Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Our Small Group - And How It Changed Our Lives

(Our whole small group - kids included!)

Two years ago, our friends Mikey and Kacy asked if we wanted to be in their newest small group.  They had been in one for the prior two years - we knew it was through the church that they went to (and loved), and we knew they met weekly, but that was about it.  We did know that they seemed to really enjoy it and had met lots of new people because of it.  So, honestly, in the interest of maybe getting a few friends, we said yes.

One of the best decisions ever.

To start, Tony and I aren't exactly the most outgoing people you will ever meet.  And when it came to religion, we were pretty private about it. We had both grown up in relatively traditional churches and were a little weirded out by the "all about it" types {still am, to a degree ;) }.  Talking about anything with others, let alone spiritual or even kindasorta spiritual subjects, wasn't really something we would have pegged ourselves as being into.

But a funny thing happened when we joined that group.  Yes, we made friends (yes!).  But, we also found a place where we could genuinely connect to other couples in a similar stage of life as us (youngish married with kids) and talk about things that really mattered.  Sure, we did some book study type things on books of the Bible or religious books or parenting or marriage books, which were all great.  We learned some good info.  We joined their church and have become connected in ways that we never would have otherwise.  We are actively living our faith in a way we never did before.  And we like it!

But what mattered the most was the true community that developed between all of us.  They call it "doing life" together - in circles, not in rows.  What stands out most are those deep conversations we had about whatever, anything - anything that was important to someone at that point in their life.  Sometimes the conversations were very sad, sometimes frustrating, sometimes we celebrated a victory or a success and sometimes we cried with others about their heartbreaks or disappointments.  We knew what was going on with each of these 4 other couples each week.  We knew what was really going on in their hearts - and they knew what was happening in ours.

When you make a commitment to be open and honest each week with 8 other people who are mostly strangers, you develop a type of bond that is like no other.  You have people who can hold you accountable, who know the good and the bad, who know your story and want to be a part of the rest of it moving forward.  There are no secrets.  These people want to build you up and support you and help you achieve everything you have ever wanted.  They want to be there through the hard times and are always there to help or give advice.  

They are more than just friends.

Our group made a commitment at the beginning to be true, genuine, deep, and not "surfacey."  We didn't want it to be acceptable to answer the question "how are you doing" with a "fine" when things really weren't fine at all.  We wanted each other to ask the hard questions and to keep us on track with whatever it may be, even if that meant questioning a decision or pointing out a flaw. We wanted to really let each other into our lives - and we did just that.

When we started, we weren't yet pregnant or trying to be, and all of the other couples already had at least two kids.  So it was really so amazing to get true insight into parenting life and see couples a few years further down the road than we were.  We absorbed info like sponges.  We temporarily wavered with our decision to have a kid at all (kidding. sort of.)  Funny thing is, each of the women ended up being pregnant and having a baby at some point during the two year group   Something in the group water.

(All the kiddos!  So many!  The whole bottom row has only happened after our group started!)

Some Monday nights were more productive than others.  The good nights were always when there were tears (sometimes good, sometimes bad).  Sometimes we just had fun and enjoyed each other's friendship.  Other times we talked about our relationship with God, prayed for important things, or got into how a decision was weighing on us.  We always got something out of it, each night.  It's a pretty big commitment to put one night a week down as taken, to find babysitting, to get everything done to be able to spend a few hours at someone's house (ok, this was all pretty easy for us).  But it was so, so worth it.

Our new group began this week (I was too sick to go, bah!).  I was so sad to leave our other group - I already hate that I don't know the details of what's going on in each person's life each week.  Yet we made some amazing friendships that I know will last on.  I want to continue to be a part of each of their lives, as they have become such a big part of mine.  And I'm so excited to develop this same bond with some new couples as well.

I'll finish this up by stealing words Janna wrote on the subject, since she put it much more eloquently than I ever could.  (See, if you're in a group, you have license to plagiarize each other)
I know there are groups that aren't real, aren't vulnerable, and aren't authentic. Our group is none of those. We are surrounded by a fake world that is more concerned with appearance than the heart. Our small group is a safe place we can be open, honest, fully vulnerable, and fully receive grace and encouragement instead of condemnation.
Oh, and to continue with the stealing, here's the best endorsement ever from Kim:
I can honestly say I love these people.  I would even hug some of them, and I hate hugs and touching in general so yeah.

Joining a small group was a great decision for us and it really has changed our lives.  Something really fantastic happens when you move beyond rows and into circles.  We hope to never go without one again.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Clubfoot Files: Donating Used Braces

(Her first pair and the pair she wears now - such a difference!)

Today I finally got around to doing something I've been wanting to do for a long time - I donated Harper's first pair of Mitchell boots!  Harper is in her third pair right now, so it was high time for me to do this.

As I dug them out of her closet, I was swept with nostalgia.  They are so tiny!!  These were the first shoes she ever wore.  I looked at these things 23 hours a day for three straight months as they held my tiny baby's feet in place.  They are marked up with a rainbow of Sharpie colors as we figured out where to buckle them as she grew and they stretched out. 

I wanted to keep them.  Those shoes held a lot of frustration, and healing, and emotions.  

But that is exactly why I needed to donate them.  Some other child would have the opportunity to receive the gift of healing, of hope.  We had the resources to see the best doctors, buy the shoes that provided endless help; some parents do not.  Clubfoot treatment is not cheap, not in America, and not in the rest of the world.  But by donating her brace, we could make it that much easier for another baby, another family. 

There are so many wonderful organizations out there who take these types of donations.  I didn't know how to choose!  I know there are so many children here in America and around the world needing care.  In the end, I decided on Miraclefeet, as they are a solid organization that is very active in the clubfoot community.  Go here to donate a pair of your own.  I just stuck mine in a padded mailer and dropped it in the mail.

Through this simple act, we passed on the gift of straight, functioning, pain-free feet.  It felt good.

If you are in the market to donate used shoes, check out these organizations here who can take them:
And, gratuitous Harper pic:

Monday, September 16, 2013

These Days

Well, it's been busy since we got back from the beach!  I had to check to see what my last blog post was, since I knew it had been forever!  Nothing too crazy going on, just a lot of little things adding up that leave minimal time.  I have a lot of potential posts rattling around in my head, so I hope to be able to write about those things soon.  

I never shared some changes we've made to our living room, our beadboard re-do of our kitchen, my thoughts on our small group ending, or my latest clubfoot files.  Soon.  Very soon.

In the meantime, here's the scuttlebutt 

- Tony and I are doing the Whole30.  It's going really well and I will post about it when we are done.  But it takes some work.  Like, I am dreaming of a slapchop kinda work... Also, my dishwasher is in overdrive. But our fridge is full of fresh, healthy food and our pantry is pretty bare.  It's nice.  Also, I am cooking things.  Things that are not Ramen noodles.  So, there's that.  But planning, preparing, and eating foods has kind of monopolized our time for the past 17 days.

- I feel like we've been adrift a bit.  First, we went to the beach, then we house-sat for Tony's parents.  Then we visited my family in Knoxville for the past weekend.  It was great to see everyone, as always, but it's leaving me a bit anxious for some stability and downtime.

- Harper got sick the day we left for Knoxville   Turns out, she has a double ear infection.  Thanks a lot, Children's Morning Out!

- I got another job!  Some work from home work that will be great - just have to get my new routine going and ease into having a little less downtime and more responsibility that isn't child related.

- I have been in one of those phases where I hermit myself a bit.  I haven't felt a stitch of creativity (hence, the lack of blogging).  I have read some, but not all, of my favorite blogs, but haven't commented once (but want to!).  I haven't cared to focus on what our house looks like beyond basic sanitation.  With fall coming, I want to get in the spirit, but feeling no spirit quite yet... I haven't read any books beyond those I use for tutoring (5th grade level!).  I haven't been walking as much and my body misses it.  I've been kind of powered down here for a while.  Hoping to snap out of it.

- Oh, the chopping. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Beach Week 2013

Well, I was so excited to splash beach pictures across the rest of the web, that I forgot to share here.  The horror.

We had a great week in Anna Maria Island, Florida (you can see my past recaps here (baby Harper!), here (Beach Week - aka Courtney's wedding there!), and here).  

Anna Maria is a small town just south of Tampa that offers "old Florida charm" (as they say) with pretty beaches, clear water, and enough restaurants and ice cream shops to keep you happy.  There are only a few hotels and very little touristy stuff, so it's basically like renting a house in a neighborhood that happens to be steps from the beach.  Not too shabby.

I was a little nervous about Harper - afraid she would scream the entire 7 hours there and back, would eat the sand, would not sleep, etc.  There were hiccups, but she did great overall.  I can't wait until next year when she's walking (running!).

I slathered her with sunscreen and we hit the beach.  She loved the ocean, as I knew she would. 

And once I let her down onto the sand, sure enough, she took a big ol mouthful of sand and ate it before I could stop here.  

But I think, for once in her life, she learned her lesson and never tried it again.

We tried a few Pinterest tips, like using a Dollar Store shower curtain liner to make a little pool in the sand to keep her contained and cool.

Yeah, well, that lasted about five seconds.  She pulled at the liner, started trying to get to the sand, stood up and crawled out of it.  Oh well.  Pinterest lies again.

Then we discovered there was a mini pack and play at the rental house.  That sucker saved us for a few days at the beach!  She only lasted twenty minutes or so in there, but those twenty were great!  We also brought the jogging stroller with us down to the beach - 1. it helped us carry more stuff, including baby 2. she napped in it  3. it pushed really easily over the sand. Yay!

Also, I swear she had a bathing suit on that first day.  After that, I didn't bother.  I mean, really, it's too much hassle.  She was never in the sun long, so I didn't worry about it.  Also, she has daddy's dark skin that doesn't burn easily.

Oh and yes, if you were wondering, there were people there besides Harper.  Like, my awesome family.  I loved getting to spend long, quality time with them.  Weekend trips home are always too short.

Is Lyla cute, or what??

The only person missing was my brother-in-law Byron, who was traveling for work.  Luckily, his wife brought along someone...

The weather was decent.  We got sunny mornings, but thunderstorms and rain every.single.evening. 

Yikes, that's a dark sky.

Not one sunset to be seen.  (That's my favorite part of beaching, so I was sad!).

But we made do.


 But what we missed in sunsets we gained in pretty mornings.  Tony and I love getting up early (ok, well, the kid wakes us up anyway) and going for walks.  

Luckily, we could walk both on the beach...

 ....and down the sidewalk through the town, stopping at a cute little coffee shop on the way to the bay-side pier.  

The local chapel bathed in morning light.


The early sunlight is just perfect.  And the fish are out in the zillions, making it a perfect spot to watch the birds catch their breakfast.

While we caught our own...

Although we didn't have a ton of pool time due to the rain, we had a great spot for the times that we could use it!

The only thing I regret is not getting a proper group shot. :(  It's funny too, to think about how this trip has changed each year.  The first year was a big party, the second one was a chance to spend time with baby Lyla, the third was Courtney and Bryon's wedding!, and the past two trips have been the most different for us as we experience beach-as-parents.  Each trip has been different,  but they all share the same undertones of love and family.

 It was a perfect week.  We relaxed, read books, chatted, shared meals and laughs, and all got a little sun.  I love these weeks.

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