Behind the Scenes: On Giving and an Opportunity

Sometimes I feel a heavy responsibility, being the mama of a girl.

Or, maybe, just being a mama in general.

MaeMommyHopscotch

True, we have a blast together. Seriously? Being her mommy is so much more awesome than I ever could have dreamed. She’s just the best.

And, for now, she’s three.

A copycat, sort-of three…whatever Mommy does, Maelie does.

This is good and bad…I break into a song from Beauty and the Beast? She’s right behind me singing backup…or, more likely, taking up the lead. 😉

I have an ugly moment and raise my voice? Chances are, her reaction will be similar.

I sit down to write? She’ll pull out her “laptop” or another device and do the same thing.

I’m helping out with bread at church on Fridays? She’s right next to me helping, putting bags of it into the big, orange tubs and delivering them to the head-start with me.

She’s watching…and doing…all the time.

That’s why it’s so on my heart to set a good example for her…in words, in actions, in how I am every day. Oh, I don’t do it perfectly AT ALL…but each day, there’s an opportunity to teach, to love, to be Jesus to someone. And pray that God will grow her heart to love and show compassion to others…and to have a giving spirit. I dream those things for her.

And, friends?

There’s an opportunity to give right now. One that, I hope, will somehow, someday, make an impression on my little girl’s heart. I don’t know how, but I do know it will make a difference right now in the lives of some beautiful women and their babies on the other side of the world.

In Kenya.

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I’m so excited to be part of this: Raising the money for a new home in Kenya for young moms and their babies. For Christmas, we’re building them a HOUSE!!!

Yes, a house. And I completely love it.

This…THIS…is a way to be Jesus to women with one of the most basic needs: a place to live while they raise their sweet blessings.

The Mercy House Kenya fundraiser has been happening for several months already, and what’s exciting is that four of the projects have been fully funded already! So far, we’ve raised money for a new vehicle, a classroom addition, a computer lab, and a new generator. The final phase is raising $53,000 for a second home to help more moms and babies.

Would you like to join and give even a little?

I was thinking the other day of how many times I make a quick drive-through stop for coffee. What if I gave that up for the month (or even the week?) and donated the money to Mercy House Kenya? Every little bit helps, and that’s my challenge for each of you today.

Can you give a little to be part of something HUGE…something that will change so many lives forever?

9656753519_8175759417_zphoto used with permission of Mercy House Kenya

To donate, you can go here or click the link on the sidebar of my blog. (That link will also automatically update if you’d like to track the fundraising progress, too.)

To learn more about Mercy House Kenya and all God is doing, go here.

AND…for those of you who need to finish your Christmas shopping, Mercy House also has a store. :) Proceeds from all sales go to benefit MH…I love that. And I love the beautiful items for sale, too. In fact, I splurged and ordered this T-shirt. (Sshhhh, don’t tell my hubby…though he’ll find out soon enough because it’s going in my stocking! ;))

And, as always, thanks for stopping by, friends! What a gift you can be this Christmas! Will you take up the challenge?

9656775943_97b123b4f1_zphoto used with permission of Mercy House Kenya

*UPDATE* The second house has been completely funded! (It was, in fact, almost completely funded in about 24 hours, give or take a few.) Y’all are Awe.Some. And, because there are so many generous hearts out there, we raised (or rather, GOD raised) an additional $10,000 to furnish the house and money is still pouring in for books and educational materials for these women! (The link still works if you’d like to click over to keep tabs on what is happening or to see how you can help.)

WOW. Watching my Father bless over and over in the last days is such a tangible reminder that He really does MORE than all we ask or imagine.

Praise Him for the Christmas these beautiful mamas and their babies are going to have this year!

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Happy Tuesday, friends! Today is the day when I join some sweet friends at Crystal’s space for Behind the Scenes. We’re sharing the silly and sweet and sometimes-tear-jerking moments that happen behind the camera lens…I hope you’ll take some time and pop over to read some great stories.

Social media and online relationships can make us feel like everyone else has it all together. We’re edited, proof-read, Pinterest-perfect versions of ourselves (or so some might think!) when – in reality? There is an unfinished pile of laundry around the corner. That cute toddler smiling for the camera just had a massive meltdown seconds ago. That yummy breakfast-for-dinner you just showed us on Instagram? It’s because the cat licked the chicken that was supposed to be for dinner.

“Behind the Scenes” is a fun link up where we show those photos – but tell the real story behind them. The sneak peek behind the scenes, a look past the edges of the photo to the real life behind it.

crystalstine.me

Sig

Five-Minute Friday: Together

Today I’m linking up with Lisa-Jo for Five-Minute Friday. And this week?

Insanely. Awesome.

I’m actually doing a live FMF in a room with a bunch of my sweet sisters who have all come together for Allume, an amazing conference that is already blessing my socks off.

So, grab a timer, set it for five minutes, and join me!

The rules: Write for five minutes. No editing, revising, overthinking, or backtracking. Just write.

Today’s prompt: Together

So here’s the thing.

This group…my community…we’ve been together for a long time. We’ve been together in the way we share our stories and our laughs, our tears, our prayers…

Our hearts.

Through screens and words and pictures.

For months I have looked forward to finally being together in real life with them…to hug necks and let the tears drip and let them know what they mean to this girl who has fumbled for community for way too long.

Now we’re together…in the same room.

It’s like a big, happy-dance-all-over-the-room dream come true…I kind of can’t believe that I get to be with each of you, letting you know just how much each of you mean to me.

The community that occupies a giant piece of my heart is finally an in real life one.

I kind of feel like dancing…

Anyone for cartwheels? 

😉

Five Minute Friday

Sig

Behind the Scenes: My Heart and an Invitation

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This picture has popped up on my blog a few times lately.

Yeah, I think she’s pretty adorable. :)

A couple months ago, we took advantage of a Groupon deal and hired a photographer to come out to our C’ville stomping grounds and take some family pictures.

Let me tell you, friends…with a spunky toddler like we have, this was a tall order to fill.

But he rocked it, despite the fact that she was constantly on the move.

And? He managed to capture this gem.

To say that I. Completely. Love. It. is just scratching the surface.

Because what this is…it’s me and my girl and my passion and my heart all miraculously captured in one, beautiful photo.

For years, I have dreamed of writing. Of blogging, of publishing, of making a name for myself. (I didn’t say all of these were noble aspirations.) 😉

And during those years, another dream of mine has been dancing around my feet, sometimes holding my hand, sometimes spinning on her own.

This girl.

Maelie girl.

She’s fabulous.

And she’s my calling, my dream, my heart.

She is who I want to be my priority every second of the day.

Even over writing and blogging and publishing and being all that those things bring.

And so this picture…this snapshot of our moments…it represents so much.

Because I love my daughter to the moon and back. (Plus infinity…just ask her. ;))

I still love to write…

I still want to publish a book…

I still dream of being a contributor on a blogand that one is happening soon, so stay tuned!

But my point?

Is that I want moments like the one in this photo all the time.

I want her all the time.

And so…I’m redefining.

Making mommyhood, marriage, a follower of my Father, a friend…priorities.

Oh, I’ll still write…’cause a writer still needs air sometimes. Plus, I just love to write…I can’t give it up.

But I’ll do that when she’s in bed. Or having her quiet time. Or watching her hour of tv (hour, not hourS).

😉

And I’m not perfect. I’ll fumble, I’ll fail, I’ll write a blog post while she watches yet another episode of Sofia the First or Doc McStuffins.

But where my heart is now?

It’s in that place where I don’t want to miss a single moment.

Ever.

And, friends?

I’ve been given a great opportunity, one I am incredibly thankful for, one I didn’t plan on…but one that God was weaving into His plan all along.

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I am completely blown away by the opportunity to be an (in)courager.

Squeeeeeeeee! 😉 (Plus, imagine a little happy dancing, too.)

I am so excited to encourage and invest in the lives of other stay-at-home mommas like me…ones who, I have a feeling, struggle with many of the same things I do.

(In)courage has a new session of (in)courager groups kicking off this week, and registration is open! If you’re looking for a small group, a place to connect with women in the same season of life, a place to be encouraged…this is exactly for you.

You can go here to read the heart behind (in)courager groups AND to find one that is the perfect fit for you. Of course, I’d love it if you joined my group, but look for the one that best meets you in your current season. (And as of tonight, my group is full…but there are TONS of groups…go find one! ;))

You will love it. I promise. :)

It makes me smile to look back at the last few weeks…to see how He is weaving together pieces of my heart and writing another part of my story. Pulling back on a few things, but still filling my life with amazing blessings.

And reminding me of the ones I already have.

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Happy Tuesday, friends! Today is the day when I join some sweet friends at Crystal’s space for Behind the Scenes.

Social media and online relationships can make us feel like everyone else has it all together. We’re edited, proof-read, Pinterest-perfect versions of ourselves (or so some might think!) when – in reality? There is an unfinished pile of laundry around the corner. That cute toddler smiling for the camera just had a massive meltdown seconds ago. That yummy breakfast-for-dinner you just showed us on Instagram? It’s because the cat licked the chicken that was supposed to be for dinner.

“Behind the Scenes” is a fun link up where we show those photos – but tell the real story behind them. The sneak peek behind the scenes, a look past the edges of the photo to the real life behind it.

I hope you’ll take some time to pop over and read the sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-tear-jerking, just-fun stories that go on behind the actual photos. :)

crystalstine.me

Sig

My God-Sized Dream: I Dreamed Some Dreams…

We’ve been walking the path of God-sized dreams together for a few months now. Will you share an update with us about your dream? Let us know where you are with it–the happy and the hard. Tell us how we can pray for you and your dream too.

In 2005 we packed our bags for parts unknown.

Bandung, Indonesia.

Looking at a map, I was pretty sure it was about as far away as I could get from the Midwest, the place I had always called home.

Nevertheless, we did it. We crammed our lives into a suitcase and seven rubbermaid containers, shipped our dog on an airplane, said goodbye to all we knew, and we did it.

Moved to Indonesia.

And it became home.

At the time, we had no idea that we were living a dream.

We were aware that living and teaching overseas was something we’d wanted to do for awhile.

We were even more aware that God had called us to do it. So we answered with a yes.

And we fumbled and faltered and rejoiced and celebrated and cried and loved and lived and so many other things.

It changed us forever.

We lived out a dream, one we didn’t even know we had dreamed.

And months ago…maybe even years ago…another little dream crawled into a corner of my heart. I wanted to take the Indo-stories and experiences my Father had given to me and put them all into one place.

Write a book.

I even gave it a title. Lessons from Indonesia: On Life, Love, and Squatty Potties. 😉

And so when my friend, Holley, accepted me as a member of her God-Sized Dream Team last November, what I expected to pursue wholeheartedly during this time was writing this book.

After all, this was the dream I had in my heart.

And I wrote the book.

I did.

Hours upon hours at a corner table in the Starbucks on 31, more hot-turned-cold cups of coffee than I can count, and more smiles and tears, too…

…and it sits on my laptop and on my nightstand and in the hands of a friend…in the form of 120ish pages and 37,000 plus words. It is my heart and soul, the place where I bled love and life and happy and sad and so many memories…and it is a dream in every way.

That rough draft, read by one other person so far, represents the journey to a dream…one that I need to keep pushing forward to achieve…by writing book proposals that I don’t know how to write yet and handing it to people…even if it’s scary and makes me bite off all of my fingernails. 😉

I was fully aware that this dream I’d dreamed was a dream that I wanted to chase with abandon.

But over the last few months, there have been other things that jumped into my path.

For example…this space.

Yes, it’s been around for awhile. :)

And I guess I never really set out to make my blog a dream when I started it all in 2011. It was always my safe place, a place to laugh and cry and love and share it all. Of course, like any blogger, having an audience is nice, but it wasn’t my dream at the beginning.

And then?

These beautiful women from all corners started to stop by. Leave some comment love. Invite me to their spaces and into their hearts and lives.

A community was created and the dream to keep writing and sharing and loving people through my words was born. Or maybe another dream just grew.

And a few months ago, I let a dream…one that had been locked up tightly…out into the open. I let the whole world know that I want to write for (in)courage someday.

There it is again. :)

And I thought that maybe this whole letting-my-dreams-spill-out thing was over.

Two big dreams, and I’d shared them both.

But God has a funny way of working in hearts when we make the decision to go with His plan. And He brought something else into my life.

Mercy Ships.

Not as an I-need-to-do-this-now dream, but definitely as something that has made an impact on my heart and could be a possibility for us down the road. That’s a bit frightening and heart-pounding to think about. So, for now, we’re just lifting that one up and placing it into His hands.

Now, several months after the dreaming began, I find myself looking at three, and probably more, dreams that have somehow taken root and grown and changed me.

Some days it’s all I can do to simply catch my breath and make the choice to walk another day by His side in obedience.

Walk hand in hand. Not run ahead. Not drag my feet behind.

The truth is that, with these dreams, I’m not sure where I am.

Yes, I’m pursuing publishing a book.

And. Slowly.

This process is not for the faint of heart. I’m finding that out, and the reality of how difficult handing my words over to other people is…well, it’s breaking me and it’s harder than I ever thought it would be.

And my dream of being a contributor for another blog…well, that one is in the works. It’s not for (in)courage, a space that I still love and would, someday, still love to write for. But there’s another opportunity, one that I am truly excited to watch unfold. Hopefully I’ll be able to share more soon. :)

And moving to Africa to live and work on a ship? God has said a clear, Not now. I am ok with this…more than ok.

In all of this dreaming, He has been teaching me the beauty of now.

I’ve dreamed some dreams within the last several months, and though things don’t look at all like what I pictured they might, I am truly enjoying the journey.

And I’m so blessed by each of you who have been part of it.

Happy Tuesday! Today we’re spending some time reflecting on our God-Sized dreams at Holley’s place. We’d love for you to hop over and be part of what God is doing in some amazing hearts and lives.

God-Sized Dreams

Sig

(in)RL…Beyond Computer Screens

I’m a friend-girl.

I. Love. My. Friends.

And with this explosive, ENFP personality…well, if I meet you and we strike up a conversation and even heart spill just a little, you are my friend. For life, if you would like. :)

The hard thing about what I just wrote? Is that 99…probably .9…% of the world doesn’t work that way.

Talk about a tough reality check.

And with the different places that life has taken us, it’s no surprise that I have often felt as if my heart was torn to shreds with each goodbye I was forced to say.

And so when we moved to the land of I-don’t-know-a-soul-here (aka: C’ville ;)) in ’10, I was starving for friends. God was so Good (still is!) and He gave…I am so blessed to walk this journey of life with some amazing sisters. I hold them in my heart forever.

And in 2011, I decided to join the blogging world. I did it more as a way to process the b-gillion life changes we had going on at the time, but it turned into so much more.

Early on in my bloggy-journey, I came across (in)courage.

It was exactly what I needed…a place where women come together online to connect and grow and sometimes-laugh-or-cry.

And last year, the incredible Lisa-Jo and her awesome team of women launched the first (in)RL Conference…taking an incredible online community and making it an (in)Real Life one. Women all over the world met up, shared stories, laughed, cried, drank coffee…

Connected.

In real life, instead of through computer screens.

And so when this year rolled around, I knew I wanted to be part of it again and even (gasp!) signed up to host it.

Because even though I cherish my amazing online friends, I know the value of having those friends in real life, too.

Two days ago, four of us got together in my small living/dining room.

We drank coffee, chatted, made some incredible, small-world connections, laughed…

Took the time to enjoy the kind of friendship that sits on a couch and shares stories from feet away instead of time zones.

It was an amazing morning-turned-afternoon…and four women who came together as strangers…left as friends. (Ok, ok…I knew one of them already. ;))

And as I’ve reflected on (in)RL and the way God is using it, literally, all over the world…it’s a reminder to me that we all need friends.

We all need community.

And we need to have it (in)RealLife.

Preferably with coffee, chatter, and lots of laughter. :)

(in)RLfriends

And mega-props to my awesome friend, L…who accomplished quite the feat in actually getting this picture. Really. :)

Sig

My God-Sized Dream: Joy Surrounding Me

JOY

What brings you joy, especially when it comes to your God-Sized Dream?

I love this question and am so very overwhelmed by it all at the same time.

Joy.

JOY.

JOY.

The word has such a different meaning now than it did just two years ago.

My husband and I were in the midst of one of the hardest seasons of our marriage. It was a daily struggle to move forward and to choose love and joy in spite of the challenges that seemed to overtake our days.

Around this time, I had gotten into the groove of blogging, and my writing was definitely something that brought joy…a place to release and be…no matter what I was feeling that particular day.

As I slowly started to become connected online with some different bloggers and friends, I came across a blog.

The writer is someone many of you may know at least through her words. And I became privileged to know her through them, too, even if we never exchanged an in-real-life, friend hug.

During those days of wondering and waiting and unknown, I found myself drawn into her story, inspired by her words, and taken by her heart for our Father.

Someone asked her the question, “How do you manage to stay so positive? So happy? Don’t you ever just get really mad?”

And her reply, specifically this part of it, changed me.

The thing I try to remind myself of, as I am without all the things that I wish I had to make me happy, is that my biggest need is Him. More than I need to be outside in the fresh air, more than I need to move without pain, more than I even need Dad… I need His will to be done in my life whether it is comfortable or not. There is not one thing that feels comfortable about my world right now, but I need Him more than I need to change my circumstances.

It’s still brutally hard. I have to remind myself of these facts every day. It doesn’t always come easily.

But it doesn’t make the truth any less true.

And the truth is that I can choose the joy.

So I do.

From this post at Sara’s blog.

Knowing Sara for the few months I did changed my perspective. Reading her words taught me how to Choose Joy, even on the days that were hard.  (Hard to me, nothing compared to what she endured.)

And I share this with you to tie it back into my answer to the question…

What brings you joy, especially when it comes to your God-Sized Dream?

Honestly, it’s the beauty He brings to each of my days.

Sunshine in the form of a little girl I am privileged to love and raise and spend my days with. I love her so much it brings tears to my eyes.

My husband and the way he loves me through each day, never settling and always striving for something more.

Heart friends…those near me and those so far away that heaven will be our reunion…who bless me with love and laughs, encouragement and prayer.

A new community of women who have inspired and blessed me along the journey to a dream.

Words…and the little gift He has given me in being able to use them to encourage others.

The sunshine streaming through the windows today.

A text or prayer of encouragement from a friend.

Printing off my rough draft and giving it to a friend. :)

A cup of coffee on a cold winter morning.

What I learned, and am continually learning, through my friend’s life is that there is JOY surrounding me.

It’s everywhere.

And it’s my choice…despite my circumstances, I can choose to find it in each day.

Maybe this is somewhat of a generic answer…I hope you don’t see it that way.

I hope that, whatever the dream God has rooted deeply in your heart, you’ll always find joy along the journey of realizing that dream.

I truly can’t wait for the day when my book is in print and I hold it in my hands.

Or for the day that I’ll hopefully have the chance to write for one of my favorite spaces.

But, today, I am embracing the joys God has given along the journey to those dreams.

For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I will sing for joy.
Psalm 63:7 (ESV)

As we do each Tuesday, a bunch of us are linking up with Holley Gerth and sharing all God is doing when it comes to our God-Sized Dreams! We’d love to have you join us!

God-Sized Dreams

Sig

My God-Sized Dream: Mending

The most dangerous word for a God-sized dream is “someday.” How can you start implementing your God-sized dream {even in a small way} right where you are?

I wrestled with this question for several days.

And then, the other night, I cried to my husband.

The tears came after we’d had a little spat…the kind that should have normally never even been an issue. The kind that really wasn’t an issue…it was just a buildup of too many feelings…that were released because I forgot to rinse out the blender after I made my protein shake. 😉 (Can anyone relate here?!)

And in expressing those extremely worked-up, tear-streaked, emotions, I started talking to him. Really talking.

About how my past still hurts and haunts me.

About how, each time I return to my hometown for a visit, which I did last week, I leave feeling more battered and scarred.

About how I need to quit letting the past define the woman God wants me to be. Because, in some ways, it’s keeping me from becoming her.

The truth is that if I let who I was be who I am nowI will never move on. Yes, I grew up feeling as if I never had a place to belong. Yes, my parents divorced when I was sixteen, causing emotional heartbreak that only God has been able to even begin to heal.

And while the past might hurt, it is never wrong to keep moving forward, talking about it when it’s necessary, because sometimes it is, and choosing to learn and grow from the pain instead of sitting and letting it continue to wound me.

When I think of Indonesia, it seems most natural to write about the good…the things that brightly painted my days and filled my heart to the point of overflow.

But if my goal is to be honest and real, then I have to face some ugly moments…the times when God chipped at me and dragged led me, sometimes kicking and screaming, through places I didn’t want to go. Because He wanted to bring Himself the glory, as it should have always been.

Writing this book has been a lesson in dealing with the past.

Yes, revisiting things that make my heart sing with complete JOY because of what He did and how He moved in such an imperfect life.

But it also means opening up those places I would rather leave locked behind a heavy, unmovable door…the places He still did some amazing things, but the places where my flaws and inadequacies were put on display for all to see.

So what I can I do now?

The writing part isn’t hard.

What I have to do now is be willing to go to those places. And while they may hurt, I need to trust and KNOW that no pain is ever wasted…and that His healing will be even greater, far surpassing what I can even imagine.

It is a complete God-thing, too, that I came across an (in)courage community that seems to be a perfect fit for this season. One of my dear God-Sized Dream Team sisters is helping lead a study on this book…and while I’m finding myself a bit guarded right now, I really am looking forward to what God will show me.

I am choosing to believe, with everything in me, that God can and will mend a heart that is still cracked, one that still sometimes-hurts, one that has never been able to fully let go of the past.

My prayer is that He will give me the grace and strength to do just that…because I really can’t wait to watch what He will do.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

Every Tuesday we’re linking up here! Click the button below to read how God is molding and shaping the lives of some amazing women who are choosing to dream BIG while following Him in obedience. We’d love for you to join us!

God-Sized Dreams

Sig

(in)RL 2013!

Hi, friends!

So, there’s this site that I like to read a lot. Maybe you’ve heard me talk about it here or there? 😉

Last April, (in)courage hosted their first ever (in)RL…(in)RealLife…conference.

It was great…really. Just an awesome time spent with friends, drinking coffee, growing closer to God and each other…and celebrating the beauty of community and friendship.

And this year it’s on for April 26th and 27th…I can’t wait!

The plan of the conference is great…because it’s all online. No plane tickets or reservations required…though there are meetups planned all over the place to give you a group to meet with, no matter where you live. Last year I met up with two of my friends, and we had a really great afternoon. :) There are sessions on Friday you can watch on your own; on Saturday, you find the nearest group and join them! (Or you can watch online on your own, but it’s more fun with friends!) :)

I seriously can’t recommend this enough…time to hang with girlfriends, laugh, eat, grow, connect, heart-share? Not to mention, the women behind this fantastic online community are amazing…every single one of them. Each day, their words bless me so much…I just love the thought of two days of hearing from them.

I have no doubt it will be incredible. :)

And, this year it’s free, too…so you really have no excuse unless you happen to have a conflict on April 26th and 27th. 😉

What do you say? Who’s in?

You can head over here to check out the details. And as a bonus, if you register today, there are free gifts!

Trust me, you won’t want to miss this.

And, for my local friends, I’m hosting the Carpentersville meet-up. I hope you’ll think about it and join in!

Sig