The One with 6 Years and Counting

Six years ago yesterday, I entered into my first ever dating relationship. Yes, that’s right, I was 19 years old before I started dating. I saved myself. I guarded my heart. And God truly blessed me. I married that man–the one with whom I shared my first kiss, the only one my heart has ever loved, the one who makes me laugh so hard I cry (I’m not looking forward to incontinence–that will NOT be good), the one whose shirts I have stained with my running mascara as tears stream down my cheeks, the one who never gets mad when I forget my purse or lose his keys or spill my plate of spaghetti. 
Last week, I remembered this fun anniversary was coming up and I could hardly believe it. But I also feel as if I’ve spent a lifetime loving him already. I look forward to many more years with you, Babe.  
(a couple of the very first pictures of us.) 
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The One with my Birthday Days

On this brisk fall/winter morning, I wanted to remember–to be thankful for the wonderful 25th birthday celebration I had. Here’s the run-down:

The Friday before my birthday, my husband’s family took us out to dinner, enjoyed dessert at our home, and showered me with gifts. I’m really looking forward to using my cake decorating tips!

The Sunday before my birthday, one of my teens–Ashley–planned a surprise party for me. She made me a card and had everyone sign it. She had her mom bake me a cake and deliver it at the end of youth group for the whole group to celebrate with me.

The Wednesday before my birthday, another one of my girls–Michaela–had her grandma buy me a personalized cake and surprised me with at Bible Quiz practice. It was so sweet.

The day OF my birthday I woke up in Nashville, TN for the National Youth Workers’ Convention. My phone started vibrating at 6:30am (though it was 5:30 with the Nashville time change) with messages from all of my youth group teens. It was a great way to wake up. I found tons of sweet notes on my Facebook wall from friends and family near and far. After I got ready for the day, my romantic husband gave me the most hysterical photoshopped card. He included a wonderful heartfelt note besides, but seriously, check out this picture:

Did you laugh? I hope so. I know I did. 
The rest of the day was spent at the convention where my husband told nearly everyone it was birthday and managed to snag me a bunch of awesome free tshirts and books. :) 
The Wednesday AFTER my birthday, we arrived at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving. Dad took us out to a great pizza joint–all five of us. It was momentous to have my sister there. I was so happy and SO proud of her. The pizza was awesome and we headed back to the streamer and balloon clad home to have a mini party with Grams and Chuck. I was showered with lovely gifts–jewelry, leggings, sweet decorative shelves and more–and then we munched on the cake Ash made for me. 
I can’t remember having quite so many celebrations with so many people who love me. It was lovely. Thank you, friends and family. I love you all. 

The One with the Solo Thanksgiving

We arrived back from Nashville at our central meeting location at 11pm Monday, still an hour and a half from our home. As we loaded our car, the rain came pouring down harder–with a vengeance in fact. I was uptight, tired and cranky–not at all in the mood to put up with blinding precipitation. Kevin wanted to get home and was going to plow on, but 15 minutes out, he decided to stop. Luckily we were just around the corner from his parents’ house. We woke them up with our call (we figured it would be a bit of a shock to wake up with us on the sofa bed.) They had the bed ready for us when we pulled in. 
It was so nice to get a full night’s rest. Kevin and I drove home the next morning–just in time for me to start a load of laundry and get baking. I taught one piano lesson, then headed to the kitchen to work on an apple pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, wheat rolls, wheat bread and chex mix–in addition to our homemade burgers and sweet potato fries. Wow. I must have felt seriously deprived of my kitchen to whip all of that out without feeling ready to pass out. I felt pretty awesome. One of my friends even said I should do a showdown with Martha Stewart. Ha!
The next morning, we packed everything into our tiny Escort and headed 3 hours east–a drive that seemed incredibly short compared to the 8 hours to Nashville. After a couple hours of relaxing with my family, I figured I should plan something for the Thanksgiving dinner I was about to tackle. I boiled the sweet potatoes and prepared the casserole to be baked the next day. I chopped 5 pounds of potatoes to store in cold water over night. I washed the turkey, buttered it up, patted it down with herbs, stuffed it with aromatic onions, and stuck that in the fridge as well. And I must say, those tasks took maybe 45 minutes and it was no big deal for me. I just LOVE doing it, and I’m realizing how blessed I am. I have this innate sense of timing–walking to the oven just as the timer dings. Knowing when to start the potatoes, the green beans, the broccoli casserole, the sweet potatoes, and the rolls so that everything gets done in just–that just happens. I thought I would need a timeline and a detailed step-by-step description of the Thanksgiving Dinner Process (as I used 2 years ago)–but I functioned better without it.  I’m not sure how or when I acquired these skills. But I had a blast today. 
All I know is, I’ve never heard “This is the best, juiciest, most flavorful turkey I’ve ever had!” 
I even conquered my fear of gravy-making. It was delish. 
And the Pecan Pie–aka Pioneer Woman’s “Pie That Will Make You Cry”–oh my. At least four people said it was the best pecan pie ever–and a few more said it was the best PIE ever. Wow. I’ll take that. 
I love making people happy with food. I love food. Good food. I love creating it, eating it, and (I cannot lie) hearing others’ excitement. 
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The One with a reCap of our 2nd NYWC

Now I must process my time at the National Youth Workers’ Convention. (Henceforth referred to as NYWC.) This is a daunting task; one you would only fully understand if you’ve attended this convention. Thirteen hundred youth workers from across the country. Over 300 vendors in the exhibit hall. More brochures, business cards, and handouts then you could even imagine. Extravagant food prices. Giveaways, free tshirts, pens galore (aka “Mel’s heaven”). Four pages, each with two columns and 8 point font detailing the 4 days of the conference—beginning at 8am and ending at 11:15pm with most time slots overlapping events. Most every big name in youth ministry speaking on every topic you’ve ever considered—all at the same time—and you have to pick one. Take all of that and mix in an eight hour road trip with six other youth leaders and you’ve got yourself………something. I’m not really sure what.
It is such a huge blessing to be able to participate in this [very expensive] convention. God dropped the blessing of two tickets and a ride to Nashville right in our laps, 2 weeks before the event. We never thought we’d be here this year. It just wasn’t feasible. But here we are. And we are thankful.
Worshipping with David Crowder, Jeremy Camp, NewWorldSon, and Starfield.
Learning from Tic Long, Mark Oestreicher, Kara Powell, Mike Pilavachi, Tony Campolo, Tim Eldred, Mark Yaconelli, and more.
Processing everything with my husband, the man with whom I am privileged to partner in this ministry.
Our concept of ministry, our vision for ministry, our passion for ministry have all been rocked. The speakers we’ve heard have been challenging us to forget about our programs, lose our agendas, and quit calling it “our” youth group. We should not do youth ministry. We should be training youth to do ministry. We should come alongside them and guide them from this adolescence into their adulthood. We should equip them to be members of The Church—participating in every aspect of the Body of Christ so as to not be lost once the youth leaders move on or they grow up and out.
And so, despite the 17 hour days—leaving the hotel at 7:45am and returning at 12:45am, the inability to attend every single session you are dying to attend, and the non-existent cheap food, this four day “weekend” has been incredible. Thank you, Jesus, for the opportunity, for the lessons, for the conversations, and for the changes you will make in us and in our church. 

The One with 25 Things

In belated honor of my 25th birthday which was yesterday (which I didn’t fully grasp until I actually wrote the date down around 10:15pm…), I have decided to share Twenty-five Things I’m Thankful for in my Twenty-five Years of Life. In no particular order (unless otherwise stated.) 

  1. The beautiful diamond ring on my finger. 
  2. The French I learned in high school. 
  3. Being Italian. (“ih-talian” not I-talian.)
  4. All of my birthday cakes. 
  5. The inside jokes I still laugh about with my sister. 
  6. Home videos. 
  7. Braces. 
  8. Headgear. (yeah, I know.)
  9. My stand mixer. 
  10. The 10-15 Bibles I own. 
  11. My love of chocolate. 
  12. My daddy’s lap. 
  13. The need I have for organization. 
  14. My propensity for deep relationships. 
  15. Hot tea. 
  16. My mom, my friend. 
  17. A friendship that has lasted since birth. 
  18. Blogging. 
  19. My teenage girls. 
  20. The love of my husband. 
  21. The way my life is overflowing with rich relationships. 
  22. God’s provisions. Always. 
  23. Running. 
  24. Worshiping my Lord. 
  25. The process of learning that life isn’t about me. It’s all about Jesus. ALL. about. JESUS. 
Thank you to everyone for your kind words, your messages, your texts, your phone calls, your ecards, the cards that are likely sitting in my mailbox until I return home, and to my husband for the awesomest Photoshopped birthday card ever. I love you all. 

The One with Top Ten Things I Love about…

Currently our favorite tv show.
We enjoy dvd marathons and this is one show I really miss when it’s not around. 
Here’s why.  
1. There’s something wonderful about Michael Scott. Mostly the fact that he’s the worst boss ever, and I absolutely can not stand him. 
2. Multiple people have randomly pointed out how much I look like Pam Beesly. Honestly, I find this to be a compliment and pretty darn accurate. 
3. The humor shared between Pam and Jim is nearly identical to mine and Kevin’s. 
4. Watching The Office on dvd, one right after another, makes every episode so very enjoyable. 

5. It’s so awkward. 
6. There is absolutely no background music or fake audience clapping. This adds to the awkwardness. And proves the show’s awesomeness. 
7.  The humor only seems to be relevant for those in a certain age span. Too young, and they just don’t get it. Too old, and they just don’t get it and they think it’s the worst show ever created.
8. Every episode is completely hilarious and utterly grating. I can’t stand it, and yet I can’t wait to watch the next show. 
8. My husband actually enjoys sitting and watching with me. Right now, it’s our thing and I look forward to the laughter shared while snuggling on the couch. 
9. The time Michael burned his foot on his George Foreman grill, the time Michael hit Meredith with his car, the time Michael attempted to lift an overweight man onto a table, the time(s) Jim convinced Dwight he was being summoned by the CIA, the time Michael drove the forklift, the time “the temp” became Michael’s boss, the time Michael drove his car into a lake because he was following the GPS. 
10. The theme song.   

The One with the Weekend Goodness

A lovely weekend was experienced by yours truly. Friday, Husband got home early thanks to the school’s pep rally. I always love when he comes home to me. We spent a few hours chilling and then got ready to meet his family at Ruby Tuesday in honor of my early birthday celebration. YUM. I had never been a big Ruby’s fan, but that was mostly because it was always too overpriced for my family and me. I still don’t like to spend money on a dinner out when I could prepare it myself, but for special occasions it’s a great middle of the road selection. Kevin and I went to RT a couple weeks back to cash in on his free birthday burger coupon and that was when my love of their salad bar blossomed. It is THE BEST salad bar I’ve ever seen (aside from Sweet Tomatoes down south–which is MY kind of restaurant–a salad buffet!!) When Kevin’s dad asked me for my restaurant choice all I could think about was that salad bar. 
(If you’ve ever been around me at a meal, you know I consider myself a salad aficionado and I’m not easily impressed by salads. In other words, I’m a salad snob.) 
We met everyone at the restaurant and I handed my free burger coupon over to Kevin so that I might thoroughly enjoy my salad bar. We all had a great evening of talking, laughing, sharing stories and just being together. Every time we’re with my family or his, I wish they lived 15 minutes away. I would love to spend more frequent time with everyone. Ahhh, growing up. You’re not all that awesome sometimes. 
Brian spent the night with us–the brothers need their bonding time, you know. They’re quite the pair. The three of us loaded up on Saturday morning along with 9 others to head to our second Bible quiz. It was wonderful to be able to sleep in on a quiz morning. We didn’t have to leave until 8am!! (Rather than the usual 6am.) The quizzers made us proud, everyone was in good spirits, and we all had a blast together. To top off the quizzing goodness, it was such a small quiz turnout, we got home at 3:30 instead of 5:30. 

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Saturday night was our young adult small group which is always a good time. Before heading to bed, we had to venture over to the dark and creepy-at-night church at 10pm to check on the baptismal. The water level and heat were problematic. But it was all worth it given the upcoming church service. 
I like to say God smacked me across the face during the Sunday service. I had a bad attitude about a few things Saturday night and as soon as my teens arrived for Sunday school things started turning around. It was a fantastic time of studying John with a room full of teens. Then, we were blessed with a full sanctuary to witness 13 people (including 7 youth) coming into membership and 7 individuals publicly committing their lives to Jesus in baptism (including 5 youth). The worship was Spirit filled. (Even better because I got to play the new old grand and despite the bloody nose I got midway through playing.) Chris–the pastor’s son and one of our great students–preached his first sermon. Kevin and I had the privilege of baptizing our teens. We prayed over our Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes we had packed with love. And after all of that, we spent time laughing and celebrating over an awesome potluck lunch.

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I need to remember this blog title…

 …because often enough I try to just let Jesus come to me.

I sit in church on Sunday mornings, I play bass guitar, I baptise (which was awesome…Christopher Brian is now a baptized member of our church family!), and I listen to one of our teens preach the Sunday morning sermon…I spend a relaxing afternoon hanging out with my brother, and then I lead almost 20 teens in a study of Chan’s book ‘Crazy Love’ before shipping them all back home to start their weeks.

Sounds like a great day…until I realize that I’ve forgotten to spend time alone with God.

In the middle of doing so much work for the church, I forgot to invite God to spend the day with me. It happens far more than I would like to admit. I get too busy, I get too tired, I get too…something. And I let my first love slide.

So this is my friendly reminder to you all. Don’t let the opportunity to spend time reading God’s word slip by. It’s too good to let go. It’s too important to put off. It’s too vital to not drink in every chance you get.

So go find your bible and read for a bit.

Philippians 2: unity in the Church

First, I apologize for my GEPC negligence. I was sick this week. But also just lazy. Neither are really good excuses. I’ve missed it. 
Philippians 2 is one of my favorite chapters ever–verses 6-11 in particular. 

 Who, being in very nature[a] God, 
   did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; 
7 but he made himself nothing, 
   taking the very nature of a servant, 
   being made in human likeness. 
8 And being found in appearance as a man, 
   he humbled himself 
   by becoming obedient to death— 
      even death on a cross!
 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place 
   and gave him the name that is above every name, 
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, 
   to the glory of God the Father.

I memorized verses 7-8 when I was a young girl but seeing them in context is incredibly powerful. Verses 6-11 were required memory for everyone in the worship arts program at SAU–under the belief that our lives as worship leaders ought to be lived in complete humility. 
We are called to be like Jesus–not just to read these verses and be moved by the humble choices of the Son of God, but to be driven to action. Jesus was willing to become our only hope of accessing the Father–by coming to earth (that had gone from perfection at creation to sinful and polluted), in the form of human being (GOD in the form of the created), lived the life of a servant (the lowest status of human life), and obediently followed his Father’s will to the cross (a sinless man dying a death of the worst criminal). FOR ME. For YOU. 
But back up few verses—“your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (which is described in verses 6-11.) woah. Talk about high calling. 
Back up a bit more–to the beginning of the chapter. Paul is beseeching the church body to live in unity, in love, all for Jesus. How often do you encounter conflict in the church?–most likely over issues that should not be issues at all. Gossip over this one thing this one person overheard this one time. Assumptions in the reasons for changes made by the leadership. Hurt feelings and no willingness to resolve conflict. I can imagine Paul’s frustration with at least a handful of the churches he’s shepherding. THE POINT IS JESUS, PEOPLE. It’s not about YOU. or ME. We are to go out of our way to live in complete humility alongside each other; to pursue our own interests last, to rid ourselves of our desires and pursuits of selfish gain. We are to be like minded–to be focused on Jesus only. And subsequently living out the purpose of Jesus with selflessness and love. Because the point of your entire LIFE is Jesus. 

That little two year old in your ear…

You know, the flu did something to me this week.  It gave me time. I had a ton of time to sit around, lay on the couch and lie there. The first day this was great, we caught up on some TV we’d been meaning to watch, maybe a movie. Then day two…and day three…it got a bit boring.
So I immediately started trying to think of things to do, things I could be productive on. I tried to stay busy. Problem was that I was so sick there wasn’t a whole lot I could do. So I ended up lying around, sleeping, and reading.
There is a question that I had in all this though…Why don’t we like to be quiet? Why don’t we like to be alone? Personally, I was forced to face my inner toddler. And I don’t like listening to him.
My inner toddler may be an odd way of phrasing it, but that’s what I call the corner of my brain that says ‘Why? Why? Why?’ constantly. Normally this isn’t a problem because we can just drown out our inner toddler…but every once in a while, I slow down enough he starts it up all over again.
For instance, if I’m being particularly angry at someone, and I’m reveling in my sense of injustice…the toddler ruins it all by sneaking up on my psyche and asking ‘Why?’  The conversation would go something like this:
Me: I’m so ANGRY how could they POSSIBLY think this is a good idea! Are they crazy! I’m so MAD!
Inner Toddler (IT for short): Why?
Me: Well because they’re doing it WRONG!
IT: Why?
Me: Because my way is better!
IT: Why?
Me: Because it works better! We have to do it the best way!
IT: Why?
Me: We can’t just do it a way that isn’t the best!
IT: Why?
Me: Because…*stomps off angrily*
See, I’m convinced that if you listen to your inner toddler enough, you’ll realize eventually that 90% of the things we get all worked up over are really not important. So what if you have a better way of doing things? Maybe it’s not the point. So what if someone else is immature and hurt you? If it’s on purpose and they refuse to apologize, there’s nothing for you to do but let go, forgive them, and hope they realize their mistake later. Anything else and you’re just not obeying God.
So often we work and work at maintaining our sense of ‘us vs. the world!’ mentality. We’ve got it all worked out…and if other people would just listen…
But here’s a question: How often do you think other peoples’ Inner Toddlers defend you?