The Very Beginning of Us

Eight years ago on this very day, I made the five-turned-seven-hour drive back to our college campus after Thanksgiving break to give a certain 18 year old boy an answer. Yes, I will be your girlfriend. That elegant response was quickly followed by a moment of naive honestyso what does that mean exactly?

It was a long, slow, challenging, wonderful process of learning what exactly it did mean to be a long term, committed, loving relationship. God was with us then and He has blessed us greatly over these past many years together. I love you a thousand times more with each passing year, babe.

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Kevin & Mel ice skating. 2 months into dating.
He still wears that sweatshirt. *sigh*

Are in the mood to read the whole entire love story? Well, you’re in luck. I wrote it out a couple of years ago.– Our Love Story.

On Capitol Hill

Kevin and I have had lots of great trips with family or visiting family and friends. We’ve gotten many weekend trips, particularly camping excursions, just the two of us. We have been so blessed to have the past 4 and a half years of marriage to focus on each other. But we had been hoping for a week away, just us, to a “foreign” location, to relax, unwind, enjoy each other’s company, and do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. A bona fide vacation.

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the Jefferson Memorial sited from the banks of the Tidal Basin 
Way back in April or May, I began planning our vacation. I looked into various spots, modes of transportation, places to stay, what to eat, how much it would cost. I love planning trips like this. It’s like a window-shopping addiction. (I’m pretty sure I got that from my dad.) After much hemming and hawing, we finally decided to visit Washington, D.C.! We’ve been saying for years how we wanted to visit the Capitol together, so no matter how nerdy it makes it, we booked the trip! 
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The Lincoln Memorial –
a moving experience
Thanks to Hotwire.com, we got a fantastic, fancy-pants hotelthe Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill–for way way way cheaper than normal, and get this–we ended up FLYING via U.S. Airways instead of making the 7 hour drive. It was less expensive to buy 2 airline tickets and take public transportation to the hotel than it would be to pay FORTY FIVE DOLLARS A DAY to park our muffler-needing, partially rusted ’98 Honda Civic in the valet parking garage. *yeeesh* 
And so, from Sunday, November 18th to Friday, November 23rd, Kevin and I spent our time with the Capitol building in our peripheral vision. Our evenings were taken up with relaxing in our luxurious hotel drinking Safeway-brand diet cola and eating too many tomato-basil Lays chips while watching Friends re-runs on TBS and getting in more than my fair share of the one television network I miss most–The Food Network. Every morning we awoke around 7 or 7:30, with no alarms set, rolled out of bed feeling rested and ready to conquer the city. We walked around the National Mall through the various entities of the Smithsonian Museums and strolling wherever we felt like it–exploring our way off the beaten path. The weather was absolutely perfect in my opinion–50s, sunny, crisp, but warm enough for just a sweater. I love November. (and not just because it’s my birthday). 
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I loved this view of the Washington Monument

We ate delicious food. The birthday lunch at Moe’s Southwest Grill at L’Enfant Station was amazingly filling and super cheap (but also I had a stomach ache all night afterwards. That may have been because of the run I took in the afternoon. Ooops.) The West Wing Cafe was kitty-corner from our hotel and fed us fantastic sandwiches–and I am a sandwich critic. :) Pete’s Diner was this little hole-in-the-wall place right next to the Capitol building and MAN could they cook a good sweet potato pancake! We indulged a bit in a Crumb’s peanut butter chocolate cupcake on my birthday (but wasn’t super impressed, honestly) and made a few coffee-and-danish stops at Starbucks, Au Bon Pain and Dunkin Donuts. I am so glad we checked out Armand’s Chicago Style Pizza. SO GOOD. And what’s Thanksgiving dinner without some solid Chinese food from the Union Station food court?? ;) 
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A beautiful day to visit the Lincoln Memorial 
We walked a lot, we ate a lot, I ran on the treadmill in the fancy-pants fitness center and along the National Mall. We made friends with our floor’s housekeeping ladies and they kept up stocked on Tazo black tea & fresh towels. We went to see the new OO7 movie–Skyfall–at the Regal Cinema in the Gallery Place metro stop on Thanksgiving day and even ordered a gigantic coke & popcorn to share (with refills! so there *is* such a thing as too much popcorn. I didn’t believe it.) I brought 3 books and read exactly 11 pages. I finished crocheting 1 scarf and probably could have crocheted 3 more. But I was even too lazy relaxed to do that. It’s not often I can watch tv and not feel guilty about not being busy with something else. :) Kevin read a huge book–one of the Bourne novels–and honed his Pokemon skills via the Kindle Fire. We talked, laughed, people-watched, avoided pigeons at all costs *cough* I am scared of birds *cough*, and tried our best to not stick out like the sore thumbs of tourists that we were. I was a minimalist packer for the first time in my life and we never felt stressed or rushed or pressured–even at the airports and the metro stations! 
I call this vacation a WIN. and from what I hear, my husband totally loved it as well–which makes me super happy.
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We strolled through the lovely Constitution Gardens Park
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Washington Monument
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And of course, the Capitol Building, just 1/2 mile from our hotel

On Gift Giving and Life Changing

Dear friends, 
If there is one thing I’m passionate about it’s sponsoring children. For such a small percentage of our monthly income, we rich-beyond-comprehension-Americans can change the life of a child in need. We can supply food, clothing, education and the love of Jesus. HOPE. I began my journey of child sponsorship through Compassion International in 2006, my junior year of college. My husband and I added a second child to our monthly this past December through International Child Care Ministries–a program of the Free Methodist Church
Both programs have put out a Christmas Gift catalogs where you can send gifts specifically to your sponsor child or contribute to larger country projects like fresh-water wells, building schools, paying teachers, or offering medical aid. Here’s Compassion’s Christmas Catalog
I am going to focus on Childcare’s Catalog because I feel especially connected to the ministry of ICCM as I am an advocate for child sponsorship at our church. If you flip through the pages of the .pdf catalog you will discover incredible ways that your small donations can change lives. 
$100 will pay for one thousand new trees to be planted in the devastated country of Haiti. 
$50 purchases a lifetime supply of clean water for one Haitian household. 
$100 will feed 400 hungry bellies in India. 
$20 sends a goat to a family in Burundi. 
$5 buys a chicken for a family in Malawi
$1,500 pays the way for a student to attend Hope Africa University.
People, are you getting this? Are you kidding me with these costs? We drop $50 on a couple date nights or $100 on a new pair of running shoes like it’s no big deal. How much more should we be willing to give and provide for orphans in their distress
This Christmas, I challenge you to RETHINK gift-giving in your family. Perhaps you will all sit down together and prayerfully select one large donation option as a family and limit your gift exchanges to one small meaningful item for each family member? Maybe you’ll do away with gift exchanges altogether and change the educational structure for children in Haiti? Or you might consider buying gifts for your friends and family from the SEED section of the catalog–where the money you spend on your purchases goes back to the women in 3rd world countries who crafted the items by hand. They can now feed their children–and you’ll look super lovely in their handmade jewelry. :) 
Change some lives this holiday, my friends. 

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On Eucharisteo

I wrote this originally on February 23, 2011 and have shared its message two different times now–once with a group of teen girls and just tonight at a women’s event. Its meaning is resonating with me once again and I wanted to share it. 

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And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them…” (Luke 22:19)
Just hours before Jesus was about to give up his life, He sits down to give thanks. He gave thanks?!  
Ann Voskamp, in her new book One Thousand Gifts, shares a revelation that literally changes her life and is in the process of changing mine. She digs into the root Greek word behind “thanks.” It is eucharisteo and the contents of this word are unbelievable. 
Charis. Grace
Eucharisteo. Thanksgiving
Chara. Joy. 
The joy of life–life to the full–comes only after thanksgiving for the grace, the gifts God has given. We have been given the gift of salvation, and we have been ushered into the family of God, but have we yet experienced the full measure of life that Jesus came to bring us? Have we come to Him in the spirit of thanksgiving day in and day out, thus welcoming the miracle that is chara joy?

Ann takes readers through a new prospective of the story of the leper Jesus healed in Luke 17:11-19. We have all read, perhaps in awe, that Jesus healed all 10 men afflicted with this debilitating disease. After this, ONE of the men rushes back to Jesus, praising God for his healing. He thanked Jesus.

But what comes next?

Jesus turns to the man and says, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (vs. 19).

But wasn’t the man already healed? Why did Jesus tell him once again that he was made well?

Perhaps the secret to a full life lived in the grace of God lies in that one part of the story we never noticed before. Yes, the man was already healed of his disease. But when he came back and exclaimed his thankfulness to The Master, he was given the gift of complete healing–wellness encompassing every part of his life. By having faith and a true attitude of thanks, this man found the fullness of life–the real healing Jesus is looking to give.

It starts with the gifts God gives.
We offer our thanks.
And we receive that miracle of joy–the full life.  

These gifts are all around us. The light streaming in the window. The cold water in my glass. The cat napping on the pillow. My husband’s deep breathing. The wind blowing as the dried leaves cling to the branches. We don’t have to pack a bag and travel the world to see the beauty. Our lives are brimming with the gifts of our great God. Even though our days may be filled with dirty dishes and jammed schedules and heartbreak, we are called to eucharisteo. Yes, even in the hard times. 
“Thanksgiving is inherent to a true salvation experience; thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life” (One Thousand Gifts, p. 39). Eucharisteo thanks precedes us experiencing our fullest salvation in Christ, being saved from the bitter, angry, resentful qualities of sinful living. 
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And so, dear ones, I challenge you to be on the hunt for God’s grace in your everyday life. He is there, and your thankfulness will make his presence known. 

When Wafting Roasted Turkey Takes Over My Brain

I am so excited to have my mom coming to visit this weekend. We’re going to celebrate Thanksgiving a few weeks early and have invited a few friends over to join the 3 of us. I love turkey. I love roasting turkeys. It’s not scary for me; it’s exciting. Because I can practically taste that juicy, flavorful meat as I dress it and put it in the oven. The other thing I love to make that really intimidates a lot of people? Pies. I really really love making pies. I don’t love that it can take a lot of money to buy the filling ingredients for pies, but money aside, I love making the crust, fluting the edges, baking it off to perfection. (With that one pecan pie as an exception. I overcooked that thing until it was rock candy. No joke.) 
Why am thinking about turkey and pie right now? Because I can’t stop smelling their delicious aromas wafting into my office. I am roasting a turkey that I will bring to the Sunday Thanksgiving potluck at church along with a pumpkin pie. I have two crusts ready to be filled with apple and pumpkin (separate pies, mind you), on Monday when we have our early-family-friends-Thanksgiving. I am also baking two more loaves of Amish White Bread. It was so so so good when I baked it on Tuesday that I couldn’t wait to try it again. Thank you to Britta for sharing that recipe with me a year ago. If only I had tried it back then! 
Now I’m off to Aldi to pick up some more ingredients for my baking weekend extravaganza. (Wow, doesn’t that make it sound thrilling?)