A cookie and a prayer.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Trips to Trader Joe's are the low point of my week. Don't get me wrong - I love Trader Joe's and the fact that it's a 5-minute drive from our new house. But bringing a 22-month-old who loathes riding in the cart, pulls things off of shelves when I turn away for a split second, and has exhibited his one and only full-out tantrum there... it's nearly always a stress-laden experience.

Today, as the two of us pulled into a parking spot right next to the door, I turned off the car and turned to Liam and said, "Let's pray." I think it was my friend Kirra who first led me to the idea of praying for such a small-big life event as a grocery store trip, and I finally tried it. Liam clasped his hands and stared at me as I prayed aloud for an obedient heart for him, patience for me, and a peaceful experience. He echoed my "amen" and we headed into the store.

Initially, he wasn't a fan of being strapped into the cart and he pushed hard against me. But once I opened a package of cookies and handed him one, he calmed down pretty quickly. Crisis 1 averted. I waited for the cookie to be gobbled up and Liam to revert to his normal grocery store behavior. But as we pushed through the aisles and grabbed the few things on our list, he was an absolute dream. He tilted his head to one side and said, "Hi!" with a huge smile and a wave to every passing customer. He offered a "Tank you!" for scratch-and-sniff stickers that an employee gave him. And at checkout, he sat quietly in the cart and smiled at the cashier.

I left the store in disbelief. It was like someone had replaced my boy's heart with a softer, more obedient version that I'd never once seen in a grocery store before. I told him, "Mommy is so thankful for your good behavior. You did such a great job!" to which he replied, "Biam bay!" (Liam obeyed.)

I'm one who is skeptical when people pray for parking spaces. Aren't there bigger fish to fry? Isn't God busy with more life-altering issues like Christians being massacred in Syria, like cancer, like terrorism and hunger?

But the truth is, God desires to be included in the littlest and the biggest parts of my life. He encourages my dependence on him and isn't troubled when I approach him with the little things - even trips to the grocery store. If I believe that he doesn't want to be bothered, I show that I don't really know him. And, clearly, I don't understand how wide and long and high and deep is his love for me.

I read through the first couple chapters of Hebrews this morning, and Hebrews 2:14-18 struck me:

"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." (Emphases mine.)

The humanity of Jesus in this passage is striking to me. I have a much easier time focusing on his God-ness than his human-ness. Though Jesus was completely sinless, he wasn't exempt from temptation, from frustration, from hurt and anger and pain. It's easy for me to forget that. To think that he can't possibly understand how exhausting life with a toddler can be. How thankless my job can often feel.

I love the translation from The Message of verses 16-18:

"It's obvious, of course, that he didn't go to all this trouble for angels. It was for people like us, children of Abraham. That's why he had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people's sins, he would have already experienced it all himself - all the pain, all the testing - and would be able to help where help was needed."

"All the pain, all the testing." He experienced it all, even if his circumstances looked a little different than a tantrum-throwing toddler in aisle 3. The frustration and humiliation I feel when that happens is something he experienced. Something he understands. Something that he can help me to endure.

But only when I let him. Only when I take the time and the focus to pray that he intervenes. I want to be the mother that publicly acknowledges his work in every little aspect of her life. I want my son and daughter to know that their mom is weak, but leans heavily on a sufficiently strong Jesus. Even at Trader Joe's.
Photos taken at my parents' new home in Nashville this past weekend. This child fears nothing.

Scripture memory with your iPhone.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I know I've mentioned the Fighter Verses app on the blog before, but I had to mention it again. Because I've found a way to actually use it. Memorizing Scripture is an area I constantly struggle in but continually need. I have a feeling I'm not alone in that?

Here's what to do:
1. Download Fighter Verses on your smartphone.
2. Choose a verse you want to memorize, then scroll down until you find "Use Verse as Lock Screen" and click on the link.
3. From there, you can choose what color background you want.
4. Follow the prompts on the screen to set the verse as your lock screen wallpaper so that every time you go to use your phone, it pops up.

Each time I turn on the screen of my phone (many times a day, of course), I make myself pause and recite the verse in my head or aloud, including the reference. Depending on the length of the verse, sometimes I only need it on my screen for a day or two - sometimes for longer. Once I've memorized that verse, I go back to the app, pick a new verse with a new color background and start the process over again.

It's been so life-giving to be able to memorize multiple passages a week and to have them constantly playing in my head throughout the day. It's incredible how God's Word comes alive when we actually meditate on it and claim His promises.

Our girl.

Friday, August 22, 2014

via Instagram @whitneynewby
When we walked into the dimly lit ultrasound room, my heart pounded. The view conjured difficult memories of our 20-week ultrasound with Liam, which involved a solemn sonographer and phrases like "genetic counseling."

Yesterday's sonographer was methodical, but also reassuring, and for that I was grateful. She worked her way through each of the baby's systems, measuring what she needed and explaining herself along the way. "There are the four chambers of the heart. And do you see that dark line that's shaped like a candy cane? That's the aorta."

When it was time to reveal the gender, she found the appropriate angle and paused the screen.

"It's a little girl!" she smiled confidently, and took my breath away. Shawn and I looked at each other through happy tears.

We hadn't expected a little girl. Not for weeks, at least. It had been a more difficult first trimester than with Liam, but I chalked it up to international travel, a stressful move, and chasing a toddler in 95-degree heat. Anyone who saw my growing belly in person would comment, "Looks like another little boy in there!" and when I pictured the next few years of my life, I could only picture two little men.

But I wasn't disappointed at all. Just stunned. Of course I knew a girl was a possibility, it just felt much less likely.

A few hours later, Shawn and I headed out on a date to celebrate, and as we sat down to dinner he asked, "So what are you most excited about?"

I mentioned a few things: seeing Liam as a protective big brother, seeing our daughter love her daddy, sewing clothes and headbands for her, choosing her name. And then I looked at Shawn and said, "But I'm scared." I'm scared to raise a daughter in 2015 and 2025 and beyond. A daughter in a world where women are objectified in mainstream media, where the innocence of girlhood is stolen too quickly, where there's such a thing as "twerking." I know I'm raising a boy in that same culture, but boy-raising somehow seems less tricky. Less fragile. I want our daughter to be strong and brave and refuse to be trampled on, but also gentle and modest. I want her to feel safe, and I know that's something we won't always be able to provide for her.

I'm so glad we're in this together. That she already has a daddy who will take her on dates and teach her what it means to be treated like a lady. That she has an extended family who already loves her fiercely and will show her undeserved grace. That she has a church family who will undoubtedly shower us with support. That she has a God who we pray will save her soul at an early age, who loves her more than we can fathom.

Today, when I saw her squirming around on the screen and felt her little jabs - and when I heard that this baby who I've just begun to know and love is a "she" - all of a sudden, she couldn't have been anything else. It was always her: my daughter.

DIY: Vintage Map Silhouette.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

With so much traveling and moving this summer, there's been very little time (or unpacked supplies) for DIY projects and I've missed them so. There's a piece of me that just comes alive when I can create, and it's been too long. Today during Liam's nap time, I decided to tackle one from my ever growing list.

I started out wanting a silhouette of Liam with a vintage "paint by number" like one of these in the background. When I actually tried it out, though, it didn't feel quite right. So I switched it up to feature a vintage Nashville map - an ode to Liam's birthplace.

This project involves using Photoshop, but because I know not everyone has access to it, I'll explain how to make one without Photoshop as well.
1. Take and print a profile photo of your subject in black and white on 8.5" x 11" paper (or whatever size you're going for). It doesn't have to be completely clear - I used a slightly blurry phone photo, but one that showed his profile well.
 2. Using a Sharpie, trace the subject's profile.
3a. If using Photoshop, scan the outlined profile into your computer.
3b. If not using Photoshop, cut out the outline of your subject. Find a vintage map on Google images, print it out, and trace the silhouette onto it. Carefully cut out the vintage map in the shape of the silhouette, paste on white paper (double sided tape would work well), and frame.

4. If using Photoshop, I found this tutorial for the next few steps so helpful. Following the steps of the tutorial, you'll go from a scanned photo to a silhouette, as shown below. I found that outlining the subject beforehand helped the magnetic lasso tool grab the correct outline, which is why I started with that.

 5. What you should have after following the steps of the tutorial is this:
 6. If there are any spots you need to fix, use the eraser tool and the paint brush tool to do so. I filled in around his chest area so it wasn't such a ragged line.
 7. Now it's time to fill in the silhouette with an image. Like I said before, I tried a few different things - mostly "paint by number" paintings. While still in Photoshop, open the image you'd like to use as a new layer. Then follow this magical tutorial to make fill in your silhouette with the image.

Here are a few that I tried and wasn't crazy about, mainly because the silhouette image seemed to get a little lost.

I finally settled on this one, a vintage Nashville map: 

8. Print it out in your desired size, frame it, and you're done! Because the background is transparent, it will print as whatever color your paper is (in my case, white). 
Do you recognize that Liam Newby original on the top right? It's from our painting session the other day - his first foray into acrylics. 

First haircut.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

We decided while we were in Germany that Liam should get his first ever "real" (not by Mommy and Daddy) haircut. The hairdresser, Charlette, had cut Shawn's hair since he was a little guy, which made it so special. At least to me. Liam? He didn't enjoy it so much.
This watermelon sucker was my best and worst idea. I thought it would keep him distracted, but it quickly got pieces of hair stuck to it, which then went in his mouth, which then led to a total spitting meltdown.
Apparently cutting a toddler's hair requires an entire team: mommy wearing the cape, Charlette the hairdresser snipping what she can, and Gramma "Suzu" keeping him distracted. 
Before we were done, he'd had enough, resorting to kicking the hairdresser. Awesome.
Charlette did a fabulous job, especially with her very wiggly, spitting client who didn't cooperate too well. I have to admit - I miss the wavy mullet - but it's growing back already and it makes this mommy's heart so happy. 

Tips for selling your own home.

Monday, August 18, 2014

When we decided to put our first house on the market a couple months ago, our main reason for doing so was financial. We needed to cut our mortgage to prepare for a second baby, and because of that, a friend suggested we try selling the house without the help of a realtor. "For sale by owner." I was very hesitant at first because I just wanted out of the house as quickly as possible, and we'd never sold a house before. But the more we researched it, the more we felt right about at least trying. We'd save as much as 3% by not having to pay a realtor, so we felt it was worth a shot.

Going in, we decided we'd give it two weeks on the market. If the house didn't sell in two weeks, we'd turn it over to our realtor to show and hopefully sell while we were out of the country.

I should also make this disclaimer: we have several dear friends who are realtors and I definitely don't want to devalue their work. I just think many people (including us) don't even consider trying to sell the house themselves - and in our situation, it ended up being the right option.

If you haven't followed our story, since October 2013, we've now bought two houses and sold one. We definitely didn't plan to do this, but we've learned a whole lot along the way. So if you're thinking of going the "for sale by owner" route, I thought I'd share a few things we learned.

Know the market. First, know whether or not to try selling it yourself. From the outset, we knew the real estate market in our area was extremely active at the time. Just walking out of our house, I was stopped twice by passersby who handed me their information and asked, "If you know anyone who's selling or renting soon, will you give them my information?" We knew there would be plenty of interest in a house that needed no fixing up, was on a dead-end street, and was in a desirable neighborhood near a park and close to downtown. Had we doubted that our house was sellable (i.e. slower market, needed fixing up, etc.), we probably wouldn't have tried to do it ourselves.

Secondly, know how to price your home. We ended up pricing ours quite a bit higher than we'd originally paid, but only after extensively researching comparable houses in our area. We settled on a price and then determined a slightly lower price that was our cut-off - we wouldn't accept anything lower, especially in the first couple weeks on the market.

Declutter and de-personalize. This rings true whether or not you're using a realtor. Our house wasn't cluttered before as we'd lived in it less than a year, but I was still able to box up two full car loads of stuff and bring it to a friend's garage to store. The boxes were full of framed photos of our family and other personal items. You want to make sure that when people walk into your house, they can picture themselves living here - not you. At the time, all of our wall colors were very neutral. Had they been something brighter, we would've repainted to make sure the house appeared move-in ready.

Meet with someone who's gone the "For Sale By Owner" route before. We had several friends who had successfully sold their homes without a realtor, and their wealth of knowledge was invaluable through every step of the process. It really helped to get their advice, especially when it came to negotiating a contract. It may also be helpful to have a friend in the real estate field (realtor, closing attorney, etc.) look over your contract to make sure there are no red flags. (And offer to pay them, of course.)

Borrow or rent a lock box. A friend let us borrow a lock box like this one to hang on the front door. This way, we didn't have to be present for each and every showing to let the potential buyers in the door. We could simply give the lock box code to the buyers' realtor, set up a time for them to come, and they would let themselves in and out. Much more convenient, much less awkward for all parties. If you have potential buyers who don't have a realtor (we didn't), I'd definitely suggest staying at the house and letting them in and out yourself.

If you don't feel comfortable staging and photographing your house, ask someone who does. Since Shawn and I both had experience in staging and in real estate photography, this part was fun for us. But just remember that pictures sell houses. Or at least get people in the door, which sells houses. Don't skimp on this part. If you don't know anyone who has a good camera with a wide angle lens, hire someone who does. It will be money well spent.

Put together a brochure. Maybe. I only say "maybe" on this one because I kind of wish I hadn't spend the time and money making one when our house sold so quickly. I had dozens of flyers left. But if you have ideas of where you could post these - or even hand them out to friends who may have friends that are looking - it may be really worth it. There are tons of templates online for professional looking real estate flyers.

Buy an MLS listing. For us, this was absolutely worth it. These run about $200, and whenever you post the listing, it goes up on all the major real estate websites immediately - Zillow, Trulia, etc. We used Select Premium Properties to do this, and they were so helpful to give us a step-by-step of how to go about this. They even had a portal where realtors could request a showing and we could "ok" it from our phones or email.

Know that it will feel like a full-time job. That's why realtors work full-time and often around the clock! There's so much paperwork and so many deadlines that you have to treat it like the main gig in your life. You'll spend lots of time fielding calls, scheduling showings, answering emails, scouring Google with questions, and driving around the neighborhood so your toddler will take a nap while people look at your house.

When all was said and done, we had 7 showings on the first day and 1 offer, and we accepted that offer the following morning. It was as stressful as can be, but very much worth it. And we don't plan to do it again for a very long time.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

For at least 20 minutes, I'd snuck to the corner of the room unnoticed, quietly painting the built-in bookshelves while Liam played with his trucks and watched Curious George. But as soon as he caught a glimpse of my brush, it was over. He charged toward me, demanding, "Paint! Paaaaint!" Handing him a dry brush to "paint" with just didn't cut it.

In that moment, I could think of at least a hundred reasons to say "no." I said an immediate "no" to his help with the bookshelf, but he remained determined. "Paint, mommy!" as tears welled up in his eyes. In the split second I had to think about it, I realized I'd only said no to him out of convenience. Not because painting something would hurt him or anyone else. Only because it would be a mess, and I am living and breathing mess right now in the form of moving boxes.

I carried him upstairs and hunted around for his watercolors to no avail. All I could find was the acrylic paint. You know, acrylics. The paint that doesn't come out of clothes?

So with a deep breath, I said, "Yes, love. Let's paint!"

Yes. That tiny, but titanic, three-letter word that doesn't feel very natural for the mom of an intensely active 21-month-old boy.

But I said it. And he was thrilled.

"Taaaank you, Mommy!" he yelled as he carefully selected his colors and slathered globs of "yeh-woh" and "boo" on his canvas.

As I watched him, I felt the weight of my yes. In one sense, I'd said yes to the hassles of a paint-covered boy, an extra bath, and ruined socks. But my yes had also opened up my little boy's heart and given me opportunity to lavish on the compliments for his gorgeous work. He glowed.

I don't know what "yes" will look like when Liam is 5 years old or 12 or 16. But today, it meant an impossibly messy art project and a boy who grinned all the way from his toes. I'll take it.

We're alive!

Monday, August 11, 2014

One tired little man, loving his new rug from his Mimi.
Where do I even begin? 

In the past two weeks or so,
we returned from Germany,
conquered jet lag (or something like that),
closed on one house and moved out,
stayed with friends for a few days,
closed on a new house and moved in.

It's been a whole lot, and we are tired. The adrenaline rush that pushed us through these stressful, busy days has begun to subside and now we're just feeling the exhaustion.

At one point, Liam looked around at boxes stacked to the ceiling, ran to the back door and asked pitifully, "Go home?"

"We are home, buddy. It just doesn't look like it quite yet."

And then my Mom volunteered to fly out for a few days to help us dig through boxes and occupy Liam and we jumped at the offer.

That all sounds a little more bleak and desperate than it's been. The upside is that we've landed in a charming house that feels so much more spacious, is much more feasible financially, is a couple minutes closer to Shawn's work (and Trader Joe's, but who's counting?), and gives us reason to breathe. And for all of those things, we are so thankful. We're also deeply grateful for the way we've been lavishly loved over these past few stressful weeks by dozens of friends and church family through this transition, and we can't wait to return the love. And show pictures of our new place. And jump in on a dozen DIY projects I have mulling around in my head. But maybe a nap or two first.
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