of it has returned nothing but sheer blessing.

The Bible study small group I help lead at church is made up of other young mothers like myself, and many of us were interested in getting more involved in this ministry after Annette came to our small group to speak and share her testimony. We all agreed that we could put together a Good Neighbor Kit - the basic items needed to furnish an empty apartment so that one refugee family is able to move in and live. This process of pulling the items together is actually really fun - and it ended up reaching beyond our small group. The Good Neighbor Kit includes categories like kitchen items, food items, bathroom items, bedroom items, cleaning supplies, and miscellaneous items. Some of the women in our small group took responsibility for a category and provided the items on the list, either very gently used and like-new donations or brand new purchased items. We decided that I would just collect all the items at my home, so they dropped off items as they gathered them and once the kit is complete, I will deliver it to our church. Once a refugee family is ready to come, and an apartment is secured for them, the church delivers the Good Neighbor Kit items to that apartment and volunteers set the apartment up and put away the items.

Once the families arrive here, World Relief partners with them to ensure that they have an opportunity to select clothing and other household goods that they might want from their donation center called Repeat Boutique. However, they mainly supply items for adults, and these three families coming this month all have a young child. This presented another opportunity for our small group. Annette and I put together a needs list for each child, based on his age, and our small group committed to either pulling from our own children's gently used clothing and items or purchasing what was needed. And this is where things got really fun. The list of ALL of the items we were gathering at this point (children's needs as well as Good Neighbor Kit items) was getting very long... and as I shared in excitement what we were doing with a few of my close friends, they expressed a strong desire to contribute to the list of items needed as well.

One dear friend who lives out of state began to shop for the children's items (both at her local resale shop as well as her own storage area), and would have me check items off our list as she found them. Then she notified me that her church plant team desired to contribute as well, and suddenly the list of needed items grew smaller. They committed to praying for the families in addition to giving generously.

I approached another local friend with the needs we had for one of the children in particular, to ask if I could purchase a few items from her business. Instead of assisting me, she insisted on taking the entire list for this individual child and is providing for all of his specific needs herself.

Others outside our small group - my mom and my Bible study coach, for example - are contributing to the physical needs on our lists as well. If you ever want to have your faith restored in the goodness and generosity of others, coordinate the gathering of donations for a ministry like this. My guess is that, like me, you will be blessed. You will be exposed to a beautiful side of people's hearts as they give, often sacrificially. And you will be privileged to witness what God does in their hearts AS they give - the ways He teaches us and changes us to be more like Him. You will feel more closely knit together with these givers. Your affection for them will grow and you will find that you have more to be thankful for than you ever realized.

We are nearly finished gathering items for our Good Neighbor Kit, we have finished gathering items for one of the little boys and have delivered the items to his apartment, and we are finishing the collection of items for the other children of families that are arriving in 1 1/2 weeks.

And this is where it gets good. And hard. And messy.

Annette has been preparing me for the shift that needs to happen after all of the necessary tangible items have been collected for each family. The largest part of this refugee resettlement ministry is coming alongside the families in very personal ways. Praying for them prior to their arrival. Greeting them at the airport once they arrive. Visiting them in their new home once they settle in. Befriending them. Committing to being a part of their lives in a long-term way.

This is the part I have not felt prepared for. I hadn't dipped my toes into this ministry until now, because I feared that I didn't have enough to give. I didn't think I had the space in my life to offer my time, to serve without really high boundary walls and restrictions. Mostly I was afraid of what I didn't know. How would I even communicate with a family that might speak very little broken english? How would I be able to schedule my 'help' with them if they treated time differently than I do, if their needs expanded and my capacity couldn't? How do you love a complete stranger?

Let's just call this what it is - I had very little faith. And I was really, really stingy-hearted. I wanted clean boundaries and tidy boxes for how I might volunteer myself and my time, and no one was offering that as a part of the process each time I would ask more about how this ministry worked. I have come to realize that I wanted to American-ize my service and if I couldn't, I didn't see how I could participate.

You guys. My heart, it has been so ugly and I haven't even realized it. It wasn't intentional but I see it now. I thought I was being generous as I would give - and in one capacity, I was (however, even relative to how we have been blessed, I have never really given sacrificially as I've given tangibly of our resources). I didn't see how I could expand my giving to be generous AS GOD CALLED ME TO GIVE MYSELF.

God has gently led me to a greater vision of giving. He used the beautiful, gentle package of friendship with Annette to literally come to me in a way that was kind and patient, full of love and overflowing with grace I certainly don't deserve. He invited me in. There was no guilt, no shame. No "I've been waiting and now it's time for you to get it in gear" pushing me out into His work. He beckoned me in so many small, quiet ways and it has been absolutely beautiful. As I took one step after another, as I gathered more information, prayed and sought what God's will for me and my family might be in this ministry, I was given peace to move forward and joy.

There has been a strange absence of fear in this process. If you know me at all, you know I struggle with fear. Fear of not taking my responsibilities as a parent or wife seriously. Fear of overextending myself. Fear of what I might open us all up to that could cause harm in a variety of ways. Fear of God calling me to more than I expected, more than I had planned to give.

I thought about the unknowns of this process - how much time would it take? how would I feel about caring for a complete stranger? how do I pray for someone who is a refugee-immigrant? how do I love them in ways that they need me to, and not hurt them because my instincts in this context are all wrong?  how do I get past a language barrier and communicate love? how do I manage my young children as I engage frequently with this ministry? how do I preserve our carefully-balanced schedule and still make room and time to include these families, this ministry?

The more questions I asked the Lord, the more peace He gave. The more I sensed Him saying, "just follow me here. I will help work all of this out as we go. And I might break some of it completely apart and rebuild it." It is a testament to God in me, that I have had any courage or ability to take a single step forward in this entire process, in the face of all those unanswered questions. It's been one step of faith after another.

I told a friend yesterday that the way God has come to me and led me this month has felt oddly like being on auto-pilot. I know that there is a combination of freewill choice that we have as believers, and yet as we live each day, His divine plan for us unfolds. His purpose for our lives and detailed plan for our days that was set in place before He created the world. This month, I feel as though He is answering prayers I've prayed for a long time (God... use me, stretch me, change my heart, expand my ministry for Your glory and the expansion of your kingdom). And He is doing it IN SPITE of my weakness, maybe THROUGH my weakness. I feel as if the Holy Spirit is taking control of my heart, my mind, my body (kind of like Gideon) and moving me forward. And with zero resistance from me! I feel as though the Lord Himself is right in front of me, showing me where to go, and it's as if I don't have a choice but to follow Him. But not because I'm being forced; because I want to. Because I can't say no. Because I love Him and trust Him and believe Him to be True. Because this adventure He is allowing me to be a part of is so beautiful, exciting, and life-giving.

I followed Him into the apartment where the first family will soon live. I followed Him as He led Annette and I to begin scrubbing that home clean. I followed Him every day as I prayed in faith for this first family. I followed Him as I committed to attending training sessions this next week. I followed Him to the airport on this past Wednesday afternoon (with 3 other women and my 4 year old daughter in tow) and helped welcome the first refugee family 'home' - into our country. I am committed to following Him for the rest of this process. What do I have now, anyways, but to follow Him!?

I realize how lost I am without Him. Without following him daily. I am utterly lost. This life I live in Christ, this greater life I am finding, it feels like home. It is like all the Truth I have believed is coming true right before my eyes in totally tangible ways. It wasn't any less true before, but it is more true now to me than it has ever been, if that makes any sense. My life is suddenly totally dependent upon this Truth.

I am not at liberty to share many details at all about the ministry from here on out. The identity of this precious family that now lives 5 minutes away from my home is a matter of privacy. Their home, their living conditions, their faces, the story of their lives... it is all theirs to share. I wish I could share images of them with you - I wish I could share specific parts of this story as our lives now overlap and my love for them grows into something so fierce they may as well be blood relatives.

I know you would fall in love, as I have. I know your heart would be tendered towards this ministry. I know the Lord would show you the path you could walk to participate in greater ways than you have, than you think you can, right now. I know you would feel like the curtain has finally been pulled back and you can see God's glory in this process, that your eyes would feel like scales have fallen off and you can really truly see others for who they are, see your life for what it is, see your future differently than you ever have before. I know the dreams you have for your kids would change. I know your schedule would get all screwed up, that you'd have days where you didn't know exactly how everything would get done, or how your kids would be covered while you needed to be somewhere else, or how you'd have the energy to keep moving until the sun goes down. I know your heart would get all busted up with every step forward you took, and that it would be broken into a million little pieces just like He wants it to be, over things that break His heart too. And I know He would tenderly pick each piece up and put it back together in a new way that feels so much better, so much more like the heart you were always meant to have.

I know it would feel like coming home.

I think you might find that the things you struggled against, wrestled with, fought for years for... that it would all suddenly be simplified with this new lens you view everything with. I think the things we value might change. I think we might be given more freedom, hope and peace than we ever thought we could possibly hold in this jar of clay we call ourselves. That these cold stingy hearts we like to think are OK enough actually have more potential than we could dream, if we give them to God and trust what He will do with them as we really let Him hold us in his hands. That we might realize how much God can actually do when we come together in His name, to serve Him together. We might get a glimpse of what He hoped we would be when He said together we are the Body of Christ.

Dying to myself has never felt better. Being the bread that is broken so that someone else might feast is the best part of being a Christ-follower. This is what I'm learning: being broken might be painful but it's not something to run from. We all need to be broken. The life that comes in the brokenness, and the blessing that comes in being pieced back together... it is beyond what you could dream. It's a taste of heaven.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Rock Won't Move

For today - a beautiful devotional thought from last night's Morning & Evening reading, and our favorite song to play in the van and sing out loud to. Even sweet Maddie knows all the words. If you need a great worship CD, check out Vertical Church Band's new album "The Rock Won't Move", which you can buy online HERE. It's a great way to teach your kids about God and hide Biblical Truth as well as the occasional line from an old beloved hymn in all of our hearts. I love the whole CD, and don't get anything for letting you know about it (fyi). 

Many of YOU, my friends reading these words right now, are on my heart and mind today. This life can be hard. Really, really painful. We all have seasons of trials and suffering... and though today is not that particular day for me, I commit myself to coming alongside you

So I am praying for you - for strengthened faith and the ability to believe Scripture as Truth, that it would bring life to dry bones. That God would bring comfort and hope, quickly and in large doses.

I want to encourage you, and the women in my life, to love God's Word - to read it, study it, crave it, depend on it, and understand that it is the means by which we know God Himself. To treasure our time with it above anything else. To make time to sit quietly with your Bible, with God in His presence, and give His Spirit room in your heart and life.

I long to serve you in practical ways. To relieve your suffering through acts of love, whatever they might look like, so that you know you aren't alone. I notice you, sweet friend. My heart breaks for your brokenness. If there's a way that I can do this for you, will you email me and let me know? Doesn't matter how near or far you live. Reach out. :)


"He chose our heritage for us." - Psalm 47:4

Believer, if your inheritance is meager, you should be satisfied with your earthly portion; for you may rest assured that it is best for you. Unerring wisdom ordained your lot and selected for you the safest and best condition... Remember this: If any other condition had been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances, and if you could choose your lot, you would soon cry, "Lord, choose my heritage for me, for by my self-will I am pierced through with many sorrows." Be content with the things you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your  good. Take up your own daily cross; it is the burden best suited for your shoulder and will prove most effective to make you perfect in every good word and work to the glory of God. Busy self and proud impatience must be put down; it is not for them to choose, but for the Lord of Love!

Trials must and will befall -
But with humble faith to see
Love inscribed upon them all,
This is happiness to me.

Charles Spurgeon, "Morning & Evening"


The Rock Won't Move {by Vertical Church Band}

When the ground beneath my feet gives way
And I hear the sound of crashing waves
All my world is washing out to sea.

I made it safe in the God who never moves
Holding fast to the promise of Your truth
You are holding tighter still to me.

Oh, the Rock won't move and His word is strong
The Rock won't move and His love can't be undone
Oh, the Rock won't move and His word is strong
The Rock won't move and His love can't be undone
The Rock of our salvation

My hope is in the promise of Your blood
My support within the raging flood
Even in the tempest, I can see

I made it safe in the God who never moves
Holding fast to the promise of Your truth
You are holding tighter still to me.

The Rock won't move and His word is strong
The Rock won't move and His love can't be undone
The Rock won't move and His word is strong
The Rock won't move and His love can't be undone
The Rock of our salvation

On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
The Rock won't move
The Rock won't move

On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
The Rock won't move
The Rock won't move

And when darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace.
The Rock won't move
No, the Rock won't move

The Rock won't move and His word is strong
The Rock won't move and His love can't be undone
The Rock won't move and His word is strong
The Rock won't move and His love can't be undone
The Rock of our salvation.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The grey cloud of Autumn

Fall doesn't always feel this way. As leaves are turning and falling, and frost covers our yard in the early hours of the morning, I am beginning to vaguely sense a change blowing through the invisible parts of our lives.

Maybe it's the baby on the way.
Maybe it's the end of another semester of Bible study.
Maybe it's just part of getting used to my oldest being in school every day.
Maybe it has to do with meeting a new friend and realizing that this world she has opened up to me is going to change everything.
Maybe it's a lingering ache for my best friend who is really, really far away.
Maybe it's a result of coming face to face with all of the issues that keep me from being effective in ministry as a woman (thanks, "Detox"! haha. Ugliest mirror ever.).
Maybe it's due in part to the growth in each of these areas I've experienced, that I'm being moved out of where I was and into a new place (thanks, "Detox"! best mirror I've ever chosen to gaze into.).
Maybe it's just what happens over time as we grow and mature.
Maybe it's being ushered in by all the changes that are taking place in many of the relationships in my life, with or without my direct involvement.

Sometimes I wake up and think, who really knows me? Who really knows my thoughts, what's happening in my heart, what shape my dreams are taking, the things that frustrate me to exhaustion, the pockets of joy and gratefulness I have in my days that make my heart burst, the decisions I have to make and how scary it is not to know what the best choice is when it affects so many people in so many ways?

And of course my husband knows most of these things, but if I can't even clarify half of it for myself... if all of the unknowns and thoughts and emotions of this current phase are swirling above me like a storm cloud ready to burst, but without any real shape or definition... how can I make sense of it even for myself!? I'm so thankful that when our hearts and minds are unknown even to us, the one who carries them around, our Father knows it all intimately and loves us for it (or in spite of it?!).

A week or two ago, I felt out of joint. In the irritable way.

Right now I feel vague. Undefined. Full of hope and possibility. I also feel heavy. My body is physically heavy with life. My mind and heart both feel pregnant and I don't know exactly what is about to come to life. But something is growing. God is shaping and forming the unseen and like the babe in my womb, I know it's real and its presence is heavy. In the past, these spaces of vagueness used to really threaten me and cause great anxiety. All I feel right now is an unspeakable joy and anticipation.

Yesterday I told my friend Liz that I felt like there was a grey cloud hovering above me, heavy with all of the thoughts, dreams, emotions, possibilities and burdens of this current phase I'm in. A little bit of it spilled out - maybe before I was ready for it to - when I was asked a pointed question and needed to answer honestly. It was an incomplete answer, a thought I wasn't quite ready to voice. It felt awkward. I felt unsure of myself, of the choice I need to make in the weeks to come. I wasn't quite ready to address the situation yet. I so rarely feel this way - I am opinionated and passionate, typically driven towards an end goal and steady in my course towards it, and yet here I am, feeling as unsure as I've ever felt about myself or anything... which is beautiful because I've come face to face, in a way, with the idea that God might have other plans for me. It's caused me to step back, reconsider everything. Stop trusting myself so much and start trusting The Lord that I love and serve and identify with. For this artistic soul that appreciate the tangible evidences of relationship and love, this stretches me. Follow the God I know is there, even though He is invisible... Listen for His voice, which isn't audible but speaks very clearly at times... Be wise to know that the way things look to the eye sometimes betray the fuller story of what's brewing beneath... Remember that this isn't a battle we can see or fight with weapons of this world, but this is a battle fought in realms very real but unseen, with weapons of the Spirit.

I have a choice in this in-between time. We always do.

1. Fight it, try to pull particles down and force them to take a shape so that the illusion of control can falsely assure me.

2. Sit in the tension. Rest in the shadow of the cloud that refuses to rain, yet hovers persistently. Walk with it like a companion. Wait on The Lord.

I will tell you this: it's a season of vulnerability and exposure. If you know me, you'll know that I am pretty willing to share my life honestly. I don't see much value in hiding my trials or struggles, my emotion as I wrestle through them, and even my mistakes. I've found a lot of freedom in living this way. This blog is a place for me to capture my thoughts and take snapshots of our family life, but it's not always a full picture of what is happening internally or externally. Actually, it never is. And that's not my intent for this space, and so I keep writing.

However, I love nothing more than to share what I am learning, especially when it comes to my faith. I believe in living out loud, especially when we realize that it has the potential to encourage and bless others. I live out loud even though many times it's at my own expense. I'm ok with that. I'm not trying to prove anything about myself, except that I need God so desperately and there is so much beauty in the rescue that you don't want to miss it.

I really long to express the beauty of this space that I find myself in currently. It's bittersweet, in that as so many things change seemingly at the same time (relationships, schedules, circumstances, ministry opportunities, our family...), I find it nearly impossible to articulate - yet. Some of it will never be named out loud, or publicly, for reasons of privacy and appropriateness. And yet I hope to find a way to write through the rest as it all unfolds and clarity is given and I can see what The Lord has been up to.

For now, I wrestle with these questions:

How can I ensure that the decisions I am making are careful, deliberate, loving and full of God's grace, based on wisdom and not emotion, beneficial to all who are affected by the outcome? What do I need to do on a practical level to work every day towards this end? How can I make more space for God to speak to me, to listen for His voice, to chase courage and bravery when it's uncomfortable and foreign?

At what point do our emotions inform our decisions, as far as being markers for capacity and desires, and a large part of the way we are wired? Unstable as they are, they aren't to be completely ignored as they are God-given for a purpose. I'm focused a lot right now on 'taking my emotions captive' each day, much in the same way that Scripture tells us to wisely take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ...

"For though we live in the body, we do not wage war in an unspiritual way, since the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to obey Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

That swirling dense grey cloud above my head - it's wonderfully ominous. It's a promise that things are about to happen, new things, maybe unseen things. For a girl that appreciates constancy and safety, it's unnerving. For that same girl who loves God and wants to be a part of what He's doing, to be where He is, to know Him more... it's thrilling. My eyes are on this cloud of mystery. I have so very little control over it. I have choices to make that call me to action in many ways, but in a very strange and wonderful way, I feel as though I am being pulled in the direction I should go. That I WANT to go. That HE wants me to go. I have a choice, and many little choices, but in a sense... I don't.

Where He leads, I pray that I have the heart and the strength to follow.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Please meet my new friend, Annette.

I am thankful for what she has already taught me, patiently explained to me, openly shared with me, and the way she has lovingly embraced me after only knowing her for 2 weeks.

I don't say this often... maybe at all. But I aspire to be like Annette. After watching this little video of her ongoing friendship with a refugee woman, you might come to understand why.

The power of relationships (the story of Annette and Jeannette).

This is beauty. Forget what the world says... this is it. This story. This faith. This love. This friendship.

I want this testimony, too, one day. I hope that I am able to learn well from Annette. The Lord knows we need more women like her on this earth.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Favorite Things - Fall 2013 Edition

I'm a little panicky thinking about the fact that there are only 2 months until Christmas! I thought I'd post a few of my favorite things, currently... if you need gift ideas for the people you love, maybe this will help spark some ideas!? Plus it's just fun to do this once in a while. I'm being lazy today and not posting links - just images of the things I'm loving. You can probably google most of these things and find them on your own pretty easily. 

Happy Fall!

Starbucks Tumbler in rose gold, for hot coffee to go on cold mornings...

I came across this little gem at Target about two weeks ago, and it's so much better tasting than a PSL at Starbucks! Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte... YES. Cheaper, too, since you can probably get around 5-10 mugs out of this concentrated syrup (just blend with 50% milk).

My favorite hot tea, for a few years in a row... Harney & Sons Tea, Vanilla Comoro. They used to sell it at Target, but my girlfriend and I noticed that this flavor is suddenly absent from shelves. Popularity, maybe!? SAD. Get your hands on this any way you can (Barnes & Noble usually carries it). The sachets are beautiful, the tin is gift-worthy - just tie a simple satin ribbon around it - and the flavor is mild and sweet for a black tea. Perfect with a little milk and sugar. 

Elderflower lemonade. I was introduced to this amazing beverage in London last month by my bestie, Kacey. Upon returning home, a new grocery store (Mariano's) opened in our town and, lo and behold, in the foreign foods aisle I spotted these beautiful bottles on the bottom shelf! I bought one to make sure it was the same, and returned yesterday to buy 3 more bottles because THIS STUFF YOU GUYS. So good. Fancy and sweet but unexpected, best served chilled, and in white wine glasses if you ask me. Perfect holiday drink to serve when hosting! 

Ham & cheese croissants. I can't get enough. The best one I've had came from Kacey's cast iron skillet. Runner up: The Chelsea Quarter Cafe. I keep playing with ingredients and different croissants, but it doesn't really matter how I make them... I need at least one every day. Obsessed, I tell you. 

Jo Malone Vanilla & Anise candle. This is the perfect gift for someone you want to spoil. I gave one to Kacey for her birthday, and she gifted me one right back so that we could both fill our homes with the same scent while we're far apart (except hers came to me straight from the flagship store because hello, she lives close to it and that is all kinds of awesome).

Lush Bath Bombs. I could go on and on about these, but they're for everyone on your list - ok, maybe not your husband. Tuck one or two in stockings (they will smell up your whole family room!) or build a gift basket and make a large gift out of their bath products, like I did one year for my mother in law. They're really fun to use in the tub (so kids love them), but the scents are divine and this is my favorite way to relax after the kids are in bed at the end of the week. 

Mario Badescu Enzyme Revitalizing Mask. Smells kinda gross, but feels amazing and does wonders for your skin. I have terrible skin right now. I blame the combination of our rainy weather and pregnancy hormones. This helps a lot.

Fresh Sugar Lip Balm, in Petal. I am loyal to this balm, but for some reason couldn't order the plain version and had to try this lightly pink pigmented one. And I'm in love. I'm skipping lipstick and liner and gloss most days now in favor of this tube. Cheers to simplicity! And smooth, non-chapped lips. 

Too Faced Boudoir Eyes Eyeshadow Palette. This is my current favorite. I use the top two combinations for everyday makeup and just find it to be pretty, simple and versatile. This would make a super fun gift, and is cheaper than the ever-popular Naked Palette by Urban Decay.

OPI Light My Sapphire. I love this color and have it on my toes now. It's a great counterpart to my old standby, Essie's Midnight Cami (a dark navy). OPI's tends toward purple and has just a touch of shimmer. Dark toes in cold weather are my favorite, and I love that they go with pretty much anything you're wearing (they match everyday jeans but look great with dresses and open toed shoes, too). 

S Factor Leave-in Moisture Spray. I use this daily before blow drying (but after conditioning) to get soft, tangle-free hair. It keeps my ends soft so there's no need for a finishing spray or gloss. 
Bumble & Bumble Styling Lotion. I use this (only on the crown of my head, and a little goes a long way) to get more control and lift with a round brush as I blow dry. It never makes my hair feel dirty, even if I accidentally overspray. 

This Remmington Curling Wand is the best thing that ever happened to my mornings. It keeps curls loose and natural looking, and is super easy to use. I spend less time on my hair when I use this! Get the largest barrel size. It's a cheaper brand than some of the others, but I've had mine for around 2 years and it's still going strong.

Laura Mercier Ambre Vanilla Scrub. Best in-shower allover body scrub ever; smells great and doesn't irritate skin. Makes a great gift with its pretty jar!

Lubriderm Intense Skin Repair lotion. I love using this right after using the body scrub above! This is the best all-day dry skin lotion I've found, and is essential for wintertime. It's kind of hard to find - Target doesn't seem to carry it, but Walgreens does. When I find it, I buy two bottles. 

Trusting God. I'm in the middle of this book by Jerry Bridges (are you sick of me quoting it yet!?), and love it.

This book by Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, is next on my reading list. It just came out and I'm excited to read it after I finish Bridge's book. I'm not personally in the middle of a life crisis or trial that involves intense pain and suffering, but I have noticed that these are the times in our lives when we seem to be most vulnerable. As a result, I've noticed it's when our spiritual lives and faith can take a beating and any weakness or fault lines in our theology are exposed. I guess I'm drawn to this topic right now because I want to do all that I can to establish a firm foundation for my faith and have a clear concept of my theology as it relates to pain and suffering, so that when I find myself faced with tragedy or suffering, I'm not just beginning to think about what I believe and how I want to live and respond in practical ways. However, these books could be tender gifts for someone in your life who does find themselves in the middle of heartache, loss, pain or suffering of many kinds.

We are wrapping up our study at church right now, and have been working through "Detox: clearing the way for spiritual wellness" by Dr. Jackie Roese. It's powerful. If you or a woman in your life is looking for a great bible study, this is the one you should pick up next. It really doesn't have to be done with anyone else or in a group setting to be powerful and effective. I did it at the beginning of the summer on my own, and am working through it again with my small group. Both times I've studied it have been sweet and convicting and life-changing for different reasons. Cannot recommend highly enough.

My favorite music right now - Kari Jobe's "Where I Find You" album. Play it in the car. In the kitchen while you make breakfast or dinner. Softly as you study God's Word. Teach it to your kids and try to hold back the tears as they sing along... "we are the light of the world...! we are a city on a hill...!". 

I would love these Dwell Studio Antique Picture Frames for our house. So simple and beautiful, right!? Great gift idea. Pop in a meaningful photo before wrapping it up and giving it to someone you love. You could also frame an old love letter or mount an old recipe from a loved one who is no longer with us... so many creative ideas.

Kacey is really good at decorating her home tastefully and simply, and she had three oval picture frames with an oversized photo of each of her gorgeous kids in them hung vertically in her hallway. I told her I plan to flat-out rip off her decorating idea and do the same in my house somewhere. I'd love to find three frames like this one and put the first nails in the walls of our home since we moved in (ahem, 2 years ago). Which sparks another gift idea: give someone (maybe, say, the friend with NOTHING HANGING ON HER WALLS) the gift of decorating help for X number of hours with a local decorator! Hahaha. 

I think these Hunter Boots are one of the wisest purchases I've made, as far as cost-per-wear goes. They're not even close to wearing out and I've had mine for a few years already. Sturdy, very functional, classic, and so cute. Great gift idea for your significant other or add it to your own wish list! Can I recommend buying them somewhere that has a great return/exchange policy? The sizing was tricky if I remember correctly (they either ran a little big or small, and the tall ones take getting used to so there tend to be strong preferences as far as the tall vs. short pair goes). And I'm not a fan of the fleece inserts, but that's just me. I prefer a great knee sock underneath (with shorts or dresses) or ankle socks (with leggings or jeans). 

For the gal who's expecting - this top from Gap Maternity is cute and comfy. If you live near me, you're going to be sick and tired of seeing me in this. I'm in love. And I'm getting huge, fast, and have no patience for clothes that don't feel good. This marled 3/4 sweater is somewhat lightweight, very soft, has structure but feels like a sweatshirt. Yes, please.

I just got these skinny velvet (full panel) ankle zip pants for the next few months. There's just no way I'm going to wear skirts or tights through the holiday season, and I thought these would be cute and dressy enough for special occasions when paired with heels and a cute top or sweater and sparkly jewelry. They're super comfortable, as they have a little stretch in them.

I love sparkly or metallic flats - the pair I wear almost everyday came from Gap this summer/fall, and they don't have them anymore. But this pair is cute and currently being sold at Gap. They go with everything!

Brrr. It's hard to get out of bed this time of year. I love this warm bathrobe (from Target, Gilligan O'Malley) and will probably take it to the hospital in March when we have the baby because it's cute, too! Would make a great gift for anyone...

 What are your current favorite things!? I wish everyone shared lists like these. I need A LOT of gift-giving ideas this year, and I love shopping based on recommendations. :)