September 8, 2020

Announcing...courage + co

As you may remember, I wrote a blog post back on October 1st about how I felt like I was in a season of transition. I wrote the post while I was sitting in the Bucharest airport, waiting for the bus to take me home to Sighisoara. Here's a tiny part of that post...

"I feel like change is coming. I don’t know what kind of change(s). I don’t know when things will change. I don’t know why things will change. I just feel like God is taking me into a new season."

Back then, I had no idea what that change was going to be. I was confused, scared, overwhelmed, anxious, etc., and I didn't even know how to take the next step. But now, various changes have been made and I'm excited to share them with you!

So...drumroll please...I will be starting a brand new teen program called "courage + co"! Yay! 

This program will aim to help young people feel seen, heard and loved through intentional relationships (with self, others, community) and courageous conversations. And the "co" represents "connect, cultivate and create", which are themes that the different groups will focus on as they move through the program. 

In order to get here, to a place where I felt like I could start a new program, I had to step away from some other roles and responsibilities. After months of praying, journaling, reflecting, listening, etc., I knew it was time to officially make some changes...

At the beginning of this year, I stepped away from the Romanian Studies Program (RSP), where I was serving as the On-site Coordinator for American university students who came to do their practicums with Veritas and/or the church programs. This is the program that brought me to Romania in 2015.

I thought that "the big change" was going to be just stepping away from RSP, but even after making that decision, I knew there was something else. That feeling led to more praying and reflecting in the spring, which eventually led me to another change...

In June, I met with the executive director and board president of Veritas, the nonprofit organization that I have been working with since I came to Romania, to talk about my departure from the organization. Veritas had been a huge part of my work in Romania since the very beginning. The It Takes Courage (ITC) programs that I co-led for five years fell under the umbrella of Veritas’ educational programs. I had also worked very closely with the Kids’ Club program when I first came, and supervised the RSP students in various Veritas programs. In addition to these two major roles, I also helped a lot with marketing and fundraising for Veritas. Basically, Veritas was a pretty major part of my work/life in Romania over the last five and a half years. 

I was pretty nervous about giving my notice at Veritas. It had been such a difficult decision to make, and I didn't want it to seem like it was a flippant decision, or that I was upset and leaving because of any major issue. A lot of things had happened over the last year...Adela (my ITC co-leader) went on maternity leave, our program was going to be moving buildings, various other unknowns were up ahead (and this was pre-COVID!), etc. These things, and an unsettled feeling in my heart, led me to this decision. Thankfully, the conversation where I gave my notice went very well, and at one point, someone said, ”I’m just glad there will still be an educational program like It Takes Courage in our community”. And that felt like further confirmation that this was the right decision.

"Further confirmation" has actually been a huge part of this journey. With almost every step that I took, I received confirmation in one form or another. In conversations with others, both with people who knew I was making changes and those who didn't, a comment, question or idea would be said that confirmed something I was thinking/feeling/doing. I had one incredibly vivid dream about a week after having two major conversations, related to all of the changes. Despite the fear and anxiety of the whole situation, I found myself feeling peace more often than not. I kept taking a step and then another step. I just kept doing the next right thing. (Side note: go listen to The Next Right Thing podcast and read the book too!)

And now, I'd like to officially invite you to join me on this exciting new adventure! There are lots of different ways for you to get involved...

- Listen to the new Chosen Voices podcast episode where I share more details about courage + co and the story behind it. 

- Purchase a cute t-shirt or sweatshirt from my Bonfire fundraiser. Proceeds will help me purchase items for the program space. 

- If you'd be interested in supporting courage + co's ongoing program budget and/or my work in Romania, you can give at my personal giving link (all donations are tax deductible). 

- Sign up for my email newsletter, Coffee & Courage, that I send out monthly with personal and ministry updates.

- And, last but not least, all prayers are appreciated. Prayers for guidance as I continue to make decisions and plan for the program...for physical health...for wisdom in leading a program during the time of COVID-19...and for the teenagers, that they will feel seen, heard and loved in this new program.

Art by Morgan Harper Nichols
Art by Morgan Harper Nichols

I cannot tell you how excited I am for courage + co to start! This year, I will meet with two separate groups (a connect group and a cultivate group) during the week, as well as planning some other events (create) like service opportunities, meals together, game/movie nights, etc. All of these activities will be held in the church building, and I'll be sure to share some photos when the space is finished and ready for the program! 

In addition to starting this program, I will continue to work out in the village at the child development center. I miss those kiddos SO much, and I cannot wait to see their sweet little faces! I will also be helping to lead the local youth group at the church in town (where courage + co will take place). This will be a new challenge, but I'm excited to meet some new teens! 

So there you go. An announcement, an invitation, a story, etc. Lots of new things happening over here. Thank you, as always, for your unwavering support! You, my people, are truly the best. I am grateful for each and every one of you. 

August 2, 2020

One Little Word: a mid-year check-in

Well, we're a little more than halfway through 2020 and I thought I'd do a mid-year check-in on my one little word for this year: create. I'm going to be super honest and say that I'm not doing very well with the "goals" that I set related to my word for this year. However, I know that I have to give myself some grace because 2020 has looked nothing like we thought it would...and there have been some major unforeseen circumstances.

I say this, not only for myself, but for you as well. Give yourself grace if your 2020 goals don't look the way you thought they would. Because, well, 2020 hasn't exactly looked the way any of us thought it would.

So, without further ado, here's my mid-year check-in for create. And might I add, that I'm actually writing this post and processing through this more for me than for you (as is true for a lot of my blog posts), but I'm glad you're along for the ride!

Create beautiful things

When I came up with this one, I was thinking almost specifically of art journaling. While I do have a few different art-focused pages in my journal (mostly all prior to March-April), I haven't done nearly as many as I would have liked. However, I feel like I've written a lot more in my journal than in years past, which, to me, feels like I've created beautiful memories to look back on. Even today, as I look back through my journal, I feel like I'm creating this beautiful "thing" that will serve me well for years to come.

Other beautiful things that I've created in the first six months of the year:
  • Spotify playlists: Music is everything. I tend to make a playlist for each season (ex. Spring 2020, Summer 2020, etc.), and I have them saved from as far back as 2015. I loooove going back and listening to each of them because they really transport me back to that time in my life. And, as you can probably imagine, I created a playlist, or five, during quarantine. 
    • A cozy apartment: While this isn't specific to the first six months of 2020, I've definitely made a few cozy changes to my apartment, specifically during quarantine, since I'm spending A LOT more time here these days. I've had a few people over in the last month or so and almost every single person has commented on how cozy and peaceful my apartment is. For an introverted homebody and enneagram 9 (if you don't know how that's relevant, ignore it), that's a high, high compliment. My apartment is really my sacred space. I feel incredibly blessed to live in such a beautiful place, which includes this apartment, whole house, medieval citadel, beautiful city, gorgeous country, etc. I am grateful that I get to create beautiful things in this beautiful space. 
    • Oils & Courage: Just this month, I created a new space on Instagram to share about my love for essential oils and toxin-free products from Young Living. I've been using oils and other YL products since 2018. I share quite often with my friends, like I'd share about a really good cup of coffee or cozy slippers, and I finally decided it was time to expand my circle and share with more people. Young Living has an optional business side that helps people to gain financial freedom, and, as a partner funded missions worker with student loans, I'm allllll about some financial freedom. I am the farthest thing from a pushy salesperson (do you even know me?!), but if you're curious about oils and toxin-free living, you know how to find me!

    Create space for my soul to breathe

    Well, this one was pretty much given to me, thanks to a mandatory lockdown from mid-March to mid-May, and even after that, as I still spend much more time at home compared to before. I could lie and tell you that I truly made the most of every second of that lockdown (and the time since then)...that I woke up early every day without checking social media first thing...that I drank coffee and read every single morning...that I wrote down 5 things I'm grateful for every day without missing a single one. NOPE. I didn't do any of those things perfectly. I mean, other than drinking coffee every know me! 

    I feel like I actually did okay up until mid-June, and then I kind of hit a wall. The wall of "is this way of living ever going to end?!" that I'm sure many of you are familiar with by now. But, I am happy to say that I gave myself a pep talk last Sunday evening. This past week, I woke up earlier than usual. I didn't check social media as soon as I woke up...or even until after I had done some reading or listened to a peaceful podcast of some kind. Small steps, people, small steps! 

    Create margin for God

    Much like that last one, I did okay with this one for awhile and then kind of veered off track. I was doing different Bible reading plans, listening to sermons, podcasts, daily worship from churches, reading books and articles, journaling my prayers and thoughts...all of the things. And then I kind of just stopped. I think I may have overwhelmed myself with too much information, which I have a tendency to do.

    In the last few weeks, I've tried to narrow it down a bit. One of the things I've really been wanting to focus on is reading and better understanding the Bible. I started Angie Smith's Seamless study with a friend, and we have one more week to go. Honestly, I've put off starting this last week because I don't want to be done with the study! Silly, but that's what I do! Anyways, I'd highly recommend this study to anyone who is wanting to better "understand the Bible as one complete study", which is the subtitle!

    Create a difference in the lives of others

    This one is hard for me to measure. I would love to say that I've been creating huge differences in the lives of those around me, but I really don't know if that's true. I definitely feel like some connections with various teens and young adults have deepened in the first half of the year, which is incredibly exciting. I've been able to have some serious conversations about life and relationships...and even a few conversations about God! I often feel extremely unqualified in these types of conversations because I surely don't have life, relationships or God all figured out, but it's definitely a humbling privilege to know that the teens/young adults feel comfortable talking to me about these big issues.

    In addition to these conversations, I was able to have a small group of girls from the village over to my apartment a few weeks ago, along with Roxana (leader of the children's program in the village). The children's program still isn't meeting, but Roxana has started meeting with her smaller preteen girls' group again. During a conversation with Roxana, I told her that I'd love to have her and the girls over to my apartment sometime, and a week later, they were here!

    While there weren't any monumental moments during this fun "girls' day out", it felt like Roxana and I were able to invest in them in a new way. We talked about life. We talked about their hopes and dreams. We talked about their futures. Roxana and I both felt like this day, a day out of the village and their normal routine, opened their eyes up to new possibilities...and to hope. After returning to the village, Roxana and I chatted for a few hours about the day (and lots of other things). We both felt like this day was one neither of us would forget...and we were pretty sure the girls would never forget it either!

    There are so many unknowns that lie ahead related to programs. But, regardless of what official programs look like in September, I know there will always be opportunities to invest in the lives of others, and I'm excited about that.

    And there we have it! A mid-year check-in on my one little word for the year: create. It's so hard to know what the rest of the year will look like, but I feel like I can definitely move forward in each of these areas whether we return to how things were before (ha ha ha) or go back to a more restricted season (please, no!). It's interesting how I chose this word (or it chose me) at the start of the year, before any of us knew what 2020 would bring, and yet it feels like the perfect word. 

    Here's to the second half of 2020... creating more beautiful things
    ...more space for my soul to breathe
    ...more margin for God
    ...and more of a difference in the lives of others!

    May 13, 2020

    adjust accordingly

    As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have thoroughly enjoyed Jess Connolly and Katie Walters' Made Up Morning Show. Thankfully, they've figured out how to save them on IGTV so you can go back and watch the shows from last week. Basically, the goal of each show is to give the viewers a strength tip and a joy tip, and to offer some encouragement during this strange time we're all living in.

    Jess' strength tip from yesterday was "adjust accordingly", and those two words are exactly what I needed to hear.

    One thing that I've been thinking about a lot is our next/new normal. I know this is something we're all thinking about and navigating through, and it's just been so heavy on my heart. There are still soooo many unknowns related to programs and ministry, my trip to the States this summer, what the fall is going to look like, etc.

    But I think the biggest fear I have right now, as the world opens back up, is that we're all going to go back to "normal". I'm afraid that the world is going to return to the busy, chaotic pace that none of us can keep up with. I'm afraid that we're going to try to make up for the weeks and months that we've "lost"...even though I feel so strongly that we have not lost this time, nor can we make up for everything we wanted/needed to do during this time.

    And more than that, I think deep down I'm afraid that I am going to return to the busy, chaotic pace.

    I'm afraid that I'm going to get up and go at the last minute in the mornings, instead of enjoying the peace that comes with a slow morning of coffee drinking, Bible/book reading and music listening.

    I'm afraid that I'm not going to be able to effectively communicate to others my desire to keep a slower pace. Of course, I'm not here, in Romania or on earth, to sit in my house, but I'm also not here to go go go until I burnout and crash.

    I'm also afraid that I'm going to be so excited to spend time with my people that I do one of two things...potentially put myself at risk by exposing myself to too many people too soon...and/or...fill my days and nights with time with friends (in person and online) and neglect the me time that I so desperately need to survive and thrive as an introvert living cross-culturally.

    I'm afraid that I won't be able to find balance in our new normal. 

    And this is where I circle back around to adjust accordingly. I am going to have to give myself grace, give others grace, and adjust accordingly. It's as simple as that...and yet I know it won't be simple at all.

    Photo by Mathyas Kurmann on Unsplash
    During yesterday's episode of the show, Jess used the imagery of waves. She talked about seeing these waves of defeat and disappointment (and I would even add fear) that are coming at us, and how we're standing in the tension of the tide. She talked about the importance of not trying to hold the waves back, but rather to pay attention to where each wave is coming from.

    She went through a number of questions that we can ask the wave and/or ourselves as the waves come in. Where did the wave come from? Where does the wave need to go? Where will the wave be the most effective? Do I need to send the wave away? Is this wave a lie from the enemy? Is this a wave of grief that I need to make space for? Where can the wave empower my life the most right now?

    I realize that this might seem pretty abstract, but hopefully you understand what I'm trying to say...through what Jess was trying to say. And actually, Katie stressed the importance of paying attention to what we're thinking and how we're feeling. We need to give ourselves time and allow ourselves to get quiet in order to let these thoughts/feelings come in. She suggested journaling ways that we've grown in the last 8 weeks (or however many) well as to note what we've overcome. But also, as we're thinking and/or journaling about this, to do so without shame, judgment, discouragement, etc.

    While I consider myself to be a fairly emotional person, I'm not great at recognizing my feelings and feeling them. I tend to push them down and avoid them...especially the hard feelings like fear, sadness, grief, etc. But, I think to be able to adjust accordingly in a healthy way, I need to know what I'm thinking and how I'm feeling.

    So...hopefully you've found some encouragement in all of these words. I recognize that they aren't super organized or clear, but the main idea is to give yourself and others grace as you adjust accordingly.

    A recent sunset from my balcony

    April 9, 2020

    Some 'Shelter in Place' Favorites

    My morning must-haves during shelter in place
    I started this blog post a few weeks ago, when this whole quarantine/shelter in place thing had just begun. It was new and exciting, and I would be lying if I didn't admit that staying home for a week or two sounded pretty awesome. I love love love what I do, but as an introvert who loves quiet weekends at home, staying home for a whole week sounded quite lovely. I made a quarantine bucket list, signed up for free art journaling classes, wrote out a cleaning list, stacked up the books I wanted to read, etc. I was ready!

    And then one week passed...and another week passed...and before I knew it, I had lost my momentum. I feel like I've been riding a rollercoaster with lots of ups and downs...and a few of those crazy upside down loops. I've felt relaxed, lonely, peaceful, sad, productive, lazy, content, fearful, refreshed, frustrated, calm, impatient, fulfilled, upset, optimistic, bored, safe, useless, encouraged, anxious, blessed, isolated, thankful, etc. Are you understanding why I'm using the rollercoaster comparison yet?

    I'm sure many of you are experiencing these same feelings whether you live alone, with a roommate or spouse, have children running around the house, etc. We're all doing this for the first time and I think it's safe to say that nobody has a clue how to do this "well".

    I completed a floral illustration during the first week of shelter in place.
    By now you know how much I love Annie F. Downs. She is a podcaster/author/speaker/Instagram story-er and I just really enjoy her. Anyways, since all of this began, she has been asking herself the following question:
    "How can I be healthier 
    - emotionally, physically and spiritually - 
    on the other side of this?" 
    I've thought a lot about this, and truthfully, I get overwhelmed if I try to answer it. Why? Well, because I want to listen to this podcast and read that book and clean my apartment and organize my things and go for walks and cook more and establish a better sleep routine! I want to DO all of the things! But, here's what I've learned...I can also just be. I can sit with my feelings and journal. I can take walks and listen to podcasts. I can start every day by reading the Bible instead of checking social media. I can be slow and quiet and still be productive.

    So...that's what I'm doing. I'm not being super productive in the idea that I'm doing a lot of projects or crossing a lot of tasks off of my to-do list, but I feel kind of productive. I'm taking things one moment at a time. I'm not putting as much pressure on myself. I'm learning to be slow and quiet...and productive.

    With all of that said, I wanted to share some of my 'shelter in place' favorites with you! There are a handful of things that I make sure to catch every day/week, and I think they're worth sharing. I'm hoping maybe one of two of them encourages you in some way!

    A few of my favorite things...

    TSFQuarantine podcast: Again, my fav, Annie F. Downs, has been doing a daily quarantine podcast with another favorite of mine, Eddie Kaufholz. As you can see in the little photo above, they talk about everything from baby goats to jazz leadership. I often listen to this podcast while I'm out on a walk and I usually end up laughing out loud at some point. Good thing nobody is around to hear me!

    Made Up Morning Show: I can't really link to this one since the shows are live each day (well, just Monday through Thursday actually). But these shows have been such a HUGE encouragement to me. I don't have many things written on my weekly schedule, but this is definitely on there! Jess Connolly and Katie Walters are sisters who decided to create a made-up morning show where they share tips for strength and joy...and they also just chat like two sisters.

    Kitchen Covers: Drew & Ellie Holcomb, both singers with their own music, have been bringing these Kitchen Covers to Instagram every single day. They are covering a variety of artists and songs, and it's fun to check in each day and see what they've done. They're amazing performers! I've enjoyed each of them, but Wildflowers by Tom Petty has probably been my favorite so far!

    CrossPoint prayer and worship: This church, based in Nashville, is one that I've "attended" online now for awhile...even before COVID-19. When I've stayed home from church on a Sunday for whatever reason, I've tuned into their service. I really enjoy hearing from their pastor and other members of their teaching team. One of those members is Annie F. Downs, which is how I heard of CrossPoint. Anyways, they are doing prayer and worship on YouTube twice a week (on Tuesdays and Thursdays I believe), and I've really enjoyed joining in on it each week.

    Bridgetown Daily: This podcast comes out of Bridgetown Church in Portland, Seattle, which is pastored by John Mark Comer. I've read a few of John Mark's books, and I really enjoy reading/hearing about how he sees God and Sabbath, specifically. Anyways, Bridgetown is releasing daily podcasts focused on a variety of topics. They "tagline" for these podcasts is "A daily meditation on scripture, a quote, or the life of a saint to ground you in God and his peace." And I think we all need that right now.

    Good News Movement: This is an Instagram account that has brought me so much joy! Basically, they share a little good news every day! Most of it is related to COVID-19, and it reminds me that we really are all in this together, figuring things out one day at a time.

    There you have it. That's, more or less, what I've been up to over the past few weeks. I've also enjoyed many, many gorgeous sunsets from my balcony, as you can see above. I've baked chocolate chip banana bread. I've hosted weekly Zoom calls with my It Takes Courage 2.0 group, and started a Bible study via Zoom with two of my girls (past ITC teens who are now in college). I've participated in a variety of other Zoom calls, FaceTimed with my sister and the kids a lot more, read a few books, watched a handful for TV shows and movies...all of the normal things :)

    As I wrap this post up, I hope that you will remember to have grace with yourself, and with others, during this time. I also hope that you will ask yourself how you can be healthier - emotionally, physically, spiritually - after this is over. And I hope you will enjoy these pretty doors!

    March 17, 2020


    Photo taken by me at a recent flower market :)
    Five years in Romania. Can we just pause for a moment to process that?

    I've been pausing for awhile because I don't even know how to process that. It feels like I just left yesterday, while also feeling like I've been here for a very long time.

    As I've been thinking about this anniversary over the last few weeks, I've realized that this is the longest I've ever "been" anywhere, as an adult. Sure, I went to university for four years (2006-2010), and then on to grad school (2010-2011) for a year and a half. After that, I moved back home and worked two different social work jobs (starting in 2012) until leaving for Romania in March 2015. But this, these five years in Romania, is the longest I've ever been somewhere.

    Like I said when I wrote about my fourth anniversary in Romania, I honestly didn't know that this would become my place, my life, my home. It's not that I thought it was going to be a short-term thing, but I guess I never really thought this far down the road. I knew I was supposed to I went...and here we are, five years later.

    As you probably know by now, I like lists. So, here are five things I've learned (or been constantly reminded of) in the last five years...

    1. God can use anyone. Let me tell you, if God can use me to love His people and share His light, He can use anyone. He can use you in your stubbornness, brokenness, insecurity...or whatever it is that you think is too big and too messy. Follow that still, small voice to obedience and let Him use you to share His love and light with those around you.

    2. I can do hard things. I'm a quitter. I quit dance classes when I was 6 years old. I quit drum lessons in high school. I dropped a few classes in college. I quit when things are hard. Here's what I haven't quit since being in Romania. I haven't quit learning the Romanian language. I haven't quit trying to better understand the people and the culture. I haven't quit investing in people even when, at times, it's felt hopeless. I haven't quit...and I won't quit because the result of me quitting those hard things is way worse than the difficulty of the hard things.

    3. Relationships are so incredibly important. Here's the thing...I'm a hardcore introvert. I gain energy from being alone. A full day alone at home to do whatever I want is like my dream. I'd also consider myself to be somewhat socially awkward. I don't overly enjoy a lot of social settings. I'm pretty shy upon meeting new people. BUT...I love people, like I really love people. When I first came to Romania, it was hard to feel like I'd ever have deep friendships or impactful relationships with the people I was serving. Well, jokes on me, because in the last five years, I've gained some of my deepest friendships, while also deepening some of the ones I had before. I've also been able to deepen relationships with the people I serve because I've stuck around for five years to see them through many ups and downs. It's been a journey, but I'm thankful for all of the relationships along the way.

    4. Growth really does happen outside of one's comfort zone. It's true. The times I've grown the most, in the last five years, are when I've had to step outside of my comfort zone and figure things out. When I moved into my own apartment...when I supervised a student on my own for the first time...when I started a new program with a coworker...when I learned how to drive stick get the idea. I could list 100 other situations where I've had to go outside of my comfort zone, and the thing they all have in common is that I've grown because of them.

    5. God is good. Man, oh man. This one could be it's own blog post, but I'll keep it short and sweet here. He has been so good to me over the last five years. He has stood next to me in moments of joy and in moments of frustration and sadness. He has put other people next to me who have encouraged and supported me...both here and from afar. He has taught me the importance of focusing on being with Him instead of doing things for Him. He has been kept me here for five years and He is good. Side note: I can totally hear my home church saying "all the time" right now. Love you Freeport First Church :)

    And while it's not part of the list, I cannot possible publish this blog post without saying THANK YOU. While it's absolutely true that God brought me here and has kept me here, it's also true that so many of you have played a huge part in this story as well. You, my people, have encouraged me, prayed for me, bought me travel pillows, supported me financially, arranged for me to speak at your churches, FaceTime'd me regularly, asked me what I need, came to visit me, messaged me on Facebook, cried with me, taken me out for dinner when I'm in the States, sent me mail, prayed for me, prayed for me, prayed for me.

    You are a huge reason that I am still here in Romania, sharing God's big love in small, every day moments. And I am beyond grateful for you.

    The first Instagram post of the journey
    If you have time for a little extra reading (I'm guessing you do because...quarantine), here are a few posts from when I first arrived in Romania: Peace, First Impressions, and Currently: Romanian Edition Part I. I'm so thankful for these posts because I wasn't super into journaling back then, and these posts help me to remember what I was thinking/feeling about everything at the start. 

    February 25, 2020

    A Birthday Invitation

    Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash
    Finally, an age that's an even number. In case you didn't know, I don't like odd numbers. Every time I turn an age that's an odd number, I always cringe a little bit. It's weird, I know.

    Anyways, here we are...32 years old. Well, here I am, 32 years old. You probably aren't 32 years old today! Leading up to today, I've tried to spend some time thinking about turning another year older, but it's been different than usual. I used to do my annual goal-setting and dreaming around my birthday which meant that I'd spend a lot of time thinking about my new year of life. However, since I started choosing One Little Word, the goal setting and dreaming has shifted from my birthday to New Year's.

    However, I was recently reminded of a fun birthday idea that I used to do each year. Basically, it's a birthday bucket list. The idea is to write down 32 things that I WANT TO DO before I turn 33 (changes depending on your age, obviously). As you may remember, I used to do this with my 27 Before 28 and 28 Before 29 lists. This year, Elise Cripe, a blogger that I follow, created a birthday bucket list printable that she's calling a WANT TO DO list. I decided to print it out and write down 32 things that I want to do before turning 33.

    32 things I WANT to do before 33
    In a recent email newsletter that included this printable, Elise mentioned that her list is full of "a bunch of unrealistic fun stuff", which sounds about right. She talked about her new years' goals being more habit-based, but that this list is a "dream list of things I want to do before my next birthday". In addition, the expectation isn't really that all of these things get done, it's about the practice of setting big, ambitious goals. Elise is a goal-setter, if you haven't already noticed.

    So, I have also filled my list with 32 unrealistic and fun things that I want to do before I turn 33. If I do five of these things, great. If I get around to doing 25, even better. I'm just excited about adding new experiences to my life...and to focus on what I want to do instead of what I have to do.

    Now that I've said all of that, you might be wondering why the title of this blog post is "A Birthday Invitation". Well, there's a reason. First and foremost, thank you - each and every one of you - for being a part of my life, story and ministry in Romania. As I head into this next year of life, I am expectant for all God wants to do, in me and through me.

    As I continue to live and serve in Romania, I want to invite you to join me and be apart of what God is doing here. Since my birthday is on the 25th of February, I'd love for you to prayerfully consider giving $25 today on the 25th, which will directly influence and impact all God is doing here in Romania and in my life. You can give on my secure online giving site by clicking HERE.

    Again, thank you. As I spend another birthday in Romania AND approach the five-year mark here, I am in awe of what God has done and what He has allowed me to do. Thank you for continuing to be apart of that.

    And, before I end this lovely post, I'd like to treat you to a photo of me as a child. This has become a fun little tradition in my birthday posts so I'll keep it going...

    2nd grade Casey. You're welcome. 

    January 11, 2020

    2020 - One Little Word

    Created a new space, in my room, for all the creative things. And the natural light is perfection.
    I've chosen my one little word for 2020...create. As usual, I thought about a few different words, but there was something about create that stuck. I let it sink in for a few days before ultimately deciding that it would be my one little word for the year.

    As usual, I want to share some of the ways I'm hoping create will guide me throughout 2020...

    Create beautiful things

    I consider myself to be a fairly creative person. I've always loved photography, scrapbooking, art journaling, design, etc., but I don't spend as much time doing these things as I'd like. I rearranged some things in my apartment and created a space to create...mostly to art journal, but maybe in other ways as well. We shall see! I've already created more than usual because of having this space and all of my supplies out and ready to use! Hoping to explore some new creative skills this year too! 

    Create space for my soul to breathe

    Over the last few years, I've been trying to prioritize rest and balance. Working in ministry (much like many other careers/fields) means that there are always needs...something that needs to be done, someone who needs help, something to learn more about and better understand, etc. But I'm continuing to learn how important it is so create space for my soul to breathe so I can do all of those things with a full cup, ready to pour out. I'm creating space by waking up and not looking at my phone until I've read something from the Bible or a drinking water with lemon essential oil first thing in the listening to worship music while I make writing down 5 things I'm grateful for every reading more words in physical books than on social media posts. We're not quite two weeks into 2020 yet, but I can already feel a difference.
    My soul can feel a difference. 

    Create margin for God

    This is somewhat related to the last one, but I wanted to be a bit more specific. I am going to try to open (and read, obviously) my Bible every single day. I know it seems like something that I should already be really, really good at, but it's just not. I've always struggled with establishing a daily routine for reading my Bible and praying, but I'm working on it...and it's going fairly well so far! One of my favorite blog/Instagram ladies, Elise Blaha Cripe, has a free daily habit tracker that I'm using for a few of my goals this year. I'm a very visual person so I've found this to be an effective way for me to see my progress. I'm also trying to journal my prayers more often, which is something I've carried over from last year. It helps me to focus more, as it's very easy for me to get lost in my own thoughts if I just pray in my mind...and it's always helpful to go back and see how God has answered my prayers! 

    Create a difference in the lives of others

    I just really love people. Yes, I may be an introvert that thoroughly enjoys being home alone, but I also really love being with people. And not just people, but my people. The kiddos in the village. The teens in the It Takes Courage programs. The people I serve alongside in the different ministries. I want to find ways to serve them better this year. Even though I still feel like I'm in a season of transition and I don't know what the future holds...I want to show Jesus to them in small, every day moments. And this doesn't just apply to "my people", but also to the people I come in contact less frequently. The child begging outside of the grocery store. The person serving me coffee or food at a restaurant. I want to show Jesus to them as well, in small, every day moments. 

    Found this verse and I can't stop reading it. So fitting for create and this time in my life.
    There a few other ways that I'm incorporating create into my life, but I'm going to keep those private for now. If I see fit to share them later on, then I will :) Obviously, I'm sure there will be other ways in which create manifests itself in the upcoming year, and ways that I'm able to look back and see only at the end of 2020. Either way, I'm excited to see where create takes me in 2020.

    Just as it was with grow in 2019 and light in 2018, I've already starting seeing the word create as I read books, listen to music and scroll on social media. It's so interesting how that works!

    If you've chosen one little word for 2020, I'd love to hear what it is...and how you see it guiding your year. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email :)

    January 5, 2020

    One Second Everyday in 2019

    Here we are! We've reached the end of another year...a beautiful year, a messy year, the year of 2019. Like I said in my 2018 post, once we reach the last week of the year, I'm usually wishing the days away so I can make this video! While I make weekly and monthly videos, there's something special about putting it all together. Even though I recorded each clip, sometimes I forget about different moments throughout the year.

    I've already watched this video a few times now, and I can't help but smile as I watch it. Sure, there were parts of 2019 that I didn't love, but this "project" always helps me to find a little good in every single day.

    If you don't already have the 1 Second Everyday app, I'd strongly encourage you to try it out this year. It'll take some getting used to, but trust me when I say that you won't regret it!

    January 3, 2020

    Moments of GROWTH in 2019

    As I did last year with light, I want to reflect on 2019 through the lens of my "one little word", GROW. If you want to go back and read the original post about how I chose grow, click here.

    Looking back, I can easily see so many moments of growth in 2019. I can look back with such joy, and even pride in seeing how much I've grown.

    But I can also look back at the year with extreme disappointment in my lack of growth. I'm not entirely sure what I expected of myself (and maybe of God too) when I chose the word grow, but I'll be honest and say that I don't feel like I "met the goal"...even though I wouldn't even say that I set a goal, per se. It's complicated.

    Anyways, I don't feel like I grew enough. But then I have to stop myself. Do we ever, in life, feel like we've grown enough? How much growth is "enough"? And I also think that, some of the growth won't be visible until later...

    From my blog post where I shared my word for 2019, I broke grow down into four parts. I'm hoping that breaking down these four parts will help me to see more growth than I can see if I think of my growth as a whole in 2019.

    As you might recall, I used the four parts from Luke 2:52, which says "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor God and man".

    In wisdom
    • Read more books: So I didn't read as many books as I would have liked, but I do feel like the ones I read were exactly what I needed to be reading at the time. Here are a few of my favorites:
      • Remember God by Annie F. Downs - That ending. Bawled my little eyes out. Love me some AFD!
      • Let's All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs - Technically, I read most of this one in 2018 and finished it in 2019, but I'm still counting it!
      • Becoming by Michelle Obama - Such a good read. Loved learning more about her life story and perspective. 
      • Garden City by John Mark Comer - This one took me awhile to get through due to the content, but it was a very good read. 
      • You Are the Girl for the Job by Jess Connolly - A must-read. I just read it in October, and I already want to read it again. Such incredible encouragement and wisdom. 
      • Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung - I read this book in two days during Christmas break. And again, I already want to re-read it at a slower pace to really take it all in. 
    • Pray regularly: I tend to go through phases where I pray a lot, and then not so much...and up and down and back and forth. I can't say that I grew a ton in this area, but I did journal a lot more of my prayers so that feels like growth to me!
    • Seek out wisdom from people: I can list a handful of people who I was a bit more vulnerable with this year, both with joys and disappointments. It can be hard for me to be vulnerable, but I feel like I grew (and continue to grow) in sharing with others and seeking wisdom from them. I'm blessed to have some very wise people in my life, and for that I am thankful. 
    • Learn more: Thankfully, I feel like I always have a desire to learn and seek out information. I wanted to learn more about a few specific topics (social work, Romania and the Enneagram) in 2019, and I did better with some than others. From best to worst, I'd say I learned the most about the Enneagram, a little about Romania, and a tiny bit about social work. I rank them in this order because I sought out a lot of information about the Enneagram...I learned more about Romania simply by continuing to live here and ask questions...and sadly, I wouldn't say that I necessarily learned specific/concrete things about social work. I guess that's why I'm thankful for continued growth. Must keep learning...
    In stature
    • Work on overall health: I kind of broke this one down into four more parts: physical, emotional, relational and spiritual. Much like "Learn more", I did better with some than others.
      • Physical: I would say that I grew in my understanding of how important choices (food, water, exercise, products used) are when it comes to physical health. 
      • Emotional: This one is always ongoing...
      • Relational: I deepened some relationships this year, and for that, I am extremely grateful.
      • Spiritual: Thankfully, this is always an ongoing process. I don't feel like we can/should ever reach a point of being "fully grown" in our relationship with God. I always want to be learning more and growing in my relationship with Him. 
    In favor with God
    • Grow in relationship: Again, not sure if it's possible to be "fully grown" in one's relationship with God, but I do feel like there has been growth in this area. I tried to spend more intentional time with Him, and to be obedient to what He asked me to do. 
    • Focus on being with Him vs. doing things for Him: I tried to prioritize this concept a bit more this year. It can be a bit of challenge when others have different expectations about how "productive" I should be or how I should be spending my time, but I'm slowly learning the importance of taking my directives from HIM in this area. This is an area of continued growth as even my own expectations (about productivity) get in the way sometimes too. 
    • Grow where He has placed me: I feel like I've continued to grow into my life in my ministry, my work with Him here, my call to this place, my relationships, etc. So so so thankful that He placed me here in Romania. 
     In favor with man
    • Open my mind, circle, heart: As an introvert, a somewhat private person and an Enneagram 9, I knew this one would be hard for me. I typically like to keep things to myself and to stay in my bubble, but I do believe there was a tiny bit of growth. I opened my mind to new ideas. I tried to widen my circle and heart by letting others in a little closer. 
    • Be more aware of how I treat people: Learning more about the Enneagram definitely helped me to grow in this area. I try not to point everything to the Enneagram, but it's definitely an amazing resource and tool that helps me to understand myself and others better. 
    • Improve communication skills: Can I just say "see above"...? Yes, it's my blog post so that's what I shall say. See above. 
    And there you have it, my growth in 2019. 
    I grew. I didn't grow. 
    I'll always be growing...and that's okay. 
    I'm thankful for slow and steady growth. 

    When I think about all of the ways I didn't grow this year, these last few sentences encourage me to focus on continued growth in the most beautiful way. I am thankful for Morgan Harper Nichols and the way she writes about growth. 
    "...and you may not have been able to notice all the ways you're growing. But I promise you, beyond your knowing, you were blooming. Your roots were growing deeper. Your heart was growing strong, your soul, a well of life."