Heavenly Grounds: A DIY/Real Estate Journey

August 2014, my husband rented a home off the coast of Northern California to celebrate our 15-year anniversary. It was probably one of the best weeks of my life. This property was among the most beautiful I had ever seen. The views were AMAZING, the sounds, the smells, the wildlife…  It literally took my breath away. The interior was beautifully decorated and furnished with every luxury to make us feel right at home. I doubt we touched a cell phone, watched TV, or tuned into anything that distracted our attention from the magic of our time together. Instead, we unplugged. We talked. We walked. We sat. We vision casted. We reminisced. (Of course we did some other stuff too, lol. But that’s for another time!!! 😊) The home gave us the means to focus our attention solely on each other. And the atmosphere set the tone for optimal enjoyment.

I took a million pictures, hoping to somehow capture, contain and even share some of the wonder of this place, but it just didn’t transfer. I wished EVERYONE I knew could just witness and experience it. I remember thinking to myself that one day I wanted to give this amazing gift to others. I wanted to somehow share the magic of my time here. I wanted people to experience a place where they could surrender all their daily worries and stresses. They could unwind and create memories with their loved ones that would add meaning and rest to their journey.

That house was over a million dollars!!! How in the heck could I own and furnish a home like that, let alone, GIVE or LOAN it to someone else??????  I mean think about it, the house was right off the ocean. The property alone was a TON of money. Now consider the decorations, furnishings, the landscaping, the upkeep… YIKES!!! After a week of sheer bliss, we returned to our normal lives at home. And as outlandish as it seemed, I kept that dream in my back pocket. Not to let it die, simply to rest for a while… And back we went to our regularly scheduled program…

If you know me, or follow my blogs, you know 5 years ago, we sold everything we owned, and built a home in the North Georgia mountains. It was a dream for us. We had vacationed there as a family for over 10 years. It was our happy place. But to actually live there was completely unplanned, yet completely miraculous.

We enjoyed every bit of watching that home being built by one of our favorite builders. It was hand crafted with so much care and detail. Upon completion, I couldn’t WAIT to furnish every square inch!!! I had a TON of ideas, but I was a stay at home mom, and we were limited to one salary. There was no way I could afford the purchases necessary to accent the gravity of this house. The walls were custom. The fireplace, showers, floors and cabinets were hand made. I could not obstruct its beauty with cheap décor. The only alternative was to birth these ideas I had in my brain with my own hands. And that is what we did.

It took almost 3 years to do it, but just about every room was embellished with colors, textures, wall hangings, and ideas that came straight from the heart. It was my goal that my family and our visitors would be submerged with a spirit of love, joy and peace each time they entered. We enjoyed countless good times, memories, laughs, and best of all, we were able to share them with our friends and family during our many gatherings.

(Swipe left to check out some of our projects here)

Our “forever” plans were recently interrupted by a job transfer for my husband and college endeavor for my son. We have successfully relocated to the Phoenix area. For several reasons, this was a bitter/sweet move. However, the sweet has been a full-circle kind of sweet.

For the past several months, we have been able to take that old dream out of our pocket and experience it in its full splendor. Our home has become the vacation rental property for families to enjoy. It has been an opportunity for us to share one of our favorite places on earth with others. Our walls are filled with meaningful accents that highlight our journey. There are pictures, window treatments, signs, walkways, landscaping all created with love, I’d dare say more meaningful than money could buy. It’s our best work. This house has become a gallery for some of our greatest DIY projects, and I am so blessed to be able to share them with others.

We simply named the home “Heavenly Grounds.” To us, that is exactly what it is. It sits on a mountaintop where views from miles away can be adored. It’s on a dead-end dirt road where deer, turtles, wild turkeys and even bears freely dwell. During the fall months, the leaves paint a new scene every day, while snow dustings cover the mountains during the winter. There are paths and trails once walked by my children and their beloved dog. My son got ready for prom there. My daughter enjoyed her cross-country party there. We hosted several gatherings there. We camped by the fireplace there. Read books, baked cookies, cooked smores, and counted stars there. And now others can do the same.

God has shown me time and time again that His ways are so much higher than mine. That He cares about the large and small desires of my heart. And that my wants are never too big for Him. I thought once I stepped away from my teaching career, I stepped away from a major opportunity to bless others and produce income using my greatest talent. I never considered all the other ways I could give of myself to still be a blessing. Though in a different location, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to share the splendor I experienced in California those years ago. It is better than any picture I could have taken.

I pray that you too take moments to dream. That you hold fast to the desires of your heart. Know that you don’t have to grind or toil to enjoy the journey of those dreams coming true. Know that His grace is sufficient. Write that book. Start that business. Pitch that idea. Apply for that job. Write that song. Know that if you make a habit or hobby of using your gifts and talents to spread love and joy to others, He will support it. May your dreams be too big for you to accomplish on your own and may you see them all come to pass…

Pics: Courtesy of Southern Comfort Cabin Rentals/Rachel Callihan-Cowart

LETTING GO… A Parent’s Guide to Enjoying the Journey

Last week, I had the amazing privilege of dropping off my son to the place he will call home for the next four years. While this was CERTAINLY difficult to do, (I mean, he’s my baby… my first born… He’s never been away from home for an extended length of time before…) it was one of the proudest moments of my adult life. I took him to one of the greatest universities in the country to live, eat, breathe, think, and grow on his own. How could I possibly have made it through this ordeal without completely losing it????? Well, I did it. He did it. And we are all off to the start of the newest chapter of our awesome journey. BUT HOW???? How can letting go be so easy?

As a parent, letting go is not easy. It has never been easy. But if you think about it, we have been practicing “letting go” for a while now. When it was time for them to get out of our bed and into their own. When it was time to transition them from breastfeeding to a cup. When they advanced from diapers to “big-boy” pants. When they went from crawling to walking, being at home to going to preschool, training wheels to “big-boy” wheels, baby teeth to permanent teeth, elementary, middle and high school, all have moments in which we are constantly letting go.

Where the ease comes is knowing that in order for them to grow into the beautiful person God called them to be, we HAVE TO let go. We cannot hinder their maturation because of our selfish (let’s face it 😊) desires to hold on to the beauty of this amazing stage and not let them advance to the next. The intimate moments of breastfeeding were SO miraculous to me. I breast fed both of my children for a year, and I cherished that bonding time I had with each of them. Similarly to having them in the bed with me, or at home with me, and even in my belly. However, at some point, holding on to those moments, verses setting them free can become detrimental to their development.

My ability to let go, rests in two things: preparation and faith. Throughout the process of their growth, I have come to invest heavily in preparing them for the upcoming chapter of life. While enjoying the crawling phase, I am mindful that ultimately, our goal is for him to walk. Though he is SOOOO cute crawling around at top speeds on all four legs and I would love to hold on to these precious moments, I have to prepare him to not grow comfortable with being on four legs, but two. It is scary. I mean, what if he falls, he will hurt himself. He is several more feet off the floor on two legs than four. There are many more dangers at that height, I will have to buy him shoes, and he will walk so slowly and wobbly for quite a while. This is all so true, but not enough to stop the need to advance him. As parents, we need to do as much as we can to prepare our children for the next phases in their journey. When we do that to the best of our ability, we can rest in that preparation when ‘go time’ comes.

Finally, we have to have faith. While parenting, we become heavily reliant on our ability to control the situations in our child’s life. As long as they use our methods and do things our way, in our presence, they will be safe and free from harm. We shackle them (with good intentions of course 😊) to our best practices we deem THE ONE TRUE WAY. While we certainly have our child’s best interest at heart, we must have faith in not only all we have taught them, but in a God who has them in the palm of His hand. Surely, we don’t want them to fail. It is gut-wrenching to watch them fall off that bike all 25 times after removing the training wheels. But I often ask the question, “DID THEY DIE THOUGH????” As silly as it sounds, it is so true. They did not die, they got better. They got up, brushed themselves off and went right back at it until they nailed it. Have faith in the learning process. Have faith in all you taught them, and ultimately, have faith in God.

Though we are only on week one of this great college journey, I am excited about the growth that will happen. My son knows we are here to guide and help him throughout his adventures. However, the training wheels have been removed and ultimately, I have had to relinquish the reigns and come to terms with a lifetime of increased ‘letting go’. As time goes on, I will find myself letting go even more as he pursues a career, a home, a wife, family and life of his own. The thought of it can be overwhelming, but the other side of birth, bottles, diapers, training wheels, baby teeth, and kindergarten, are great adventures that help them become all God has called them to be. I am SO grateful to be a part of the great preparation process. And now I will rest in faith that he will continue to exceed our greatest expectations. In the meantime, we will be right here in the stands cheering him on through his amazing journey.

No matter what chapter you and your child are currently scripting, know that letting go is all a part of your beautiful story. May you enjoy it to the fullest!!! 😊

“See Ya’ Later, Alligator…”

Whenever I visit my nieces, (who happen to live 2,000 miles away) I always have such a great time. They are so innocent and joyful and playful and just a complete BLAST. After a few days of bliss, it is actually very difficult to leave. The thought that the good times have to come to an end, that I won’t see them for a while, that the next time I visit, they will have grown and evolved into a different phase of their development, and that I will simply just miss them, can be pretty hard to bare. However, my oldest niece has a way of lightening the mood. She has a carefree way of looking at the situation. Interestingly, she doesn’t get all sappy and overwhelmed with the departure, almost as if she knows that we will indeed see each other again, that we will talk on the phone, that we will exchange Christmas/birthday gifts and messages and that we will embrace the next phase of our growth and celebrate it. She gives me a big hug and I simply say, “See ya later, alligator!” and she retorts, “See ya’ soon, baboon!!!!” 😂😜😜

After 11 years of living in the great state of Georgia, teaching some of the best students, working alongside brilliant colleagues, worshipping with the best church family, sharing space with awesome neighbors, cheering in the stands with some of the most amazing parents, and bonding with the best friends I’ve ever had, our family bids the most sincere, heartfelt and tearful “See ya Later, Alligator.”

Our journey takes us to Arizona, where my son will attend Grand Canyon University to pursue a degree in electrical engineering and technology, my husband will transfer his same job but greatly reduce his commute, my daughter will complete her final years at a pretty great neighborhood high school in our area, and I will pursue some new adventures as well.

We have been preparing for this departure, understanding that it would be difficult, but not processing just how much. We have truly made the most amazing relationships and memories throughout this phase of our journey. We were even fortunate enough to live in our own little slice of heaven the past four years, fully equipped with amazing friends, schools, and landscape. Leaving may have been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.

Thankfully, the first leg of our transition has been a success. We have been in Arizona for a little over a week now. Of course it wouldn’t be true Harper fashion if we didn’t make it an adventure.😊 We broke up the 30-hour drive into a few days with hopes that the beautiful scenery and the promise for the future would outshine our feelings of sadness and exhaustion from packing, loading and moving. Though we are not all the way settled, we are on our way. We are looking forward to building, growing, living, loving and adventuring in the great Valley of the Sun.

As time moves on and my heart heals from being away from the beautiful people and way of life I have come to love, I hope to take on the spirit of my amazing niece. I know I will see my friends again. I know I will talk to them and exchange on social media. I know we will share holiday messages and celebrate all the growth and great things that are to come. I know this is not the end. So with that, I send the biggest virtual hug ever given, and instead of goodbye, I will simply say, “see ya’ later, Alligator!” Here’s to exciting adventures on this leg of your and our amazing journey… I LOVE YOU. 😘😘😘

BEYOND THE LABELS…

Black, white, doctor, Christian, teacher, stay-at-home-mom, parent, honor-student etc.… These are all labels at which we can be identified. They are titles we wear with honor like a badge for all to know who we are, where we’re from, and what we’ve accomplished. They are a major source of pride at which we may have spent years of time, money and labor to attain and require a certain level of respect from people to address us as we live by the standards of the weight they carry.

What about the labels that are not so honorable? The titles we have been assigned. The tags that carry a negative connotation and sometimes even stifle our ability to thrive. Single-mom, at-risk youth, divorce’, overweight, retarded, hot-tempered, emotional, 3rd string, nerd, dead-beat dad, naïve, etc.…

From an early age, our children run the risk of being tagged with various labels that can define the way others see them and more importantly, how they see themselves. They can be given by teachers, peers, mentors, coaches and even us as parents.

When my son was three years old, we noticed he was not meeting the typical developmental milestones for children in his age group. He wasn’t talking, making eye contact, showing signs of expression or interactive response.  Doctors and school officials performed several tests to further investigate these concerns. Thereafter, they diagnosed him with autism. And there it was, my son had been labeled. The experts in the field, used professional, fact-based information to determine that he was socially/developmentally “disabled.”

My husband and I were devastated to receive this news.  We were so young. So new to parenthood. We were clueless. The only word we heard was “disability.” The depth of that term left so many uncertainties and filled my imagination with limitations to abound. After grieving for a few days, feeling sorry for myself, and researching aimlessly on how to solve this problem, I prayed. And then, believe it or not, I LISTENED. I heard the Lord tell me so clearly, that He was the God of possibility. That in Him, we are ABLE to do ALL things. So if the Word was true, the term “DISABILITY” was contrary to His Word.

I picked myself up and decided that I was going to turn my brain off on this matter and be led by the Holy Spirit on EXACTLY what my son needed in order to prosper in every area of his life. I must say, this journey has been one of the greatest, yet toughest of my life. However, I am a teacher. I am a Christian. I LOVE children. My husband and I were well equipped for the road ahead and we took it step by step.  We were not going to let the label given by the doctors trump the label given by the Word of God.

For the last several years our family took each stage of this process day by day. Every step was completely new to us. Every challenge required a custom plan that I couldn’t find in a book, online, or from friends. I completely surrendered to the Holy Spirit. For an example, there was a season when my son would cry over everything. Each day there would be an instance at school or at home that seemed very feasible, but for some reason it was overwhelming for him. Now my natural response would have been, “suck it up. You are a big boy! You can’t be crying over this little stuff!” However, that would have broken him. Nevertheless, I still couldn’t allow him to let his emotions govern his behavior. The Lord simply gave us positive incentives for him to work toward in order to stop crying. Sounds super easy, and IT WAS. GRACE. He stopped crying and hasn’t had a problem since.

Of course, over the years, my son has battled many other struggles throughout his developmental journey, such as staying focused in class, managing time properly, playing well with other kids, using language appropriately, articulating his thoughts accurately, participating in group activities, building confidence and so many others. Most of them didn’t come with a two-week solution. Many of these challenges took YEARS to conquer and some of them required extreme decisions in order to ensure his success.

When homework and daily routines became a bit overwhelming, I stepped away from a 15-year career in order to be at home. We downsized our living expenses and even moved to a smaller home in a rural area in order to meet the growing needs of our family. And as always, we saw God’s hand throughout the entire process. We had all the tools, and resources; we knew the places to be and times to be there. He blessed us with amazing teachers, pastors, friends, coaches, classmates and role models to help aid and support us throughout our experience.  This was certainly a team effort. And whilst we had great individuals involved in our mission, we never made his diagnosis public. We never gave explanations, concessions or excuses for his performance or behavior. As a matter of fact, we never even muttered the word autism in his presence. He had NO clue. We simply assessed his abilities and held him to the standard of excellence. If you can be great, BE GREAT. If you can’t be great, let’s do whatever we can to help you be YOUR greatest.  

Cole’s diagnosis was given when he was 3 years old. Last week he turned 18. And last month he walked across the stage to receive his diploma. In that moment, on the football field of a school in North Georgia, my closest family and I held a sign with the words “GO COLE” in HUGE capital letters. He sat in the front row in the top 10% of his class. He wore a sash around his neck that said, “HONOR GRADUATE,” along with a gold cord for his involvement in the National Honor Society and a purple one for the National Technical Honor Society. Earlier that week, he was given several awards along with $40,000 in local and national scholarships. Two weeks before that, he was named Prom King of his high school, earlier that year he was named Most Valuable Runner of his cross-country team and set 2 new school records for his times in the 1600- and 3200-meter run. He founded the chess club, was active in FCA, TSA, academic club, and volunteered to run the live broadcast of the boys’ and girls’ basketball games. He started his freshmen year with few friends, little to no involvement, while struggling to keep up socially, academically, and certainly athletically. By his senior year, he had grown the respect and admiration from so many. They simply loved him to greatness.

During his journey, no one had a CLUE of the tremendous effort it took for him to reach his goals.  The extra hours it took to complete his homework assignments, the weekend/off season practices he devoted to or the level of commitment it took for him to stay on top. He quietly pressed his way…

In February of this year, after two weeks for testing and meeting with several school and state officials, Cole’s autism diagnosis was reversed. Teachers and staff members were thrilled for him and all the progress he made over the 15 years of his journey. Shortly after that meeting, we carefully revealed to Cole of the label he was given early in his life. He was so shocked. So proud. So grateful. We reflected for HOURS, making sense of all the various steps we had taken, and all the beautiful people who were so helpful throughout.

In the fall, Cole will attend Grand Canyon University, in Phoenix, Arizona. There, he will study Electrical Engineering and Technology. We are beyond grateful for the first part of his incredible journey and how God used him to defy the labels given to him early on and replaced them with ones that carry great honor. I cannot wait to see what is in store for his bright future.

As we all endeavor to establish our identity, as we go on our own growth and developmental adventures, take on many different roles, hats and labels, I pray that we will BOLDY seek out the labels given to us by our Heavenly Father. I pray that if you or your loved one has been assigned a label, description, prescription, diagnosis, or title that doesn’t line up with what you know is true,  I dare you to push past the limitations of that label given to you (even by the experts in the field).  That you fight the good, and sometimes seemingly long fight of faith. And that you run your BEST race… not to the best of YOUR ability, but to the best of HIS ability!!!!! That tag doesn’t have to be a life sentence. YOU WERE BORN TO WIN!!!!! †

Forgiving Mom…

I recently had the honor of speaking at a Women’s Day event at a church in my area. There, in front of a few hundred amazing ladies, I was able to share my testimony and some of the amazing ways God has been so faithful in my life. It was a great time of fellowship, celebration, food, fun and most of all, love. At the conclusion of the event, I was able to exchange with some of the ladies one on one. They opened up and shared some of their testimonies with me. They noted many of the commonalities we had in our stories. One topic that kept coming up in my discussions was the many women affected by “mom hurt.” What is mom hurt, you say? It is the hurt many encounter during a painful childhood, mostly due to a difficult experience with their mom.

As we approach Mother’s Day, I’d like to address this issue head on. I realize it is a REAL pain. Though many women have had a wonderful relationship with their mother; she was supportive, caring, loving etc. SO many women/men have experienced the opposite. Perhaps their mom wasn’t around. She abandoned them during their childhood. She put them second to a career, addiction, boyfriends etc. Whatever the case, she did not perform her duties/responsibilities to THEIR standards. And of course, THOSE standards are the “normal,” reasonable expectations that should come very naturally to ANY mother. I GET IT!

But what if those typical/normal/reasonable standards DIDN’T come naturally to her? What if she TRULY did the BEST she knew during that time? What if, she was completely consumed with immaturity, selfishness, greed, etc.??? What if she was only doing what was done to her? What if the pain she inflicted on her children was not intentional? And even still, what if she DID know how badly she was behaving, but did it anyway? That HORRIBLE mom is not worthy of love, honor, respect, or ESPECIALLY forgiveness. I mean, LOOK AT ALL THE PAIN SHE CAUSED!!!!

I can TOTALLY relate to these feelings. My mother-daughter childhood experience was interrupted by some of the very things I mentioned earlier; like addiction, neglect, abuse and abandonment, and it had some MAJORLY devastating impacts on my life. However, a wise person once told me, you can’t expect someone to give you what they don’t have. It is like walking up to a friend and asking them for $1,000, but all they have is $400. Because it seems NORMAL for us all to have $1000 on hand, does it give us a pass to lay in perpetual bitterness? Gloom? Doom? If they only have $400? “I mean, if they had $1000 to give me, I would be SOOOO much better off.” “What in the world can I POSSIBLY do with only $400????” “I NEED ALL $1000!!!!!!”

Many people today have suffered YEARS of pain, frustration, bitterness and unforgiveness because a mom did not live up to the expectation she was charged to fulfill. Though this can have a major impact on the life and welfare of children, it does not give ANYONE a license for a lifetime of unforgiveness.  As we grow older, we can find healing and ways to repair the brokenness caused by a negligent mother. When we accept a relationship with Christ, He can fill the holes and suffering left from our painful encounters. He can and will send replacements for the loneliness and sense of abandonment, to where the absence of a loving mother will seem insignificant. However, we block His hand when we choose to hold on to feelings of resentment, revenge, anger and bitterness.

If we simply consider the scripture, we have no choice but to forgive our mom. “You have NO idea what my mom did to me!!!” You say. Though I have not been in your situation, I DO understand how you feel. As children, our moms take up the greatest real estate in our heart. They are the givers of life. They are supposed to love us like no other. They are supposed to cherish us and sacrifice their very life so that we become all God has called us to be. I DO UNDERSTAND THAT. However, we are called to honor our parents. We are called to walk in love, even when that person has hurt us deeply.

After YEARS of a strained relationship, my mother and I are restoring a beautiful bond. It has not been easy, but true love and forgiveness has guided our hearts to mend and repair what was once broken. I am so grateful my kids get to see my mother at her BEST. That I get to enjoy a renewed exchange while we are both mature, healthy, and whole. That we get to share this beautiful time together free of residue or expectation.

The relationship between a mother and child is paramount. There is nothing like it. When it is damaged, it can hurt like no other. And though it can cause some major scars, God is the ultimate plastic surgeon. It is nothing that can’t be repaired.  Surely, you may never be best friends, go over each other’s house every day, or even do the things you once did. Nevertheless, I pray you get your heart to a place of forgiveness. Where your current day or future success and happiness are not hindered by hate or anger. Where you are not plagued by the expectations that weren’t met in your life. That you no longer hold her accountable for unpleasant outcomes you endured. And that you release her from the bondage of your grief. Instead, may you seek love freely given by the greatest healer. May you let HIM heal your wounds and fill your heart with the greatest love of all. And may you go on to Mother from a place of grace and peace, because no person, encounter or thing has the power to stop you from enjoying every drip drop of your amazing journey!!! BLESSINGS TO YOU!!! HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!!!

A Healthy Balance of Work and Family…

My grandparents raised me for some of my childhood. I remember my grandmother picking us up from school each day. I remember my grandfather coming home from work by 5pm and my grandmother having a hot meal on the table by 6pm. There we discussed all that happened throughout our day. Most nights we even had dessert. After cleaning the kitchen, we all gathered together for some sort of evening activity such as playing cards, fishing, putting a puzzle together, etc. followed by watching Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, and the 8:00pm show for the night before going to bed.

Those were the good old days so to speak. What the heck happened? Somewhere along the past few decades that modest yet loving lifestyle has gotten lost in translation. It has been overridden by the desire for more. The fulfillment of family time has been traded for the demands of the workplace and the need to stay busy. The respect and admiration once given to a homemaker/stay-at-home-mom, has gone to the one who can seemingly juggle the most. The excitement of the child standing at the door waiting to greet their parent after work, is replaced with a kiss on the cheek during their night’s sleep. While the love, time, energy and devotion once given to a marriage is exchanged for idle time on social media, shopping and glasses of wine to fulfill a missing void only a spouse can satisfy.

The problem with this is we have sacrificed the sanctity of our family. We tell our children and our spouse each day where they rank in our lives based on where they fall on our priority list.  We convince ourselves that our family comes first, yet they understand full well that they are among the last. Most of our world revolves around the demands of our jobs and our household gets what is left over. Perhaps we only work 8-10 hours a day, but we drive an hour each way. Once we arrive home, we have our phones and laptops attached to our hip like a doctor on call. And we devote an entire room for our at-home office in order to accommodate the after hour requests.

Now that everyone in the house has a place of obligation, each morning is filled with the family’s individual race to their day’s destination. Peace is maintained as long as neither party oversteps their lane into the other’s. There is time for work, school, and perhaps an athletic activity to occupy each day’s agenda, off to bed and then repeat…

I believe most parents and spouses have good intentions. You will hear the frequent reflection, “I just want to give my family the life I never had.” I appreciate that effort. However, what was so bad about living in a 3-bedroom 1-bathroom house? What was so bad about homecooked meals? What was so bad about hand-me-downs and DIY projects for the family? If it means more time with YOU? I know the comforts of life cost money. I understand raising kids is a huge expense, and the price of living requires us to work for sure. But judging by the value of our cars, size of our houses, brands of our clothing, updates on our gadgets, I’d say it’s looking a bit more like selfish ambition vs. the desire to provide.

I hope everyone fulfills their desires. I hope we advance in our careers, pursue higher level degrees, start businesses, all that. But I pray it is not at the expense of our families. It was not easy on my ego to step away from a teaching career I loved dearly. I worked so hard to earn that master’s degree and was doing very well in my journey. But when the demands of the career interfered with the increasing requirements of my family, I had to shut it down. Sure, it has been a MAJOR sacrifice. Especially financially. But I realized I had to prioritize my assignment as a wife and mother. It had to come first. Here I am 5 years later, it has been one of the best decisions of my life.

After almost 20 years of marriage and raising 2 children, I would say there were two main decisions we made early on that helped preserve the balance of home and work life:

  1. We built our budget and livelihood on one salary. Though every force in our world told us to borrow and spend the max, we only used my husband’s salary as a base for our purchases.  This decision gave us the wiggle room to make financial adjustments for our family when necessary. It protected us during times of recession when companies decided to make major cuts in salaries, raises and health care. It made it much easier to step away from my teaching job when the demands of our family increased. Though it meant a smaller house than what we could have gotten, we didn’t miss a beat and it proved to be a MAJOR benefit for us all.
  2. Protect “peak time.” Most kids are in school for about 7 hours each day. From the time they get home from school until they go to bed is peak time. Weekends are included in this. As for us, we make sure we are present during their peak time. I put away my phone and give them my undivided love and attention. I show them they are my priority. Similarly to the time I found so sacred with my grandparents, we eat together each night, we discuss the events of our day, and we spend quality time engaging in activities we all can enjoy. It has proven to help maintain the sanctity of our union and helps us all keep things in perspective.

Whether we choose to work full-time or part-time; whether we are a stay-at-home parent, or even a single parent, we have to maintain the preeminence of our family.  They have to know they come FIRST in our lives. We communicate this each day by the decisions we make to secure their seat in our agenda. I love all the women’s empowerment movements. I celebrate the advancements in career and education. I even understand the idea of providing the best life we can for our children. However, we have to acknowledge that the “best life” for our children and spouse is a balanced life. One where they are safe and secure. One where they can learn and grow and feel loved and celebrated. One where honor and respect abound, and priorities are intact. When our families are healthy and whole, the need for gadgets, high-ticket items, approval from others diminish. They are secure in the love that is cultivated in the home and will go out and do amazing things in their journey. I pray you cultivate a healthy balance between work and home and that you are intentional about making the necessary adjustments to not only saying your family comes first but showing them that they do. Blessings to you. 😊

NO RECEPTION…


If you are anywhere near my age, you remember, or at least have heard of a day when after a certain time of night, the TV screen turned dark and was covered with various colored lines… when all the streets were still, the stores were closed… When dinner was served sometime around 6pm and after about 10pm, there was nothing left to do but sleep…
I’m not quite sure when exactly it began, but somewhere along the timeline in the last few years, stores and restaurants began staying open until 10/11pm, TV and all other forms of media stayed on all night and cellphones allowed people a 24-hour all access pass to anything and anyone… WOW!!!! Times have surely changed. Seems like a total maximization of 24 hours!!!! Sounds AMAZING right????
Last month, I celebrated my 42nd birthday (HEEEEEEEEEY!!!! 😊). Because it falls on the Christmas holiday, my family and I were on our Christmas family vacation in Phoenix. What a BEAUTIFUL place, during an AMAZING time of year, with my FAVORITE people on the planet!!! We had a wonderful time together. However, my birthday was EXTRA SPECIAL. My husband took me to the Grand Canyon. And though we had lived in Arizona a few years back, I had never been. I guess I just never had the desire to see a giant hole in the earth?????? Nevertheless, we grabbed our coats, put on our sweats and hiking shoes and made the 3 ½ hour drive to Flagstaff.
The ride itself was BEAUTIFUL!!! But I must say, when I arrived at the Canyon, I WAS SPEECHLESS. The sight of it literally took my breath away. I was overcome by awe and cried instantly. What an unbelievable wonder to behold!!! Every step I took allowed for a different view of this monument of gloriousness!!! But what was equally as amazing as the sight, was the nothingness that happened during our time there…
It was EVERYTHING!!!! My husband and I did what we do often in our moments like these. We vision casted. We reflected. We reminisced. We laughed. We held hands. We talked. And talked. We were present in every moment together and we weren’t distracted by calls or text messages or agendas or requests or social media or ANYTHING!!!! It was MAGICAL!!!
I find that though I am present and active as a mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, neighbor, volunteer, mentor etc. I have to be intentional about making time to go “offline.” This time that my husband and I spent was SO necessary. It was a perfect time to reflect on all that happened in 2018 and our goals and dreams for 2019. It was great to laugh at our mistakes yet reflect on God’s goodness. There were even moments of silence, when we just inhaled and rested in bliss.
I could go on and on about my short time at the Canyon a few days ago. It was truly one of the best days of my life. However, I have to be honest, after 42 years of life, I have come to understand how necessary these experiences are. I, on purpose, make plans to regularly dwell in places where I have no reception. If only for a couple hours a week or even for an hour a day, I retreat. I unplug. I “out of office.” Of course, it is not always at the amazing Grand Canyon, but perhaps on other hikes, or baths, or quiet drives, or star gazes, or the library or lake or whatever. I find it so therapeutic to take time to turn off the noise. To cancel the “all access pass” for a little while.
This year, I will be even more intentional about insuring a bit of quiet time. Though our days have been filled with what seems to be maximum productivity, we need to unwind. To unplug. To turn it off. I am SO much more productive when I get that period of peace. I hear God’s voice SO clearly. I am less agitated and so much more creative. I pray that while you are out conquering all the amazing adventures put before you, that you take time to exhale. That you embrace moments of beauty, rest and solitude. That you take time to dwell in places with no reception. During these moments, may your peace, joy and love be renewed and restored… HAPPY 2019 TO YOU!!!!


A Different Take on Giving This Christmas…

Ok. Before I get started, let me tell you what this is NOT. This is not some amazing philanthropic endeavor, or way to feed 10,000 families in a starving land. Honestly, I wish I was sharing that kind of news, but this is a much simpler idea I’d like to share to help spread the art of giving right in the four walls of your own home.

If your family is like mine, Christmas goes a little something like this: Mom pays careful attention to amazing details of her children. She has listened and taken stock of the desires of her family’s heart for the last 2-6 months. By the time the holidays roll around, she has an amazing list of all the great things she plans to buy. She then tells the hubby, who nods in appreciation and acceptance of these great ideas and after her thoughtful hunt and purchase, she then finds great wrapping paper, stockings and gift bags to present these lovely trinkets on Christmas day. Meanwhile, the kids are ESTATIC with anticipation for yet another joyful season of GETTING!!!! Christmas Day rolls around and Mom sits back and watches her successful gathering session pay off with excitement and happiness for a day where each member of the family feels like someone took the time to consider EXACTLY what THEY wanted, and made those wishes come true. Some amazing moms even yield the credit to a big man in a red suit as the benefactor of this great extravaganza… 🎅🏼🎅🏼🎅🏼

WELL… after watching that scene for the last 17 years, our family has agreed to switch things up a bit. First of all, I have really been into the idea of enjoying experiences vs. THINGS. As I get older, I have come to realize how short-lived the happiness of obtaining items can really be. It is a plight that sends many into debt and even depression after realizing once you get “IT”, there is always a desire for MORE… “IT” is never enough…  and “IT” never gives the lasting high created by memories or experiences that leave a lasting impression, a lifelong memory or moments for reflection and growth. Over the years, I have come to replace high ticket items, technology, and great trinkets, with opportunities of adventure and togetherness.

While our family will take another trip this holiday season, we will still attempt to give them the “gift under the tree” experience, but this year it will be with a bit of a twist. This year we have set a spending budget of $400. Each member of our family will pull a name from our family of four. They will keep that name a secret. For the next several days THEY will conduct research on their person. They will study them. Listen to them. Consider the desires of their heart. On December 15th, we will wake up early and venture out to the mall. Each family member will get $100 in cash. They will then be responsible for searching for great gifts for their selected family member. As the mom, I will be on hand for advice or guidance if necessary, but it is up to them to make this a memorable experience for their person to enjoy on Christmas day.

I love this idea because it does several things:

  1. It allows EVERY member of the family to appreciate the art of GIVING as well as receiving. I SOOOO love to give. Though our family is a family of givers, I hope our children will see how great the entire giving experience is and make it a part of everyday life.
  2. It helps everyone appreciate and understand the importance of a budget. Though we would LOVE to give a lot more, we must spend according to what we have. Apple can’t determine that amount, we must. There is no joy in giving when you have to pay for it for the next several months. I love that we can share this experience together. Look for deals! Find the sales… Make that money stretch!
  3. It requires everyone to consider another’s desires over their own. They will have to conduct the necessary research in order to be successful in their experience. Too many times we are so wrapped up in our own wishes, we fail to consider anyone else’s.
  4. It takes the weight off one person producing for everyone. Though I thoroughly enjoy the Christmas hunt, purchase, wrap and presentation session, it is a joy I would like my family to practice as well. Especially as my kids are getting older, it will be imperative for them to learn the art of giving for their current and future relationships.
  5. It is a reminder that we all get things throughout the year… All the time!!! We can’t possibly buy EVERYthing for EVERYbody in one month… (Whoever came up with such an idea??? 🤔🤔🤔 lol!)
  6. It helps highlight the idea that the family trip is our true Christmas present. Our undivided time together and the adventures we will share will supersede any thing we could wrap and place under a tree.

As a country, the secularization of Christmas has created a “get” mentality in many of us. A lot of our giving is out of obligation vs. the genuine desire to share. Many of us go into debt to meet unrealistic expectations and fail to see the true beauty in what this amazing time of year is all about. While we will still decorate the tree and enjoy the lights and holiday music, I am hopeful to help create experiences that spread love, joy, peace and the true beauty of cheerful giving, (within a budget of course) that will help produce memories that last a lifetime. Happy Holidays to you and your family. Here’s to all the wonderful ways you choose to celebrate God’s love this holiday season! 😊😊😊😊😘😘😘

Photo: Bplans

The Power of a Village… THANK YOU!!!

Let me start this blog off by saying this: by no means is my son an Olympic athlete. He started running cross-country a couple years ago as a means to stay active and be a part of a team. Last week he had his first meet of the season. Up until then, he had regular practice each day and even ran some in the summer. He also grew quite a bit over the last few months and was excited about his new “man” strength! 😊 But somehow for the first time, before the race, I saw fear in his eyes. He was so nervous and spoke of pain in his ankle and shin, and just lacked confidence. Nonetheless, as always, we were on the sidelines cheering him on expecting a successful run.

After his race, he was near tears. He was so disappointed in his performance. He was passed by some of his underclassman teammates, finished with a lower time than his previous year and placed 56th overall. He was devastated. We of course, cheered him up, encouraged him and helped him refocus his attention toward the upcoming races as best as we could.

That next week went on like a typical week. The kids went to school, practice, church, and we had our normal family time each day. Oh yeah, we also had a little Labor Day get-together at our house, but other than that, the week was normal. Hindsight, I’ve come to reflect, that our week was anything but normal.

That Sunday, our pastor preached a message about the power of the Spirit. He talked about telling your body and your mind to line up with what God says about you. That Monday during our get-together, one of his great mentors went on a run with him, while some of the other fellas sat on the porch with him and watched a couple of his favorite shows. They spoke life to him and just treated him like the awesome young man he is. On Wednesday, he went to youth Bible study, where the pastor talked about “believing”/ having faith over fear and doubt.

By Thursday of this week, it was time for another race. On the way to school we gave him the typical pep talk, prayed and encouraged him to do his best. Later that day, as he stood at the starting line with 100+ young men, we weren’t sure what to expect, but we were hoping for the best. As always, I made the 1-hour drive to be on the sidelines, while his dad got permission to leave an hour early from work to be there as well. When the gun went off to start the race, I saw a difference in him. I saw a confidence. A determination. As he fought his way to get toward the front of the pack, I was excited about how this race could go.

For the next several minutes, I watched him run through the woods, up and down the hills, and on the track with boldness. It was nearly 90 degrees outside, the terrain was steep, rugged and rough. He reflected later that on his toughest hill, we wanted to take a break and just speed walk a bit. But he remembered what he learned that week. He simply “believed.” He commanded his body and mind to line up. He listened to the cheers of his teammates and his parents. He realized that for the first time in his cross-country career, he was the lead runner of his team. It propelled him further. He gained momentum. At the last few meters of his race, I saw the fierceness in his eyes. He flew across that finish line with the fastest time he’d ever run, the highest ranking he’d ever had and the proudest he’d ever been.

He later recounted all the small things that pushed him to be great. And though I’d like to think he has an awesome team at home, I fully understand that, as parents we couldn’t possibly do this journey alone. That it is not just the training, love, wisdom, discipline he gets inside the four walls of our house, but it is the weekly Word he gets on a continual basis from our awesome pastor. It is the pep talk he gets from his loving Aunt when he sees her in the summertime, or the love he gets from his Grandmother that cares for him in our absence, or the visit from his Grandfather and Uncle, the beautiful people he sees at church that impart love and affirmation, the teammates that cheer him on from the sidelines, the ladies that served in the nursery and youth department, the teachers that encouraged him to be great, my colleague who drives 3 hours to cheer from the stands, the babysitters that cared for him with love, the positive TV shows that line up with the things we teach him at home… are all forces working hand and hand toward his success.

As parents, we are called to the beautiful yet sometimes challenging task of loving and training our children to become all God has called them to be. It is indeed a journey that lasts a lifetime, however, we also need to remember that it is a collection of the amazing people who surround them, who impart knowledge, wisdom and love that will aide in that journey as well. As graduation draws near, I am beyond grateful for the AMAZING people who have loved on our children past, present and future. I see the fruit of their seed come to life daily. I am also intentional about putting these type of people in their path from birth throughout.

If you are privileged enough to be a teacher, coach, aunt, uncle, mentor, pastor, or any position of influence over children, never doubt the power of your influence. My son still has the trophy given to him by his 2nd grade teacher. He remembers the $100 his uncle sent for his fundraiser, or the encouraging card his Godmother sends each birthday. He remembers when his mentor came to his chess meets, or when his Uncle took the time to read his comic book. You have more power than you know. Your words and acts of love STICK.

Parents, I pray you SUMERGE your children with love and encouragement inside and outside the home. Recognize that this is not a task you can do alone. That every single fabric of their life will leave some sort of imprint. May their journey be filled with people, places and things that bring hope, inspiration and love. In the meantime, thank you so much to all the amazing people all over the country, past and present who have left a beautiful imprint on my son and daughter’s life. You mean more to us than you know. You truly have made a difference in their life and ultimately are the hands and feet of God.

received_3013870437783073550676505524798943.jpeg

 

Cover photo: Quotesnew.com
Text photo: Jenni Dixon

19 Year Anniversary: Fight or Flight???

My husband and I celebrated 19 years of marriage last weekend!!! It was truly a major milestone!! Both of us come from single parent homes and are really figuring this all out as we go. Nevertheless, over the years, I’ve had many people say they look to us (and other couples) and see their #marriagegoals, an awesome union, the perfect little family… I mean, I work from home, my husband has a great job, we live in a cute little house in the mountains, we have two awesome kids, we’re all healthy, we live debt-free, and we love God… I mean, we kayak on the weekends and eat at the dinner table together every night for goodness sake!!!! WHAT AN AWESOME LIFE, RIGHT????

I have to admit, though all those things are true, this year was probably one of our toughest. It shook our marriage to its very foundation and had us considering some hard-core questions. It wasn’t because any THING happened. Nobody cheated, nobody lost their job, we didn’t file for bankruptcy or suffer from some major illness. It wasn’t that at all. Honestly, I can’t attribute this wall we hit to anything specific. Perhaps a build up of a ton of tiny little things, or even small transitions over time. Perhaps the fact that we have two teenagers in our home, or that we live two hours away from most of our affiliations, maybe that we were both growing at two different speeds and… I DON’T EVEN KNOW!!!! But whatever the case, the tension was mounting, we couldn’t see eye to eye on anything and the opportunities for disagreement seemed to abound.

This was heartbreaking, because, my husband and I have been best friends since I was 18 years old!!! Our connection has been so genuine and so rare. We do EVERYTHING together. We have SO much fun. We have an amazing history, and more importantly, what we have built and accomplished together is incredible.

Nonetheless, the devastation of our divergence took a toll on everything. It seemed like a dark cloud followed us everywhere we went. The fact that we knew the Word, that we had super friends, ministers and pastors we could turn to, we couldn’t even identify a problem to fix! I imagine this being the part in a person’s life where hopelessness sets in. Where you just say, “We grew apart,” “We just fell out of love,” “We decided to go our separate ways.” And though I admit, I was SOOOOOOOO frustrated and overwhelmed by the tension and stress, if you know me, you KNOW, I was NOT about to give up!!!!

19 YEARS!!!! 19 years of building life together. Making memories. Working through all other MAJOR obstacles. Building and growing. And most importantly, the kids. They were watching us. They were counting on us to step our game up and work this Word. To help them believe in the love we teach and preach about every day. NO SIR!!!! We could not let them down!

For the last several months I committed to doing my part in getting myself together. I read books and devotionals, talked to AMAZING friends, listened to teachings, filled my social media feed with encouragement and even created some alone time to focus on my own personal growth. I took the magnifying glass off my husband and put it on God. During this time, we still had disagreements. We still had rough days, but by now, my faith was so strong, I was confident that relief was on the way.

About that time, I saw an ad for a marriage conference come across my screen. It was called SPARK and it was being hosted by Joel Osteen in Houston, Texas. It just so happened to fall on our anniversary weekend. Though we had bought books to read together, committed to a marriage challenge and were both doing our own individual growth plans, we knew we needed something BIG to get us the proper tune-up. We both knew this conference was IT!!!!

My husband took care of all the accommodations and last week we flew to Houston for a life changing experience. We were in an auditorium with thousands of other couples. Newlyweds on up to people married for 50+ years. The atmosphere alone was inspiring, not to mention the amazing speakers and the wisdom they shared with all of us. My husband and I gleaned so much.  It was EVERYTHING we needed to get us back on track. We spent a couple extra days there just talking and refocusing. We got our first couple’s massage and did some of our old favorite things like walking on the beach, going out to eat, shopping, and just spending uninterrupted time alone to recharge and restore.

I considered how many couples experience hardships that cut deep, that shake the core of their marriage. Some of them have had affairs, suffered job loss, illness or even just hit a wall on their journey. It seems SOOOOOO much easier to quit. Like starting over would wipe away the deep pain they experience on a regular basis. “It’s not fair!”  “I don’t deserve this!”  “I can do better all by myself!” I get it!!! But quitting is NOT an option!!!! You have to FIGHT for your marriage! You made a promise before God and all the other witnesses that you would love each other for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. Now I know today contracts/covenants don’t hold the weight they once did, but that doesn’t make them any less weighty. What is the boundary on your “worse?” Does your “sickness” have a limit? Does “poorer” not include being unemployed for 6 months? We have to go the distance. We have to be committed to doing whatever is necessary to make this partnership work. No matter what.

Interestingly, when our brakes go out on our car, we don’t throw the entire car away. Most of us take it to the shop upon the first squeak. Some of us wait until the light grind, but we never just let the brakes go all the way out; and we don’t leave the car abandoned and go out and buy a new car, with new brakes. Yet too many times at the first sign of discomfort we are ready to trade in the old for “better.” Instead, we must be willing to do the regular maintenance necessary to keeping the car in tip-top shape. When it needs a tune up, tune it up. When it needs a small repair, do it. New cars are great, but their brakes wear down as well. They will need tune-ups as well.

People ask all the time how we made it 19 years. They see us and think we don’t have any real problems. We got it made. I have a GREAT husband, he has a GREAT wife. We don’t know struggle. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. We have our tough times. We have persevered through some MAJOR adversities. The difference is we have made a commitment to NEVER quit. We will take this baby to the shop over and over again. We will perform repairs and continual tune-ups over and over again. We will get up and fight every day to have the happy marriage we always dreamed about.

When times get tough, remember to give each other grace. Read a book, seek counsel, go to a conference, whatever is necessary to keep your marriage healthy and happy. Give your spouse the insurance policy that if he/she gains a few pounds, goes through menopause/post-partum depression, loses their job, gets sick, grows at a different pace, YOU will be right there fighting for them. Believing the best. Helping them win…TOGETHER, through the good and the bad.

No matter how tough it gets, there is grace for us to conquer our storms. And no matter what, quitting is NEVER an option!!!! As for me and my husband, we are going ALL THE WAY!!!! I am so grateful for 19 years and I am SO looking forward to the next 19!!! Here’s to you and your Happily Ever After…with your no- quittin’ self!!!

“I DON’T NEED TO BE FAMOUS…”

I was boutique shopping with a beautiful friend of mine the other day. She just so happens to be an awesome singer and a super favorite around our small town. The gal working the register, an obvious fan, noted “When are you gonna go on TV???!!! You are SOOOO good!!!!”

My friend responded with great modesty, true to her character, “I don’t need to be famous, I’m happy just playing my music here at home, with my people.”

I was so blessed by her response. I could TOTALLY relate. However, I could also understand how foreign her response was to the clerk. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be famous, right? Who wouldn’t want to be seen and adored by thousands, if not millions, right? Why not share your talent with as many people as you can, right?????

As a society, we’ve gotten to the place where more is better. Where all we do is measured by the number of likes, customers, product sold, people in the audience, etc. We crave acknowledgement, a certificate, pin, title, award, or some sort of notoriety for everything we do. We secretly want our content, our YouTube, blog post, picture, or even rant to go viral. We want to be discovered. We crave validation. Acceptance. And ultimately, love.

The problem with this is, in our plight to be noticed by the masses, we forfeit the journey of growing, learning and allowing God the chance to promote us in His timing. We spin our wheels and max out our resources to produce results, often times based on standards of another person’s success. We are so busy climbing ladders, grinding, and chasing a name, we miss out on the little opportunities to cultivate relationships that produce the lasting love that matters.

Within the last couple years, my singing friend retired from an awesome career in education to be at home full time with her family. Nope, she didn’t pack her bags and move to Hollywood, instead, she volunteers at the school, she helps her husband with his business, coaches her son’s basketball league and tends to her parents and elderly grandparents. When she gets a chance, she sings and plays guitar at local venues, festivals and weddings around town. But SHE is super ok with that. Currently, she doesn’t have a triple platinum album, she doesn’t have a Grammy on her wall, she won’t get Administrator of the Year this year, but in the meantime, her daughter has a friend she knows is always there when she needs her. She has a solid marriage of 17 years. She hasn’t missed a ballgame and is able to take her mom to her weekly check-ups at the doctor.

Perhaps if we get back to some of these things that really matter in this life, we will grow our character. We will develop the characteristics necessary to sustaining greater levels of success. We will have a true support system of people who love us and look out for our best interest along the way. We will have made major impact on individuals and created memories throughout.

I’m not saying give up the pursuit of greater or abort taking your talent and visions to their highest level possible. Go get your Grammy!!!! Just don’t let it be at the expense of the things that truly matter. Don’t let it be an attempted replica of someone else’s journey. Many of the people we all admire, follow on Instagram, and see adorned by millions, go to bed lonely with no one they can truly trust. When their career ends, they have no one by their side. No trusted companions or skills to help them sustain or recover their achievement.

As you pursue your purpose, trust in God’s ability to customize the experience for YOU. Put your best foot forward in everything you do because it will ALWAYS lead to greater. Be sure to enjoy the growth that happens during the journey and develop and cherish relationships with the people in your life right now. You will find, their love is better than the superficial love that comes from the masses. The mountaintop is so much better when you get their whole, with great people on your team, with true love in your heart, and with God leading the way. Until then, sing your heart out and enjoy each time you perform in your hometown, post your best blogs if only for an audience of 100, and rock out that business from the ground up … You’ll get your Grammy soon enough… While you’re at it… enjoy the journey!!!

Proverbs 16:9

Christmas Family Road Trip : 1400 Miles to the Mile-High City… Experience is the Greatest Gift…

I just had another birthday a few weeks back. Traditionally, I use this time to capitalize on a super travel experience with my husband, at which he and I whisk away to a fun destination and enjoy a few kid-less days of rest, rejuvenation, and reflection in preparation for another awesome year. We set a budget and GO!!!! Though I generally enjoy this time IMMENSELY, this year, I kinda didn’t want to be away from the kids!!! WHAAAATTTTT????!!!! Turn down a once a year getaway??!!!!!… I KNOW… I KNOW!!! They are getting older so fast… and I kinda just wanted to be with them. SO, I forfeited my 2 person trip, and turned it into a 4 person trip. HOWEVER, I STILL had to stick with the same budget. YIKES!! This made things kind of tricky. I had to stretch this budget, yet still come up with an AWESOME vacation plan.

After careful consideration and research, I decided DENVER would be the PERFECT spot. Neither of us had ever been there, and we’ve seen and heard amazing things about it. The only problem was, the flight from Atlanta to Denver x 4 consumed 90% of the budget. So, I had to again get creative… And that’s when the family road trip idea was born.

The trip would be 1400 miles which would take about approximately 21 hours by car one way!!! WHAAATTT!!!???!! That’s a total of 40+ hours on the road (not even including the driving once we got there)!!!! YIKES!!! We’ve done a 4-6 hour trip before and even broken up a 10 hour trip over 2 days… but 21 HOURS!!! OMG!!! I talked it over with my husband and then carefully presented it to the kids. They were BEYOND thrilled to not only be considered for the trip, but SO up for the ride!!!!! YAAAY!!! It was settled.

Over the next several days, we calculated gas, time, places to stop (on the way there and on the way back), and of course our anchor spot in Denver. We decided to drive our own car vs. renting one, which created so much wiggle room in the budget and gave us tons of financial flexibility. We stayed in great hotels, ate super food, shopped at great malls and boutiques, explored new terrain and enjoyed awesome adventures. We bonded. Talked. Read. Thought. Slept. And sometimes just sat in silence. Overall, we had the time of our lives. Here are some pics and details of our 10-day cross country family road trip from Georgia to Denver and all the great stops in between.

Day 1: Friday December 22, 2017: Today was the kids’ last day of school and my daughter had a basketball game that evening, so we planned to leave at night and make the most of the trip while everyone was sleeping. After the game, we shut down and secured the house, loaded up the truck, said our family prayer, and FINALLY, at nearly 11:00pm, we took off for the first 12 hours of driving.

Day 2: Saturday December 23, 2017: After 10 hours of driving, we made it to our first stop: St. Louis, Missouri. The kids woke up, we all stretched our legs and ate a nice breakfast before our 4 hour drive to Kansas City, where we stayed for the night.

Day 3: Sunday December 24, 2017: We woke up the next morning and enjoyed a nice (free) breakfast at the hotel, and a quick family walk. We then picked up some snacks, filled up the tank, and grabbed a souvenir Starbucks mug to add to my collection before starting our next 9 hours on the road. The drive was beautiful. We talked, laughed, listened to music, and reflected on the birth of Christ on our Christmas Eve drive. The kids read their books and even watched a couple Redbox movies to help the time fly by. We stopped at a Chinese Buffet to stretch our legs and fill our bellies before all the restaurants shut down for the holiday. We FINALLY made it to Denver that evening. WE WERE THRILLED the room and the area was as beautiful as it was online when we booked it. ANOTHER SCORE!!!

Day 4: Monday December 25, 2017… CHRISTMAS DAY!!!!! What a great day it was. Of course we began the day with reflection on the birth of Christ. We then enjoyed another great free breakfast and relaxing time around the hotel.

Day 5: Tuesday December 26, 2017: Today was our first real day out in Colorado. After recommendations from some of the locals, we decided to make the 30 minute trip to Boulder. We had an AWESOME time.

Day 6: Wednesday December 27, 2017… MY 41st BIRTHDAY!!!! Today, we decided to paint the town RED!!! We didn’t have a set agenda (which sometimes is the best) but we knew we were going to take the 1 1/2 ride to Breckenridge. What a super day!

Day 7: Thursday December 28, 2017: This was our last full day in Colorado and probably my FAVORITE day of the entire trip. We ventured back to Boulder to hike the Flatirons, which is are huge rock formations just east of the Rocky Mountains. The trails have the most BEAUTIFUL views of the city and are surrounded by mountains.

Day 8: Friday December 29, 2017: We packed up the truck and began the 12 hour drive to Branson, Missouri. Though it may have been a little tough to leave this awesome place, I was full from the rich experiences we had while here and happy that though we were departing, we still had a few goodies left on our journey.

Day 9: Saturday December 30, 2017: Today is officially our last day of fun off the road. We ate a super breakfast, let the kids swim a bit, and even went on a small hike while checking out the sites in Branson. It was a lite day, in preparation for an amazing night…

Day 10: Sunday December 31, 2017: It was the last day of the year and the last day on the road. We woke up early the next morning and headed back for Atlanta. I know this was a super long post, but I can’t reflect enough on the amazing time we had together. Over the years we have done the theme parks, visited beaches, lakes and mountains, voyaged on cruises, and other super destinations, however, I have to say this may just be my absolute favorite trip of them all. We bonded. We loved. We adventured. Many people that knew of our trip asked if we had family in Denver? Was there a reason for such extensive travel? The answer is no. We had a desire to see new terrain, a plan and a budget. We were fueled by the excitement of the unknown and we have memories to last a lifetime. My kids are getting older. I want to take every opportunity possible to make these moments count. While I love the idea of giving gifts and buying presents, I will cherish this amazing experience, it was my greatest gift of all…

TIME DOES NOT HAVE TO FLY… A Back to School Reflection.

Ok, so both my kids are in high school!!!!! 😲😲😔 WHAATTT???!!! This blew me away!!! I mean, it seems like YESTERDAY I was nursing them and teaching them how to use the bathroom!!!! I remember waking up in the middle of the night to feed them, or getting them bundled in alllll their layers of clothing in order to weather the cold, and carrying them in their car seat and wondering “how in the world was I going to get through this????” I mean, it seemed SOOOOO hard and because they were only 19 months apart, it seemed there was no relief. Something as simple as getting ready for bed meant individual baths, and getting them dressed and keeping one entertained while the other was being attended to… it was literally EXHAUSTING!!!!

I remember some of the elders, (ie. WISE, BRILLIANT people we tend to ignore because they just don’t understand our specific situation) used to tell me, “enjoy these moments because they fly right by…” I remember WISHING they would… 😂😂lolol!!! Now that those beautiful babies have grown into amazing 14/16-year old’s right before my eyes, I’ve learned that time does indeed FLY by and I have come to appreciate allllll those tough times as fond moments in this AMAZING journey. Because I have come to value each phase of parenthood, I have also learned how to seize the moments and literally slow down the time.

How in the world can you slow down time, you say? It is actually quite simple: Make each moment count. BE PRESENT. Adjust your perspective and see the joy in that perfect place of the journey. Especially you new moms, or moms of toddlers, or moms of those goofy pre-teens, and OMG… MOMS OF TEENAGERS!!!! YIKES!!! Know that each phase brings about a new terrain. It can be tough, especially when you haven’t tread that path before. It completely sucks when they learn the word “no”, or when they THINK about talking back, driving, dating, or wanting to go on field trips, or getting a new cell phone, or starting HIGH SCHOOL!!!! OMG!!!! IT’S A LOT I KNOW!!!! Each phase brings new challenges indeed, but they are times you will never get back. Ask any empty-nester what they wouldn’t give to put that perfect part in their daughter’s hair with pigtails for the first day of school. How they wish they could sit through just ONE more basketball game. How they wish they could watch one more Disney movie together…

I remember my daughter being rushed to the hospital because her appendix ruptured. We had no idea, but it actually ruptured days before she was admitted, which put her in a critical position. Infection had spread through her body and we were in the hospital for several days. I was still working during that time. I remember actually wrestling with the idea that I had 150 final exams to grade and report cards to post while my daughter had a tube sticking out the middle of her stomach!!! 😦😦😦 It dawned on me then, that my job was taking WAAAAY too much of my attention. That it hindered me from fully focusing on the monumental moments of my children’s lives. I considered how much of my attention COULDN’T be on them, because I was trying to be excellent at my career. That was my last year of teaching. We downsized our lives, I retired from my job and am at home to fully serve my family. Now, I am by NO means suggesting anyone quit their job. For me, I HAD to, and it has made all the difference. But there is surely a way you can slow down the time in your life right now. Whatever way God leads you specifically to enjoy your journey, be sure to adhere. Realize that though we have our entire lives to indulge, chase after dreams, seek promotion, gain advanced education, get overtime hours, one thing we can’t get back is the time that passes and the events that happen throughout. Figure out how YOU can be present for your kids and get to it ASAP.

It doesn’t even have to be super deep. Being present in the moment looks like this: Attuning fully when they show you their 7,456th completed page from their coloring book, listening like you are at a concert when they ask you to hear that song they learned on the flute in band class today, sitting with them while they struggle through that English project, putting your phone down and talking to them in the car on the way to EVERY WHERE, turning off the TV and listening to them during dinner, helping them make that sign for their student council election and the like.

Parents have a tough job. We seem to constantly need relief from the weight it bears. However, if we adjust our perspective a bit and see each phase as a once in a lifetime moment on an amazing journey, we are sure to savor the time. When we purpose to enjoy each day of their childhood, we will never have to answer that horrible question, “Where did the time go?” Because we were right there in the middle of each one of those precious moments with them. Today is tomorrow’s “good old days…” so get out there and Carpe Diem!!!!

18 WAYS WE MADE IT 18 YEARS… AN ANNIVERSARY REFLECTION.

Today I celebrate my 18th wedding anniversary!!!! WOWZERS!!!! It’s hard to believe it has been that long, but what an INCREDIBLE adventure indeed. Especially jumping into marriage at 22, my husband and I grew up together. We have raised 2 children, traveled the world, bought and sold property, developed businesses, paid off debt, overcome challenges and setbacks, and learned SOOOOO much along the way. The best part about it, is that we did it all TOGETHER!!!!! And more importantly, with God at the forefront the entire time. We are by no means perfect, sooooo far from it. We have DEFINITLY had our challenges, but we are committed to growing and getting better and better as we go. Over the years many people ask, how do we stay together? How do we keep the love alive? Well, I truly believe that the secret sauce to a successful marriage is doing it according to the bible. Marriage is created by God. It is a sacred covenant between you and Him and when done in line with His Word, it can be the greatest journey of our lives. In honor of 18 years, I reflected on 18 specific things that I believe has kept our marriage blissful.

  1. Seek Godly/professional counsel during the tough times. Sometimes you just need a 3rd party who can shed light/Godly wisdom on an issue that neither of you can seem to agree on. We have sought counsel on several occasions during our marriage and it helped us regain our focus.
  2. Travel/ride through beautiful neighborhoods/test drive nice cars/connect with people you admire/try new foods… DREAM BIG!!!! It sets the tone for “the possible.” We are not called to settle and be stagnant. Step outside your comfort zone and dream/vision cast together. We do this ALLLLL the time. It is so much fun to explore the AMAZING possibilities that await.
  3. Do as many things as you can TOGETHER. Pretty much, if you see me, you see my husband and/or the kids. We are always together. We LOVE being TOGETHER. We grocery shop, walk, ride, go to basketball games, read, eat, worship, do yard work, etc. TOGETHER. We are a team. It makes EVERYTHING enjoyable.
  4. Divide chores and tasks evenly among each other. Because we are all stakeholders in this estate, we work together to help it run smoothly. He has strengths and so do I. We use them daily to help take care of the needs of our home/family in a balanced way so that no one is overloaded.
  5. Build your budget on one salary. Even though for a while we had 2 incomes coming in, it made it that much easier to transition into me stepping away from my job (both times) because we ALWAYS set our budget and spending on his salary. This takes the pressure off when babies come into the equation or any other demands that will require one of you to reduce work or step away from the job.
  6. Get out of debt and stay out. We eliminate the main area of contention when we don’t have enormous amounts of debt lingering over our heads. It takes such a load off and allows for great freedom to not have to use every dollar we make paying a bill. SOOO worth the sacrifice.
  7. Take vacation time. We go on at least 1 major trip and several weekend getaways each year. We enjoy the time SO much and it helps us recalibrate for all the great adventures ahead.
  8. Go on a date regularly. We go out at least once a week. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but just getting dressed and out keeps the party pumpin’!!!
  9. Put the kids to bed!!! Many people allow the kids to stay up late, sleep in their bed etc. We never did that. The kids have a bed time. We spend a TON of time with them every day. But when it is bedtime, they go to bed. That leaves time for us to have some time each day as well.
  10. You build your family, let God build your enterprises. Though we have goals and dreams, we are careful not to rush them at the expense of our marriage and/or family. Enterprise and businesses will come. However, these precious moments to raise our kids and build a strong foundation takes time, effort and dedication. It is our #1 priority.  We leave the work at the office…
  11. Pray together daily. Though we pray and have our time with God each day independently, we also pray together as a family each day. It sets the standard in our home that God is the head. It helps us keep our hearts on him FIRST.
  12. See and celebrate each other’s differences as additions/bonuses to what you lack individually. Though I am super outgoing and passionate, Mike is laid back and calm. This helps complete the package vs. creating a source of division. Differences are assets.
  13. Keep a thankful journal. I write in a thankful journal every night. Often times when I get frustrated or FORGET how great my husband is, or how great things are in our life, I can look back on years of great things that have happened to me EVERY SINGLE DAY and it INSTANTLY gets my mind right back into perspective.
  14. Take a MILLION pictures, keep records, make playlists of moments during the journey that you can regularly reflect upon. It goes SO fast and there are SO many monumental adventures to cherish. They will help keep a smile in your heart.
  15. Build your foundation on the Word. Avoid TV shows, movies, songs, examples of marriages that don’t line up with the Bible. This thing IS NOT miserable. Instead, it is SOOOOO much fun, when done God’s way. (ie. Love is patient, kind… does not dishonor others… is not easily angered… keeps no record of wrongs… etc) Look in the right places for wisdom and examples of marriage.
  16. Look good for each other, KEEP IT TIGHT!!! Lol!!! Put on your make-up, workout, dress nicely, be sexy for him/her as much as possible. Reinvent your game and stay SPICY!!!
  17. Spend time growing spiritually, mentally, emotionally, etc. as an individual to offer your best to the union. Read books, attend conferences, invest in yourself regularly in you can be a strong and healthy teammate.
  18. Last but CERTAINLY not least: Acknowledge that DIVORCE IS NOT AN OPTION. I KNOW times get tough. I mean TOUGH. But (with the exception of infidelity/abuse), it can be worked out. If you fight for your marriage, and don’t give any outside force a foothold, together you and your husband can put 10,000 to flight. Love never fails. I am thoroughly convinced!!!

Whew!!!! Aren’t you glad we haven’t been married 40 years!!! Lol!!! You would be reading forever!!! Lol!!!! I am thrilled to share this awesome ride with my best friend. We are having a BLAST!!! We have built something SO special and I am committed to seeing it through to forever. I hope some of the items on this list are a blessing to you. It was a fun reflection for me. Thanks for reading it!!! May you experience all the joys of an awesome union!!! Here’s to Happily Ever After…

THE SLUMBER PARTY POOPER: A Quick MUST- READ for EVERY Parent…

It’s the end of summer… the kids are getting older, they want to kick it with a few friends on the weekend, or perhaps you just need some well-deserved RELIEF… Tis the season for a good old fashioned, harmless sleepover. I mean, you’ve known this family for years, or better yet, they ARE family, and your daughter has a cell phone in case of emergencies… AND you have equipped her well with “the talk!” Surely, all things will be fine right????… Not so fast.

For this blog post, I will address a subject that is near and dear to my heart. It may be difficult to receive, or even believe. But if it slows you down, or helps you consider your decisions more thoughtfully, well… mission accomplished.

As a friend, teacher, and parent I have counseled many young women who have been the victim of rape, molestation or sexual assault some time in their life. Studies show that 1 in 5 will have some experience in their lifetime. Contrary to popular belief, it is rare that a stranger off the street, will kidnap and violate his victims. But more so, it is the distant cousin, uncle, family friend, neighbor etc. at which the innocence is compromised. Too many times, it happens during the sleepovers/camps/weekend trips/family reunions, when our children are most vulnerable. When our guard is down because of the trust we have given to the people in our camp.

Here’s a typical example: You let your daughter go to her cousin’s house for the weekend. I mean, this is your sister!!! She would NEVER let anything happen to your daughter. Besides, her daughter is your daughter’s best friend. They are the same age and have grown up together. This situation seems completely harmless. However, you didn’t consider the fact that your nephew is now 16. It’s Friday, and he has a couple friends over. Maybe they aren’t perfect angels, but they are boys… they are teenagers… and… well… You get my point. Or perhaps your brother-in-law has a few guys over to play pool. They are drinking a bit, but nothing crazy. I mean, your sister is right there. TRUST ME… I get it.

But as a victim myself, I can tell you, it only takes 10 minutes to steal the innocence of a child. As a matter of fact, one touch, one look, exposure to sexual sin, can completely obliterate your child’s image of God’s holy, beautiful, sacred act forever. Furthermore, many former victims of a sexual violation/deviation, have changed their entire perception of themselves, others and their sexuality; leaving them with bouts of depression, low self-esteem, promiscuity, and a disgust for heterosexual relationships and intercourse all together.

With the level of pornographic images on TV, magazines, the Internet at an easy grab, it seems to only exploit the sexual appetite, which promotes a stronger drive for sexual deviance now more than ever. We must be super proactive in our awareness of this potential threat and let it govern our decisions regarding overnight/home-alone/babysitting experiences. I am certainly not trying to scare you. But perhaps increase your awareness to avoid potential unwanted behavior.

As a parent, here are some simple ideas to help:

  1. Of course, give your child “the talk.” No matter their age or gender, they should know that there are areas of their body that are OFF LIMITS!!! NO EXCEPTIONS!!! That if anyone were to EVER touch them there, they should get away and get help IMMEDIATELY.
  2. You should maintain an open line of safe communication where your child knows they can come to you and freely ask questions and seek advice at any time. Create this exchange by giving them your undivided attention, time and concern at will. A safe place where they can share their most sacred thoughts without judgement or penalty.
  3. Be mindful of your child’s whereabouts at all times. Not just where they are. But who else is there? Make regular check-ups to evaluate the security of this place. This includes after school practices, pick-ups and drop-offs etc.
  4. Let your presence be made known. Your child and all parties involved should know and feel your presence. Be active in calling-in, asking questions, and showing up. Even if the kids are playing in the basement, there should be a natural understanding that you are on the scene and will make an appearance in some way shape or form. Of course, you shouldn’t be “Stalker-Mom” or anything, but you must be “there” if only through a FaceTime, phone call, drop-in exchange.

There are so many great benefits to giving our children some time away from home. There are so many great social experiences to be had and memories to create. Nevertheless, we as parents must be aware of the potential threats that can bring harm to our children and act accordingly. If we are mindful of these simple steps, we can help prevent a lifetime of heartache.