Friday, December 24, 2010

The Gift of a Fellow Saint

A wise and godly woman once said, "the greatest miracle you will ever see is a life transformed by the gospel". This truth resonated with my soul, as I have longed to see so many people in my life saved by the grace that has transformed my own life. It's been about a year since I've heard that quote and many years of praying for unbelieving friends and family.

This Christmas, I have seen that miracle in the life of someone I love dearly - my brother.

My brother, Todd and I didn't grow up in the same house. He is 17 years older than me and though we share the same mother, we don't share the same father. Despite these circumstances, Todd has always been my brother, not my "half-brother" and I've always loved him like we had grown up together. But there's more to the story. Todd had been a slave to addiction since he was 12 years old until the time he was 41. To be specific, until around the exact time he turned 41 which was not quite 2 months ago. Most of my life he has spent behind jail and prison bars, in court-ordered rehab facilities, or high or drunk. I've seen him bottom out and I've seen him want to change his life and then bottom out again.

But over the past year, I began to see something different in him and I began to pray more that what I was seeing was God's hand in his life, drawing Todd to himself in His own timing. Around October of 2009, we had a lengthy conversation in which I shared the gospel with him for the first time and told him my own testimony of the gospel. As we spoke, I knew it was God giving me the words to speak to him. His eyes longed to hear the Truth, to believe that he could stop living in addiction and be a new creation. But on that day, his heart was not ready to receive it. God had more plans for him, but I have no doubt He was working in his heart even then, a year before he would receive grace.

After that day, God gave me more of a desire to pray for his salvation. I prayed God would break his heart of stone and show him his sin and that he would repent and be cleansed and have joy in knowing his Creator and Savior, just as He had done for me. God began to show me the hope of what could be - a beautiful testimony of a life so full of sin yet so calloused to it gone and a new creation in Christ in it's place. It became my heart's desire and though Satan tried his best to make me believe this was a foolish hope, God reminded me each time that He hears and blesses my prayers and that no one is beyond His grace.

In August of this year, Randall and I received an invitation from our friends, the Millers, to a dinner benefitting a ministry called His Steps. As I was reading the email invite, I began to see that this ministry was created for men struggling with addiction and immediately thought of Todd. Randall and I both felt like this could be the place where Todd would receive the gospel so we wanted to find out more at the dinner. Before the dinner had even begun, I looked across the large banquet hall and saw my cousin Brian, who is a solid believer that loves Todd and has fought addiction in his own life. When I finally made my way over to talk to him, I found out that he had been in communication with Tim, the founder of His Steps, and that he was scheduling a time for the family to sit down with Todd, have Tim tell him what the ministry was about, and have us ask him to go there. It seemed surreal. A few days before I had been pondering the idea of talking with the family about Todd going to His Steps and here I was finding out it was already in the works. I was nervous but excited at the possibility and overjoyed to see Brian loving Todd with the love of Christ. My heart was encouraged.

A few days later, this family meeting took place, but it almost never happened. It was my task to get Todd to the meeting and I was unwilling to do this under false pretenses. I had told Todd the day before that Brian and I were going to take him to breakfast and talk about his plans and jobs. Todd had recently been released from jail and looking for some direction. I felt convicted that I couldn't lie to him so the morning I picked him up, I sat down and told him that the whole family was going to be there and we all wanted to help him figure out a plan to help him stay on track. I didn't tell him about Tim and His Steps because I thought he might automatically shut down and think of it as rehab, so I left it at that. He was really flustered at the idea of having the whole family there and didn't understand the point of it. I could see millions of things running through his mind as I told him about the meeting. I told him I thought it would be good for him and I hoped he would come with me, but it was up to him. I simply asked that he tell me yes or no and that if he didn't want to go that I would leave. After probably 20 minutes of internal debate, he got up from the table and said "let's go".

The meeting took place and just like the previous October, I saw a desire in his eyes to believe what was being told to him and this time by so many more people who loved him. He didn't decide to go to His Steps that day or the next day and in fact he bottomed out again over the next couple of months. But this time when he hit the bottom, God opened his heart to see his brokenness. Desperate for freedom with tear-filled eyes, he called our Aunt Donna and asked to come to her house. She let him right in and told him to get some rest. The next day Todd expressed his desire for a new start and decided to go to His Steps. He has been there since early November.

Sometime over the course of the short time he has been at His Steps, God has truly created a new heart in him. He is learning God's word and praying for more enlightenment. Yesterday was one of the best days of my life because I spent all afternoon listening to his account of God's work in his life. This man who had once alienated himself from the family during Christmas due to shame was sitting at my kitchen table enjoying fellowship with us. We serve a mighty God.

This Christmas, I have received the best gift of all, the gift of seeing my brother become more than just a blood relative. This year he is a fellow saint of Christ.

 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation... God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Corinthians 5: 17-19; 21

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Woman's Work...

Times have changed since our grandparents were raising our parents. My mom grew up in the 50's and 60's in a middle class family. My grandfather earned a salary as an accountant and my grandmother stayed at home to raise my mom and aunt. That was the norm for most families then and it was accepted and even expected by society. This is definitely not the norm anymore and the idea of motherhood as a profession is very often frowned upon by society today.

Thank you very much, feminists. (Topic for another post perhaps?)

Before my husband, Randall, and I got married over 2 years ago, we agreed that once we started having children, I would stay at home to raise them, at least until they were school age (if we didn't decide to home school). Now that we are expecting our first child, this is becoming a reality. Actually it became a reality earlier than we had originally expected. I decided to quit my 30 hour per week job of baking cupcakes at just 8 weeks into my pregnancy, when the infamous "morning sickness" monster started rearing it's ugly head. I absolutely love baking cupcakes (and eating them!) so it was not easy to stop making money to do what I love, but as most of you have probably read in my precious entries, that first trimester was no walk in the park. So, to sum it up, baking and all-day nausea didn't mix. I wasn't making a lot of money and my husband was up for a promotion within the month so it seemed to be a sensible decision for me to go ahead and quit.

Then came the 2nd trimester. Ah, relief. My energy began to return and the nausea vanished. Hallelujah! But wait, I felt okay again but now I was bringing in no income. Hmm...

Being at home has left me with plenty to do, but I still feel the squeeze of not bringing in any income. I know the desire of my heart is foremost to be a mother and God has provided the means for that, for which I am very thankful. But while my husband is able to provide for our family, right now we could use some extra income. Working with one income after having two for so long has been a challenge and has had us questioning where we need to cut back. While I really am fine with living without some things - eating out more than once a month, cable television, etc. - the hardest part for me has been feeling like I'm not doing enough when I could be bringing in money that we could be saving up for the baby.

So I've been perusing my options for how to bring in some income during these next 5 months and even beyond. I applied for a freelance writing job that would allow me to work at my own pace and write only as many articles as I want to. I have no idea if I will get hired but I do plan on applying for a few of those and hope that maybe one will work out. Here's some other ideas:

- Selling CDs, DVDs and other stuff on Amazon or eBay - not a steady form of income, but hey it's income, right?
- Selling my cupcakes from home - this is a bit more tricky and would pretty much have to be by word of mouth because of health code regulations, but it's something I want to do. Randall and I still have a dream of owning our own bakery and coffee shop business one day so this would be a great way to build up at least a small client base too.
- Sewing and selling aprons - This one is the most out of reach right now because while I have recently purchased a sewing machine, I still haven't learned how to use it! Regardless, I have a love for vintage aprons and want to make them, especially by repurposing old fabrics.

Ladies and moms - I want to know what you think. What are your experiences with managing a family with one income (specifically less than 30,000 per year)? What are some creative ways you've heard or or have used to bring in extra income as a mom?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Did You Say CLOTH Diapers?

Diapers. We've all worn them (and may again with the rising life expectancy) and when we have children of our own, we will all change them and buy them. It's a messy business for sure and an expensive one too, as any parent can attest. Disposable diapers on average cost around $850 per year or $70 per month. For me, that's a jarring number considering my plan to be a thrifty stay-at-home mom. So, I've been considering the alternative - cloth diapers. Yes, I said cloth diapers.

Relax, I'm not speaking of the daunting piece of white cloth that you somehow wrap around a baby's butt and fasten with safety pins. Those are more or less a thing of the past. Today, cloth diapers come with features like snaps, velcro, and some even come with a one-size-fits-all feature that grows with your baby. The upfront cost is higher, as the premium cloth diapers cost around $17 per diaper thus around $400 for 2 dozen, which should be all you will need for the entirety of your child's diapered days. Now that sounds like a better number than $850 to me!

But there is an obviously messy fact to consider - cloth diapers must be washed. This is probably a determining factor for many because let's face it, the thought of cleaning off seemingly endless poop, diaper after diaper, day after day is not a pleasant one. I'll be the first to admit that the ease of throwing a dirty diaper in the trash sounds delightful in comparison! However, I have found that while cleaning a cloth diaper is always a messy job, my research suggests that it's not as scary as my pre-conceived notions about it are. Diaper bins similar to the ones that are used for disposables are available, which not only hold dirty diapers until washing time, but can also mask the smell of them. What I've found to be the most intriguing invention that aids in cloth diaper clean up is the bumGenius brand diaper sprayer. It attaches to your toilet fairly easily, can be stored on the wall, and allows you to spray poop off of the diaper and directly into the toilet before washing. And speaking of washing, while there is always the option of using a diaper service, this almost entirely defeats the economical side of cloth diapering. Diaper services can run you almost as much as it costs to use disposables every month, so I'm scratching that idea. I have a washer and dryer and am certainly no stranger to using them so I would wash them myself, which on average runs you about $15-$20 per month.

There are other pros and cons to the diaper debate that I am not even delving into. Health and safety and environmental friendliness are among the biggest. While these topics do hold some weight in my diapering decision, I chose to stick with the cost side of cloth diapers as it holds the most weight for me personally.

With 6 months left to go before I must make the ultimate diaper decision, I will continue to read and listen to personal experiences and opinions from both sides of the debate, including from you - my readers! Did you or would you choose cloth or disposable and why?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Caffeine - To Drink or Not To Drink

Wow it has been far too long since I have made a post. My plan is to change that and post at least 2 times per week if not more. Here's a quick recap on what's happened since the last time I posted - heard the baby's heartbeat twice, entered the "honeymoon" 2nd trimester and said farewell to nagging nausea, vomiting, food aversions and extreme fatigue, and have begun to grow a "baby bump". Looking forward to finding out the sex of the baby in a few short weeks - November 24th!

It's an exciting time for sure, but the further I get into my pregnancy, the more I seem to read and hear about things to avoid. I don't want to be an overly stressed mom-to-be that barely lives those 9 months for fear of doing something wrong but I obviously don't want to be the polar extreme of that. So where is the middle ground? What do you do away with completely and what do you allow yourself to have in moderation?

Today I'm specifically asking this question about caffeine. Pre-pregnancy, I woke up to drink that marvelous cup of piping hot joe every morning. Since about 5 weeks into my 1st trimester, I stopped drinking coffee entirely. I didn't want to risk it but even more so, the "morning" sickness made the smell I had once loved turn my stomach sour. But lately, my craving has returned. The brisk cool air, fall colors and promise of Christmas along with my new sick-free days have made brewing and drinking that morning cup of goodness a soothing way to start my day. I confess that even as I type this, I am drinking a cup - mind you, it is 3/4 decaf and is a small cup. But I am plagued with the conflicting information that's out there on how much is okay. I'm tempted to think that even my small cup of almost entirely decaf coffee could be damaging to my baby, but my gut conviction is that this is ridiculous. Everything in moderation... right?

So ladies, mothers, pregnant mommas-to-be, I want to hear what you think and why. What are your experiences or maybe you know someone who has dealt with this issue even if you haven't yourself. I want to hear your thoughts.

**I should mention, I do enjoy a glass of sweet tea a few times per week, but I always make sure that I only have it on days when I have not had any coffee.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Turning 24: the Year of Mommyhood

As it goes, my birthday is tomorrow. I will be 24 years old. It's sort of hard to believe I'm so young yet so old at the same time. High school doesn't seem like a totally distant memory yet I can't even imagine reliving those days over again. I was a different person altogether and I don't think I'm alone in that.

We change a lot after high school, even though we think we won't. Then college comes along and we really think we're grown up once that diploma is in our hands. Truth is, we're always works in progress. I know, it's cliched and I say it but do I really think that and yes I really do. I'm human and thus prideful so most days I live like I've mostly got it all together, but I know I'm wrong. All I have to do is look back at my life over the past few years. I had a bit of a different circumstance from many since Randall and I got married before our last year of college. It was a challenge for sure - I balanced work with school before we got married but adding on a marriage - whew! Time constraints made it hard for us to spend needed time together. We enjoyed our first year, but it was certainly the hardest yet. This doesn't mean the second was a breeze. We faced new and different challenges - with college over, what would we do for work? move or stay here? when will we start trying to have children - woah am i even ready for kids?! - but we got through those big questions with some pain and some joy along the way. To top it all off, we entered year three of our marriage with Randall having a new job that he loves that pays a salary (a much anticipated event), purchased our first home and began a kitchen remodel, I began working at a job that wasn't as demanding of my time and energy that I enjoyed, got a puppy (bigger thing to take on than it seems unless you've done it!), became part of an amazing church plant in downtown Montgomery, and last but not at all least - we found out that we're having our first child. Just looking at this list makes me slightly overwhelmed! The point in me going through all of this is that looking back, at each point in the past few years God provided us what we needed in order to deal with what we were facing. Had any of the events that happened over the past few months happened 2 years ago, I really believe it would have been much much harder. But God is good, he gives us what we can handle and more importantly, what he wants us to handle. It's really a sweet and humbling realization. I don't have it all together - not a bit! But He does - and I can rest in that.

Year 24 isn't just another year. It will be unique - full of new trials and triumphs and full of growth. It is particularly exciting because this year is the real beginning of a new journey God has put me on - the journey to being a mom. And in a little over 6 months, I'll be holding a new person in my arms, a person God himself knit together in my womb. Then the real journey begins - for me and for that precious child. Because one day that child will be turning 1, 2, 3... then before I know it he or she will be turning 24 just like I will tomorrow. And when that day comes, I can still rest in knowing that God will provide the means to handle whatever comes into his or her life, just as He has, is, and will for me.

Psalm 139: 1-14
O Lord, you have searched me
       and you know me.

  You know when I sit and when I rise;
       you perceive my thoughts from afar.

  You discern my going out and my lying down;
       you are familiar with all my ways.

  Before a word is on my tongue
       you know it completely, O LORD.

  You hem me in—behind and before;
       you have laid your hand upon me.

  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
       too lofty for me to attain.

  Where can I go from your Spirit?
       Where can I flee from your presence?

  If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
       if I make my bed in the depths, 
 you are there.
  If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
       if I settle on the far side of the sea,

  even there your hand will guide me,
       your right hand will hold me fast.

  If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
       and the light become night around me,"

  even the darkness will not be dark to you;
       the night will shine like the day,
       for darkness is as light to you.

  For you created my inmost being;
       you knit me together in my mother's womb.

  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
       your works are wonderful,
       I know that full well.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

what a displeasure to meet you, "morning" sickness

I think it's safe to say that this week has seen a crazy amount of changes. "Morning" sickness and I have been officially acquainted as of Saturday and we've been seeing a lot of each other. Too much really. Who in the world coined it "morning" sickness? Mine is really all-day sickness, which is not at all what "morning" sickness implies. I hate that term so much. It's 2010. Statistics show that I am definitely not in the minority experiences nausea all day long instead of just in the morning so let's just stop calling it that.  I really needed to get that off of my chest!

::Steps off soapbox::

My last entry was all about responsibility. I made the decision to work through September and then cut my hours back and continue to work through Christmas. Nausea definitely changed that plan. I guess it was wishful thinking that made me think that the manageable queasiness and fatigue I was experiencing last week was the extent of my "morning" sickness (cringes at the term). But who really knows what to expect? I figured out this week that nausea brings aversions to food - really all food - including baked goods. Yes, that's right, my stomach can't stomach cupcakes. There's no way I was going to try to bake cupcakes everyday with the way I've been feeling. Needless to say, I quit working for the duration of my 1st trimester. Thankfully, God has provided me with a Christian employer who was very understanding about my short notice resignation and is even willing to allow me to come back to work a couple of days per week if and when I start feeling better. So I now begin the journey of being at home and trying my best to figure out ways to feel better and be productive during this all-day sickness (there, I called it by it's formal new name!).

I've already decided this will not be my favorite part of the pregnancy, but I don't want to be totally miserable throughout it either. There are a few upsides to being sick (hard to believe, but just hear me out...). First and foremost, it means the baby is healthy and growing. A wise mom told me recently that the activity going on in my body to grow the baby is equivalent to running a marathon. No wonder I'm so tired! Being sick is also teaching me to be extra conscious about what I put in my body - making sure I'm eating despite the nausea and trying to eat things that aren't totally empty calories. I guess you could say I'm becoming more in tuned to my body to figure out what it needs in order to grow this sweet baby. On the opposite note, it does give me the clearance to eat whatever I can keep down, which is sometimes things that I wouldn't normally eat because they aren't the most nutritious. This really hasn't been too much of a perk to me yet because even when I have cravings, I don't enjoy the food I'm eating. I'm just forcing myself to eat so I don't get sicker. Well, maybe that perk will come later. A pregnant girl can dream, right?

So this new all-day sickness is sticking around for awhile so I better find ways to cope. I've been trying the classic saltine crackers, which I am already sick of, and ginger ale after meals. It does provide some relief but it's nominal most of the time. I was craving Subway sandwiches and eating at least a 6 inch once a day this week but I don't want those anymore after I threw one up today! I managed to cook a bland chicken tetrazzini with the help of my sweet husband a few nights ago but I definitely couldn't even stand the smell of it today. I had pad thai tonight as it seemed appealing in my mind. I've kept it down, but it feels like it's sitting in my chest. What's with that? Just digest for crying out loud! What's stopping you? It's a mystery what I will eat from one day to the next, which has made it near impossible to grocery shop and plan meals. I've always had a home-cooked meal on the table almost every night of the week for the entirety of our marriage, even when we were working students our first year! The food planner and budgeter in me is struggling with not being able to stock and prepare foods for the week but I'm telling myself it's just a few months of unpreparedness!

So this week I've met "morning" sickness, become roommates with it, and formally changed it's name. I wonder what next week has in store...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Being Responsible... What Does it REALLY Mean?

Last week was a whirlwind. I was trying to wrap my head around being pregnant which is very exciting but pretty scary too. I also had to deal with the stress of the doctor visit - the certainty of facing of some of my fears (needles... eek!) and the uncertainty of the outcome of the tests (is my baby okay?). WHEW!

With that said, this week has been a good deal calmer. I feel much more able to sort through things without feeling completely overwhelmed by my emotions. The main thing I've been sorting through is my responsibility in the here and now - before the birth and during my carrying of him or her. There are the obvious responsibilities I have to the baby - to take care of my body by getting plenty of rest, eating well, taking my prenatal vitamins, and abstaining from teratogens. But beyond that, what are my responsibilities to my family?

My husband and I got married a little over 2 years ago during the summer before our senior year of college. Needless to say, it was a crazy 1st year. Both of us worked full-time and were full-time students so we didn't get a lot of time together. But my role as helper was clear - by necessity I worked outside of the home to bring in income. The 2nd year was less busy as we graduated from college, but my role as helper remained the same - to work in order to bring in income. Now upon entering our 3rd year of marriage, God has provided us with a salaried job for my husband and a baby on the way. My role is in transition and I have to admit I'm very excited about that. It has been the desire of my heart for a long time to be a homemaker and mom. On the other hand, I'm struggling to see myself in the same level of a helping role not working outside of the home. Money will inevitably be tighter so I feel compelled to work for awhile during my pregnancy for the income it provides, but it's also a stretch to expect the same amount of work out of myself due to early pregnancy symptoms. Plus, I want to have time to adjust to being a homemaker and getting used to the new budget - you know, clipping coupons and cutting corners to save money - before the baby comes. So I think my husband and I have reached some middle ground. I will continue to work my same schedule through the end of September and then, if my boss is able to work it out, I will continue to work 2 days per week through the end of December (the baby comes in April so that will give me a few months to just be at home).

So, I'm between roles now. Income earner and full-time homemaker and mom. It's an exciting time and a bit stressful too, but the important thing is that I trust God with my tomorrow. Being the sinner that I am, my tendency is to cling to worry and really just create a stressful situation that is outside of my hands. My part is to be responsible - to my husband, my baby and most importantly, to God. And being responsible to God is being faithful to him - trusting that He will fulfill his promises as He always does.

And that's my two cents on responsibility.


Friday, August 20, 2010

The Journey Begins...

This week has been a whirlwind of emotions (in part due to my ever-fluctuating hormones!). I'm still wrapping my head around the fact that we're going to have a baby - that life is forming inside my womb! God has been so gracious to me by giving me peace and perseverance through it all and I'm ever so thankful!

One week ago today, I took an at-home pregnancy test and found out that my suspicion/hope of pregnancy was a reality! Strangely enough, I was almost positive that I was pregnant about 2 days after conception. I just had this feeling and a peace about it. We hadn't been really trying to get pregnant, but we did want children so it certainly was exciting to think that it was time for us to be parents!

This Wednesday was my first prenatal appointment. I am beyond squeamish about going to the doctor and this was the doctor visit of ALL doctor visits! Ultrasound, full pelvic exam, blood work, finger prick sugar level test... needless to say, I was nervous about going! God gave me so much peace, though. For the first time, I was going through all these procedures for my baby, not for me. It's a strange and amazing feeling. I'm beginning to see how we women can go through all of the pains (most specifically, child birth!) of having a baby... it's such a sweet experience! I really didn't understand it before now, honestly. I thought I would be a wreck going through all the pains, doctor visits, needles, etc. etc. etc., and it's still a bit overwhelming, but what a sweet reward to think that 9 months of carrying that sweet child and finally meeting him or her face to face! It's just the sweetest thing!

Thanks for reading my pregnancy blog! I'm excited to share the experiences of the greatest adventure of my life so far... the journey to mommyhood!

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