Every Journey Has a Beginning…

Welp. Here it goes. Playlist entitled “Acoustic Concentration” going and a glass of wine in hand (capitalizing a bit on some of that liquid courage, if you know what I mean), I’m finally sitting down to write. I’ve caught a bit of a writing bug that has been lying dormant for quite some time now. I don’t know, something’s been awakened where I feel like I have something to say. (Well, those of you that know me beg to differ, rightly stating that I tend to ALWAYS have something to say). Nonetheless, we will see where this takes me. And hopefully you’ll stick around with me for the ride. You like adventures, right?

Who am I? Fair question. Some days, I find myself asking myself the same question. Funny how that goes sometimes.

I, in my opinion, am many things. I’ll shoot a few at ya, and you can decide for yourself what you think.

First, I’ll give you the “elevator speech” version. You know what I’m saying, that college-ruled answer of the quickest synopsis of you. I’m a 27-year old female living in Milwaukee (Chicago born and raised, yikes) who has just gone through LOTS of adjustments in life. I’m talking major upheaval here, folks. Life as we know it has been completely turned upside down, and most days I am merely trying to find which way is up. I recently received full licensure and certification for my career (which was a total of a 4-year process), was recently married to my wonderful husband (shoutout!), we moved in together after the wedding and are in the midst of navigating this uncharted territory called marriage (ladies, living with a man is CULTURE SHOCK), and of course have recently rescued an oh-so-energetic boxer-lab mix who has so much love to share (who also apparently is not a fan of sleep). So the puppy-parent thing happened (aren’t you supposed to test the waters with a dog before you have a baby? At least that’s what my sources say!). But wait! There’s more 😉

I’m a daughter (not always the best one), and a friend (again, not always the best one). I’m also a wife (shoutout to the wonderful man who has hitched his wagon to mine!). I’m a musician by hobby and desire. It makes my soul awaken, and gives me a sense of purpose. I’m a listener by profession, and aiming to be by habit (it’s a work in progress, I’m not gonna lie). I’m a “go-getter” (some people have other words for this, but this is me putting it in a positive light. Why not!). I’m an expert worrier (oh yes. More on that later). I’m a control ADDICT, and addiction is truly what it relates to (yet a perfectionist in recovery!). I’m someone who has had a fair share of battles with weight and body image (honesty hour here). I’m an enjoyer of life (there is just so much here-sometimes I don’t stop and recognize it enough). I’m a frequent ingestor of caffeine (coffee, please, on the rocks.) And, I’m a sinner. But most importantly, I’m a girl who is seeking to allow Christ to fully captivate my heart and life. I’m a lover of Jesus.

Now here comes some vulnerability:

I think it’s important to state that about 2 years ago, I was absolutely MISERABLE. I’m talking run down into the ground, going 1,000 miles a minute, constantly trying to keep up with the over-arching demands of life, overly concerned with pleasing others, constantly saying “yes” when I really wanted to say “no”, placing everyone and everything else before myself-MISERABLE. I’m not even sure if people in my life truly knew just how miserable I was. I of course, being the independent female that I am, couldn’t dream of letting anyone see the broken pieces that were piling up inside of me. So I remained in this place (and honestly looking back, it probably started even sooner than 2 years ago) until I finally decided that enough was enough. This was not a way to live. This brutal time in my life came from a variety of sources (mainly self-created) and manifested into many consequences on my life-and I’m willing to lay it bare for you to see how and why it got to this point: and how each day is a battle away from the individual I used to be during that season of life. Maybe some of you can relate-we will see!

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That’s just a snipit. A little teaser, shall we say. I’m sure you will learn more along the way, maybe even some you DIDN’T need to know (um hello, TMI much?). Why am I doing this you ask? Haha, fair enough.

Like I said, I feel like I have something to say. However, because I feel like I always have something to say, I don’t always do enough reflecting as I ought to. I feel this is a very important element and practice of life, as it catalysts gratitude and positive growth (and I am all about that positive growth, you feel me?). They say (whoever “they” is) that you should always have a reason for doing something.

My reason? Because I want to encourage you that you are made for MORE.

Made for MORE than just being in “survival mode” due to the demands of this world. Made for MORE than constantly running yourself ragged in order to appear competent in the eyes of others. Made for MORE than being constantly depleted and not having enough energy to give to yourself and your loved ones.

As I lay the cards on the table, I’m hoping that my reflection and sharing of my journey may reach the hearts of you readers, and impact your walk of life as well-in any way that might mean for you. Whether it’s to say “I have never thought about it that way before” or “that’s just what I needed to hear”, or something even as simple (yet powerful) as “wow, me too”. And if its to say “Woah, this girl is off her ROCKER. Thank heavens I am not like her”, that’s fine too.

 

So what will you find here? You will find raw, honest truths. You will find hilarity in my mishaps of this journey we call life. You may also find some helpful insights into how you can embrace authenticity in your life and in your relationships-something that binds us together as a human race and connects us in ways that are seen and unseen.

Most importantly, you will find that you are likely not alone in your struggles. In your insecurities. In your fears. In your desires.

Let me walk this with you. And let’s be real. Together.

Stay tuned,

A.F.

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Myth-Busters: Goal-Setting Style-How Might I be Getting in My Own Way?

It’s that time of year again, folks—the nearing of the wrap-up of summer (bummers. Why did I have to go there, right?)! For many people, this time of year marks a time for a fresh start into fall, a “clean slate” for some, and the opportunity to make some changes in the days to come. But how often do we find ourselves extremely motivated and eager at the idea of this venture, but struggle to carry out these changes on a consistent basis, let alone for very long?

I call this the “idealism syndrome” (OK, so it’s not TRULY an official name, but let me explain!).

We tend to see this time of year in the way that I just described above. While this view is not false or negative, it does not take into account the HOW factor: how we will plan to maintain our new positive habits or new perspectives once the luster of the “new changes” wears off. We become giddy with idea of all the bright and shiny new habits we can begin to form, and we look at this time as a whole while setting monumental (and oftentimes overly lofty) goals for ourselves. And once the sparkle wears off, it can leave us feeling unmotivated and defeated. We’ve all seen this before—how great we are doing in the beginning! And then once the middle of October rolls around…we struggle, start to fall off of the “changes galore horse,” and lose sight of what we set out to do in the first place.

This happens because we can unintentionally set ourselves up for a few common mishaps:

  • Setting a goal without breaking down the steps of how we will go about achieving it
  • Setting large goals without breaking down smaller goal “milestones” in order to keep us on track
  • Seeing the “big picture” without seeing the various components of the “journey”
  • Using “fresh start to fall” time as the only time we set goals for ourselves (or even “New Year’s Resolution” time)
  • Not focusing enough on the “why” behind our goal

We tend to do these things without even realizing—because goal-setting is positive, right? What we tend to overlook is the fact that sometimes we set goals in which we actually inhibit ourselves instead of empower ourselves. Goal-setting is a tricky science, but luckily there are positive methods for goal-setting that have the power to empower,increasing the likelihood of sticking to goals, which makes change more likely to be successful.

Let’s bust through some of these goal-setting myths that tend to center around this time of year:

Setting a goal without breaking down the steps of how we will go about achieving it.This tends to happen when we become very excited around the kick-off to fall, but what we fail to do is further examine the HOW factor. While I’m definitely not knocking enthusiasm, the HOW is equally as important.

  • Instead, try this: Remember to ask yourself, “Do I know what it will take to work toward this goal? What other changes might I need to make as a result of this intended change? How will I fit creating these habits into my schedule?” It may be helpful to write these down as they are important factors of goal success! Remembering the HOW will aid the goal into coming into fruition.

Setting large goals without breaking down smaller goal “milestones” in order to keep us on track. While I agree with the statement that you need to have a clear idea of where you are going in order to be able to guide yourself toward your goal destination, when we forget to keep track of the mile-markers along the way, we sometimes veer off of our goal path and into a ditch of disaster! Focusing only on the end of the goal (or the completion state of the goal) will not be enough.

  • Instead, try this: Think of your goal-setting process as creating a roadmap. Just like on road trips, you have to plan to make those necessary stops along the way in addition to your final destination. Breaking down your goal destination into smaller steps helps your goal seem more manageable. It will also prompt action in order to reach smaller steps that compile into your goal. This method helps keep the motivation going, and gives you opportunities to celebrate the smaller successes in order to keep you on track and keep the motivation flowing (even when “new goals” hype wears off)!

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Seeing the “big picture” without seeing various components of the “journey.” This is very similar to the points above. When we only have our “end point” in sight, the journey or the smaller successes can be overlooked, and we tend to miss out on the enjoyment of working toward our goals.

  • Instead, try this: Don’t allow yourself to miss out on the blessings that are in the journey! While it is a wonderful feeling to accomplish the end stage of your goals, there is beauty in the transitions, the growth, and the journey. Allow yourself to embrace the steps along the way, and reflect on the changes you are not only seeing but feeling as a result of all your hard work. Don’t forget to praise yourself for the smaller victories!

Using “fresh start” time as the only time we set goals for ourselves. Out of all of these goal-setting myths, this one may be the most ironic. It passes under our radar because we view goal-setting in general as positive. However, when we center on kick-off to fall as the only (or most monumental) time for goal-setting, we place ourselves in a situation that is hard to live up to. In addition, once the hype wears off, so can our goal-work and motivation.

  • Instead, try this: Try making a habit of employing goal-setting at various times during the year. This can be on a monthly, or even weekly, basis. In this sense, we create a habit and (just as importantly) a mindset of goal-setting that can carry through the entire year. In utilizing this technique, we create more opportunities for success, constant reflection, and re-evaluation of our mindset and habits, along with opportunities to see our work pay off and our motivation to hold steady. Don’t be afraid to scale back the “big idea goals” to monthly goal guideposts in order to further prompt your growth and dedication!

Not focusing enough on the “why” behind our goal. It’s difficult to stay motivated, energized, and dedicated toward a cause unless we know the purpose behind our activity. We tend to make our main motivator behind setting fall goals as “Because it’s the moving into the new season! I want a fresh start. That’s what you do at this time of year.” When that is our largest motivation for our goals, we struggle to keep those as priorities and tend to not stay on track for very long.

  • Instead, try this: Firmly establish your “why” behind your goals. Explore goal options that you have a personal tie to, something that tugs at the inner part of you. Challenge yourself to find inner motivation toward your goals that goes beyond the specific time of the year. These goals will speak so much more to us and pull us toward action if we feel personally and emotionally connected to our “why” factor.

While the wrap of of summer is an excellent time to think about new beginnings, opportunities, and all the blessings God has for us, it doesn’t have to end around mid-October! We were made for more. Busting through the “myths” of goal-setting and employing techniques that aid in consistent growth and motivation have the power to give us the consistency that we crave. Now get ready, get set, get going! The Lord’s richest blessings on all you seek in His name.

Stay tuned,

-AF

When We Aren’t at “Our Best”

Sometimes, my mind goes to the most random places.

Like on my commute to work this morning, for example. I can’t even truly explain what the exact string of words and images were that got me on this thought, but there it was, bare and exposed in my mind:

  • “What if something happens to my husband on his drive to his meetings?”
  • “What if I don’t find out about it until hours later because I’m at work?”
  • “What if he gets hurt and they can’t identify who he is, and then I don’t find out for hours and HOURS later?”
  • “I can’t even remember what he was wearing this morning….And what if that’s what they ask me to identify him by when he is found hurt?”

oh my good GOODNESS!! What an absolutely turbulent and horrible place my mind decided to go to this morning as I was making my way down the highway to get to my ever-familiar place we dub “the office”.

That’s one of the ways my anxiety likes to spike within me: getting me on a train to rumination-station, allowing my mind to explore areas that have no reasonable grounding and get me all up in a tizzy.

Leading me to worry

Leading me to doubt.

Leading me to feel desperate.

However, what stuck out to me about this (even more than the “my mind is tail-spinning in a million directions and there is absolutely no reason to be thinking this way”) was the fact that I identified with not being able to recount what my husband was wearing this morning as he walked out the door for work.

Look at me, two posts ago writing about how important it is to be “eyeball to eyeball” with someone, and here I am unable to describe what my husband was wearing this morning.

This blog humbles me. I pray it humbles you, too.

What an absolute BLESSING of a man my spouse is. It pains me to say that I don’t think he has had me at “my best” the first few months of our marriage: tired, run down, sick a few times (why does this happen in summer?!), all that jazz.

Why do we feel the need to constantly apologize for not being at our “best”?

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I mean, isn’t that a natural part of life? Isn’t that one of the absolute realities of relationships and marriage, is that we can’t always be at our best, even for those we love the most? 

Instead of faulting ourselves for constantly not being “at our best”, can we embrace the unconditional nature of the love we are given by those who can see us at our worst and love us as if we are at our best?

For example, me not looking up at my husband for an entire morning to know what he is wearing because I’m running back and forth to the bathroom being sick, trying to get ready for work, and have the dog barking her head off at absolutely nothing?

(This is nowhere near my worst, by the way. Oh hunnies, stay tuned.)

What I’m trying to say is, yes we can recognize our shortcomings, yes we can aim to improve upon those, but do we constantly have to berate ourselves for not being “our best”?

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There is something truly healing about embracing our brokenness rather than feeling shamed by it. It truly can give someone the privilege of “going second” (words of wisdom), meaning, allowing them to be vulnerable as well through paving the path with your example that we, too, are encouraged to embrace the authenticity of brokenness.

Because we are human.

Because we can’t always be at our best. We won’t.

And thank God that we don’t have to be.

 

Stay tuned,

-AF

Dwell, Abide, and Delight

Lately, this verse has been ever-present in my mind:

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

I think it’s more than fair to say that when life throws us curveballs, we either

  1. a. Hold on to Christ for dear life, leaning into him for that necessary guidance, or
  2. b. Shift our focus from him to the overwhelming stressors this earthly life is throwing at us.

It is so easy to get clouded by the demands of this world. I speak from personal experience as a fellow sinner, recovering perfectionist, and someone that has a slightly (or more) unhealthy relationship with control. One of the first things to go out the window when life appears to be in a constant state of overwhelm is my intentionality with fostering my personal relationship with Christ. I wish I could say that I never fall into this trap of getting wrapped up in what the world is asking of me vs. seeking God’s kingdom first. But truly, my sinful self at times gets off track, causing my focus to shift from the security I find in Christ to the endless “to do’s” and the mindset of “how can this ever be accomplished?!”

Which tailspins the anxiety. Which catalysts the rushing. Which leads to the social neglect. Which ends up in depletion.

There are some telltale warning signs that occur when our focus is a bit off-kilter. Maybe you’ve experienced them:

  • Fatigue
  • A sense of overwhelming worry
  • Feeling “burdened” by life; feeling a heavy weight of obligation
  • Living a more “rushed” lifestyle—finding very little wiggle room in which to be intentional about learning from God’s Word
  • Expressing more “If only this would happen…” vs. “I’m so grateful that…”

Sound familiar? I’m sure by now we know these all too well. These feelings or behaviors start to become “red flags” that something is out of balance. More times than not, our overwhelm, ironically, overshadows our ability to deliberately foster our personal relationship with our loving God.

That’s where this verse from Psalms that I mentioned above comes into play. It is something so simply stated, but it truly packs a punch in the comfort department. And it starts off with such a refreshing word: delight. How can one say this word and not feel a sense of relief? Let’s zone in on this word—an interpretation of the word “delight” in this context may be “to find the purest joy in, or “to lovingly and earnestly invest yourself in.” In essence, to throw ourselves fully into—emotionally, spiritually, and mentally—the presence of God and his everlasting promises. “Delighting ourselves” in him illustrates us as his children, seeking first his will and comfort, and finding the peace and joy that comes from the ever-fervent guidance of our heavenly Father.

Doing this requires our recognition of our need for a Savior (especially during the more trying times) as well as the motivation to constantly foster our spiritual relationship with him in order to have a sense of comfort carry over into every aspect of our earthly lives—including the overwhelm! And doing this requires both time in our minds and time on our calendars.

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Whew. Not an easy balance to maintain, especially when life appears to get more and more hectic each day, making a sustainable lifestyle that includes spiritual growth through Christ quite challenging. As Christ’s children in an age of “I need this done yesterday” and constant overload, what are some habits we can incorporate to keep our focus on delighting ourselves in him?

  • Pick a verse of the day to meditate on. While reading sections of Scripture in a devotion is a wonderful way to foster our relationship with Christ, for the “pulled in a million different ways” individual, more focused and in-depth meditation on smaller passages can be carried out throughout the day outside of devotional time. For example, the passage from Psalms above can be meditated on throughout the day. Placing this passage as an hourly reminder on your phone or writing it on a sticky note and placing it on your computer desk or on your planner (things we look at numerous times throughout the day) are small reminders to keep God’s Word at the forefront of our minds all day long, even when our schedule gets hectic. This provides the intentionality factor of actively opening up our hearts to what the Lord is telling us through his Word and how it can be applied to the everyday happenings of our lives. Biblegateway.com has a verse of the day each day to help get you going!
  • Carry your Bible with you to use as you travel throughout the day. This is something a friend of mine told me that I thought was extremely unique. Even the physical weight of an object has the ability to shift our focus onto what really matters. The act of carrying your Bible with you as you venture to work, pick up the kids, head to the gym, and so on and so forth is a constant reminder to keep our eyes open to how Christ is revealing his mercy to us each day.
  • Have a Christian playlist geared up and ready to go. Music is a wonderful way that God reveals himself to us! There are many places that we can incorporate music into our daily routine: in the car as we sit through our morning traffic routine, in the office during our lunch break, and even during our exercise routines. Having music ready to go that speaks of Christ’s love and sacrifice and encourages us to seek him in his Word is a wonderful reminder of the focus we ought to have each day. AND this is a fun and energy-boosting way to hear of God’s promises for us!
  • Utilize transitions as time for brief prayer. There are many times during our workdays in which we transition between activities or move from place to place. Utilizing these time periods as times to spend a few minutes in prayer with our God (even if it’s just to say “thank you!” or “Lord, let me be your vessel”) can aid us in keeping God as the focus of our day even in the hustle and bustle of life.

Each of the above examples can be done with a sense of joy, as Christ provides us with the comfort that the world cannot give. One of the opportunities we receive from our God is the ability to come into his presence no matter where we are during the day: God can be seen in the struggle of work deadlines, in the abundance of activities to get the children to, and even in the busyness of a packed schedule. We need to delight ourselves in him fully and intentionally in order to dwell in the peace that comes from seeking him out in unique ways.

Join me this week in delighting yourself in the ever-comforting presence of the Lord! It is amazing how we can thrive under the hectic demands of this world when we are first delighting ourselves in our relationship with God and the comfort only he can provide. It is through the strength of God that we persevere, and it is through his grace that he restores our hearts and minds.

May He always bless our mess.

Stay tuned,

-AF

Eyeball to Eyeball-Thanking God for a Collision

So, I learned how to drive in Chicago.

Cue horror movie music.

I like to think that this helps me better to be able to drive in a multitude of chaotic conditions (lets be real), however, I do at times get a bit careless. There was an instance a couple years back, however, where I could not attribute what happened to carelessness. I was backing out of my parking spot in the lot behind my apartment building at the time to meet a friend for coffee, and feel a thump. Oh boy. That never tends to be a good sound. As I looked behind me, there was an enormous black SUV-looking car (confession: I have zero car model knowledge) that had become slightly attached to my back bumper. What! As we both stepped out of our vehicles (thankfully unharmed, neither of us were going very fast), we quickly came to the realization of the “flukeiness” of the situation: we had both backed out of our parking spots at the same time (which were across from one another) without realizing it. We could easily place the blame on both of us, as this was such a random occurrence (seriously, you would have to TRY to do what we did).

Side note: I was actually surprised how calm I remained during the situation, and didn’t let anger overtake me. Typically, I tend to respond in a MUCH different, more intense manner. It did help that the damage was minimal to either one of us, and that no one was harmed. But what shook me more than the actual impact itself was the fact that I had never met this neighbor before this point of  literally “running into each other”.

At that time, I had lived in that complex for over 2 years, so I had typically come across many tenants of our large complex. But what stunned me was that it took my neighbor and I literally ramming our cars into each other to have a conversation.

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I feel like sometimes I get caught up very much in my own little world: what I have to do, what I don’t have enough of, what there isn’t enough time to do, and the list goes on and on and on. I tend to have a running monologue in my head of lists, obligations, and reminders (let’s all fess up to this, ladies). This sinful side of me creeps in far too often than I’d prefer it to. How easy it is to get encompassed in our own walk of life that we fail to look out at those walking this earthly life with us.

I’ve learned that at times, I am protective with my time to a fault, always claiming there is never enough of it. But if I’m living in a way where I didn’t even allow myself the time and opportunity to get to know those living literally within spitting distance of me, something’s gotta give. Maybe you find yourselves in similar situations, feeling as if there is absolutely NO time to even explore people around you that you don’t have to work with on a day-to-day basis. It took a minor accident for me to slow down and give a person God loves some of my time.

As I came home later that night a couple years back, the gentlemen who was my neighbor and his friend were in the lot that I was pulling into. When I got out of my car, they kindly came over to me and asked if everything with my car was okay. Instead of giving a short answer and scurrying inside to get into my comfy pants and finish the load of paperwork I had for the next day, something pulled me to again slow down and look eyeball to eyeball with another one of God’s invested creations. As the conversation shifted from what we do to the apartment complex ongoings, we learned about each other that we both love to worship and praise God. As we exchanged information about where we went to church, God nudged me into an important lesson that evening.

When we don’t take the time to look around and become “less of ourselves”, we miss out on the opportunities to build connections in Christ with others, and therefore, miss out on the opportunity to aid in building his kingdom here. This hit close to home for me, as a HUGE battle I have been fighting lately (an honestly, for quite some time) is the balance of sustainability and margin in my life. Pastor and speaker Andy Stanley (LOVE) gives a wonderful sermon series on “breathing room”, and creating healthy margin in various areas of life in order to keep at the center what matters the most. Andy states the importance of “ex-squeezing” yourself in order to allow for instances like impromptu conversations, intentional donations, and a prayerful relationship with God. When we don’t allow for “breathing room” to take in the world around us, and invest in the people around us, we are setting ourselves up for a very unfulfilling existence.

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My husband and I do not want to be living in a community where we don’t know the names of our neighbors. We have been challenging ourselves to make intentional neighbor connections in our community (having a dog always helps with this!), and are trying to make plans to follow up with a few individuals we have made connections with. Everyone wants to belong to something: give someone the blessing of “going second” through taking some initiative in that :).

How can you create a bit of “breathing room” this week in order to connect with the world around you?  It doesn’t necessarily take a car crash (bless), but it looks like I needed a bit of a wake-up call that day. It could mean stopping over to bring that new neighbor moving in a hot dish. It could mean skipping your favorite TV show in order to take a walk and smile at the passer-bys. It could mean making that phone call to say “thank you” to a loved one, just because.

 

Let’s look outside of ourselves today. Let’s keep each other accountable in this.

Stay tuned,

-AF

When to Say “No” to a “Good Thing”

Guys: One of my favorite words has got to become the word “no”.

In my more recent posts this month, you can see a theme in my struggle with the word “no” and how allowing myself permission to use this word generously has given me freedom in many areas of my life. One of the biggest things I am learning about myself is that I am the main person that backs myself into a corner. It’s so easy to blame work, life events, yada yada, but no: am the main person who tends to back myself into a corner by not exercising my right to say “no” as often as I should.

I’ve had people reach out to me telling me that they can relate to my love-hate relationship with the word “no”, and I feel so blessed to have ladies that walk along side me with a similar struggle so that we can look at each other eyeball to eyeball and say the most empowering phrase in the world: “Oh yeah? Me too.”

I think a certain commitment has been weighing on my heart and mind much more recently, where I am possibly struggling to accept the reality that it may be time to utilize a “no” and release myself from something I have been involved in for the last 3.5 years. While there are a few things that are holding me back from exercising this “no”, today I want to touch on some of the signs that may alert us to the fact that it is time to lovingly let something go through using the word “no”.

This helps us stay accountable in being good stewards of the time that God has entrusted (yes entrusted!) to us while truly living out our authentic truth. It also will save us from building resentment, depletion, and a strapped schedule.

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I’ve slowly come to learn to watch out for these warning signs when I am considering exercising a “no”:

You consistently dread said commitment. Now I know there are days in life where even a blessing can seem like a stressor, and we reallllllllly don’t want to engage, but I’m talking on a consistent basis here. For example, some days I just dread going to work. But once I’m there and have gotten going, I’m good! I truly LOVE my job, and it’s normal to struggle to engage some days. However, if the thought of engaging in said commitment consistently gives you a sinking feeling of dread-even if it’s a good thing-it may be time to consider exercising the much needed “no”.

You find your time more useful elsewhere. If I’m consistently saying to myself “I truly feel my time would better be used elsewhere”, I may not be engaging in the right commitment for myself at the time.

You don’t prioritize the time for it. Our priorities direct our goals, which guide our behavior, which decide how we organize our time. If I’m not actively and intentionally prioritizing the time for said commitment after I’ve examined that I DO have the time to devote to it, my heart may not truly be in it.

You simply need the time elsewhere. Similarly as I mentioned before, some seasons of life require our time to be dispersed a bit differently. And this is OKAY! It is okay to give ourselves permission to change our minds depending on the demands that we have at the time. We need to adapt as life challenges us to adapt. It’s okay to say “my time is needed elsewhere” and give yourself the freedom to invest in what needs investing.

You have a “passive attitude” while involved in the commitment. This is something I had noticed more recently while engaging in the commitment in consideration: I was starting to get very apathetic about the entire process-meaning I truly did not devote the energy to care how it went. It was at this time that I could tell my feeling toward this activity had shifted, as I was developing different priorities throughout the season I was growing through.

You aren’t getting your “baselines” met. This was something that became SUPER apparent to me when I needed to exercise some “no’s”: My baseline functions were suffering as a sign of too many “yes’s!” What I mean by that is this:

  • Is this activity cutting into sleep?
  • Is this cutting into your ability to consistently fuel your body with the nutrients and food it needs?
  • Is this activity interfering with your time to prioritize the Lord and listen to His voice?
  • Is this commitment adding too much pressure on your other roles in life-wife, friend, Christian, daughter, parent?

Baselines first. Everything else second.

You can’t define a concrete purpose for engaging in this activity. At this time, my purpose for engaging in said commitment has shifted from “investing in my passion and building community” to “because I’ve been doing it and am worried about upsetting others by leaving”. This is not an authentic reason to stick to something. People-pleasing will get us nowhere. We have to have a definitive purpose to engage in a “yes” vs. prohibiting ourselves from using a “no” when needed.

Whew.

This is NOT easy to do. Only when we empower ourselves to give ourselves permission to exercise a “no” can we truly live sustainable lives filled with balance. I should know-I spent WAY too long doing the opposite! And this still tends to be my ‘default setting’- I have to work very intentionally to live out this truth for myself.

Embrace “no”: it can be kind to you.

 

Stay tuned,

-AF

 

What God Cultivated in the Midst of Anxiety

What an isolating feeling anxiety can be. The best way that I can describe this feeling based on past experiences would be drowning in the chaos of my own internal making.

Looking back, I think what appeared as a “particular, energetic, always on the go, over-achiever, independent, rebellious, resistant against family, forges her own path” type of girl was influenced heavily on what would only be identified years later as an anxiety-based disorder. One that needed to be recognized, addressed, and wrestled with.

And thank God for that. Because I can remember. I can remember the point when it was at it’s worst.

I remember back to days in college where I would go some nights with 1-3 hours of sleep (purposefully) and deem myself “FINE”, waking up the next morning and would go straight for 20 hours from one thing to the next, never to blink an eye or feel that rush of fatigue until days later when I would crash.

I remember spending large amounts of money that I didn’t have in an effort to feel a sense of control over what I felt was spiraling out of my reach. I remember bounced checks. Empty checking accounts. Overdraft fees. Shame. I remember the sobering realization that this only spiraled ME out of control. 

I also remember not being able to stop.

I remember being on my hands and knees at 3am scrubbing the counters, bathrooms, and tabletops raw to release all the pent-up energy that I had inside, energy that craved to be released (but of course, only in a way that allowed me to have more control over my environment).

I remember gaining close to 90 pounds from constantly trying to “outrun” my anxiety through taking on commitment after commitment, pushing harder and harder to reach perfection, forsaking anything my body and mind needed, all to think that would give me the sense of peace that I was yearning to feel in the midst of this struggle.

I remember going months without speaking to my parents, because the thought of facing my mother and hearing her say that I wasn’t “measuring up” was more than I could bear. Even the thought of it made me sick.

I remember checking and rechecking the locks on the doors to my apartment, forcing myself to believe that the more I was able to secure them, the more in control of my environment I could be, prohibiting anything unforeseen from happening. I remember not allowing myself to sleep until I did.

I remember saying “yes” to everything in a selfish effort to please everyone else in my life as well as deem myself “capable and worthwhile”. How sick this looks to me now.

I remember racking my brain ragged with thoughts of how I could push further, do more, BE more in order to ease my restless mind and heart.

I remember turning my back away from God and feeling like I had to be the one to be my own solution, along with everyone else’s.

I remember how tired-my gosh, how TIRED-I was, day in and day out. And how hopeless and hard on myself this made me feel. How most days Senior year of college, I would sleep the morning away just trying to grasp on to some small sense of revitalization, only to miss 75% of my 9am classes sessions, and ultimately, not showing up for a final exam. Just didn’t show.

I remember cancelling plans with friends time after time after time because I felt like I just had nothing left in me to give.

I remember feeling like nothing I could ever do would ever be enough. Enough for who? Me? My family? Everyone? All of them?

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I had to own this. I HAVE to own this. Because hints of this are still a part of me from time to time.

And how common this is. How truly common this is. I own this now not from a place of shame, but from a place of rawness, recognizing that in the midst of the battle (and from time to time, still on-going battle), God has been able to cultivate beauty even from this chaotic mess. I treasure these truths He has instilled, using my anxiety as a spokesperson in which He was able to speak to the inmost parts of me even when I wasn’t fully ready to listen:

Doing more does not MAKE you more. The world does not push us to believe this is true. God pushes us to believe this is true. It’s not about doing more to be more. Moving on to that next thing and revving up the hustle to achieve that sense of peace? Temporary. Not lasting. In fact, more draining than ever. My anxiety would drive me to be “go go GO” and I thought that was the solution. Slowing down has never felt so good.

Having anxiety does not mean you are a “weak Christian”. This took me a long time to wrap my head around. And I’ll be honest, I have heard loved ones who have told me “I can’t imagine ever feeling that way, I have my faith. You just need to pray more”. I even had a family member tell me this. How shaming that felt to me, without them even knowing. I had to accept that this was their lack of insight, and not the shame of who I was. While anxiety may always be a part of me, it does not fabricate itself from a place of “weak faith”. However, it can be a barrier to me engaging in the blessing of the ever-comforting presence of God, as well as the blessings he has placed around me. Faith is not the problem, but it is the solution. 

I have the capabilities to channel my anxiety in a healthy way. God has led me to encourage myself to use my anxiety to stay determined, organized, mindful, assertive, creative, and compassionate toward others who sing with the same battlesong I do. Do I do this daily? Not at all. Can I do this? Yes, through His strength.

You are not everyone’s solution. Period. Here more on my grappling with that here.

He is enough for me. I’d be lying if I said that I embraced this statement daily without hesitation, because that’s not real life. But I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that I don’t have to make it all happen; I merely need to step out in faith and listen to His voice as He calls me. No amount of striving, rushing, success, earthly love, family acceptance, financial security, physical health, and even my own goals will compare to what He has to offer me in Him. I’m so convicted in this.

No amount of striving, rushing, success, earthly love, family acceptance, financial security, physical health, and even my own goals will compare to what He has to offer me in Him.

Let’s keep each other accountable in this. You are not alone. You are made for MORE.

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So in an extremely counter-intuitive way (because that’s how life tends to work), I thank God for my anxiety. Because while I felt that it stripped and took so much away from me in some seasons of life, it was able to cultivate so much in me. HE was able to cultivate so much in me.

So while anxiety is still very much a part of me, I still feel liberated. I still feel more than it. I still believe He is more than it.

And I embrace that.

Stay tuned,

-AF

 

Small Steps Toward More Financial Freedom

Guys, we’ve made it to Wednesday! That means the work week is halfway done, and we can almost taste the sweet, sweet weekend.

In my earlier post, you heard me speak about how my jaw hit the floor (almost literally) when I took an in-depth and intentional look at where our July social spending was-yikes. Definitely not what I was comfortable with.

We’re forgiving ourselves. We’re adjusting our margin. We’re moving on.

I think this is such a common rut to fall into, though: I want to have experiences and enjoy life, but I don’t want to break the bank doing it. 

This post is not going to be about how to eliminate those experiences, or even what to necessarily always cut out of your life-because I believe in fun and freedom! I also believe in living within your means and having relief from the treacherous burden of finances. What I am going to be sharing is some tips that I’ve found helpful along this journey called “we need money in life” that-when combined together-can provide a bit more financial freedom and less strain on the wallet when you’re still trying to use expenses to participate in social events:

  1. Make a list before heading to the grocery store-and stick to it! This is where the ever-essential meal planning comes in. If my husband and I are able to meal plan (or at least have a rough idea of 3-4 different meals we would like to cycle through that week, allowing ourselves some much-needed flexibility), we can have direction on what is essential to buy and what would just “be nice” to have. Making a list ahead of time and keeping yourself accountable to sticking to that list cuts down on unnecessary grocery/food spending. Also remember to be fed and rested when making your trip to the store-not hungry so that extra things end up in your cart that maybe weren’t a necessary buy!
  2. Stick to ordering water at restaurants instead of beverages. When I think about going out to eat for either a date night, a girls weekend brunch, or a quick lunch with my coworkers, I so often forget to factor in that ordering beverages costs! Even ordering a nonalcoholic beverage such as soda or coffee can add anywhere between 2-4 dollars to your bill (plus tip!). Now I’m ALL for the refreshing cocktail, smooth glass of wine, and fizzy cup of soda, but I try and encourage myself to save those for the lower-cost events, such as meeting up for a coffee date, or going out for a drink or 2, vs. consistently including them with my meal. This can add up over time!
  3. Become familiar with weekly event/food specials around your residency, and engage in them! Examples of this can include massive deals for Taco Tuesday/Thursday, Happy Hour specials, discounted movie nights (woot woot Tuesdays!) and even BOGO coffee deals during certain hours of the day. Choosing to plan your social events around these specials can lower the cost significantly and can provide some nice traditions for you and your loved ones 🙂
  4. Milk the free stuff. Guys, I LOVE free. Whether it’s free Jazz in the Park on Thursdays, store opening giveaways, free art museum or zoo days (holler, Milwaukee), perusing a bookstore and building your reading list, chilling at someone’s pool, game nights, or even more community based events, free stuff is the BEST cost. Try and balance your cost-based social events with free gatherings, and watch those dollars add up.
  5. Use a budgeting app. There’s nothing more sobering than sweet financial accountability. HA. Consider using a budgeting app that allows you to more specifically track your spending and see which areas have a bit of wiggle room (and which areas are getting into the red!). This is what helped my husband and I see what financial changes (and liberties!) we were needing to take in our lives. Our favorite is MINT.
  6. Plan specific days/times to allow yourself to engage in social spending. This places a balanced limit on how much “spending time” you are engaging in. This doesn’t deprive you from engaging in social spending, but rather allows you to moderate that a bit more through a time-bound fashion. For example, my husband and I have been reserving Friday nights for “Date Night”, where I know we are going to splurge on dinner and some sort of activity that evening (which is totally fine! We sincerely look forward to this each week). I therefore try and limit any other social spending to Thursday evenings for friend catch-up, and maybe one other small event (like a coffee or drink date) per week. This gives me the freedom to engage in social spending, but allows me to stay in a more balanced relationship with the dollars exiting the bank account.
  7. Cut down on “convenience eating”. What I mean by this is the ever familiar song and dance: “I’ve just worked 10 hours straight and I’m super tired and I just want something cruunnnnncccchhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyy.” We try to aim and make food-based social spending a social event, not a convenience event. Make sure to pack snacks along for the trip home after a long day of work before you can get to dinner, and remind yourselves that eating out is FINE, but many, MANY dollars can be saved in cutting down those convenience-eating trips (which tend to be impulsive and unhealthy, OR MAYBE THAT’S JUST ME BUT I DOUBT IT), and allows you to reserve eating-related spending in terms of quality time with others.

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Enjoy the summer, but still own your means and respect your margin 🙂

Stay tuned,

-AF

What Worked and What Didn’t: July in Review

8/1/17. I don’t know about you, but I LOVE greeting the first day of a new month (except if those months are November-March. Ew Winter).

I want to go back to a system that was working for me VERY well in the past (why do we drop things that work so well for us?! Ugh.). What I would do is each month, and the very end or very beginning of the next month, I would look back at the past month in a sort of reflective-review style and figure out “what worked” and “what didn’t work” in terms of goals and lifestyle. I feel like this type of reflection is important because it allows us to 1)see what changes might be beneficial to make and 2)allows us to praise ourselves on what IS working and what IS going well (which we often times overlook, well at least I tend to 😉 ).

So here I am to air out my “dirty laundry” of how I let some things go this month (why? Because brokenness and imperfection needs to be embraced and accepted), as well as pinpoint what was working well for the month of July:

What worked:

  • Consistent weekly date nights-making time to just be newlyweds and enjoy new experiences together! Also provided us with something to look forward to each week
  • Saying “no” to extra work obligations (this was a big step for me)-I turned down 2 presentation opportunities and a promotion this month in order to hold on to my sustainable work schedule, and I have NO regrets about this
  • Attending my weight watcher weigh-ins regularly, no matter how I thought the week had gone-I had extra accountability as well as my most consistent weight loss this month since November of last year 🙂
  • Checking out of “work mode” the moment I entered my car after work (I used to be a CONSTANT work planner at home, checking work e-mails at all times of the day from home-no more!). Overall, being less accessible
  • Making more time to invest in close friendships and family relations-making more of an effort to host people at our new home, meet up for coffee dates, and check in with loved ones (especially those who we knew were struggling a bit more)
  • Starting to get back into writing again (hence this blog) and investing in this area of expression and life

What didn’t work:

  • lack of paying close attention to our social spending-which dipped into our finances more than I am typically comfortable with
  • Not writing down a meal plan each week-how easy it can be at those times to just “pick something up on the way home” and not make the healthiest choices!
  • Inconsistent church attendance-due to travel, changing schedules, fatigue-what have you
  • Missing out on my group exercise classes that I like-I missed the variety in activity!
  • Lack of sleep-I was SUPER cranky and irritable at various times this month, and I know it was because my body was not getting the rest it needed. However, I don’t like that side of myself and don’t wish to see it more than I need to
  • Lack of group-based support-I think I’m recognizing I need more time with the sisters in Christ I have in my life on a group basis to discuss and support one another in the specific challenges and blessings that come along with being women
  • Lack of time in personal prayer as well as prayer with my partner-we need more of this in our lives

Even as I’m writing this, I’m recognizing that more things have worked this month that I thought. Sometimes when we are in the midst of a challenging or inconsistent season, it can be hard to see that there is blessing in the storm, and that things are going better than they feel. 

I’m a goal-oriented gal, but I also don’t believe that goals should run EVERY area of my life (I’ve developed a healthier, more balanced relationship with this over the last several months). However, I oftentimes find myself setting a few goals here and there over 5 main categories of my life: Financial, Health, Professional, Social, and Personal/Spiritual. Based on my reflection from above, here are some things I am challenging myself to stay accountable and intentional in (giving myself some grace every now and again 😉 ).

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Financial:

  1. Update our budget and budgeting app to reflect recent financial changes
  2. Weekly analyze/reflect back on our spending patterns (especially socially) to see how we are doing with our means

Health:

  1. Continue to regularly attend weekly Weight Watcher Meetings
  2. Use our new whiteboard (of course) to meal plan for the week before going grocery shopping-map out food prep days
  3. Encourage myself to schedule in 2 group fitness classes a month

Professional (not a big emphasis this next month):

  1. Continue to only check/respond to work-related e-mails/duties when at the office-my job is NOT on-call and I should not be inducing guilt on myself for this choice 🙂
  2. Continue to only schedule client appointments within office availability

Social:

  1. Host one larger gathering at our home (if our dog is ready for it!). If our dog is not ready for it, create a larger group outing to eliminate some of that pressure
  2. Invite 2 friends that I have been meaning to connect with out for coffee/drink dates
  3. Continue weekly date night (love this!)

Personal/Spiritual:

  1. Choose a devotional app that I enjoy and begin to incorporate this into my daily schedule
  2. Make a consistent effort to pray with my spouse each day
  3. Become more consistent in our church attendance
  4. Continue to write on this blog 3-4 times weekly

 

There ya have it! My reflections and intentions. I’d love to hear how your monthly reflections have gone, and what is on your heart and mind for the month of August. I’d love to provide any support I can!

Stay tuned,

-AF

Where the Comfort Truly Lies

Well, it comes around every week. It’s MONDAY.

When you haven’t seen a post from me in a few days, you can tell what kind of a week it’s been. And boy, was it ever a draining week. I’ve been trying to pinpoint what exactly wore me out so much this week, but it was truly a combination of major lack of sleep, worry over financial strains, little “me” time, and HEAT (it was soooooo hot this weekend, and we were basking in it for most of Saturday, yikes-but still enjoyable!). To be quite honest, by the end of the week, my anxiety level had gotten higher than I would have liked it to be, and my body really started to feel the impact of the week (as well as my poor husband. Bless his heart). By Sunday night, I was SPENT. I’m feeling a bit more refreshed (thank you, coffee), but recognize that my body truly did take this on.

The Apostle Paul knew a little bit about this (okay, maybe more than a little bit). In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks very openly about his own weakness and struggle, and is very aware of it. But he gives this message regarding being “spent”:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of All Comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” -2 Cor. 1:3-6

But…but…but Paul? You don’t get it. You don’t get my current situation, and just how frenzied I felt this week. Where was my comfort then?

Truth be told, I wasn’t doing a great job of seeking out God at the end of this week. I also lost my lens of gratitude, and every little thing just seemed so much bigger than it actually was (power of perspective!). We have a God of all comfort that has the power to refresh and revive us in the midst of anything we may be experiencing. Best part is: He is literally ALWAYS there. Always! We don’t need to make an appointment with him (although appointments with professionals are gifts from God too, believe me), and we don’t have to wait to get our time with him. We merely need to seek him out in his word, through prayer, and through being present in the moment with him.

Now, to be fair, I am all for taking care of yourself, which sometimes means making sure your needs are met so you can fulfill your obligations and roles, but to neglect my personal time with God can have a serious effect on my functioning-I wasn’t partaking in the comfort of Christ in order that I might provide comfort to others through Him. Hindsight is usually 20/20, isn’t it?

Another wrong turn I took was losing my lens of gratitude. Looking back to my above “laundry list of chaos” that occurred this week, I should have been reframing it as such:

  • gratitude for our darling pup, who even though has been giving us great challenge lately, always greets us with so much unconditional love and excitement (even if it is a 4am, ouch). She is also making great gains in some other areas of training!
  • gratitude for so many activities and loved ones to engage with this weekend! Schedule was tight, but we got to experience so many events that reminded us of the love and support God has placed in our lives
  • gratitude for Christ having a plan, and him being the one in control (and praying for patience while he unfolds it)
  • gratitude for the awareness that personal time, for me, is necessary (and prayers of how to continue to balance that on the more chaotic weeks)
  • gratitude for the current financial means we do have, and the compassion that my partner and I were able to show one another in tackling some of our concerns in this a bit more head-on
  • gratitude for lack of rain when we needed to be outside all Saturday afternoon, and the beautiful day we were able to have.

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Doesn’t this list sound a lot less hostile than the beginning of this post? If I had engaged in this type of thinking, it is quite possible that I would have had a different outcome regarding my stress level and functionality. When God said “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”, he meant it (2 Cor. 12:9a). God’s comfort and the power we receive from him in the midst of struggle or more challenging week is our greatest strength. To engage in this is to further our personal relationship with Christ, as well as slow down our minds and bodies to better experience the joy in the midst of struggle.

With that being said, my lens of gratitude is screwed back on, and personal time for self-care is an absolute priority this week as it should always be. How does your lens of gratitude and personal time in prayer affect how you experience life? I would love to hear your hearts.

Stay tuned,

-AF

Why I’m Grateful that I Couldn’t Stop Laughing

Can I just say, there is nothing better (maybe I’m slightly exaggerating) than having the time to sit down and write about something that started off so silly, but ended up being something really meaningful. Stay with me here folks, even though some of this may seem a bit off-kilter…

I was thinking back to this  particular memory early this morning (thank you, dog, for waking us up at 6AM ON A DAY OFF). My mind was jumping back to a time a couple years back when my (now) husband and I were sitting down to dinner on a Monday night. As we typically do, before we started the meal, we joined hands and proceeded to begin to pray the common table prayer to ask God to bless our food and our lives. Now, I can’t quite pinpoint what had been going on before dinner, but apparently I was in a…”cheery” mood that evening. And by “cheery”, I mean “prone to continuous laughter”.

That evening, as we began to come before the Lord in prayer, I LOST it. Seriously guys, I had no idea what got into me, but I could NOT stop laughing. We had to start over multiple times, and I couldn’t even get through the prayer. I was literally like a child.  How crazy does that sound?!

It had absolutely nothing to do with the prayer itself (I’m not making fun of Christianity here, calm down now!), but whatever it was, I could not control myself, even enough to get through a 15 second prayer. Finally, I just had to ask hubs to pray for us as I tried to stifle my laughter (my laughter from a completely unknown source).

After this all happened and I finally settled down, I felt absolutely terrible. How dare I come before the Lord and not be able to control my silliness enough to meditate on him before I eat? I felt like such a failure as a Christian, and someone that couldn’t be taken seriously after that.

And it doesn’t stop there. In the months following this horrendous incident, whenever we’d pray the common table prayer together, I had to stop myself from laughing due to the reminder of the uncontrollable silliness I had that evening.

Sincerely, even as I’m reading this, a smirk comes on my face, and I have absolutely no idea why!

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It was probably something funny that happened before dinner on that dreadful day (yes indeed) that I couldn’t get out of my head, and it seeped into our prayer time. As I’m reading this over in my head, how silly it truly all seems.

However: there is a part of me that is thankful for this.

Now, I don’t know if that makes me an icky person, that I would be thankful for the fact that I could barely stifle my laughter as I came before the Lord in prayer. But here’s the ever-so-clever way that God seems to work.

After that unfortunate event (and in order to not repeat this), I began asking hubs to pray for us, and not the common table prayer, but a personal impromptu prayer. Then, after that, I began to pray for us in a free-flowing way that was not a pre-set prayer. And for a while there, we were to the point where we barely said the common table prayer anymore! I have nothing against the common table prayer (even as much of this post may beg to differ), or any other prayers that have been memorized and repeated numerous times. But something I got out of this was that it is healthy and joyful to pray out-loud off of the top of your head. I know I happen to be one of those people that tends to fall into the old saying of “going through the motions” when something seems too familiar and routine to me. In this way, I opted to pray in a manner where I was fully engaged and focused on HIM during my prayer, not zoning out and mindlessly repeating words that I have said thousands of times. I honestly feel that this mishap was the start of my emphasis on intentional prayer. 

I recognize this is something I need to get back to-which is possibly why this popped into my head at dark-o-thirty this morning. (We love our dog, we do, but good grief, my loves).

What an absolute absurd and round-about way to come to this emphasis. However, God meets us where we are at and speaks to us in way that tends to impact us personally. For whatever reason, this opened up my eyes to my desire to be intentional about my intimate prayers with my Savior. Not only that, but it also reminded me of the blessing that comes from engaging in prayer with my partner in a way where we are both acting diligently and personally with our personal God. God reminds us, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” – Romans 12:12. Now, out-loud impromptu prayers is one of my goals to continue to implement!

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There is something so special about being able to be informal (yet respectful) with our personal God. And the added bonus that he hears our prayers anywhere, anytime, provides the extra assurance that nothing we say to the Lord falls on deaf ears. Psalm 6:9 states “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.” Whether his answer is “yes”, “no”, or “wait, my child”, we can live in full confidence that the Lord will always continue to hear our prayers.

Stay tuned,

-AF