Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Why I Returned to the Traditional Church: Part 3

I totally got called out last week for not posting the third and final installment of this series I started back in May.

There's really only one honest answer, and I'll give it to you:

Going back and hashing through all of that information I shared with you in Part 1 and Part 2 was really emotionally draining for me! It was kinda like I had a little counseling session with myself and I needed some time to step away from the topic.

But, now I've had a month to think about it and re-energize myself to write the post, so here goes!

I want to be perfectly clear, too, that this post in no way is saying that I think the "traditional" church is better than other churches. Not in any way. I have just found that this is where we were led and that now I see why God led us to this place.

I have gone back and forth about how to approach this topic and while I could give you a list of all the particular things I love about the traditional church, that's not the way I want to go. I have realized that changing church "styles" was more about finding myself than finding a church. I have learned so much about myself in the past few years that it is pretty painful to think about! Lots of stretching & growing over the past decade! I am not the same person I was at 19 or 20 and coming to terms with who I am as an adult is really what solidified our decision to move. So, instead of giving you a run-down of what I like about the traditional church, I'm going to give you a list of what I have learned about myself and how the church we call "home" has fit those needs.

1. I thrive on structure.
This is not a secret. I like routine, organization, planning, structure. I just do. I can't help it. I have learned over the years (especially after having a little one!) to be flexible. But, at the end of the day, I need structure. Many of the churches I attended in the past struggled with structure and organization mostly because they were new. They were still getting started out and trying to find what worked best for their congregation. For me, it was too much change too often.

2. I need accountability.
This is a slightly touchy subject, but in my experience, non-traditional churches are a little more "open minded" and "grace filled" and not as apt to call you out on your sin. I'm very grateful to attend a church where our pastor isn't afraid to "go there" and where my friends are willing to step up and question me when I might be making an unwise decision. Discipline is often something we shy away from, but it is an aspect of God's character and His love for us that must not be overlooked.

3. I love tradition.
I just do. Call me old-fashioned, call me sentimental. It's not the traditions themselves, it's the symbolism and purpose behind them. For instance, hymns are "traditions" to me. When we sing some of the older hymns (without changing them up to make them sound "modern"), I feel connected to a body of Christ larger than the one I'm currently singing with. I'm reminded of the generations of people who sang those songs before me, worshipping God to the same tune and words as I am in 2014. I just love that.

4. I am conservative.
I am a compassionate conservative, but I am still very much morally conservative. (I'm not talking about politics, here. You should all know me better than that!) I have very "straight-laced" values and beliefs and I want to attend a church that is willing to stand up for Biblical principles. I do think we need to continually work on standing up for the Bible with grace, but we're all working on it.

5. I like a big church.
I have been a member of churches of all sizes. From tiny twelve-member country churches to a mega-church. I've experienced it all. And what I find is that I really prefer a larger church. Not as large as a mega-church (with multiple campuses), but I like a church that is large enough to have the resources and people to help make the church run smoothly week in and week out. In some of the smaller churches, I ended up feeling burned out because I like to be an active member of the church and I felt obligated to "fill a need" anytime it was needed. In the mega-church, I often didn't feel needed because there were just so many people. At our current church, I am able to be involved in several different ministries, but I don't feel pressured to be a part of every single thing that's going on. But I do occasionally get calls to help fill in when we are short-handed, and I am usually happy to help! Being an involved member of your church is imperative - if you aren't serving, why not!? And you know... when you start to serve in your church and get involved, it doesn't seem so big anymore!

6. I enjoy being around people of all ages and stages.
Some of the non-traditional churches I attended were made up of one large demographic: young families. And while that's all well and good, I really see the value in attending a multi-generational church. We have a lot to learn from our elders and from those who are in different stages than us. Becoming a mother and embracing my new role in life was made simpler by the wisdom of those who had been through it before.

7. I like to sing.
Surprise, surprise! While I led worship at a few different churches for many years, I honestly really prefer to be in a choir. I enjoy singing lead, but I am more comfortable singing harmony. It's just where I fit! The style music is not a big deal for me. I worship God just the same no matter if we are singing a song from the 1970's or from 2014. (Also, "Shout to the Lord" will never go out of style in my book. I just HAD to mention it.)

That's about it! I could go on, but I'll stop there. :)

What I've learned from the years is that there is truly no perfect church. No one church has it ALL together. They may be good at particular aspects or have a certain mission they pursue, but there are gaps everywhere in every church because they're comprised of sinful humans. And, trust me, I know that people think the "traditional church" is full of stuffy Republican "Sunday Christians". What I can tell you is that, yes, that's true. There are those people. But there are even more who I think are genuinely seeking to honor Christ with their lives. False Christians are everywhere - in every church, in every denomination.

If you are not an active member of a church, I urge you to find a church home ASAP! Don't be afraid to branch out of your comfort zone. Hello - I went to VERY non-traditional churches for over ten years and swore I would never be a Baptist! But that is what I wanted for my life. I feel like I have finally heeded God's calling to me to return to the traditional church and I'm so grateful I did. You will be too once you find where God is calling you. Keep looking, keep searching, keep praying for your own church home!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

17 Months

So it's been a few months since I updated you on the life of Maleah Ball. Let me just tell you, she is an almost-17-month-old DRAMA QUEEN. She is sweet and kissy and snuggly one minute and then SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF HER LUNGS angry the next. But, that's pretty much all toddlers, from what I understand!

Basically, she is a typical little 17-month-old girl. She talks, she walks, she runs, she plays, she cries, she throws fits, she tries new things, she rejects new situations, she runs like clockwork, she surprises us, she makes us laugh, she makes us want to pull out our hair... you get the idea.

At the zoo in late May! She had a great time!

Poor kid was so sick in April & May. This was when she tested positive for strep. Ick!

 Her "Oh no!" face!

I love this age/stage she's in, but it's also an exhausting phase of her life for me and Blake. She understands so much but her ability to communicate is so limited, so trying to figure out what she wants and teach her how to say/sign new words is quite a task! But it's so fun to see her "get it" and catch on to things that we've been working on for days or weeks. Recently, I've noticed she really understands a lot of what we are saying - or she will at least try to figure it out. She can follow simple directions and she can answer "yes" or "no" to questions. I am constantly amazed at what she's able to do! A few words we've taught her that have been immensely helfpul lately are "help" and "gentle". I'll let you guess why! :)

My favorite part about this age is that she loves to help me do things! It's so cute. She loves to help with the laundry, unload the dishes, water the flowers, make the bed... and, of course, she loves to sit with me as I get ready in the morning. She loves to pick out her clothes and put on her shoes - and boy, does she have opinions on what she is wearing!!! She loves have her hair brushed and to get her toenails painted! I am really trying to convince her to wear hair bows again. The past several days she has worn one and left it in! Yay! :)

Playing in the yard!
One thing we are really working on this month is discipline. Blake's great at being authoritative and I pretty much stink at it. I can always find an excuse for why she's behaving a certain way and how unfair it would be to punish her for it. But I'm learning that she needs boundaries, even when she has a valid reason for being cranky/upset/bored. We have started putting her in time out (in her crib for 90 seconds to 2 minutes) when she is being particularly "bad". It has worked beautifully a few times now! I also realized that I have been threatening punishment without following through. I really didn't think it mattered until I realized that she totally knew what I was doing. Now that I have actually followed through with some of my discipline threats, I can see a change in her reaction when I tell her do/stop doing . Now my "threats" (I hate using that word!) are more meaningful because she knows I am serious. Several times, she has been caught misbehaving and I have asked, "Do you need to go to time out?" and she will immediately stop doing whatever it is she wasn't supposed to do. She has been MUCH happier since I've put my foot down a little more. I guess kids really do need and want discipline and boundaries from their parents!

Walking the pier with her daddy. We had a great time at the beach this year! Maleah wasn't too keen on the sand and ocean, but she liked to walk the shore and find sea shells! She also just loved being around her family (we went with Blake's parents and siblings) for eight whole days!
Lastly, her appetite has really changed lately! She is way more open to different foods than right now. She can chew a lot better now that she has two back molars (one of top of another so she can really chomp down!). She has taken a liking to corn, cucumbers, and even radishes! We also found that she likes those Chef Boyardee microwaveable spaghettis/mac & cheese... so... I won't lie, sometimes I let her eat them for a meal (with a side of vegetables or fruit!). She does not seem to like much whole fruit - she will eat it at school, but not at home. I don't know why! But we have learned to just be relaxed about and to continue letting her try foods, even if she didn't like it the time before. Sometimes that means wasted food, but it's all a part of the process! Avocado, by the way, is still her favorite food.

As for me, motherhood is really growing on me! I won't lie, this has been a hard 17 months. Becoming a mom/parent is a huge challenge. Not only do you have to take care of a tiny person, but you basically have to become a new version of yourself. I think I'm starting to really settle in to the new "me" - different expectations, different priorities, different outlooks, different perspectives. It really is a lifechanging experience to become a mom. I'm so glad I get to be a mom to my sweet little girl. I just love her so much!

Maleah on June 22 of last year! Just 5 little months old!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Why I Returned to the Traditional Church: Part 2

I really, really, really tried to get this out on Friday but... as you recall from Part 1, life happens! And I really didn't know I had so many demanding readers.... Amber Compton... ;)

My last post left off with me being brokenhearted in Montevallo. A two and a half year relationship was permanently over and I was two hours away from my mama.

What was I going to do? How in the world was I going to start over? Who could I turn to?

Chris and Kaley, that's who! They were still engaged and about to graduate from UM and get married. And they were there for me. That's why I love 'em! The three of us (and Matt Walker) hung out a lot that spring. And in May when the dorms closed, Kaley and I became ROOMIES again! FUN FUN FUN! That was one of the best summers. There was after-work Seinfeld watching, Tetris tournaments, lots of oldies music, and boo-hooing over Kaley's impending marriage (which meant I couldn't be her roomie anymore!). OH and did I mention I ACED Physics and Pre-Cal that summer!? Whoop whoop! (When else am I supposed to brag about that!?)

During that spring and summer, I went to Shelby Crossings some, but mostly I went home on the weekends. I loved spending time at my mom's new house. I would sit on the back porch on Saturday mornings, staring out into the pasture and just think about how much I actually liked being there. My ENTIRE LIFE, all I wanted to do was GET THE HECK OUT OF TUSCALOOSA COUNTY. But that summer, particularly, I felt myself drawn more and more to home.

Kaley & Chris got married on August 16, 2008. On the 17th, I had friends over to my mom's house in Ralph for my birthday (which is the 18th). I will never forget this conversation, which shaped the rest of my life. I was telling my friends about how miserable I was at Montevallo and how I just wanted to come home. This is what I will never forget - Matty Matt, my fake big bro, said - "There's no rule that says you have to stay in Montevallo. Just move home."


Everybody agreed. They all encouraged me to just move home.

So, and I kid you not, I did. I literally moved home that week. I quit my job. I packed my stuff. I withdrew from UM, registered for classes at Shelton (it was too late to register at UA), and I moved home.

For a little while, I went to Hargrove with my mom but I didn't want it to be my home church. So I did what any 20-something would do, I asked Facebook where I should go to church. Ashley Martin (who I'd met in my first round at Shelton) invited me to Vineyard. I went one Sunday and was hooked.

It was, yet again, a non-traditional church. Casual meetings. Worship band. Hysterically funny (and gifted) pastors. A church meant for those who were fed up with religion. Now, this is where things start to get hard for me to talk about because leaving Vineyard was not a decision we entered into lightly. I have never been as invested in a church as I was in Vineyard and leaving was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. I still love our pastors and my time there and attribute so much of my spiritual growth to the three years I spent there. I have never been in a church that is so focused on living out the Gospel day in and day out. But, this is the church we left to go to First Baptist. It was the last non-traditional church I will probably ever go to (never say never, right!?). But I have told this ENTIRE story so that you, the reader, understand it was not one single church or one single group of people or even one single reason that led me to this decision. With that said, let's keep going...

I jumped in to Vineyard wholeheartedly. In the fall of 2008, I took a class called Emerge. It was a Biblical leadership training class and IT. WAS. AWESOME. It was made up of six girls and led by an amazing woman, Sally Edwards. Y'all, I cannot tell you what an experience this was. We learned so much about Bible study, Scripture memory, prayer, worship, service... the whole nine yards. And I had six awesome women to share the journey with.

If I thought Highlands was charismatic, Vineyard was like... full-out Pentecostal. (Not really, though.) These people were serious. They were thirsty for Christ, they were desperate for the Gospel, and they were intent on devoting their lives to the kingdom. I had never worshipped or prayed or studied the Bible or served so willingly before. Vineyard was a place where the Spirit of the Lord was. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17). Vineyard was definitely a place of freedom for me.

When I met Blake in March 0f 2010, our love for Jesus was the very first thing we discussed. He was going to a Baptist church in Tuscaloosa. I invited him to a Prophetic Night at Vineyard and he was hesitant, but he came. We both received "words" that night and it was amazing to see Blake respond to what was told to him. He said he came expecting some sort of snakes-and-tongues type of crazy worship, but what he found was Biblical application of spiritual gifts. He started coming with me to Vineyard off and on. Then we started going to pre-engagement counseling which turned into pre-marital counseling. Blake started playing drums in the band and we started serving Vineyard together.

Things were great. We did all sorts of awesome things at Vineyard. We led worship, we worked with the kids, we led Bible studies, I did two summer internships, we organized service projects. Blake even served as the youth pastor for a while! But something was missing - community. As hard as we tried, we just couldn't find our "fit" at Vineyard. We seemed to be in a weird stage in life and there weren't many people to walk alongside us.

The first Sunday of 2011, we visited First Baptist. I just needed something different for a day and having known the McKee's, FBC was where I wanted to go. We loved Dr. McKee's message and we considered moving from Vineyard before we got married. We talked with our pastor about our concerns and were told that if what we wanted was community, we should try to make it happen. I thought that was a worthy response, so we started putting forth even more effort to get what we needed out of our church. We tried to get groups and events together and it was just an uphill battle.

Then April 27, 2011 happened. I still don't like talking about it so I will just keep this brief... God's work through Vineyard is the ONLY reason we made it through that summer. Period. There is no way we can ever repay them for their prayers, volunteers, and service to us. They took care of us during what was one of the absolute most horrible experiences I have ever been through. Oh, and we got married during this summer - our wedding was officiated by our pastors at Vineyard and it was a BEAUTIFUL ceremony!

After all of that, I didn't see how we could leave. We owed the church so much and I was being selfish for wanting more. But no matter how hard we tried to make things "happen," they just... weren't happening. And every Sunday I dragged myself out of bed, hoping that day would be different. It got to the point that in October/November, I was literally crying every Sunday before church. I didn't want to go because my heart was very broken. I started to have a lot of concerns. Not just about our lack of community, but about whether or not Vineyard (or non-traditional churches in general) was where we could really plant ourselves as a newly married couple.

So, in November, I told Blake I wanted to start searching for a new church home. Things didn't really "go down" the way I had hoped. We weren't 100% sure that we were going to go to a new church and stay or whether or not we just wanted a break. But with the way things happened, we knew we needed to move churches altogether. We didn't know where we wanted to go, all we knew is that we had a few basic requirements:

1. The church had to be a Bible-based, Bible-believing church. No wishy-washy.
2. We wanted community. A group of people in similar stages of life as us who wanted to "do life" together.
3. We wanted to go to Sunday morning small groups - aka Sunday School. (More on this in Part 3).
4. We wanted more stability, structure, and discipline.
5. I wanted to be a part of a choir.

Since we'd had such a good experience at First Baptist that January, we headed back to FBC the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I think we went back the next Sunday, too. While sitting in the back, I spotted a teacher who worked at my school with his wife (the Fessler's). And sitting near us was a couple I recognized but couldn't place (the Rockwell's). That next week, I decided to go talk to Kyle Fessler about their involvement at FBC and if  they were involved in a Sunday School class. He said they were and that they were actually having a departmental Christmas party that week. Blake and I hadn't even visited the class and we decided to go to the party to meet everyone! So that week, we went to the Bentley's house and were quickly swept away by the Sewell's, the Gable's, and the Price's!!! They snatched us up and we laughed like we were old friends!!! They told us to come to their class on Sunday... so we did!

And... we kept going! We were warmly embraced into our class, we admired Dr. McKee's tenacity for Biblical based teaching, and we quickly found our "places" in the choir and orchestra. It didn't take us long to warm up to the people at First Baptist. We found exactly what we had been praying for and searching for.

In January of 2012, we started talking about joining the church. Joe Armour told me I would need to be baptised since I had not originally been baptised by immersion. This was a point of contention for me and really, it's a story that would take another three posts! I wanted to do it but I didn't want to negate my original baptism. Even though my baptism at age 15 was not by immersion, it was the "real deal" for me. But after lots of prayer and tears and discussions, I knew it was what I wanted to do. So I think we joined the church sometime in February and then I was baptised in March.

So, that's how we made it to First Baptist! A long, winding road of all sorts of pit stops and road blocks and impromptu U-turns. But the past two and a half years at a traditional, conservative Baptist church have restored my love for the Church - and maybe not quite for the reasons you suspect.

Most of you reading this know I am not necessarily a "traditional" person. While I hold conservative values and love history and tradition, I also like to question, I like to spur on change and I like to push the envelope a little. I like to challenge myself and others and I like to think beyond the black-and-white. So, you might think... if you like to be a little different, why in the world would you want to go to a traditional church? Well... that's the story for the third and final installment of this long-winded story!

Stay tuned!!!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Why I Returned to the Traditional Church: Part 1

I wanted to send this post out last week on May 1. That was the day I celebrated 15 years of being saved by Grace! I accepted Christ on May 1, 1999 at Coleman Coliseum during a Franklin Graham Crusade. I was raised in a Christian home and went to church my entire life, but had never understood the Gospel and why I needed it. As you can see, it's not May 1st any more... life happens, you know? Babies get sick. Moms get double pneumonia. Priorities, man. So... here's this post... Part 1... a week late.

I never would have guessed that I'd become a baptist - much less a member of the largest baptist congregation in Tuscaloosa. But, I did, and the journey there is quite a story if you ask me. It's taken a long time for me to be ready to write this - we've been at First Baptist for two and a half years. There was a lot of heartache in deciding to move back into a traditional church setting, but I can say with confidence that we did the right thing.

But, as with most stories, it's not enough to just tell you the end. We need to start at the beginning. The VERY beginning.

My mom was a member of Hargrove United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa for many years before I was born. She was a single mother in the 1970's at a time when many churches did not support divorced single mothers. But, Hargrove was different. They took her in, cared for her, cared for my sister, and showed my mom the love of Christ in a very real and tangible way. She tells stories of leaving church on a Sunday morning to find groceries sitting in the backseat of her car. She found friendships in the choir. And, one year, some of her friends from church pitched in to buy her a new guitar. So, when my dad came along in 1983, there was no question that they would be married there and attend the church together.

I was born in 1985 and remember going to Hargrove as a very little girl. But, sometime in the early 1990's, my parents made the difficult decision to move our family to Wesley Chapel U.M.C. in Ralph. It was much closer to our house than Hargrove and was involved in our local community. It was a small church that became even smaller when the majority of members left after the church leaders invited a black choir to sing at a revival (sad, but true). For most of the years we were at Wesley Chapel, there were literally less than 15 members of the church. I was the only child, aside from a young boy who was born far too premature and only alive because of life support. My Sunday School teacher, Roena, was a precious lady who tried and tried to teach me the Bible. But I didn't really want to listen or pay attention. The United Methodist Church allows for pastors to be transferred annually (or however often the church decides), so I remember going through at least three pastors at Wesley Chapel - and they all served our church as well as another local church. The last pastor to come had two children, but they went to Sunday School at the other church. So, I was it - the only kid. And I wasn't really learning anything and, honestly, I didn't really like going.

So in 1999, we moved our membership back to Hargrove. My parents wanted me to be a part of a youth group and to learn more about the whole reason we were going to church. At first I was excited, then I was very, very nervous. I really hadn't ever gone to church with other kids and none of the kids at Hargrove went to my school. And, I had very little Bible knowledge. One of the first Sunday School lessons I remember at Hargrove was about Abraham. I had NO IDEA who Abraham was!!! Can you believe that? I went to church my entire life and in the 8th grade, I didn't know who ABRAHAM was!!! I realized quickly there was a lot I had to learn. On May 1, 1999, I gave my life to Christ during the last day of a Franklin Graham Festival here in Tuscaloosa. I was confirmed into the Methodist Church that spring and in the summer of 2001, I was baptised.

Spending a few years' time in a church will allow you to get good and rooted in the church drama. And Hargrove, like most churches, was full of drama. There were rumors, committees, secret meetings, finger-pointing, family feuds, and backstabbing. And somehow, as a teenager, I often got thrust into the middle of it. A small church leaves little room for anyone to hide. The last straw for me was the hiring of a youth director who, from what I remember, was hired without the knowledge of certain people (myself included) on the search committee. I was OVER IT. Off and on during high school, I would attend First Baptist with my friend Kaley, who was friends with the pastor's kids. While I never really got involved there, I did get to know the McKee's and fell in love with them as my friends' parents. (This would play a major role in my life nearly ten years later...)

After my high school graduation in 2003, I started working at Gospel Supply House (a Christian Bookstore). I had pretty much stopped going to church, but God used GSH as a place for me to really learn and grow. I met people from different denominations with different church backgrounds. I read books by authors who taught the gospel better than I'd ever heard before. I listened to music that spoke to my spirit. And I found a thirst for God I just hadn't experienced before. I was also leading worship at Druid Hills United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa on Sunday evenings and that's where I really found myself again. Oh yeah! (I feel the need to edit out the "Oh yeah!" but... I think I'll leave it...)

There was also rumblings of a new church in the north Tuscaloosa area called The Innerchange. It was part of the U.M.C. Conference, but it was unlike any other Methodist church I'd ever heard of. They met in a warehouse. They wore jeans - even the pastor. They had a worship band instead of a choir. They were a bunch of regular people trying to reach an unloved community. They were going against the grain to meet the needs of people who had been cast out, left out, or shut out of the traditional church. So I started riding up there on Sundays with a few friends and, quickly, the Innerchange became my new church home. I learned a lot there about serving God and what it really meant to believe and live out Scripture. And... I also dated the worship pastor and that ended in disaster and that's really all you need to know about that part of the story!!! :) I kept going even after he and I split up, but I never really felt at home at the Innerchange - I always felt like I was on the outside looking in, never fully a part of what was going on. Oh yeah, I also got a tattoo during this time... [insert regretful face....]

So I kept wandering.

In the summer of 2005, I moved to Montevallo. This is where my life took a bunch of crazy turns so hold on to your seats...

Summer/Fall 2005 - Moved to Montevallo to attend the University of Montevallo. Started going to Shelby Crossings (an off-shoot of The Church at Brook Hills) and joined the church. They were "technically" Baptist but I didn't have to get baptized to join so I'm not really sure where their doctrine lies or really what my membership status actually was, since I was a transient college student. They were another non-traditional church - met in a warehouse, wore jeans, worship band, etc. Brian Fulton was our college pastor and really he wasn't that much older than us! So it was more like our leader-friend and his fiancee guiding us through this thing we called college life. We had amazing small group meetings and, again, I grew a lot. I started dating a guy who went to Church of the Highlands... yet another non-denominational church (and not QUITE as big as it is now!).

Spring/Summer 2006 - I started going to Church of the Highlands more than Shelby Crossings. I LOVED Pastor Chris. I loved that there was more structure and more discipline. And I loved that there was a genuine heart of worship each Sunday. We attended the Pelham campus mostly, but we stayed on the outskirts. We didn't really get fully involved in anything - not for lack of wanting to, but the distance and scheduling of things just didn't always work out.

Fall 2006 - I hated Montevallo. I hated college. So I opted to take a semester (or two) off, but I stayed in Montevallo because I had a full-time job. Shortly after classes started that semester, I was called home because my dad was sick. And on September 21, he died suddenly. Needless to say, my life changed drastically. I moved home immediately to help my mom and started working two jobs. But I continued going to Highlands.

Easter 2007 - My time at Highlands is marked not only by my father's death, but also by the Holy Spirit. I had never been in a church that was very Spirit-focused, but Highlands was/is. It was, at the time, the most charismatic church I'd ever attended. And on Easter 2007, I very clearly remember crying the entire way home from the service because I knew the Spirit was telling me to do something I didn't want to do. He was telling me to break up with my boyfriend. I didn't want to, I loved him. But that day I knew we were not meant to be together. I had changed so much after my dad died and we had grown apart. I remember telling God "no" that day - very loudly. And... well... you really just shouldn't tell God "no". I think we went through a few break-ups, but none of them lasted more than a few days. I just couldn't let go.

Summer/Fall 2007 - After living back at home and working two jobs and time to just breathe, I decided I wanted to go back to college and finish my degree in elementary education. I applied to UM and was granted readmission.

December 2007 - I learned that God will have His way, no matter what you try to do to stop it.

January 2008 - I moved back to Montevallo and broke up with my boyfriend - on the same day. I had no idea what I was going to do. It wasn't a pretty break up. We couldn't be friends. I couldn't be friends with our friends. I couldn't go to Highlands anymore. I had no one. Nothing.

This was a particularly difficult time in my life. I was so out of place - 22 and back in school, living on campus for the first time, single, confused, alone.

And that's where we'll stop for today... don't feel too bad for me. 28-year-old Katie promises that 22-year-old Katie made it through just fine. You'll find out more in Part 2!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Balancing Act

If you have met me or read this blog, you can probably tell that I often struggle with perfection. I want to do everything right, do everything well, and to just do, well, everything. I want to have family time every night. I want to cook healthy, homemade meals every night. I want to keep my house in order. I want to save the right amount of money for retirement. I want to wear the right clothes with the right shoes. I want to spend the right amount of hours sleeping. I want to read the right books. I want to rock my baby to sleep each night without thinking of all the other things I "need" to be doing. I want to be as efficient as possible with every single thing I do. It just goes on and on...

And while there's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be able to do all of those things, the reality of my current phase of life makes some of those things nearly impossible. And even if they aren't impossible, I'm learning I can only have one #1 priority.
I read this post about balancing responsiblities while being a mother to young children and it really did a number on my heart. In it, there is a picture that says "The only things that really need to be accomplished in the home are: Daily Scripture Study, and prayer, and weekly Family Home Evening." (The Family Home Evening is a Mormon thing, but you understand what it means.)

I was reminded of what my priorities as a parent really are - and they have very little to actually do with my family. They have to do with being first and foremost a disciple of Christ. If I don't meet with God daily and commune with Him, I'm missing the boat altogether. I may be standing on the dock with my suitcases and passport in hand, but I'm not ready to set sail.

With that said, I'm learning daily not only how to prioritize but also what to prioritize. How important is it that my entertainment center is dust-free? Does it really matter that our Tuesday night dinner doesn't have a single green vegetable in it? Is there eternal significance in whether or not I totally loved my outfit for the day? 

The truth of the matter is that, no, these things don't really matter. I do believe that I'm responsible for my family and home, so those things will always be a priority to me and I will always strive for the best when it comes to those two things. But am I putting them above my relationship with Christ or even my relationship with my husband? Sometimes, yes.

So today is a new day and I'm working hard to realign my responsiblities to appropriately reflect the things that are most important to me.

1. Discipleship and servanthood to God, His Kingdom, and the Church
2. My relationship with my husband
3. My child
4. Taking care of myself (time alone, rest, hobbies, etc.)
5. My family and friends (building relationships)
6. Taking care of my home (cleanliness, order, meals, bills, etc.)
7. Documenting life (journals, photo books, this blog, etc.)
8. My career and continuing education

That's it. Those are my main priorities. They have to do a little shifting from time to time, but the big picture is that they fall in line with what matters most to me in this life. I think over the next eight weeks, I'll focus on each area and discuss how I'm balancing the list as a whole.

What are your priorities as a mom, wife, or woman? How do you maintain your relationships, career, home, hobbies? I want to hear from you!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Fourteen Months

I'm a little late on this one, but... here goes!

- To combat Maleah's constant crankiness, we started putting her in bed a little earlier than we had been to see if she would mysteriously sleep better. She had been sleeping 7:45-6:15 and now she sleeps from 7:30-6:45/7. So, she's getting almost an hour more than she was and her mood has greatly improved!
- We are also doing much better with meals! I made a few freezer foods (avocado, sweet potatoes, and squash/zucchini) that are easy go-to healthy options. And we discovered the squeezable pouches - Maleah LOVES them! They are expensive, but they're worth it! We usually give her table food and then offer a pouch at lunch and/or dinner if she didn't eat very well.
- Maleah's vocabulary amazes me. Here are the words she knows and says in context: uh-oh, please, more, done/all done, pa-pa (paci - though we don't use one anymore!), no, mama, dada, school, bye-bye, cookie, cracker, and milk (which sounds like "mick"... SO cute!), pig, gooh guh ("good girl"), and lots of other things! She can make lots of animals sounds and she can point to her nose, ears, eyes, belly, mouth, fingers, and toes! I just did not know they could learn so much at this age!!!
- Our house is paci free!!!!! While we were gone to California, Blake's mom didn't give Maleah a pacifier (upon our request). She hasn't had one in two weeks and so far, so good! She had some screaming fits before naps and bedtime but that only lasted a couple of days. 

- The day Maleah turned 14 months, we left for California! We did not see her for 9 days. Some people would say that's crazy - and it was, a little! But she was in great hands and we FaceTimed as much as we could! Blake was able to get a lot of work done and we were able to go on our first real vacation since getting married. Maleah was at the perfect age for being gone this long - Blake's mom said she only really fussed when she dropped her off at the church nursery on Sunday! And the moment she saw us when we went to pick her up, she was SO EXCITED! It was so fun to see her recognize us and get so excited about seeing us! She has been VERY clingy the past few week, but we have seen no major issues! Next time we do something like that, hopefully she'll be old enough to tag along! I can say with confidence it would NOT have been a happy time for anyone had she gone with us - the time change, weather, and just general nature of the trip (where Blake worked most of the time and I piddled around) would have been very difficult for her.
- When we picked her up Sunday, I noticed a molar  had popped through the skin on her bottom jaw on the right side. She's been really fussy since coming home, but we can't totally tell if it's from readjusting to being home or teething or a combination of the two. We have given her ibuprofen once and it seemed to help some, but we try not to give her medicine unless it's necessary.

Total Messes
- WOW my kid has an attitude! She can be quite sassy when she wants to be! I have never been a very assertive disciplinarian, so I'm having to learn how to balance authority with also just trying to teach her how to appropriately express her feelings. I'm learning that sometimes I need to put my foot down regardless of whether or not she pitches a fit (like the other morning, she tried to squirm and cry as I put her shoes on, but I stuck with it and put her shoes on anyway and she calmed down pretty quickly. One day late last week, she had a seriously major tantrum. I got off work a little early to spend some extra time with her and within 15 minutes of being home, she was ill. Then something happened and she LOST IT. She was rolling around on the floor, kicking her legs, SCREAMING... it was wonderful! :) Tantrums continue to be an issue, but we are learning how to handle them!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Thirteen Months

Life with a thirteen month old is never boring! I am sure those of you who have had such a creature living in your house will agree! This is an odd stage - she's a baby, and yet she's nearly a toddler. She has opinions and feelings and understands more than we give her credit for. Now that we're beyond a year old, I will keep updating monthly (for how long? I dunno...), but I want to switch it around a bit.

In the beginning, we were heavily focused on a daily routine. We still like to stay in a pattern for the day, but we aren't as focused on what time things are happening (except wake-up and bedtime, those stay the same every day). She's fairly easy to read, so we just adjust what needs to happen based on what she is telling us. Currently, her routine at home goes like this:

6:30-7 ~ Wake up, have a sippy cup of milk, eat breakfast within 15-30 minutes of finishing milk (she's like her mama, needs a little time before eating!)
7-9ish ~ Play, leftover breakfast as a snack somewhere around 8/8:30
9-11 ~ A nap somewhere in there
11:30ish ~ Lunch with a sippy of milk
11:30-2:30 ~ Play, snack somewhere around 1/2pm
1:30-4 ~ A nap somewhere in there
4/4:30 ~ Light snack
6 ~ Dinner with a sippy of milk
7:15 ~ Bath, sippy of milk, quiet time, in bed by 7:45

At daycare, she basically does the same thing during the day except she takes her nap from 11:30-2:30 (usually 2-2.5 hours) instead of a morning and afternoon nap. Sometimes she will only take one nap at home, but it just depends. I'm not going to revisit this daily routine in my monthly updates unless something drastically changes. But basically, her life is: wake up, eat, play, eat, nap, eat, play, eat, nap, eat, play, eat, bed. Got that?

- She drinks a "normal amount" of whole milk during the day. She transitioned very easily to milk and a sippy cup with a straw. She is offered 4 cups of milk a day right now (one before bed), but usually only drinks about 3 full cups' worth of milk.
- She continues to sleep through the night with very little night waking. She sleeps 10-11 hours each night, with either one or two naps during the day (usually a total of 3 hours for naps). Right around one year, she was waking early (before 6am) out of hunger and that phase seems to have passed.
- She walks and is gaining in confidence! She likes to walk hand-in-hand with you, provided you are letting her lead the way!
- She can sign "all done" and "more" in context.
- She can say several words and understands their meaning - "bath," "diaper," "pa-pa" (pacifier) and "bite" (eat) have all been very helpful lately!
- She enjoys playing with us, with her peers, and by herself.
- We know she's truly hungry when we say, "Do you want to eat?" and she starts smacking her lips! It is the funniest little thing!

- While Maleah is a good eater, meal times have been a bit hectic lately. We are still figuring out what she likes to eat, how much she likes to eat at one time, and how often. I have decided to continue to make some homemade purees so we can have quick access to healthy foods. She likes the taste of several different foods, but she can't quite chew some of them yet. So, I think continuing to do some chunky purees will help us through this period.
- She is quite the Mama's Girl, most of the time. Not that I mind, but it can be quite difficult to cook dinner over a hot stove with someone at your feet screaming for you to hold them!
- Someone has learned to form her own opinions! You can't really argue with a 13-month-old, though, so we are learning how to handle her moments of stubbornness with grace, love, and a little bit of "We can't hear you!!!".
- Throwing food... or should I say dropping food... while staring at you as you say "No ma'am"... and she does it anyway...
- Car seat drama - Okay, it's not really drama. We bought her a convertible car seat for my car back in the fall in hopes that we could turn her around after her first birthday. Well, she does not weigh enough for that particular seat to be forward-facing just yet. I was kinda bummed - I was looking forward to turning her around for easier access to the seat. However, the AAP does recommend children stay rear-facing until 2 years of age (or longer) and truthfully, other than the awkwardness of getting her in and out (my car is so small!), she doesn't mind being backwards and since we don't know any different, I haven't really given it much thought until I sat down to write this post! We will most likely leave her rear-facing until her 2nd birthday.

Total Messes:
- Hellooooooo tantrums! While I must say we have not entered FULL BLOWN TANTRUM LAND yet, we are getting close. Very close. Right now, the fits are kinda cute. I mean, when she's laying on the floor crying and keeps looking up to see what your response is, it's hard not to smile (WHEN SHE LOOKS AWAY, of course!)! It's so funny to watch her learn how to read other people's reactions. She also is very dramatic when she is upset. There is a difference between angry crying and upset crying - upset crying is pretty pitiful and she does a great job of making us feel horrible for whatever we have done (like offering her a sippy cup of water instead of milk...)
- Poop happens. Except sometimes it doesn't and apparently it's pretty painful. So you are told to give  your child milk of magnesia, which then causes poop to happen again... in mass quantities. So much that they get an awful diaper rash and SCREAM in pain when you change their diaper, no matter how much cream you have tried to put on them to buffer the damage. Lesson learned, friends. Lesson learned.
- Pink eye, allergies, stomach bug... ugh. We need warm weather so we can get out of our house!

I have to say, we are really getting into a fun stage in life with her! It's so amazing to think she was once just a flickering heart beat on a screen. And now that little heart is beating away inside of a funny little girl. Being her mom is AWESOME!