Thursday, August 29, 2013

oh the irony.

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech and the March on Washington in 1963. I assume you knew that because Google told us all. On twitter, the hashtag #MOW50 and #MLKDream50 were trending all day. Tens of thousands descended on Washington, meeting at the Lincoln Memorial. President Obama, America's first black president, gave a speech in honor of the anniversary. It was a big day. To think of how far we have come as a country over the past 50 years.

March on Washington 2013 source 

I followed a lot of the president's speech on twitter, through his personal handle and also through the white house's handle. I also follow Planned Parenthood on twitter, who quoted a lot of the president's speech as well. And many of the quotes just made my blood boil.

I know you're not surprised.

There's one thing that irritates me, bothers me, down right infuriates me more than anything else: a hypocrite. I've written about the president's hypocritical remarks regarding the Newtown shooting. But today, hypocrisy hit an all new level.

Let me share a few tweets with you.

The first one is from Planned Parenthood (America's largest abortion provider. An organization who has been caught accepting money specifically for the purpose of aborting black children. An organization who's locations are largely located in inner-cities and low-income areas where African American communities exist in higher numbers).

tweet“Five decades ago today, Americans came to this honored place to lay claim to a promise made at our founding." - President Obama

50 years ago, Americans came to the Lincoln Memorial, the place that honors a man who dedicated his presidency to ending inequality for slaves across this nation. A man who once said, "No law can give me the right to do what is wrong." He was, of course, referring to slavery. No man has the right to strip another man of his God-given, unalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Slavery steals a person's liberty and often his life.

Today, Planned Parenthood pretends to agree with what Lincoln stood for, and what MLK stood for. They pretend to care about life and about freedom. They pretend to give a damn about justice.

Don't be fooled. Planned Parenthood stands for none of these things.

Actions speak louder than words. While Planned Parenthood tweets away about justice and liberty, they are participating in the most egregious injustice of all. Today, every 95 seconds, they will murder an unborn child; strip him or her of her God-given, innate right to life and freedom.

A fellow tweeter responded to Planned Parenthood's tweet by saying, "a promise Planned Parenthood has methodically/maliciously/violently taken from millions of children, for money." This has to be the most succinct and appropriate response. While claiming to care about equal rights and justice, they turn around and strip other's of their rights by performing malicious injustices for, I can only assume, the purpose of making a profit.

tweet:  "That’s where courage comes from—when we turn not from each other or on each other, but towards one another." -President Obama

This one was tweeted by the White House. It sort of disgusts me that a man who voted four times, four times! to not protect the life of a baby born alive as the result of an unsuccessful abortion, can say we should not turn on each other, but towards one another. I'm sure those babies, who were left to die in a broom closet, wrapped in dirty rags would have appreciated if you had turned toward them and saved their lives. The lease you could have done was vote to protect their lives so that some one else would have helped them.

tweet: We best remember Dr. King’s soaring oratory that day—how he gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions. -President Obama

This one gave me chills. The parallels to the pro-life movement today are just undeniable. Those of us who are fighting for the rights of the unborn (including MLK's niece, Alveda King), are a mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions. In this case, they aren't just quiet, they are silent. We can't hear the unborn and so it has become all to easy too ignore them, to ignore their hopes and dreams, to ignore their very existence.

But we can be their voice. We can be a mighty voice! All we have to do is stand up and say something, do something. Don't sit idly by why their voices, their hopes, are crushed, their little light's extinguished. We can do something about it and we can do it now.

And this is where one tweet gave me hope. Not because the president was speaking about the pro-life movement. He is altogether ignoring the millions of children who die in the womb in our country every single year. In fact, he's encouraging it and financing it.

tweet: "In the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it." -President Obama

It gives me hope to know that in our great country's past, when people were treated horribly, terribly and unjustly, others came to their rescue. They stood up and spoke out. The prayed for change and they took action to make change happen. They voted and changed laws. And they saw to it that the freedom granted all men by their very nature of being human was restored to the very people who weren't allowed to practice it.

And so this should be an encouragement to our cause. Slavery is a terrible scar on the history of this nation. So is the way we treated African Americans for a century after their ancestors had been freed from slavery. And yet, each time an injustice existed, those who believed in the promise of our founding, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, made a change. Was it always easy? No, it's never easy. Did it happen over night? No, it took time, energy, prayer and action.

And so it is with the cause for life. Abortion is the greatest injustice. It reaches across all races, ethnicities and genders. And more than taking the freedom of a human being, or their chance at being happy, it ends, steals, destroys their life. Without life, there is no way to claim and enjoy any other rights.

And so, let yesterday, let this 50th anniversary, be an encouragement to us to keep marching. March for the unborn and speak for those who have no voice.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

my salvation story and why you should tell yours

I always find it to be such an encouragement to read others' testimonies. And I don't think I've ever shared mine on the blog, at least not the whole story. So here goes my attempt at explaining how I said "yes" to Jesus and He became my best friend.

I grew up in the church (funny how so many people can say that, but not all of us actually know Jesus, right? Okay, not funny. Sad actually. Heartbreaking really). I was baptized as an infant in the Episcopal church. As a small child and into my teen years we attended a Methodist church (later on in high school I attended Presbyterian, Calvary Chapel, non-denominational and Baptist churches. Then as an adult we went to an Evangelical-Free church and another Baptist. My point is, denomination doesn't matter. What matters is Jesus. Is He there? Do they preach about His grace and His love and is everything they teach biblical? Good, then the title on the outside of the building isn't a big deal). Wow, so I guess I get distracted easily. I promise I'll stay on topic now.

My point is, I grew up going to Sunday school every week. I attended Vacation Bible School every. single. summer. I knew all the songs. All the hymns. I sang in the choir. I went to summer camp. I spent a lot of time at church. But guess what. I didn't know Jesus. Yeah, I heard about Him. I knew who He was, in the sense that He was the Son of God (I don't think it ever really, truly, deeply occurred to me that He is God). I knew the cutesie Bible stories about Him, you know, the nice, neat stories we tell our kids. And I knew a lot about the Old Testament too. But I didn't know Jesus. No one ever introduced me to Him, personally. No one ever explained why His life and death needed to matter to me. No one told me the impact that the cross could have on my life. 

And all this while I sat in Sunday school class after Sunday school class and sermon after sermon. 

Now, I can't say for certain that a preacher or teacher never explained the cross in a lesson or sermon. I can only say for certain, that I didn't hear it. And it' a funny thing how the Holy Spirit works. He has a time and a place for everyone. It wasn't as if the gospel was preached to me and after it was over and I didn't respond, the Holy Spirit said, "Oh dang, I forgot to move her heart or awaken her soul so she would accept Jesus." He had an appointed time for my conversion

So, like I said, no one had yet introduced me to Jesus in a way that caused me to respond to Him. Until a group of us went on a trip from Las Vegas to Los Angeles for a youth evangelism conference. It was one night there, in a huge auditorium, filled with teenagers from across the Western US, that the speaker gave an altar call, a good 'ole fashioned altar call. And it was then and there that I met Jesus for the first time. It was then and there that it all made sense. It was then and there that I received His grace for the first time.

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[me with two of my best friends at the convention]

Until this point I didn't fully grasp what the cross was all about. He died on the cross and rose on the 3rd day. So what? I get it, we celebrate Easter because He rose from the dead. But what does that have to do with me?

Everything.

You see, in my sin and depravity, I had no hope of ever knowing God, my Creator. I was born sinful. We all are. That's what the curse of Adam is all about. He sinned and from that point forward, he passed his sin on to every single human being (except Jesus who was begotten of God and a woman, but not a man. Sin is passed down through a man. Sorry, started to get off topic again!). So even though I was young and didn't have a whole lot of outright sin under my belt, I was sinful nevertheless (and if you don't think children are sinful, I can only assume you've never met a child in your life).

But God, in His infinite mercy and grace and love, sent Jesus to be the Man that no other man could be. He lived on earth, completely free of sin. He was placed on the cross by His very own creation. And in that place, He was the true blameless and spotless Lamb. On Him was placed all the sin of the world. All of my sin. All of your sin. And God saw Him as an acceptable sacrifice for the atonement of those sins. God poured out His wrath on His own Son, the wrath that was meant for you and me because of our sin. And on that day, Jesus died a terrible, horrific, painful death.

But because the story doesn't end there, because Jesus raised Himself from the dead, we were given the opportunity to know God, our Creator. And here is the part that took so long to get from my brain to my heart: because Jesus was an acceptable sacrifice, because He died in my place, because He took on the wrath that was meant for me, in accepting that truth and accepting Him as Truth, I am saved. My sin is washed away. My debt has been paid. I am set free. And now, I know my God, my Creator.

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3

I often shy away from my testimony because I was saved at the age of 12. It's not like I had this amazing redemption story. I mean, I know it is an amazing redemption story. I was a slave to sin, (12 or 36 or 87, we are all hopeless and living in sin unless we accept the freedom of Jesus) and He saved me. That is my redemption story. But you know what I mean. I wasn't living a life of debauchery, dealing drugs or engulfed in a particularly sinful lifestyle when I met Jesus. 

But I think that is what is so good about my story. It's Jesus' story. It's all of His children's story: We were slaves to sin. We were helpless and hopeless. We were separated from Him. And He saved us. He called us His own. He set us free. He poured out His grace and mercy over us and it continues to flow freely and without end, each and every day. That is why the gospel is called the good news. We were lost and now are found. Thank you Jesus for saving my soul!

So I tell you all this to say, don't shy away from your story. Whether you were at a completely desolate place when Jesus saved you or whether you were 7 years old when you asked Him into your heart. It's the same story. You were lost, and now you are found. You were a slave to your flesh and sin and are now set free. Thanks be to the Lord Almighty that He saw fit to reconcile us back to Himself. And that then, He gives us the opportunity to share our stories with others so that they too may know Him and His grace and mercy and freedom.

And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony Revelation 12:11

Thursday, August 22, 2013

i don't want to forget

this week you will be 31 months.  

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i don't want to forget...

how much you have been interacting with your little brother the past few weeks. you will get down and crawl around and say, "hey Eli! follow me!" he squeals with delight and happily follows you anywhere in the house

that when I ask what song you want to sing at bedtime you say "Jesus, I lub you" which means Jesus Loves Me. sometimes you even called it "God I lub you" and it makes me so happy that you interchange Jesus and God. yes, little man, Jesus is God

that you always skip 2 when you count. although we've been working on it lately and you're getting better at remembering to add it in

how much of a comedian you are. we were praying the other night, thanking God for all that He has blessed us with and you were feeling my face. you pointed to my blemishes and said, "tank you fer mommy's boo-boos!" laughed, and then said very loudly, "I'm just kiddin'!!" I love that you understand what a joke is and how to be funny

how incredibly smart and quick you are. after your nap last week I asked you to go potty and you told me no, you didn't want to. I said, "just appease your mother." to which you replied, very quickly, "don't want to peeeease you" and pointed at me. That you heard me say mother and so quickly turned it around to understand you could say "you" to me just blew me away.

how much you love trains and trucks and any kind of construction equipment. you are all boy all the time.

that you put your underwear on all by yourself 2 days ago. they were on the right way and everything. i wasn't even in the same room to help you!

how in love you are with music and that you call any sound you hear "music." your daddy was splashing in the pool and instead of calling it noise you said, "daddy's makin' music!" you always ask us to turn the music on or up when we're in the car and every morning when you wake up you ask me to turn music on on the computer, or as you call it "da puter"

how much you talked on our drive home from San Diego last weekend. from the time we got in the car in Barstow for an ice cream break until we parked the car at home, you did not stop talking. and your conversations are just hilarious. i should have recorded the whole thing.

how tonight, after we read a book, sang our songs, said a prayer and I tucked you in and put Eli in his crib, I was walking to the door and I heard you say, "I lub you Eli. I lub you mommy." melt.my.heart.

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see a previous "i don't want to forget" post here

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

family favorite recipe: faux gumbo

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I call this a "faux" gumbo because it doesn't begin with a roux. I wish I could link this recipe back to the original, but I can't. I adapted it from a cookbook that my mom gave me when I was first married. I no longer have the cookbook and last I checked, it's no longer in print, nor do I remember the name. Just know that this is not an original recipe of mine. I've just tweaked it a bit.

We are Cajun fans in this house. We eat a lot of red beans and rice, jambalaya and gumbo. It's so good and spicy. Yum! This particular recipe is one that I make during every 2 week menu planning period. If you missed it, you can see how I menu plan here. It's super simple, quick and most importantly, super delicious. And once you've made it a couple times, there really is no recipe required. It's that easy.

I also have to apologize up front, I do not do measurements. I don't measure anything when I cook so I will try my best to give you measurements for all the Type A's out there! I always go by what tastes and looks right. Just so you know, the Cajun seasoning and flour measurements are total guesses. Please do what looks good to you. It may take a couple times to get the taste just right for you and your family. We like things pretty spicy so we add a lot of the seasoning.

Ingredients:
About 1 lb. chicken breast cut into 1 inch squares (I generally use 1 breast per person)
1-2 Tbsp Cajun or Creole seasoning (not pictured. I use Creole, Kroger brand)
1/3 cup Flour
Olive Oil
1 onion- diced
2 stalks celery- diced
3-4 cloves garlic- minced
1 green bell pepper- diced (I use 1/3 bag of Kroger frozen diced green bell peppers)
1/2-1 cup frozen cut okra (this is really to taste, you can totally omit it if you hate okra)
1 can stewed tomatoes
Chicken Broth (I prefer homemade but you can use any brand you like!)
Rice

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Directions:
Cook one cup (dry) of rice for every 2 people. Start this before you start the gumbo.

1. Cut up chicken breasts into one inch square pieces. Mix flour and Cajun seasoning in a bag or a large bowl. Add chicken and toss until completely coated. Add more flour and/or seasoning if needed. Heat a large pot or dutch oven over med/med-high heat. Coat bottom of pot with olive oil. When hot, add chicken and remaining seasoning/flour mix. Cook, while stirring, until there is no more pink left on the chicken, about 3 minutes. If more oil is needed because chicken is sticking to pot, add it as needed.

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2. Add diced onion, diced celery and minced garlic to the pot. Stir and cook until onion become tender and translucent. Again, add oil as needed. Keep stirring in order to stop garlic from burning.

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3. Add diced bell pepper, frozen okra and stir. Add stewed tomatoes and their juice. For better flavor, squish the tomatoes with your hands as you add them into the pot. Stir everything together really well.

4. Add chicken stock or broth into pot until it's just barely below all ingredients. If you desire a soup-ier gumbo, add it until just above all ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, put lid on and simmer 20 minutes.

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5. Serve in large bowls with rice scooped on top. Enjoy!

If you want to make this recipe entirely with "real food", it's so easy! Make your own chicken stock. I love Martha Stewart's recipe, here. Make your own stewed tomatoes. This is a super simple crock pot recipe. And you can certainly make your own Cajun seasoning too.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

how to live within your means: meal planning

Today I'm sharing how I meal plan and grocery shop.

To give an overview of what I talk about in the vlog: I meal plan for 2 weeks at a time. I grocery shop once, at the beginning of each 2 week period. To make shopping and cooking simple, I make the same recipes over and over again.

In the video I share my meal planning "tools" and some of my favorite cookbooks along with a step by step process. I also mention my recipe board on Pinterest that you can view here. And I didn't mention it in the vlog, but we eat mostly chicken. I buy a bag of frozen chicken breasts from Costco and I'll usually get the pack of 2 whole chickens as well. I roast them and use the meat for a couple different meals (and make stock with what's left after we eat it).

If you have any questions leave them below and please share your tips and tricks for meal planning so we can all use them and perfect our own meal planning process!

In case you missed it, here are other posts from this series:
intro to how to live within your means
in the kitchen

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

how to live within your means: in the kitchen

2013-02-01 13.30.16

In case you missed it, I'm posting a series this week called how to live within your means. You can see the intro to the series here and how I really became convicted to start living within my means. Let me just clarify, when I say "live within your means" I don't necessarily mean live frugally or be cheap. We all have different incomes and needs. But our lifestyles should reflect what those incomes and needs are. For my family, that does mean living frugally. And I'm willing to bet that it means the same thing for a lot of people, especially right now. But, in average America, we don't really know how to live with just what we need and put off our wants and desires. That is why I wanted to do this series.

Today I want to talk about how to live within your means in the kitchen.

This one took me a long time to master. And I'm still working on it all. the. time. When we were first married I had no idea what a "meal plan" was. I never even considered writing a shopping list before I went to buy groceries. Dinner was always something I threw together at the last minute and a lot of the time, since I didn't have all the ingredients, it meant running to the store to get what I needed or just giving up and getting take-out. I grocery shopped at least once a week, but usually more. Bottom line: I wasted a lot of my time and a lot of our money.

Over time I learned about meal planning and grocery lists. I learned how to write them at the same time and reduce the number of trips to the store as well as the amount of money I spent on each trip. How I meal plan is nothing fancy. I came up with a system on my own and I'll be sharing that this week in a vlog (it's probably too much to type out in a blog post, plus I want to share all of my "tools" with you as well!)

Aside from meal planning and using a grocery list, here are a few other tips to living within your means and saving money in the kitchen:

pack lunches
I know what you're thinking, "this is a no-brainer." But really, it isn't for everyone. We have wasted a lot, a lot of money over the past 9 years for not doing this. There were times I would send Ben to work with a lunch, but most of the time I just didn't want to get up at 5:00 in the morning to pack one and it never occurred to me to pack it the night before.

Recently, however, we haven't really had a choice. And you know what I found, once you get in the habit of doing it, it becomes second nature. And easy. And it saves you money. A lot of money. We are fortunate enough that Ben works close enough to home that he can come home for lunch most days. He calls as he's leaving the office and I have something ready for him when he walks in the door. Lucky man, he usually gets a homemade hot lunch every day.

use everything you have and only buy what you absolutely need
My mom was over one night to watch the boys and after peeking into our fridge she said, "you guys aren't going hungry, are you??" That's how barren the refrigerator looks on the last few days of a pay period around here. And it gets like that on purpose. When I make a menu plan and a corresponding grocery list every pay period,I stick to them both. Almost to a fault. That means we use everything in the kitchen. Everything. Food doesn't get tossed in our house. If there is something that doesn't fit into a meal, I figure out a way to use it. Usually it ends up in a very eclectic lunch made up of random leftovers. We just don't have the luxury of wasting food.

The Lord has shown me in all the areas of my life that we are to be good stewards. That doesn't apply only to our money. It also applies to the food we purchase and eat, our time and our talent, our children, the possessions that we have and the list goes on and on.

wash and reuse containers
This isn't anything to write home about, but it's something I started doing a few years ago and it really helps out. I have a set of really nice Rubbermaid plastic containers. They were a gift and I use them all the time. But it's also nice to have some junk containers around that I won't cry over if they get left somewhere. They're also good to have for kids to run around the house with snacks, and again, if they get lost it's not a big deal. But instead of paying money for said containers, I wash and reuse containers that our food comes in. Most commonly it's the clear plastic container that pre-packaged deli meat comes in. But I've also been known to wash out sour cream, parmesan, cottage cheese, coffee, ricotta cheese, you-name-it containers. They can also be used for children's toys. Isaac has a big basket full of random containers that we use to pour dried beans in and out of. He also plays with them outside with water.

make it, make it, make it
If I can make it from scratch, chances are I won't buy it from the store. I have 2 reasons for that: 1. if I make it at home, I know what's in it. 2. it's cheaper.

Some examples of things I make at home, rather than buying in a box or can are:
chicken stock
guacamole
enchilada sauce
beans
stewed tomatoes (when tomato prices are good)
salad dressing
teriyaki sauce
fajita, chili and taco seasoning mixes
I also grind our own beef.

dinners are basic
I plan dinners from the same list of recipes every 2 weeks. That means we eat the same thing over and over again. When I meal plan, the dinners are just copied from the previous months' plan (but I mix up the order of course!). I will usually throw something different in just to mix things up and so we don't get tired of our meals. But for the most part, we eat a lot of the same dinners a lot of the time. If we do get tired of a specific meal, I bench it for a while.

It just makes dinner easier for me to prepare (it's something easy, something I've made before and something I can make with 2 children running around my feet) and it keeps my grocery budget predictable. If we eat the same sort of things all the time, I buy the same ingredients every time I go to the store.

Does that seem boring? Yeah, probably. But it saves time, money and sanity. And that's what I'm all about right now.

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Check back tomorrow for a meal planning vlog and a few more kitchen tips. In the mean time, what are ways you live within your means in the kitchen?

Monday, August 12, 2013

how to live within your means: a series

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I've been thinking for a long time about writing a single post on this topic. And then last week Ashley at The Vanilla Tulip did an entire series called Living Small about how to live simplistically. It encouraged me to no end. She lives in a 2 bedroom house with 4 kids. We live in a 2 bedroom townhouse with 2 kids and I thought things were tight around here! But just like she makes it work for her family, we make things work around here too.

And so, I've decided to write a series called How to Live Within Your Means. Over the next 2 weeks I'll be posting about all the different ways we live within our means and what my best tips are in each area. I'll talk about the kitchen, meal planning, grocery shopping, budgeting, cheap and free family activities and dates, lifestyle and attitude changes and I'm hoping to throw in some of my favorite cheap, real food recipes here and there (baby food and dinners). If you have any questions or tips of your own, please share them along the way.

how it all started
We've never had a lot of money. For the first 7 years of our marriage, my husband was in the military. He was enlisted. It's no secret that they don't make a whole lot. When Ben re-enlisted into the Marines in 2007 and we moved back to San Diego, things were the tightest they had ever been for us. We had just spent a year living with his mom, I was working only part time and going to school full time and he was working full time for an hourly wage. We had no money in savings and few options. That's how he ended up back in the military.

The first several months were rough. It was in those months that we really had to believe God for the finances to pay just our monthly bills. It was in those months that we really saw God do exactly that.

The electric bill came due and we didn't have enough to pay it. Surprise! There was an unexpected check in the mailbox the next day. I needed to buy groceries and we only had change. Surprise! There happened to be enough in the checking account to purchase said groceries. We were required to put down a deposit and first and last month's rent on our apartment. I sheepishly asked our landlord if we could split the last month's rent into 2 payments. She agreed! Then I had to go back and ask if we could split it into 4 payments. She happily said "yes." I learned quickly that it doesn't hurt to ask.

We spent no money on entertainment, cable, dinner out. Instead we ate basic meals every night and took turns playing Xbox online and counted that as "date night." We went for walks and bike rides.

We did that for months, probably close to a year.

In the mean time I budgeted like crazy. I was determined to get on a solid budget and get all of our obligations paid. In time, that happened. Ben received a bonus for re-enlisting and we paid off his vehicle (I had purchased mine with cash when I was a teenager). And soon, we were down to only the basic bills/expenses each month: tithe, rent, gas/electric, phone, internet, groceries, gas, retirement account, savings. And to that I was finally able to add in one more expense: spending.

It was wonderful. It began modestly. $50 each, each pay day. Ben would stop at an ATM on his way home from work and take out the cash. I highly recommend cash allowances (more on that later).

By the time his 4 year enlistment was up, we had put a very comfortable amount of money into savings and had also paid cash for a new car. All that budgeting had taught me something: it's worth it to live within your means. It's worth it to be self-disciplined.

From there we moved to Texas for a brief 15 months. Our savings came in handy. Unexpected expenses popped up everywhere. We continued to budget and put money away and boy am I glad that we did!

where we are right now
Looking back now, I'm so grateful for that rough start to San Diego. It prepared me for right now. Things are tight again. But in a good way. In a way that forces me to keep a budget and stick to it. In a way that requires us to truly consider if a purchase is going to be a good use of our funds. In a way that allows us to trust in the Lord every single month, every single day, that He will provide for us. .

And so, here we are again, living within our means. We rent a 2 bedroom townhouse. We share a single car. We eat out maybe once a month and sometimes we'll splurge on a Friday night and order pizza from Domino's (only when I have a coupon). Our outings usually consist of a day at the neighborhood pool or hiking in the nearby mountains (both are free). We don't have cable.

Our life may not look like the typical American family (at least what is portrayed on television), but we want for nothing. Absolutely nothing. God has truly transformed our attitudes toward "stuff" and in a really good way. I can't wait to share with you more about what "living within your means" looks like for us.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

life with boys: brotherly love

Things are starting to get really fun around here. Do I want to pull my hair out and scream because Ben is working long hours and these two boys really know how to push my buttons? A thousand times, yes! But don't let anyone fool you. Parenting is tough. Mothering is really hard. But take heart, the good is so much better than the bad is bad.

Eli will be 9 months next month. He is so much fun these days. Crawling, growling, pulling up, always trying to get into whatever it is that Isaac is doing. He'll follow you around the house. Belly laugh at your ridiculous noises and faces. And he loves, loves kisses and hugs from his brother. That baby is so full of joy and it blesses me beyond measure.

I love that these 2 will never know life without the other. I am so grateful to have 2 little boys so close in age, that will grow up together and be best friends. And it's so fun to already witness that happening.

It took Isaac a while to warm up to "E-i" (as he calls him). When Eli was born, Isaac was just 22 months old. Not even 2! He really had no idea who this baby was, where he came from and how long he'd be around. He would give him a kiss when I asked him to, but he didn't really show any interest on his own. And he certainly never initiated any interaction. But slowly, as he realized this baby wasn't going anywhere, he started talking about him, asking about him, talking to him and then showing him affection. And now, he can't even take a nap without giving him a hug and a kiss.

And he includes him in his play! I love that. I've been waiting for that. (Okay, not all the time. Most of the time it's "Uuuughhhhh! Da bay-by!! Mom! Get da bay-by!" because he's trampling on Isaac's railroad tracks or taking his cars).

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Monday, August 5, 2013

i want to own my city

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I live in this place called Las Vegas. Maybe you've heard of it? I guess some people call it "sin city." I just know it as home. I moved here in the 2nd grade. I attended elementary, middle and high school here. I met my husband here, we got married here in 2004 and I graduated from UNLV in 2008. As much as I hate to admit it, this is my city. I know it better than I know any other city, and although I'm not technically a "native" I have spent the majority of my life here.

But I'm not the norm in this town. Las Vegas is known for being a transient city. People come and go frequently. (I seriously, to this day, cannot understand why anyone would move here in the first place. The only reason we came back is because this is where our roots are.) And because of its transient nature, there seems to be an unwillingness to commit to this town. Most Of Las Vegas' residents were not born here and didn't grow up here, and because of that, most people don't take a serious interest in the well-being of this city and the people who live here. Yes, thankfully some do, but many just don't care.

When ranked among other large cities across America, Las Vegas is 41st (out of 51) for volunteerism and civic engagement. Nevada as a whole is 48th out of 50 states. You can see where your city and state rank here. Those numbers are sad to me. We are at the bottom. Those numbers tell me that people, in general, don't care about the city and state in which they live.

But I can't be surprised. In "sin city" it's all about "me, me, me." And, "why would I waste my time caring about someone else when it's #1 who matters most?" People around here have an image to maintain. And if their roots aren't here, if they didn't grow up here, if this city hasn't invested anything into them, why would they take the time to invest anything into it?

But I don't want to be one of those people. I want to care about this town and the people in it. 
I want to own my city.

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"you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:8 (Jesus speaking)

Las Vegas is my Jerusalem, in the sense that it's the city in which I live and work and raise my children. Christ has called me to be His witness here, in the town that I call home.

For me, owning my city means promoting and establishing a culture of life. When I was in college, I began counseling at a local crisis pregnancy center. I desired then, and still do, to see pregnant women, in crisis situations, choose life for their unborn children. And I wanted to help them as much as possible. That is still the case.

I desire not only to help those women, their children and their children's fathers, but to change the culture surrounding the idea of abortion and life in the womb and our view of children. I believe that God loves and cherishes every single life, from conception on, and I want everyone to know that.

How? We share the gospel. We show them Jesus. We pray that He takes up residence in their heart and changes their view of life. That happens one person at a time. One relationship at a time.

We work to change the laws and we talk to our neighbors about the reality of abortion and the truth of life in the womb. We support politicians who believe precisely that and will work tirelessly to protect it.

We feed those in need and put a roof over those who have no home. Especially women who are pregnant and have no where to go. We teach soon-to-be parents how to parent well, how to love and cherish their children and we encourage fellowship with other believers through attendance and membership at church.

Owning my city means going out and living life with the people who reside in it. Finding the people who are vulnerable and need help. Loving those people through prayer and ministry and fellowship. Giving material goods to those who need cribs and diapers and strollers and clothes. Providing prenatal care for women who can't afford the care of a physician or a midwife.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:34-40 (Jesus speaking)

For me, this is simple. Jesus called me to love those around me, those in my city, those who I see in need. And that means serving them. The question is, who around you is in need? Well, in a city like "sin city" the answer is almost everybody. Do they all need food and water and clothing? No, most have at least those basics. Do they all need Jesus? Do they need Him to change their heart? Yes, absolutely, yes.

And so, for as long as I am called to call this city my home, I am called to own it. I am called to love others, to serve others and to share Jesus.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

new name, new look, same me

I've been playing around with the idea of changing the name of this space for a loooooong time now. I have just been feeling like "this camera tells my story" is too narrow for everything that I like to talk about on the blog. While things started out as a simple photo journal/diary, this space has changed a lot over the past several years.

I wanted the blog to have the same feel and look and so I decided to keep the "this" part of the title. I've already "branded" myself as my name on twitter, pinterest, instagram, basically you name it, I'm Jessi Bridges. So, I figured it would be a fairly smooth transition to this jessi bridges. I guess we'll see!

As far as following the blog goes, if you are following through blogger, nothing has changed. You don't need to do anything to keep following. If you were following via email, rss or blog lovin' you will need to re-follow me. All of those options are on the right side of this space.

Thank you for sticking around as I work out any kinks. Things seem to be working pretty seamlessly so I'm hoping it stays that way!

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