Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ask the Mirror

When is the last time you asked someone close to you a question that would help you grow?

For me, it happened just this week...and if I am honest, kind of on accident. As I was talking through the commitment of discipleship with a student athlete, I shared my commitment in the discipleship relationship. Next thing I know, I am asking her "how can I do these things better than I have in the past?" As I took my next breath I realized that I had just opened the door for her to speak truth into my life. I had stepped in front of a mirror, in a sense, by asking her to share with me how I could improve. Her answer was honest, gentle, and understanding as she expressed she would simply desire more time with me this upcoming semester as compared to last semester (when I was out for 6 weeks on maternity leave + had a newborn at home). Well that wasn't too bad! I thought to myself. So, as I had a smilier conversation with another student athlete, I thought I would ask the same question. Why? Because I desire to grow--even if it is going to be hard.

I am a firm believer that we NEED people around us, in our lives, to hold up the mirror and show us our blind spots. How do we expect to grow without the insight of others? The Bible says in Proverbs 27:17, "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." And oh how true that is! Relationships promote growth--through conflict, intimacy, conversation, time spent, etc. And as well as we may know ourselves, others see us through a different lens. We desperately need people in our lives who know us deeply; safe people who we can trust, to hold up the mirror, come alongside us, and champion us, ultimately, to the finish line of holiness in Jesus.

From one growth seeker to (hopefully) another...invite those in your life to be your mirror.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Unmet Expectations

Have you ever felt disappointed? unconsidered? left out? uninvited? unheard?

I would venture to say everyone can answer that with a YES! We have ALL found ourselves, at one time or another, with unmet expectations. And it's not really a great place to end up.

If I am honest, this happens daily in my life...in my marriage, in motherhood, in ministry. It happens almost annually around the holidays, or on my birthday. It happens when company visits or when I vacation. It happens with family and with friends. It happens surrounding major life events. Unmet expectations and I are, unfortunately, quite acquainted.

It is so easy for me to mentally paint a picture perfect [fill in the blank: day, nap time, Christmas, date, visit, wedding, phone conversation, discipleship meeting, party, play date, Bible study, etc.] in my head and then when reality strikes, it looks like a Picasso next to my Monet.

The question is not whether or not we will face disappointment, rather the challenge is how to respond to the it.

For me, I run through several options...
A. Cry.
B. Share my selfish thoughts.
C. Laugh.
D. Put on a happy face, yet allow my heart to fill with bitterness.
E. Gossip.
F. Gratitude. Joy. Contentment. Humility. Understanding.

And, ideally, I choose F. (although A. is likely when pregnant...). When I am hit with disappointment, I so long to respond with a humble heart--one that recognizes I actually am undeserving and not entitled to whatever it is I did not get. But, unfortunately, I cannot say that I always do. Because I am still in process. Time, seasons of life, grace, relationships, and the being able to empathize have all aided in growing me in this area. But again, F. is not always my initial response. And for that, God pours down His grace. He continues to mold me more and more into His image. And the process ain't always pretty. But the outcome is absolutely worth it.


How do you handle disappointment? I would encourage you to check your heart next time you come face to face with it.

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Glimpse at the Unseen

A while back, I stumbled upon this fabulousness, summarized well by author Shauna Niequist as she writes, "My life looks better on the Internet than it does in real life. Everyone's life looks better on the Internet than it does in real life. The Internet is partial truths--we get to decide what people see and what they don't. That's why it's safer short term. And that's why it's much, much more dangerous long term." 

That article came to mind when I posted this photo on Facebook...
...and heard later from a friend, "Peighton is so photogenic! What a great picture!"

While it was her opinion, and I'd have to agree (I mean, come on. Look at that beauty!) this was take like 20. Some of our previous pictures looked like this (all unedited)...
(Trying to eat her shoes, which were then removed for the following...)

(Now eating the tutu. Can you say teething??)

(And, not quite sitting up on her own yet.)

And this was just ONE maybe 7 minute chunk of my day. Yes, I posted an adorable picture of my baby girl but she is not always smiley and bright eyed. And that is my point.

When I scroll through my "Internet life" I imagine people think I spend my days eating cupcakes, sipping tea or coffee, snapping pictures of my always happy little girl, on romantic dates with my husband, on adventurous getaways, enjoying stress free and mess free time in the kitchen whipping up something homemade, and having an extended quiet time in the Word. That is what my "Internet life" looks like.

What my real life looks like is very different. While all of the above does occur in my life, it happens in serious moderation. And you (cyber world) only see my highlight reel. You don't see the gift cards and coupons that allow for "splurging", or the pregnancy struggles we experienced; the argument Tyler and I had on our way out for the night, or the meltdown I had in the kitchen because we didn't have all the ingredients I needed (and I'd already started making whatever it is); the end of my quiet times when I leave my journal entry half completed because Peighton's nap time ends before I anticipated, or the breakdowns as I struggle to balance it all.

You don't see the sacrifice. You don't see the heartaches. And if I'm honest, I don't want you to, because a big part of me likes for you to think I have it all together...that my marriage, family, job, friendships, and leisure time is always peachy. That I can in fact keep up with the Jones's. But I find freedom when I share that it isn't so. When I release myself of the standard of perfection and allow you (yes, even you cyber world) to catch even a glimpse at the brokenness in my life, I can REST.





Thursday, July 30, 2015

Motherhood + Ministry

I have found life as a mom to be many things. It is satisfying, demanding, tiring, busy, fun, draining, full, chaotic, and at the end of every day, ALWAYS worth it. By no means have I figured it out. I'm only six months in and have a lifetime to go. But I will say, I think I am getting the hang of it. This summer has been a huge growth season for me as I navigate what motherhood + ministry looks like--two of my forever loves. The marriage of motherhood and ministry looks different for every mom I know. There is no formula. While I find that both freeing and frustrating, God is directing me and leading my heart to what He has for me.

While Peighton was a newborn, and as a one car family, I found getting to campus to meet with girls very challenging. Between the scheduled need-to-gain-weight feedings for Peighton and Tyler's already concreted schedule, I was not left with much wiggle room. Monday evenings worked out for us to open our home to four girls for a discipleship group. Tyler was on bedtime duty and I was in the zone. With a love for hosting and leading young women, I found myself yearning for this two hour window each week.

Then summer came.

I anticipated being able to connect well with girls on our summer project because, after all, we were living in dorms in community, we ate as a group, we traveled as a group, etc. And then teething started. Oh good golly! Our time in Boston may have been the most cry filled three weeks of Peighton's short life. I spent so much energy trying to get her to sleep, or reach a place of contentment. And she spent so much energy letting me know she was not a happy girl.

So that is my lead into what God taught me this summer. I never saw it coming. 


CONTENTMENT.


A handful of moments stick out in my mind as I type that word. Moments where Peighton was not doing as I had planned or expected or desired. She wasn't sleeping, she was hungry out of her "schedule," she wasn't happy in her environment, or she was crying uncontrollably and distracting both me and the group. Often times this required me to miss whatever was going on. And because I not only love motherhood but also ministry, this brought me to tears. I was missing out....or so I thought. And as I sat in my pity party one night rocking Peighton to sleep (well past her bedtime and well into the event of the evening), she gently grabbed my face with her little hand...and God simultaneously touched my heart. I will never forget that exact moment. It is when I realized how fleeting these days are. Peighton will not always want me to snuggle her to sleep. She will not always depend on me for her nutrition. And I will not always be able to be there to dry her eyes. Oh how quickly I was convicted. God met me in my dorm room that night, He spoke tenderly to my heart, and asked me to patiently endure the blessing of seasons. 

Although I have tried, I cannot seem to plan out how each season and stage will look for me as I journey through motherhood + ministry over the years. But, I do know this...God is with me and He is for me. As I press into His presence, I will find not only contentment but JOY in each moment--whether in my home or on campus.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Baby Girl's Arrival

Has it really been almost SIX MONTHS since I last blogged?! Yikes! I guess you could say, I've been busy....with the holiday season and oh, having a baby =)

On January 20, 2015 we welcomed our precious baby girl, Peighton Louise {Royal Warrior}, into the world.

And what a whirlwind it was. Leading up to delivery day, while at the doctor for my 35 week appointment, my blood pressure was a bit higher than normal but not alarmingly so. I went about life as usual and returned to the doctor a week later. This time, with much higher blood pressure. We were immediately sent across the street, to the hospital, for observation and testing. I laid in a bed with a blood pressure cuff, fetal monitor, and contraction monitor on for about 4 hours. We were sent home and told to take it easy. 

Another week goes by, and we're back to the doctor...with high blood pressure. We go through the same scenario, except this time with an exam and an offer to be induced. {WHAT?! I'm not ready for this!!! The car seat hasn't been delivered yet, I'm not due for another 3 weeks, this isn't how this is supposed to go!}. We decided against the induction and had two appointments a week scheduled from then until my due date. Tyler and I had also decided to let our mom's know (who were planning to come up at the end of January for the birth) that in all reality, it could happen after the next appointment and if they didn't want to miss it, they needed to come immediately. 

So, at this point, I have been diagnosed with gestational hypertension and was being closely monitored for preeclampsia. I have been told to not work, relax, and when possible, lay on my left side. {This made nesting near impossible!} The "cure" for my high blood pressure...delivery. 

A few days later (Friday), I return to the doctor for an ultrasound to make sure Baby Girl Stowell was still growing and getting proper nutrients, despite my high blood pressure. By this time, our mom's had arrived and were serving us well--cleaning, prepping crockpot freezer meals, running errands I can't, etc. And since I wasn't able to work, I decided to just go on maternity leave Monday January 19. Tyler, however, returned to work that day. I spent the day at home with my mom, resting per doctor's orders. She made me lunch, we watched some HGTV...I then noticed that my stomach started to feel funny. And then my water broke at 3:40pm. {Wait, this is happening NOW?!} Tyler was in a meeting with two wrestlers on campus, and I was home with my mom and mother-in-law. In labor. So clearly this was the time to shower, do my hair and make-up, and add the final necessities to my hospital bag ;-) 

We caravaned to the hospital after Tyler came home, only to find that valet was closed. {How convenient. Oh and THIS is a contraction. Good timing.} We made our way up to the labor and delivery floor--which we are, by this point, well acquainted with having spent several hours in outpatient care there. It's now about 5:30pm and I hear the nurse prepping our mom's for a long wait..."this could take anywhere up to 18 hours; hope you are ready for a long night!" {Eighteen hours? So when can I get that epidural??} My favorite recommendation from the nurse was NOT to watch Food Network...since all I was eating was ice chips. Upon my first exam, I was only 1cm dilated. This was looking like a long night, for sure. I requested an epidural as soon as we arrived...I had decided long before then that I wanted to enjoy the benefits of modern medicine--after all, I knew there wasn't a trophy or bigger reward waiting for me on the other side if I opted against it. My contractions were picking up in intensity and I was not-so-patiently wondering where on earth the anesthesiologist was. Well, she finally arrived and administered the drugs {sweet glory!}. In the midst of all of this, Tyler and I had spent time praying, reading Psalm 23, and a reading story from the Jesus Storybook Bible to our little girl. My heart was ready. I was just waiting for my body to catch up. At my next exam, around 10pm, I was 8cm dilated {well THAT was a quick progression!}. Between then and the time Peighton arrived, I spent just over an hour or so pushing {and wondering why we weren't adopting...}.

Our healthy girl took her first breath at 12:44am Tuesday morning and I cried tears of joy!! Never in my life have I felt such immediate love for someone. She was everything I could've hoped for. She was what we had prayed for. God sure is good.

My favorite memories from that first hour or so in the labor room are having my snuggly girl lay on my chest, watching my husband swoon over his new baby girl, taking our first family selfie, and introducing Peighton to her Grammy and Mimi.

Since then, we have been adjusting well to being a family of three and caring for our sweet Peighton Girl. Already, she has brought us so much joy! And God is using her to teach us lots =)



Monday, October 20, 2014

Greed vs. Gratitude

I'm reading a book, along with my staff team by C.J. Mahaney, Humility. And I was very convicted while reading in chapter 5 and came across this sentence.... "An ungrateful person is a proud person." YIKES! I can be SO ungrateful and am disgusted when I think of myself as prideful (although that is the reality). 

Rather than pout about how sinful of a person I am (don't worry--I did spend time confessing and praying through it), I decided to take some proactive steps towards heart change. Last year, during the months of October and November, I was intentional in seeking to love others well and seek to have a posture of thankfulness and prayer. And while November is the obvious month to purposefully concentrate on all that we are thankful for, I didn't want to wait, I needed to start now.

So at the start of October, I began what I am calling a Gratitude Focus (very creative, I know). Each day I choose and thank God for something different--a person, a circumstance, something I have, etc. This has only just begun to peel back the ugly layer of entitlement and greed within my heart. It's much easier for me to find something that "God has yet to provide me with" but that's just the problem...in moments of lusting after something, am I trusting God to meet my daily needs? am I focusing on the blessings which He so abundantly pours out on me each day? No. I am focused on what I want and then begin to doubt God and His desire or even ability to provide.

But the truth is this: "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" 
- Matthew 7:11

I'd assume I am not crazy or alone, and that you can relate...so how will you choose an attitude of gratitude over greed? God does indeed give us good gifts, don't miss the opportunity to enjoy them because you're so focused on what you don't have.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Life Lately

Obviously, 2014 hasn't so much been a banner year for me and blogging! But, I'm planning to take strides to pick it back up--with intentionality.

Since my last entry back in March (yikes!), MUCH has happened!! Some quick highlights...

My mother-in-law made a trip to visit us in NJ! We had a blast showing her around Rutgers, Princeton & NYC. 

My not-so-baby brother graduated from Florida State University! It was such a joy to be able to celebrate him in Tallahassee. [He's now planning to move overseas for a 10 month job teaching English as a second language. His courage inspires me.]

My best friend and her Mom had a long girls weekend in NYC. They were sweet enough to let me join them one day for some adventures around the city! I loved being able to see them both =)

Tyler and I took a weekend getaway to New York-- visited America's oldest winery and enjoyed the weekend at the lovely Thayer Hotel on West Point's campus. We absolutely loved the quality time, delicious food, and change of scenery. 

Thanks to a generous gift card from my grandfather for Christmas, Tyler and I enjoyed a matinee showing of The Lion King and dinner in NYC. It was an absolutely incredible show!!

We spent most of the month of June overseas with an Athletes in Action track and field tour. Our journey began in the Canary Islands, continued on the mainland of Spain, and ended with an overnight layover in Switzerland (pictured below). It was a fun and unique experience that was made a little more challenging for me because....


Just before leaving for Spain, we found out that we are expecting!!! And just last week, we found out Baby Stowell is a little girl =) We are so thankful to God that our family is growing!


That's it folks, a quick flashback over the last six months. Now that you're all caught up... I look forward to sharing about more going on...more often =)