Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Degaje: Make Due With What You've Got

As December approaches quickly, so does the one year anniversary of my trip to Haiti with FCA. Last year, I had no idea what to expect. I had never flown in a plane before, I had never been out of the country, and I had never been put so far outside of my comfort zone. I prepared for the trip by raising donations, getting various vaccinations, and looking for guidance. Why was I going on this trip? Why was I chosen as one in a group of 30? Little did I know, this trip was going to change my life forever.

On December 28, I boarded my first flight alongside half of our group of 30. We began our journey in Charlotte, and then flew to Miami. From Miami we flew overseas to the Haitian airport Port au Prince. Arriving at the Haitian airport was extremely intimidating. Many locals earn money by loading passengers luggage, so we had men tugging and pulling at our bags constantly. I had no idea what was going on, but I held on to my luggage as best I could.

Our drive from the airport was the bumpiest and quietest 2 hour ride I've ever experienced. Cars drive on both sides of the road, so it is a constant head on situation. So many people were living in tents on the side of the road. I had no words, I was blown away by what I was witnessing. We arrived at our home for 10 days, one that is guarded and sheltered from the outside world. The house itself was so much more than we expected. It actually had air conditioning, running water, and food we recognized.

Our room that bunked 7 girls in a room together, so much fun!
During our first day in Haiti, I had no idea what my purpose was in being there. I felt homesick and I realized how reliant I was on things and people form home. I was so uncomfortable and felt so distant from everyone in the house, I felt that I was the only one experiencing hesitance and doubt. I found out later that I was wrong, but in that moment I felt extremely weak.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and we stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength {Isaiah 40:29-31}.
The second day we visited the current and new orphanage for the first time. The new Lamb Center is under construction. Visiting was a little intimidating because there were Haitian men working around the site, and they had angry looks on their faces. I felt tense and uncomfortable. Our group and the Haitian workers got into a circle and listened to passages from Matthew first in Spanish, Creole, and then English. We were given the words to "Blessed Assurance" and sang the song in both English and Creole. I have never realized how big God is until that moment, He has no language barriers.

Our first day at the current orphanage was pretty chaotic because we had not been given much instruction. I spent the day shoveling gravel and cleaning up the orphanage grounds. When I wasn't working, I was spending time with two Haitian children that had taken to me quickly. Johnny and Jeffmina stayed by my side that day, and the remainder of my time at the orphanage during the trip. Jeffmina treated me as one of her best friends. She was constantly pushing hair out of my face, teaching me words in Creole, and making sure I knew that she loved having me there. She served me more than I could ever serve her.

Our second day in Haiti was spent at the construction site. We dug a trench all day long alongside the back of the property. While looking off at the mountains I realized just how far I away I was from home. With that brings fear, and I had anxiety about being in a foreign country. Maybe it's normal for us to feel isolated when we first go on our first foreign mission, or maybe it's just me. One thing I know is that I was so homesick and all I wanted was for the Lord to comfort me. And that He did. I realized that I had been called to Haiti for a reason, and although I didn't know that reason, I knew that He would reveal that in His timing.

I had never realized just how simple life could be if we'd just let it. After one day in Haiti, my eyes had already been opened so much. The Lord had taught me just how blessed I was and how much I don't even notice it in my comfortable surrounds. The Haitian children truly have nothing. They have each other and only possess a bed that they love, and even with so little, they have so much joy.

On the last day of 2011, we spent our day at the Samaritan's Purse base in Haiti. When I heard the word "base," I couldn't help but think of an army base. I was so off. This base was once a resort, so we were right on the ocean amongst the mountains. The day was spent exploring on the beach, hanging out with one another, and trying new things (like fresh coconut). We were literally in paradise. At one point in the day a donkey and goat decided to join us on the beach. No, that is not normal, but apparently in Haiti it is!

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory. {Isaiah 6:3}

To bring in 2012, we had a spectacular seafood feast that we each helped to prepare. We were well fed our entire stay in Haiti, but this night was one for the books. We had options of hot dogs, hamburgers, and fresh lobster tail along with various fresh sides. After dinner we thought it'd be a great idea to return the unused lobsters back into the ocean, well, let's just say it was turned into a fun game. We watched Iron Man 2 on the big screen under the cabana. Soon after the movie was finished I headed to our compound to journal for a little while. I loved having so much time to reflect on the trip. We were told that there was a huge surprise for us at midnight -- so I made sure to journal quickly so I wouldn't miss out.

It had taken a few days, but I finally felt comfortable in Haiti. My friends had become family, and our temporary housing had become a home. I will never forget the relief I felt in that moment, the moment where I finally felt at peace with my purpose in being in Haiti. Sure, it was tough thinking about all my friends at home celebrating the New Year together, but I was in Haiti. That's a once in a life time shot, and the Lord blessed me with that opportunity.

With less than an hour left to bring in the new year, we all headed out on the beach. We lit 2012 on fire, literally.

We watched it glow, and as soon as the clock struck 12 there was a huge fireworks display. I'll never forget how bright the stars were, it was such a beautiful backdrop to all of the fireworks. We sang "Deep deep, oh deep down down, deep down in my heart, I LOVE YOU JESUS" to bring in the New Year. This song had been the soundtrack to our trip. We sang it almost daily with the children and the Haitian works, it was our special way of celebrating our love for Jesus all in one language.

We spent the next few hours shagging away under the cabana. Our wonderful friend and mentor, Nat, had wanted to learn how to shag. So naturally, we made it our mission to teach him how to dance. New Years was his time to shine, and he showed us just how much he had learned. I couldn't have asked for a better new years in a better place or with better people.

The next day we spent with the children. Jeffmina braided my hair and Johnny wrote me letters and drew me pictures. They are so selfless, so joyful, and such a blessing. These two will forever hold a special place in my heart. I never would have guessed that my heart would open up so much for children I had just met.

That night, January 1, Nat and Tom devoted our evening to worship to bring in 2012 the right way. We spent time signing and between a few songs we would open it up for prayer. In this moment, the Lord was breaking my heart for what breaks His. There are so many people in the world who don't know Jesus, and we who have been saved have been sent unto all of the world to be alight in their lives. We discussed how the Chinese have to worship at a mere whisper, and we so easily take our freedom to sing for granted. It's moments like these that make me realize just how good God is. He is our Father in ALL of the world, not just in America.

Nat decided to take groups of 10 to the mountains each day. I went on the second trip, but the first group did a great job on keeping the surprise a secret. I'll let the pictures do the talking..

Each little piece of blue is a Samaritan's Purse tarp. Each of these homes have been restored or built by SP. How amazing is that?
 The locals from the village came up to the mountain top with us. The children were not as open or affectionate as the children at the orphanage, but they still enjoyed spending time with us.

The next few days were spent at the current orphanage and the construction site. To recap these days, I thought I'd just mention the tasks we completed for the new Lamb Center Orphanage. We lined the back wall of the orphanage with steel and rebar. I became a rebar expert (not really but I'd like to think so), and I spent my time with some of the Haitian men at a table tying rebar over and over. It was a tiring job, but I loved getting to speak with each of them about their family and their relationship with the Lord. I'll never forget when Eric, one of my new found friends, introduced me to one of the other men as "This is Jessi, my friend, and my sister in Christ." That was such a special moment.

Another big job for us was to level the ground for cement slabs. These slabs were going to hold various trailers that would be used for medical and storage purposes. I remember looking over the rocky area thinking that it was an impossible job. We each took hold of a shovel and started digging. Rocks on rocks on rocks. It definitely wasn't impossible. It's amazing how quickly we finished that portion, and moved on to pouring cement. I have so much respect for what these workers do every day, because we were all exhausted by the end of the day. I've got to say, looking at the finished product was such an amazing feeling. We helped to provide this for the orphanage, something that will forever have our stamp on it.

I would steal moments while we were working just to feel the sun on my skin. It was so amazing to feel the hot sun in the middle of December. Plus, I got a pretty good tan.. and burnt.

Every day was a job well done. It was always tough and very physically demanding, but it was always so rewarding to see our work turn into a success. During our stay in Haiti, we organized our house, helped lay the foundations for the back wall for the orphanage, poured the cement slabs. Of course, that is only the physical labor we did. Our time was mostly spent with the children and the Haitians, we built so many wonderful relationships with them.

Our last day in Haiti was so bittersweet. I couldn't believe that I would no longer be in the warm weather the next day, that I'd be back in the US, that I'd get to see my mom and Braden again. At the same time, I knew that I would probably never see Jeffmina and Johnny again. I wasn't ready to leave. I wasn't ready to leave the wonderful community of people, Haiti's beautiful surroundings, or the simplicity of it all. Nat told us to take mental pictures, to save the moment, and those words rang in my ears our final hours in Haiti.

That night we sang "I've got peace, love, joy, and righteousness in the Holy Spirit." There is so much truth in that song. I will always find peace, love, joy, and righteousness when I'm walking in step with the Lord. From this experience I have learned that my joy knows no bounds. The Haitians went through a catastrophic earthquake, and still they have so much joy. This trip has signified relationship building at it's finest. I made so many new wonderful friendships, and strengthened those that were already in existance.

Simplicity is they key. God is so loud and clear when there are no distractions - but I wondered how that would carry over back home. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but looking back, I know that the Lord totally blessed me this year and filled me with courage and boldness. Haiti encouraged me to be uncomfortable, to be patient, and to be bold.

I am so thankful that I was blessed with this opportunity. The friendships I made in Haiti have continued throughout this year, and I know that they will continue to grow. Each member of our Haiti team will forever hold a special place in my heart. To Nat and Tom: I am forever grateful for their wisdom and guidance, but most of all, I am thankful for their friendship. We learned the word "degaje," and it means to make due with what you have. Friends, we are all blessed more than we realize. Make due with what you have every day, be thankful for your blessings, and don't be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone.

Jezu renmen ou. Jesus loves you. Au Revoir.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

When "Whoops" Turns into "Wonderful"

Do you ever have a hankering for something sweet, to the point where you'll search for an hour to find that "perfect" recipe that sounds incredible right in that moment? Yeah, me too. The only obstacle I've had lately is finding Paleo recipes that are just as delicious as the real thing. I've had my share of flops:  knock off chocolate cupcake made out of eggs and cocoa powder.. you do the math. But, I've also had my share of triumphs:  chocolate zucchini bread, chocolate mug cake, and the list goes on. 

Let's get real though, I'm always in the mood for cookies. Or anything sweet for that matter.

I stumbled upon a Paleo chocolate chip cookie recipe that sounded promising, so Braden and I decided to give it a try with a few twists of our own. Well.. the cookies were supposed to turn out like this..

But ours turned out like this..

How did we deal with this dilemma? We called them Paleo chocolate chip muffins, problem solved! They were so light and fluffy, much different than I expected. It was rather surprising.. and made both of our tummies happy! To see the actual recipe, skip on over to Delighted Momma's recipe. 

If you're aiming for some muffins, I've got you covered!

Paleo Chocolate Chip Muffins

What you'll need:

1 cup almond flour
1/2 cup coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
3 tbsp honey
4 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup chocolate chips (we used 60% Cacao chips)


Preheat oven to 375°

2. Melt honey and oil together in microwave for 15 seconds
3. In mixing bowl, mix together:  oil, honey, eggs, vanilla, and salt
4. Stir in almond flour and chocolate chips
5. Pour batter into muffin tins (we made 12 muffins)

Bake for 12-15 minutes :)

We loved these muffins, there's only a few left and they were just made yesterday! It's not very often that a baking recipe turns out wonderfully when you do something wrong, I'll take it as a win. Has anyone else had a recipe flop and end up turning into something great? 

I'm off to do a little Christmas shopping! I hope you all have a wonderful day. Hooray for Thanksgiving Break!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Recent Happenings

I've really jumped off of the blogging bandwagon, and I really want to hop back on. With writing being a passion of mine, I really need to get better at keeping up with this! I've mentioned before that I have some catching up to do! What better way than to catch up in pictures?

I'm always in the mood for pancakes, and I've posted about them before in sweet potato form. I wanted to make my life a little simpler and have a little less prep time.

Enter egg and protein powder pancakes, probably the easiest combination in the world! Mix 1 scoop of protein powder, I use Sun Warrior vanilla, with 2 eggs and 1/2 tsp baking powder. They're much fluffier than I expected. I've been throwing in different mix ins (blueberries, strawberries, sunbutter, etc) but chocolate chips have definitely been a recent fav.

Another recent fave that I've mentioned before is the chocolate mug cake. I wanted to make a knock off version of PaleOMG's chocolate mug cake. Her cake is wonderful, but I felt that it could definitely be modified to be "one serving friendly."

Mix together:  1 egg, 2 tbsp cocoa powder, 1 tbsp almond flour, 1 tbsp honey, 1 tsp oil, and a pinch of cinnamon. I always throw in a few chocolate chips to make it more of a treat. Microwave for 2 minutes!

This past weekend was filled with fun with friends. Friday night I went to Tigerama, a pep rally held by Clemson, for the very first time. Yes, the first time I got to go was my senior year.. and I loved it! My favorite part was when a few of our guy friends, the "320 Blues," performed the national anthem. After hanging out at Tigerama for a few hours we decided to play a few rounds of Catch Phrase, and it got INTENSE. Guys v Girls never fails to be entertaining. A fun night with friends isn't complete without some type of treat, so the girls and I headed to the store and got a huge package of cookie dough and vanilla ice cream.

Can you guess what we made?

Yep, you guessed it.. PAZOOKIE

It was totally dominated in a matter of 3 minutes, tops.

Saturday was the Clemson v Maryland game, also known as Homecoming. We spent the day tailgating around campus and eating our little hearts out. I love game days:  football, food, and friends are just a few of my favorite things. Might I add that I have the best (sassiest) friends on the planet?

Seriously, I couldn't ask for a better group of encouraging and fun people!

That's all for now!

Until next time, Happy Tuesday!

Monday, November 12, 2012

That Day I Photographed My First Wedding

Hello friends! I hope you all kicked off your Monday on a great note. I've had an incredibly productive day despite the rainy weather we're having, I would have much rather stayed in  my bed all day. One thing on my to do list:  edit pictures from the wedding Annabeth and I photographed a few weeks ago.

We might as well start from the beginning, shall we? I had the wonderful privilege of training with Jason at the Bodyshop, and then working with him two summers ago. We became great friends and he helped my photography take off. Prior to all of the wedding festivities, I photographed Jason's clothing line and his Bodyshop training sessions. He encouraged me to pursue my passion, and I am forever grateful. When he called and asked for me to photograph his entire wedding process, I definitely accepted the offer with no hesitation!

I loved shooting Jason and Kristin's engagement photos. They were up for anything that I asked, which made my job so much easier. We were able to get creative with the shoot, which always makes it so much more fun!

 Kristin has also become a dear friend throughout this entire process. The weather was pretty bleek the day of the shoot, so we had to improvise. After brainstorming for a while, we had the opportunity to shoot the photos at a beautiful home in my hometown. The house was PERFECT and elegant, a perfect match up for Kristin's bridal shoot. I could not have been happier with how the photos turned out, she was quite the model!

For the actual wedding, I needed a little sidekick. My sweet friend Annabeth has also been wanting to get her photography to take off, so what better way than to shoot a wedding?! Prior to the wedding day we discussed what we should expect and what shots we wanted to get. Even with that little preparation, we still didn't know what the day would entail. It was definitely an adventure, and the morning of the wedding we were ready to go!

The ceremony was beautiful. Annabeth and I took photos from different aspects of the room in order to get variety. I loved glancing across the room and seeing one of my best friends giving me a thumbs up! After the ceremony we took the family portraits and then headed to the reception. Right when we walked in I couldn't help but notice the beautiful collage of bridal portraits! I was so honored to have played a part in providing her photos, they turned out beautifully and I loved seeing them displayed.

Another neat aspect to the reception was the guest book. Jason and Kristin made a photo book with all of their engagement photos. I loved seeing their moments turned into memories, and I loved watching their guests flip through the pages. It is definitely special when you see your work come to life, and even more special that I had the privilege to be a part of their wonderful day!

Annabeth and I were EXHAUSTED by the end of the night. We didn't anticipate how much work goes into a wedding or how long of a day it would be. It's definitely an experience, and we loved every second of it. I am so thankful that Jason and Kristin asked us to shoot their wedding, and I am also thankful that I had my wonderful friend there by my side the whole day. Most of all, though, I am so thankful that the Lord blessed me with this opportunity!

I can't wait to see where photography takes me in the future. I have realized that I love the wedding industry. I would love to specialize in engagements and bridal photographs, so if you have a special day coming up.. call me :)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The BEST Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

As promised, I'm finally getting around to telling you about my recent fall obsession:  Chocolate chip pumpkin bread. Not only is it super easy to make, but it turns out beautifully, topped with melted chocolate chips that will make you want to eat the whole loaf.

Is your mouth watering? Mine definitely is. It is THAT good people!

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

Here's what you need:

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup canned pure pumpkin (unsweetened)
1 cup chocolate chips
3 large eggs
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup regular sugar

1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract

Here's how to make it:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F, grease 9x5 loaf pan
2. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices in a medium bowl.
3. In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to cream butter and sugars until well combined. Beat in eggs one at a time, then add vanilla and pumpkin.
4. Add dry ingredients, mixing until everything is evenly combined. Then, add in chocolate chips (save some for the top!)

5. Pour batter into loaf pan and sprinkle chocolate chips on top (I sprinkled a lot!), then bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Once it's ready to come up, let it cool for about 15 minutes then run a knife around the pan edges to make sure it doesn't stick.

And there you have it, it's that easy! I must say, it doesn't take much to make this look pretty. It does most of the work for you! I sliced some up and took it to a tailgate last weekend and it was a huge hit!

What's your favorite way to incorporate pumpkin into a tasty treat?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Well Folks, It's Been a While

Let's be honest, I've been SO BUSY with everything going on lately that I've hardly had time to think about blogging. I apologize for being MIA :) Let's see here.. I have a whole lot to catch up on. Last weekend Braden and I headed up to Helen, Georgia to spend some time with his family. Our goal for this trip was to relax as much as possible.. I repeat.. as. much. as. possible. The first day was spent doing various activities. We started out the day by stopping by a cute little country store that sells many different "mountainy" foods. 


Since starting Paleo, honey is one of my main sources when baking something sweet. Don't judge, but I've already been through two jars of honey in a 2 month span.. so Braden and I found it completely necessary to purchase another jar! He insisted on getting one with the honey comb still in the jar, which I didn't mind!

Please note the creepy old lady, I'm holding up her hand by a string. The shop had these little friends sitting in rocking chairs and would make the move or wave at whoever was passing by. Needless to say, I found them rather creepy but still decided to become better acquainted with little grandma over here.

After picking up some goodies (I got some pecan pralines, mmm my favorite) we headed to the zipline! I ziplined for the first time in Tennessee last year. I'm not a huge fan of heights so I was pretty hesitant but ended up loving it! This particular zipline was 1/2 mile long and ended with propelling down the side of the tower. I was a little nervous but ended up going for it, along with Braden, his brother Corbin, his girlfriend Mary Miles, and then Poppie decided to join us because he's quite the adventure enthusiast.

We wanted to make the most of our trip to the mountains, so we followed up ziplining with a hike up to Anna Ruby Falls. The hike was a little steeper than I had anticipated, so most of us were nice and sweaty by the time we reached the fall. It was definitely worth the climb though! If you have a chance to go see these falls, I highly recommend it!

We spent the rest of the evening relaxing in the cabin. We were all pretty well acquainted with the couches by the fire, while occasionally making our way out to the porch to see this view:

The next morning it was raining outside which damped our hopes to go horseback riding. Instead, we opted to make the day relaxing by making various treats. Of course cookies were made, but Gigi brought along a soft pretzel making kit. Braden and I assisted and twisted the cinnamon sugar and salted pretzels. It's definitely not as easy as it looks to make a perfect pretzel!

After baking and eating our body weight in food, Bray and I wanted to enjoy the outdoors for a little while. The rain had eased up so we decided to go for a little golf cart tour of the mountain resort. You can't beat the pretty fall foliage up there, I've never seen so many colors!

We ended the day hanging out at the stable. Since we couldn't ride, we thought it'd still be fun to pay the horses a visit. We had so much fun relaxing and enjoying the beautiful views. I'm thankful for the time I get to spend with his family, they always make any vacation so much fun.. plus we eat so much food that I could probably go without eating for weeks, haha!

How's that for a mini catch up on the past weekend? I will continue playing catch up this week with a Halloween and wedding post from this past week, and a recipe for this beauty:

Until next time, I hope you all have a fantastic week!