Monday, July 25, 2016

Marissa + Caden || Mama/Baby Photography

Pretty much anything involving babies is my favorite. 
But when the mama is my bestie cousin, and her son is my adopted nephew, and I get the chance to take pictures of them?
Then it's like ALL of my favorite things at one time. 
I'm the proud auntie, and this is my cousin's first baby, and it was my first time meeting him. 
So many fun firsts. 
So let me veer off of my regular professional (hmm?) way of writing and just gush a little bit... 
This little guy is the cutest, sweetest, most lovable, most huggable, most charming specimen of itty bitty manhood. I fell promptly, completely, and totally in love with him.
Can we just take a minute to discuss his chin? HIS CHIN. Have you ever seen such a lovable little dollop of chin? It made all of his little expressions twice as funny, watching all of that dear little flubber melt down to the bottom of his face!
All da heart eyes. ALL OF DEM.
The photoshoot definitely wasn't the favorite part of his day. He did well, but he wasn't like over the top impressed with the whole idea. See above expression. =)

His expression! Slay me...
"For all the things my hands have held, the best by far is YOU."


Stay tuned for the full post of my visit with this little guy + his mama, up next!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Recap From the Cruz Campaign Trail

{Note: I basically never post the same post on both our family blog + my personal blog. This one is an exception. Sometimes things just need to be posted twice. 
This is my heart, and I wanted to share it here on my blog as well}

This post has been in the works since February of this year. After Ted Cruz dropped out of the presidential race on May 5th, my family asked me if I was just going to delete the draft and forget about publishing it.
My answer? "Absolutely not!"

Here's why. Being involved, in a little way, in one of the greatest campaigns in history was an experience I wouldn't trade for the world. Even though it didn't end the way we would've hoped,
 I still wanted to document and share our experiences and what we learned from the Cruz Campaign, and why we choose to be involved in the first place.

It wasn't because it was glamorous or prestigious. It wasn't.
It wasn't because we had lots of extra time to dump into a new cause. We didn't.
It wasn't because we were wanting more publicity or media attention. Not at all.
It wasn't because we needed more hate mail or nasty online comments or twisted statements or ridiculous articles written about us. We already had that.
It wasn't because we felt like dealing with a whole new level of criticism and hate and rudeness.
No. Goodness, NO.

It was because it was a GODLY cause, for a GODLY man, and we wanted to be a part of it.

You may not know this (the media definitely didn't tell you) but the Iowa caucus was won by Cruz because a handful of Iowa pastors, who loved Jesus and their country, got on their knees and PRAYED AND FASTED. And then they went to work. They engaged their congregations and their communities. Friends told friends. Common, ordinary, everyday people used their little platforms of influence in every and any way they could think of. Moms made phone calls while their little children napped. Young people knocked on thousands of doors. Older people came and lived at the Cruz Crew campus and made thousands of phone calls. Whole families got involved. Bumper stickers went on vehicles everywhere.

Many people thought our family was completely overboard- devoting way too much time and energy to politics- but God clearly put this this mission on our hearts last April, both individually and as a family, and we chose to pursue it, along with our first and greatest mission of spreading the gospel and encouraging God's people. For us, the campaigning went along with the other two, and we viewed it as not only a work for our country, but also a work for the Lord. This wasn't about something we were doing. This was about working for Jesus and a godly cause, to make a difference for future generations, for the sake of our country. No, we didn't know for sure that Senator Cruz would win or lose, at that point.
But that wasn't the main point. The main point was following the CALL Jesus gave us.

I thought y'all might be interested in hearing from the whole family, individually. So I asked each of them to write a paragraph about their experience working for the campaign. Here are their thoughts. Enjoy the variety. =)

MARLIN: "One thing my eyes were opened to when campaigning was how much the public believes everything they hear through the media. Many people don't think for themselves anymore. They believe solely what they see and hear through TV, radio, and internet. In realizing this, I have learned to be more thorough in examining facts about something or someone before I believe what I may have heard about them. I was deeply grieved by the way Christians sought to find fault with Senator Cruz (complaining about things such as his church denomination or theology beliefs) but blatantly refused to acknowledge the infinitely more important issues with Trump, such as literally every aspect of his very questionable personal life. It was very sad to realize how deceived and confused Christians have become."

BECKY: "It was a privilege to work for the Cruz campaign.  To know that there are still a few godly people in our country's government was SO encouraging.  Can you believe that in our politically correct country, there are even still political events that begin with prayer?Yes, every day at the campaign headquarters began with all the leadership and volunteers meeting together in prayer to our Almighty God.  I was also blessed to meet individuals (both volunteers and people we met while door knocking) who still understand the need for men in our government who will stand for truth and righteousness.  My heart is still grieving that the American people don't understand the need for godly leaders, but my hope is in the Lord. 'Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; He also is become my salvation.' Isaiah 12:2"

CHELSY: "Campaigning was a sober wake-up call to how low my country has fallen. The worst conversations I had with people; the people that acted and talked in the most ungodly way; the people who were the most lacking in common judgement and sense...were not, as you would think, the liberal left (although they were too!) but the professing Christians. You would have thought that it would be these Christians who would have rallied around the candidate who, without a shadow of a doubt, shared the most of their professed values, but no. These were the people who chose to defend and vote for a man whose personal and public life went DELIBERATELY against everything that Christianity stands for. It was absolutely heart wrenching to see it all play out in front of me as I talked with people.  However, the campaign had very encouraging moments as well. One of my favorite conversations was one that Taylor and I had with a gentleman in his mid-fifties. The poor man had quite the family history and life story which he proceeded to lay out to us over the course of nearly half an hour. We listened and sympathized; yes, we were there to talk about Cruz, but he obviously just needed someone to talk to PERIOD and so we did..inserting Cruz information and facts whenever the timing was right. =) Finally at the end of our conversation, after telling him at various times throughout the thirty minutes why he should vote for Cruz over Rubio (his favorite), I asked him if we could count on his vote. He looked at both of us with a smile and said, "Well, I guess if two young people can come all the way from Iowa to Georgia and spend this time talking with me because you are that passionate about this man Cruz...well then you can count on my vote too." That made my day and also made me realize that in the end, listening to someone and showing them you care is what matters the most."

MITCHELL: "If I were to give a piece of advice to someone about to go door-knocking (for anything, not just a political campaign), it would be this- have a bulldog mentality.  In other words, don't get discouraged just because someone rejected you- keep on going. Campaigning is EXTREMELY draining; not just physically, but also emotionally.  So remember why you are doing what you are doing, and draw strength from encouraging people, rather than allowing the discouraging people to get you down.  Ultimately, if you are doing it for the Lord (i.e. soul-winning, campaigning for a conservative candidate, etc), draw your strength from the Lord! 'For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief.' Proverbs 24:16"

ALLISON: "Working on the Cruz campaign was a wonderful, growing experience.  I think the biggest thing I learned through this time is to have grace for people who have different views + opinions.  Not everyone is going to see things, politically and otherwise, the way I do, and that is okay.  There is a difference between shoving politics down someone's throat and presenting the truth in love.  Jesus was all about sharing the truth in love, and that is how I want to be in politics and every area of my life."

CARSON: "It was a blessing to spend time campaigning for the sake of our country. I am so grateful to our forefathers who fought and died for our freedom, and I felt like the least I could do was to knock on doors and do my best to further conservative, Christian principles in America."

JOSH: "On the campaign trail we met all sorts of people. There were some who were very supportive and Christ-like, and others...who tested the limits of our patience. =) However, there is one experience, the most memorable of my door-knocking ventures, that I will never forget. One particularly chilly morning in South Carolina, Liz an I were door-knocking partners. At one of the very first doors we were met with a most unwelcoming reception. Feeling somewhat dejected, we continued to the next door, where a dear lady, probably in her late-thirties, opened the door and welcomed us in. We soon learned that she was a Cruz supporter and a homeschooling mother. This lady also happened to have a sweet daughter around Liz's age, and naturally, Liz and her daughter hit if off instantly. We chatted for a bit about life and the campaign. Before we left, however, the dear lady insisted on us taking two cups of hot chocolate with us. (to which we gladly obliged!!) I will never forget her hospitality. It was moments such a these that energized me to continue stumping the campaign trail."

DENVER: "Because I enjoy confrontation, campaigning was a mostly fun experience for me. My favorite part was learning about people's responses to a stranger knocking on their door. Some were quite friendly, others less so. One thing that I found out is that ladies and young people are usually friendly but older men are normally not as much. There were definitely differences in people from the north and those from the south. While the people from Iowa were almost always civil, they were rarely friendly. Those from the South were either quite friendly or just slammed the door in my face. I also enjoyed campaigning because although I am already a people-person, it helped me to be even more comfortable with strangers. All in all it was a great experience that taught me many lessons that I will use later in life."

TAYLOR: "Working with the Cruz campaign was very rewarding. Although the end result was not what I worked and prayed for, I do not regret what I did. Looking back, I know I did my part. Naturally I do not like rejection (something I experienced many times on the trail), but as my brother Mitch would say "they are not rejecting you. They are rejecting what you are fighting for." It is also encouraging when sharing the Gospel to know that unsaved people are not rejecting me. They are rejecting Jesus. From this campaign, I learned many things that will benefit me for years to come. #1 Our country is in worse shape than I thought. #2 There are more opportunities to fight for truth than ever before. So, reader, never lose heart. Truth is always worth fighting for and will always prevail. John 14:6. Jesus is the truth!"

LIZ: "I really enjoyed being able to campaign for Cruz. It was fun to be able to be with siblings and friends. Sometimes people were a little rude but there were also really nice people and...once in a blue moon there would be people who would invite you into their house and give you hot chocolate on a cold and windy day.[but that only happened once!:}] 
It was a very fun experience and I would do it all over again!

HUDSON: "My favorite time with the campaign was the time I got to knock doors with just my eleven year old friend and me. That was fun. I liked that sometimes we volunteers got to eat Chick-Fil-A; that was cool!! Also I learned that everyone in the south has at least one dog, if not MANY dogs, and that husbands and wives were often divided on the issue of who to vote for, and that was interesting."

REBECCA:"I liked campaigning. I mostly got to go on Carson's team and we had a lot of fun together. People were usually nice to us.  One time we knocked on a door and the lady who answered started talking and talking. She said, "I went swimming today...." and she was telling us all sorts of things. And I was thinking, 'Lady, we aren't here to talk about what you did today'!"
(Note: literally that statement was in her own words, when I asked her to tell me about her campaigning. And also...people were always civil if not sweet to whoever she was with. The cutie factor was definitely a part of that. =))

One of the huge perks of working with such an amazing campaign was meeting all the incredible people volunteering with the campaign. In South Carolina we met "Joe". (pictured above with us outside of the Cruz Quarters) He asked his boss to give him some time off work so that he could volunteer with the Cruz campaign for a few weeks. His boss said no. So "Joe" just quit his job altogether and came anyway, moving from Ohio to South Carolina to be a part of the campaign.
His was not an isolated story. Many gave up time, energy, and resources to be a part of this grassroots movement.
We met all sorts of people and saw all sorts of sights. We took pictures while out campaigning in our various teams and sent them on our text loop to keep a good sense of humor going. =)
The Second Amendment movement was definitely alive and well in the south! 
Now, if we could only have gotten those southerners to UTILIZE that common sense and vote for the only candidate who TRULY CARED about the second amendment. 
Amazing sometimes, how people can be so wise and so NOT WISE at the same time! =|

When friends we campaigned with in Iowa also come south to work on the campaign...we got to campaign together again!
Allison, Josh, and Denver working the phone banks!
Many churches unknowingly hosted debate night watch parties for our family. (haha!)

We really really REALLY wished that Fox and CNN and all of those people would've checked with us before setting the debate schedule, because we would have requested that they debates please be on our very few off nights? =)

Instead, there we were in the middle of a concert, trying to stay focused but picturing in our minds the current state of things at the debate. Concerts went something like this:

Sing first song.
Sit down and silently pray for Cruz while dad introduces next song.
Think about what might be currently happening in the debate.
Back to real life---hop up to do the next song.
Sing several songs.
Think about the debate WHILE SINGING. =/
Finally finish concert. Push people out the door Be friendly and talk to people.
RUN to computers when everyone has finally gone and proceed to crowd around laptops to watch whatever portion of the debate is left. (and then later go back and watch the part we missed)
Hudson's expression. =) Listening to his and Rebecca's views on the whole political scene was most enlightening. They are so immersed in the "adult world" of our family and they just loved everything we did with the campaign.
"Guysss! There's a political update! Everyone crowd around to hear!" (typical sight)
Moments when we were so "in the mood" that we sent messages like the above. =)
Chick-Fil-A was the central location of choice for the campaign groups. Above, a few from our family and a a random group of volunteers enjoy lunch together in the midst of a campaign day.
Strategizing + planning before heading out early one morning in Georgia.
Obviously we just had our bus, so we either borrowed or rented cars from various people. 
This day in Georgia, we rented three cars, and they were pretty classy rides. =)
The Cruz campaign did a phenomenal job of utilizing the latest technology for campaigning. We all had the "Walk 360" app on our phones. All we had to do, from state to state, was to login with our personal usernames + passwords, and then select what state/town/area we wanted to work in. We would each pick a different "walk book" (see above) or sometimes when the walk books were bigger and we didn't have as much time we would do several people/groups to a walk book. If a walk book had, say, 45 spots/circles, that represented 45 different households. For example, I would click on #1 and another tab would open up with the house number, and also name/s and approx ages of the registered republican voters within that home. So I would go up to the house and knock and ask for the person named. If they weren't home I would give my "pitch" to whoever answered the door. We all had our own personal methods of how we like to start our conversations, but usually we would begin with asking if the person knew who they were planning to vote for, and go from there. At the end of the visit we would check the boxes (on the same tab on the app for that household) for several questions, such as 
1) voting for Cruz
2) undecided
3) persuaded for Cruz
4) not home/left literature

We kept refreshing our apps as we went along, which would make it then show up on everyone else's phones which houses were being done, as we all went along, so that no house got hit twice. 

It was a marvelous system and made the whole experience go like clockwork, as far as those details were concerned.
Our group text chats were everything from sobering to nail-bitting to hilarious. Sometimes we texted to vent and sometimes it was for comic relief and sometimes it was to arrange a place to meet up. We texted on our group campaign chats to keep track of each other when we were out campaigning but the longer texts were in recaps afterwards and at other times. They were always entertaining and informative!

I found that the above emoji (steam coming from mouth) was my most accurate description of my feelings after talking to the average southern Baptist older white male. This man (honestly can't even call him a gentleman) made me almost lose faith in mankind in general. I felt like speaking with him greatly tested my Christian testimony. By God's grace I didn't totally lose my temper but seriously...
After we had gone round and round for ???? long, I finally just laid it all out in front of him. Trump's personal failures, his immoral wife, his heavy involvement in the pornography and strip club industries...the whole shebang. When I had finally finished the man looked down and said something to the effect of, "well, that may be true but...he still is the man we need for president because he is such a good businessman." At that point I was so done. After everything I had said, that he KNEW WAS TRUE, this professing Christian and conservative still held to the fact that money was, after all, the most important thing. I was so sobered as I walked away from that house with my younger sister, realizing that the conversation I had just had was a very accurate representation of the majority of the  churches and "Christians" of the south.

Here is a segment from yet another group text, said by a fellow Iowa campaigner after the very discouraging Trump wins in the south: "Well, take solace in the fact that we reside in one of three still sane states in the nation. There's my uplifting thought for the evening." (this text was sent out right after one of the particularly discouraging voting days; I think it was right after we had campaigned in SC and then SC voted for Trump)
Brother love!
We met some amazing heroes of the political world. This family (pictured with us above, at dinner after a full day of campaigning in Georgia) were incredible examples of a family that campaigned at a whole new level. They inspired us with their knowledge and hard work. It was an honor to work with them.

You wouldn't believe it, but those five little girls (at the end of the table) sat and talked Cruz all during dinner. That's what the campaign can do to you---even your kids are all fired up and politics is their topic of choice. =)
Campaigning in Georgia.
Dad pretty much won "best phone caller for Cruz" award. Seriously he was KILLER. Actually he was great convincing anybody, via phone or in person, to vote for Cruz. I remember one instance in Alabama where I found out about a friend of a friend who was planning to vote for Trump. I got his phone number and gave it to my dad and said "will you please call him and get him on the Cruz team?" It took my dad 45 minutes but in the end he was able to convince him. 
The thing that just stood out to me with the Cruz Campaign, over and over again, was the incredible unity among the most random group of individuals. People who were wealthy; people who were poor. People who were young; people who were old. Nearly all of them working on a completely volunteer basis. Even those who were paid staff (and those were very few) worked hours far beyond their salary. They didn't do this because they were forced, or even asked. They did it of their own accord, because they had a PASSION for this cause. 
This man we campaigned for, Senator Ted Cruz, spoke last evening at the National Republican Convention. Take a few minutes to watch the video (above) of Senator Cruz's speech. It should just take this video to make you see why our family and thousands upon thousands of others were so passionate about getting this godly man in the White House. He continues to stand strong, for truth and righteousness, even since dropping out of the race. He is one of the only ones left who refuses to give his endorsement to a candidate who is utterly unworthy of the position of president. Congressmen, Senators, pastors...people left and right are bending their knee to the  "golden calf", if you will, and giving their support over to Donald Trump. I am not only proud to have been a part of Senator Cruz's campaign, but I am proud of how he has honored God and his country in his life since his campaign ended.

If you listen to the news, you will hear that during his speech, Ted Cruz acted like a poor loser, that his speech was a joke, and that he is a complete idiot. I saw comments like this and much worse on the Fox News feed last night, and was completely disgusted at the lack of common sense being displayed by the people who were discussing his speech. You would think that any American with any common sense of decency would have instead been discussing the outrage of the fact that security had to escort Heidi Cruz out of the room during her husband's speech, due to the yelling and mobbing of her by the Trump crowd. But no. Most people took no time to do their research on the disgraceful conduct of Trump's supporters at the convention, and even if they had, the media would never tell them about this. (we know about it because we had friends who were there at the convention)

I found the following quote recently and it just seems to fit so well as a closing for this post,  to remember that no matter what Jesus calls us to do, He WILL GIVE US the strength and the faith to follow His call.
"In Christ we find... 
 strength for the struggle, and faith for the fight."

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy July 4th!!

Popping in today from Plymouth, Massachusetts, to wish y'all a very red, white, and blue 4th of July! I love this holiday because of the freedom it stands for! Today is the first time in years that we've actually been in the states to celebrate this day and it has been such a special time. 

The freedom we have in this land is because of what our country was founded upon; biblical principles that were used as the foundation for our constitution and the making of this grand old USA. God has blessed us so richly. May we never forget to thank Him for His goodness and grace. Even with losing so many of our freedoms and our country changing in so many ways, there are still so many things so be thankful for, the greatest of which is the only true freedom which is in JESUS alone. 
"And I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free
And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me
And I'd gladly stand up next to you and defend Her still today
'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land...God bless the USA."
"Long may our land be bright, with freedom's holy light,
 protect us by THY MIGHT, Great God our King."

God bless the USA + y'all enjoy your fireworks tonight!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Summer Tour Schedule!

{random picture of my Liz + I, since every post needs a photo}

My dear blog readers! It is with a tour schedule announcement that I return to blogger-land civilization! Cheers! =)

I am still doing the family band with my dearest ones, and we just left on tour two weeks ago. Obviously I'm a little late here publishing our schedule; my apologies. It's life! 

But anyways, here it is, a little update of sorts. I will be back soon to more regular blogging, Lord willing, although I seem to have a faint recollection of saying that in one of my last posts. (sorry!)

In the meantime, if you'd like to see a peep into the recent life of my family + I, head on over to 
the family blog and read the last few posts which I've written in the last week!

9...Gospel Music Barn, Hudsonville, MI, 6:30pm
10...Shiloh Mennonite Church, Plain City, OH, 7pm
11...Mount Zion House of Prayer, Utica, OH, 7pm
12...Dayspring Mennonite Church, Berlin, OH, 9:30am
12...Gospel Haven Mennonite Church, Millersburg, OH, 6pm
14...The Commons Park, Mesopotamia, OH, 7pm
15...Bethany Mennonite Church, Hartville, OH, 7pm
16...New Hope Christian Fellowship, Grantsville, MD, 7pm
17...Mt View Mennonite Church, Lyndhurst, VA, 7pm
18...Marion Mennonite Church, Chambersburg, PA, 7pm
19...Strasburg Mennonite Church, Strasburg, PA, 10am
19...Lebanon Valley Bible Church, Lebanon, PA, 6:30pm
22...Lauvers Mennonite Church, Richfield, PA, 7pm
24...Franconia Mennonite Church, Franconia, PA, 7pm
25...Sam Yoders Farm, Houston, DE, 7pm
26...Honeybrook Community Church, Honeybrook, PA, 9:30am
26...Hinkletown Mennonite Church, Ephrata, PA, 7pm
29...Crystal Valley Church Gym, Dundee, NY, 7pm
1...Grace Christian Fellowship, Bainbridge, NY, 7pm
2...Sacandaga Bible Camp, Broadalbin, NY, 7pm
3...North Stonington Baptist Church, North Stonington, CT, 10am
3...First Baptist Church, Ansonia, CT, 4pm
6...New England Baptist Church, Medford, MA, 7pm
7...Calvary Baptist Church, Turner, ME, 7pm
8...River Valley Baptist Church, Woodstock, NB, 7pm 
9...Calvary Church, Sussex, NB, 7pm
10...Community Baptist Church, Charlottetown, PE, 10:00am
10...Summerside Baptist Church, Summerside, PE, 7pm
12...Memorial Baptist Church, Pugwash, NS, 6:30pm
13...Maranatha Baptist Church, New Glasgow, NS, 7pm
14...Rodd Grand Convention Center, Yarmouth, NS, 6:30pm
15...Woodville Community Center, Woodville, NS, 7:30pm
16...Sheffield Baptist Church, Halifax, NS, 7pm
17...Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Bridgetown, NS, 10:30am
17...Faith Baptist Chapel, Centre (Lunenburg County), NS, 7pm
20...Bethel Church, Oakfield, ME, 6pm
21...Grace Brethren Church, Irasburg, VT, 6pm
22...Covenant Community Church, Essex, VT, 7pm
24...Christian Church of Charleston, Sprakers, NY, 11am
24...Naumburg Mennonite Church, Naumburg, NY, 7pm
27...Gospel Light Bible Church, Port Burwell, ON, 7pm
28...Portuguese Club, Leamington, ON, 7pm
29...Mapleview Mennonite Church, Wellesly, ON, 7pm
30...Odisagah Camp, Machics, NY, 7pm
31...Glen Ridge Bible Church, Saint Catherines, ON, 6:30pm

Anyways, as said before, I understand that I am late posting this, and that most of the upcoming concerts are in states a little off the beaten trail (at least not where we normally travel) but I probably have a few blog readers in the New England states and eastern Canadian provinces and I would love to meet some of y'all, so please do come out to a concert! 

And as I always say, if you do come, then please come and introduce yourself! Because you might recognize my face from the blog, but obviously unless I have met you before I won't recognize you! So don't be shy, people! =)

Until next time, (which hopefully will be less than two months, haha!) have a beautiful week!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

When Life Appears Peachy (but it really isn't)

It was a cold Sunday morning, last December.

My week had been rough. Actually, kind of beyond rough. My world felt about as upside down and inside out as possible, and basically no one knew. It was a pretty low point and I was really struggling.

But it was Sunday morning. And it wasn't going to help anyone to wear my life on my face, so I pulled myself together as I knew I needed to, and headed to church. I spent the hour prior to church as normal, helping my pastor's wife get her babies all ready and to church, and I finally slid into a seat in my class's room just as announcements were starting.

Our Bible fellowship class always start out with prayer requests and announcements. Someone asked if there were any prayer requests. All was one said anything. I was such a mess with my own internal struggle that I was halfways tuned out and not paying a whole lot of attention to what was going on around me anyways.

Our leader got up to give the lesson. He looked at us and smiled as he said, "Well, its great to know that everyone's life is so peachy that there are no prayer requests!"

There were a few looks exchanged, and half-hearted laughs, and I could literally feel the vibe around that table, and I knew I wasn't the only one, that was thinking "My life? Peachy? Not a chance! If only you KNEW."

His statement stunned me. At that moment reality hit me between the eyes. Hard. I was out of my fog and in the zone immediately. I could think of a whole lot of descriptions for my current circumstances in life but peachy was not even close. I realized, "People have NO CLUE."

And then I got to thinking. If I had all this stuff in my life, and nobody knew, and I was faking everyone so well in concealing pain that I had...then for all I knew everyone else in my class was at the same place.

That hit me hard too. Really? It rocked my world to think about this. Who knew the pain of the girl sitting next to me? Who knew the monumental decision facing the guy across the table? Who knew the stories of their struggle of current living and just doing life? Surviving?
Probably no one...just like no one knew about me.

I thought about this a lot that morning during our class, and I continued to think about it in the coming weeks. It struck me so greatly that I started a blog post about it (this) and I'm finishing + posting it now, five months later.

This experience made me think about several things.
First of all, it made me realize yet again that just because someone looks perfect and like they have it all together, doesn't mean they are and do.
Secondly, it showed me how important it is to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. If I sense Jesus wanting me to talk to someone, or send a note or text of encouragement, or just take a minute to stop and pray for someone, I need to do that RIGHT AWAY, even if I have no idea what they are going through. Because chances are very good Jesus put them on my heart for a reason, and they are going through something of which I may have no idea.

It was funny; I had already been thinking for a while about this concept of being more sensitive to the Spirit's leading. I had seen several situations in my life where just a simple text to let someone know I was praying for them, had been just at the time when they needed encouragement, even though I didn't know that beforehand.

But this experience in my class in December got me thinking about it even more. "How many people are going through life, putting a smile on their face + stuffing the pain, and nobody takes time to ask them how they are REALLY doing, because they assume that because they look perfect and like they have it all together, that everything in their life is peachy?"

I was so convicted at this! It is so easy for me to go through life and forget that there are also other people out there who may be going through things of which I have no idea. Some personalities are more open + honest about their struggles, but there are many people (like me) who often just stuff everything inside and wear a smile, trying to make it through without other people knowing what is really going on. There are pros and cons to each side, obviously---there is a time when honesty + openness are very good, and other times when one has to just learn to deal with things and move on. The whole world doesn't always need to know of our struggles. At the same time, it isn't a good idea to always keep everything bottled up and put forth this facade of perfection.

I honestly didn't used to write posts like this. For much of my life I have felt like I could be more effective by "having it all together" and being as "godly" as possible. I struggled with bondage from feeling like I had to be a good example; like I had to look good, regardless of what I was actually experiencing or feeling.

Don't get me wrong, I am still striving for godliness. But more than having a beautiful, picture-perfect life, more than having it all together, more than any of that...I just want to be used in my brokenness. This life is not about perfection. It's not about giving an impression of a perfect life. It's about being REAL. Real with Jesus, and real with people.

I feel like as Jesus is showing me freedom in some of these areas, that there is a need for me to be more open + honest. I struggle with life at times just like anybody else. I have so many flaws it's really quite humbling! I feel sometimes as though I am a kindergardener in the school of life, instead of being a twenty-something year old who you would think should have a lot more of life figured out by now. But even in this very humbling and broken state, my heart is to be honest and share as I'm learning. Not when I have arrived, or reached a state of "perfection" in the areas I write about. But I need to write when I am "in the midst", because that is when the true testing happens, and where the heart is the most vulnerable. That is when we can push each other on to new heights in the Lord...when the fire is hot and our hearts are being tested.

I hope something said here can challenge someone else in the area of being open to the Holy Spirit and reaching out to people in your life, even if it looks like those people's lives are perfect and "peachy". For all you know, there are layers of hurt and pain hidden beneath the smile, and that person you spend time with today may be in desperate need of someone to say a kind word or a prayer and just give them a little extra Jesus.

Just because they are putting on a smile and "looking the part" doesn't mean their life is peachy perfect.

 Listen to the Spirit. Reach out. You just might make a difference bigger than you know.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A New Year + A New Day

This kind of post gets written on January 1st, typically. Y'all are probably reading the post title and thinking, "Did I miss something? This should've been posted four months ago!"

No, you didn't miss anything.
Yes, I know it is April 16th.
Yes, a New Years Resolution post of sorts does not typically get written a third of the way into the new year. (which is no longer the new year anyways!)

But let's all just keep in mind that this is Chelsy Bontrager writing here today, and her middle name is Odd, not Typical. (keepin' it real...)

Thanks in advance for giving me grace, friends! =)

For a plethora of reasons of which I will spare you, I really am feeling four months behind in the world of 2016. My goals are still in progress, and I will be honest and tell you that I just started writing them down not too long ago. My energy, my vision, the fuel that lights my fire...that all didn't kick in until last month. I've just been behind on life this year.

But when it finally did kick in and I sat down and dealt with some stuff and then started writing and dreaming?! That was like vision OVERLOAD. The real Chels who would normally want her whole year planned out by December 31st, had been missing in action, and in March she returned to her scene of crime, ahem, scene of attack. =)

I'm telling you, those were some glorious days!

First of all, I'm so thankful God knows the timeline of our lives and that He runs it, not us! As always, He knew just what I would need on the exact day. He knew that I would need those three days that I had off at one of my favorite spots ever. He knew that that time would be the perfect time, in which I would be ready and have quiet and rest and TIME to plan and dream and scheme and prepare. HE KNEW.

I haven't written on the blog here (as in, REALLY written) for a very long time. In fact, I think that the only "contemplations" style posts (or more like, fireworks style maybe!) this year have been political posts. It's not that I haven't been writing at all on heart stuff. My pen and keypad have been on a roll lately.

I was pretty dried up in January + February and honestly had the thought more than once about deleting this whole blog. (I'm serious) But then in March God just really got me back on the straight + narrow and gave me a distinct vision for what He has next for me. And, like I said, my pen and keypad have been on a roll. I just haven't had peace in posting much of it until now. I have literally dozens of post ideas written down, and about twenty articles saved in my drafts folder. So y'all can pray that I will post them whenever God gives me the green light + final thoughts for each one! Things will be pretty sporadic still for the next two months as I am focusing on some relationships + personal goals + also working on changing things here on the blog. (think new look!) All good things take time, yes?!

Jesus is doing great things in this world and my life. I'm just blown away again at how AWESOME it is to be on the Jesus team. I can't imagine life without Him-He has shown Himself SO STRONG in my life this year already and I'm beyond grateful for the opportunity to lean on Him when my strength is weak. There's this song that says, "life is hard but God is good" and I just couldn't agree more. I'm especially blown away by how He can take the darkest seasons of our lives and make something beautiful come out of it.

Painful, yes. Undesired, yes. Messy, yes. But still beautiful.

The header picture for this post was taken on our road, last fall, just before harvest. It goes perfectly with my title today because it is a picture of the sunrise, which always signifies a clean slate to me. 

As Anne Shirley would say, "it's a new day, with no mistakes in it". 

That's the thought I'm taking for the coming year, or the two-thirds that remains of it. Jesus has a purpose and He ALWAYS gives vision + direction when we seek Him for it. I'm excited about what He has given me. And I have JOY in my heart because I know He always gives strength to carry out the vision He gives. And that is something to be excited about!

Y'all have a gorgeous weekend + I'll see ya back here soon!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Sisterhood Adventure || A Roadtrip + Ontario Wedding

Once upon a time...two sisters planned a trip to work a wedding in eastern Ontario. 

Ah. Weddings. If the sisters had their choice they would very possibly do nothing but weddings. They are dearly in love with weddings and everything that happens at these wonderful events. With the sisters' current job schedule (aka touring with the family band half of the year) there don't end up being very many weekends available for them to do weddings. So when wedding requests AND their schedules line up together, it is a happy time. =)

When their sweet Ontario friend asked them to come and do the music + bridal hair/makeup at her wedding, the sisters knew they wanted to go if it was at all possible. With the crazy fall schedule they were running it took a little arranging and planning, but the details finally worked out!

As usual, the sisters divided and conquered with the planning of the trip. Sister A was responsible for vehicle details, arranging directions + stops, and communicating with the bride about the music details. Sister B was responsible for food packing, coordinating the hair/makeup details, and making the schedule.

Everything finally came together and early on Friday morning (think 4am!) the sisters headed east in their little red car.

In Fort Wayne, Indiana, there was a stop made at the incredible Sweetwater Sound. The sisterhood had been commissioned by the fam with several instruments that were in need of repair.

The stop was quite informative-if they would've had more time they definitely would have had fun browsing the place.

As it was, they were laser-focused because they had a rehearsal they needed to attend and not much extra time to spare.

It was slightly awkward because brother had said his guitar had a crack in the center, so sisters took the guitar in and then the guitar repair guy couldn't find the crack and he said "are you sure?" and sister A said "of course I'm sure-I SAW it with my own eyes!! I don't know what happened to it but it was there!" So then of course guitar repair guy thought sister A was being a little odd but she was adamant that there WAS a crack so repair guy took the guitar to the window for better light and praise the Lord he found the crack. Apparently depending on weather and such, cracks can become bigger or smaller. In this case, it had become smaller. Who knew?

Getting all of that figured out took a while, and the sisters were getting anxious to get back on the road because time was running tight. They walked with pep in their steps towards the door and deliberately ignored the rather unique looking group of lounging guys that said "hi" and seemed to be hankering for a conversation. (Not happening, gentlemen) The sisters definitely had more important things on the agenda, such as a wedding. No time to stop and chat with random sketchy men today. (well, or ever)

Chipotle is where it happens. The sisterhood's restaurant of choice. Amazing sister B even had the foresight to purchase drinks ahead of time (because we all know that they are cheaper at the store than they are at the restaurant!) and bring them along. (because fizz with Mexican food is just perfection)

Unfortunately, the sisters hit Chipotle at a very busy time of day. They had to wait in line for 20ish minutes. Sister A decided to quickly run to the bathroom because the line was just going nowhere. Of course, right when she left everything sped up and sister B was up to order within seconds. Sister B tried to order for Sister A and ordered the wrong thing so when Sister A got back she had to hold up the line by changing her order. (because WHO EVEN gets a bowl when they can get a BURRITO for the same price? Okay, the healthier version of the sisterhood, which would be Sister B. NOT Sister A) Naturally then both the guy behind the counter AND the guy behind her in line were both upset for the holdup. But such is life.

Other than that the experience was fabulous. =) So was the 86% dark chocolate that they had in the car to top things off as they drove away later.

Beautiful skies and scenery from the window during the drive.
And then the sisterhood had the story of the border crossing.

Mercy, what a saga...

To start things off, they were running just a tad behind. (as mentioned previously) 

They had been keeping stops to a minimum and speeding right along, but the drop off at the music store had taken longer than planned, and that infamous line at Chipotle didn't help either. Things were pretty tight to make it to the rehearsal on time. So there was no extra time for border issues. (fingers crossed...)

They drove up to the checkpoint and handed in their passports. Right from the beginning there was trouble. The border guard was, um, less than ideal, to put it mildly. Sister A took one look at him (or rather, it was when he took one look at THEM) and she knew she would not want to meet this guy in a back alley. He started off asking all sorts of unnecessary and personal questions and honestly sister A was just wanting to get AWAY from the man. At some point in his list of interrogation, he asked if the sisters had guns or mace along. 

Well, they did not have guns, but they did have mace. Sister A had no intention of giving up her mace, so she said no, but sister B (who would never dream of lying) sweetly said, "Well I have mace." 

Whereupon the border guard got upset and demanded that she hand it over (like really? Why is that weird for a girl to carry mace? Especially when going to Canada? Not that Canada is bad place exactly, but seriously...if their other border guards are as disturbing as this one was, one would want mace in their purse just for the possibility of having to use it on the guards!)

Anyways. The border patrol guy told Sister B to put her mace up on the dash. Then he leaned out of his window and almost down to the sisters' car and looked Sister A straight in the eye and said, "Now young lady, you are going to drive straight over to there (pointing to the search area) and you are going to get out of your car and give them this mace and this paper and then they are going to search your car. And if they find ANYTHING ELSE of this nature in your car, they will arrest you before you even know what's happening." 

Now. Sister A is not a gullible person. She is not easily intimidated, and she is quite confidant in her ability to get out of difficult situations, particularly those involving men.

However. This guy was CREEPY. 
He was also dead serious. 
And Canada has strange rules. 
For all she knew they very well might arrest them.
And the sisters were already running late for the rehearsal and had no extra time to spare for jail escaping, which was what would follow in case of an arrest. (naturally) Normally, of course, this all would have been no problem, as sister A would love nothing better than to add "escaped convict" to her repertoire of adventures.

But. There was a wedding at stake here. A deadline to meet. Things to do, places to go. 
What if, just what if, they did find her mace during the search...?

She just couldn't risk it. 

So sister A did what was her only option. She looked up at the guard and she opened her mouth and said, "Well actually...I have some mace as well." 

Sister A's note to self for future: Say the truth in the beginning. 

To make a long story short, you can imagine that this revelation did nothing to increase the jovial less-than-cordial spirits of the guard. Quite the contrary. He was furious and had no qualms about letting the sisters know it.

The sisters were commanded to exit their car. Then their car was searched top to bottom. Next they were told to "sit and wait" while several different people went through their list of offenses and matched things up with their IDs.
Both sisters were quite frustrated by this point, because they were getting the distinct and very accurate vibe that they were being treated like twelve year olds, which was exactly what was happening. 

FINALLY after multiple explanations and signing a form saying they would not sue to get their mace back (don't think it wasn't considered!) they were allowed to continue on their way.

Relief!! Self inflicted speed limits (in other words, a lack thereof) ensued as the little red car sped away, on towards the destination.

Next the sisters lost phone reception, which meant that in addition to being unable to call anyone, they also lost service with their GPS. Now they were in the middle of a strange land with no GPS and no ability to call anyone. Quite a situation. Thank heavens that sister B is much more directionally skilled than sister A and was able to somehow navigate the situation and get them to the correct destination, in spite of the aforementioned non working technical devices. (now that is skills, people!)

They finally arrived at the church, just half an hour late. Thankfully the dinner portion of the rehearsal was first, so no one had to wait on them for the actual ceremony run-through. The rehearsal went well and the sisters slept quite well that night after the very full and interesting day!
Saturday morning dawned bright and beautiful. The sisters spent the morning curling, styling, and applying.
Above, a details shot of a few of the essentials of the trade!
The sisters have their craft honed to best fit their loves and skills in various areas.
Sister A does all the curling. Sister B does all the makeup. Sister B also does all the updos, and occasionally sister A helps with braids/down styles.
Time to get the bride ready!
So beautiful!
The wedding was at 1pm, which made for a pretty full morning! The sisters literally arrived at the church at 12:20pm and closeted themselves in the bathroom for fifteen minutes to try to make themselves presentable before starting the prelude music at 12:40pm. 
(the best marketing for a hair/makeup team would be to have decent hair/makeup themselves, right? Right. Sisters' to self: ALLOW MORE TIME NEXT TIME TO IMPROVE ADVERTISMENT PACKAGE =))
Here are a few shots to give a better view of the finished hairstyles...
The wedding was beautiful-so Christ honoring, and it was such a blessing for the sisters to be a part of this special day. The bride and her family were so kind + gracious to them and the sisters truly felt right at home. 
The sisters provided all of the music for the ceremony. The bride had asked for only sacred selections, so between her requests and the sisters' ideas, they had put together a list of various hymns for each part of the ceremony. 
Included was Come Thou Fount (groomsmen/groom), Great is Thy Faithfulness (bridesmaids' processional), How Great Thou Art (brides' processional) and To God Be The Glory (recessional)

One of the beautiful bridesmaids-here you can see more of a close up shot of her hair and makeup.

The sweet and lovely Mr + Mrs

The sistas grabbing a quick selfie with their dear friend, the beautiful bride.
The cupcakes at the wedding were really the last word in cupcakes.
All of the food was, for that matter. The sisters weren't able to stay for the main meal but they grabbed some of the snacks and cupcakes for the road and found them to be delish!

Beautiful skies on the way home.
Coffee time! A sweet friend had given the sisterhood a Canadian Starbucks gift card last summer. Due to an intense schedule and no available time the sisters had been unable to use the gift card on that tour. It came in handy this trip when they stopped for supper and coffee on the way home, right at the Canadian/USA border.

Speaking of the Canadian/USA border. You would think border crossing No.1 was enough for one trip, but apparently not. The sisters were destined for yet another adventure.
(what is with them and the border?)

While waiting in a long line at the border, about sunset time, the sisters chatted while sipping their coffee and eating their dinner. Things were going along quite well when suddenly sister B said, "Um, don't look now buuuut....I regret to inform you that the two dudes in the car next to us are checking you out."
Whereupon sister A laughed and said "yeah right-whatever".
And sister B said "I am not exaggerating in the slightest."
And sister A said "oh help. Well, okay, I won't look then. Tell me when they leave."

Well, you guessed it...the people up at the front of both lines were taking eternity to get through, which meant that the sisters were stuck right next door to these two, ahem, "gentlemen", for a significant amount of time, which seemed to stretch infinitely longer due to the rather "boring-holes-through-you" stares. At one point sister A did venture to look and then she wished she hadn't. (Gracious!)
People should keep their eyes on the road.

Near Fort Wayne, around 10pm, it was time to stop for the night. With Sister B being employed at
a hotel and all, she wasn't about to just go to the first one available.

No, it seemed to be necessary to drive around and try to snag the best deal possible by pitting the hotel's rates against each other and trying to get each to lower their prices. Sister A patiently drove Sister B back and forth until a rather uncommonly good rate at a very nice establishment was finally achieved.
There had been several different driving routes available for the trip, but the sisters choose the one that went through Fort Wayne because they really wanted to stop at one of their favorite churches on Sunday morning. 

(Note: this church, The Ekklesia, is amazing, not because the church or the people in and of themselves are amazing (which they ARE) but because JESUS IS THERE. This shouldn't be a rare thing, but unfortunately it is. There are a whole lot of churches out there that have lights and glam and glitz but you have to search to try to find Jesus in the middle of all of it. This church isn't like that. Jesus is just all over everything they do-on their faces, in their worship, EVERYWHERE. It is a beautiful thing. The worship service was incredible, as was time spent in the "war room", pictured above. )
The pastor + his wife took the sisters out to lunch after the service. Such a rich time of talking about Jesus and what He was doing in their lives. Both sisters are eternally grateful for people like this who take time to INVEST and pour into others' lives, all for the cause of Christ.
Sister selfie at a rest stop.
A fuzzy but beautiful phone shot sister B took of one of the bridges they crossed.

And there you have it-another adventure taken, another wedding accomplished, and another sisterhood roadtrip saga for the books. 

The end.

(special thanks to the wedding photographer, Liz Heikoop, for use of her pictures. You can see more pictures of the wedding on here blog, here)


Hope y'all enjoyed following along on our adventure! =)