Monday, April 14, 2014

If I don't choose joy, Satan will choose weakness and misery for me.

One of the things Braden and I were most excited about having our own place was the opportunity to have people over, to host an event, or just to have friends come hang out. In Clemson, it was rare to be in an empty apartment. At most times of the day, someone was over or stopping by, and it was weird if you didn't have any visitors. Now that we're married, we share a little townhouse on the outskirts of Greenville. We've had visitors here and there, a few of our close friends staying the night, but nothing crazy. We've wanted to have a big get together here, but we've started this awkward trend.

Christmas time we wanted to have a White Elephant party, a time where we could see old friends and have a little house warming for our place. 4 people showed up out of the 40 invited. We justified by saying everyone was busy with Christmas parties, family, traveling. Made sense. We decided to try again and invite people over for Gravitopia (clearly the only way to celebrate turning 23) and snacks at our place for Braden's birthday in March. 3 people came to Gravitopia, 4 people came to our place out of 45+ invited. We thought third time's the charm, and wanted to celebrate our friends Chase and Annabeth with a His & Hers shower this past weekend. 2 people came in addition to Chase and AB.

So, that leaves me to wonder, what in the world is wrong with us!? I get my feelings hurt pretty easily, and I'll be honest, it doesn't feel wonderful when no one comes. But, the point of this post isn't for anyone to feel bad for little old Jess. Grace preached on a sermon that hit this one on the head for me. It was from Luke 14, the story about "a man who once gave a great banquet and invited many (v15)" but each of the guests invited gave excuses on why they could not come. As Grace explained, these were laughable excuses like "I have married a wife, and therefore cannot come (v20)." The invitor in this story was furious, so he sent his servant out to the streets and instructed him to bring in the poor, crippled, blind, and the lame.

Inviting people into your home is vulnerable. You're setting yourself up for an opportunity to feel discarded, to feel wounded, and to feel unimportant.

This story shows the severity of God. The first people invited to the banquet didn't really ever want the invitation -- they had better things to do. So what was His response? He wanted the house to be full, the master craves to invite. Those who were first invited, are no longer invited, and the house was filled with the broken. It's easy to surround yourself with people who are like you, who share the same passions and likes. But, we are called to stick with the people who are different. The Lord will reward you for reaching out, for going outside of your comfort zone.

After our third failed attempt yesterday, I needed some understanding on why this is a reoccurring theme. I'll be honest, it made me feel pretty crappy. Braden challenged me last night and asked "why" we really wanted people to come. Is it a selfish desire? Maybe it is, maybe it's something that needs to be exposed in my life. That's something I'm still working through. But nonetheless, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.

Luckily, Jesus always has our back.

My devotion today was to choose joy. Simple concept, extremely hard to do daily. I get down so easily, and Satan uses that weakness to his advantage. He pursues my weakness, where Jesus pursues my strengths.

The joy of the Lord is our Strength -- Nehemiah 8:10

Satan constantly tries to steal my joy, especially through the little things that don't truly matter. But those little things are the things that wreck me. The first thing I must do is truly believe that it is God's will for me to experience continuous joy. Then, I have to decide if I want to enter into that continuous joy. It's a choice every single day when I'm choosing what to do with my time, when I'm looking at Instagram / Facebook and see the highlights of others lives, choosing what to eat, how I interact with my photography clients, my attitude towards Braden.

If I don't choose joy, Satan will choose weakness and misery for me.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Not so ideal

As all blog posts go, I'm not really sure where this one is going to end up. It's just been chiming in my mind to write about the last few weeks. They've been fun, encouraging, challenging, and full of surprises (good and bad).

So let's rewind to two weekends ago. I woke up on Wednesday morning with a really swollen ring finger. I broke this finger in 8th grade, it didn't heal correctly so it has always had a bump in it. Unfortunate finger to have crooked, am I right? Well, I haven't had a problem with it since middle school, but this particular moment it felt like I had rebroken it. I gave it a day, and decided Thursday morning (the morning I was heading to Charleston to shoot my first wedding) to head to the doctor.

X-rays showed no new breaks, no new fractures. Literally had no answers. I basically spent half the day at the doctor for the nurses to experiment different ways to get my wedding rings off, and then was told they'd need to be cut off. Needless to say, I didn't want that to happen, so I left them on in hopes that swelling didn't continue and they didn't cut circulation off.

I made the drive to Charleston with no problems. Friday morning I made sure everything was good to go with my camera equipment, and decided to use my computer for a little while to kill some time. It. didn't. work. Our one and only computer (mine died soon after we got married) suddenly stopped working the day I needed it for a wedding.

I'll remind you. This was my first wedding as lead photographer, shooting solo so I could get the swing of it. No back up computer. Panic.

Luckily, my sweet friend Paige let me borrow hers for back up for the night. Praise for Paige! Even though it was a quick fix, I still had to have a long term fix for this situation, but didn't want to even think about the $$$ that would have to be spent.

Fast forward to the end of that week. In between there were 5 regular photo sessions, an additional trip to Charleston, and a night photographing at Charleston Fashion Week for my friend Kaitlyn Machos. Exhaustion set in. But, the best kind of exhaustion.

We were heading to Georgia to celebrate our friends Ed + Caitlin's wedding. Saw so many friends we haven't seen since our wedding, so so good for my heart. Plus, I have a thing for one of the groomsmen, he happens to be my favorite person :) on the way home from the wedding that night, Braden's car started acting up out of no where. We had to pull off at a gas station to figure out what was wrong. His car spent a few days at the shop once we got home.

All of this to say, it was a super long week. One of the longest I've had in a while.

So, why bring this all up?

God was trying to reveal something to me, He was being pretty loud and clear, but I still am not really sure what He was trying to teach me. Isn't it funny how there are huge flashing signs, but still no answers?

After all of this, I'm starting to realize where my dependence lies. It is within myself, and I obviously cannot uphold all of that weight on my own. I'm trying to be a wife, a supportive friend, run a brand new business, look for a house to move within the next month, and all of the other things that come day to day. I can't do it alone. But even then, I still try to do it on my own. Want to know the result of that?

A huge face plant into reality.

Like I said, still not sure what the point in this post is about. Just working through the details, trying to understand them. It has been made clear that my dependence hasn't been on Jesus. And quite frankly, I'll never ever be able to depend on anyone else but Him, so why do I try to put dependence else where? This is a public announcement that I'm really bad at having quiet time and having daily time with the Lord. I'm hoping that this will serve as accountability, and that will become a true desire of my heart that is fulfilled daily.

Anyone else need that accountability?

And just a praise report. It turns out, we think I just had arthritis flare up in my finger. Braden's car is functioning fine. We purchased the new computer and it wasn't as painful as we thought. We are going to look at a house tonight. None of these things would have been possible to get through without dependence on Jesus. Even when I'm blind to it, He is always there and He always has a perfect plan, one that is so much better than our own.

So here's to many stumbles and falling on our face. If that's what it takes to hear God, then I'm all for it!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Long time coming

I had a hard time remembering my password for my blog. If that doesn't go to show it's been a while, then I don't know what else does. I have really missed writing. My hope is that I will find the time to still put effort into this little blog, currently most of my time goes into my photography website.

The Lord has taught me some huge lessons recently, some that I'm still wrestling through and don't fully understand yet. That's one thing I love about writing, it helps me see more clearly what I'm supposed to be hearing, what I'm supposed to be learning, and how to share it with others.

I plan to sit down tomorrow and write it all down. It's one of those things that you put off, thinking it's not that big of a deal, but it keeps chiming in your head. Ever had that happen?

Well, it's been chiming in my head all week. So it's time to shake the dust off of this little blog!

It's on tomorrow.

Then the LORD said to me, "Write my answer plainly on tablets, so that a runner can carry the correct message to others. {Habakkuk 2:2}

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Comparing, I'm pretty great at that.

Comparing. I'm pretty great at that. Comparison is something I wish I could eliminate from my life all together, but for some reason it just holds on to me. At the different stages in my life it has been a different type of comparison. In high school I compared my skill level in cheerleading to the skill level of others. I compared the number of friends I had to others. The list goes on and on, I was more insecure than I like to admit. In college it has been a wider array of comparisons. I'm my own hardest critic and I know that, and I'll probably never fully understand why.

Recently, Alex and I decided to go on a little Instagram fast. Strangely enough, it was a lot easier than I thought. It enabled me to be less distracted, be more interactive with people I'm with, and eliminated a lot of the comparison I was doing. It's obvious that we use social media to post the highlights in our lives, we want to appear perfect, like we have it together, and like we have the Lord's favor everywhere in our lives. I'm not pointing fingers, I've definitely done that. Why do we want to appear so wonderful through social media? I will admit, some of the toughest seasons of my life look like a field of wildflowers through social media. I spoke on this about our engagement before. So trust me, I fall guilty of this too.

Proposals and engagements have literally exploded at Clemson over the past two months. It is insane how many people have popped the question, it's even crazier to think how many are just in the month of October! I love engagements, I am so pumped for those who are on the path to marry the person that God created for them, it's such a special blessing. But man, Satan has used these proposals/ engaged relationships to keep me enthralled with comparing myself, and I bet there are many others who can say the same. We all want that perfect proposal with the perfect pictures, the most beautiful ring we've ever seen, the flawless relationship that follows all throughout your engagement, and then the perfect wedding. Who doesn't want that? In reality though, it is all what you make of it. If you're comparing your relationship to their relationship, her ring to your ring, their wedding venue to your wedding venue, you are going to be blinded by the comparisons and never enjoy your own special season of engagement.

For whatever reason I always feel so lead to be extremely transparent about issues in my life and in my relationship (and now marriage) with Braden. We want to serve others in that way, we want to be vulnerable, open, and available to those who are on the road to marriage. It wasn't easy for us, it's a new battle every day, but they are so worth it on that day you get to marry your best friend and say yes to forever. If I have any advice to the newly engaged ladies around me, it is to focus on your marriage and not the wedding. I missed out on this for almost half of our engagement, I was so focused on making the wedding perfect and making it a social event rather than focusing on our marriage. There's a great article on this here. After the ceremony is over, the music stops, and you're back from your honeymoon - it's all over. You have a video and some pictures to show it, and memories to go along with it. After that, you're starting a brand new season of life, one that is so different from anything we've ever experienced.

It's not worth the comparisons. Your relationship is so different than anyone elses. You are blessed in different ways, it's just a matter of acknowledging those blessings. My hope is that by being so honest, we can help others through their season of engagement/ the beginnings of marriage. We definitely don't know it all, I'll admit to that. But we can share from our own experiences.

This started as a post about how I struggle with comparisons, but sometimes the Lord leads me in a different direction. Who knows if anyone even needs to hear this, but it's what He wanted me to say today.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.u And the God of peace will be with you."  {Philippians 4:8-9}

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Apples, Apples, So Many Apples!

Long time no see! It's been crazy around here with graduating from college / moving twice (three times) / getting married / going on a honeymoon / working on my photography business! Luckily, life has slowed down a bit. I've been spending my days working on photography - whether that be promotions, booking shoots, preparing a website. It's time consuming but I can hardly consider that work!

Braden and I have been keeping life pretty low key, at least for these first few weeks of marriage. This past Sunday we were invited to join his family at Sky Top Orchard in Asheville, NC. Since we didn't have any plans holding us back, we accepted and made the drive up to NC.

Our basket didn't seem very full, but we ended up leaving with more apples than I know what to do with (in addition to the apples we already had)!

This apples overload lead me to some baking frenzies. So many apples so little time. We had a good friend coming over for dinner on Monday so I decided to go the dessert route, Apple Crisp!

I wanted something simple and I stumbled upon this recipe. The only thing that took a little time was chopping up the apples, but other than that it was super simple and quick.

Apple Crisp

*Preheat oven to 375°

What you need:
6 apples cored, peeled, and sliced
2/3 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup cold butter
2/3 cup oatmeal

1. Grease 9" pie plate
2. Add sliced apples evenly on pie plate
3. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, spices and salt.
4. Using a mixer, cut butter into the dry mixture
5. Stir in oatmeal
6. Sprinkle mixture on top of apples and bake for 35-40 min!

I've been walking more often, but walking by yourself just isn't that fun. We've become great friends with our pre-marital counseling couple Susan and Kent. They treat us like family, so we feel as if we are add-ons in their family! They have given me permission to take their "other" children for walks during the day, so of course I'm taking them any chance I can.

Meet Charlie and Nana, our adoptive children.

After my walk I contemplated what else I could make with our leftover apples. We love brinner, but try to save it for Sunday nights. However, every Sunday we've been back has been busy. So, I decided to incorporate apples into sweet potato waffles. I didn't know how great the combination would be, but WOW, I think we nailed it!

Paleo* Sweet Potato and Apple Waffles

What you need:
2 apples
2 small sweet potatoes
3 eggs
2 tbsp raw honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup almond milk (or other milk)
1.5 cup almond flour

1. Microwave sweet potatoes for 5 minutes, let cool.
2. While sweet potatoes heat up, core, peel, and slice apples - place in separate microwaveable bowl.
3. Add eggs, honey, almond milk, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda into a blender.
4. Cut sweet potatoes open, scoop out the insides into the blender with other ingredients - blend well.
5. Add in almond flour.
6. Use almond milk to thin out the puree, you may need more or less than 1/4 cup.
7. Sprinkle cinnamon on apples, then microwave for 2 minutes. Stir apples into puree mixture.

In a preheated waffle iron, add about 1/2 cup of mixture. This recipe made about 6 waffles!

We topped them with some Trader Joes Shortstack Syrup - YUM. These were SO good, we will definitely be making them more. Knowing us, we will make them in bulk and eat them throughout the week :) Did I mention that these are paleo?!

So what's the plan for the REST of our leftover apples? Only time will tell. Braden mentioned that he thinks we should juice them. I'm not complaining about fresh apple juice.

I like the idea of using one fruit and making multiple different recipes. Next on the list, pumpkin!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Blunt Truth Behind the Bliss

As most of you know, I will be getting married on August 24th of this year (only 52 days to go)! Before we got engaged, I imagined engagement being this magical time where everything is easy, light, and where you're always walking through the clouds. I wish someone would have let me in on a little secret, engagement is an extremely exciting season, but it can also be stressful, testing, and a little bit overwhelming. Hear me out, I'm not here to say that our engagement hasn't been fun, it definitely has been, but a lot of aspects of engagement took me by surprise.

Hence this blog post.

While we were dating I dreamed of being engaged (yes, I am a girl after all). I thought that life would get so much more exciting, especially in the date department. I set my expectations so high that they realistically could not be achieved, even though in my mind they seemed achievable. I expected dates to get more frequent and exciting, I expected to always be happy and giddy, I expected to easily be able to get a new house and live the "la te da" type of life. Well.. sometimes dates are more exciting, sometimes we are so giddy we can't stand it, and sometimes it is blissful.. but there are times when you get overwhelmed with finances, the planning gets hectic, or you're so busy with other things going on (school, work, etc) that you don't have time to focus on the wedding for weeks. Talk about throwing me off & teaching me to re-adjust when things don't go the way I thought they would.

We met with our mentor couple for pre-marital counseling last night and they said that your first year of marriage is tough, it's full of new trials and difficulties that you've never experienced before because it's all brand new. The analogy used to describe their fair warnings for the first year of marriage was that they want us to be able to walk out into the ocean and see the waves rolling in, not going into the ocean blinded and get knocked over by the waves.

That couldn't be more true for engagement, too. We went into engagement with our eyes closed, hoping for the best as we walk out into the ocean. I'll be honest, I've been hit by a few waves when I least expected it. To those of you who will be entering into this season or are already there, I have a few tips for you that I wish I would've heard before we entered into this season.

1. Have friend couples who are in a similar season
We have the best community of friends & we would not trade them for anything. I have learned so much from those I'm surrounded by daily, however, most of our friends in Clemson are single. Having single friends is awesome and I am so thankful for the friendships I have here. We have a few friends who are newly married or about to get engaged. However, there are not many couples around us who are going through a similar season of life, a season of engagement. When you make time to spend with couples who get what you're going through, it's so much easier to walk through this season and be encouraged through the difficult times.

2. Openly discuss your expectations as soon as you get engaged (maybe even before)
Although we've been engaged for almost 7 months, we are still learning what each other's expectations are for engagement. I mentioned earlier that my expectations were to be skipping through fluffy fields of giddy excitement all day every day, that just isn't possible. Yes, we have some blissful days where there are stars in our eyes and we're so excited we can hardly stand it! But, there are days where I cannot wait for this season to be over. Having open communication before/during engagement is so important, especially when it comes to your expectations.

3. Know you're not alone
Chances are, that engaged/married couple you know are going through or have gone through similar trials that you're going through. I have a tendency to clam up and hold all of my emotions and thoughts inside. I see many couples who I don't know well that have gotten engaged that seem to be so happy, blissful, easy-going and like the engagement process is the easiest thing they've ever done. For some, that may be 100% true, but I've been learning that most couples have gone through some sort of trial/testing period that was extremely difficult. Knowing that you're not alone and knowing that others have walked through this too makes it so much easier to face the issues.

4. Arguing is okay, never leave issues lingering
Braden and I had an argument a few days after we got engaged. I remember thinking how on earth we were arguing, we just got engaged we shouldn't be arguing about anything. Let me say this, little arguments over nothing aren't worth it. However, if you're having bigger issues that you're walking through together, it's totally fine and it's normal. I don't mean to brawl out and yell at each other :) I'm just saying that it's good to work through issues, especially before marriage, because chances are those issues only get bigger once you're married. Nip 'em in the butt asap!

5. Know that Satan will test you, especially when you're trying to glorify the Lord
This is the BIGGEST lesson I've learned during this season, and to be honest, I just learned this lesson last night. I've been in and out of town doing wedding errands, visiting family/friends, etc so it's been difficult to get to church on Sunday's. It's even harder to get to church on Sunday's that I don't have anything going on because I'm so ready to rest. What I didn't realize, was that this is exactly what Satan wants. Our mentor couple told us that we will probably argue almost every Sunday, and we will probably run into an issue/argument every day we're supposed to meet with them. What's funny about that is that we got in an argument on our way to their house for pre-marital counseling last night. The argument was literally about nothing and was so unnecessary. Satan feels so threatened because we're becoming one, especially when two people who love Jesus are trying to glorify the Lord with their engagement and marriage.

For a while, I thought that we were the only crazy people who can't seem to get things on a positive track. To my surprise, this is so common that it's almost the norm. Crazy isn't it? I've read through so many blogs, seen so many pictures, and have been to so many weddings were the couple seem to have it all together and have had no issues throughout their engagement. I wanted to be blunt and I wanted to be honest, if we're equipped and prepared to face the trials, we will reach those triumphs a little more gracefully.

This post may not apply to you at all, but to some it might. After having our first pre-marital meeting last night, it was on my heart to share what I've learned throughout this 7 month journey. It's been tough, but it has also been one of the most fun seasons we've been through so far. Don't let me scare you or make you worry, I'm just trying to be a sister in Christ and to provide some counsel so that you can walk into the ocean and see the waves coming.

Here's to the next 52 days. I can't wait to see what the Lord has in store for our marriage, but I can't wait to see what else the Lord has to teach us the last few weeks of our engagement.

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
- Colossians 3:12-14

Thursday, May 16, 2013

College at a Glance {Junior Year}

Junior year was my busiest year. I was heavily involved with FCA, while also balancing school and a relationship, in addition to making new friends. I started out my Junior year by moving into a new house in Chimney Ridge. I had 3 new roommates, Taylor, Courtney and Logan. 

I served on the Communications Team. I managed the new FCA website, took photos at various events, and helped to create graphics and promotional materials. 

FCA Rally in the Valley 

First FCA photos
I made it to all of Clemson's home games, naturally. We had SO many home games this year, I was a bit worn out by the end of the season. 

I carved a pumpkin for the first time since childhood. We kept it pretty original with clemson-esque pumpkins (Braden had to carve a tiger paw) haha.

Braden's sweet grandparents took us on a trip to Tennessee. One day, they took us to Gatlinburg, which was my first visit to the little quaint town. I loved this trip. Any time I hear NEEDTOBREATHE, I automatically go back to this trip because it was our sound track to the ride up there.

Side note: we also made a separate trip up to Chattanooga to see NEEDTOBREATHE in concert!

While in Tennessee, we went ziplining! I'll admit, I wasn't gungho about ziplining when we first got there. It took a lot of courage to jump off of the ledge, especially since I'm not a huge fan of heights. After my first run I loved it! We went zip-lining again in Helen, GA the next year.

In December, I was selected as a member of a missions team to go to Leogane, Haiti. Not only was this my first mission trip abroad, it was my first time on a plane.. ever. I was terrified. Luckily, I had friends on the plane who helped soothe my nerves and I ended up loving flying!

It's hard to sum up my Haiti experience in a few words, luckily I have blogged about the whole experience previously. To say it was an incredible experience wouldn't even begin to give it justice!

When spring break rolled around I was so ready for a break. As I mentioned before, it was such a busy year and the trip to Haiti was emotionally/ physically draining. Tay invited me to go to Florida to visit her family and I jumped at the opportunity. It was the most low-key, relaxing week.

Not to mention, I caught my first fish in the inlet!

Braden's family takes a beach trip every year right at the beginning of summer. This year, we went to Hilton Head, and we just so happened to go on my birthday weekend!

Helloooo 21!

Towards the end of the year, Alex, Emily and I had a summer small group put on our hearts. We didn't know what that was going to look like, but we made a Facebook group and invited around 10-15 girls. Well, our small group doubled in size and at our first bible study we had over 30 girls. God is faithful. This small group was a mix of girls who I knew/ didn't know at all prior, and it was the most refreshing experience. 

I landed and internship at United Way of Oconee County. This was a blessing in disguise. I started as an intern, and ended up getting hired part-time until the end of the following fall semester (Fall 2012). My internship technically ended at UWO's annual meeting in August. To my surprise, I was awarded their first scholarship. Little did they know, the $500 I was awarded was an answered prayer. I am so thankful for the experience I had at UWO, and for the people I met there.

Last but not least, senior year is coming up! If I had to pick my favorite year, my senior year would definitely be it!

Until then...

2 Corinthians 4:16-18  So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.