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.

grief circles.jpeg

 

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

 

Simplify September: Calendar and Details

Photo by  Steinar Engeland  on  Unsplash

In less than 24 hours, it will be September 1st. Because I am a planner--and I think many of you are too--I'm posting the details of the Simplify September project TODAY! That way, you can hit the ground running tomorrow morning! 

The whole point of Simplify September is to make our lives less complicated. Things tend to get busier and busier during the last few months of the year. Simplify September is a way to slow down, scale back, clean up and figure out what's really important to you. That way, when the holiday season hits (believe it or not, it's just around the corner), you'll know who, what and how to prioritize in order to spend as much time as possible with the people who mean the most to you. 

There are five elements to the Simplify September project: 

1.) The 30-day Simplify September calendar (posted below)

2.) The Simplify September Meal Plans. Week One here. Week Two here

3.) The Simplify September capsule wardrobe

4.) The Simplify September reading plan (more info below)

5.) The Simplify September workbook (more info below)

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO ALL THESE THINGS.

You can do some of them. You can do most of them. You can do none of them and simply follow along and see what other people are doing. Pretty much everything in the Simplify September project can actually be done during any month of the year. 

 The Simplify September 30-day calendar is at the bottom of this post. 

Each week on the calendar, we take on a different area of life. In week one, we clear the physical clutter. In week two, we calm the mental chaos. In week three, we simplify our schedules; and in week four, we work on our relationships. Some of the items on the calendar repeat themselves. That's because they are REALLY THAT IMPORTANT. If you find one suggestion extra helpful, try incorporating it into your daily, weekly or monthly routine. 

On Sundays, we meal prep and reflect.

Every Sunday, I will post a new meal plan--with recipes. The meal plans will be updated weekly. Week one is here. Week two is here

I will also take time to reflect on the previous and upcoming week; and I encourage you to do the same. I've created a workbook for each week that includes questions to help you with those reflections. 

If you want the Simplify September workbook and weekly encouragement from me in your inbox, sign up for the Simplify September email list below. 

You can find information about the Simplify September capsule wardrobe here. This includes links to most of the items I'm wearing next month. 

And finally, the Simplify September reading plan is so simple that it doesn't need it's own post: Simply read one chapter from the book of Proverbs every day for the next 30 days. There are 31 chapters in Proverbs, so you'll have to read two chapters one day this month. That's it.

One more thing before you go...

In addition to my Tuesday Truth (Tuesday mornings at 7 a.m. PST on Instagram Live), I'll be doing some bonus Instagram Lives throughout the month. I'd love to have some of you join me on those Instagram Lives to talk about the Simplify September project and what you're learning through it. Send me an email and we can try to set up a time for a LIVE CHAT!  I'll also be using the #simplifyseptember hashtag when I post something related to the project on Instagram. Feel free to tag your Simplify September posts with the same hashtag! 

Everything about Simplify September is supposed to make you feel more calm, more organized and more present for the people and things that matter. If something in this project makes you feel stressed out or frazzled or anxious or not good enough, DON'T DO IT! 

I'm so excited to calm the chaos in our minds, relationships, time and possessions with you! Let's Simplify September together! 

Simplify September Calendar

This calendar was designed by my friend  Amy at Amy's Art Table . 

This calendar was designed by my friend Amy at Amy's Art Table

It's Time For Coffee: A Talk About Intentionality, Change and Not Shopping For a Year

it's time for coffee jenn prentice.jpeg

In May, my friend Jeanette emailed me to ask if I'd be a guest on her podcast, It's Time for Coffee, to talk about This is Thirty Four, and my year without clothes. At the time, I was only three months into blogging and one month into my year without clothes. I wasn't sure I was cut out for blogging. I didn't know if I'd be able to keep up this no buying clothes or shoes or accessories for a year thing; and I definitely didn't feel qualified to do a podcast interview. Still, I knew that nothing good ever comes from d 

Fast forward to today. I've been blogging for nearly half a year. I'm four months in to a year without clothes; and the podcast interview I did in June is LIVE TODAY. Listening to the podcast was almost an out of body experience for me. Jeanette is a gifted podcast host and editor, who somehow captured the essence of who I am, what I value and why I'm writing and not shopping and doing Simplify September (even though I had no idea when I recorded this interview that I would be doing Simplify September). 

My goal is to make (almost) everything I write, do and say be encouraging to those around me. It's my hope that in addition to hearing more of my heart on this podcast, you also come away encouraged to live the life YOU want to live and be a better steward of the relationships--and the things--you already have in your life. 

You can listen to the full interview here and you can also listen to it--and read the show notes--on Jeanette's website

Thank you for listening. Thank you for encouraging me in my writing and year without clothes and so many other things over the past few months. This community of people I'm surrounded by means more to me than I ever could have imagined. 

On Fall Fashion Trends and Dressing Confidently with Style Thief Fashion's Erin Stoll

Photo by  Pete Bellis  on  Unsplash

Photo by Pete Bellis on Unsplash

I met Erin Stoll of Style Thief Fashion five months ago, and the experience changed my life. Ok, maybe meeting Erin alone wasn’t life changing, though she is pretty fantastic. Erin and I met at Rachel Hollis’s RISE Conference. Going to the conference, soaking in wisdom from Rachel and the other speakers and meeting an AMAZING tribe of women who have now become REAL LIFE FRIENDS has made a huge impact on my life and this website.

Erin is hilarious, real and so freaking adorable. I knew we’d be friends from our first conversation. Thanks to the magic of social media, we talk weekly—sometimes daily—even though she lives in the Midwest. Watching Erin rock her fashion styling and wardrobe editing business (while working full time for Special Olympics and being a wife and mom) is a huge encouragement to me to keep pursuing MY dreams, despite how busy the rest of my life might be.

Today, Erin’s sharing her favorite fall trends, the five pieces you MUST have in your wardrobe at all times and how she edits women’s EXISTING WARDROBES to help them feel more confident. I know you’re gonna love Erin as much as I do by the end of this interview…

Jenn Prentice (JP): Oh hey, friend. Thanks for chatting with me. First thing is first, tell everyone about yourself.

Erin Stoll (ES): Why is this the most difficult question? I am so many things! I will narrow it down to this: I'm a wife, mama, lover of people and shoes. I live in Omaha, Nebraska and I love coffee and chocolate…probably too much! 

JP: We met in April, only a few months after you launched Style Thief Fashion. Since then, I’ve watched you and the business BLOOM. You just hosted a styling session with Evereve, and you’re headed to Omaha Fashion Week. Tell me more about Style Thief Fashion and what inspired you to start it.

ES: I have loved fashion my whole life. As a teenager, I read Vogue and tried so many trends (some good and some that were so SO bad). It took me a long time to find my style; but through trial and error, I eventually discovered it. Basically, I would see a look in a magazine and think "I have a dress like that and I could find a similar shoe and add some jewelry." I figured out how to put my own spin on the trends I saw while staying true to what worked for me. Eventually, friends started calling me and saying "Hey I'm going on a date and I don't know what to wear!" or "I want to come borrow your dress, shoes, jewelry." I loved helping them find the perfect outfit.

I had the idea to start a blog when blogging first became big, but I talked myself out of it. I thought: "Why would anyone listen to me? Other women have blogs like this. It’s already been done." You know, all the things we say to hold ourselves back. But then I turned 40, and I felt fearless! Around Christmas of 2017, I had friends at my house for a solid week, asking for my help styling them for their holiday party, holiday getaway, etc. I thought: I could do this ALL DAY. So, I decided to go for it, and I launched Style Thief Fashion in January of 2018.

JP: Where did the name come from?

ES: The name Style Thief came from the idea that I would "steal" looks I saw in magazines, on Instagram, etc. but still make them my own. With my business we are essentially taking away your old look and finding a new you. 

JP: I love that tagline because it feels easy and accessible; and I think a lot of women feel intimidated by fashion and trying to stay “on trend.” What’s your goal with Style Thief Fashion?

ES: My goal is to help women find their unique style and feel confident, no matter what. I’ve struggled with my weight and accepting my body since I was young. Growing up, I would put on outfit after outfit trying to find the perfect thing and end up in tears on my bedroom floor. I’m a lot more confident in myself now—though I definitely still have my days. I want to encourage women that no matter what their size, no matter what is going on in their life, they can feel amazing in their clothes and their bodies when they understand what works for them.

JP: How does the styling process work?

ES: It's important to me that each client I work with focuses on who she is TODAY. We start by clearing out the "clutter"--physically and energetically. I know it sounds "woo woo," but women tend to emotionally hold on to clothes that they used to wear because of a memory attached to them. Or they hold on to clothes because they reflect a size they want to be again. I firmly believe that your wardrobe should reflect you NOW. When we find what works for your body, your lifestyle, your job, your life NOW, you aren't clinging to the past or waiting for the future. You are embracing who you are and that is the path to finding your true style.

JP: Yes, yes, yes!!!!!! I could not agree more with everything you just said. So, let’s dig into that a bit more. How do you think clothes impact our lives as women?

ES: I think clothes have a tremendous impact on women—even if we don’t want to admit it. How many times have you had a great day then you put on a pair of jeans and they feel tight? Or you go into a dressing room and your "normal" size doesn't fit? Or how much money have you spent on an outfit you don't really like but you wear it to fit in with the moms at school, or you want to look "on trend"? While we shouldn't let the size of our jeans or finding the perfect outfit have so much control over our mood, we can't deny that when we have on an outfit that fits our body, is comfortable, or makes us feel powerful, we can take on the day-whatever that looks like for you. When you know your unique style, you can get dressed without all the other drama getting in the way. If you know that when you open your closet you LOVE everything inside and it ALL fits, you can move on and focus on your family, your career, your relationships--the REALLY important stuff!

JP: This is why I’m doing a Simplify September Capsule Wardrobe. Less time worrying about clothes. More time for other things. Speaking of September and clothes. What are your top five fall trends?

ES: Only five? Ok. I can do this…

1.) A great fitting pair of dark or black denim. While I still love a distressed jean, this Fall a clean pair of dark or black denim will take you from the soccer game, to work, to date night.

2.) A (faux) leather jacket. I also love the look of a moto jacket for fall. It can be dressed up or down. 

3.) A blazer. Menswear inspired blazers are big this fall! Herringbone, tweed and plaid are all great choices. Keep the color neutral and the fit slightly oversized. 

4.) A black boot. Something like the classic Chelsea boot will go with jeans, dresses and skirts; and you can find a version of it to fit your budget almost anywhere!

5.) Prints! I would choose a button down shirt in one of the following: plaid, animal print or floral. All 3 prints are big and can be worn in countless ways. Choose your favorite and rock it with all of the above. Or pop a print in a dress, shoe or jacket. 

JP: What are your top five wardrobe staples?

ES: This is easy! 

  1. 1. Denim Jacket. It will always be the number one item on my list
  2. 2. Black Dress  
  3. 3. Chambray Shirt
  4. 4. Three pairs of jeans (I know I'm kind of cheating here!) A distressed boyfriend jean, a clean darker denim, and a lighter wash. 
  5. 5. Basic tanks and tees in White, grey, black and a stripe. 

If you have all of the above, you can build SO MANY outfits! 

JP: Well, I gotta say I’m breathing a sigh of relief. I have everything you recommended in my closet, which is good since I’m not buying any new clothes, shoes or accessories until next May. Let’s shift gears again. Two more questions, both a bit more serious. You have daughters. What do you hope they know and understand about clothes and their bodies and how are you trying to model that through your work? 

ES: Whew! Girl this is THE question right here. Well first I want them to love and accept their bodies, and I know the best way to do this is to model this behavior for them.  I still struggle with this some days. It is a journey and I'm still on it! I focus on what their bodies can DO not what they look like. I also let them pick out their own outfits! They know what they like and I love watching them express themselves with their clothes. 90% of the time its not an outfit I would choose for them. My oldest literally throws on whatever is clean, and my five year old would wear a tutu and sequins every single day! But if they feel great, that is what matters! We'll see if I'm still feeling this way when they are teenagers!

JP: Last question. I’m asking everyone I interview this one. At the end of your life, what type of legacy do you hope to leave?

ES: I hope they say that I made them laugh and that I had the best shoes! Ha! No, but really, I want the people I work with and the people I love to know that I believe in them. I want them to feel as though I inspired them to embrace who they are. It took me so long--WAY too long--to do that for myself. So I want to give women permission to embrace who they truly are, and help them find a way to express who that is through their clothes. I want my family and friends to know that I love them FIERCELY and that its never to late to find your inner badass! She's in there!

JP: So where can people find you and get in touch? 

ES: I'm on Instagram at . They can also email me at stylethieffashion at gmail dot com.

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Simplify September: Capsule Wardrobe

Photo by  Alexandra Gorn  on  Unsplash

It’s now October 2nd. The capsule wardrobe experiment is over, and I could not be happier. I have included a few updates that I made to the Simplify September capsule wardrobe below. Here are my final thoughts on capsule wardrobes in general:

  • If you like fashion or variety, a capsule wardrobe is probably not for you.

  • If you have a well-edited closet already, no matter how many pieces you have in it, a capsule wardrobe is not for you.

  • If you live in a place without discernible seasons (ex: the Central Coast of California, where it could be 85 degrees one day and 65 degrees the next), a capsule wardrobe is not for you.

  • A capsule wardrobe is meant to simplify the “getting ready” process. If, at any point, doing a capsule wardrobe feels stressful then A CAPSULE WARDROBE IS NOT FOR YOU.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Confession: Being a fashion blogger is top three on my list of dream jobs. You get free clothes, an excuse to take selfies and a rabid fan base that thinks you look good in just about anything. Count. Me. In. 

The problem with fashion blogging, is the materialistic world in which it exists. Having things and looking a certain way in those things have always been my achilles heel, and being a fashion blogger would only feed that beast. Ironically, I've come closer to my dream of fashion blogging in the last three and a half months of NOT buying clothes for an entire year. The beauty of posting outfit selfies while not buying clothes for a year is that it removes (most of) the materialistic aspect from the equation; and that's what I'm hoping the Simplify September Capsule Wardrobe will do too. 

In case you missed it, my Simplify September project kicks off September 1st. It's a month-long project to go from chaos to calm the last few months of 2018 (or at least the month of September). Because I'm not shopping for a year, I created the Simplify September Capsule Wardrobe (which I'm releasing today so you have time to create one of your own) with items I currently have in my closet. While I linked some similar items below (not affiliate links), the goal isn't to make you feel like you need to purchase something.

The goal of the Simplify September Capsule Wardrobe is to show you--and myself--that WHAT WE HAVE IS ENOUGH. No article of clothing, pair of shoes, handbag, NOTHING can truly make us feel more confident in who we are. Sure, material possessions can give us a temporary high, but until we understand that who we are RIGHT NOW, THIS MOMENT, FLAWS AND ALL, is enough, we'll keep trying to fill a hole that simply can't be filled with the things of this world.  

Ok. Enough soapboxing. Here's how the Simplify September Capsule Wardrobe works: 

1.) Pick 30 items, including shoes, handbags and accessories but excluding pajamas and workout clothes to wear for the month of September. (Sidenote: When I wear workout clothes, it's because I am headed to the gym. I shower and change almost immediately afterwards. If you are into the athleisure trend, then workout clothes will need to be included in your capsule wardrobe.)

2.) Wear those 30 items--and only those 30 items--during the month of September. 

3.) Post your outfits on Instagram using the hashtag #SSCapsuleWardrobe. 

Here's what my Simplify September Capsule Wardrobe looks like: 

IMG_7172.jpg

Here are the principles I used to create it:

1.) Pick items in the same color families. 

2.) Choose items that will transition easily from day to night or work to play. 

3.) Decide what items you love and what you can live without for a month. For instance, I can use the same tote bag and minimal accessories for 30 days, but I need a variety of shoes. 

Other things I considered when creating a capsule wardrobe: 

1.) The weather 

2.) Upcoming activities and events 

Finally, here are some of my favorite items from my personal Simplify September Capsule Wardrobe: 

1.) Longchamp Tote Bag (mine is gray)

2,) Leith Tank Dress (color: tan)

3.) Billabong Sea the Sun Kimono

4.) Backless mules

5.) BB Dakota Faux Leather Jacket Update 10/2/18- I swapped this for a basic black top to wear on girl’s nights out. More versatile, and the weather didn’t end up being as cold as I thought it was going to be at night last month.

6.) Loft Boyfriend Jeans

7.) Distressed Black Jeans

8.) Striped cardigan

9.) Black bodysuit tank top

10.) Black maxi skirt - **Update 10/2/18- I swapped this for another pair of jeans.

I'll admit, I'm a bit nervous about this whole experiment. September weather where I live can be anywhere from high 80's to low 60's, so figuring out what items to include in my personal capsule wardrobe was a bit of a stretch. Still, I'm committed to showing you guys--and proving to myself--that I can get by on less and still feel confident in who I am!

Comment below if you're joining the Simplify September Capsule Wardrobe challenge, and let me know one item you're planning to wear! 

***8/21/18 UPDATE***

Some of you asked about the rest of the items in my capsule wardrobe. Here they are: 

11.) Graphic tee (You can design your own here!!!!)- Update 10/2/18- I swapped this for a more versatile blue button down shirt.

12.) Black v-neck t-shirt

13.) White v-neck t-shirt

14.) Tan Peep Toe Booties (similar here

15.) Cole Haan Sandals (similar here

16.) Black Peep Toe Booties (similar here) - Update 10/2/18- I swapped this for my favorite green jumper. I wear it all the time and should have included it in my capsule wardrobe initially. 30 days without wearing it would have been a BIG MISTAKE.

17.) Gray tank top

18.) Denim jacket

19.) Statement belt

20.) Cropped dark wash skinny jeans 

21.) Striped bell sleeve shirt (similar here)

22.) Gold Statement Earrings (similar here

23.) Basic gold stud earrings (similar here

24.) Lightweight black blazer (similar here

25.) Denim shorts

26.) Off white cardigan

27.) Gray circle cardigan sweater (similar here

28.) Off white tank- Update 10/2/18- I swapped this for a pair of statement earrings. Turns out, I DO like wearing a variety of accessories.

29.) Knit pullover sweater (similar here

30.) Floral shell tank top (similar here

Simplify September: How to Live Like It's Summer All Year Long

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It's only the second day of school, and I can already feel the chaos that comes along with the last few months of the year creeping in. I can smell the pumpkin spice and see my calendar filling up with field trips and meetings and holiday parties. My mind is racing with questions like whether I filled out that form or when I should sign up to volunteer and what to make for dinner, or the bake sale, or the hundredth day of school celebration.  I can see it on other people's faces too; and I hear it in their voices when we talk about going "back to school" and stepping into "a busier season." 

Oh summer, where art thou????

In summer, whether in reality or perception, things seem to slow down. We stay up later. We go on vacation. We linger over dinner al fresco. Then we reach the end of August; and whether you have school age kids or not--but especially if you do have children--something shifts. Something in us becomes busier, more schedule oriented and, honestly, more stressed out as we approach the end of the calendar year. 

But what if it didn't have to be this way? What if the start of school simply meant a different schedule, not necessarily a more hectic one? What if the dawn of fall and the end of the calendar year meant having a few more months to do the things we love and more reasons to spend time with our loved ones? 

At the start of summer, I set three goals:

1.) Slow down

2.) Spend time with people I love

3.) Love others well

I loved how those three things centered my focus and my days these past three months, so much so that I intend to keep them as guidelines for my life for the rest of the year. And I've devised a plan to keep myself accountable those goals and help all of you live a less chaotic life for the remainder of 2018...or at least the month of September. 

I'm calling it the "Simplify September" project (#simplifySeptember for those of you who want to follow along on Instagram). Starting September 1st, I'll be doing the following:

  • Posting weekly challenges that help you simplify your time, possessions, relationships and mind
  • Sharing a calendar of 30 things (one for each day) that you can do to live more intentionally
  • Creating a This is Thirty Four Facebook Group where you can go to find encouragement and chat with others about how you're focusing on calm over chaos in September and for the rest of 2018

If you're like me, however, you hear about a challenge like Simplify September, and you want to GET STARTED RIGHT NOW. Good news! You can...on Monday! 

Part of Simplify September will be creating a capsule wardrobe for the month. If there's one thing my Year Without Clothes has taught me, it's that when we simplify our wardrobes--and the amount of time we spend thinking about our wardrobes--it frees us up to do SO MANY OTHER THINGS. Since capsule wardrobes actually take a bit of pre-planning, I'm created a post for Monday, August 20th that explains what pieces I'm putting in my Simplify September Capsule Wardrobe, why I chose them and where you can find those items if you want to create a similar capsule wardrobe. 

I hope you'll join me in the Simplify September Project--not because I want more blog traffic or Instagram followers or Facebook friends, but because I truly believe that life is too short to be lived in a constant state of chaos. Let's take back our time, stress less about things that don't matter and create more space for the things that do. Let's Simplify September together. 

 

On Mental Health Awareness and Being a Crappy Christian: An Interview with Blake Guichet of Magnolia Ink

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Can I be honest? I struggle with social media. I vacillate between feeling inferior and alone because it looks like everyone is doing something infinitely more awesome than me or feeling like I'm part of the problem. On an Internet where people only the show the highlight reel of their lives, it's rare to see someone whose feed--and whose life--is beautifully honest. 

When I think of my friend Blake Guichet, those two words come to mind: BEAUTIFULLY HONEST. One look at her Instagram feed (@thegirlnamedblake), and you'll know I'm right. Blake is both beautiful and honest. She's also a talented writer, a mental health advocate and a self-proclaimed "crappy Christian." And did I mention that she's hilarious??

Blake and I connected through the RISE conference, and though we didn't get the chance to meet face-to-face, I felt confident enough in who she was as a person (and in her amazing graphic design skills) to ask her to re-design This Is Thirty Four. Every interaction I've had with her over the past few months--and everything I've seen her post on social media during that time--has only confirmed that Blake is as real deal. 

Blake's Instagram feed offers daily encouragement to me to be more intentional (you know I love that word) in the way I'm living my life. Her heart for Jesus and for others shines through in everything she writes. So, read this interview and be encouraged by Blake's words; and then go follow her on Instagram. You'll thank me later! 

Jenn Prentice (JP): Hey Blake! Thanks for doing this interview. For those that don’t follow you on Instagram (but will after this interview), tell them who you are.  

Blake Guichet (BG): I’m a born and raised Louisianian, like in the “never lived anywhere else” sense. I graduated from LSU in 2011 with plans to move very far away and begin my career as a writer/speaker, but God had other ideas. I met my now husband, Jeremy, about two months before I graduated, fell head over heels in love, and kept my roots right where they were. We got married a year later, had our first daughter, Pacey, a year after that, and our second daughter Elliot two years after that. We’ve packed a lot of life into the last seven years, but it’s pretty dang beautiful.

So now I’m a work from home mom wearing a lot of hats – business owner, graphic designer, writer, sometimes-blogger, and I’m sure a whole bunch I’m forgetting. But I love it. I love our life, and I’m thankful that God’s plan is always better than our best-laid ones.

JP: Well, from my perspective, you are rocking each of the hats you’re wearing, especially Magnolia Ink. Tell me more about your business.  

BG: Magnolia Ink is my branding and website design business, officially born in July of 2017, but it had been kind of lurking in the background in an unofficial sense for years before that. My number one priority in my business is using my abilities to enable other business owners to move forward towards their dreams with a brand and a web presence that accurately represents them.

JP: From working with you on the redesign of This is Thirty Four (thank you for that, by the way), I know that you have a well-oiled process for designing people's websites and branding. How did you develop that process? Or maybe a better question is: what lessons did you learn early on that led you to develop such a great process?

BG: This question cracked me up because my process is built exclusively off of trial and error. I did (& still do) a lot of “business” things wrong, have to learn lessons the hard way, & put policies in place to ensure they don’t happen again. But I definitely love where my process is now. My two week turn around for a brand and a website is really attractive to a lot of people because it enables me to focus on one client at a time and give them the attention and product they deserve. My business is super automated so that I spend minimal time on the small stuff and maximum time on the things I love and with my people.

JP: You have a beautiful blog yourself, but you recently took a step back from blogging. Can you talk about that and why you chose to step back?

BG: Honestly, I felt like God was telling me to. Is that a super Sunday school answer? I just started to feel like the blog isn’t where I needed to be putting my energy. So I stepped back and asked Him how he wanted me to move forward, knowing He’d be faithful to funnel my desire to serve Him with my words and thoughts to something else.

JP: So, what does rest and simplifying and scaling back mean to you right now?

BG: It means keeping my heart in check above everything else. It’s asking myself “why am I doing this, what is my intention? Is it to achieve and to feel better about myself, or is it to glorify the kingdom and use the gifts God gave me?” It feels weird to say that encouraging and challenging others is my “gift,” but I’m learning to lean into that a little more. I recently launched an email campaign where people can subscribe, and I’m sending out a weekly email with everything from Biblical insight to my favorite bra, and everything in between. It feels like a perfect middle ground between blogging and nothing at all. It’s much more personal and more private, but still a huge way to connect with people and continue building a community.

JP: Speaking of connecting with other people, one of the things that I think a lot of people can connect with you on is mental health. You're extremely open about mental health and the importance of managing your mental health. Can you talk about your own struggles and some of the things you've learned?

BG: I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Clinical Depression when I was 20, and it’s taken me about nine years of walking through life with those disorders before I started really openly talking about it. But the biggest thing I’ve learned is that pulling the things that Satan wants to be left in the dark - our struggles, the things he can pin us down with - that’s where the power is. Pulling that stuff into the light and declaring that Jesus already has victory over them, that’s when we win. Because then we get to join in with each other and stand next to our sisters and brothers and then no man is an island.

JP: You have a list of resources for people who are struggling with anxiety/mental health issues. Talk about that and how people can get access to it.

BG: Yes! I put together Through the Waves: Prayers & Verses for the Anxious Heart honestly as a resource for myself at first, but as I cultivated it and really leaned into using it, I realized so many people could benefit from it as well. So you can find it on my blog at https://www.thegirlnamedblake.com/home/through-the-waves

JP: I think pretty much everything I write starts out as something I need to hear and then ends up as something I share with other people in the hopes that they might benefit from it too. I know your resource guide is touching a lot of people’s hearts and minds and helping them in their journey.

 Let’s lighten things up a bit.  You are such a fun person to follow on Instagram because you are so freaking funny. What role does humor play in managing anxiety/mental health?

BG: Hah! This question made me laugh out loud the first time I read it. I don’t know if I’m funny as much as I am painfully honest, but I think sometimes that translates to funny. I absolutely have had to learn to laugh at myself & my circumstances. I honestly use sarcasm as a bit of a defense mechanism, sometimes to a fault (ask my husband). But being able to allow things to roll off your back and have a snarky comment to go with it makes life a little less heavy and can make it feel like the walls aren’t always closing in.

JP: And speaking of funny, you want to write a book, potentially entitled "Confessions of a Crappy Christian." I would read that book. I feel like that describes my life...or at least my journal entries..can you talk about your faith, the role it plays in your life and what it means to be a "crappy Christian"?

 BG: I think that’s going to end up being the official title of the book because so many people identify with it. I know some Christians will probably be highly offended by someone describing themselves as “crappy” in their faith, but my heart and prayer for this book are that not just Christian women are reading it. I want people who have heard about Jesus but are maybe turned off by this idea of perfectionism and holier-than-thou believers to pick up the book  and see someone who loves Jesus more than anything, telling the story of how often they get it wrong, and how much Jesus still loves them because of it.

JP: Yes! Yes! YESSSS! I think that’s a message we all need to hear, regardless of where we’re at in our faith journey. Well, you know me well enough by now to know that I could talk to you for hours. BUT, I am going to end the interview with the question I ask everyone: At the end of your life, what type of legacy do you hope to leave?

BG: Dang. This is a good one. My first thought is my girls. I want my legacy to be two strong, deeply rooted, on fire for the kingdom women who are consistently rocking the boat and confident in who they are in Christ. I want people to remember me as someone who made them feel a little less alone in their day to day crap, who challenged them to be the best version of themselves and maybe made them laugh along the way.

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