Thursday, February 19, 2015

Little Girl Baby Shower

Pink and purple. 

What do these things have in common?  A very girly shower for a sweet mommy and baby girl!

Last spring, I gave a shower for my sister when she was expecting her first child and my first niece.  After many hours perusing Pinterest boards, I compiled many lovely ideas into one little party.  Here are a few photos:

The buffet table with a lace tablecloth.
The Menu:
Bite-size tortilla chips and homemade cheese dip
Pink wafer cookies
Cinnamon-sugar chips
Crackers and cheese
Bakery cake from local grocery store  

We found these paper lanterns and fluffies at Party City and hung them from the chandelier above the buffet table. 

This was a free printable I found online.  It says "She leaves a little sparkle wherever she goes."  I placed it in a white frame from Walmart, and gave it to my sister to use in the nursery after the shower.  We paired this with a vase of pink roses for the table centerpiece.

We made this banner to hang in the living room where everyone sat and my sister opened her gifts.

To make the banner:
1) Decide how big you want your letters to be.
2) Create a new document in Microsoft Word, click the Insert tab, and insert Word Art.
3) Type the words you want to use, separating each letter with a space or two.
4) When you've got your words typed, right-click on the Word Art box and select Format Shape.
5) Select 3-D Rotation, and put 180 in the box labeled X.  This should flip your words around so they are mirror-image.
5) Change the font color to a light gray.
6) Print your letters, then use scissors to cut out each one. 
7) Cut circles out of sheets of various colored or patterned scrapbook paper.
8) Use a hole-punch to make a hole at "10 and 2" on each circle for threading your ribbon.
9) Flip your letters over so they are white and facing the correct direction, and attach them to the circles using glue or scrapbooking stickers (warning - glue tends to wrinkle up your paper).
10) Measure how much ribbon you need to thread through the banner and hang.
11) Cut ribbon and thread your banner pieces on.

We also made little paper ballerinas, using paper snowflake patterns and a ballerina template we found online.

My sister and her husband had not yet decided on a name for their daughter, so I decided to include a name suggestion jar.  I cut 4" squares of pink and purple paper and hole-punched them with a flower-shaped punch that I already had.  This was an activity everyone enjoyed, and my sister got a good laugh from some of the suggestions afterward!

This was another free printable I found online, and we used it for a shower game.

For the punch table, I collected a bunch of pretty teacups.  Some of these were contributed by our moms and grandmas, and I bought several others fairly cheaply from thrift stores around town.  It was a very unique and pretty way to serve punch.

The other activity we offered at the shower was "Wishes for Baby."  I created a Word document with a pretty pink border and title, then added a list something like this:
I hope you learn ___________
I hope you love ____________
I hope you become _________
I hope you never forget ______
I hope you grow ____________
I hope you aren’t afraid ______
I hope you receive __________
I hope you know ___________
I hope you laugh ___________
I hope you always __________
Each guest filled out one of these sheets for the new baby and signed her name at the bottom, and mommy took them home as a keepsake.  Then when Baby Girl is older, she can read all the loving wishes that were written for her.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Hospitality and Guest Rooms

On our recent road-trip across the U.S., we stayed almost every night with people in their homes.  Out of three week on the road, I think we were only in a hotel 5 times.  The hosts we stayed with were a mix of people -- relatives, old college friends, people who have come to Echo Ranch on mission trips, etc.  Some of these people we knew well, others we barely knew at all, but each of them were welcoming and hospitable, inviting us to make ourselves at home in their home.  

One of the things that struck me as we sojourned with each of these people was how they willingly and generously offered to us whatever they had to give.  I wanted to share these photos below with you because I want to encourage you -- no matter what kind of housing or amenities you have, YOU CAN offer rest and shelter to someone who needs it.  From the perspective of newlywed traveling missionaries, Brett and I can tell you that we are incredibly grateful to each of our hosts, for each bed we slept in on this journey.  

We slept in really nice guest rooms.  We slept on an air mattress on the floor.  We slept in an 8-year-old boy's tractor-themed bedroom.  We slept on futons.  We were "the least of these," a way for people to love on Jesus by loving on us and giving us a place to stay for a night or two, whatever they had to offer.  We were blessed.


So I challenge you to consider -- whether you have a big house or a nice guest room or not -- how can you offer love and hospitality to someone in need or transition?  Something to think about!

Friday, January 30, 2015

almost home!

"You observe my travels and my rest;
You are aware of all my ways. 

You have encircled me;
You have placed Your hand on me.

Where can I go to escape Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your presence?

If I live at the eastern horizon
or settle at the western limits,
even there Your hand will lead me;
Your right hand will hold onto me."

Psalm 139, excerpts - Holman Christian Standard Bible

It's hard to believe this journey is almost over -- the 3-week road trip across the country.  It's been a long month, but at the same time it seems to have flown by! Every day new places to see and new people to meet, and almost every night a new bed to sleep in.  So, 24 days, 15 states, and more than 4,000 miles later, here we are in Bellingham, Washington.  We and our packed little Honda have made it all the way to the west coast, and in a few minutes we will board a ferry for the last leg of the trip to Alaska.

Coast to coast in our first two months of marriage!
Top: South Carolina, November 2014. Bottom: Oregon, January 2015.

Moments from the trip....

Something that was hard: Extraordinary amounts of socializing, and very little alone time for us as newlyweds, still figuring out marriage while living on the road.

Something that was funny: The Indian hotel owner who started out trying to rip us off, but ended up giving us a discount rate on a suite with a Jacuzzi.

Something that was cool: Seeing parts of our country that I've never seen before, including 6 new states.

Something that was a blessing: Hanging out with several young married couples, which was a fairly new thing for us as a couple. Makes us look forward to doing that more in Juneau. 

Thank you all for following our crazy journey and liking all our pictures on Facebook :-) Please keep us in your prayers on this final leg of the trip, through the waterways of southeast Alaska. I'll try to keep sharing photos! 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Road Trip Update #2

Road Trip Update #2! 

So far we've driven from Tennessee through Virginia, West Virginia, and a corner of Maryland to Pennsylvania, and stayed in Pennsylvania for 6 nights at 3 different houses.  We then drove across Ohio, stopped for lunch with a camp friend there, then continued on to Indiana, where we stayed for 2 nights in 2 different houses.  Leaving Indiana, we drove up to Michigan, and -- thankfully! -- we will be here, in the same house, for 4 nights.  

We have been in a lot of places and talked with a lot of people in the past week and a half.  I'll admit, some days it's totally exhausting.  Being the introverts that Brett and I both are, some days we just want to hide and not socialize with anyone!  But at the same time, it has been really good and interesting to see different places and connect with so many people.  I've been blessed by how gracious and giving all of our hosts have been.  People we know well, and people we hardly know, have opened up their homes to us, cooked us food, let us do our laundry, sat up late talking with us, and prayed for us. God is so good to provide everything we need on this journey, including time outside of our comfort zones :-) 

One of the nights we spent in Pennsylvania was with some friends of ours who were counselors at Echo Ranch my first summer there.  They just got married this past spring and are settled in their adorable little first house.  It was so fun to reconnect with them -- us girls chatting about newlywed life and homemaking, while the guys exchanged hunting stories.  

Another really enjoyable evening was our second night in Indiana, when we had dinner with several of Brett's great-uncles and great-aunts.  What a fun group of people, with so many outrageous and hilarious stories!  We spent a lot of time laughing that night! 

A quick update on our support-raising -- we're currently at 22% of the monthly amount we need to raise.  We spoke at a church in Pennsylvania last Sunday, who took up a wonderful offering for us, and we will be speaking here at a church in Michigan this coming Sunday.  Most of the support, though, has come from individuals who love us and believe in the ministry -- what a huge blessing!!  

I just gave our support-raising website a makeover today, so check it out!

Enjoy the day, wherever you are, and stay warm! :-)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Day One.

The northward journey has begun.

I’ll be honest – the past 7 ½ weeks since we got married have been a total whirlwind!  We honeymooned, we attended camp staff conferences, and between those two things, we were on the road for a month.  We returned to Tennessee and settled into our first home, which we stayed in together for a total of about three weeks.  We began the process of learning how to live together as husband and wife.  We spent Christmas and New Year with my family.  I spent a couple of weeks sorting, prioritizing, and purging all of my worldly belongings, and yesterday we packed – or more like crammed – all of our things into our little Honda for the move across the country.  We officially moved out of our apartment last night, and this morning we hit the road. 

Tonight we’re at our first stop of many along the journey to Alaska – a relative’s home in Pennsylvania.  We’re taking nearly a month to get back to Juneau, visiting lots of people along the way.  It’s the journey that counts, right?

Yes, it’s been a whirlwind, and it will continue to be for the next few weeks…months…maybe years!  But the whirlwind is full of blessings and good times, too, as well as craziness and exhaustion.  It’s all good. 

Please be praying for us as we travel, and stay tuned here for road trip stories! 

Monday, December 22, 2014

November & December through Photos

Greetings, blog friends!  Here's a brief update on life (married life!!) mostly told through photos....

On November 15, I said "I do" to my husband Brett.  It was a gorgeous fall day, though much colder than we anticipated!  But even despite the shivering at the altar, it was beautiful and memorable.

We are so thankful for this group of people who were able to be part of our special day!  One of my bridesmaids road-tripped from Missouri to be there, and all of Brett's groomsmen traveled all the way from Alaska!  This is a special group of friends and loved ones.  Many other family members and friends traveled from Pennsylvania, Kansas, Mississippi, and other states, too.  What a great reunion. 

Brett and I are loving being married! We are learning what doing life together looks like and learning the communication, fun, challenges, and joys of marriage.  God has been so very good to us -- He has blessed me with a strong, godly leader as the husband I have been praying for, and I'm so thankful.

After our wedding, we stayed a few days in a cabin locally, then drove to Isle of Palms, South Carolina for the rest of our honeymoon.  

We had our first little Thanksgiving dinner together in our beach condo!

After the honeymoon, we were still traveling for another couple of weeks, but now it was in work mode!  Brett and I, along with most of the other Echo Ranch Bible Camp Staff, attended the Christian Camp and Conference Association's annual National Conference.  Following that week of seminars and networking with other camp professionals, our staff held our annual Winter Meetings -- another week of intense, strategic planning for the year of ministry ahead.  

As a bonus, these conferences and meetings happened to be held in Orlando, Florida this year!  A local church blessed the Echo Ranch staff with free tickets to Disney World, and we enjoyed a great day there in the parks.  It can't be all work and meetings -- camp people gotta have fun, too! :-) 

After nearly a month on the road living out of suitcases, Brett and I are finally back "home" to our little apartment in Tennessee.  We're enjoying the Christmas season here and visiting with my family and friends, while we also work on getting ready to return to Alaska soon -- things like selling my car and buying a four-wheel-drive, contacting the people we need to see on our way back, preparing for support-raising, etc.  We plan to leave Tennessee just after the New Year to embark on our cross-country road trip back to The Last Frontier.  

Life is constantly changing and the future is unknown, but I'm thankful for a life partner to share it with, and a God who holds our tomorrows.
Please keep in touch with us, through blog comments, email, Facebook, or whatever method you prefer :-)  We love hearing from you!

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Last Day

Today is my last day as a single lady.

Since I was probably 13 or 14, I've always thought about these days -- today and tomorrow -- and wondered what they'd be like.  What would it be like to realize it's your last day as a single person?  What would it be like to wake up one morning and think, "I'm getting married today"?  

And now, at 28 years old, that moment is here.  This evening is my wedding rehearsal.  Tonight I'll kiss my fiance goodnight and whisper, "See you at the altar."  And tomorrow I get to marry the man I love, the man I have waited for.

It's pretty surreal, and super exciting.  I'm so thankful I can't even put it in words.  Today, 28 years of waiting, praying, questions, and heartaches fades into distant memory. "I have found the one my soul loves." {Song of Solomon 3:4}

Friday, November 7, 2014

How do I know he's THE ONE?!

Lately I've come across quite a few of these "marriage advice" articles, many of them titled something like this:

Twenty Questions to Ask Before You Get Married
Ten Marriage Deal Breakers
Thirty-Five Things You Absolutely Must Agree On
The One Characteristic You Can't Overlook in Marriage

I'm sure some of these articles contain some decent advice.  One should never go into a serious relationship blindly.  But don't you get the feeling, from those titles, that the authors are trying to reduce it to some sort of formula?  "Ask all of these questions, then you'll know for sure whether you should marry this guy or not."  They're trying to give us the steps to go through to make the process simpler -- ask this question, make sure you agree on this issue, don't forget to notice if they have this characteristic...figure out if they are "perfect for YOU" ...and if all the ducks line up, you've got yourself a spouse!

Also, just for humor's sake, you've gotta love this one that regularly circulates Pinterest:

Thank you, wise high schoolers ;-)

Of course, yes, there are basic, important questions that need to be settled before a couple moves forward into engagement and marriage -- the things that are fundamental, things like faith, spiritual convictions, and the direction they're going in life.

Do both love the Lord more than anything else?
Are both actively and intentionally pursuing a relationship with Jesus and being more like Him?
Do both have a similar passion and calling in life?  Are they going the same direction?

These are the questions to ask....more so than these....

Who will be responsible for keeping the house and yard clean?
How do you feel about paying for your children's college education?
What will we do in the case of an accidental pregnancy?
How much time will we spend with our in-laws?
If one of us cheats, what will be the outcome?

(Yep, all of those questions came out of articles like the ones I listed above.  One page even started out, "Sometimes love isn't enough to keep a couple together....ask these questions now!")

One of the best marriage articles I've read lately came from a young lady named Mo.  Here's what she says on her blog after getting engaged:

You see, my mind doubted because I was weighed down with the fear of making the wrong choice. Maybe Jeremiah wasn’t “The One”. How would I know for sure? There are things we disagree on. There are things about him that don’t always make me happy. It’s been a challenge, at times, loving him. And I KNOW it’s been a challenge for him to love me. Maybe we’re just compatible and I’m making the wrong decision. How do I know, for sure, that he is my soul mate?!
But maybe we’ve got it all backwards. Marriage is a covenant – a promise – to God that you vow to love another like Christ first loved us. In the most intimate, challenging, all-inclusive way. A vow to become one flesh with another person. To serve them and selflessly love them as Christ served and selflessly loved us to the cross. To carry their burdens. To take the lashes of their shortcomings. To bear the taunting of their sins and struggles. To put them before yourself to the point of brokenness, so that we can ultimately rise, just as our King did, in love.

I think, after knowing that a potential spouse loves the Lord with all his or her heart, is pursuing God, and that the two of you can truly walk forward in life together, the next big question is
a) does this person selflessly love and serve me like Jesus?
b) can I selflessly love and serve him or her like Jesus?
c) will we love one another in a way that reflects how Christ loves the Church?

Personal story moment.
The other night, my fiance, Brett, and I were sitting on the couch, watching TV, and eventually he fell asleep, leaning against me.  He looked so peaceful, and I began to pray as I watched him sleep.  For ten or fifteen minutes, I silently poured my heart out to God, praying for Brett, for us, for our marriage, and for myself, to be the wife he needs.  I prayed to always be, just like in that moment, a place of peace, rest, and refuge for him, in good times and bad.

When Brett woke up a few minutes later, I shared with him that I'd been praying for us while he was sleeping.  His response surprised me.  Pulling me into a tight hug, he whispered in my ear, simply, "Thank You, God, for Ashley. Please help our relationship always be centered on You and reflect You."  Then, looking me in the eyes, he told me, "I love you. I love how you pray over me. I love how you want to honor God in everything."

That moment, that night, reminded me of how blessed I am to call this man my future husband, how thankful I am that God brought us together.  It reminded me that, though neither of us are anywhere near perfect, we can reflect Christ in a godly marriage relationship.  It reminded me that this won't always be easy -- there will be trials and disagreements and challenges and uncertainties -- but by God's grace we will stay focused on Him and keep loving each other.  And it reminded me of what's really important... not the 276 Questions To Ask Before You Get Married (yes, that's a real article), but the knowledge that this man loves Jesus and loves me, intentionally and selflessly, and the conviction and commitment to do the same for him.

I couldn't ask for more.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

here's the plan:

Hey friends of the blogging world.
This space has been neglected for a few months, but I'm determined to bring it back to life yet again.... especially considering the big life changes that are here now and still coming!

Newsflash:  I got engaged during the six months I didn't write on my blog!  Brett and I will be getting married in just 18 days :-)

My goal is to blog a bit over the next few weeks about our story, thoughts about relationships and engagement, wedding projects, etc.  Then, as we drive across the country back to Alaska this winter (YES, we are DRIVING to Alaska. From Tennessee. In the winter. Unless plans change again. Which they've done about 20934 times.), I hope and plan to blog stories and pictures from our travels.  It should be fun.  So if you want to keep up with us crazy, in-love, road-tripping newlyweds, follow the blog and keep checking back!  And by all means, leave comments and keep in touch -- it will inspire me to keep writing :-)

Love, Ashley