Grit Plus God: An Equation for Success

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If you’re obeying God, it will all work out in the end. It’s not about the outcome, it’s about being faithful in the journey.

This thought is changing my life right now.

My blog baby is sixteen months old. My year without clothes is over. Instagram changed its algorithm, and no one cares about my posts anymore. (Ok. That was a bit melodramatic.) Bottom line: The adrenaline of starting a new venture has subsided.

So, now what? Where do you go when the path you started walking has changed and the way forward seems harder and less exciting than before?

ANYWHERE, as long as you’re pursuing God in the process.

The outcome may not look like you or the rest of the world think it should, but a woman who is walking in the moral will of God and following where HE leads can confidently pursue her passions, dreams and goals.

END OF STORY.

We are far too easily paralyzed by fear and doubt. We over-analyze ourselves out of decisions--if we ever even make one. We disqualify ourselves before we start, when the truth is, we were never qualified in the first place. It’s God’s strength, power and wisdom at work in us that enables any earthly success we may achieve. 

As Jess Connolly says:

His Capacity + Your Obedience = Abundance

All of this leads me to another question:

What would pursuing ANYTHING with the mindset of finding ABUNDANCE IN CHRIST look like for you and me?

Would it look like going back to school? Homeschooling your kids? Leading a Bible study? Leaving that job? Starting a different career? Pursuing a new friendship?

For some of us, myself included, it simply means we KEEP GOING.

The power of GRIT and GOD

Can I make a confession? I feel like a failure most days.

My “must be the best at the everything” enneagram three taunts me when I look at a messy corner of my house, when I realize I haven’t texted a friend back, when the boys are having a meltdown, when I’m short tempered with my husband and most especially when I think about my career.

At 35, I thought I’d be farther along –personally and professionally-than I am; and yet, I’m proud of how far God has brought me. I started This is Thirty Four knowing that building a writing career would take GRIT. I just didn’t realize how much it would take.

To quote Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist whose TED Talk everyone should watch, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is having stamina and sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for a week, not just for a month, but for years. Grit is working really hard to make that future a reality and living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

It’s hard to look at weeks of not writing, a low follower count or an email not sent without thinking I’ve failed and should probably just throw in the towel on all of it.  

BUT GRIT AND GOD.

Grit says “don’t give up.” God says “Let me do this. It was never yours to accomplish in the first place.” Which brings us back to where we started. Obey God. Follow where He leads. Don’t worry about the outcome, just be faithful in the journey.

Said differently and straight from the Bible: “Many are the plan in the mind of a man, but the purpose of the Lord will stand.” Proverbs 19:21 

Mic drop.

 

 

The Summer of Small Things

summer of small things .JPG

Last week on Instagram, I talked about the importance of taking small steps to accomplish big things…or not. If you’re like me, you spend most of your life working towards big goals. While the work often results in accomplishments to be proud of, the striving can leave you depleted and unable to enjoy the little things in life. This summer, I’m making a concerted effort to stop the striving and start savoring the small. I’m setting mini-goals for myself like working out MOST days, enjoying time with my boys (not wishing away the hours til bedtime) and sticking with our family’s weekly expense budget.

I’m also taking note of the things that are bringing me joy, and I want to share those things with all of you. So, to kick off the Summer of Small Things, here are a few things that are giving me joy so far this summer:

1.) The Jonas Brothers new album, Happiness Begins- I was too old for the Jonas Brothers Version One, but I am FULLY HERE FOR the Jonas Brothers 2.0. Best tracks: Used To Be, Don’t Throw It Away, Trust & Rollercoaster. Pro-tip: Watch the documentary on Amazon Prime. It will only make you love them more.

2.) Annie F. Downs EnneaSummer- If you are even a bit curious about the Enneagram, this podcast series is FOR YOU. After Susanne Stabile (who literally wrote the book on the enneagram) joins Annie for an introductory episode on the Enneagram, Annie brings on one man and one woman to discuss each number in depth in subsequent episodes. Even my husband (who is an Enneagram five and simultaneously an Enneagram skeptic is listening and enjoying these podcasts.)

3.) Jess Connelly’s podcast on why quitting is essential to achieving success.

4.) Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. A beautiful and haunting summer read that I definitely think lives up to the hype.

5.) When They See Us- Ava DuVernay’s four-part Netflix series on The Central Park Five is tough but necessary to watch. A note to all my white friends: If you think something like this couldn’t happen today, YOU ARE WRONG. As you watch, I’d encourage you to think about the systemic racism around you as well as your own internal biases. I’d also encourage you to join my friend Monique Melton for her SHINE class on When They See Us and What To Do Next. I’ll be there.

6.) Always Be My Maybe- One of the best chick flicks I’ve seen in years.

7.) The Bachelorette and The Popcast’s Bachelorette Recaps- You shouldn’t watch the former without listening to the latter. (Sidenote: You do have to pay $3.99 per month for The Popcast Bacehlorette recaps. THAT’S LESS THAN A CUP OF COFFEE AT STARBUCkS, PEOPLE!)

8.) Watching my friends shine- And I’ve got some pretty amazing friends. Blake is starting her own Brand Bar. Emily and Ryan built their dream home and are about to release a Home Improvement Mini Course to show others how to do the same; and Jene’, who is, by far, the best manicurist I’ve ever had, one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet AND also runs her own fitness challenges. SO, if you’re local, schedule a manicure with her TODAY and message her if you’re interested in the fitness challenges.

9.) Wild Fable Denim Shorts from Target- I have multiple pairs in multiple colors and styles and since they are under $20 each, I don’t feel bad at all.

10.) Backpacks- Target does it again with this black and white striped one, and if you follow me on Instagram, you know my Parker Clay backpack has not failed me yet. (Pro-tip: If you have kids and are considering purchasing the Rebecca Minkoff Julian backpack, don’t bother. It’s beautiful but too small to hold all your kiddos’ cargo, making the price tag a bit too high.)

11.) One piece swimsuits. Nuf said.

12.) Pinterest- I made a Summer Style board that is literally saving my life right now. When I’m feeling uninspired by my closet, I just check the board and instantly find something to wear.

13.) Trying new things- Most recently, The Puzzle Effect Escape Rooms, Pedego Bikes and the ropes course at Vista Lago Adventure Park.

14.) Open Fit xTend Barre Workouts- I’m currently using a 30-day free trial but may sign up for the paid version. They are GREAT for summer travels, as you can literally do them anywhere and they require little to no equipment.

15.) Remembering that TRUST activates THANKFULNESS and THANKFULNESS ACTIVATES PEACE. It’s biblical. Check out Philippians 4:6-7 if you’re in doubt. This is my biggest takeaway from Priscilla Shirer’s Armor of God Bible study. I’m going through it for a second time because it’s just that good.

A few other small things worth an honorable mention:

  • Michelle Obama’s memoir.

  • Solar Oil cuticle oil. Using it once a day makes gel manicures last longer.

  • Pons. Most comfortable shoe ever. Size down if you’re a half size.

  • Loreal Magic Root Cover Up. For when you’ve got some grays but not quite ready to pay for a profesh dye job.

  • Bodysuits- You’d think they magnify your trouble areas, but it turns out they make you look thinner. Trust me.

  • This cardigan. I own it in black and mocha too. I may have a problem.

  • Ben and Jerry’s Non-Dairy Peanut Butter and Cookies Ice Cream. You’re welcome.

Girl, Go With God: An Open Letter To The Ladies Of RISE Minneapolis

rise sign .jpg

It’s a warm night in June as I write this. All the windows in my house are open. I’m watching an episode of Friends that I’ve seen at least 12 times. Friends episodes are like white noise to me. They signal rest.

This is the first week of summer for the boys and me.  The past three months have been a whirlwind of work and projects and shuffling children to and from activities. Rest was pushed to the backburner and now, as two and a half months of no work or school commitments loom, I honestly don’t know what to do with myself. Or maybe it’s that I don’t know what to START doing…

Such is the quandary of the enneagram three, otherwise known as “The Acheiver.” Resting is difficult for us, because the question we’re always asking ourselves is “Who am I apart from the work I do?”

For over 30 years, I’ve told myself the lie that my worth depends on what and how much I accomplish. The more public those accomplishments, the better. The past 15 months have been a journey of uncovering and unraveling that lie and its stronghold on my life. This blog was the catalyst that helped me find the truth.

Curious? Let’s journey back…

In March 2018, I read Rachel Hollis’s book, Girl, Wash Your Face. In April 2018, I attended her RISE Conference in Los Angeles. People have strong opinions about Rachel these days. I have my opinions too, but for now I will simply say this: Rachel’s book and conference changed my life in ways that few things ever have. Not because her words were so eloquent or her conference so moving but because God used those things to reveal areas of my life and my identity that I needed to surrender to HIM.

In the nine months post RISE Conference, I dove headfirst into blogging and social media and all the things required to become a writer and “social influencer.” At the end of those nine months, I was exhausted, anxious and nowhere near reaching the goals I had set earlier that year. In other words, I was losing my enneagram three mind. I was doing the work, and from what I observed, I was doing it just as well, if not better, than many other people…and it was getting me nowhere.

And so, the prevailing question of my life popped back up: WHO AM I APART FROM THE WORK I DO? WHO AM I WHEN I DON’T ACCOMPLISH THE THING I SET OUT TO ACCOMPLISH?

And now, we fast-forward…

After my nine months of hustling towards Internet fame, I took a break. I scaled back. I re-evaluated what was important to me and how I wanted to show up, both online and in life. I haven’t opened Girl, Wash Your Face since early 2018. Tonight, as I’m writing this post, with the windows open, the warm breeze blowing through my house and Friends playing in the background, I crack it open.

In the book, Rachel outlines 20 lies women tell themselves that keep them from pursuing their dreams. I flip to lie number 10: I should be further along by now.

A few pages in to the chapter, Rachel writes this:

“Every single moment is preparing you for the next. But whether or not you choose to see this time as something wonderful—the time when God is stretching you and growing you or maybe forging you in fires hotter than you think you can withstand—all of it is growing you for the person you’re becoming, for a future you can’t even imagine.”

Say what you want about Rachel Hollis, but those words are TRUTH.

This weekend, thousands of women will gather in Minneapolis for Rachel’s third-annual RISE conference. Many of my friends are there, and I am praying for the things they will learn and the ways their hearts and minds will change because of what they experience.

As I look back on my own journey since last year’s RISE conference, I clearly see how God grew me through the things I learned from reading Girl, Wash Your Face, attending RISE and launching this blog. I realize that despite my writing career not being as far along as I hoped it would be, every moment of the past 15 months has been worth it. Just as Rachel said, each thing I’ve done or chosen not to do, each time I felt scared and stretched out of my comfort zone, it was really just God beckoning me to trust Him and teaching me something about myself. In a way that only God can, He used Rachel’s lies to help me exorcize my own and grow me into the person I am today.

 And just who is that person? WHO AM I APART FROM WHAT I DO? I am a wife. A mother. A friend. A teacher. A mentor. A DAUGHTER OF THE KING. The latter title makes me more worthy than anything I could achieve on my own, and I don’t have to DO anything to achieve it.

 So, to everyone attending RISE Minneapolis this weekend, know this: No amount of washing your face or apologizing or hustling will make you any more valuable than you already are.

 Take the things you hear at RISE—many of which will be GOOD THINGS—and evaluate them in light of what you know to be true, in light of Scripture and in light of WHO YOU ARE IN CHRIST. And as you leave RISE, feeling motivated to conquer the world, go and try to do just that.

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big and working hard; but remember that many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails (Proverbs 19:21).

His purpose may look different for you than it does for the girl who sat next to you in Minneapolis; but that doesn’t make it—YOU--any less valuable.

God can use RISE to change your life, if you let Him. The things you do over the next few months or years post-RISE may alter the course of your future. Take Jesus along on the journey and I guarantee that wherever you end up, you’ll be exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Trust In The Midst Of Trials

Photo by  Maria Stiehler  on  Unsplash

This post is different.

Usually, when I share something, it’s from a rearview perspective—I’ve experienced something, learned a lesson or had an “a-ha” moment and I want to share it with you.  

This post is different.

I am very much in the midst of the circumstances I’m sharing today.  I don’t know how this story will end, but I feel God prompting me to share the journey, not just the final destination.

For the past six months, I’ve battled minor health issues and major anxiety brought on by those health issues. This battle has robbed me of more joy, contentment, memories and emotional wellbeing than I care to think about.  It’s made me a mediocre wife and a mom with a short fuse (at best). It’s caused me to throw myself into my job—because work is (usually) something I can control, unlike my emotions these days.

Last week, everything started to fall apart. I went to the doctor for a (minor) issue and came home with more questions than answers and a body so wracked with fear, stress and anxiety that I was barely able to function. What followed for the next seven days were more inconclusive tests, pain radiating throughout my entire body, one epic meltdown in front of my husband and a child who missed show and tell day.

And that job I thought I could control? I cancelled meetings, moved a final exam and made careless errors.

At multiple points during the week, I cried out to God, begging him to “show Himself” and “help me.” These are prayers I’ve prayed hundreds of times over the past six months. Mostly, I’ve heard nothing in reply.  

Sometimes God is unexplainably silent; and while His silence is never due to lack of caring or love, it may not be for us to comprehend this side of Heaven.  

In my desperation last week, I remembered the story of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8. The widow petitioned a judge—who was neither a Christian nor a good man—for justice. He refused her request for a while, but after a period of time, she wore him down and he granted her request.  

Jesus used this parable to encourage the disciples to pray and not give up, saying in Luke 18:7 “will not God bring justice for His chosen ones who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly.”

So, I kept praying. I’M STILL PRAYING. I’m claiming the promises of Hebrews 4:14-16. I’m trusting that Jesus is interceding for me before God and I’m approaching the throne of grace with confidence. I’m also choosing to believe Psalm 41:3 and 42:11—that the Lord will restore me to full health and my downcast soul will yet praise Him.

 And when those promises seem empty, I’m focusing on the ways that God has shown up in my life over the past year: the lump in my breast that they literally COULD NOT FIND on an ultrasound or mammogram, the pre-cancerous mole that was removed without need for further treatment (save annual mole checks) and my father-in-law, who was diagnosed with stage three Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in August 2018, ended chemo last month and as I write this is playing at the beach with my boys.  

When circumstances cause us to doubt God and His goodness, we must call to mind His promises, remember His history of faithfulness in our lives and above all else, we must NEVER STOP PRAYING.  

I’m currently reading Jennie Allen’s “Made For This.” In it, she talks about praying an “anything” prayer…of “laying your life in the hands of a reckless, invisible God,” because our time on this earth is short and pointing others to HIM is all that truly matters.  

This post is my anything prayer.

This is my testimony in the midst of trial that God is who He says He is. That He is good regardless of what my circumstances tell me. That HE WILL COME THROUGH…if not in this life, then the one to come.

Today, I go back to the doctor to ask for more tests…

 I DON’T KNOW HOW THIS STORY IS GOING TO END, BUT I TRUST GOD WITH THE OUTCOME.

 If you find yourself in similar circumstances today, know that you are not alone. I see you. I feel your pain, both physical and emotional; and I’m sorry.

 In her book, “It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way,” Lysa Terkeurst says:

“Perfection intimidates. Compassion inspires. And in that you will finally find the why. Why did this happen? Because there’s someone else in the world who would drown in their own tears if not for seeing yours. And when you make one other human simply see they are not along, you make the world a better place.”

We may never know the reason for some of the suffering we experience, but our questions and our tears can unite us if we let them.

 

How To Create Core Values That Impact Your Life

Photo by  Ana Tavares  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ana Tavares on Unsplash

Sunday marks one year since I launched This is Thirty Four and started writing and sharing my life online. As I browse through this site, I see so many things I didn’t do, so much I would have done differently but also SO MUCH THAT I’M PROUD OF!

One of the coolest things to come out of last year was determining my core values: Knowing Jesus, Loving Well, Being Intentional and Inspiring Confidence. Determining these values has helped me live a bit more intentionally and feel more confident that at the end of my life, I will leave the legacy I want to leave.

In January 2019, I created an Actionable Core Values Guide. The guide is far from perfect; but it’s my perfectly imperfect formula for making decisions that align with who you are and what’s important to you.

The 10-page guide will help you:  

1.)    Decide what’s most important to you

2.)   Create actionable core value statements around those things

3.)    Determine how your actionable core values impact your every day life  

If that sounds like something you want to do, then I’d encourage you to grab the guide and get to work.

Why It's Good to Grow Small

As I type this, there are two little boys pillow fighting in back of me. Occasionally, one screams, and I’m pretty sure another just went flying through the air ninja style in order to avoid a death blow from his brother.  When I think of life as a full-time writer and speaker—my dream career—this is not the scenario I picture. Then again, neither is taking a nearly two month hiatus from writing.

But that’s what I’ve just done…

There’s been almost two months of silence on here. We live in a world that values noise. She who speaks loudly and speaks often gets the most attention. Two months of silence gets you, well, more silence.

I didn’t write anything these past two months because I needed to be present in my current season of life: young (often sick) kids, a husband with a demanding career, and a busy teaching job of my own leave me with little time for passion projects right now. There are seasons to speak and teach and write and there are seasons to turn inwards and reflect and listen. There are seasons to push and pursue and do all the things, and there are seasons when simply showing up and taking care of your people each day are enough.

I’m learning to recognize the season I’m in and welcome rather than resist it. It’s all part of the process of life, not just of writing.

 I’ve noticed a pattern among women my age, especially those of us who engage on social media. We see other women working harder, doing something (we perceive as) better or getting more attention and we feel the need to do more and try harder ourselves. If SHE can “have it all,” why can’t we? This leads to another trend I’ve observed among women my age: BURN OUT.

We’re tired. We’re frazzled. We’re running ourselves ragged; and we’re over it. At the end of the day, we have nothing left to give but we can’t tell you what it is we’ve given everything to—or at least what we have to show for it.

Here’s a secret: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY. 

Right before I had my oldest son, I read an article in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter on why women can’t have it all. Seven years later, the article still holds so much truth.

Slaughter was the first female director of policy planning at the State Department. In the article she states VERY matter-of-factly that women who have achieved high levels of success in their career and in motherhood are superhuman, rich or self-employed. She also dispels some “half-truths” that women tell themselves about success and work-life balance. These include misconceptions like: “It’s possible if you’re just committed enough” or “It’s possible if you marry the right person.”

March 2nd will mark one year since I committed to pursuing my dream of a full time writing and speaking career. In the last 12 months, I’ve given up TV and free time and sleep and social events and all manner of other things to pursue my dream. If we’re talking about commitment to dreams, I’m all in. As far as marriage is concerned, I married the exact right person. My husband is incredibly supportive of my writing endeavors. He’s never said “no” to me investing in myself. He ALWAYS agrees to stay with the boys when I need to get things done; and if he can’t do it, we have enough money to pay for babysitters.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the last year:

You cannot give 100% of yourself in every area of your life. Something will slip. You will burn out.  

This is where knowing yourself and the season you’re in is important. If you know who and what are important to you as well as what’s realistic for you to accomplish in the season of life that you’re in, then you’re more likely to say “no” to the wrong opportunities—the things that will stress you out and put a strain on other areas of your life--and “yes” to the right ones. You’re also less likely to guilt yourself over the things you’re not doing or the opportunities you’re passing up.

For those of us hard-charging, goal oriented enneagram threes and eights, let me say it this way:

There’s nothing wrong with growing slow and growing small.

 Success is never achieved overnight and success at the expense of your mental or physical health or relationships isn’t the type of success you want to achieve in the first place. Stop comparing your achievements to others and start pursuing your dreams on your own terms.

Here are five resources that have helped me grow at my own pace—both personally and professionally—over the past twelve months:

1.) Christy Wright’s Business Boutique- Whether you have one business idea or just lots of ideas and hobbies, this book will help you narrow your focus to figure out whether that dream you’ve always had is worth pursuing.

2.) Cultivate What Matters Intentional Goal Planner- You don’t have to have a career or a business or even a side hustle to get a lot out of this planner. The Cultivate What Matters Goal Planner is perfect for anyone who has a vision for what you want your life to look like in the next year and is (somewhat) motivated to stay on track to realizing that vision.

3.) Personal Capital Finance App- Admittedly, I don’t use this app as much as I should. However, my husband does and he is slowly turning me on to the awesomeness that is solid financial management and growing your bank account in a small, yet steady way.

4.) Day Designer Daily Planner- It is honestly the best daily planner I’ve ever had. The “Today’s Top Three” list helps me to focus on what’s most important that particular day, and the to-do list that sits side by side with the daily schedule helps me see where I can fit in various tasks throughout my day.

5.) Actionable Core Values Worksheet- Full disclosure: this is something I created. Knowing my core values—who I am, what I stand for and what’s important to me—has served as a basis for my decision making over the past year. Sign up for the email list below and get the core values guide sent straight to your inbox!

Take Time To Look Back

Take a look back

“People don’t decide their futures. They decide their habits, and their habits decide their futures.”

Jay Papasan, Entreleadership Podcast Episode 296 “Setting Goals Together.”

 This is it. The last day of 2018. Tomorrow, the date on the calendar changes and honestly, NOTHING ELSE DOES. For weeks, our conversations and news feeds have centered around “goals” and “resolutions” and finding a “word of the year.” Some of us found this energizing and some of us found it exhausting. Either way, it’s hard to argue that there is wisdom in looking ahead to where you want to go. You know what’s equally important? Taking time to reflect on where you’ve been. (Spoiler alert: You don’t have to wait til the end of the year to do this!)

Unfortunately, 2018 won’t go down as one of my best years. In all honesty, I spent most of the last half of the year plagued by anxiety. By God’s grace, I’m coming out of the fog and stepping into a lighter season. So, rather than reflecting on the things I could have done better in 2018 (ehem, stopped worrying…let the little things go…give it to God…), I’m choosing to focus on what God did in and through me in the last 12 months. I’m looking ahead to 2019 with open hands and expectation for all HE is going to do; and I think you should too.

 Maybe you’ve already done this. Hopefully, you wrote it down somewhere.

THERE IS POWER IN WRITING THINGS DOWN.

If you haven’t taken time to reflect and list out the things you and God did in 2018, DO IT NOW.

Here are three things on my list:

  1. Launching my website and maintaining consistency with my writing.

  2. Going a year (currently 7 months in) without buying clothes

  3. Determining my core values and using them as a guideline for (many) decisions

Now, take the things you listed and write at least one lesson learned as a result of those things.

Here’s what I came up with:

Launching my website and maintaining consistency with writing.

Lesson learned: I make plans, but the Lord directs my steps.

Any “success” I’ve experienced this year is a result of His leading. Nearly every time I tried to write a post or act on an idea that I didn’t pray about first, it either didn’t happen or didn’t turn out well.

GOD WANTS OUR WHOLE LIVES. If we bring everything—even the things we think He probably doesn’t care about (social media posts??) under HIS Lordship, He is faithful to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.

 Going a year (currently on month 7) without buying clothes, shoes or accessories

Lesson(s) learned: It’s easy to pick up a bad habit where you left off. Satan will take any foothold we give him and run with it.

The “bylaws” of my Year Without Clothes clearly state that gifts are acceptable. So, for my birthday (December 7th) and Christmas, a few people gave me clothes and a few people gave me gift cards or money (thank you for the latter, Grandpa and Uncle Mike) and told me to go buy clothes with them.

Can I be honest? My mind told me to wait to use the gift cards and money until May 2019, when my year without clothes is officially up. But my flesh…my flesh said “SPEND THEM NOW.” I listened to my flesh; and wouldn’t you know, as soon as the gift cards and the money ran out, SATAN CAME KNOCKING.

The past week has been TERRIBLE. I have wanted to shop EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I’ve resisted, but only because I WANT TO BE THE SAME PERSON IN PUBLIC AND ON SOCIAL MEDIA AS I AM WHEN NO ONE IS LOOKING.

As for the clothes I got this month, I’m putting them away until May…with the exception of the floral Henley my mom got me from LOFT and a pair of mixed metal earrings from Harper Jo. Because reasons and sorry, not sorry.

Determining my core values and using them as a guideline for (many) decisions  

Lesson learned: If we don’t know WHOSE we are and WHO we are, it’s nearly impossible to know where we’re going.

Probably the best thing to come out of 2018 was determining my core values as a person: Know Jesus. Love well. Live intentionally. Wear cute clothes. (I’m only half joking about that last one.) These four things are now the lens through which I filter many of my decisions. One of my goals for 2019 is to put together a short workbook that walks you through how to create actionable core values. I wanted to finish that workbook before the end of 2018, but it simply did not happen. Which leads me to one of my last and perhaps my most important lesson learned in 2018.

Often, the growth is in the journey towards the goal, not the achieving of it.

If 2018 left you feeling disillusioned or disappointed or ashamed, don’t worry. You don’t need to go big in 2019 to make up for it. To be honest, my aforementioned goal of creating a core values workbook is probably one of my biggest goals for 2019—and it’s not even that big. I’m all for setting goals. I’m all for working towards achieving them; but I’m also in favor of resting in Christ’s power and knowing that nothing we can plan or strive for is as great as what He can do with a life that’s fully yielded to HIM. Maybe 2019 will be the year you do ALL the things you’ve always wanted to do…or maybe you won’t do a damn thing. Either way, there are lessons to be learned along the way. Soak them up. Cling to Him.

Happy New Year, Friends.

XX,

Jenn

 

 

My Favorite Podcasts of 2018

Photo by  Alphacolor 13  on  Unsplash

Photo by Alphacolor 13 on Unsplash

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m a podcast junkie. I listen to at least one, if not two per day; and I take notes on a lot of them. It’s my dream to have my own podcast one day. Maybe 2019 will be the year I start one. I’m praying about it. Until then, I’ll keep listening and doing the occasional podcast interview (here, here, here and here) myself.

Today, I’m sharing the podcasts I listen to regularly as well as my top 10 favorite podcast episodes of 2018. If you’re not a regular podcast listener, that’s ok, we can still be friends; but if you don’t take a listen to THESE podcasts, I may reconsider our friendship.

Happy listening!

1.) Chai Talk Podcast- My friend Jennifer Padilla- Burger is a licensed MFT and shares tangible ways to improve your mental and emotional health and live more intentionally. I honestly have a hard time picking my favorite episode.

2.) The Next Right Thing with Emily P. Freeman- This is another podcast that I have a hard time picking a favorite, but I’m pretty sure Emily’s “Start Before You’re Ready” episode and her episode on looking back are my two favorites.

3.) Pastor James MacDonald podcasts on prayer from 12/6-12/14 have renewed my desire and focus on prayer over the last few weeks.

4.) That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs- Remember God. This is my second favorite podcast of 2018.

5.) That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs- Melissa Radke on remembering the goodness of God.

6.) The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey- Michelle Mckinney on marrying for love and purpose.

7.) The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey- Marshawn Evans Daniels on being bold and believing bigger.

8.) The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey- Ruth Chou Simons on intentional parenting and marriage, teaching culture to children, and how to decide what to post on Instagram. This is my absolute favorite podcast of 2018.

8.) Confessions of a Crappy Christian Podcast- Jeanette Tapley on Community Over Competition

9.) It’s Time for Coffee- Sabrina Sandberg of Peace at Heart Parenting

10.) At Home With Sally- Motherhood: Beautiful by Design

11.) The Fearless Chase- Blake Guichet on working from a place of more heart, less hustle.

Some of my other favorite podcasts include:

This Is Thirty-Five: Four Questions To Discern The Voice of God

Photo by  Allen Taylor  on  Unsplash

Photo by Allen Taylor on Unsplash

Preface: December 2nd was the first day of Advent in the She Reads Truth Advent series. Last night’s scripture reading was from Micah 7:7:

“I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. He will hear me.”

Read on to find out why that scripture on that day was significant…

Yesterday, I gave birth to my blog baby. Nine months ago, I launched This is Thirty Four into the world. Like birthing an actual child, I’ve coddled this website and the dream of a writing career from the day it was conceived. Also similar to an actual child, I made lots of assumptions about what “it” would be like: what I would write about, how many “followers” I would gain, what opportunities I would be presented with.

What I didn’t think of was how the process of writing and sharing my life would change me. Nine months ago I couldn’t have foreseen the way that God would use what started as my desire to achieve and be known to HUMBLE ME and help me understand what it means to FIND MY IDENTITY AND MY REST IN HIM.

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

Nine months ago, I thought I’d use This is Thirty Four to tell the story of my own victory over challenges I’ve faced in life. Yet, during this gestational period, I realized that it isn’t my victory or my story at all. MY LIFE IS A TESTIMONY TO GOD’S POWER, GRACE AND MERCY.

How did I recover from an eating disorder in my early 20s?

BY THE GRACE OF GOD.

How do I live with and fight anxiety attacks as they threaten to steal my joy?

BY FILLING MY HEART AND MIND WITH HIS TRUTH.

How can I cure the ails of perfectionism and stop placing so much emphasis on material things? By remembering that I AM ONLY MADE PERFECT BY HIS BLOOD and EVERYTHING I HAVE IS FROM HIM.

Any story I share is one HE has written.

“He must increase, and I must decrease.” John 3:30

I turn 35 on Friday. What has been one of the most challenging years of my life is finally coming to a close. The past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned this year. Here are two:

I can make plans for the future, but the Lord directs my steps each day.

More of Him. Less of me. In all things.

Can I be honest? I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me 35 years to figure these things out. I wonder if I could have learned these lessons earlier and in another way; but I don’t think so.

We see the blessings God has given us in the good times, but we EXPERIENCE GOD and GROW TOGETHER WITH HIM in our difficulties. The easy seasons of life call us to praise what God has done. The hard seasons show us who God is and how much we need HIM to guide us every step of the way.

I assumed that when the tough stuff ended--when I made it to the other side of my year of “wandering in the wilderness”--I’d emerge with clear direction and renewed focus, both for my writing and my life. I spent months praying for clarity, and God seemed silent.

Sometimes the wilderness can end, but the waiting continues.

The closer I came to 35, the more frustrated I became over God’s silence. Not only would the URL I (poorly) chose no longer make sense (if it ever did), but I could not reconcile the feeling that I was supposed to keep writing with the lack of direction for what to write about.

Until yesterday…

I was cooking breakfast when the phrase came to me:

STYLE YOUR LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT.

Immediately, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and excitement. I paused and reflected on where the words came from. I wasn’t thinking about anything other than eggs at the time.

STYLE YOUR LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT BY KNOWING JESUS, LOVING WELL AND BEING INTENTIONAL.

It even fit with my core values, the things I’m passionate about and what I’ve already been sharing.

And then it hit me: Those words were from HIM. At what felt like the 11th hour, God showed up. On the day of my blog’s “birth,” He answered my prayer for clarity, not just for this website but for my 35th year of life.

KNOW JESUS. LOVE WELL. BE INTENTIONAL.

So how do I know that those words were from God?

To a certain extent, I don’t. We can never TRULY know, this side of Heaven, whether we have heard the voice of God. If we could audibly hear His voice or know with 100% confidence that He was telling us to do something, we wouldn’t need faith. I once heard a pastor say, “On the outside chance I heard God, I’m gonna do what He told me.”

Same here, Pastor.

When I think I hear the voice of God, I do ask myself a few questions. If the answers to these questions are yes, then I (usually) take it as a green light to move in the direction I feel Him leading me.

1.)  Did I pray about it?

2.)  Is what I think I’m hearing God tell me to do in line with Biblical truth?

3.)  Do I feel a sense of peace about what I’m hearing?

4.)  Have other people or life circumstances aligned and affirmed what I’m hearing?

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of questions; and of course, if the decision was about something bigger than the direction to take the content of a website, I would talk with more people, continue to read scripture and PRAY, PRAY, PRAY.

But for now, for this decision, I can confidently say that God spoke, and I am listening.

One more thing before I go…

I mentioned this post on social media last week. At the time, I only had a few lines of it written. Last night, I sat down to write and couldn’t come up with a single word. So it seems, we’ve come full circle.

Any story I share really is one that HE HAS WRITTEN.

“I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.” Micah 7:7

When Fear and Anxiety Creep In: A Resource Guide

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Unlike my other blog posts, most of the words in this post are not my own. The majority of this post is lifted directly from scripture. Some of it is from Tim Keller’s sermon on Peace. Some of it is from Priscilla Shirer’s study on The Armor of God. ALL of it is TRUTH.

On a week when wildfires and mass shootings rocked the state I live in, and my own anxiety has been out of control, the only thing I’ve known to do is to sit at the feet of Jesus. I still have more questions than answers. I think we all do. What I’m learning about life is that HE IS BOTH THE QUESTION AND THE ANSWER. All eyes on Him.

I hope you find these resources helpful.

1.) Peace- Overcoming Anxiety. A sermon by Tim Keller, based on Philippians 4:4-9

Top takeaways:

“As Christians, our three biggest enemies are the world, the flesh and the devil…They cannot pluck you out of God’s hand, but they can make you totally ineffective and miserable by destroying your peace and joy.”

“The opposite of anxiety is single-mindedness (focusing on Jesus).”

2.) The Armor of God study by Priscilla Shirer. The chapter on The Helmet of Salvation is life-giving. The chapter is based on Ephesians 1 and the inheritance of salvation we have been given in Christ.

Top takeaways:

Salvation has the ability to RESCUE us from an eternity apart from God and to RESCUE and RESTORE us on a daily basis by renewing out minds.

“Our God’s salvation is holistic and involves the well-being of the whole person—not just rescuing them but reversing negative circumstances.”

“The helmet of salvation is representative of the high-value items that are ours “in-HIM”—our inheritance in Christ. Choosing not to wear it means leaving our mind exposed, unprotected.”

“When Paul instructed us to "‘take every thought captive” (2 Cor 10:4-5), he employed a ton that expresses continuous, ongoing action. So we must understand that being successful at this endeavor will be a lifestyle, not a one-time event. Taking thoughts captive means controlling them instead of allowing them to control you.'“

Favorite scriptures for the anxious heart:

Psalms 94:19- When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought JOY to my soul.

Psalms 46:10- Be still and know that I AM GOD

Psalms 4:8- I will lie down and sleep in PEACE for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Psalms 62:5- Find rest, O my soul, in GOD ALONE; my hope comes from HIM. He alone is my rock and my salvation.

1 Peter 5:7- Cast all your anxiety on HIM because HE CARES FOR YOU

Colossians 3:15- Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts AND BE THANKFUL

Isaiah 26: 3-4- You will keep in perfect peace Him whose mind is steadfast, because He trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord is the rock eternal.

Psalms 9:10- Those who know your name will trust in you, for you Lord, have NEVER FORSAKEN THOSE WHO SEEK YOU!

The Cost of Connection

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Her name is Ferida. She lives in the Spanish style house at the end of my street with her husband Charlie. They are are both in their 80’s, and Charlie’s health is declining; thus, they don’t participate in our weekly neighborhood curbside gatherings. (Those are a real thing. I live in present-day Mayberry.) Until last week, my relationship with Ferida consisted of the pleasantries exchanged while getting the mail or the happenstance of walking in or out of our houses at the same time.

Last Tuesday night, there were emergency vehicles at Ferida and Charlie’s house. The other neighbors and I discussed the trucks at our Wednesday curbside gathering. None of us knew what happened; and we all agreed that someone should walk over and see if everything was ok. I waited for someone else to volunteer. It was close to dinner time and my spaghetti pie wasn’t going to make itself. More than that, I wondered whether knocking on Ferida’s door would open my eyes to a new person to care for—someone I couldn’t unsee due to our close proximity. Did I have room in my schedule—or my heart—for that?

As a strong two on the enneagram, I’m a helper and a connecter by nature. I pride myself on being able to form deep relationships with people—sometimes to my detriment. I take on too much. I say “yes” because I feel like I SHOULD. I offer to help when I don’t really have the time; and I feel people’s pain deeply. Oh, how deeply I feel things.

I’m getting better about managing my “twoness” as I get older. I’m learning to prioritize the essential over the urgent and giving my family, friends and their burdens over to God, rather than trying to shoulder them on my own. Still, developing a relationship with my elderly neighbors seemed like a step backward in my tidy schedule management as well as a potential tax on my emotions.

Long story short, another neighbor volunteered to check on Ferida and Charlie, and I (in true Two form) walked over to check on them with her. That visit opened the door for a series of visits with Ferida this past week.

As it turns out, Ferida needs very little from me, other than someone to sit shoulder to shoulder with her and help her sort through information and her emotions related to her husband’s impending death. As it also turns out, the heart that I didn’t think was big enough to hold one more person’s pain expanded just a little to let Ferida in. After Sunday night’s visit, Ferida looked at me through tearful eyes and said: “Thank you for helping me process this information. I think I just needed someone to listen.”

*****************

I won’t lie, I woke up yesterday feeling depleted. Not just from supporting Ferida, but from a week—maybe even a couple weeks—full of connecting with people. People I legitimately love. People I would give the shirt off my back if they needed it and who I willingly give my time to. Unfortunately, I think I’ve become so good at connecting with other people that I’ve forgotten how to connect with myself.

In their book, The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath say that connecting with others requires two things: responsiveness (e.g.- validation and caring) and openness (e.g.- vulnerability). I’d add time and availability to that list; and I’d venture to say that the same principles that apply to connecting with others apply to connecting with ourselves (e.g.- self-care). We can’t nurse our own emotionally depleted souls back to health unless we do the following:

  1. Acknowledge the problem.

  2. Understand the cause of the problem.

  3. Make time to fix the problem.

Here’s what this looks like in practice:

1.) Acknowledging the problem: I’m exhausted. I feel like I never have any time to do the things I love because I’m always doing things for other people. (This is pretty much the siren song of Enneagram twos, by the way. Please don’t take pity on me. I’ve done this to myself.)

2.) Understanding the cause of the problem: I’ve told myself that the world—or at least the people in my world—NEED me. That their lives will fall apart if I am not there to HELP them. While I genuinely LOVE helping other people, the problem arises when I start to derive my self-worth from the helping. Lately, I’ve not only derived my worth from the helping, but I’ve become resentful of the very thing that’s “supposed” to bring me satisfaction.

3.) Making time to fix the problem: Notice that I didn’t go straight to “fixing the problem.” For people like me, who value connection, our calendars can be so booked with volunteering and meetings and coffee dates and helping, helping, helping that we often need to clear our schedule before we even have TIME to helping ourselves. For me, making time to fix the problem means making time for myself. Clearing my calendar for a week to do things that I enjoy—for no other reason than the fact that I enjoy them.

Fixing the problem also means connecting with THE ONE who gives me life and remembering who I am in Christ. I am loved, and I am worthy. Not because of what I do or who I help but because I am HIS CHILD. As Brian Frost, the pastor of the church I attended in grad school, once said:

“Jesus, not my productivity, is my justification.”

The older I get, the more I realize that when I take my eyes off of Him—whether that’s by focusing too much on others or on myself—everything falls apart. This doesn’t mean I won’t keep checking in on Ferida or that I’ll stop trying to connect with people I love. It simply means that on weeks like this one, when I feel my body and soul growing weary from all the doing, I need to pause and redirect my focus. The biggest help I’ll ever be to othesr is in pointing them to Christ.

ALL EYES ON HIM.

Finding God Through The Questions

I’ve been struggling lately. With fear and anxiety. With my children and my role as their mother. But mostly, with God. I’m struggling to reconcile the God who created the world and who loved us so much that He sent His Son to die so that we could be rescued and spend eternity with Him, with the God who allowed my friend Sarah’s 12-year-old son to die or who allows two of my close friends to struggle with infertility or who allowed my father-in-law to get stage three Hodgkins Lymphoma.

I question why these things happen. I question why life has to be so hard. Every day, it feels like a new question arises; and the one answer I keep coming back to is HIM. GOD.

HE IS BOTH THE QUESTION AND THE ANSWER.

He is a profound mystery that calls us to have faith in what we cannot see, and yet, He is the most certain thing I know. He is there in death and life and sickness and health. He is I AM.

My 34th year of life has been one of the best and the hardest of my existence. The highs have been high: Starting this website, a summer filled with beaches and lakes and Paris. The lows have been low: death, cancer, self-doubt and fear. As I look ahead to 35 and 2019, so much of what’s to come feels uncharted. Yet God is there. In the midst of the unknown.

He is both the question and the answer.

In my heart, I want a plan. I crave strategy. I think that if I can save enough, obey enough, parent a specific way, everything will be ok. But God is not a God of plan and strategy. He is a God of will and purpose. If the beginning of 2018 was about understanding who I am and what I’m passionate about, the latter part of the year has been about surrendering myself and my passions to God and His design for my life and for this world.

Life is joy and pain, beauty and mess, excitement and confusion. Life is both/and, not either/or; and God is still God in the midst of all of it. When the world seems overwhelming, take heart, He has overcome the world.

Because I am a woman who likes plans and strategies, I also want blog posts—both the ones I read and the ones I write—to wrap themselves up in a nice little bow; but life isn’t like that and sometimes blog posts aren’t either. There’s no good way to end this post, so I will leave you with Ephesians 3:14-21. It’s a passage of Scripture that I have come back to time and again over the past year, both in prayer for myself and for those around me. Wherever you’re at in life or your faith, know this: God is big enough. When we seek Him, He promises to make himself known to us. His love is high and deep and wide—even when it doesn’t feel like it.

He is both the question and the answer.

Ephesians 3:14-21

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

How To Choose The Essential Over The Urgent

Photo by  Alex Geerts  on  Unsplash

Photo by Alex Geerts on Unsplash

It’s officially fall, and the holidays are rapidly approaching. I like to think that “Fallidays” Jenn is the best version of me. I fill my days with all the cozy sweaters, pumpkin spice and festive celebrations that my schedule will allow. I spend time with my people, and I savor every minute.

Starting today.  

Simplify September is over, and as I look back on it, I realize that I didn’t enjoy much of last month. In all of my efforts to help others simplify, I made my own life more complicated and got away from the original mission of what I set out to do.

The goal of Simplify September was to slow down, scale back and take a deep breath; but the components of the project—the daily prompts, the meal plans, the capsule wardrobe and the workbook—left me feeling frantic and depleted.

Yet, I don’t look at Simplify September as a failure. I look at it as a lesson in essentialism.

Too often, we trade the essential for the for the urgent.

Simplify September was filled with “urgent” things like social media posts and photos, not the essentials of encouraging others to be more intentional in the way they live their lives—and demonstrating that quality in my own life.

So how do you differentiate the urgent from the essential? We must know ourselves well.

For me, the best thing to come out of Simplify September was defining my core values. About halfway through the month, when that familiar lump in my throat and heaviness in my chest returned because I was trying to DO ALL THE THINGS, I paused and wrote down what was most important to me: Knowing Jesus, loving others well, living with intentionality and being confident in who God made me.

When you know what’s most important to you, you can start to eliminate the things that don’t fall into those categories and make time for the things that do. But eliminating the urgent and creating space for the essentials doesn’t happen JUST by knowing ourselves and our core values.

Making time for the essential over the urgent requires rest and reflection.

This weekend, I turned things off and tuned things out. I sat in silence—and with my thoughts--on solitary car rides, while washing dishes and folding the laundry. And when I had an extra hour between events yesterday, I chose to talk with a women I barely knew instead of catching up on emails, texts and messages. After a month characterized by posting and responding and consuming, taking time to rest and reflect was life-giving.

This week, I’ll hop back online. I’ll answer the emails, write the posts, share the photos; but I won’t get lost in them. In October, if something feels forced or uncomfortable or if I’m dreading doing it, I’ll take some time to evaluate whether that thing is really in line with my core values and thus, absolutely essential.

While September may not have been the month I envisioned it being, 2018 isn’t over yet. Let’s make our goal for the rest of this year a TRULY SIMPLE one: Know who we are and live by those values.

Living By Faith and Being a Good Sibling: An Interview With My Brother

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Every once in a while, we are fortunate enough to have someone in our lives who always seems to know the right thing to say, who challenges us to be a better person, and who loves us unconditionally, despite having seen us through our awkward middle school days and angst-ridden teenage years. For me, that person is my brother, Fred Hadra.

Nearly four years my junior, I would not characterize our relationship growing up as “close.” We fought over everything and had very little use for each other during our days at home together. As adults, however, we talk weekly, text often; and, just this month, have called each other for advice on multiple occasions. (Somewhere, our mother’s heart is exploding.)

The way my brother and his wife, Teesha, live their lives is a constant inspiration to me. Two years ago, the two of them left their comfortable existence as DINKs (“double income, no kids”) in Atlanta, GA for a smaller, more humble existence in Pasadena, CA. (Think 500 square foot apartment, no car and meager salaries.) Their reason for making this change? They wanted to live a more intentional life that kept them open and available to what God might have for them.

Today, Teesha is finishing up the manuscript for her first book and Fred is two months into starting a non-profit—the Pasadena Community Supper Club—that provides meals and faith-based community service to the poor and marginalized in Pasadena. Below, my brother shares a bit more about their lives, their new endeavors and how their faith plays into every aspect of what they do.

Jenn Prentice (JP): Oh, hello brother dear. Thanks for joining me in this space. Can you tell everyone a little bit about you and Teesha?

Fred Hadra (FH): We are the artists currently known as Teesha and Fred. We have been married for about 2.5 years, during which time we upended our quite comfortable lives in Atlanta, GA, and moved across the country to southern California in order for Teesha to attend school full-time at Fuller Theological Seminary, where she is pursuing her Masters of Divinity degree in preparation for pastoral work, and possible/likely ordination. I (Fred) cheekily refer to my wife as a recovering attorney, pastor-in-training, soon-to-be-published author, ordinary radical, and somewhat reluctant occupier of the limelight.

I have been enjoying semi-retirement for about two years, since moving to Cali. It allows me much more time to practice what I like to call Artisanal House Husbandry  I “work” from home selling podcast advertising to help pay the bills, and spend the remainder of my time sorting out life’s daily detritus, including some cleaning but with a heavy emphasis on and interest in cooking. We recently started a small nonprofit called Pasadena Community Supper Club, through which we prepare and serve community dinners at a nearby low-income housing facility.

JP: You just served your third dinner through the Pasadena Community Supper Club. Tell me more about the organization—how it started and where you are hoping to see it go in the future.

FH: Pasadena Community Supper Club is an outgrowth of friendships formed through the breaking of bread.

Myself, Teesha and our friends Corey, and Brooks (the founders) - together with respective spouses and other friends - met through a weekly church-sponsored community group. It became clear rather quickly that the dinner portion of our time together was an entrée (pun intended) for deep conversations about our shared faith and the call to love one another, particularly the poor and marginalized around the city.

However, a tension arose: how to reconcile the material poverty we saw on the streets with the meals we ate together each week at our community group? While never extravagant, the food we prepared and served to each other required time and disposable income. All our talk finally turned into action, and we started volunteering together through Union Station Homeless Services’ Adopt-a-Meal program. The goal? Serve the same quality of food we enjoyed each week to the shelter's guests.

The conversations, the Adopt-a-Meals - and, yes, the weekly dinners - continued, and gradually the outline of a more ambitious plan emerged. The group, with the support of friends and family, local churches, and other organizations, would put the pieces in place to serve more people, more often.

The Pasadena Community Supper Club officially launched on July 22, 2018, with a dinner and faith-based community service for the residents of Centennial Place, a supportive residence for formerly homeless citizens of Pasadena. The Club’s dinners will continue on the fourth Sunday of each month at Centennial Place, made possible by the generosity of volunteers and donors.

As financial support grows and new opportunities arise, Pasadena Community Supper Club will expand its dinner events to serve more people in the Pasadena and greater Los Angeles area.

JP: In the past three years, you've gone from being DINKS with two cars in a large townhouse in Atlanta, GA to now living off of two partial salaries, with no car in a 500 square foot apartment in Pasadena. How does your faith play into the things you are doing—or not doing—and the way you are spending your money? 

FH: Faith in God’s design for our lives and desire that we serve those around us is the primary motivating factor in our decision making, which included our decision to get married, to move to California, and to do things such as (but we hope not limited to) starting a nonprofit that serves the poor and write books that breaks the chains that bind us and divide us. 

Money is, at root, a faith issue. It’s about trusting God to provide for our needs, even when we also feel led to, say, spend thousands of dollars of our own money to get a new project off the ground. It’s about the courage to not pursue any and every professional opportunity, because while doing so may be lucrative, it may also preclude you from being able to serve the more immediate needs of others to which God wants you to attend. It also means sacrificing your desires - say, to go on a really cool trip, or to buy this or that perfectly legitimate thing - because it’s not the right time. Materially speaking, the greatest sacrifice we had made in the last ~2 years is in not having a car. Essentially that was and continues to be a financial decision, as car payments, insurance, gas, upkeep, etc. are all expensive. It would have torn through our savings at a much faster rate. I’ve partly justified the no-car decision as one of lifestyle. Where we live is walkable, and in many day to day scenarios, driving to run an errand would take as much or more time than walking, and you would have to pay $10 in parking. Presently, it’s looking as though it might be necessary that we get a car in order to facilitate some of the work we’re doing for the nonprofit, but even if we do make that change, our intent will be to look at a car truly as a tool, or as a means, something we use intentionally and not something we use mindlessly or frivolously to engender poor time or financial decisions.

JP: What are your recommendations to people who are looking to downsize? What about people who are making a cross country move? What would you recommend to them? 

FH: My recommendation is not to think about it too much. Just do it, as they say. You will always find reasons NOT to make decisions that force you to feel uncomfortable, but in reality, they will actually liberate you from ways of thinking and being that are holding you back, without even knowing it. As I wrote earlier, selling all your stuff, quitting your job, and moving across the country into a tiny house (or the equivalent) is not the right decision for everyone. And if you’re married, and if you have kids, you have to think about the full range of what that will mean for the futures of the people for whose lives you bear some mutual responsibility. The answer is not always “Do it!” That being said, it’s always worth asking “Why not?” Be brutally honest about what’s holding you back, as well as what’s pushing you into something. Those motivations, the pushes and pulls, may in fact be selfish, or merely silly, but at least you and your spouse or other life stakeholders will know. They probably have their own selfish or silly reasons for wanting or not wanting to do something as well.

JP: Last question. At the end of your life, what do you hope people say about you? What type of legacy are you hoping to leave? 

FH: I want to be remembered as someone willing to sacrifice and do hard things for the sake of others. Life is hard. But we, as followers of Christ, especially privileged ones who have the privilege to think about their lives in terms of significance and legacy, are called to do hard things. Not out of a sense of guilt, though sometimes a little guilt is not a bad thing. So, get a move on. 

******

Last week, Fred and I were talking about what helps the two of us maintain a close relationship. As I mentioned above, we weren’t that close growing up, so developing a strong relationship in adulthood is something we’ve worked hard at doing. While there’s no magic bullet for improving a sibling relationship, we both agreed that 95% of having a good relationship is just about showing up: Talking regularly. Texting back. Making plans to spend time together—and actually doing it.

To be honest, my brother and I don’t actually have that much in common; but what we do share is a deep love for one another and a belief that at the end of the day, family is one of the only things you’ve got. Once we started being intentional about our relationship, finding common ground became easier.

I realize that some sibling relationships are beyond repair; but for those of you who don’t have much of a reason why you’re not close with your brother or sister, I’d encourage you to give them a call today and start putting in the time and effort to grow closer. I promise you won’t regret it!

Simplify September: Week Four Meal Plan

Photo by  Randy Fath  on  Unsplash

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Hard to believe, but we’ve reached week four of Simplify September. Of all the things I’ve done for this month-long project, the meal plans have been the easiest. Sitting down and planning my family’s weekly menu is something I do every Sunday, so sharing it with all of you is just an outgrowth of something I’m already doing.

Here is this week’s dinner menu at the Prentice household:

Simplify September Week Four Meal Plan

Sunday- Slow cooker white chicken chili. Whole 30 approved, though I usually add some rice for my husband and children.

Monday- Skinnytaste Turkey Burgers with Zucchini. I eat it bunless on a bed of lettuce with a sprinkle of feta and some balsamic vinegar drizzled over the top. I’ll serve it with a baked potato and brussel sprouts or broccoli. (Short cut carrots for the oldest, picky tiny human.)

Tuesday- Tacos. Everyone knows this recipe…or at least I hope you do. I eat taco salad instead and occasionally (read: EVERY TIME) indulge in chips and salsa.

Wednesday- Paleo/Whole 30 Salisbury Steak Meatballs and Mashed Potatoes. I have never made this recipe, but it looks delicious and fairly simple. Count me in. I’ll throw in some green beans for veggies.

Thursday- Paleo Buffalo Chicken Casserole. Again, never made this one, but the recipe had me at Franks Red Hot Sauce. I’ll serve it with a salad. The boys probably won’t eat this one, so I will make them my lazy kid-friendly meal of bean burritos, fruit, carrots and cherry tomatoes.

Friday- Homemade pizza. I usually do one pizza with tomato sauce and one with pesto sauce; and I buy the frozen cauliflower pizza crust from Trader Joes for myself and top it with pesto, chicken, bacon and a smattering of shredded parmesan.

Saturday- Sausages (I either buy Applegate Farms or Aidells), sweet potato and/or regular fries (frozen, from Traders) and broccoli or salad. I will be gone most of Saturday. This is the laziest meal I could think of.

For more recipe inspiration, you can follow me on Pinterest. Thank you, again, for coming along on Simplify September. It’s been an honor and a joy to do dinner with you!

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: Billy Warner's Story

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I met Sarah Warner earlier this year at the RISE conference. Ten minutes into our first conversation, we realized were both from California (the conference was held in Los Angeles, but people came from all over the world); and Sarah asked if I could give her a ride home.

Despite the fact that I was raised to NEVER give a ride to strangers, I didn’t hesitate to say yes to Sarah’s request. (You can read a bit about our ride together and what Sarah taught me here.)  

In August 2017, Sarah and her husband, Mike, lost their 12-year old son Billy to cancer. Sarah’s story is one of hard, unfathomable things. Things that no mother should ever have to endure. But her story is also one of strength, resilience and dignity in the face of extreme pain. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Over 15,000 children in the US are diagnosed with cancer every day. Nearly 1,800 children in the US will lose that fight each year. For as far as we’ve come with cancer treatment, we still have a long way to go.

Today, Sarah is sharing her story and her son Billy’s cancer journey. The outcome is not pretty, but Sarah and her family are making something beautiful of their lives despite the destruction that cancer has left them. This interview is very real, raw and personal; and it’s such an important read. Hearing statistics about childhood cancer is one thing. Reading someone’s personal encounter with the disease is quite another. I’m humbled that Sarah shared her story and her son Billy’s life with me and with all of you.

PS- If reading Billy’s story is triggering to you in any way, you might want to skip down to the last few questions when Sarah addresses how to love, help and talk to someone dealing with cancer and the death of a child. She also shares the best way to support Childhood Cancer research.

Jenn Prentice (JP): Hey Sarah, thank you so much for being here and sharing your story. Will you tell everyone a little about yourself.

Sarah Warner (SW): My Name is Sarah Warner, I live in Sonoma County, which is also known as “Wine Country” in Northern California. I’m mama to 2 boys, and I’ve been with my best friend for just shy of 20 years. We joke that his sister brought me home to him in high school. I’m a wedding planner who’s owned my own business since 2013. I also do part-time bookkeeping. This works really well for me because the hours never conflict. I get to take my kids to school and then go to work. Then I’m off in time to pick them up, and I start working on my business at night... Or at least that’s the plan.

JP: You and I had the opportunity to get to know one another at the RISE conference. We actually shared a ride home, and you so graciously shared your story with me. Can you share a bit of your story with the people reading this blog? 

SW: Our family is big into Boy Scouts. In May 2016, we had just come home from a hike with Scouts, and I watched my son Billy (who was 11 at the time) undress so we could look for ticks. I noticed how angular he had become, and I asked him to step on the scale. He had gone down in weight to 74 lbs. He was 94 lbs in December.

 We made an appointment with his doctor, who worked up some blood work and did a chest X-ray. Everything came back clean. We went back a week later and he had lost another 5lbs. More blood work and scans were ordered; and those came back clean too. So, we started a waiting game of getting into see specialists and other doctors. It was taking months, and during that time, Billy’s joints and abdomen started hurting. He didn't feel like eating. He was tired but managed to rally to go to school and scouts. 

At the urging of my boss’s wife, on a Monday morning, I drove him to the ER at UCSF children's hospital. Within 6 hours, they were fairly sure it was cancer, they just weren’t sure what type. He was immediately admitted him into the hospital. They did a pet scan and found a tumor on his spine. They did a biopsy on it and confirmed that it was cancer--stage 4 neuroblastoma.

This is a cancer normally found in babies. Only 4% of diagnosis are in kids over the age of 10. Billy was 11. That Friday we started his first round of chemo; and thus began a very long, horrendous medical journey for Billy and for our family.

He did four rounds of chemo and had a reaction to every one of them. After four different chemos, they determined it wasn’t killing the cancer off fast enough. Som they started three rounds of antibodies. They told me those would be hard. They didn’t tell me that the first day, I would question everything about being a parent. I thought I signed Billy up to be tortured. While they try to find the right combination of painkillers and the correct infusion rate, Billy was having intense nerve pain; and just when I thought that was over, the swelling started. Again, Billy had reactions to EVERYTHING, but after three rounds, it looked like he only have one small point of cancer left.

JP: So, this was in November of 2016? And at this point, it was looking hopeful.

SW: Yes, in November 2016, he had major abdominal surgery taking out most of the tumor, his left adrenal gland and several lymph nodes. I didn’t know this would be the turning point. There was more cancer than had shown up on the MIBG scan, some of his cancer would only show on a PET scan. The surgery left Billy unable to eat more than just a couple bites, which was devastating because he was an adventurous foodie. This time we didn’t leave the hospital for a month, and then we only left for his brother’s birthday and Christmas. The around the clock care was just too much for us to do at home.

The next step was to do a stem cell transplant to kill off the remaining bit of cancer. With a stem cell transplant, the first step is a very rigorous chemo that kills your immune system—both good and bad--completely. The slightest cold could have killed him.

JP: So what did that mean?

SW: It meant a stay in the hospital for over a month. It meant not seeing his brother for six weeks. Unfortunately, the scans after transplant showed the cancer growing back; and we were forced to turn to palliative care and radiation to shrink and ease the pain of the cancer near his occipital, hip and back.

But this is what I need people to know: During Billy’s journey, every time he was discharged, we made the most of the time we had out of the hospital.  We took trips to Southern California to visit family and have fun at Legoland and Universal Studios. We went to New York for a Make a Wish trip. We made Hawaii happen. He flew in helicopters and biplanes. He skydived indoors twice.  He swam with dolphins, snorkeled with turtles, went to magic shows. He ate crazy things, rode in limos, camped in a safari, learned about science. He played games with cousins and played in the sand.

Billy LIVED! Billy pushed us to LIVE.

A few people didn’t understand why I “made” Billy go do all these things. They were actually mad at me for doing all the things we did. But I wasn’t dragging Billy to have all these adventures. When one was done he’d look at me and ask “Where are we going next?” He wanted to go to as many national parks as possible, and my community rallied to make these moments happen for us. IT. WAS. HARD.  It was a lot of planning to travel with a sick child. It was terrifying to think I might need to take him to an ER I didn’t know; but I wouldn’t trade those memories for the world.

JP: Unfortunately, Billy passed away in August of 2017. You just marked the one year anniversary of Billy's death. I know you guys do a lot to keep his memory alive. Can you talk about that and what you did this August?

SW: Billy Died 10 days before his 13th birthday. Mike and I decided that in his honor we would have an adventure in that time frame every year. This year we went to New Zealand and had a Billy sized adventure.  We went on a luge. My husband jumped off a cliff and swung with our monkey that travels with us as our Billy mascot.  Shea (our youngest son) rode in a Shark scuba that jumps 18’ out of the water. We ate all kinds of fun things and tried doing new things. We learned about the local animals and even went to a Scout meeting.

JP: Can you talk about this past year. What has gone through your mind and your heart? 

It’s been a really hard season. Starting in June with his friends graduating from middle school, and then, in the midst of his birthday and Angel-versary, those kids started high school. I’m so glad I get to see them doing that, but it also kinda rips my heart to shreds. 

Too much has gone through my mind: How unfair it all is. How unlucky we were to get dealt this card but also how grateful we are for our amazing community.Things that you wouldn’t guess have been triggers. Shea broke his collarbone, and just going to the ER is like asking for a panic attack. I won’t go to San Francisco for networking events or really anything, because that drive just reminds me of going to the hospital and induces anxiety.

And then there are our friends who are still living with cancer. I know when they have scans, and I feel like I’m holding my breath for results. I’m overjoyed when those results come back negative, but I’m also sad that we never got that journey. 

People tell us we need to go to therapy, but nothing can fix this. They don’t have magic tools to make this easier. Don’t try to fix us. Just be with us as friends. Listen. There’s this circle I shared to try to get people to understand what we are going through.

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I don’t have it in me to console anyone but Mike or Shea--and even that is a stretch some days. 

JP: What are some things that people said to you while you were dealing with Billy's illness that were or were not helpful? What are some things that people did that were or were not helpful? 

SW: I found early on that I would tell my community what I didn’t need to hear. (Don’t tell me about your oils/diet.) We had a Facebook group, and I asked them to post jokes, cute animal stuff, or babies photos--all things that made Billy smile. It became a group people loved to go to smile, or so I’m told. Sometimes all I needed was someone to cuss with, someone to send an emoji so I knew I was heard.

JP: What about after Billy passed away? What are some things that people said or did that were or were not helpful?   

SW: My friends who just sat in bed and watched TV with me were the best. Dinners that weren’t casseroles or bag salads were treats. Don’t get me wrong, I love casseroles. I just can’t eat that for a month. Friends who took/take my youngest son to school were amazing, because mornings are the hardest for me. Friends who understand that I want to be invited to do things but who also understand that I might cancel or cut out early because I don’t have the spoons (look up spoon theory) that day are also appreciated. 

JP: How can people who are hoping to help with childhood cancer research get involved? What are some of the best organizations to donate to? 

SW: There are so many ways to help:

Host a lemonade stand, benefiting Alex’s Lemonade Stand. 

Buy gifts from organizations that give back like Love Your Melon. 

Give blood. It is so needed. Nationally, there is a shortage; and kids like Billy really do need it. 

Give money for your birthday. I personally love Family House San Francisco. it was our home away from home. We lived there for 18 months. I hate to think what it would have been like to try to get care so far from home. 

My biggest platform: Give to your local research hospital. For us this means I want research money to go to UCSF pediatric cancer research. 

Contrary to popular belief, St. Jude doesn’t take every child. They use protocols researched elsewhere. Don’t make families feel dumb for not going there. I had a well-meaning friend of the family try to tell me I should move Billy’s care there, so we didn’t have to spend so much time fundraising. My friends were the ones fundraising. Being states away from our family would have been exponentially harder; and there were no open trials for Billy’s cancer. 

Finally, more than just research, you can give money to camps like Camp Okizu where oncology kids, siblings and families can go and have the emergency care they might need and be around others who understand the lingo and emotions is huge. Especially for the siblings. They get the short end of so much. Their parents are often gone for so much. Their sick sibling gets all these cool gifts and trips, meanwhile their world has been turned upside down. I’m glad Shea gets to go to this camp. 

JP: Sarah, I can’t thank you enough for being willing to share your life with me and everyone reading. I have one last question: At the end of your life, what legacy do you hope you leave behind? What do you think would make Billy the most proud? 

SW: At the end of my life I want people to say I was a good friend and I want my son to know he was loved. I want him to know how to live in the moment and to be kind because you don’t know the journey someone else caries in their hearts. I want my Scouts to remember my love for my boys, and my dedication to having an adventure. 

 

Simplify September: Week Three Meal Plan

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We are halfway through Simplify September, and I’m gonna be honest. I think this project was more for my benefit than anyone else. I have learned a lot about myself, what I’m capable—and not capable—of doing and what’s important to me over the last few weeks. One thing this project has confirmed: I enjoy cooking. I’m not a gourmet cook, but I enjoy it; and I love sharing what I make with other people.

My Simplify September Week Three Meal Plan is below. Once again, it’s MOSTLY gluten and dairy free and ALMOST Whole 30 compliant. It’s also quick, easy and heavily reliant on a crock pot, because while I love cooking, I don’t like spending a lot of time and energy doing it.

As with everything Simplify September related, I hope this makes your week a little easier. Enjoy and remember to send me your favorite recipes!

Simplify September Week Three Meal Plan

Sunday: Flank steak salad. No real recipe here. Just cook the steak to your liking. (I personally prefer medium rare sauteed in butter, garlic, sea salt and cracked pepper.) Then, cut in thin strips and serve over lettuce and all your favorite veggies. Add blue cheese or feta if you desire. Balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dressing!

Monday: Fennel Sausage Soup from Whole 30 Fast and Easy. Don’t be put off by the fennel. This is one of the best soups I’ve ever made!

Tuesday: Slow cooker sesame-orange chicken from Against All Grain. The Instapot version of the recipe is on Danielle’s website. The slow cooker version is here. Served over a bed of frozen cauliflower rice from Trader Joes.

Wednesday: Braised chicken in artichoke-mushroom sauce from Against All Grain. I’ll add a side of broccoli and baby carrots to up the veggie quotient.

Thursday: Slow cooker BBQ chicken sandwiches with brussel sprouts (more short cut carrots for my picky oldest child) and baked potatoes. Again, no real recipe for this. Just cover chicken in water in a crock pot and cook on low for 4 hours. Toss in your favorite BBQ sauce, melt cheese on the buns if you like. I eat it without bunless.

Friday: Spicy Avocado Shrimp Stacks from Skinnytaste. I. AM. OBSESSED.

Saturday: Spaghetti (zoodles) with frozen meatballs and jar sauce from Trader Joes and salad. Because it’s Saturday, and you’re allowed to phone it in.

Simplify September: Week Two Meal Plan

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We made it to week two of Simplify September. While I'm not that excited about the whole Capsule Wardrobe thing (follow me on Instagram for updates on that), I AM LOVING the opportunity to connect with so many of you as we learn to slow down and focus on what and who matters most to us. 

Sunday is my grocery shopping day. I usually go around 7 or 8 p.m. because the stores have cleared out by then, and I can put my earbuds in, listen to a podcast and power through my list. Here's what I'm cooking for dinner this week. I'm three days in to a very lazy Whole 30 (think one drink per week and the occasional half of a muffin), so most of these recipes are Whole 30 compliant! 

You can follow me on Pinterest for more recipe inspiration; and here's the link to the week one meal plan in case you missed it! 

Simplify September Week Two Dinner Menu

Sunday: Rotisserie Chicken with salad and sweet potatoes. Because Lazy Whole 30 and Lazy Sunday. 

Monday: Salmon with rosemary fingerling potatoes and green beans

Tuesday: LEFTOVERS! Both the chicken and the salmon come from Costco and, thus, are huge. The boys start Awanas on Tuesday night, and we have to be out the door by 5:30. Leftovers just make sense. 

Wednesday: Cilantro Lime Chicken Skillet. I'm putting this over cauliflower rice, which I am only mildly sure my children will eat. I'll also cook a plain chicken breast for the oldest tiny human, because, if you read the Week One Dinner Menu post, you know he is anything but adventurous when it comes to food.

Thursday: Pizza night! I have a friend coming into town this week. We're going out for a girl's night on Thursday, where I will surely enact Lazy Whole 30 status and have the aforementioned drink...or two. The boys get frozen pizzas. 

Friday: One Skillet Shrimp and Broccolini. I will not use the gelatin listed on this recipe. I'm positive the broccolini will turn out fine without it. This is the one weekly meal that my children will NOT eat. So, I'll "cook" them my "default meal" of bean burritos, short cut carrots and avocado. 

Saturday: Ground Turkey Brussel Sprouts Skillet. My children will eat the deconstructed version of this (plain turkey meat, peppers, avocado). 

Happy Sunday and Happy Eating! 

 

What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do

This isn't a post I want to be writing. This definitely isn't a place I want to be in; but I'm here, and I'm writing. I learned a long time ago that the difficult seasons of life are easier when let others in. I also believe that the hard stuff is all for naught if we fail to learn from it and share those lessons with others. This post is my attempt to make sense of a difficult season of life...while I'm still in the middle of it. 

A few months ago, I felt as if the Lord was preparing my husband and I for something hard. I thought maybe "the thing" we were preparing for was to homeschool our oldest child this year. After a lot of prayer, we decided to put him in full-day kindergarten. That wasn't "the thing." Then, I thought "the thing" might be the lump I found in my breast in June. That was benign. It wasn't "the thing" either.

And then someone very close to us got sick. Very sick. Night sweats, metallic taste in mouth, fatigue and weight loss sick. Unlike the lump and the homeschooling, this was "the thing." It was (is) Hodgkins Lymphoma. And so, our family has entered a season of life characterized by chemotherapy and doctor visits and test results and uncertainty. So. Much. Uncertainty. 

When I was younger and something bad happened, my dad would go into "crisis mode." In crisis mode, dad took care of the logistics of the situation as well as our family. He was calm. He was strong. He was the glue that held things together and assured my mom, brother and I that everything was going to be ok...even when it wasn't. 

I am the opposite of my father. I run from crisis. I fall apart. I want someone else to handle it. 

I'm learning that there are times when it's ok to fall apart and there times when we have to be the glue. Right now, in this season, I feel God calling me to be the glue. And yet, because my default "crisis mode" is to fall apart, I'm not entirely sure how to be the glue. So, what do you do when you, quite frankly, don't know what to do?

You let go.

Of trying to control the situation. Of worry over the situation you can't control. Of anger that you are in the situation in the first place. Of unnecessary commitments and responsibilities (because when one part of life is complicated, it's important to simplify in other areas). The reality is that we cannot always control the path we are forced to walk in life; but we can control our response to the challenges we meet along the way and find peace in the journey. 

True peace doesn't mean the absence of chaos, but rather a deep sense of calm, harmony and wholeness in the midst of the storm.

True peace is feeling an incomprehensible stability and confidence when everything around you is unsteady and confusing. True peace can only be found in Jesus. Which leads me to point number two. In seasons of life when you don't know what to do,

You run to God. 

As one who runs from crisis, you'd think running to God would be my first inclination. I assure you, it is not. All too often, when running from crisis, I run to the things of the world that will bring me immediate pleasure or distraction: Shopping, Netflix, reading, talking with a friend, a good glass of wine. These things, in and of themselves, can be good things; but when used at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons, they are all destructive.

In crisis, a wise person runs to the name of the Lord. Who God is. What He has done. What He promises. 

Finally, in seasons of life when you don't know what to do,

YOU MUST KEEP GOING.

Sometimes inch-by-inch. Sometimes carrying other people--or at least their burdens--on your back. You move forward because you realize that life doesn't stop just because you or someone you love is hurting. Life is fun and hard and beautiful and painful...often all at once. You must use the good times to fuel you through the bad; and you MUST KEEP GOING. 

But here's the good news. You were never meant to keep going alone. Rachel C. Swanson, one of my new favorite authors and podcasters says: "It's easy to shut down in our weakness instead of investing in God's strength." Ephesians 3:14-20 is my absolute favorite passage of scripture these days. I send it to everyone I know who is going through a tough time; and I read it daily. I'm going to write it out here because I think writing and reading scripture is the most important way to get TRUTH to sink into our hearts and minds: 

"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory, he may grant you to be strengthened with power through His spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen." (Ephesians 3:14-21)

Friend, I don't know what season of life you're in. I hope it's a fun and beautiful one. But if it's not, know this: I'm right there with you. I'm praying for you. And YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

 

Simplify September: Week One Meal Plan

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Before I share the Simplify September meal plan(s), you need to know this: I am not a food blogger or an exceptional cook. I enjoy cooking, and I don't suck at it; but I am very, well, SIMPLE when it comes to meal planning and grocery shopping. The Simplify September meal plans are merely an extension of who I am and how I cook. I will LITERALLY be buying, cooking and eating all the things I'm sharing with you over the next 30 days. 

Most of the meals are dairy and gluten free...except the occasional pizza night...because that's how my family and I eat most of the time. The meals are also, mostly kid-friendly. My oldest child is a VERY PICKY EATER; and I hate modifying my meals for him. So, I try to cook meals that he will eat or that have at least a few elements that he will eat. 

I will post a new meal plan every Friday.

The meal plans only cover dinner.

If you're wondering what I eat for breakfast and lunch, here ya go...

Breakfast: I eat a smoothie, a Cashew Cookie Larabar or eggs with wilted spinach, avocado and bacon for breakfast every day of the week.

Lunch: I eat a salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dressing almost every day of the week. A lot of days I go out to lunch with a friend. Some days I skip lunch altogether. This is a bad habit that I am trying to break.  

Here's the Simplify September Week One Meal Plan

Sunday: White Bean Chicken Chili with crushed tortilla chips and salad. Recipe is the third one down on this link. 

Monday: Mexican Haystack Rice bowls. I don't eat the rice. Recipe here. 

Tuesday: Chicken Caesar Sandwiches (I eat the chicken on a bed of lettuce) with broccoli and baked potatoes. Recipe for sandwiches here. Favorite broccoli recipe here. 

Wednesday: Crock Pot Pork Chops, salad and bread. (I don't eat the bread, but my husband and children do.) The pork chops are my mom's recipe, and they are literally the easiest thing in the world.

Here's the recipe: Mix 1 cup flour, 1 TBL garlic salt and 1 tsp ground mustard together in a ziplock bag. Coat pork chops and cook on skillet for 3 minutes on each side til lightly browned. Put pork chops in crock pot & cover with 2-3 cans of chicken and rice soup. Cook on low for 4-6 hours. 

Thursday: Salmon Bisque. The recipe is here. I don't add in the flour, and I use coconut milk instead of cream.

Friday: Hamburgers, sweet potato fries, salad. My husband makes the burgers using the sous vide method. I buy frozen sweet potato fries from Trader Joes. I eat my hamburger on a bed of lettuce. 

Saturday: Spaghetti and meatballs with zoodles instead of noodles, salad. I buy the frozen zoodles from Trader Joes, the frozen meatballs from Trader Joes and a can of spaghetti sauce from Trader Joes because SIMPLIFY SEPTEMBER. Admittedly, my family is not fully on board with the zoodles, and I often end up making them some actual pasta. Can't win em all, folks. 

**NOTE** My youngest child will eat the salmon bisque, but my oldest won't touch it. My default meal for my oldest, when he won't eat what I'm making, is a bean burrito with carrots and cherry tomatoes. (Those are the only two vegetables he eats. And yes, I know tomatoes aren't vegetables.)

**ANOTHER NOTE** Neither of my children eat salad. So, I give them the elements of the salad that they will eat: carrots, peppers, avocado, cherry tomatoes. 

I truly hope these meal plans help Simplify September for you. If you have a recipe you'd like to share with me, send me an email! I'm always looking for inspiration! And, if you want to see more of my favorite recipes, you can follow me on Pinterest