Saturday, December 19, 2015

Alex Conner||Baby Portraits

I got to meet this charming little man when we were visiting his family in Manitoba, back in July of this summer. His mother is a dear friend of mine, and last time we had visited the colony, she had been sharing with my sister + I about how much she + her husband wanted to have a baby, but hadn't been able to. We hadn't talked to her since our last visit, so as our bus was pulling into the colony and we were anticipating meeting all of our friends there, Alli + I were both thinking "I wonder if Crystal ever had a baby?" Sure enough, praise the Lord...after we greeted her one of the first things we got to hear about was her baby boy! So exciting! This prayed-for little man has the biggest blue eyes and the sweetest little personality you ever did see. I had such fun shooting a few photos of him + his mama!
Those EYES. {swoon}
I adore her love for her son. So precious.
What a sweetie! So thankful for this little guy and the opportunity to meet him and take these of him this summer!

Hope y'all have a beautiful Sunday!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Cassie||Maternity Portraits

A few weeks back I did a very spur of the moment and very fun ten minute maternity shoot with my lovely friend, Cassie. Afterwards, looking back over the pictures, I decided that maternity photography might just be my calling in life. The only thing that could be better is taking pictures of mama + baby after he is born! =) But in the meantime, it is so special to capture the different stages of life. 
Portrait photography is like that-being able to be a part of so many different seasons of peoples lives, from seniors, to couples, to weddings, to maternity, to newborns, to is a wonderful thing.

Each are fun to document in their own unique way. But this one was just a little extra special, especially knowing that the next shoot will be in person with this tiny little man who will be entering the outside world any day now!
 Enjoy these, of the beautiful Cassie, mama-to-be...

Have a beautiful Monday, friends!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving in My Heart

I just love it how my Jesus works in such unique ways. How He orchestrates the timing of things He brings into our lives. How He's truly "got it" all in His hands, all along.

These past few weeks Jesus has been doing a sort of overhaul in my heart. Purging, cleaning, refining, and replacing. Showing me my selfishness and the depth of the ingratitude that was in my heart. Filling me, beginning with a little bit and then just growing and growing, with a sense of how blessed I am. And it only hit me on Wednesday that all of this was happening at THANKSGIVING. Imagine that. Love how He works! It didn't even occur to me until that moment, that all of this tied in with the current holiday season. When it that came together in my mind it just made it that much more special that God would care and work all of this out in my life in such a way, in this season, that I would never forget that lesson that I learned Thanksgiving of 2015.

It all culminated with an amazing message on thankfulness, Wednesday night at my church. I am still in awe of the work Jesus has been doing, and how that night my heart was just so tender and ready to repent and forsake the spirit of ungratefulness that I had been allowing to seep into my life in so many areas. I am not a person who cries easily, usually just a few times a year, to be honest. But I've found lately that my eyes have overflowed more than once with just a feeling of overwhelming. Overwhelming difficulty, overwhelming love, overwhelming peace, overwhelming doubt, overwhelming fear...pretty much many feelings of all types that have just had this one thing in common-they were overwhelming, and way too much for me to deal with on my own. And lately, just an overwhelming sense of the goodness and graciousness of God.

The one thought in particular from the other night's message, I just haven't been able to forget. And that is this: "Gratitude is the gatekeeper to our hearts that keeps sin out of our lives". My pastor pointed out that night that ungrateful people are the ones who struggle to gain and have victory. And that grateful people, who are characterized by gratefulness and a spirit of joy...well, they have just that. A spirit of JOY! This truth has just rocked my world-such a simple little phrase, but there's so much in that. I've got to keep gratefulness number one. I can't ever stop thanking God for all He's done! I want gratefulness to drive my life, my outlook, who I am. I want to be characterized by it. I want gratitude to flow out of me and run out onto every area of my life and every person in my life.

Something I've been working on being more intentional with lately is taking extra time to journal about what God is teaching me. I've always been one of these girls who journals all the time. (smile) But recently its been even more intentional, what I write. I don't want to forget the victories, because they are such a testimony to God's goodness. I also don't want to forget the valley's, because those are also a testimony to the special grace God gives to His children when they are going through difficulty. So I just get out that journal and powerhouse through. Some days I'm really struggling, and it comes out pretty scary on paper. (keeping it real!) And then other days its an outpouring of jumbled thoughts along with a few notes from a sermon, or lines of a song, or something else random yet important to me, that gets stuck in there with everything else.

So here is part of a journal entry the other day, and some other thoughts that fit at the end just now as I was typing it:
"Abounding in thankfulness right now. My little heart is just full to the brim with wonder at the blessings of Jesus upon my life. God has been good, so good..and I have been so blessed. I've been allowing my joy to be robbed by dwelling on what wished I had, or thought I deserved...rather than focusing on how much I have been given that I am so undeserving of! Jesus has given me the gift of eternal life through salvation in Him. He has given forgiveness for the many times I fail. He has given second chances abundant. He has given me the awesomest family in the whole world, complete with siblings who are my best friends and closest confidants and parents who are my heroes. He has given me a church where I am privileged to feast on the richest food for the soul, the Word of God. He has given me friends of the very best kind-the ones that will listen and care and speak truth into my life even when the truth isn't always easy. And what just blows my mind more than anything else right that He has given me the opportunity to come freely and boldly unto the throne of grace, at any time. His arms are always open and His compassion is always free and boundless. His grace knows no limits and His heart beats with love for ME! He is truly the greatest of Fathers and I am so blessed. "

God is Always Good
"I don't know why...I don't know when,
I don't know how you will be make it through, but I know Him,
And He is God and He is kind,
Sometimes its in the darkest night we find,
God is always good, God is always good,
Always was, always is, forever He will be,
God is always good to you and me.
He knows your hurt...your broken heart,
He knows everything that's led to where you are,
And He'll provide all you need,
So rest in His unfailing love, and see,
God is always good, God is always good,
Always was, always is, forever He will be,
God is always good to you and me."

(listen to this song here. it is so powerful)

You may be thinking tonight that your trial or your burden is too small for God to care. Or you may be facing the mountain of your life and you're honestly just not sure if you can trust Him with it.

Let me encourage you, friend. You will find so much joy in just letting go and thanking Him. He cares about everything from the smallest to the greatest of difficulties. As the song says, He knows your hurt! He knows your heart! What a comfort to know that even when it might seem that everyone around you misunderstands, HE KNOWS AND UNDERSTANDS PERFECTLY. And He's got it. He's got YOU covered in every way possible.

And you know what else? He wants you and I to THANK HIM. He doesn't want us to wait until things are perfect. He doesn't want us to wait until He answers. He doesn't want us to wait until the difficult season is past. No...He wants our praise and thanksgiving in EVERY season in our lives.  The good, the bad, the in between..all of it. He wants our thankfulness. He wants to see us live in abundant joy and gladness, no matter if the waters are rough and choppy, or smooth as glass.
If we will just choose to be thankful and rejoice. "Just REST in His unfailing love, and see!"

Now that I have finished writing this and am looking back over it, the words looks somewhat jumbled and thrown together. And it reminds me of how my life feels sometimes. But. Thank goodness we don't wait until we are perfect to proceed, because then we would never go anywhere. This is what God gave me tonight. I post this as a reminder to myself and a reaffirming of the work He has been doing in my life. If a part of it can be a blessing to you, than I am thankful for that as well.

"In every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."
1 Thessalonians 5:18

May y'all be blessed this evening, and reflect on God's great goodness to YOU, 
'cause there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Update From the National Bible Bee!

Ah! It has been a wonderful day! Couldn't have asked for a better place to spend it than at the National Bible Bee here in San Antonio, Texas! And I'm definitely getting to spend it with the awesomest people in the world, family.
(Above picture-hanging out with the little brothers after the ceremony last night)

Since I know not all of my blog readers have instagram, I thought I'd give you my two little instagram updates here to fill you in!

Last night (11/18)
"We're happiest when we're together! It was so worth the 17 hour drive to come down here and surprise the younger siblings who are competing in the National Bible Bee this week!! Watching them walk the carpet tonight and cheering them on was just too awesome. So proud of all six of them for their hard work this summer! Proud of the five who made it to nationals and have studied hundreds of hours this fall. And proud of the three brotherhood (Josh, Taylor, and Hudson) who are advancing to the semi-finals tomorrow! Please be in prayer for them! Also...proud of the other three eldest and I for making it down here in one piece in spite of extreme exhaustion. #nationalbiblebee # sibling love #bontrageradventure #ilovetexas

Tonight (11/19)
"What a day! My throat is hoarse and my mind if tired and my heart is pretty much bursting with pride. Because Josh and Taylor are going on to the final competition round tomorrow!! Listening to them recite verse after verse after verse with such passion and conviction filled me with such joy. It was marvelous!! I have to tell you that amongst their many other great accomplishments, my brothers had, hands down, the loudest cheering section in the entire auditorium. We were so, um, lively...that at one point I received a text from our parents who were sitting somewhere else. And it read like this: "You all are creating a scene!! Please quiet down and try to be a good testimony for a large family". =) =) Oh dear. Many friends who have been watching the live stream today have texted and said they could pick out the Bontrager cheers in the crowd. Let's just say that quietness has never been our strong point. =) For those of you who may have missed the live stream today, you don't want to miss watching finals tomorrow! It is going to be unforgettable! Find the times, link and info here! Also please visit our family blog for more updates and pictures!

Please be praying for my brothers as they compete tomorrow! 
And if you think of it...I would also appreciate a little prayer that I wouldn't lose my voice until after finals tomorrow. Because I couldn't stand it if I couldn't cheer. =)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Why I Wear What I Wear

Calling all ladies! Today, you're getting the lowdown on my clothing standards! So exciting!
(ha, NOT!)

In all honesty, yes, this is what I'm talking about here today. But its the nitty gritty-the stuff all we girls deal with. So not really that exciting. Just to clarify. =)

It never ceases to amaze me how people are so interested in what I choose to wear. So many times I just want to say "Please, just go home and ask God what He wants YOU to wear. What's it to you what I wear?"

But the truth remains that this is a very real struggle in our culture. Women who follow Christ want to dress in a way that honors and glorifies Him and Him alone. And sometimes, navigating those waters of standards and convictions can be rough.

I know, I've been there.

So today, I want to talk to you girls as an older sister. Pull up your chair, and imagine that we're having a little chat together. With coffee, of course. And cream in the coffee. And both the coffee and cream in a big oversized mug that fits like four cups of coffee/cream mixture.
Now we're all set! =)

First of all, I don't have all the answers. Not even close-goodness, no. I mess up, and I make mistakes,  and I'm right there with you wading through the racks at the store and having those times when I get discouraged.

To be totally honest, I even have my moments where I think, "Eve had it SO EASY back before there was sin. She didn't even have to worry about modesty at all!"

Seriously, can you imagine? How nice would that be? clothes. No worries if it was not enough, or two much, or whatever. No agonizing over if a neckline was too low or pants were too tight if you didn't have any of that to begin with. She just didn't have to think about any of it. What a life!

Okay, okay, I digress....Moving on!! (hehe)

If you are looking for a formula, you will be disappointed in my answer today. Because the answer isn't measured in inches, or fittings, or lengths, or types. It isn't measured in tight or loose. It isn't measured in pants vs skirts, or shorts vs pants, or skinny vs baggy, or high vs low, or any of that.

That is just not the point.

The answer is found in knowing the Word of God, and in knowing the God of the Word.

Here's the deal. Whether you like it or not, what you wear matters. Your clothing is the first impression someone gets of you. (scary thought, that!)
Before you have a chance to say anything, your clothing has already made a statement about the kind of person you are. And if you are a child of Jesus Christ, than you're gonna need to be dressing a little different from everyone else. You are set apart. You are PRECIOUS in His sight. And you are DIFFERENT.

I'm a lover of quotes on this subject. I've found some great ones that I want to share with you:

"My fellow women of the world: 'Put on some clothes. You want men to give you the time of day? Leave a little up to the imagination, and respect yourself. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the beholder is anyone you want it to be'."

"If Cinderella didn't need to take off her dress to get the prince, then neither do you." 

"Modest is not something to be ashamed of. It is strength, not weakness." 

"What you wear is your billboard. So...what are you advertising?"

"Dress how you want to be ADDRESSED."

Aren't those amazing? I would highly encourage you to write down one or more of them and tape them up on your bathroom/bedroom mirror, or wherever you get ready for the day each day. We all need good reminders like these!

I understand that this modesty thing is easier said than done. We live in a culture where everyone wants to tell everyone else what to wear. You know what I mean---it's either that super legalistic friend who tells you she "can't be friends" unless you start dressing "like a real Christian" (as she puts it), or its that left-wing aunt who tells you that you need to "stop being so frumpy and always wearing gunny sacks".
Honestly, thank goodness we aren't in this to please people because it's just about IMPOSSIBLE! Let me say that again-it IS impossible. Everyone either thinks you are too liberal or too conservative. Once in a blue moon someone recognizes the  beauty and class in true modest dress and tells you so, but those moments are rare and if you're living for the affirmation in those you will be sadly disappointed because they don't happen very often.

Quick commercial break here though...I have to tell y'all the story of how this actually DID happen the other night. My sister was telling me about how a guy at work told her that he appreciated that she dressed modestly and beautifully. I must admit I flipped out and said "Allison! Who was this man? Is he brother-in-law material?!?!" to which she rolled her eyes and responded, 
"Chels, he was like FORTY!" 
Obviously I totally agree that she dress modestly and beautifully but it's not every day that someone else TELLS you that! And a man at that! I wish it wasn't so rare but honestly it is and when I heard that a GUY told her that I was extremely impressed. And wanting him for a bro-in-law. Except that he was forty. So I guess not after all. (sniffle)
End of randomly inserted story. =)

Girls, we can't listen to the sources that want to dictate our wardrobes, whether negative or positive. Those dress codes and rules and "it has to be this length and this size to be modest"?
Those lists were all written and directed and planned by humans who are just as liable to fail and be wrong as anybody else. Also, remember that we aren't called to answer to a church or an organization, for our dress standards. We are called to answer to the ONE who designed modesty, the One who loves us more than anyone else ever could, and the One who is waiting and willing to guide each of us in our quest for godliness in our dress.

Quick note here to the few guys who were brave enough to read this post.
You might think it's weird to tell a girl that you appreciate how she dresses. Well, it's not weird. It is a BLESSING to us women, and we love you for it! Well maybe not literally. But you get the point. You have no idea how much it means.
 I'll never forget a few years ago when I was at a conference and one of the young men stood up during sharing time and publicly addressed all of the young women who were attending the conference. He specifically thanked us for dressing modestly and said how much he appreciated being at a conference where he didn't have to be constantly adverting his eyes. He probably didn't think anymore about his comment afterwards, but let me tell you that I KNOW I'm not the only girl who still remembers and greatly respects that guy for sharing that, even though it was 4-5 years ago. It was such an encouragement to know that there are still a handful of guys out there who not only notice but who care and appreciate the work it takes to dress in a godly way.

And it is work. It is definitely the path less chosen, and the harder of the two options. It takes time, and courage, and hard work! But it is infinitely worth it.

We've got to get back to the place where the only basis for our life, the only basis for where we stand, how we stand, and WHY we stand, and what we do and subsequently wear, is JESUS CHRIST and HIS WORD.

That's it. No minus, no plus, NO ADDITIONS. Just you and God and seeking His face.

I said it before, and I'll say it again-I don't have the answers. There are different clothing items that, to be honest, I'm not sure about. I wear what I wear based on personal standards that the Lord has led me to, and also certain family standards that my family has, and that I have chosen to honor as long as I am living at home. I find that, as with anything, it is very dangerous to get to a place where we think we have it all figured out, where we think we "have arrived" and know the perfect "dress code". I feel right now like I know less than I ever did! Except for one thing, and that one thing is that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God does care about this area of my life, and that He will be faithful to guide me if I diligently seek His face and His truth.

At the end of the day, I want more than anything else to be able to say, "I stood firm on Jesus Christ and His Word and the truth that He showed me."
This is not only the area of modesty, but also in every other area of my life.

I love each of you girls. That is why I am sharing this with you. My heart's cry is for every woman reading this to find true joy in serving Jesus in every area of her life, including through her clothing, because it is a service to Him! 
I view my wardrobe as an act of worship. After all, if it glorifies Jesus, that is worship, right? Right! 

God's Word has so much to say about this. My favorite verse on this subject is found in Corinthians:

"What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, 
which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price:
 therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." 
1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Most importantly, we can't forget that the heart of modesty really has nothing at all to do with actual clothing, but it is all about having the FEAR OF THE LORD and the Holy Spirit living within us:

"Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised." Proverbs 31:30

I'll end on a light note, with a favorite quote that is funny, but really quite sobering when you stop and think about it: 

"Dressing immodestly is like rolling around in manure. 
                                  Yes, you'll get attention...but mostly from pigs."

You don't want that, honey. Pigs Boys like that aren't worth your time. Jesus created you for SO MUCH MORE
So step out of your box. Be different. Be set apart. Choose the royalty and dignity and glory that is fitting for a daughter of the Most High King.

And that is why I wear what I wear!
 I'm praying that each of you will commit to seeking Him in this area of modesty, and that you will be blown away by His faithfulness in showing you what He wants you to wear!

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! 
And. Be back this weekend for a super exciting guest post 
and giveaway of an amazing book on modesty!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Welcome to Iowa + the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

This was my view this morning as I drove down our country road. 

Gorgeous fog, gorgeous golden corn, gorgeous skies. Its Iowa, y'all. Those who think this isn't beautiful? They just don't understand.  

It is Iowa country in its full glory. And this is the most wonderful time of the year, because harvest just started! (insert confetti bursts and happy dances all around) Harvest time, my friends, is beyond exciting. The hum of the combine and the sound of corn filling the wagons are some of my favorites. The smell of a freshly combined field is one I could breathe in anytime, anywhere. The constant activity on our farm of tractors/combine coming and going is exhilarating. I love love LOVE it.

It has been an amazing year. Full of travel, adventure, and God stretching me in so many new ways. I am so grateful for all of His provision + guidance. I wouldn't trade the past nine months for anything. 

But I will admit that the current job of putting away the concert clothes/gear and preparing for all things fall and harvest is filling me with this wild joy of a little child. 

Because for the next three months I'm going to glory in the joy of being a country girl and living life on this beautiful farm I call home. And that, my pretty awesome. =)

What's your favorite thing about fall?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Typical Day Before Leaving On Tour

This post title is somewhat deceiving, because absolutely no two "day-before-leaving-on-tour" days are the same. It is quite crazy, the different things that come up every time and leave us shaking our heads wondering "and WHY did this have to happen today of ALL days?"

So no two days of these are alike. But I thought I'd still share with you what that "day before leaving" CAN look like. Since this is our last tour of the year and I was thinking about how it is also the last big packing day of the year, I thought it would be an appropriate time to do a post like this.
 I didn't include pictures of all of us gathered in the kitchen at lunchtime packing and eating simultaneously. 
Or each of us taking load after load after load to the bus.
Or making the bus bunks, loading the freezer/refridgerator, filling the water bay, cleaning out and restocking the front bays, cleaning the house, finishing the laundry, etc etc etc.

And now, I take you back to last Thursday...(we left on Friday)
Thursday started out with a messy bedroom, a messy ponytail, comfort clothes, and no makeup. 
(except for mascara. always mascara) 
When I went to apply my makeup I discovered that I had left some of it in the truck the night before (don't even ask why it was with me in the truck in the first place!) and since my dad and brother had taken the truck early that morning to deliver cattle, that makeup wasn't going to be an option. I was short on time anyways so I decided to just nix the whole process except of course for aforementioned mascara. Because KEEP CALM AND WEAR MASCARA.
Moving on....
 The bedroom. On packing days it always gets worse before it gets better. This picture was taken at some point in the process.
I love packing. Absolutely ADORE it. Even though at heart I am ultimately a homebody, still I have always had the love of travel in my bones.
Because traveling is adventure---heading out into the wide wide world. And I love adventure.

Packing can take anywhere from a certain number of hours to another certain number of hours.
No, I am not going to divulge the time it takes to pack. It varies quite a bit from time to time.
And besides. Certain information should stay personal, I think. =)
Packing for oneself is one thing. Packing five different coordinating outfits for a family of twelve is another. Whilest in the midst of the piles of dress clothes EVERYWHERE, I suddenly had a revelation.
"Why can't everyone pack THEIR OWN?"
It's not like we are back in the days when half of us were babies and couldn't pack for ourselves.
No. We have twelve responsible, law abiding citizens (ahem-most of the time!) that are all over eight years of age and SHOULD be able to pack their own concert clothes.
So I switched from plan a to plan B, which involved going to the computer and printing off the above chart.
I added certain stipulations with relish. =)
A) I think God placed me as the oldest to help the siblings learn to keep deadlines (ha!)
B) Something really needed to be done to change the system (or lack thereof)
C) I can always use more coffee $$ (yes please!)
Y'all. I just have the sweetest siblings ever. These gems had their clothes packed early but left some love for me anyway. 
Shipshewana Davis Mercantile Coffee Shop, coming right up this week! =)
Along with packing, and packing, and more packing...the day before leaving on tour is, as was previously mentioned, always filled with all sorts of extra projects that just "happen" to have to come up on that busiest of all days.
To name a few...
*The basil was beginning to go into seed, and there was a very good chance it might get hit with frost while we were gone. So I headed up my own personal pesto campaign, making pesto and drying additional basil in extremely large increments.
*The brotherhood went hunting. Which was probably not the wisest thing to do, since past studies have PROVEN time and time again that they can hunt for WEEKS before a tour and not get a thing, BUT if they go out on the day before leaving...they honestly get a deer every.single.time. It is positively uncanny how that works.
So sure enough, Denver got a deer. Which meant that now there was a deer to be butchered, and jerky to be made.
*The apple trees were producing in abundance, but unfortunately quite a few of the apples were spotty which meant they had to be frozen or canned immediately. Also the four cases of pears which had just arrived from our coop were not in good condition, which meant that they had to be put in the freezer immediately too!

And then there were all those little things like the fact that my washer wasn't working properly, which means that washing a load of laundry takes longer than the normal 55minutes. And several things in the bus were left unattended after our last tour so now the whole place smelled much less than desirable so there was extra cleaning and attention required to get everything back in the preferred state of livableness.

And that's a little inside peek of the craziness of "day before leaving". Hope you enjoyed! Would love to hear your thoughts in the comment box!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Monday + Me

Just popping in tonight with an invitation to y'all to come join me + my family @ our farm on Monday for our Annual Turning Hearts Celebration!  It has been a crazy week preparing + I'm really hoping lots of you come! 

I was planning to post something else here tonight but to be 100% honest, I am very nearly falling asleep sitting here typing. So I'm going to keep it short + sweet with this, and hope y'all understand. =) If you want to see a little bit of what has been keeping my family + me busy this past month, visit the post I did on our family blog here. Also I will have a "Life Lately" for y'all next week with a little bit of whats been happening in my life as of late.

Just for the record. I don't think this new "Blog three times per week" thing is going to agree with my schedule very well. =/ It has already been a bit of a challenge! If y'all want something to pray about, than pray that the Lord would help me to come up with ideas of things to blog/articles to write that will take less than three hours each! My head is SWIMMING with ideas (always is, haha! waaay too many ideas and not enough time!!) but TIME is the issue. It is a little tricky trying to run a blog like a business (scheduled + organized) when in reality I already have a full time job!

Have a fabulous weekend, friends!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Why I'm Thankful for Dirty Fingernails

This might be one of my most glamorous blog header shots ever, friends. =)

In reality, it is maybe one of my most realistic header shots ever.

This is Life 101 on a working farm. The dirt you see this time is mud. But it could be a number of other things...

This picture came from a rainy Saturday morning spent weeding + hoeing in one of our flower beds. I was soaked + filthy by the time I was finished. But let me tell you-it was the best feeling ever.

Accomplishment. Fulfillment. Satisfaction of a job done well.

There's nothing quite like that feeling of knowing that your hard work has paid off in a beautiful finished product. It didn't take the flip of a switch, or the click of a mouse, to accomplish this. It took getting out of bed, getting out there Saturday morning, in the mud, in the rain, and working hard. I was worn out when I was done, but it was such a good feeling.

As I was cleaning up later on to leave the house, I had to laugh at my hands. I may now have been dressed up, and had my hair + makeup done, but my fingernails were a dead-giveaway for my lifestyle. There were purple/red stains all around and under my nails from the red beets I had canned prior in the week. There were dirt stains, still visible even though I had washed/scrubbed. If tomato juice stained then I would have had a good coating of that from the pizza sauce I had canned earlier that week as well. (Sorry, Jamberry's...there's not a chance you would last on these fingers!)

I would have it no other way. Dirty fingernails=hard work here. Just thinking about this all made me reflect on how thankful I am to have grown up in a home where it wasn't a disgrace to have dirty hands. It was an honor.

Dirty hands, dirty clothes, dirty shoes...those things meant mud + manure + weeds + briars. Calloused hands meant hands that knew the blessing + satisfaction of manual labor. Blisters were not a shame. They were a badge that said "hard work produced this".

Life is not all about work. I understand that. I know that there can be a downfall to the "hard work=success" mentality, and there is, and it's something that I have had to fight against, because there can be a tendency to find your ultimate fulfillment + acceptance in how hard you work, in how much you accomplish, instead of in the things that matter most.

However, that is how it is with most good things in life---taken out of context, they can be a problem. One day I might do a post about that.

But for today? I'm thankful for the dirty nails, and the tough hands, because for me today they mean the ability to work, the love of work, and the joy in work. They also mean food on the table, and provision in so many practical ways.

And I'm really grateful for that.
This quote is so good. (and the picture is hilarious, ha!)  I couldn't agree more. 

Y'all have a wonderful evening!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On My Heart

{Disclaimer: I don't do posts like this very often. This post is just one where I'm just sitting down and dumping in total honesty...and its a blog post, not my journal! 
I do try to be honest every time I post, I just don't very often spill like this time. 
But sometimes, its the right time to let it all out. I feel that right now.}

So last week was just one of those weeks. The kind we've all had....

It started out so well, with a phenomenal young women's retreat that my sister hosted. I was at a wedding in Tennessee for the first day of the retreat, but after I got home I jumped right in and had such a wonderful time helping with food, details, + also sharing one of the sessions. It was a marvelous time.

The thing is, though, that every single time one of us or our whole family together does a big event or ministry project like this, there always seems to be this "crash" phase afterwards. If you've done any type of ministry project you know what I mean---its like this spiritual "high" during the event, and then afterwards the dust settles and you're left feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and like your cup is completely dried out.

That's how I was feeling by Tuesday afternoon. On top of all of that I was years behind on sleep + had a splitting headache that lasted (more or less) for the next three days, and all that definitely didn't help things. There was so much clean up to do from the retreat and I had moments wondering if our house was EVER going to look clean again. We also had a big concert we were frantically trying to prepare for on Friday night. Everyone's schedules were crazy with work + company + all sorts of things going on, and trying to find a time when we could all practice together was basically impossible. One morning as I left for town the guys reminded me that we had family practice at 1pm. They even had me repeat the time back to them to make sure I had heard it. And you guessed it, 1pm rolled around and I was at the checkout counter at a store when my phone rang. "Chels, we are all here in the living room with our instruments waiting...where are you?" I could've cried, I felt so irresponsible. I was thirty minutes away and here they were all waiting on me, just because I had forgotten. It may not sound like a big deal but on top of everything else it just seemed huge and I felt so FRIED.

A couple other big, hard things happened Thursday/Friday. I can't even go into it all here but suffice to say I just felt so discouraged. Life felt so dark. Honestly, it was just such a hard week, specifically weekend, and I felt like I had no energy left. I felt surrounded by darkness, and difficult circumstances, and pain, and discouragement.

But Jesus knew. He saw. He cared. And He gave me some of the most precious promises that weekend, in the way of encouragement through several messages I heard at a rally Friday night, and at my church's missions conference on Sunday. And He also sent a special encouragement to me through three songs. One He just brought to my heart randomly one day and I will be posting about that soon. The other two I heard on the radio on Sunday as I was driving back from church. The one in particular I've heard so many times before, but isn't it amazing how sometimes God can use something that is totally familiar to you, to come alive, just when you need it? It was the song WHOM SHALL I FEAR, and these lyrics just ministered to my heart so much:

You hear my when I call, You are my morning song
Though darkness fills the night, It cannot hide the light
You crush the enemy underneath my feet, You are my sword and shield
 Though troubles linger still, Whom shall I fear 
I know Who goes before me, I know Who stands behind 
The God of angel armies is always by my side 
The One Who reigns forever, He is a friend of mine 
The God of angel armies is always by my side. 
My strength is in Your name, for You alone can save 
You will deliver me, Yours is the victory 
Whom shall I fear, Whom shall I fear 
And nothing formed against me shall stand, You hold the whole world in Your hands 
I'm holding on to Your promises, You are faithful, You are faithful.

I can't even begin to explain how these words were just what I needed. What a promise. The God of angel armies. ANGEL ARMIES. And this God is my FRIEND. The One who goes before me. Who stands behind. 
What a promise!

Go listen to the song here. I infinitely prefer this clip to the regular version of the song. 
(sorry, Chris Tomlin fans everywhere-his voice just isn't my fav) 
But this guy, David Wesley? I could listen to him ALL DAY. I've always been a sucker for good four-part harmony. There's just nothing like it.

"Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, 
that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain."
Philippians 2:16

This verse. And just thinking about how all things work together. The running, the labouring, the trials...none of this is in vain if we can learn the lessons needed and grow through these experiences. God has a plan in everything and He is with us through everything. 

And that's just a little on my heart right now. Like I said, I don't often do "dump posts", but today it was what I felt I needed to write. Maybe there's someone else out there who needs a little encouragement, and if the promises Jesus gave me can bless you, than I am thankful.

And never forget. He loves YOU, He cares, and He is by your side. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Sweetest Home + Upcoming Blogging

This is the view from my front window Monday morning. 

When I see that silo it just says HOME to me. And the golden top of that gorgeous field of corn? #IOWABEAUTY

So yes, I'm back to the land of cornfields + hog barns. 
I'm back to my own bed + a dinner table that holds still.
 I'm back to the wonders of a cookstove/oven + a regular sized wardrobe. 
I'm back to the real Chels who never wears shoes (well barely) + would be happy if we all could just live outside + forgo houses period. =)

As far as the blogging goes, I've been thinking + reevaluating this blog lately. Trying to figure out:
1) if I'm ready to move to the next stage
2) what the next stage is
3) if I have time for it
4) if its worth the time
5) how to find the time
6) how to schedule the time
7) all those questions we bloggers ask ourselves 

I feel like blogging is a platform that the Lord has given me, and that I need to continue, but I have no need to be posting content just for the mere purpose of hitting "publish" and getting comments. I've always desired to make a difference with my blog, but lately I've just been realizing more and more that life is short, and I don't want to be doing/writing anything unless it is making a big impact. I want the Holy Spirit to be active + present in every single post. And that comes through prayer, and seeking the face of Jesus, and writing what He places on my heart, in HIS perfect timing.

All that said, I'm working on establishing a blogging schedule of sorts. I've always fought against this idea, mentally, because I like to be spontaneous and post things as they come to my mind and heart.

But I am realizing that there is a place for planning posts. For choosing topics that the Lord has laid upon my heart, and then taking time to pray over them and think through them for a significant time before actually doing the official writing and publishing. So to do this I am scheduling in time each week to write + create, and then throughout the rest of the week to be in prayer about the upcoming posts + also to take notes (in a notebook-old fashioned is best!) 
as I think of ideas or other things I might forget. 

I would appreciate y'alls prayers in this new venture. I'm excited to share with you what the Lord continues to give me for this blog!

In complete randomness to end out, I must say that I'm so excited for my evening tonight, because its been eight weeks since I've been at my church + I just can't wait to be back there again! =)

Have a beautiful evening!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Life Lately

As y'all may have noticed, there hasn't been much happening in this corner of the world lately!  I thought I'd give y'all a little "life lately" from instagram/my phone, to recap the past six weeks.

Just as a little preview....lest you think that tour life is just full of friends + posing for pictures, let me enlighten you:
It ISN'T. =) 

Go visit this page to see that there is a whole lot more happening than fun + games!

 But, 43 concerts in 46 days is kinda hard to put into pictures. I also don't get to capture all the office work, and laundry, and set up/tear down, and all of the other "normal life" things that happen on the road. 

Below, you will see recaps in photos of time spent with old besties, and new friends, and amazing siblings! And head on over to our family blog to read the full updates I've been posting recently.
With love, all the way from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan! =)