Friday, February 5, 2016

Upcoming Young Womens Retreat!

I'm so thrilled to announce that my younger sister Allison is hosting another one of her amazing retreats for young women! Registration is filling up quickly so email her asap to reserve your spot.

For additional information please visit our family blog here

Can't wait to see some of y'all there!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Call to Action||Your Duty To Vote

My heart is heavy today. Heavy for our country. Heavy for what has been happening; for what is currently happening. Our country is in crisis. There's really no need for me to state this fact; most of you already know it. As a well-known leader in evangelical circles recently quoted, "America is like someone on the edge of a cliff, standing on a pile of loose gravel".

This is where our country is. People know this. Y'all know this. Everyone talks about the problems. In fact, for years everyone has talked about the problems. Talked and talked and talked.

Did you know that it is easy to talk? Oh SO easy. Anyone can know there are problems, and talk about them, and have ideas for fixing them. But talking doesn't fix the problem.

You are my friends here, reading this. Some of you I know personally, others of you are blog readers who have found this space somehow, sometime, and have connected with me through reading and sharing here.

This letter is for all of you, but is specifically directed to  those of you who have chosen (for one reason or another) to not be involved politically.

I'm not trying to target you or point you out. But I know where you are in your position, because my family used to be in that same place, and I just want to share with you what Jesus has been showing us over the past few years. My parents grew up in a church where their church pastors told them that church and state were supposed to be separate; that Christians had no place in politics. This was their life. They didn't know any differently, and they honestly didn't know better.

This is extremely unfortunate, to say the least, and for those pastors to have the weight of having influenced all those thousands of church members against their country, is a very serious thing. Makes me wonder what could've been in past elections if these hundreds of thousands of people had listened to God instead of their churches and had voted? Who knows?

Anyway, to proceed. I'm going to ask you to start from scratch here and if you have never voted, then I want you to stop and think WHY you have never voted.
Just take a minute and ask yourself those questions.
Have you never voted because:
You were always told you couldn't?
You thought it was unbiblical to be involved in politics?
You didn't care?

 Please examine your heart and answer truthfully why you've never voted before.

Was it because you were always told you couldn't? My friend,  no one (and I mean absolutely NO ONE) should have that kind of power over you except for Jesus Christ. Just think for a minute about this: "I have never voted because my church doesn't allow it". As I've said before, you won't be standing before your pastor on judgement day. (thank goodness!) You will stand before Jesus Christ, and give an account for every action. Every action. That means everything we do. And don't do. And whether or not you like to think about it this way, that absolutely does include your vote, or lack thereof. You will give an account for that-the Bible says so. And do you really want to have to tell Jesus that you didn't vote because so and so told you not to? (I wouldn't advise that either)

Was it because you thought it was unbiblical to be involved in politics? Listen, politics is all over the Bible. It is never ever unbiblical to promote righteousness and truth. It is never unbiblical to do the right thing. It is never unbiblical to make a difference for Christ. Read Romans 13, where it talks about government being a ministry of God. God ordained three institutions for ministry---the family, the church, and the government. It is right there in the Bible.

Was it because you didn't care? All I can say is, it is high time that you care. Trust me, if you don't care now, a day will come when you will wish with all your heart that you had cared back when you actually had a chance to make a difference. We still have a voice now in this election. We are losing our voice very very quickly. We might not have another chance. For the love of God and country and future generations, you need to care!

Voting in the upcoming primaries is a big deal. Many people don't vote until the general election. But let me tell you, friends-this primary election, more than ever before, is such a CRUCIAL time. The only candidate who I believe is going to have a shot against the democrat nominee will be a staunch, strong, and true republican, not to mention that it is absolutely necessary that the republican nominee be a strong debater and champion of the conservative cause and the Constitution. I could be wrong. But this is my opinion.

My point here is not to tell you who to vote for. (although I could give a strong suggestion, and if y'all follow my siblings' and my writing over on our family blog, then you know who we endorse =)) But I would never tell someone to vote for someone just because that is who I am going to vote for. You need to pray and do your own research and vote for the godly candidate that Jesus tells you to vote for. If you don't feel you have time to research and you are convicted of your need to get out and vote and honestly just have no clue where to start...well then, I'd be happy to chat with you a bit about that and give you some ideas! =)

The point of this article is to plead with you to get out and VOTE. Just vote! Please! This is an extreme privilege to have this opportunity, this chance to vote. We aren't  guaranteed that we will ever have another chance to lift our voices and have a say in who leads our country.

During this time, the energy inside of my heart knows no bounds. For the first time in a long, LONG while, we have a candidate who I honestly think is just as good as it gets. There is not one thing I can think of that I would want him to be or have, that he is not already. When I hear him pray and call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ at rallies and events, it puts chills down my spine and I want to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming as I think, "Seriously, Lord-I can't believe we have the chance to possibly have this man of You leading our country!" What a blessing to even have the opportunity to vote for a godly man.

It takes true action to make a difference. Prayer first of all, obviously. But it's so much more than prayer. I agree, whole-heartedly, that prayer is the first step, the most important. If we don't pray there is no point in proceeding. But my friend, you cannot just sit back in your comfortable home and say that prayer is enough. You have to DO something. This verse says it so well, "If my people, which are called by my name, will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."
 2 Chronicles 7:14

Many people use this verse as the excuse that "all we need to do is just pray". I would disagree completely; I think that this verse is one of the strongest arguments for voting. Do you know what it means to "turn from their wicked ways?" When you turn from something, you don't just stop something. You turn...which means going a different direction and doing something different. I believe that "our wicked ways" is talking about many different things. Obviously it is talking about sin in our lives/country; how we have turned from and rejected God. But I also think "our wicked ways" is speaking specifically about the apathy of Christians. Apathy is one of the biggest problems in our evangelical circles, in every area. Christians are apathetic about witnessing, about living set-apart lives, about standing for truth...and they are also apathetic about getting involved politically.

There is so SO very much I could say. But sometimes less is better, and I think my point has already come across clearly. I want to end with a voters tract that was written by a friend of ours. (article in italics, below) After reading his tract, I felt like he said it so clearly and precisely that I should just share it here with y'all. Please watch the video clip at the bottom as well. There are still godly men rising up to lead (as you will see in the video) and that is a great blessing, friends!
(Also, my brother Josh wrote this fabulous article over on our family blog this morning; I would highly encourage y'all to go check it out!) 

Our Sacred Duty  {A Voter's Call To Action}

America. Land of the Free, because of the brave.

"The United States was founded by men who had a firm reliance in the protection of Divine Providence---men who quoted the Bible four times more than any other source and understood the importance of being "one nation under God". America was then nourished over the generations by those who confidently led our country by the motto, "in God We Trust".

America has been blessed with a unique Christian heritage. Preident George Washington declared, in his First Inaugural Address on April 30th, 1789: "No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency..."

Our Constitution was drafted in accordance with the republican form of government that God had ordained for the children of Israel in Exodus 18:21 and our three branches of government were similarly patterned after the divine roles of God, as found in Isaiah 33:22. General Nathaniel Freeman explained in 1802, "Our government originated in the voluntary compact of a people who in that very instrument profess the Christian religion. It may be considered-not a republic like Rome was, a Pagan-but a Christian republic."

Whether or not Americas accept the TRUTH that the United States was founded upon Biblical principles, our documented history does not change. As our Supreme Court acknowledged in 1892, our Republic was "based upon and embodies the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind"-Jesus Christ

As citizens of this great land, we have been entrusted with a duty. We have been given the sacred privilege of voting for elected officials. Samuel Adams, the spark plug of American independence, wrote, "Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote...he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country."

Furthermore, John Jay, American's first Chief Justice, stated, "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of a Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers." It is our God-given responsibility as Americans to select a candidate whose life and integrity has been built up upon a Biblical, moral, and constitutional foundation.

Noah Webster, author of America's first dictionary, declared: "Let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers, just men who will rule in the fear of God. The preservation of a Republic...depends on the faithful discharge of this duty." 
Voting is a sacred, serious, and spiritual responsibility. We should NOT take it for granted. Yet so many American Christians do.

Out of the 89 million evangelicals in America, 15 million are not registered to vote and approximately 45 million don't vote, leaving only 31% actively engaged. For far too long we have neglected our God-given duty. For far too long we have remained silent and still. Evil will triumph if good men do nothing.

Noah Webster concluded, "If the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made, not for the public good,...corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the laws;...and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded. If a Republican government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect their divine commands and elect bad men to make and administer laws."

As we anticipate the 2016 Presidential election, our country is at the crossroads. Over the past few years, let's face it: our government has been going the wrong direction. Ungodly people were voted into high government positions thanks to the apathy of Christians who did not vote. If you do not help choose your leaders, someone else will do it for you. Ladies and gentlemen, NOT voting is still a form of voting, as it will influence the outcome. Its time that we stop being spectators and become participators!

A common excuse people make for not voting is the thinking that their vote won't make a difference. Try telling that to former law-makers in Maine, Massachusetts, Utah, Nortth Dakota, Rhode Island, and Missouri-all of whom won an election by a single vote! We can never underestimate the power of the vote. We should never forfeit the opportunity. You can be an influence for good government. Its your decision, your opportunity. USE IT!

God has give bus another chance-perhaps a final one. It's time to take back America. My friend, it starts with YOU. Register to vote. Pray about whom God would have you to vote for, someone who stands strong on Biblical values. Encourage others to do the same. Talk about and campaign for the candidate the Lord has placed upon your heart. Then go to the polls as a mighty army and vote. "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice." (Proverbs 29:2) "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord." (Psalm 33:12)

The United States is in desperate need of a born-again, Bible-believing, Constitution-loving and defending American for her president, someone passionate in leading our nation with the mindset of our Founding Fathers. God has a man like this for us in the 2016 Presidential election. We must rise up as courageous conservatives and actively participate in what God has called us to do. Don't forsake your responsibility! I still believe in the promise of America and I desire to see the hand go God upon this nation once again!"

I will close this post with one of my favorite verses that I desire to hold onto during this time, 
Joshua 1:9: "Have not I commanded thee? Be strong, and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." 

I am so excited for the opportunity Jesus has given my generation, to be a part of this extremely serious, but also truly thrilling, time in history. I'm excited for the truth God has been showing our family about this-the importance of being involved politically and raising our voice for righteousness. I am beyond excited for a church that has shown me a beautiful example of what the church is supposed to be-an active, vibrant force in praying, fasting, campaigning, and electing godly officials, in addition to preaching about all of that straight from the pulpit!

The call has been given. God needs soldiers in His army, to rise up not only in the church, but also in their country---to be the voice in a land that is falling away from Him.
Will you join the action and take your stand
                               as a prayer warrior, as a God-honoring citizen, and as a voter?

For God and Country!

{note: feel free to use the tabs below to share and spread this article, if you wish}

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Alex Conner||Baby Portraits

I got to meet this charming little man when we were visiting his family in Manitoba, back in July of this summer. His mother is a dear friend of mine, and last time we had visited the colony, she had been sharing with my sister + I about how much she + her husband wanted to have a baby, but hadn't been able to. We hadn't talked to her since our last visit, so as our bus was pulling into the colony and we were anticipating meeting all of our friends there, Alli + I were both thinking "I wonder if Crystal ever had a baby?" Sure enough, praise the Lord...after we greeted her one of the first things we got to hear about was her baby boy! So exciting! This prayed-for little man has the biggest blue eyes and the sweetest little personality you ever did see. I had such fun shooting a few photos of him + his mama!
Those EYES. {swoon}
I adore her love for her son. So precious.
What a sweetie! So thankful for this little guy and the opportunity to meet him and take these of him this summer!

Hope y'all have a beautiful Sunday!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Inviting YOU to the Live Animal Christmas Play!

I just posted all the details over on my family's blog. So head on over there to read more about it! Would love to see some of you at the play this weekend!

Have a fabulous day, friends!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Cassie||Maternity Portraits

A few weeks back I did a very spur of the moment and very fun ten minute maternity shoot with my lovely friend, Cassie. Afterwards, looking back over the pictures, I decided that maternity photography might just be my calling in life. The only thing that could be better is taking pictures of mama + baby after he is born! =) But in the meantime, it is so special to capture the different stages of life. 
Portrait photography is like that-being able to be a part of so many different seasons of peoples lives, from seniors, to couples, to weddings, to maternity, to newborns, to is a wonderful thing.

Each are fun to document in their own unique way. But this one was just a little extra special, especially knowing that the next shoot will be in person with this tiny little man who will be entering the outside world any day now!
 Enjoy these, of the beautiful Cassie, mama-to-be...

Have a beautiful Monday, friends!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving in My Heart

I just love it how my Jesus works in such unique ways. How He orchestrates the timing of things He brings into our lives. How He's truly "got it" all in His hands, all along.

These past few weeks Jesus has been doing a sort of overhaul in my heart. Purging, cleaning, refining, and replacing. Showing me my selfishness and the depth of the ingratitude that was in my heart. Filling me, beginning with a little bit and then just growing and growing, with a sense of how blessed I am. And it only hit me on Wednesday that all of this was happening at THANKSGIVING. Imagine that. Love how He works! It didn't even occur to me until that moment, that all of this tied in with the current holiday season. When it that came together in my mind it just made it that much more special that God would care and work all of this out in my life in such a way, in this season, that I would never forget that lesson that I learned Thanksgiving of 2015.

It all culminated with an amazing message on thankfulness, Wednesday night at my church. I am still in awe of the work Jesus has been doing, and how that night my heart was just so tender and ready to repent and forsake the spirit of ungratefulness that I had been allowing to seep into my life in so many areas. I am not a person who cries easily, usually just a few times a year, to be honest. But I've found lately that my eyes have overflowed more than once with just a feeling of overwhelming. Overwhelming difficulty, overwhelming love, overwhelming peace, overwhelming doubt, overwhelming fear...pretty much many feelings of all types that have just had this one thing in common-they were overwhelming, and way too much for me to deal with on my own. And lately, just an overwhelming sense of the goodness and graciousness of God.

The one thought in particular from the other night's message, I just haven't been able to forget. And that is this: "Gratitude is the gatekeeper to our hearts that keeps sin out of our lives". My pastor pointed out that night that ungrateful people are the ones who struggle to gain and have victory. And that grateful people, who are characterized by gratefulness and a spirit of joy...well, they have just that. A spirit of JOY! This truth has just rocked my world-such a simple little phrase, but there's so much in that. I've got to keep gratefulness number one. I can't ever stop thanking God for all He's done! I want gratefulness to drive my life, my outlook, who I am. I want to be characterized by it. I want gratitude to flow out of me and run out onto every area of my life and every person in my life.

Something I've been working on being more intentional with lately is taking extra time to journal about what God is teaching me. I've always been one of these girls who journals all the time. (smile) But recently its been even more intentional, what I write. I don't want to forget the victories, because they are such a testimony to God's goodness. I also don't want to forget the valley's, because those are also a testimony to the special grace God gives to His children when they are going through difficulty. So I just get out that journal and powerhouse through. Some days I'm really struggling, and it comes out pretty scary on paper. (keeping it real!) And then other days its an outpouring of jumbled thoughts along with a few notes from a sermon, or lines of a song, or something else random yet important to me, that gets stuck in there with everything else.

So here is part of a journal entry the other day, and some other thoughts that fit at the end just now as I was typing it:
"Abounding in thankfulness right now. My little heart is just full to the brim with wonder at the blessings of Jesus upon my life. God has been good, so good..and I have been so blessed. I've been allowing my joy to be robbed by dwelling on what wished I had, or thought I deserved...rather than focusing on how much I have been given that I am so undeserving of! Jesus has given me the gift of eternal life through salvation in Him. He has given forgiveness for the many times I fail. He has given second chances abundant. He has given me the awesomest family in the whole world, complete with siblings who are my best friends and closest confidants and parents who are my heroes. He has given me a church where I am privileged to feast on the richest food for the soul, the Word of God. He has given me friends of the very best kind-the ones that will listen and care and speak truth into my life even when the truth isn't always easy. And what just blows my mind more than anything else right that He has given me the opportunity to come freely and boldly unto the throne of grace, at any time. His arms are always open and His compassion is always free and boundless. His grace knows no limits and His heart beats with love for ME! He is truly the greatest of Fathers and I am so blessed. "

God is Always Good
"I don't know why...I don't know when,
I don't know how you will be make it through, but I know Him,
And He is God and He is kind,
Sometimes its in the darkest night we find,
God is always good, God is always good,
Always was, always is, forever He will be,
God is always good to you and me.
He knows your hurt...your broken heart,
He knows everything that's led to where you are,
And He'll provide all you need,
So rest in His unfailing love, and see,
God is always good, God is always good,
Always was, always is, forever He will be,
God is always good to you and me."

(listen to this song here. it is so powerful)

You may be thinking tonight that your trial or your burden is too small for God to care. Or you may be facing the mountain of your life and you're honestly just not sure if you can trust Him with it.

Let me encourage you, friend. You will find so much joy in just letting go and thanking Him. He cares about everything from the smallest to the greatest of difficulties. As the song says, He knows your hurt! He knows your heart! What a comfort to know that even when it might seem that everyone around you misunderstands, HE KNOWS AND UNDERSTANDS PERFECTLY. And He's got it. He's got YOU covered in every way possible.

And you know what else? He wants you and I to THANK HIM. He doesn't want us to wait until things are perfect. He doesn't want us to wait until He answers. He doesn't want us to wait until the difficult season is past. No...He wants our praise and thanksgiving in EVERY season in our lives.  The good, the bad, the in between..all of it. He wants our thankfulness. He wants to see us live in abundant joy and gladness, no matter if the waters are rough and choppy, or smooth as glass.
If we will just choose to be thankful and rejoice. "Just REST in His unfailing love, and see!"

Now that I have finished writing this and am looking back over it, the words looks somewhat jumbled and thrown together. And it reminds me of how my life feels sometimes. But. Thank goodness we don't wait until we are perfect to proceed, because then we would never go anywhere. This is what God gave me tonight. I post this as a reminder to myself and a reaffirming of the work He has been doing in my life. If a part of it can be a blessing to you, than I am thankful for that as well.

"In every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."
1 Thessalonians 5:18

May y'all be blessed this evening, and reflect on God's great goodness to YOU, 
'cause there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Update From the National Bible Bee!

Ah! It has been a wonderful day! Couldn't have asked for a better place to spend it than at the National Bible Bee here in San Antonio, Texas! And I'm definitely getting to spend it with the awesomest people in the world, family.
(Above picture-hanging out with the little brothers after the ceremony last night)

Since I know not all of my blog readers have instagram, I thought I'd give you my two little instagram updates here to fill you in!

Last night (11/18)
"We're happiest when we're together! It was so worth the 17 hour drive to come down here and surprise the younger siblings who are competing in the National Bible Bee this week!! Watching them walk the carpet tonight and cheering them on was just too awesome. So proud of all six of them for their hard work this summer! Proud of the five who made it to nationals and have studied hundreds of hours this fall. And proud of the three brotherhood (Josh, Taylor, and Hudson) who are advancing to the semi-finals tomorrow! Please be in prayer for them! Also...proud of the other three eldest and I for making it down here in one piece in spite of extreme exhaustion. #nationalbiblebee # sibling love #bontrageradventure #ilovetexas

Tonight (11/19)
"What a day! My throat is hoarse and my mind if tired and my heart is pretty much bursting with pride. Because Josh and Taylor are going on to the final competition round tomorrow!! Listening to them recite verse after verse after verse with such passion and conviction filled me with such joy. It was marvelous!! I have to tell you that amongst their many other great accomplishments, my brothers had, hands down, the loudest cheering section in the entire auditorium. We were so, um, lively...that at one point I received a text from our parents who were sitting somewhere else. And it read like this: "You all are creating a scene!! Please quiet down and try to be a good testimony for a large family". =) =) Oh dear. Many friends who have been watching the live stream today have texted and said they could pick out the Bontrager cheers in the crowd. Let's just say that quietness has never been our strong point. =) For those of you who may have missed the live stream today, you don't want to miss watching finals tomorrow! It is going to be unforgettable! Find the times, link and info here! Also please visit our family blog for more updates and pictures!

Please be praying for my brothers as they compete tomorrow! 
And if you think of it...I would also appreciate a little prayer that I wouldn't lose my voice until after finals tomorrow. Because I couldn't stand it if I couldn't cheer. =)