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 families...it 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!
-Chels

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 now...is 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!
-Chels

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, too...my 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. =)
-Chels