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.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

College at a Glance {Sophomore Year}

I've already prefaced that a whole lot happened my Sophomore year, and I wasn't joking! First things first, I moved into a new town-home with these two crazies, Marissa and Paige. I came into the situation not knowing Marissa very well, but we all ended up being so different that we fit together well. There was constant entertainment in our little two-story abode - Marissa rightfully earned the nickname Shams (short for shambles) haha.

I went through rush, I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. I didn't branch out at all at USC, so I thought I might as well go into the most uncomfortable situation ever - talking to tons of strangers about nothing really. I loved it! I also loved my pi-chi group, we had the best leader, but I feel like everyone is biased. It was a super tiring week, and got to be a bit overwhelming due to that on top of classes starting. I ended up getting a bid from KKG, but decided that a sorority just wasn't me, and that was okay!

Taylor took me to my first FCA. I can't remember exactly how many FCA's there were until they put on "After Dark," which was basically an FCA on steroids. Matt Wertz came to play, which was the main selling point on why I wanted to go. They showed snip its from Passion of the Christ, and I found myself heart broken during the scenes where Jesus was beaten. I didn't understand what was going on internally, but I knew that I wanted a relationship with Jesus - but literally had no idea what that meant. I didn't know it in that moment, but that was the night that I surrendered my life to Christ. This moment literally changed the course of my life, for the better. I am still in awe of how the Lord pursued me even when I had no idea of who He was.

After getting saved, I wanted to get more plugged into FCA and to build my relationship with the Lord. I got invited into a small group with a few girls from my high school, all of which I knew of but didn't really know. We spent a lot of time together during the fall semester. My first FCA event ever was Roller Boogie, and I had a BLAST. This was also the night that I got introduced to over 50 people, at least it felt like that many!

As I said, I spent a lot of time with my small group! We were literally obsessed with each other, more inside jokes than we could possibly count. We made a point to meet up at every event we went to and took a "small group pic," naturally. I went to my first shag ever, the Autumn Shag at the Madren Center. Tay and I mainly danced together, we didn't really know anyone else there. I danced with two other people that I didn't know, who actually ended up being pretty good friends (cough, Tyler Goff). This shag marked the first event of a weekend long of craziness!

Phase two of the epic weekend:  I went to Katie's apartments annual Halloween party! The strangers I met at Roller Boogie slowly started becoming friends at this point, I was actually starting to remember some names!

Of course, I didn't miss a Clemson home game. I had to trade in all of my garnet and black for some purple and orange. It wasn't a tough transition. Plus, we always tailgated with the sweet Wood family and they always made game days so much fun!

I even made it back to USC for a few home games.

I went on my first big hike with a HUGE group of people! At this point, I started to finally feel like I was fitting in at Clemson. Although I didn't have a huge number of friends, the few that I had were so wonderful. Our small group definitely stuck together, but we branched out together. 

 This year was the one and only time I got to see snow in Clemson! Well, a substantial amount anyways. The snow delayed the start of spring classes by two days, which we spent frolicking in the snow and watching every Nicholas Sparks movie created. We all walked to campus, only to catch a ride and come right back to the apartment. The truck that brought us back was driven by a stranger, who turned out to be Elliott, who is now one of my best friends!

An ample amount of time was spent with these two guys and their roommates. The four of us were besties, literally we spent every weekend together just about. We had many Cracker Barrel lunches and spent many nights hanging out watching concerts on TV. 

I got introduced to Starbucks! My very first Starbucks experience was spent with Tay, her mom, our friend Ethan and his mom. We spent a Sunday afternoon in Greenville, walking around Falls Park and taking pictures just because we could. I must say, this was my first attempt at being somewhat trendy.. black nails with Starbucks cup in hand. 

I. had. a. nose. ring. Yes, I had a nose ring! I went and got that little sucker on a whim, I'm still not really sure why. I didn't tell my mom, I just went and did it. Maybe that was my act of being "rebellious," isn't that hilarious. I loved that little thing, though. I only had it for a month, it fell out of my nose in my sleep and the hole closed up immediately. Sad day.

Sadie Hawkins was approaching, and I still wasn't really friends with many guys at Clemson. Jenn, who was in my small group, was friends with a lot of the guys and had introduced me to the ones I knew. I needed a date, but had no idea who to ask. Naturally, I asked Jenn who was still dateless and she gave me a short little list of 2-3 names. I didn't know any of the guys she mentioned, but I remember thinking that Braden Nichols was pretty cute and seemed nice.. so a few nights later at a bonfire, I ended up asking him to go with me to Sadie Hawkins. I was a nervous wreck, I had never (EVER) asked a guy to anything, let alone someone I didn't know at all. Little did I know, this too was a huge turning point in my life, one I wouldn't realize for a while after the dance.

The weekend after Sadie Hawkins, Tay and I got an invite to tag along to see Ben Rector in concert with a group of people. We had no idea who Ben Rector was, but we were up for any adventure at that point. We went with a group of 20 or so people, Braden included, and had one of the best nights ever. After the concert, Ben and Steve Moakler came out and met everyone in the crowd. No big deal.

I went on my first mission trip with FCA to Washington DC. I was in a group of strangers, and loved each of them within a matter of a few hours. Our group was placed in different homeless shelters and we cleaned, organized, etc each day. I had never experienced God so much. Each night of worship opened my heart more and more, and I hit a breaking point where I knew that the chains I was bound in couldn't hold me down anymore. That was one of the most freeing trips I have ever been on, I was so on fire that I had no idea what to do with it! Coming back home was pretty tough, because I had gotten so acclimated to being around so much love and encouragement. 

Random side note - I also got my first Canon camera, a Rebel XS to be exact. Who would've known that I would get so into photography, and now dream to have a photography business!

Braden and I had been on an actual date by this point (one where he actually asked me, haha). While in DC, we got to know each other pretty well and spent a good amount of time chatting in the hotel hallways at night. I really started to like him, and had no idea if he was really interested in me. Well, yet again I asked him to be my date, but this time it was to Tay's sisters wedding. The night before the wedding we had a chat to see where we stood in the relationship, most may call that a DTR. We were both ready to take our next step, so we started dating. Talk about some serious giddiness!

I had played around with my new Canon for a month or two. I got a Facebook message from Ashley Anne, who went to my high school but was a few years older than me. She asked me to take her engagement pictures and I jumped at the opportunity! This photo shoot was fun and nerve wracking all at the same time, I literally had no idea what I was doing, we just went for it. It helped that I had beautiful people to photograph, but I learned that day that I truly LOVED photography. And there you have it, JC Photography was born!

Right before school ended, Braden invited me on his family's annual beach trip. That year they were heading down to Daytona, FL for the week. I said yes with no hesitation, I was so pumped to spend the week with him and to get to know his family - after all, we had only been dating a month a this point. That was one of the best weeks. I went to my first dog race, which was also a blast!

I turned 20. I always try to have a big dinner with my friends, I love being surrounded by the people I love on my birthday. This year, I had two birthday dinners. One with family and friends of the family, and another with my friends from home!

On May 29, two days after my 20th birthday, I was baptized at our home church. We had only been calling Radius our home church for about a month, but I immediately felt that I was supposed to get baptized there. I'll never forget getting the phone call from Pastor Todd. He wanted to genuinely get to know me and to get know my story. I surprised everyone that day, the only people who knew I was getting baptized was Pastor Todd and my mom. My sweet small group leader just happened to be there that morning, which I think was no coincidence. 

 Jesus is so good, He knew exactly what he was doing that year. It's amazing to look back on all that He did in my life, but mainly how he called me His, even when I didn't know him at all. It is so evident that He blesses his children and looks after us. After the year I had, I am living proof of that. 

Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20).