Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best of 2015

If you've been following along for a while or if you know me IRL, you know that this year was one of great change for me. It was one of the craziest, hardest, most beautiful years of my life, and I won't ever forget all that 2015 brought me. Here in this sweet space, I came back to writing and have loved connecting with readers-old and new. This little collection is a glimpse back at the best of 2015:

Back in February, I wrote about Singleness as a wrap-up to a couple posts I wrote in 2014:

On Singleness, Part III.

Then in April, I got engaged! So in May, I wrote about our proposal story:

The Proposal.

And in July, right before we got married, I wrote out our whole love story:

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Why I Love Rory, Our Special Day.

Then, everyone and their mother was asking me THE QUESTION: "How's married life?" So I wrote about with real talk here:

On Marriage So Far, The Monster in My Mind, The Monster in My Mind, Part II, The Best Marriage Advice.

In December, my Advent devotional series was featured on the Glow: Live as Light website, which was a huge honor and blessing.

5 Day Advent Devotional

And last but not least, I started a fun new series highlighting some of the most amazing women I know called Sisters of Influence. You can meet them here:

Kai Dickson, Shaylynn Cherry, Hannah Hussain, Cortney Norris, and Teresa Robison.

2015 was an amazing year, and I am so very excited to see what 2016 holds! I've got so many ideas and plans in mind, and I hope you'll stick around to see what happens. Thank you for reading, friends, and Happy New Year.

{all images via Elissa Ewald Photography}

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My 2016 Book List

Y'all, it is no secret that I love to read. Reading has always been a hobby of mine that has had a bit of an ebb and flow in recent years. As a child, I loved to read fiction books because I could get lost in a story and pretend that I was one of the characters. However, as an adult, I have come to love non-fiction, because it is easy for me to relate to the author and learn from them in a way that applies to my life. If you want to join me, use the hashtag #weread2016 to show me what you're reading and share some good reads with others! One of my goals for this year is to read one book a month. I've got a few books that I am finishing up that I need to work on, but these are the books I'll be reading for sure this year:

Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity by Jen Hatmaker
Hands Free Life: Nine Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More by Rachel Macy Stafford
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown
Undaunted: Daring to do what God calls you to do by Christine Caine
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
Thirty One Days of Prayer for the Dreamer and the Doer by Jenn Sprinkle and Kelly Rucker
You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis and Lisa Chan
Wild and Free: A Hope-Filled Anthem for the Woman Who Feels She is Both Too Much and Never Enough by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan
Restless: Because You Were Made For More by Jennie Allen
When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
Simply Tuesday: Small Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily Freeman

Here are the books I'd like to finish:
Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations about Sexuality and Spirituality by Debra Hirsch
Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids by Jack Klumpenhower
True Identity: Do You Know WHO and WHOSE You Are? by Jennifer Brommet
What Every Bride Needs to Know: The Most Important Year in a Woman's Life by Susan DeVries and Bobbie Wolgemuth
Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than Happy? by Gary Thomas
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lammott

And finally, here are the books I'd like to sneak in if time allows:

The Lipstick Gospel: A Story About Finding God in Heartbreak, the Sistine Chapel, and the Perfect Cappucino by Stephanie May Wilson
God for the Rest of Us: Experience Unbelievable Love, Unlimited Hope, and Uncommon Grace by Vince Antonucci
A House in the Sky: A Memoir by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Prayers for New Brides: Putting on God's Armor After the Wedding Dress by Jennifer O. White

Monday, December 28, 2015

#sistersofinfluence: Teresa Robison

Well friends, today I get to introduce you to quite a gem. :) Teresa Robison and I have been friends since high school. We are such kindred spirits, and we jokingly like to refer to ourselves as the same person. Our personalities are so similar, and we have many of the same struggles. Teresa is an amazing woman. She is kind, thoughtful, and one of the best listeners you'll ever meet. She is funny and hard working. She and her husband serve others and give so much. I want to be like her when I grow up. :) I know that what you read today will encourage and strengthen you. 

I like to call them Ken and Barbie. I mean, look at those faces.
Tell us about yourself. Who are you?

Hello cyber world! I live in Rome, GA with my super incredible and fantastically attractive husband. I grew up in the suburbs of Kennesaw and Marietta and moved to Rome, Georgia for college. I graduated from Berry College and then went back to school to get my Paralegal certificate. I absolutely love Mexican food and anything pumpkin, maybe not pumpkin Mexican food though....I love Big Bang Theory and HGTV binge-watching.  My husband and I are actively involved in our church here in Rome and try and get our hands in anything and everything we can. We love going to new places together.

How did you come to know the Lord?

When I was twelve years old, I was a part of the G.A.s at my church (Girls in Action). My mom was one of our leaders and teachers. On one of our weekly Wednesday night meetings, my mom presented the gospel in such a way that made me yearn for a relationship with Christ. That night when we got home, I asked my mom to go over everything again and pray with me to ask Jesus to forgive me of my sins and that I was going to follow him the best way I knew how from that day forward. For the next several years I continued on with what I knew to be the "right" way to do things and continued to be a part of my church and youth group activities, almost as if I was going through the motions. It wasn't until my sophomore year of college that I realized what a relationship with God was all about. My world was rocked with sickness, surgeries, heartbreaks, depression, a college major I despised, and I kept trying so hard to do it on my own. That time in my life is when I TRULY relied on the Lord to get me through. When everything else was out of control and I felt so alone, the Lord sweetly whispered, he was there with me and I didn't have to have it figured out! Life changing time for me. Control is a huge issue I have and when you feel out of it (control) you realize you never really had it in the first place. I was making myself exhausted trying when all I had to do was surrender.

What do you think it means to be a woman of influence right where you are?

For me, in my relationship with my husband, a woman of influence, OH MAN. Marriage is a mirror. I've learned so much about myself, and frankly not good things. I am so selfish, I am whiny, I get hangry, I like things done on my time, this list goes on. My husband, he's incredible. He loves me without condition. Just like Christ loves the Church. It's a beautiful picture of love and grace. A woman of influence, DAILY praying that my marriage is a picture of that type of love and striving to reciprocate a small percentage of what my husband gives to me. As a Christian, daily we choose to follow Christ. It's a choice, a conscious effort...marriage, the exact same. In my job: a woman of influence: I am a family law paralegal. I work for an attorney who specializes in divorce work. I have an incredible opportunity to show our clients love and respect when their safe place (home) is not giving that to them. I think we are given opportunities to show Christ's love in any and all aspects of our lives. It is our choice if we choose to take that opportunity and flourish. We don't have to "go" anywhere to be influential. Our relationship with God and His love for us is not measured by our success. We don't create a resume for God to look at for Him to decide if we are "good enough".

Maybe I answered the next question in the above response...

What is the best piece of marriage advice you've been given?

DANG just ONE??! I'm gonna cheat...

Be careful with whom you allow into your guarded relationship. Speaking negatively of your husband in public allows people into your relationship and portrays an inaccurate picture of the beauty of your marriage. Misery loves company right? One negative comment can spiral out of control and then you go home upset and angry at your spouse for something they didn't even do?!

Be generous about your spouses' intentions. Appreciate the intent, assume the best.

AND, learn your spouse's love language but give room for the fact that it can change and be flexible and open to that.

What is your favorite verse or passage of Scripture?

2 Corinthians 5:21: "For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ". That pretty much sums up the Gospel if you ask me. Christ did it all!

What is one truth you want others to remember and cling to?

Be self-aware. Know who you are in Christ and reflect on what that looks like everyday. Allow a small, close, group to keep you accountable of your actions and how you affect those around you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, allow that to be the catalyst in how you live everyday.

{Elissa Ewald Photography}
And last but not least: coffee or tea?

COFFEE with a little almond milk or vanilla creamer :) 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

My Favorite Christmas Movies

I absolutely love Christmas, y'all. It is just such a sweet time of year. People are giving, there are beautiful lights everywhere, and the music, food, and quality time with friends and family just cannot be beat. One of the ways I love to celebrate this season is by watching my favorite Christmas movies. It was hard for me to narrow it down to my top ten, but alas, here they are!

Miracle on 34th Street
This movie gets me every. single. time. I mean, I'm not the biggest proponent of Santa Claus since Jesus is the reason for the season, buttttt this movie is just so sweet.

The Preacher's Wife
This movie is one that my family watches together every year. And by my family I mean the women of the household. It's so cute and funny, and Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston (R.I.P.) are just magical together.

The Family Stone
This. movie. is. incredible. Such an amazing cast, a beautiful story, and so many tears. Every time.

White Christmas
I am a sucker for a good musical, and a Christmas musical is almost too much for me to handle. I actually hadn't seen this movie until recent years, but it has become a favorite of mine.

The Holiday
Incredible cast. Hilarity. Tears. Sweetness. Beautiful soundtrack. A modern classic, if you will.

You sit on a throne of lies!

Little House on the Prairie: "A Christmas They Never Forgot" and "Christmas at Plum Creek"
The. best. My children will watch this show.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Gut-busting laughter here, folks.

Home Alone
You can't go wrong here. Keep the change, ya filthy animal!

It's A Wonderful Life
Although this is a classic film, it was not one that I grew up watching. However, it is by far my favorite Christmas movie. In fact, I just watched it twice in one week. The story is incredible, and it is just one of those feel good films that makes you so grateful and happy inside.

What are your favorite Christmas movies?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Tuesday Ten: My Favorite Christmas Songs, Vol. II

Y'all, I love Christmas music so. much. So I decided to compile a list of my favorite Christmas songs, volume 2! I've also put together a playlist of this list and volume 1 on Spotify, so feel free to give it a listen. :)

1. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Judy Garland
 There are so many versions of this song, and I don't think there's one that I dislike. This version, however makes me think of The Family Stone, so I love it.

2. "The Christmas Waltz" by Frank Sinatra
Again, classic.

3."Be Born in Me" by Francesca Battistelli
One of my favorite things to think about during this season is the thoughts and feelings of Mary. How did she deal with bearing the Savior of the world? This song so beautifully expresses her heart.

4. "Holiday Made for Two" by Dave Barnes
Super sweet and romantical, plus you can't go wrong with Dave Barnes

5. "Carol of the Bells/What Child Is This?" by Point of Grace
We sang this in church on Sunday, and I was just so overcome with emotion thinking about the fact that our Savior came to earth for us. It boggles my mind, and I don't want to ever get over it.

6. "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" by Johnny Mathis
"And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again"- best line ever.

7. "Don't Save It All For Christmas Day" by Avalon
Anyone else remember Avalon? Are they still around? Dang they were good. I love how this song encourages listeners to remember the Christmas spirit all year long and not to just save up all your good-doing and giving for December.

8. "Where Are You Christmas?" by Faith Hill
This song makes me feel things. Moving from the innocence of a child to the hustle and bustle of adult Christmas is hard, but there are still so many things to savor in this sweet season.

9. "Please Come Home for Christmas" by The Eagles
The Eagles, y'all. What more can I say?

10. "I'll Be Home for Christmas" by She and Him
Because what is more Christmas-y than being "where the love light gleams?"

Honorable mention...
"Same Old Lang Syne" by Dan Fogelberg
"All I Want for Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey
"Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays" by *NSync

Monday, December 21, 2015

#sistersofinfluence: Cortney Norris

Y'all, today I have the privilege of introducing you to one of my oldest and dearest friends, Cortney Rae Norris. Cort and I met when we were wee wittle high school babies at Piedmont Baptist Church. Her dad was a pastor at our church, and we both sang together on the praise team in our youth group. We. go. way. back. Leading worship with her is such a sweet memory, and we will still jam out together when we can. :) She did all of the music for our wedding and #killedit. Not only is her voice amazing, but she has a beautiful heart. The Lord has used Cortney in my life as a source of truth, encouragement, and constancy. She is a true and loyal friend, and she loves Jesus in such a pure and beautiful way. I know you will be encouraged by her story today!

Tell us about yourself. Who are you?

Hey everyone! My name is Cortney Norris and at this moment while I am writing this, I live in Aiken, SC. That may sound strange, but I am currently in a huge transition in my life. So a little bit about me... (By the way, I am giving Jessica the permission to use this on a dating website...hahaha) Well, I am 28 years old and I am a worship leader. I am originally from Texas, a former college athlete, and I was a teacher and coach for 3 years. Then the Lord did something in my life on June 29th, 2011 at 3 pm that I will never forget- I was called into full-time vocational ministry. In May of 2012, God called me to begin and build the Modern Worship service at Millbrook Baptist Church in Aiken, SC. Couple of things here: 1. I am a woman 2. I am young 3. This would be in a Southern Baptist Church 4. In South Carolina. (long pause) If you have ever been asked by the Lord to do something insane, then please keep reading and we can be crazy together!
I served for 3 years at Millbrook and it was the hardest but most rewarding season in my life thus far. (I have 5 tattoos to prove it.) In September, God asked me to step out in faith away from Millbrook-- no job lined up-- but He simply asked me, "Would you do anything that I ask of you?" Needless to say, I am taking one day, one moment, and one breath at a time. When the Lord asks us to walk by faith, He means for our lives to be in complete desperation and direction from Him every moment. To be Spirit-filled and to be Spirit-led every day. As I am writing you, there have been certain doors that have opened up, but I cannot tell you that it has been easy. What I can tell you though is that the Lord provides and it is rewarding to follow His voice each day. If He does not speak, sit still and worship. When He gives the next step; surrender, obey, and worship again.

How did you come to know the Lord?

I grew up in a Christian home and it was pumped into me since I can remember. When I was 13 years old, I came home from my first youth camp and pretty much was scared that I would go to hell, so I transparently tell you that I accepted Christ more out of fear at that moment. My fear was genuine and I really did not want to be separated from God, but when I got into college, God began to teach me about having a love relationship with Him. I would take it a step further though and say that in the past 3 years, God has crushed and torn down so many former ways of thinking of self-righteousness and legalism.

What do you think it means to be a woman of influence right where you are? 

The fact that God gives us the opportunity to be someone of influence in a godly sense is a miracle to me. The Gospel is very clear about how there is nothing good inside of us but that Christ is the complete reconciliation between us and God. He lives and breathes and moves in and through us. I think that being someone of influence is capturing that with a heart of humility and allowing His Spirit to live out in all that we do.

How does the Lord allow you to shine His light through leading worship? 

Eeeeish... such a hard question to answer. I will answer it this way... I want each of you to embrace the fact that you are a worship leader right where you are. Crazy thought, huh? I know, you might be saying, "Cortney, I do not sing on a stage." My friend, worship is a lifestyle and if you think that the few of us who lead from the stage can teach the whole world, you are wrong. If you are a mom, you are teaching your kids to worship something...whether that be Jesus or something else. If you are working in a coffee shop, you have the power to influence those around you to love and follow Jesus. In saying all of that... if at any point in time, you think that you deserve to have the calling on your life, know that the Lord cannot shine His light through you. His glory and His light shine most radiantly when we clear the stage of our ego and we stand on the platforms in our lives with humility; knowing that there is nothing we can do to deserve to be placed where we are. At that moment, He uses anything and everything for His glory. The beautiful, the ugly, and the broken. That's grace.

{Elissa Ewald Photography}

What is your favorite verse or passage of Scripture?

1st Corinthians 15:10: "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect." I have learned that the older I get, I do not have anything figured out. But the deeper I go with Christ, I surrender to the fact that He does. I am nothing without Him nor could I ever aspire to be. The more I see my sin, the greater I see Christ's power in His death and resurrection.

What is one truth you want others to remember and cling to? 

Truth: Coffee is the key to living an energetic lifestyle for Jesus!!! (It's true...) I want each one of you to cling to the fact that God is for you... He is not against you. And my prayer is that in your worship to Him, you feel freedom in being His!

And last but not least: coffee or tea? 

If you asked me this question a hundred times, it would remain the same: Coffee.

Monday, December 14, 2015

#sistersofinfluence: Hannah Hussain

Today I get to introduce to an old friend who is someone I get to see quite often- she's in our couples' small group! Many of the friends I have introduced you to so far are friends who are far-away, but this friend is just on the other side of town. Hannah and I have an interesting friendship story. She and I both grew up in Marietta and were friends with the Neese family. The Neese family attended our church, and the Hodges (Hannah's family in Marietta) were neighbors with the Neese family and all shared many childhood memories. When I went to school at UGA, my friend Ali Neese (now Ali Hatley) told me all about a girl I just had to meet. Enter Hannah. She and I both attended the UGA BCM (Baptist Collegiate Ministries) and hit it off pretty easily. Hannah is one of four girls, I have one sister, the Neese family has four kids, three of which are girls, and Hannah also has two cousins that moved to Marietta in high school. Needless to say, we had some fun times together through college on holiday breaks. We made some pretty infamous music videos (if we are friends on Facebook you can find them there. You're welcome.), ate a lot of cheese dip, and rang in many new years. Hannah is an amazing woman, and I am so glad that I get to introduce you to her today! 

Tell us about yourself. Who are you?
Hi everyone! My name is Hannah Hussain. I am 28 years old and I live in Athens, Ga with my husband, Nick and our cat, Ivie. We love Jesus and our church family. I am also still getting used to the fact that I will be a mother to a little human in June of 2016! I teach 8th grade English/Language Arts in Clarke County. I love to read, write, and be outside as much as possible. I will explore any hiking trail any time-- rain or shine! I just helped to start an Ultimate Frisbee team at my middle school, and that's one of my favorite things in life right now.

How did you come to know the Lord?
My dad is a youth minister, so I was literally raised IN the church... I'm pretty sure there were some weeks growing up that I spent more time there than I spent at home! However, over-saturation of church comes with its own costs, namely that I struggled to have assurance in my faith as my own and not just the repetition of words and stories and songs in my head. I asked Jesus into my heart at a Chili's restaurant when I was 7, but my journey of knowing the Lord has extended my entire teenage and adult life. In high school, I didn't believe that God would love me even when I made mistakes, and I believed that I had to be perfect all the time to earn his love. I had a breakthrough at a summer camp (cliche', right?) my junior year of high school when I admitted to my mentor that I wanted to give up my drive to be perfect all the time so that I could lean on the grace of God.

In college, away from the church that raised me, I encountered a myriad of conflicting influences. I tried to attend every campus ministry at once, and couldn't find a place that felt like a church home. I made friends in my dorm who didn't have the same values as I did, and while I didn't engage in harmful behaviors, I wasn't filling my mind with godly things. I felt off-center and confused. I continued to try different things to get that "feeling" of being a Christian back, all the while not actually maintaining my relationship with my savior. I worked at a Christian summer camp and started dating my future husband, but I still wasn't really in the center of God's will. It wasn't until the summer after my junior year of college, during my 3rd summer of working at camp, that I was able to be broken enough to really understand my adult need for Jesus to be in charge of my life. I still fight God often and try to take control of my life, and he gently and patiently guides me back into the comfort of his will. I am reassured by Proverbs 3:5-6 that if I trust in Him and "lean not on my own understanding," that He "will make my paths straight."

What do you think it means to be a woman of influence right where you are?
I am learning more and more that my attitude is a clear reflection of how God is working in my life. If I choose to be grumpy or anti-social, I am missing out on opportunities to share God's love with other people. If I choose to be generous even when I don't feel generous, God is able to work through me and change others in ways that I would never have expected. God needs me to be open to anything he puts in my path, and I have to be willing and bold enough to take part in what He is doing.

How does the Lord allow you to shine His light through teaching?
Most people would classify middle school as the most difficult years of life. Middle schoolers are really struggling to build their identities while pummeled constantly by hormones and acne and "mean girls" and the worst kind of peer pressure. They can be rude, abrasive, and downright disrespectful. However, I chose to teach middle school because of the chance to mold minds before they get to high school and have cemented their beliefs. Middle schoolers are very open to discussions of beliefs and worldviews, and they have so many questions. I can be influential to my kids by modeling what it looks like to be a stable, confident woman who is still gentle. I can respond to their attempts to make me angry with God-given patience. Many of my students come from homes where they don't get positive reinforcement or encouraging words. I am able to have amazing, life-giving conversations with students who may otherwise never hear a positive word during their entire day. What a gift for me to be part of God working in this way! When I respond positively in a negative situation, I am also able to show the light of Christ to my co-workers. Teaching can be a discouraging job, which creates a backdrop where God's light and love are so much more evident when they are shared.

What is the best piece of marriage advice you've been given?
In our pre-marital counseling, our friend Linda reminded me that all of my issues would become Nick's issues once we got married, and that for our marriage to be healthy, I had to be healthy-- physically, mentally, and spiritually. It would be selfish of me to assume that I could neglect myself and still be a good wife. When I work to make sure that I am all-around healthy, our marriage really benefits!

What is your favorite verse or passage of Scripture?
Ephesians 2:1-10 is one of my favorite passages because of the complete picture it gives of who I am in Christ.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
What is one truth you want others to remember and cling to?
You will never be enough, but God will always be enough.
And last but not least: coffee or tea?
TEA in any form... especially Celestial Seasonings' Sleepytime tea!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tuesday Ten: My Favorite Christmas Songs, Vol. I

I am unashamedly one of those people who busts out the Christmas music when it is October. The first hint of a nip in the air, and I'm ready to sing a yuletide carol. Christmas is just oh so special to me, because we are celebrating the birth of our Savior and Lord. That's way better than the shiny lights and tinsel on the tree. Music is a love language for me and the Lord, and today, I want to share with you my very favorite Christmas tunes.

I mean, duh. I sing along and try to hit all the high notes just like her, but I'll keep my day job.

2. "Christmas Time is Here" 
It's a tossup between the Peanuts version and Sarah McLachlan.

I remember first hearing this song on the radio when I was pretty young, but I just love it. I know there are some Carpenters haters out there, and to you I say, bah humbug.

So beautiful and simple. 
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing **chills

**Also my perfect singing voice would be the trifecta of Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, and Natalie Grant. And maybe a little bit of Whitney (R.I.P.). 

I love Audrey's voice, and the message is beautiful- that Jesus came to this world without much fanfare, for us. 

The other day my kids at school asked why the message of Christ's birth was shared with the shepherds first. I thought it was an interesting question, and I said that it seems like since the shepherds were the lowliest on the social ladder, the Lord decided to entrust them with a message that He knew would be delivered well. I have no idea if that was the right answer, but it seemed to qualm their worries. :)

**Also, the *NSync Christmas album is incredible. If you do not own it you are severely lacking.

Y'all. My husband did not know this song until this year. It hurt me. But I had the pleasure of introducing it to him, 80's music video and all. 

I mean, classic.

This version of the song literally gives me chills. I absolutely love to think about Mary this time of year- what was she thinking? What was she feeling? This song is gorgeous and it moves me every. single. time.

This song and the accompanying movie are must-haves around this time of year. You just can't beat Bing Crosby. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

#sistersofinfluence: Shaylynn Cherry

And we're back! Today, I have the privilege of introducing you to my sweet friend Shaylynn. Shaylynn and I had the unique opportunity to meet while we were both in Chihuahua, Mexico in the summer of 2012. I was finishing up my last couple weeks living in Chihuahua, and I was house sitting for my friends the Raffertys. Shaylynn came to Chihuahua to live and stay for a few weeks that summer, and we just hit it off. I was glad to have a friend while I house sat, and we explored Chihuahua together, cooked some yummy food, and had some heart to hearts. She's an amazing, passionate, beautiful woman of God. Her heart is the purest, and she fiercely loves Jesus. So without further adieu, here she is!

Tell us about yourself. Who are you?

My name is Shaylynn Cherry and I am 22 years old. I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico in a little one bedroom with my little family. My husband and I have been married for just over a year and have two dogs that are absolutely obnoxious and absolutely full of life and love. My passions are cooking, writing, and spending time with the sweet people in my life.

How did you come to know the Lord?

As a child I was homeschooled and grew up in such a precious family! When I was a little girl I would always go to church with my grandma and felt that I grew up knowing God. But when I was younger I struggled immensely with depression for about six years. Once I entered high school I channeled that confusion and feeling like I lacked purpose into substance abuse and a partying lifestyle. I had no idea why I felt so overwhelmed and like I could hardly lift my head. Through a few years of being heavily involved in addictions, surrounding myself with the wrong people, and feeling too lost for saving I thought I had no where to turn. I felt I had no value, no hope and that I had ruined my life.

Throughout most of that time I had been working at Chick-fil-A, which was a greater blessing than I ever could have guessed! One of my managers began to take notice of me and one day she had mentioned a church camp being hosted by the youth group at her church. She told me she had been praying for me and I had been heavily on her heart for awhile. Before I knew it, she told me she had paid for my registration for the camp and would get me off of work to go. That weekend I finally felt like God was able to encounter me in a far away and quiet place to remind me that He had never left. I realized then that I had knowledge of who He was but didn’t know Him personally. During this time at camp I felt that He was able to wrap me in His arms and show me that my identity was solidified in who He created me to be and not what I had done. Nothing and no one could change the plans that He had for me. It was a time that He reminded me that I was fearfully and wonderfully made, and that when I sought Him to be my refuge no addictions or depression could overpower His love and His compassion.

Addictions that had lasted years vanished in an instant after that weekend, and my whole entire life was changed in the wake of His presence. The manager that had taken me with her was able to stand by me and helped me to meet new friends, to learn more about the Lord and helped me to cultivate a hunger for Jesus. Shortly after that, I met my husband who stood by me for five years as a best friend, an encourager and open arms.  God has helped to heal wounds and fears of the past by showing me the unconditional love and grace that He always had for me. I am so excited now to be able to walk with others through roads similar to mine and to be able to proclaim that even in the lowest valleys - His love runs deeper.

What do you think it means to be a woman of influence right where you are?

To be a woman of influence right where you are is to trust that God is the giver of good gifts and to abide in the peace of where He has you. God promises to use everything for the good of those who love Him and that His plan for us is to give us a hope and a future! Many times have I dreamed of what life may hold later on or tried to compare my life to those around me, only to find myself distracted by disappointment or by feeling lesser than. The beauty of being a woman of influence is trying to take your thoughts captive and remember that right where you are is right where God has placed you. You were created to be salt and light, regardless of the circumstances of the world! You were created with eternity set in your heart so that you can hold onto the hope of knowing this place is not your home! When our hearts are no longer entangled in the temptations of wishing for more in our present day we are free to focus on knowing the goodness of our Father in all that He does.

A woman of influence chooses the joy and freedom of letting go of the temptation of comparison and remembering our mission is His heart. His heart rests with His sons and daughters! As we look to Him and to loving His people, we can remember that anywhere we are planted we can find His purpose and His peace. You were created to make an impact and you have been strategically placed to bring Him glory. Women of influence let go of who the world tries to shape them to be and they know that their value, their purpose and their hope are found in an unchanging God. They speak life and aren’t afraid to build up others because they know the value of the Body of Christ over tearing others down.

What is the best piece of marriage advice you have been given?

The best piece of marriage advice that I have been given is that this marriage is only momentary. Don’t get me wrong - the vow I made to my beloved is one I never intend to not keep! But this life is but a breath and this marriage will not be like this forever. The Bible says that there will be no marriage in Heaven but that we will all be like angels worshipping the Lord. By remember this advice we were given we are constantly reminded of the value of helping to prepare one another for eternity! My husband is amazing at always pushing us to pray together, to study the Word, to value people and to be open to God’s will. Through this advice we are also reminded to cherish little moments, to laugh a LOT, to choose grace with one another, and to be present!  

What is your favorite verse or passage of Scripture?

Psalm 37:4 is such a constant encouragement to me:
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

What is one truth you want others to remember and cling to?

If there was one thing I wish others could remember and cling to is to remember their value and the freedom they have been given in who they are. I am so amazed to think about how incredible it is that the Creator of the Universe cares so deeply for us as individuals. I am so amazed to think about what sacrifice was given for us and the access we have been given to be in the Lord’s presence. We were chosen and anointed for influence. We have been given specific gifts and specific messages on our hearts to lift up, encourage and come alongside those around us. Every detail of who you are has been outlined by God - the amount of hairs on your head, the lovely curve of your smile, and even the things that make your heart beat faster. You were designed with a purpose in mind to be salt and light to the very world you are living in, and because of Him in you, you already have all that you need to fulfill that!

And last but not least: coffee or tea?

I’ve never met a cup of coffee that I didn’t like. :)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Currently: December

Well, friends, November has come and gone, and December is here! We are officially in the last month of 2015. There are so many magical things about this time of year- the smells, sights, and sounds of Christmas are so comforting and sweet that we often long for this season to linger. Nevertheless, this month is sure to fly by, and we will soon begin another year! These are special times, however, and I want to cherish them and continue to cultivate a grateful heart. Here's what's currently going on in my neck of the woods:

Wishing: Right now I am wishing for a few snow days! They usually don't come in December, but a girl can dream, right?
Remembering: I have been very reflective in the past few weeks as I've thought about how different my life is today than it was at this time last year. Now I'm a wife, aunt, daughter-in-law, and sister-in-law!
Wrapping: I am not the best gift wrapper, but I do enjoy putting things under the tree. I haven't gotten all of my gifts yet, but I'm getting there, and when they come, I'll be excited to wrap them and place them under our tree.
Baking: Christmas just calls for baking, does it not? I've made some glazed pecans to snack on, and those are delicious. A couple weeks ago I told Ror that I would make him some banana bread, so I'm on the hunt for a nice, light recipe for that, too.
Decorating: Growing up, our family always had an artificial tree, but this year Ror and I got a real, live Christmas tree! It has been so fun to decorate our tree and our cozy little home for the holidays.

I'm linking up with Anne and Jenna today. What are you up to currently?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Tuesday Ten: Giving Back

{Necklace from 31Bits}

Friends, there is Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday, and now Giving Tuesday! On this first day of December, let's remember that giving is truly the best choice we can make as we celebrate the holidays. During this holiday season, it is so easy to think about all of the wonderful things that we want for ourselves. And yet, it is during this time that we have an incredible opportunity to consider others in need and to shop with a purpose. We can either give gifts that give back through purchasing through companies that give back, or we can give to non-profit organizations who are making a difference in places all around the world. I've rounded up a few of my favorite organizations and businesses so that you can think twice about where your dollars go this holiday season.

I have sponsored through Compassion for several years now, and I absolutely love what they do. They exist to serve children all throughout the world by helping provide for basic physical needs, but they also attend to a child's spiritual needs as they teach them about Jesus through children's centers in their local towns or villages. They also have a holiday gift catalog that allows you to choose various ways to invest in the lives of others around the world. 

Samaritan's Purse is an evangelical Christian organization that attempts to meet physical needs of those who are in distress while also sharing with them the power of the love of Christ. While I taught in Mexico, each year my class and I chose a special cause from the gift catalog to give towards. It was such a special memory- to see them get excited about helping others was priceless.

3. Mocha Club

The first time I heard about the Mocha Club was at a Dave Barnes concert in college, and I have been a fan ever since. The premise is simple- for the cost of a couple mochas at Starbucks each month, you can be a part of giving back to some amazing projects in Africa- including clean water, orphan care, sustainable income, education, and health care. It's an amazing organization and well worth the little bit given each month.

4. Live Fashionable

I absolutely love this business, because it is all about women helping women. Using fashion as a means to empower women in Africa and in Nashville, Live Fashionable is the real deal. The stories of the women that inspire their jewelry, beautiful leather bags, and scarves can all be found on their site. And there's fun things for the men in your life, too! Wallets, keychains, luggage tags, the possibilities here are endless, friends!

5. 31 Bits

This business is another that gives back to women in a powerful way. Through the beautiful handcrafted jewelry sold (for kids, too!) women are able to have sustainable income, which is life-changing for them and their families. The beads are all made of recycled materials, and the designs are gooooorgeous. You can also read personal stories from women in Uganda on their blog, which makes the purchase all the more special.

6. Shama Women

Shama Women is based out of Charleston, South Carolina. The husband and wife who started it are an incredible couple who long to see women empowered and walking in their identity in Christ. I first learned of Shama Women at the Influence Conference in September and was so encouraged by their story. The women who benefit from Shama all receive vocational training and Biblical teaching so that they are not only empowered financially, but spiritually. Good stuff, friends.

7. Kupendwa Ministries

This ministry is one that is close to home- literally. Kupendwa is a ministry founded by a young woman just like you and me who is from Watkinsville, Georgia. Amy Washington visited Uganda and was appalled by the lack of sufficient healthcare. For many women in Uganda, childbirth is deadly and often happens alone without medical care. The mother and baby are both at risk, and usually the father is nowhere to be found. Kupendwa serves these mothers through maternity clinics, workshops, and a maternity home. Not to mention that they are given amazing spiritual mentorship, and 100% of them come to know Christ! Sounds like a winner to me.

8. Engadi Ministries

This ministry is another that is close to home; the founders call Watkinsville First Baptist Church their home in the states. The Hardeman family lives in Guatemala, and they minister to boys and show them what it looks like to be a man of God. In Guatemala City, fathers are absent and gangs are rampant. Engadi exists to alleviate this saddening reality by leading these boys to Christ and showing them Biblical manhood through boys' homes and neighborhood outreach.

9. Noonday Collection

This business is incredible, y'all. Not only does it provide sustainable income for artisans all over the world through beautiful jewelry and accessories, but it also provides an income for women who sell the jewelry here in the States! I have been drooling over some of their bags for goodness knows how long, and I so love what they are doing around the globe. Fashion with a purpose, friends- it's the new thing!

10. Downtown Ministries

And last but not least, friends, I give you Downtown Ministries. My school, Downtown Academy is just one part of this amazing ministry. Downtown Ministries exists to serve Athens through sports, tutoring, and education. Athens is the Classic City, and we just wanna love on the families of this town. Your giving could help us do some amazing things!


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