Book Review – Expectant Parents: Preparing Together for the Journey of Parenthood

When my husband and I found out we were expecting, I was still working at a Christian Bookstore part-time, and came across this book for expectant parents. I only read two books during my pregnancy; this one by Suzanne Hadley Gosselin, and Pregnancy: The Best Time to Submerge Your Baby in Prayer, by Edna Rivera. (I discussed the other one with my husband, but decided not to review it here because it was originally written in Spanish and we think some of it was lost in translation. I’d give the English translation 3 out of 5 stars.)

20170911_195623I enjoyed Gosselin’s book because it wasn’t about how to take care of a baby; I grew up with four younger sisters, so that’s not the part of parenting that scared me. Instead, this book discusses not only some of the changes your body will face during pregnancy, but also things like your changing marriage/relationship; how your finances or career decisions may be affected; and social challenges you may face.

A few of my favorite chapters are those directed at dads, surviving the social sides of pregnancy, and the chapter on fitting in and finding community. 

My husband isn’t much of a reader, but I convinced him to read the “Being a Dad” chapter. And I didn’t realize how beneficial the chapters on surviving the social aspects of pregnancy and finding community were until we found ourselves planning our own baby shower and, later, bringing our precious bundle home. Our family doesn’t live nearby, so we don’t have the familial support like many of our friends. Now, 7 weeks in, I’m searching for a mommy group and/or women’s bible study.

In conclusion, if you’re an expectant parent I recommend adding this book to the list of parenting books you’ll want to read. 

Advertisements

Babies, Budgets, & Faith

It’s currently around 2 a.m. and I’m beginning this post as I feed my 5-week-old baby girl, whom I affectionately call my Cookie Girl. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that we discovered last Thanksgiving that we were expecting, and since then it’s been a challenge to write because I’ve had baby on the brain, lol. It’s no joke; once you discover you’re pregnant, that baby is all you can think about for the next few months and it’s a real challenge to discuss anything else.

Angelica&Wilfredo(1of39)Pregnancy is one of the most faith-testing things I think a woman can face; at least it was for me. I’m someone who likes to plan and be in control, and pregnancy is so outside your control. Everything is completely in God’s hands. From the timing of conception, to the sex of the baby, the health of mom and baby, and to the circumstances and time of the delivery; He plans and knows every detail, leaving us with no choice but to trust Him.

I thank God for a healthy and smooth pregnancy and delivery. I know not everyone has a good experience during pregnancy. I had some nausea during the first trimester, but nothing too serious, and not until my last trimester did I have a ton of difficulty sleeping and swelling in my legs and feet. I gained a pretty healthy amount of weight by mostly sticking to foods high in protein throughout, not giving in to every craving, and drinking lots of water. And when my water broke at 5:30 a.m., in July, we were blessed to welcome a precious, healthy baby girl into our arms, just 12 hours later.

When we found out we were pregnant, we were just a payment or two shy of paying off my husband’s car. So we finished that, and then, just as Dave Ramsey suggests, we paused our baby step two–paying off debt–to save for baby.  However, while we were adding to our emergency fund, my car’s power-steering gave out on me one night, just as I was merging onto the highway. This pushed up our timeline to purchase another vehicle by a few months, and we were able to purchase a new used vehicle with cash, in May. Then we went back to putting money into our emergency fund for the rest of the pregnancy.

To be quite honest, I wasn’t as on my budget game as I should have been during this pregnancy. The biggest budget buster for us was food, since nothing ever sounded appealing to me, lol. But we did save in other ways. An area I recommend to save money on is maternity clothes. I suggest only purchasing a pair or two of maternity jeans; two pair of dress pants, if you work outside the home; two maternity shirts; two tank tops; two or three pairs of maternity leggings; and three or four maternity/nursing bras. I also picked up a few stretchy, flowy, dresses from Ross to wear as tunic tops with my leggings, and my sister sent me a few beautiful dresses she’d found on the clearance rack, as well. Dresses, leggings and tunic tops were my best friends towards the end, and I’m still wearing them post-pregnancy, since my pre-preggo pants aren’t fitting just yet.

Baby clothes are another area to save in. We realized early on that there are sooo many cute baby clothes out there that it would be very easy to go overboard. I had to remind myself, more than once, that our new baby wouldn’t need all that many clothes. Baby’s outgrow them really fast; and clothes tend to get laundered every few days anyways. Most importantly, God really instilled in me that our children are not toys or fashion accessories; Cookie Girl has been entrusted to my husband and I to raise and train for His glory, not to put on display. Besides, what would we be teaching her if we were overly concerned about her appearance? The Lord, Himself, says that it’s our hearts that matter (1 Samuel 16:7), not outside appearances, and we would do well to instill that in our children.

I thank God that He’s given us this opportunity to love, teach/train another human being about Himself. It’s quite a responsibility to raise a little person that will ultimately become a full-fledged adult. My husband and I find ourselves praying quite often for direction, and we’re only in the first few weeks! We may still be learning about this whole parenting thing, but I’d like this to be a shared experience, so intermittently I’ll bring up challenges and things we’ve learned along the way with y’all, just as I have regarding other areas of my life. I love y’all and pray that God continue to use me and this blog for His honor.

20170814_103016

Planning a Debt-Free Wedding 

This post has been a long time coming. For those of you who don’t know, my husband and I were engaged in December 2015, and married by May of 2016. We’d been dating for about a year and a half before he proposed, so we decided on a short engagement. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I’ve been following Dave Ramsey and have been trying to pay off all my debt for the last few years, so the then fiancé and I agreed not to go overboard on the wedding.

So, how did we accomplish a beautiful wedding without going into debt? I’ll explain.

Talk About Your Goals

Before we were even engaged, W (the now hubbs) and I had discussed our financial goals. He watched the Dave Ramsey FPU videos with me and we talked about how this would work for us. Therefore, when we went to pick out that engagement ring together–lol, yes, I wanted to pick it out–he knew going in, that we weren’t going to finance it, and we had a budget in mind.

Budget

There goes that dirty little word, lol. But it’s so important! Without a budget, the sky is the limit. I’ve heard about couples who start out their marriage tens of thousands of dollars in debt because they went for the huge engagement ring, lavish wedding, and expensive honey moon; and we didn’t want to be in that boat. Especially, since we were already going into marriage with my student loan debt and his car loan (we’ll talk about this more at another time).

Here are some ways we chose to cut down on expenses.

The Ring

We shopped around a few places looking for the ring. What I originally thought I wanted, once I saw it on my finger, I wasn’t really impressed with. However, the best decision we made was to go with a local, family-owned jeweler. Their prices were much lower than the chain stores AND they had the ability to replicate any designer piece that we wanted at a fraction of the cost.

The Dress

I chose not to go overboard on the dress. I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on a dress A&W-158that, let’s be honest, I was only going to wear once. Two of the most important take-aways during dress shopping 1) don’t knock the discount rack, and 2) don’t be afraid to try on something you think looks strange on the hanger. (That’s how I found my dress!) Also, don’t forget to include the cost of alterations, shoes, and veil, if you choose to wear one. Lastly, instead of going with the dress shop for alterations, check around for a good deal. We chose to go with a local tailor because they charged much less. (Don’t forget, you could always rent a dress if you won’t want to purchase one.)

The Guest List

It may seem like I’ve placed this in the wrong spot, but really, the size of your guest list is going to determine a lot about your wedding. When W and I were discussing our wedding plans, I originally didn’t want a wedding; I wanted to elope. Mostly, because I’m in introvert and get stressed out by crowds. Eventually, I changed my mind, but I wanted to keep the wedding as small as possible. Therefore, our guest list was less than 50 people. This meant we could choose a smaller wedding venue and had some wiggle room when it came to food and drinks.

(Disclaimer: If you go this route, don’t be surprised if people get upset with you for not inviting them to your wedding. Sadly, I have family members that refuse to talk to me because we chose not to invite extended family.)

The Venue

Living in Northern Virginia means that our area is rife with prime wedding locations.A&W-348 However, most of them cost MUCH more than we wanted to spend. We decided on a small, local farm that charged by the hour to use their barn space, and we chose to have a brunch wedding. Choosing the brunch wedding meant we didn’t have to pay the costs associated with an evening wedding (i.e. extra security, clean up, lighting, etc.). The cost was soo much better than if we’d gone with one of the bigger farms, or bed-and-breakfasts, that provided a full-service wedding. And we used the picnic tables provided in the rental, so we didn’t have to rent tables and chairs!

The Caterer & Baker

A&W-213My husband loves food. Like REALLY loves food. I was just telling someone today, that he’s pretty much an artist in the kitchen. I cook to eat, but when he cooks, it’s a creative experiment, lol. So, when it came to food we really had to do some research. We went with a local caterer, who provided his own staff and table linens, and worked well alongside the bakers from the cupcake shop we purchased our cupcakes from. And we ate family style! Meaning, food was passed along the table, instead of buffet style or plated. I loved it!

Photographer & DJ

We have quite a few friends who have side photography businesses, and I’m sure you do too, since it’s become much more common nowadays. I’d suggest you shop around, and check out portfolios before making your decision. Your lowest offer might not be your best, but neither might your highest. We chose to have a friend that we weren’t specifically inviting to the wedding take our photos, because we didn’t want our guests to have to work during the wedding. We also knew someone who offered DJ services, through our church, at a reasonable price. You’d be surprised how far networking and checking with your friends can take you.

Flowers & Décor

ANGELICA&WILFREDO-22

For most weddings these two might go under separate categories, but for our wedding I’d say they went under one. First off, we didn’t have a wedding party. There were no bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girls, or ring bearers. Remember, we wanted to keep the cost and stress levels way down (and when you have additional people involved in the ceremony, the stress level skyrockets). I’d suggest, even if you do have a wedding party, don’t use a big flower retailer, because you’re going to pay way too much. We almost purchased our flowers through Costco, because they had good prices, but instead, we were able to find a florist who was just starting out. She gave us a great deal on my bouquet, Ws boutonniere, and our parents boutonnieres and corsages. I believe when it comes to flowers, less is more. (I think we actually ordered a little too many flowers for our table décor, lol.)

For our table settings we purchased some lace, crates, and milk bottles from the craft store and IKEA, and during the wedding ceremony our guests sat on bales of hay.

Friends & Family

Lastly, we couldn’t have had a debt-free wedding without our close friends and family. A friend did my wedding day makeup; our parents helped pay for the venue, my dress, and the flowers; and the night before the wedding, some of our friends and family helped us decorate our venue. Afterwards, they helped clean up and put everything back in order. A&W-217

I just wanted to share this with you to tell you that you don’t have to go into debt to have a beautiful wedding. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is that you’re marrying the one you love. As I told W before our wedding, even if everything went terribly wrong, all that mattered was that at the end of the day we’d be husband and wife.

A&W-524

 

Dead Men Walking

Hello friends! I know, it’s been a while. There have been some pretty crazy changes going on in my life. If you recall, my husband and I are expecting our first baby (it’s a girl!) in July, so I’ve had a lot going on, but I really wanted to share this with you…

I’m currently 21 weeks, and during this pregnancy there have been certain times where I’ve had some pretty strange dreams. But none stick out more prominently, than the one I had early in my second trimester, because it seemed to have spiritual significance.

In this dream, I was in a town, where everybody was dead, but they didn’t know it. They were walking around like zombies (without all the gross bodily changes that occur in the sci-fi/fantasy world). They were just trying to go on about their daily routines, but were failing. Oddly enough, some realized that they were dead and wanted to leave this town with me, even trying to take some of their children with them, but the other dead people tried their best to prevent them from leaving.

For the next couple days I pondered this dream and realized, this is reality. We walk by people who are dead in their sin every day. They just don’t know it!

In fact, Ephesians 2:1-3 states that we were all dead in our sins, walked in disobedience, and lived according to the desires of our flesh (we did what felt good/right in our own eyes); and Romans 8:7 says we were actually actively/willfully hostile to God. But God…

But God, being [so very] rich in mercy, because of His great and wonderful love with which He loved us, even when we were [spiritually] dead and separated from Him because of our sins, He made us [spiritually] alive together with Christ (for by His grace—His undeserved favor and mercy—you have been saved from God’s judgment). And He raised us up together with Him [when we believed], and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, [because we are] in Christ Jesus, [and He did this] so that in the ages to come He might [clearly] show the immeasurable and unsurpassed riches of His grace in [His] kindness toward us in Christ Jesus [by providing for our redemption]. ~ Ephesians 2: 4-7, Amplified

God gives us new LIFE, hope, joy, and peace! This isn’t to say that there won’t be tough days or troubles/obstacles in our life, but that He’ll be with us every step of the way; if only we’ll believe and accept Him as Lord and Savior. There’s hope for the walking dead, found only in Christ Jesus.

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” ~ Romans 10:14-15, NLT

So, who are the dead men/women walking in our lives? Could it be our co-worker, our classmate, or relative? Could it be our neighbor, our doctor, or cashier?

May we be the bringers of good news!! May we guard our tongue and speak truth in love. May our actions line up with our words and beliefs. And may we boldly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever we go!

The Gift of Life

Good morning, my beautiful readers! Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything, but I have a really good excuse this time! I’m pregnant! Currently, 13 weeks and 2 days.

I was working two jobs when my husband and I discovered we’d be expecting–the day after Thanksgiving, lol–but I quit my part-time position in December, after the holidays had subsided, and the only thing preventing me from sharing with y’all has been the fatigue and nausea associated with the first trimester. I have been feeling a little better the last few days, so hopefully, I can continue where we left off.

This morning, on my way in to work, God and I were having this really long conversation. I was talking to Him about my pregnancy and the baby; my marriage and relationship with my husband; my friends and family who are also expecting; and my friends who’ve recently given birth, and their marriages. Then I started thanking Him for the life He’s given me and here’s where I started to break down a little.

If you’ve read my testimony, you understand why I began getting so emotional. There was once a time in my life where I didn’t see a baby as a precious gift, but as an inconvenience. I’ve since then recognized my flawed thinking and repented of my sins and failures, but to be in the position that I am now…is overwhelming, to say the least. God’s not only given me new life through His Son Jesus Christ, but now He’s giving me new life in the form of a baby; and that just goes to show how forgiving, loving, and merciful and generous He is.

This Friday, January 27th, is the March for Life in D.C. Last year I got snowed out, and this year I won’t be able to make it just due to the fact that that’s a lot of walking and I’m not prepared for it in my current state (my body has been so achy, lately, since everything is shifting inside). However, if you can make it, I encourage you to do so. I’ll be praying for your safety and that God speaks clearly through you. Don’t forget that there are people on both sides of this issue and we all need to see God’s love and truth through you; we need our talk to be seasoned with grace at all times.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1, ESV

Lastly, I just want to say…we serve a great GREAT God and I don’t know where I would be without Him. If you are, or ever have been, where I once was, or you don’t have a personal relationship with Christ, and you want to know more, submit a comment below and I’ll be sure to respond with love and grace. I love you all, because God loves us all, and gave up His one and only Son for us so that we might have eternal life with Him…all of us.

Take care and God bless!

Top Priority

Last week, in bible study, we were discussing the days leading up to the day of Pentecost, in the first chapter of Acts. We talked about how God took a group of ordinary people and brought them to a new level with Him, based on their obedience, unity, and prayer.

Somewhere during the discussion, we began sharing about how sometimes it’s so difficult to set aside time to build our personal relationship with God. For many of us there were periods in our lives where we had all the time in the world to study the Word, pray, or worship. It may have been a time when we were without a job, or as we sat beside a sick or dying loved one, or when we were simply at the end of our rope and had hit rock bottom, and the only way up was to cling to the hope found in Christ. But then there are periods in our life when we are overwhelmingly busy with family, jobs, community service & outreach opportunities, church–the list seems to never end–and our relationship with the Lord takes the back burner.

However, we must remember that we need God’s presence in every season of our life, not just the most difficult. Ironically enough, just like Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, when we feel at our weakest and turn to Christ for strength, is when we are truly strong, and when we feel strongest and try to make it without Him, we’re actually at our weakest! The Israelites were notorious for forgetting the blessings and promises of God during the good times in their lives and neglecting their worship and obedience to Him; thus causing them to eventually lose those very blessings and promised land.

As is often pointed out during these types of discussions, someone brought up the fact that we can approach God in prayer during any moment of the day. This is aligning with Scripture; I mean, the Bible actually tell us to pray without ceasing, to pray continually in the Spirit, and to pray persistently and on every occasion (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18). But I also like to point out that Jesus Himself, often stole away from the busy-ness of His ministry to spend alone time with His Father (Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 5:16; Luke 6:12).

The truth is, when we desire to strengthen a relationship with someone we spend quality time with them. We participate in activities together, we communicate, we make time for one another; we try to learn as much as we can about one another. Sure, we can do that surrounded by others, but is our undivided attention upon the other individual? Or are we distracted by the television, the other cars on the road, the next activity or responsibility on our to-do list? As a newly married individual, I know that with two jobs, community service & outreach activities, and church, I may see and talk with my husband every day, but I know it’s not the same thing as spending quality time with him. Because I love him and want to continually develop and strengthen our marriage we still schedule “date nights.” We schedule that time because it’s important to us and important to our marriage.

wp-image-862409418jpg.jpgLikewise, when our time and attention are pulled in multiple directions and we’re not spending the quality time we need with our heavenly Father, no matter how many things we try to do or accomplish, we’re never going to get to the place where God can really use us the way He desires to use us. It’s just like we discussed before in Blemished Sacrifices about giving God our best, our first-fruits, instead of offering Him the leftovers. If we can schedule date nights, doctor’s appointments, coffee dates with our friends, mommy-and-me play dates, time to workout in the gym, or any other activity we deem important, then we can most certainly schedule quality personal time in the Word, prayer, and worship. If we call ourselves believers and we profess that Jesus is Lord of our life and that He comes first and foremost in our lives, then this is most certainly something we can, should, and desire to do.

HOW…

Now let’s get practical and discuss how we can do this. Some people are morning people. They have no trouble getting up early in the mornings to set aside time for prayer and the Word. I’m a morning person, but I still have trouble getting up earlier than I need to; in a perfect world I would study the Word between the hours of 9-11. But obviously, we don’t live in a perfect world, and I’m at work during these hours. Since I recently took on a second job, I now keep a written schedule that helps keep me on track and helps me manage my time better so that I can accomplish all my goals, rather than having time manage me.

Let me tell you, this has been one of the best decisions ever! Try it! Spend 30 minutes of your morning planning out your day. How long does it take you to get ready? When do you eat lunch? How long do you spend commuting? When do you eat lunch? Cook dinner? Go grocery shopping? Planning out your day is a lot like creating a financial budget; you only have so many hours in a day and you want to spend each of them wisely. Ever since I’ve started this I feel like I get so much more accomplished. You never realize how much time is wasted surfing the internet, watching TV or YouTube, or playing games until you give an account for each moment of your day.

Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean I don’t have fun or time to relax. Even with a schedule, sometimes I still find a few free moments to scroll through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And there are still days when I keep part of my schedule clear so that I don’t always feel so hurried. Lastly, I think even when we have a schedule, we still have to maintain some level of flexibility. Sometimes something just comes up. Plans have to be rearranged, or changed, altogether; but this shouldn’t be a regular occurrence.

Some days I choose to use my 30 minute lunch break as my time to search the Word, while other days I get to spend 45 minutes of delicious time in His presence. But it’s only because I make it a priority. If we want to spend time in His presence, we must prioritize our time; because if we don’t, all the other activities of the day will consume us, and we will have nothing left to offer Him, but our leftovers.

Worship Series: Song Selection

If you’ve been following for some time, you’d know that I help out with children’s worship once a month. Well, once a month we also hold a children’s worship practice, where we introduce new songs and motions to our children’s worship team. And every month I struggle with tying to figure out what new songs I’d like to add to our slowly growing list.

Now, it’s not that I don’t have songs that I love, however, everybody has their own style of worship and artists they prefer, and I’m no different. I love upbeat and energetic praise songs and I love worship, but I’m also very lyrically driven. Obviously, I’m a writer, so I tend to be drawn to songs with powerful, biblically sound lyrics. I mean, the Bible says that true worshipers will worship in spirit and in truth, and the Word is Truth (John 4:23-24).

However, when it comes to children’s worship, I can’t always choose to share or lead the same songs that I enjoy during my personal worship time, because the lyrics are sometimes too complex for children between the ages of 5-12. That’s not to say that I choose watered down songs, because that would mean I’d be underestimating the understanding of the children; and children understand much more than we often give them credit for. (That’s why Jesus said that we should be more like little children in Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18.) However, sometimes I really struggle with finding age-appropriate songs, especially because our group varies so vastly in age.

I think this is a challenge that someone leading any type of worship–adults, children, teens, etc.–faces: choosing the right songs for the particular group you’re leading. Leading adult worship, for instance, means you have to choose songs that reach a multitude of generations (unless your church has only one primary age group).

Here are three things that I started taking into consideration when choosing songs for Children’s Worship:

Tempo

Because I’m working with kids this is an important one. If we want the children to be excited about worship, we need some up-tempo songs to begin with and we have to be careful when we slow down our praise and enter into worship. Usually, I like to have a transition song, something mid-tempo, before going into worship, but sometimes it’s not always possible. Their attention span is pretty short and I’ve found that if we sing any more than one worship song, we usually lose them.

Lyrics

This is the most challenging for me. Some of my favorite worship songs are very lyric heavy. They either have a lot of lyrics or the lyrics are complex. In the days leading up to our most recent practice, for example, I went back and forth on a song that I really loved, but eventually decided against because I felt that the kids couldn’t handle it. The best songs for them tend to be those with simpler lyrics and repeating choruses, although I have found some exceptions. Songs that they are familiar with, because they hear them repeatedly on the radio, tend to do extremely well with this group! So much so, that we’ve begun to use more of such songs during worship.

Song Length

Unfortunately, we don’t have a live band for our children’s worship, so we use tracks (usually, including the lyrics). Sometimes the track we have is too long or there’s too much ad-lib going on in the track. I’ve been making notes of which songs these are, so that I don’t continue to use them or I request that a new/different version of the song be purchased. Again, I can’t lead an 8 minute worship song with this age group, since they just don’t have the attention span, and they don’t know what to do when someone is ad-libbing.

Still, even after taking these things into consideration, we just have to lead the song a few times and see how the children respond to it. Sometimes they pick it up easily and other times we end up disappointed and end up removing the song from our list.

Now I have questions for you…How do you choose which songs to use in your worship services? And how many times do you try/lead a new song before ultimately giving up on it? I’d love to hear your responses below!