Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Top five reasons why I love Ogden, Utah

It's funny how life works out, isn't it? Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought my little family would move back to the place of my birth. I couldn't have imagined the streets I walked during summer vacations with my grandparents during rodeos, carnivals, weddings, funerals, and animal auctions would someday become the streets where my own children would play.

Life has a way of bringing things full circle. I am convinced that even the grandest plans we have for ourselves pail in comparison to the future our Father in Heaven has dreamed up for us. We have an idea of how our book will read, but in the end, it is the Author and Finisher of our faith who writes our story.

And here I stand, living out page 1,497 of the book Jesus is writing for me in a chapter titled, "Ogden, Utah".

We have been blessed to live in gorgeous, wonderful, exciting cities and towns in our 12 years of marriage. From our 100-year-old farmhouse on three acres of land and a small apple orchard, to the bustling streets of Baku, Azerbaijan teaming with honking taxis, crowded buses, fruit and vegetable stands, tea houses, and faces seemingly stoic yet masking welcoming and loving hearts, to the quiet and peaceful Wisconsin countryside filled with lush greens, sparkling lakes, rolling hills, John Deer tractors, black bears, and faithful hardworking neighbors, all the way to the grand mountains of Utah. Never have I felt so blessed in all my life to have so many years overflowing with wonderful travel adventures and friends.

As we researched and prayed about moving back to Utah we found that Ogden is one of the fastest growing cities in America. After living here for ten months now I can see why this is! People are moving here at an alarming rate, houses are being built and sold constantly, farmland is being turned into housing developments (sad, but true), businesses are bustling, restaurants are regularly crowded with happy customers, fun local events are always happening, and the family-friendly atmosphere is warm and welcoming.

I decided to post the top five reasons why we love living in Ogden, Utah. Maybe this will convince some of our family and friends to move here as well, or any random google search leading to this blog will secure someone's decision that "this is the place".

1. The mountains
  • While looking for houses we wanted to find one as close to the mountains as possible. Even though we didn't get 100% of our desired details for a house, I'm so thankful we checked this one off the list. We can park at my favorite trailhead within ten minutes of leaving our driveway! There are endless possibilities for mountain trails according to difficulty level and various landscape views. Many trailheads have bathrooms and water fountains which can be a dream come true for runners like me! I often pass other runners, hikers, dog owners, and families on the trails which always gives a sense of comradery. Everyone smiles and waves as they walk by and oftentimes I secretly want to inquire, "You love the mountains too? Aren't we so blessed to adventure here any day we want?" Witnessing the colors change from the silent, peaceful, snow-covered winter trails to lush, dark summer greens, then to brilliant autumn reds has caused my heart to soar in ways I've never experienced before. Countless miles have been pounded out on those mountain trails training for races. Every thought, every emotion, every feeling is drenched in peace as I climb those rocks and run those paths. I grew up learning how to ski in the mountains of Utah and I am determined to pass this childhood rite of passage down to my own kids. One doesn't even need to walk through the mountains to experience euphoria. Simply beholding their beauty from afar can give one's heart a sense of peace and awe. My children adore hiking and running in the mountains and my two year old can often be overheard in the back seat of our car exclaiming, "The mountains! The mountains! Let's go up in the mountains!" We take every guest who visits us here in Utah to our favorite trails and we love to proudly show off God's handiwork.

2. The proximity to, well, everything!
  • I was talking to my friend on the phone the other day about how spoiled I am to live so close to everything. In Wisconsin, we were blessed to live in the countryside with gorgeous landscapes and peaceful surroundings. But the downside to living there was being so far away from the city life I so dearly love. We would drive nearly an hour to the nearest big city for our different needs, and we became accustomed to the long drive. My homeschooled children would bring their schoolbooks in the car and work diligently as we drove from place to place on our long trips to the city. I would listen to music and drink in the beauty of Wisconsin's rolling hills while processing life during the long drive. But now that we live in the city, I still can't get over the fact that we are merely ten minutes from everything! Ten minutes from church, ten minutes from grandma's house, ten minutes from the mountains, ten minutes to the movie theater, ten minutes from the children's museum, and gasp... FIVE minutes from Wal-Mart and Starbucks! Shut the front door. My life is complete.

3. The many famous national parks and vacation spots within a day's drive
  • Sometimes you need a quick get-away with your spouse or family and you dread the thought of countless days spent in a car. The beauty of living in Ogden is there are so many amazing national parks and fun places to visit within a day's drive! Whether you meticulously plan your vacation or decide last-minute to pack your bags and hop in the car, a few great ideas are:
    • Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Moab, Arches, Little Wild Horse Canyon, Capitol Reef,  Bryce Canyon, Zion, Flaming Gorge, Goblin Valley, Canyonlands, Kanab, Park City, Snowbird Resort, and Snowbasin Resort
    • In no time at all, you can arrive in cities like Las Vegas, Denver, Boise, and Jackson!

4. The family-friendly atmosphere
  • We have traveled and happily lived all over the world in our thirty-something years on earth, but my husband and I have never felt so "at home" as we have in Utah. We may not agree with everyone in our state about politics and faith, but the overwhelming sense of goodness, morality, peace, and love is not lost on us. Anywhere from parks, beaches, and stadiums, you will often see signs posted saying, "No alcohol allowed". This immediately shocked us as we have lived the majority of our married lives in Wisconsin, which many of you may realize is a state well-known for drinking. I am not offended with people drinking around my family, but I have often been angered and disappointed with the behavior and language displayed around my children by those heavily intoxicated. I know it is a free country, and I am proud of that, but many times my heart has been burdened by the lack of sensibility and concern for little eyes and ears. As you can see, we were pleasantly surprised by the public environment our family could enjoy here in Utah. 
  • I cannot tell you how many tears I have cried out of thankfulness for the many options for my family and children here. Within minutes on social media, you will discover events, carnivals, parties, and special promotions for families with children in our area. So many, in fact, that I sadly can't attend as many as we would like! Businesses, churches, and communities alike plan free or cheap events for families to enjoy on a regular basis. 
  • As a homeschooling family, our schooling options are as endless as the waves in the sea. I am not even slightly exaggerating when I say this! Between dual enrollment, online classes, co-ops, and one-day public school options, families are sure to find something that fits their child's needs. My children attend a school that is for homeschool families providing a school environment one day a week with teachers, lessons, experiments, and of course, recess! They have field trips and special events throughout the month as well for families to enjoy and connect together. The school even pays for any non-religious curriculum. This school has been the perfect option for our family, and I know when my children's needs change over the years we have the freedom to explore many options.
  • Our neighbors. Sigh. I can hardly begin typing these words before the tears start welling up. We have never lived by more generous, kind, caring, and loving neighbors in our entire married lives. We have been welcomed into our neighborhood with open arms with no question at all to our faith or political differences. Our children happily play at the neighbors' houses and we joyfully open our doors for them in return. My neighbors have given us toys, offered to babysit, and have brought us surprise treats. I strive earnestly to serve and love them but I am convinced they bless me more than I ever could bless them.

5. The beautiful melting pot of people who chose to call Ogden home
  • After living overseas for a huge portion of our lives, my husband and I have been spoiled rotten by rubbing shoulders with some of the most amazing people on God's green earth. Teachers, doctors, politicians, ambassadors, members of the military, missionaries, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, businessmen and women, and humanitarian workers. When one has shared life with the "cream of the crop" of humanity, it's hard to top that experience. We had no idea moving here that Ogden would mirror that experience of living overseas! Honestly, I don't know how we missed the clues that Ogden was such a melting pot. The kinds of people we have met in Ogden are the type of people we shared life with overseas. 
    • There are many nationalities represented in Ogden which has fulfilled our "wanderlust" hearts. I welcome the challenge of learning and experiencing different languages, cultures, foods, and customs. 
    • The military base located in Ogden has provided the opportunity to meet families stationed here hailing from all over. Many businessmen and women have also chosen to move to Ogden for various work opportunities. I love nothing more than listening to our friends share experiences and stories from the many countries and states they have called home. We share a common bond with those who have uprooted their lives, waved goodbye to family and friends, wiped the tears from their eyes, pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and set off for a new and strange land to settle in and call home. It's not easy leaving behind the familiar and starting anew, but the blessings outweigh the hardships one-hundredfold. 
    • The LDS community in Utah has many people who have served their mission in various places all over the world. It is common to chat with a neighbor or stranger here who has studied a different language and culture on their mission. They have a worldview very similar to my own and that common bond is not easily explained. I love sharing my overseas missionary experiences with my LDS friends and family members and hearing about theirs in return. It's difficult to explain, but everyone who has left their home and lived in another state or country far away from everything familiar shares a similar mindset. It can help one widen their horizons and open their hearts to different ways of life, which can nurture compassion and understanding of one's fellow man. Those who have lived and traveled the world have an easier time accepting the differences of humankind and are not easily offended or guarded when discussing hot topics. Our traveling breed may be sure and steady in our faith and passions, but we easily and eagerly welcome open discussion from others' points of view.

Well, there you have it, folks. Whether you live in Utah, are considering living in Utah, or might visit Utah, I can guarantee that you will find blessings, adventure, and love in the beautiful city of Ogden.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Humility and the pastor's wife life

The past ten months or so have been filled with much listening, learning, watching, and waiting.

I have a love/hate relationship with the quote:

"A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for."

Why? Because sometimes I feel like that ship, stocked to the brim with cargo, carrying a treasure map half-way interpreted in the hands of a naively eager captain. Some days I bounce out of bed ready to tackle the goals set before me with wide eyes and reckless abandon. Yet other days I wake up delicately ruminating on the lessons God is stirring within my heart with a hushed and quieted spirit not yet ready to sail the high seas. I am torn between the two. This season of my life lately has culminated in the interwoven acts of listening and learning.

I have revealed this often in my previous posts, but I would never have dreamed my life would consist of what it does now. I specifically remember laughing (mocking, may be a better term) at the statement made by someone I knew that they wanted to be a "pastor's wife". Dreaming of being someone's wife as a life goal? Please! This is the modern century, is it not? This teenage spirit would not be easily tamed by domestic life.

But here we are, friends, and you know as well as I do that "my life as a pastor's wife" would be a good summary of my daily musings. All the things I specifically told God I would not do, well, here I am, very clearly doing.

1. Living in America
2. Serving as a pastor's wife
3. Homeschooling my children

There you have it.  The summary of my existence consists of all the goals I set my mind on avoiding. It's humorous, feel free to laugh with me.

I may only have lived a mere thirty-four years on this earth, but the one thing I know for sure is that I don't know it all. If anything, I have learned that there is always more to learn. More listening to be done, more patience to be sought, more of being the type of human that doesn't permeate arrogance and pride. I know my Jesus brought me hope and freedom, and I want to spend my life freely sharing this grace and sincere love (not just loving people so they will come to Christ, but truly loving them where they are no matter what choices they make because this love has no strings attached.)

At the end of the day, I know I am doing what God has asked of me. Often I hear the term, "God called me to..." and I grew up hearing and using this phrase. This type of Christian-ese can sometimes throw people off, and quite frankly can easily be abused and used to manipulate people. So I am training myself to say, "God has asked me..." instead.

As a pastor's wife there are many unseen "asks" in life. I am not paid, nor am I on staff at our church or any church where we have served. I do not seek to be called "pastor" even though many of my volunteer duties would fall under a pastoral job description. The life I am living is simply an act of obedience to my Jesus. My life does not look the way I thought it would twenty years ago, but the life God has given me has overwhelmed me with depths of joy I never could have imagined twenty years ago.

God has asked me to stay home and raise my children.

God has asked me to homeschool my children for this season of their lives.

God has asked me to serve my church.

God has asked me to love my neighbors and let them love me. Sometimes they bless me more than I could ever imagine blessing them.

God has asked me to take care of my grandmother and serve her as Christ has loved me.

God has asked me to keep an open heart and schedule for the "interruptions" of life that bring surprise opportunities.

I have chosen at this time in my life to pour my energy into learning about and loving my church, my neighbors, my family, my friends, and my city as "my job". Does that mean less of an income for our family? Yes. It requires sacrifice and a willing heart. Does that mean I will never work again? I doubt it. It just means that for this season of my life I feel led to love, learn, listen, and wait.

It means unexpectedly changing the schedule and choosing to help someone in need when I had something else planned for the afternoon.

It means reaching out and being the first to introduce myself in a crowd when I secretly wish to hide under the covers on the couch at home.

It means letting God stretch me past my comfort zone when all I want to do is run to what I'm familiar with.

It means seeing every person I come across as a soul, a person with a story, a heart that has loved and heart that has been crushed. It means putting my pretenses aside and laying down my judgments to see life through someone else's lens.

It means serving without being seen. It means loving without guarantee of love in return. It means caring when there may be no harvest to be reaped. It means walking in humility and refraining from gossip even when others paint you in a twisted light. It means keeping confidences and protecting reputations. It means seeking a tender heart when bitterness tries to sneak it's way to your doorstep. It means choosing to think the best of others knowing everyone fights their own battles.

This pastor's wife life is not for the faint of heart. But my Jesus has chosen it for me and therefore I will do my best to honor His name. I will never stop learning and listening, for every person has a story and I hope my part in their story will be one of joy and hope.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Sending digital cards... my new BFF!

I'm the kind of gal that LOVES making, creating, sending, designing, and giving cards. I used to make my own stationary with all the bells and whistles. Stamps, ribbon, markers, stickers, you name it. I always had a stash of blank cards waiting in the drawer for me to scoop out and splash some color and meaningful words inside to give to a friend.

And then... well... kids happened. Life happened. Cleaning a house full of caged monkeys happened. (Kidding. Not kidding.)

As time went on I was more drawn to the "pre-written cards" at the store to keep on hand. Anything from, "Thinking of You" to "I'm Sorry" or "Happy Birthday"... I adored having creatively worded cards on hand to grab in a pinch.

After moving across the country in January and flipping our lives upside down, it has been a whirlwind of change, adventure, and adjustments. With good intentions, I bought two stacks of ridiculously adorable Thank You cards from the store when we first moved here. I think I have actually written in a total of 4 of them. I keep meaning to write them out, my mind swirls with thoughts and words to paint across the pages... but it never actually pans out. And then I am left feeling a little guilty and frustrated with myself.  I walk past that drawer with all the empty, unwritten cards and all the lovely people in my life who deserve one, and my stomach turns in knots.

Recently I was approached by a company that creates digital cards, Paperless Post. Honestly, I had never heard of them before. Sure, in the past I have used websites to send eCards for birthdays to friends and family, but I had never heard of a website quite like this. I was given the chance to try out the website and give my opinion on the cards through my blog. I excitedly downloaded the app onto my phone and started creating digital cards for the ones I love and appreciate in my life. I wish I had an event or birthday party I was planning and I would have used this website to create digital invitations! The next time I have a big event to host I will definitely use this website. For those of you that know me well, know that I love throwing a good party!

The neat thing about PaperlessPost is that you can search hundreds of pre-designed cards or create your own design. There are so many adorable ideas, I was literally drowning in the adorableness of it all. I had a hard time choosing designs! The neat element is that you can search for a particular design idea when creating your card. My sister-in-law adores cats, so of course, I had to find the perfect cat card for her. I am in love with anything cactus right now, so I jumped at the chance to use a cactus design for my good friend at church. My other friend loves unicorns and I wanted to send her a thank you card, so I typed in "unicorns" and found just the right card for her. I wanted to show my gratitude toward Sitora and Peter's teachers where they go to school one day a week through the public school system, so I found some sweet Thank You cards to send as well. 

 If you sign up with your email address, you automatically are given 25 free coins to start making your own cards! It takes only a few coins to create and send a card, so you could easily send several digital cards with your free coins.

On my parents' anniversary I wanted to send something sweet and cute to share my love with them. I never would have thought ahead of time to buy and mail an anniversary card, so using this app was just perfect!

I have sent my hubby a couple of "Thinking of You" cards during the day while he is at work. I love him dearly and have so many emotions and thoughts of gratitude to express to him but it was so helpful to search some pre-made "I love you, you are the love of my life, you are the best person in the world" type card ideas with cute and sassy phrases. I hope it was a fun surprise that made his day ;)

 I appreciate people all the time and think about what a blessing they are to me, and because of the ease of the app right on my phone, I can create and send a lovely little card within minutes and have it sent directly to their email inbox. A fun option is that recipients can reply to your card and you can continue a conversation back and forth. Through the app you can create cards, check the status to see if cards have been opened, work on saved drafts, buy more coins, and save your favorite cards to work on later.

I haven't used the desktop version, but I constantly use the app when creating cards. I would be sitting down to eat a snack, getting ready for bed, or just waking up in the morning and think of someone I felt led to write. It was so simple to open the app and create a card that exceeded my expectations within minutes.

And to be honest, in this generation, we don't hold actual paper Thank You notes in the same regard as the generation before us. I often laugh at baby showers and tell the expectant mamma, "Please don't worry about sending me a Thank You card! It seriously doesn't matter to me one bit. I find joy in just celebrating with you today and seeing the happiness and thankfulness on your face in this moment." Maybe I'm crazy... maybe some of you out there in my generation still really appreciate and expect paper cards. If someone gives me an actual card, of course, I am thrilled and tickled pink. But then I wonder, should I keep it? Throw it away? Take a picture of it? But with these digital cards, they can be saved in your inbox to look back on time and time again without clogging up your drawers and storage folders. I'm sure if you really wanted a paper copy you could print the screenshot taken from your phone or computer.

There are some other fun options on top of creating the card. You can design the backdrop behind the card and also the inside of the envelope. There are some super cute ideas like polka dots, flowers, pineapples, confetti, stripes, baby clothes... the possibilities are endless.

Even though I haven't tried the invitation option for a party, I think this would be a fabulous idea. That way people have a digital copy of the invitation and they can't possibly lose it like a paper copy. The details of the party are safe and secure on their phone to keep until the day of the event. I'm sure you can save on postage and envelopes by doing it this way as well. It's really genius!

The unique element about the website is that you pay for cards with coins. You purchase coins through the website then keep the coins in your account. The coins are depleted when you send a card. Each card has a cost of coins. If you were planning an event then it would cost more coins to send the invitation to multiple recipients. In my opinion, this online option is cheaper and easier than actually purchasing and mailing a real card. 

So was exactly is Paperless Post and how did they get started? Click here to read an article about the founders and their story here on CNN. On their website paperlesspost.com, it states that Paperless Post is a collaborative group of artists, designers, and letterers who create the original artwork that defines Paperless Post’s product. Every year, over a thousand unique invitations and cards are designed in their in-­house studio and with their design partners. Paperless Post allows customers to create online and paper stationery that reflects their individualism. Users can send invites and greeting cards online, or via traditional mail.

The company was created by brother and sister team, James and Alexa Hirschfeld. James was planning his 21st birthday party in 2007. He had finished all the details for the party, but when it came time to send out invites, paper invites were too costly, and digital options didn't reflect "all the care that went into the event." He grabbed at an opportunity to connect people in real life using technology to create stylish online invitations. James started the company while in school and had little experience, but thankfully his sister, also a Harvard alum, had gained some real-world lessons. James says they complement each other while working and that they've done well as partners because their sibling bond allows them to "communicate incredibly directly."

Well, there you have it folks. I'm so glad this company approached me because I will definitely be a customer for life! Don't mind me as I drink my coffee, eat my KetoCakes, and design cards for the loves in my life on my phone. I'm such a millennial.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Lean into cleaning

Every day. I dreaded it.



Cheerios mixed with dried spaghetti sauce plastered on the kitchen floor.

Cluttered toys.

Books scattered everywhere.

My hubby's socks. (*Hehe, for more on that story, check out my post about it here...)

It was never-ending. And I despised every minute of it. I could be doing SUCH bigger and better things for God like writing songs on the piano, counseling a friend's broken heart over coffee, creating a sermon, planning a church event, something... anything outside of cleaning where I could change the world. 

Ehem. Cue the humble pie.

I remember the exact day I was scrubbing dishes with disdain looking out the backyard window. My attitude smelled about as awful as the dirty plates in my hand. "I am wasting my time cleaning this house day after day when I could be doing something of actual worth in Your Kingdom, God!" I muttered under my coffee-stained breath. 

As quickly as the words tumbled out of my heart I heard a still, soft voice whisper, "Oh my child, but you are."

That moment began the long and winding path my heart would take through the jungles of humility and servanthood in my home. That moment sparked a fire in my bones that would soon engulf my attitude and change it for the better. What was left became ashes of beauty... as I began to lean into cleaning. 

I've loved being a stay-at-home homeschooling mom from day one. Not one person coaxed or forced me into this lifestyle, I felt God calling me to it from day one. There was no doubt about that. But the cleaning part... well... that didn't come so naturally. 

Oh I could clean, that wasn't the problem. I could clean like nobody's business (thanks to my mom and Bible college practical training work assignments). The problem was my attitude. Every minute spent scrubbing and folding and dusting and vacuuming and organizing felt like moments lost for the Kingdom. 

But the Kingdom starts right here, in my family, my house, my heart. 

I felt the Lord impress upon my heart that if I couldn't serve my own family with a heart of gratefulness and humility, how was I equipped to serve God's people outside of my home?

Conviction. Boom.

Now don't get me wrong, my husband bears a huge part of the load in taking care of our home. He cooks, cleans, fixes things around the house, puts the kids to bed, wakes up with them in the night, yadda yadda. But as a homeschool mom, there is much to be done during the day while my husband is at work. We take turns, which is such a blessing, but I was disgruntled when my turn came. 

It was like a lightbulb clicked on inside my head that day and suddenly I could see the light. Why not embrace and lean into my cleaning roles instead of fight against and resent them? Why not use those hours to better my relationship with the Lord, encourage my mothering heart, and seek direction and inspiration for ministry? Why was serving my family not ministry in my eyes? Why was cleaning inside a different box in my head than homeschooling or loving my children? 

I realized that I had a plethora of tools at my disposal to help my cleaning routine that women all around the world do not have access to in regards to technology. I then started listening to my audio Bible app, podcasts, sermons, music, and audiobooks while I cleaned. After a few days, it dawned on me that I was actually beginning to look forward to my cleaning routines. My heart would sing, "It's almost time to soak in God's Word and listen to my favorite podcasts!" I liken it to an animal performing tricks at the sound of a bell or hand signal from a trainer knowing full well a delightful treat is on its way. My hard work would be rewarded by time spent with my Creator and buckets full of knowledge and wisdom attained! I would end my cleaning sessions encouraged and challenged in my walk with God and I began to actually feel sad when it was time to stop cleaning. 

Hold up. Shut the front door. Can you even believe it? Feel sad that cleaning time was over? Who was this woman I was becoming???

I cherish the feeling when my husband and kids walk into a clean and organized room and they feel at peace. Not only was that room disinfected and decluttered, but it was filled with God's words through Bible reading and music. I was soaking our home in the presence of God and prayer while scrubbing the physical dirt off. I was declaring God's promises while wiping the grime and dust away. 

I know it sounds silly and a bit cliqué, my friends. But it worked. And oh... how my heart has changed. 

My prayer for you, dear one, is that you can lean into your work, your responsibilities and obligations with gratitude and praise as you dedicate it to the One Who gave you breath. Our earthly work may not be our favorite, but we can ask Jesus to change our hearts and attitudes in order to fully embrace the joy and mundane beauty of it all.