Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ringing in the Season

Everyone has their own opinions on when it's acceptable to put up Christmas decorations, with the general consensus being that anytime after Thanksgiving will save you from ridicule. But, in our house, we have been putting up decorations earlier and earlier, reasoning that we can enjoy them longer, brighten up gloomy winter days, and still celebrate Thanksgiving surrounded by green trees and twinkle lights.

So while our house has been cheery for about a month already, it's now safe to allow the Christmas spirit to spill over onto the blog. :)

I'm an avid Instagrammer, posting pics of just about anything, but more recently I've felt inspired by Lauren Conrad's photos. Everything she posts is straight up pretty, with a warm glow and subsequent feelings of happiness. So she's inspired me to capture photos that will leave my followers (hopefully) feeling the same. And, what better time of year to spread the warmth and cheer than Christmas?!

So here are a few fun pics of the Christmas cheer in our house. :) Merry Christmas!

This Christmas bird is a new addition to our collection, and super cute too!

This is my first Christmas tree, a gift that I've had for over 20 years.

I added this fun edit to a snap of our Christmas tree.

Also a new addition to our collection is this sparkly globe ornament with a "Peace on Earth" tag.
What are your favorite parts of the Christmas season? Do you get a new ornament each year? When did you put up your decor?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Life as a Masterpiece

A little over two months ago, I wrote about some changes happening in our lives after less than two months of marriage. At that time I had realized that in my life, it almost always took something perceived as bad to get me to someplace good, or at least to a place I needed to be. And so I resolved to tackle this change head-on, knowing that something better was ahead.

Sometimes I don't always remember the things I learn, even two months after I learn them. Because just this past week I was presented with another change, another situation initially perceived as bad, and my initial response was to wallow in feelings of sadness and failure. How easy it is to forget the truth when one little thing goes wrong.

So there I was this morning, sitting in church pouting to myself and feeling dissatisfied. I briefly thought I should snap out of it, but then decided I didn't want to. Why should I? I just wanted to soak in my unhappiness.

Then, once the sermon got underway, I had one of those moments where you feel like the sermon was written just for you, even though it's a series, so you know it wasn't. Or was it? Maybe God has a way of working through tiny things like that to speak to us where we are at, back of the church and all.

So the pastor starts teaching from Ephesians 2:1-10 and he has a catchy intro about Extreme Makeover shows and how this sermon is about Extreme Makeover: Spirit Edition and I think it's catchy but I'm not totally sold. Then toward the end he starts talking about how believers are God's masterpieces (which is what workmanship means), even when bad things happen.

He uses this illustration about a piano, how there are black and white keys and how the black keys have a sad, minor sound and for this illustration, represent the bad things that happen in our lives. Like if our lives were a song played out on the keys. But, he says, the black keys help fill out the song and give it depth and dimension and make it beautiful. He tells about how he was wondering if you could even play a whole song using just the white keys, and a pianist told him, yes, you could play "Chopsticks." And then he asks, "But who wants their life to be 'Chopsticks' for Jesus? Thank God for the black keys. Give thanks for all things, especially the hardships. That's what God uses to make our lives into something magnificent."

In that moment I knew there was a reason I dragged my moping self to church this morning, a reason why I needed to be there. I can either waste time looking backward at my life in the rear-view mirror, feeling sorry for myself and wishing things were different, or I can remember that a masterpiece includes the black keys, dark streaks of paint, pieces of clay cut off and cast away. I decided it was time to embrace the masterpiece that God is making, painful parts and all, and press forward. I don't know what he has planned next, but I'm so excited to find out.

"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." - Ephesians 2:10

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Best Thanksgiving

The best Thanksgiving I've ever been apart of happened during the '90s, in a little house that had been converted into classroom and nursery space for our church in Texas. It was named after a couple of saints, not the famous kind, just the real life kind.

Someone from our church had the idea of hosting Thanksgiving dinner for refugees living in Dallas. Of course my first thought was something like, "What, no Thanksgiving at home with family and football?" But, thank goodness, I got roped in.

We had at least five different kinds of meat because some had to be slaughtered in a specific way in order to be edible for some of the guests. There was so much food, piled on rows of folding tables, I really had no idea where it all came from.

Then the people began arriving. Most spoke little to no English, so interaction was limited, especially for me. I just smiled and helped and hoped everyone was having a good time. At that point in my life, I couldn't really understand what it was like being in a foreign place away from loved ones on any day, let alone a holiday. But it felt good to be doing something different for once, to be helping strangers and making the day about more than just me.

I got a little glimpse of Thanksgiving away from home over a decade later when I was living out in Colorado. And while I could speak the language, I wasn't spending the day with my family. In fact, I didn't have anyone to spend the day with at all. But some saintly folks made sure I wasn't alone and invited me to spend Thanksgiving with them, up in a little rented cabin in Estes Park.

I wasn't totally sure I should go, it always feels a little strange dropping in on other people's family time, but I knew I didn't want to spend the day alone. So I went, and it was the best decision I made. I was welcomed in, ushered to the front of the line, and made to feel more like a guest of honor than a tag-along. We talked about what we were thankful for, and on that day, I couldn't be more thankful for a welcoming group of near strangers.

Sometimes, that's all we need--a person or group of people to remember us on a day that is typically about family time and traditions. Sometimes, we need to be the ones to look for the lonely outcasts or those who are easily forgotten. It may be a group of refugees, or just a single person down the street who can't afford to travel home for every holiday. So before you map out your turkey day, is there someone like that, someone you can include in your celebration? It could possibly be the best Thanksgiving you've ever had.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Decade of Blogging: Who I Was to Everyone Else

Yesterday I went on a hunt to dig up my old blogs. I have this weird thing where I like to go back and read what I used to write about. It reminds me of who I was, where I've been and how much I've changed. In doing so, I realized I have now been blogging for 10 years. I really can't believe this has been going on for so long.

I basically grew up on blogs. They were a magical place where I could post a jumbled mix of emotions and thoughts and sometimes people would respond and sometimes they wouldn't.

My first blog was set up on LiveJournal in 2003 by my best friend at the time. And actually, all its embarrassing content is still floating out there in cyberspace. I used it mostly through 2004 before making the switch to Xanga, the blog everyone was using. It was sort of like a precursor to Facebook in some ways and a perfect place for me to log my college era angst. That blog is no longer living, as I found Xanga 2.0 is on its way. But thanks to the technology wizards, I was able to download all of my old posts and begin importing them into WordPress. (And yes, I am doing that. I couldn't bear to lose a little piece of my life. So now I have WordPress.) Then, sometime in 2006 I decided I needed a new LiveJournal blog, why I don't know, but it became even more angsty than Xanga. It was home to a lot of relationship drama-related rants, and still lives today. Last, I started this blog late in 2008. I think it started as an attempt at writing a column- and current events-style blog and morphed into the catch-all that it is today. I can safely say I am not planning on starting a new blog any time soon. :)

Looking back, I always liked the way blogs enabled me to connect with people on a different level. I'm sure some would say it's an impersonal way to connect, but I'd argue it can be very personal. At times my friends and I were writing our deepest, darkest thoughts, things we could only admit while safely tucked behind our computer screens. It gave just enough anonymity to provide boldness, but enough identity for people to know who we really were. And I think that's what we wanted, to be known as our truest selves.

I was the honest, sensitive learner. I was always trying to understand the things that were happening in my life, wrestle with those things I couldn't understand or control, and admit exactly where I was in life. It was my voice when I couldn't speak a word. Sometimes blogging was about celebrating life and sometimes it was about the fight to keep my head above water. Sometimes it was lighthearted and filled with random quotes. Sometimes it was bleak, lonely and filled with questions. But no matter what it was, it always managed to do one thing: bring me together with people who said they felt the same, and that was the best part about blogging.

I'll never forget how it feels to finish a post and have someone tell me that I put words to their feelings, or that they're going through the same thing or that they understand where I'm at. It's the sort of connection you don't always find in everyday life. It's the kind of connection that happens in the moments when you have to be still, quiet, and think. You can't finish someone else's sentences, you can't interrupt the moment. You can only write and read.

After being a journaler since I was seven, there's definitely something different and sometimes better about blogging. When I go back and read a journal, I see who I was to myself. When I go back and read a blog, I see who I was to everyone else. I see a part of me that sought to be known and understood, that sought to wrestle through life with friends by my side. And I see the responses. Sometimes simple comments, sometimes emotional reflections, each special in their own way. And then I'm glad I was a blogger. I'm glad I can go back and re-read those moments where I grew up.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Halloween: 15 Ways to Use Leftover Candy

I love Halloween, first for the costumes, second for the treats! But, lots of leftover candy lying around can lead to guilty sugar spirals compounded by Thanksgiving and Christmas baking. So, why not combine the two and enjoy some treats while pawning them off on unsuspecting victims?! Uh, I mean friends and family! ;)

I created this list, a work assignment, after scouring Pinterest for some of the best, most unique recipes calling for candy. I included 15 recipes in the list, dividing them up by candy type. Included in this list is a party favorite, the Kit Kat Cake, which is the only recipe out of this list that I've tried, yet.

With this list, I love the idea that you can do something with loads of Halloween candy other than tossing it or eating it as-is for months and months. Plus, the unique factor will attract people when you share these treats with friends.

Do you know a delish recipe that calls for candy? Share it in the comments and spread the yumminess! :)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Our Wedding Story

This post is a little late, but better late than never right? I wanted to write out the events of our wedding, both leading up to it and the actual day, to share with you all and to remember everything for years to come. For those who have followed this journey, it all started with our engagement, continued with wedding planning, and wraps up with this post. For more details, check out the Wedding Directory at the bottom of the "My Wedding" page.

As my wedding got closer, I kept reciting to myself, no wedding is perfect, things will go wrong, and that is perfectly okay. But at 4:15 p.m. on July 13, after all the pictures and partying were done, I realized it had been a perfect day.

The date.
We picked July 13 as an homage to our roots as a couple. We met while attending college at Moody Bible Institute and during that time we lived in the dorms, Nick on the 13th floor of his dorm, me on the seventh floor of mine. (If you don't know much about Moody, you should know that the floor you were on went a long way to defining your college experience, and even who you were as a "Moody." They were like the sororities and fraternities of the Christian college.) When I discovered that 7/13 fell on a Saturday, I knew it had to be. Nick agreed, which made me feel better about my weird obsession with numbers.

The prep.
Planning the wedding was a process of evolution. It started with us envisioning an intimate, outdoor wedding with our closest friends and family to possibly eloping in Chicago with a couple of friends, to what it became--a medium-sized wedding at our church. Neither of us had much money, so we knew that when the church offered to give us a reduced rate on the facility--including a space for the reception--we could not say no. It hadn't been what we had initially wanted, but we decided that we could spend a little more on decorations to transform the space into what we wanted.

I admit, I started wedding planning before we got engaged. I knew we were going to get engaged, and had heard so many people say that you often had to book venues, florists and photographers at least a year out. So I started a few things before our engagement in August 2012. But, most of the planning was stretched out over the 10+ months that followed. Looking back, I'm glad I started early and paced myself. It helped me keep my sanity at the end when the remaining last-minute tasks began to build up. I used a couple of pre-made checklists, just to ensure I didn't forget anything, and set off on the process. We planned mostly on weekends, but still took some off to relax and have fun, which I am also glad for as I look back. It was nice to enjoy the engagement phase without worrying about colors, accessories or guest lists.

Now on the other side of the wedding, it feels like the planning phase was a blur. I don't remember exactly when we decided on specifics or when we ordered the cakes and favors. I just know somehow everything came together. Above all, we wanted our wedding to be "us." I pictured something romantic and classic, with vintage touches, soft textures and lovely colors. Nick was always on board with my ideas, but I had to make sure he really liked them. "Are these colors okay?" "I'm colorblind, you're in charge of colors." He definitely made it easy on me. There were times when I wasn't sure if my "mental vision" for the wedding and reception would really work out. I questioned if it was going to fall apart, be too much or just look silly. But when the Thursday before the wedding arrived, which was the official "decorating day," amazingly, everything came together.

An arsenal of friends and family turned out to help transform the church's "fellowship hall" from a room where Awana games were played to a beautiful place for an afternoon reception. We hung lights and tulle from the ceiling, arranged tables, ironed table cloths, fluffed tissue paper pom poms, placed centerpieces, folded napkins, and did a million other things. On Friday, my cousin arrived with flowers for the centerpieces and golden chair covers. The "dance floor guy" set up the dance floor. And all of a sudden this utilitarian space looked like a wedding reception hall. I will admit, it felt really, really good to see everything I had imagined come to life, and to hear numerous people tell me how great it looked, that they couldn't believe the transformation. Honestly, neither could I.

The people.
When friends and family started arriving from out of town, things definitely felt more real. Before that, I knew the wedding was getting close, but it still felt like a dream. When relatives started getting into town Wednesday, I think it hit both of us that this was really happening. It was amazing to have everyone there--his family from New Jersey and Florida, mine from Michigan, Texas, Ohio; friends from Maryland, Florida, Colorado, Illinois, and Michigan. It struck me just how blessed we were to have friends and family who would give up time and money to travel to Iowa to be with us, some just for one day. Weddings are always strange in that people come from all over to see you, but often you get very little time with them. I was glad even for the small moments we could share.

Our bridal party was made up of some of our dearest and closest friends and relatives. My Maid of Honor was my former college roommate, the person who helped get Nick and I back together, and one of my best friends in the world, Brandi Santos. The Best Man was the older of Nick's two younger brothers, Stephen Mance, one of the biggest helpers the day we decorated. My bridesmaids were my cousin Jenae Loyola-Gibson, my dear friend Jessica Hilgenberg, and Nick's beautiful little sister Joykrystyna Mance. The groomsmen were Nick's youngest brother Joshua Mance, a dear college friend and former co-worker of both of ours Elliot Larimore, and my younger brother Michael Loyola. My uncle Tim Loyola and dad Tom Loyola co-officiated the ceremony while my cousin Crystal Butler's daughter Olivia served as our flower girl. Youth group friends J.P. Watts and Sean Hansen filled in as ushers and Hannah Bolen and Lindsey Norman were our guest book attendants. Our wonderful friend Missy Bolen served as our director of events and my friend Angie Gabriel was my personal attendant.

The weekend.
After I got over the insane decorating hump Thursday (which took about eight hours), I was finally able to focus on enjoying the rest of the weekend. By the time I was leaving the church, I didn't really care about much else. My life had been all about the details for months, and now I was done. I got to unwind that night with my girlfriends at my bachelorette party. It was in many ways exactly what every bachelorette party is, but in the end it turned into just what I needed: girl time with close friends and a chance to simply talk about anything and everything. We scratched the dancing in favor of swapping stories, sipping drinks and staying in my cozy little apartment.

Friday kicked off for me and the girls with a beautiful bridal luncheon thrown by a very dear friend of mine (and Nick's). We ate quiche, salad and cheesecake and shared stories about how we all met. I gave the bridesmaids their gifts and was happy to see that they all liked everything. (There were several moments of fear that my gifts would be lame or not fit their personal style.) After the luncheon it was off to the nail salon for manicures and pedicures, which was so needed, if only to have a chance to sit down. I nearly fell asleep in the pedi chair. After that we had a few hours before the rehearsal dinner. Spare time translated into "packing time" rather than relaxing time at this point, but such is the nature of the beast. The rehearsal kicked off at 5 p.m., going much faster than I imagined it would as I pictured myself walking down the aisle and standing at the front with my bouquet of shower ribbons and bows.

The rehearsal dinner was absolutely one of the best parts of the weekend. After dinner we gave everyone an opportunity to talk if they wished and listening to what people had to share made us laugh, cry and think about the meaning behind what we were doing. We heard words of recollection, affirmation, encouragement and admonition. It was fun to reflect back on the past and hear things we had never been told while looking forward to the future and our lives together. We also shared a photo slideshow we had made to play during the prelude time prior to the ceremony. We knew a lot of the bridal party and family would miss seeing it, so we wanted to give them a chance to watch it uninterrupted. After that it was off to our respective dwellings to grab as much sleep as we could before...

The big day.
Saturday dawned at 6:45 for me, although looking back I wish I had gotten up a little earlier to give myself more prep time. (Also looking back, I remember things in bits and pieces, more like snapshots of the day than a flowing stream of events.) This was one day I may have slightly overestimated my ability to get myself ready for, you know, just my wedding. But somehow I got my makeup on, false lashes glued and hair up (with the help of Brandi). I started out getting ready at my apartment and finished at my parents' house where we took some photos. Meanwhile, Nick and the guys were getting ready at the church.

I made it to the church about 10-15 minutes before the service started and hid out in my dad's office where my dress was fluffed and I read Nick's pre-wedding note to me. Nick was off behind a door that opened into the sanctuary, reading my note to him.

When we were ready to start, I made my way out to the lobby to wait for my time to walk down the aisle. I remember church members who were serving in the kitchen lined up to see me in my dress. They were all smiles. As I stood off to the side I remember Nick's mom coming up to me, hugging me and telling me that I looked "really beautiful." I made my brother come over so I could give him a hug, which he wasn't too interested in. After that, I stood alone for a few minutes, thinking about what was about to happen and fighting off tears. I told myself I wasn't allowed to start crying before the thing even started. It felt like I waited for an eternity to walk down the aisle, which was partly true as the flower girl took it upon herself to empty every last petal from her basket. But then my brother started playing the song we had arranged and I knew it was time to walk.

I had envisioned myself walking down the aisle so many times, the moment frozen in my imagination. Now it's replaced with reality, the reality that walking down the aisle was like walking through a human tunnel, people all around me, but my eyes were fixed at the end. I remember thinking that all I wanted to do was see Nick, and as soon as I could, I locked eyes with him and didn't look away (except for a brief moment when I glanced at my bridesmaids and saw they were all crying, so I immediately looked away). When I got to the end of the aisle, I saw that Nick had tears in his eyes too, and a lone one fell from his right eye when we stopped walking. I expected to be emotional, especially if I saw anyone else crying, but my eyes stayed dry throughout the entire ceremony.

The words spoken are almost entirely a blur. My uncle officiated as my dad gave me away, "Who gives Elise to be married to Nick?" And then my dad was leading us up the steps for the remainder of the ceremony. I remember noticing the rose in his boutonniere fell off and was in his hand. I remember Nick's godmother reading our Scripture passage and a dear friend of ours singing our special music, God Bless the Broken Road, a song Nick had talked to me about years ago. It was special to him and I was so glad we picked it. My dad's message was about seeking Jesus. We wrote our own vows to each other, and I remember being so nervous when it came time to talk in front of everyone. I didn't want to mess up one word, and I didn't, though I stopped myself at one moment, just to make sure. Everyone thought I was getting choked up. We had communion, as a symbol of our foundation, while Nick's sister played the piano. We exchanged rings with our customized ring vows. I kept hoping it would put Nick's ring on the correct finger. We prayed, and then we were pronounced husband and wife and kissed. And just like that it was done and we were walking out to Colbie Caillat's "I do."

The first thing we did was gather in a side room with our bridal party and family. Everyone came in cheering and hugging, laughing and talking about what they noticed during the ceremony. Then we signed our marriage license and took photos. After that, it was party time!

We danced our way into the reception and had the toasts first before sitting down to eat. Lunch was a chicken salad croissant with fresh fruit, a veggie salad and chips. The head table all had glass Coke bottles and striped paper straws. Next we cut the cake, which was so cute and amazingly delicious. Then it was time for the dances, our first dance, then father-daughter and mother-son. Nick and I danced to the duet version of "A Thousand Years," an update to the original version which was on the radio a lot when I first went to New Jersey to visit Nick.

The rest of the reception we spent dancing and chatting with our guests. We had so much fun seeing old friends and new, laughing and celebrating, shuffling to the Cha-Cha Slide and singing ridiculously loud with "Firework." At the end of the reception our friends and family blew bubbles and waved good-bye as we got into the get-away car (which had been covered in toilet paper and window chalk drawings).

After that we took more photos of just the two of us at the arboretum and under one of the bridges that spans the Mississippi. Then our day ended and our honeymoon began, but that's another post. :)

The End. ❤️

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Whole30 Returns + A Recipe

It's been a while since I wrote about the diet cleanse Nick and I tried in January, the Whole30. If you missed those posts, here's some of the back story. Since completing the Whole30, we've been sold on its ability to work wonders on our bodies and encouraged anyone we know to try it. It can be difficult in the beginning, but is well worth the effort as it can improve anything from acid reflux (as experienced by Nick) to hair texture and growth (as experienced by me).

Most recently, we encouraged a new friend of ours, Julie, to try the Whole30. She's in the middle of it and last night we had a Whole30-safe dinner together of salmon and broccoli (recipes can be found here). Sometimes finding dishes that are yummy and Whole30-approved can be difficult, which is why Nick and I branched out to make or modify our own, the salmon being one such recipe. Dinner was delish and we discussed other meal options, including my mom's chili recipe which I modified for the Whole30. I realized that I've never shared this recipe on the blog, so I'm sharing it today. I'm also including non-Whole30 options for those who aren't doing the diet and are interested in the original recipe. (A note for Whole30ers, make sure to always check the ingredients on any canned/bottled items you buy from the store to ensure non-Whole30 ingredients, like sugars, haven't been added.)
Suzie's Hearty [Whole30-safe] Chili
- 2 lbs ground beef (non-Whole30ers can do 1 lb ground beef and 1 lb Italian sausage)
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed (pushed through garlic press is best)
- 1 or 2 16 oz. cans of whole tomatoes (depends on personal preference)
- 2 to 3 16 oz. cans of tomato sauce
- Non-Whole30ers can add 1 15 oz. can of red kidney beans, drained; 1 tsp. sugar (optional)
- 1 tsp. oregano
- 2 tsp. basil
- 1 tblsp. chili powder
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
Cook and stir beef (Italian sausage), onion and garlic in a large saucepan until meat is light brown, drain, place in large pot. Stir in tomato sauce, tomatoes (with liquid), oregano, basil, chili powder, black pepper (kidney beans, sugar). You may want to slowly add chili powder to personal preference. Bring ingredients to a boil, turn down and let simmer for a few minutes, then enjoy!

On the Whole30, we enjoy pairing this with all natural apple sauce and TERRA Original Veggie Chips. For non-Whole30ers, this goes great with cornbread topped with honey.

We're planning on doing another round of the Whole30, and hopefully we'll be coming up with some new recipes to share in the future! In the mean time, please share your Whole30-safe recipes in the comments.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Onward: A Youth Ministry Movement

Last weekend I did two things for the first time: I visited California and I went to a conference for youth workers (specifically, Youth Specialties' National Youth Worker Convention or #nywc for short). It was a totally new and different experience, but one that I treasured, soaked up and hope to grow from.

I learned some different things over the course of the weekend, and came to some realizations, the biggest being my desire to advocate for youth and a ministry that seeks to love teens to Christ. Sadly, teens are one of the most marginalized groups in the church, often times with under-funded and under-staffed ministries. Teens are a group most people in the church would rather see but not touch.

But while there is often a huge void in youth ministry, that cannot discount the few who have made it their mission to serve this important group. Over the weekend, I spent a lot of time around youth ministry leaders. They're sort of like missionaries in that they're an interesting bunch of not-totally-normal people. They like music and concerts, ridiculous games, free things, Instagram, beards, comedy, loudness, anything hipster, and of course, teens. The convention sort of felt like hanging out with a huge youth group, sans the responsibility of looking after any kids.

This was our weekend, a time for encouragement, rest, education and fun. There were lots of great speakers, from Harvey Carey and Bob Goff to Rachel Held Evans, Pete Wilson and Mark Yaconelli. We were led in song by The Digital Age, Rend Collective, Bellarive, Audrey Assad and Urban Rescue. We laughed along with the Skit Guys and soaked up the spoken art of Amena Brown and Propaganda. We had our pick of a number of great smaller sessions, attending "Secret Survivors: Helping Students Reveal and Heal from Their Hidden Pain," "Marriage and Youth Ministry," "You Can be a Lifesaver: Helping Suicidal Youth" and "Positive Discipline: Working with Rude, Obnoxious and Apathetic Teens." We also visited a lot of booths in the exhibit hall, talking with Gamechurch (a group hoping to reach gamers with the Gospel), Project61 (a youth organization with a really great rep we enjoyed talking to), International Justice Mission (an organization I personally appreciate and supported with my first Sevenly purchase), and Operation Christmas Child (one of our favorites).

As great as the conference was, the theme of the event--Onward--kept us looking ahead. It's great to think over all the wonderful things that a weekend in San Diego offered, but that isn't really the end goal. The goal is to gather up the necessary things--encouragement, tools, knowledge, comradery--and press on. Because youth ministry, or any ministry, isn't a stagnant pond that we float around in. It's a journey, one in which we are always laboring for something more, something better. We are striving to offer the best of ourselves to a mission, a calling, we have discovered and cannot ignore.

I want to end with some of my favorite quotes from the weekend, little snippets of moments that made me stop and think, that encouraged me, or challenged me to look beyond myself.

"God's plan supersedes anything you thought you'd be."

"It is when we reach the limits of our own strength that we find the depths of God's."

"Give God the ability to use every single piece of your story."

"Be picky about what you say."

"Teens are co-creators in the divine work of the church."

"Youth ministry helps the church focus on the way of Jesus, which goes beyond tradition, rules and dogma."

"If we shut down the part of ourselves that can hurt, we shut down the part that hurts for others."

"Your marriage is more important than your ministry." 

"Don't make people jump through hoops to be part of the church."

"Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to an all-knowing God."

"Don't doubt in the darkness what God told you in the light."

"We think there's nothing we can do... We fail to see that ordinary people can make a lifesaving difference in the lives of kids."

"This generation is too important for us to goof off and make happiness the goal."

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Look at Clinton, For Posterity's Sake

Clinton, Iowa, could easily be described as one of the least exciting cities in America. But this area is not without its own unique beauty and charm, you just have to be willing to look. When the vast Midwest sky and the golden light of sunset grab you, you know that beauty can be found anywhere, including here.

Since we're getting ready to leave this little town that has been home (a little over a year for Nick and about three years combined for me), I decided to collect some of my favorite photos from my time here. Years from now I want to be able to look back at the good and the beautiful and remember.

The offices of the Clinton Herald, downtown Clinton.
I worked at the Herald for the majority of my time in Clinton, starting out as a reporter
and concluding as a digital content editor.

The Clinton riverfront along the Mississippi.
Decorative lighthouses stand guard along the bank and serve as a reminder
of a time when the river once flooded its banks.

A panoramic of the path along Riverview Drive.
We took many walks along this path, it's a good place to mark out the seasons.

Boats at the Clinton marina.
One thing I never did while living in Clinton: boating on the Mississippi.
Maybe someday...

Sunset over the Clinton County Courthouse.
There have been a lot of pretty sunsets in Clinton, but this has to be one of the best. So glad I could capture it.

Storm clouds over a house near downtown Clinton.
I used to live near this house and never saw it as a photo op until these ominous
clouds loomed overhead. Suddenly it became like the Kansas farmhouse in the
Wizard of Oz, perfectly placed for a story.

Clinton's "South Bridge."
Two bridges connect Iowa and Illinois, the North Bridge and the South
Bridge. I took a walk one day along the river front and snapped this photo.

This was Nick's house, then it became our house after
we got married. It will always be our first home.

Our neighborhood at sunset.
Another thing that makes Clinton beautiful are the trees. Tall, elegant trees, old and beautiful. They shade many
a street, just like a scene out of a book or movie.

More tall trees in Eagle Point Park.
You can see the widest point on the Mississippi River from
the park. At a mile wide it looks more like a lake than a river.
Also in Eagle Point Park, what has been dubbed, "The Castle."
It seems so odd, a piece of medieval structure rising out of
a modern-day park, but if you look just at it, you feel as though
you've been transported to another time and place.

Downtown Clinton on July 3.
Before any patriotic holiday, the city will hang American flags from
downtown light poles.

The little white church in Heritage Canyon.
This is not technically in Clinton, but it isn't too far away, just over the river in Fulton, Ill.
A couple of our friends got married in this church.

Spring in Clinton looks something like this.

Riverview Drive during a whiteout.
This past winter we were hit by what was essentially a blizzard. Nick and I
still took our lunch break and ventured up to the river front to enjoy the
snow. It was amazing to see everything blanked by the storm.
Snowflakes on my windshield.
After leaving work one day I got into my car and noticed the beautiful designs in the flakes that had lightly dusted
my windshield. Another photo op I couldn't let slip by. I think this is one of my favorite winter photos.

Another sunset over the Clinton County Courthouse.
Odd and beautiful.

A marigold outside my parents' house in Clinton.
My parents have lived in the same house since they first moved
to Clinton in 2004. At first it didn't quite feel like home, but
nearly nine years later, it has finally started to.

The Clinton Public Library.
Clinton was once a majestic town, full of wealthy lumber barons and their mansions. Clinton's rich history lives
on in the architecture that has remained through generations. The library is something the people of Clinton have
always sought to maintain and retain, a fixture they will not willingly release.

Downtown Clinton.
My morning commutes to work were always short in Clinton,
I never had to drive more than 10 minutes to get to work. But
I always enjoyed the drive in. Mornings always seem so crisp
and clean and full of potential.

Friends in front of the de Immigrant Windmill.
This authentic Dutch windmill is across the river from Clinton in Fulton, Ill.
It's another piece of local history that has stood the test of time and distance
to remind locals of their roots.

The Clinton County Courthouse.
After graduating from college and moving to Clinton, one
of my earliest memories is of appearing for jury duty at the
courthouse. I volunteered to serve on the panel, citing my
love of John Grisham books and then feeling silly.
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