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Favorite Budget-Friendly Date Ideas

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Favorite Budget-Friendly Date Ideas

“I’ve probably spent tens of thousands of dollars on you throughout the years,” Nick said to me shortly after we got engaged. “And every penny was worth it.”

As sweet as this statement my now-husband made was, it made me wonder: why is dating so dang expensive?! As much as I love dating my husband and going on adventures with him, after being together for almost 10 years, I can only imagine how much money we’ve spent on dates throughout the years. Not that that money isn’t worth it – but now that we’re buckling down on paying off debt and saving for a home, we’ve been trying to find intentional, consistent ways to spend time together without breaking the bank. So if you’re in the same boat, this post is for you! I’ve compiled a few of my favorite budget-friendly date ideas that we absolutely LOVE – and I hope you will, too!

1. One of my favorite dates was Nick’s idea – we each got a couple of dollars and went to the dollar store. We had to choose and buy three things that we thought represented the other person and tell them why we chose each object. It was so much fun to see what each of us chose! I still remember one of the objects that Nick chose that ended up being SO meaningful – he bought a little plastic microphone and told me that it reminded him of me because of my soothing voice and encouraging words. Yes… I cried.

2. Around Christmas, Nick and I love to buy some hot chocolate and drive around local neighborhoods in search of the best Christmas lights (while listening to Christmas music, of course!). In 2017 we stumbled across the BEST house that literally had a radio station that played songs that they had coordinated their lights to. SO MUCH FUN! Another year, we stumbled across a house that had SO many lights that were going SO crazy that their neighbor’s dog was literally sitting and staring for a solid ten minutes. Then we came back about a week later, and there the dog was AGAIN, in the same spot, staring at the house. You never know what you’ll find!

3. As a summer alternative to our Christmas date, Nick and I will either buy smoothies or take popsicles on a walk around our neighborhood (we live in a small town that’s soooo much fun to walk around!)

4. One of our new favorite dates is candle making! Believe it or not, it’s actually NOT that expensive (though maybe slightly more than five dollars!) and actually yields something that you can use around your home! We like to save glass jars from foods we eat (pasta sauce, salsa, and pickle jars are our go-to’s!) to cut down on the cost, then buy the wax and wicks from Amazon (click here for wax, click here for wicks!). If you want to get extra fancy, you can even buy some scents to put in! (Click here for some of our favorites!). If you want to make your candle wax a different color, cut off a small piece of colored crayon and throw it into the wax while it’s being melted!

5. Another new favorite date for us is bread making. All of the ingredients are soooo cheap, and really, it’s not that hard (we like to bake while we watch movies!). It’s something fun you can eat or give away (we started this date habit while eating low carb – whoops!!).

6. MoviePass is our NEWEST favorite thing!! Have you heard of it? It’s basically the Netflix of the movie theatre world. You buy a subscription, pay a certain amount of money per month (I think it’s $9.95 right now, but they run deals on the regular!) and then you can go see a movie a day. Literally. Any theatre, any movie, any day. Not like anyone really has the time to see a movie a day, but if you do the math and commit to seeing at least two movies a month – you’ll have two budget-friendly dates a month that are already pre-paid for!! For us, this was worth it, because we have trouble leaving the house (home bodies right here!) and this is a good motivation to go do something outside of the house a few times a month!

7. Volunteer or serve together. While this might sound like kind of a weird date idea, it’s (typically) totally free and lets you get outside of yourself a little bit. Whether it’s serving together at a soup kitchen, putting together care packages for people, or doing yard work for a neighbor or grandparent, serving is a great way to form a connection with someone and lets you love on someone else in the process! This is one we have a goal to incorporate more of into our lives within the next couple of months!

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How My Husband Proposed

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How My Husband Proposed

Unbeknownst to me, for about a year before he popped the question, Nick had been hatching a major plan – and one that involved pretty much everyone we knew. He had been secretly preparing, filming, scheduling, and coordinating behind the scenes and I literally had no idea.

The day Nick proposed was a Saturday, and it was an unusual one for me. At that time in my life, I was working as a wedding banquet server, and that Saturday had been what my boss at the time called an “all hands on deck” day, when everyone was required to work and no one was allowed to request off. But, surprisingly – he told me to take a day off. I was a little surprised, but didn’t really think much of it and took it as an unexpected blessing (later I found out that Nick had called him and asked for me to have the day off – talk about a great boss!).

Another thing that made this Saturday particularly unusual was the fact that my whole immediate family was gone and out of the house pretty early in the morning and were (supposedly) going to visit my grandparents (not unusual for them on a Saturday). They hadn’t asked if I wanted to come, so I took it as a sign that I needed to take this day to rest – you know, between being a full time student and working multiple part time jobs, there was kind of a lot going on! (Later I found out that my family was NOT at my grandparents – they were at a park practicing a choreography routine – more on that soon! Also, I found out after the fact that my sister had left her journal open on the kitchen table with a prayer written inside, praying that “Nick’s proposal to Jenna would go well.” I cannot believe I didn’t see it, I was literally working FROM the kitchen table that day! Totally God!)

All that was on the agenda for the day was a picnic date with Nick in the afternoon after a relaxing morning. I hadn’t eaten much that day because Nick said that we were going to have a FEAST, so by the time he came to pick me up for our date, I WAS STARVING. Literally all I could think about was eating.

We got in the car, and there was a picnic basket in the back – I asked if I could take a peek to see what he had packed, but he immediately said no and that what was inside was a surprise. Then, for the entire drive to the park, Nick said basically nothing. It almost seemed like something was wrong, so he told me that he was having some trouble at his job with his new job (he wasn’t), so I reassured him and didn’t think much of it.

When we got to the park, my stomach was growling like CRAZY and I hopped out of the car, PUMPED to eat some delicious picnic food! I went to grab the picnic basket and Nick said “why don’t we take a walk first!” Oh my gosh. I wanted to kick him. I put up a bit of a fight, but finally conceded, and we started walking towards a big open field. But then, we saw a naked man sun tanning (no joke), so we turned around and headed back up the road (I learned later that Nick had to stall me because his mom had went to buy ketchup for the post-proposal barbecue! Also – he wasn’t stalling me with the naked man, that just happened to be unexpected and hilarious!).

We started walking up the road, hand in hand (Nick’s were sweating like crazy!), and I saw something move in the bushes – and it looked like something big. I started backing up, mumbling that we should probably turn around. But Nick grabbed my hand and kept pulling me along. What a picture of being in relationship with someone else – one of us falling behind from fear, the other grabbing our hand and walking us forward.

We finally reached the end of the road and turned to find a huge parking lot FULL of people – but all of their backs were turned towards us, and they were just standing there, all spread apart. At this point, I was starting to freak out a little bit “Nick, we should REALLY turn around!” But then, he pulled a boom box out of a bush, pressed play – and really, I should let this video finish the rest:

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Favorite Books for Personal & Creative Growth

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Favorite Books for Personal & Creative Growth

If you were a late nineties or early two-thousands kid, you might remember the school book program where reading a certain number of books would earn you your own personal pan pizza. Oh my gosh, I LIVED for that challenge because it included two of my all time favorite things: books and pizza. I already LOVED to read as a young child, but adding in pizza to the mix was like the cherry on top of the sundae (or maybe the pepperoni on top of the pizza??) Regardless, it was amazing!

Throughout the years as I became busier and busier in high school and college, my love for reading became more of a duty to read. Classes, after school activities, and part time jobs put my love for reading on the back burner (or at least for reading books that I actually wanted to!) until about midway through college. Then I read a book that catapulted me back into my love for reading: “Start” by Jon Acuff, a simple book about starting something you love. At the time, I was starting to take my business more seriously as a real source of income and purpose (and not just as a hobby), and this book hit me right where I needed to be hit to get off my butt and actually pursue this thing - which, today, happens to be my full time job.

I realized after reading that book how important reading was to me, and once again, my love was sparked again. I’m not the most consistent reader, as I’ve only read anywhere from 4 to 8 books per year for the last 5 years, but nevertheless, my love for knowledge still remains.

There are some books I’ve read over the past few years that have completely changed my view on the world, on my work, and on what I’ve been called to do and pursue, and today I’d love to share them with you!

1. "The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brene Brown

This book HAD to be first on my list because it was such a game changer for me. Brene Brown has dubbed herself as a “shame researcher,” which basically means that she talks to people about shame, guilt, love, insecurity, security, and all of the topics that fall under that general umbrella. In this book, Brene uses cold hard facts mixed with emotional vulnerability as a guide to experience “a wholehearted life” to help readers “let go of who they’re supposed to be and embrace who they are.” This book helped me see my struggles with insecurity and self-doubt in the face of truth, and for that, I am eternally thankful! If you're interested, check it out and/or buy it here!

2. "The Best Yes" by Lysa Terkeurst

Do you have trouble saying no? I know I do, and back whenever I was first recommended to read this book by a friend, I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to stop. I remember thinking what’s so bad about saying no if I’m chasing my dream/passion? How can I say no and still pursue what I love and what I’ve been called to do? Won’t I come off as a jerk? Well, Lysa goes through all of this and more! This book really is a must-read if you struggle with being a people-pleaser and with saying “yes” because you just don’t know how or when to say no! Interested? Check it out here!

3. "Creative Confidence" by Tim Kelley & David Kelley

One of my favorite parts about this book is the vast amount of case studies Tim and David offer, as well as their belief that everyone, regardless of job title, position, or career path, has the ability to foster incredible amounts of creative confidence. They inspire readers to think outside of themselves by using empathy to build services, products, experiences, and teams that not only are outside of the box, but all of the way on the other side of the room! This book is a must-read for everyone who wants to develop more creative confidence. Check it out here!

4. "Love Does" by Bob Goff

I read this book for the first time in February of 2018 and literally cannot stop thinking about it. This book is a collection of stories about how Jesus has worked in Bob Goff’s life. It was such a challenge to me to love people more openly and fiercely, regardless of their background or issues. We all have issues; we all have struggles. And Bob demonstrates how important it is to love people in today’s world. It’s just amazing.

And BECAUSE this book is so amazing, I've it's being lent out to someone else and I don't have a photo of it - ha! But if you'd like to see the book and read a little bit more about it, check out the link below!

5. "Girlboss" by Sophia Amoruso

If you want to be inspired to chase your dream, then this book is a must-read (especially if you’re a female)! Sophia talks about her life story and journey from rebel to CEO of an incredibly successful online clothing business, giving practical advice along the way for how the reader can follow their dream and pursue their passion along the way. I try to read this book at least once a year because it’s just that inspiring to me! Buy it here!

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Another Embarrassing Story & Lesson Learned

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Another Embarrassing Story & Lesson Learned

I'm heading to a wedding in May (as a guest - yay!) and stopped at the mall a few weeks back to try to find a dress. Inevitably, I ended up in Macy's because I couldn't find anything fancy enough anywhere else. Big department stores make me so nervous - I don't know why!! I guess I'm more of a small store kinda girl.

This Macy's in particular has three floors, so I needed to use an escalator to get upstairs. So, I walk up to the escalator, jump on, and think to myself, why is it so hard to get up this escalator?! So I start running up it, finally realizing that I was running up an escalator that was actually going DOWN. What the fudge?! I'm not sure why I didn't stop when I realized that I was actually headed in the wrong direction, but, regardless, a few older women cheered me on (I kid you not!!) as I finally reached the top in a flop sweat.

I looked around and saw a couple of people chuckling to themselves. I can't imagine how absurd I looked running up that escalator in 2.5 inch heeled boots and my giant winter jacket, purse flailing, arms pumping. Actually - I can imagine it, I just don't really want to! I'll leave that mental image to the people who were "blessed" enough to witness my fight or flight response kick into action ;)

I realized soon after that whole ordeal feel like I did on that escalator in my everyday life.

I take the wrong direction towards a bad thought pattern or feeling because I wasn’t paying close enough attention to how it would (or could) affect me – then I have to work twice as hard to get through something that wasn’t even a problem to begin with. Anyone else? I basically made my own problem, just like I did that day in Macy’s on the escalator.

Thank the good Lord for his reminders, though - "Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life," Proverbs 4:23 (CSB). Another version (CEV) says "Carefully guard your thoughts because they are the source of true life." It's amazing how not guarding our hearts and minds can lead to much more strife and unrest than God intended us to live with.

What about you? What piece of your mind or heart needs some guarding today from a destructive thought patten? Whether you believe what the Bible says or not, I would contend that the implementation of this single piece of truth could make a huge impact on your day to day life.

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Hustle: the Enemy of Rest?

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Hustle: the Enemy of Rest?

Hustle is a word we’ve grown accustomed to using when describing chasing our passions and dreams. It’s a word full of pride and has become an anthem for those of us chasing our dream careers. A reported 44 million Americans claim to have a side-hustle in conjunction with their current full time job, the majority of those 44 million being between the ages of 18 and 25 (source). Which personally, I think is awesome! My (now) full time photography career began as a side hustle as a freshman in college, and over six years, slowly, with lots of sweat (and many tears) morphed into my chosen career path – and for that, I couldn’t be more thankful. But recently, as I was reflecting over the past six years, a surprising question popped in my head:

Was I using hustle as an excuse to avoid my need for rest?

Was I using hustle as an excuse to avoid my need for rest?

I can remember a time in college when I was hustling hard. For longer than I care to admit, I took 18 credits per semester, worked three part time jobs, all the while working on my photography side-hustle. The days were long and the rest was nonexistent. The only friends I had were the people I went to school with, hanging out with my boyfriend and/or family almost always revolved around my ability to get work done while “enjoying quality time” with loved ones (editing photos while having a bonfire, studying while watching a movie, etc.), and all in all, I was miserable and couldn’t figure out why. “But I’m hustling!” I thought to myself. “I’m hustling through and working towards my goals. There’s nothing wrong with that!” But really, while I was hustling hard I was missing out on so many more important things. Friends. Family. Hobbies. Anything fun was immediately thrown out the window in the name of hustle.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m so thankful that I was able to hustle hard to make the dream of owning my own photography business a reality, and I am beyond grateful to be able to get paid to do what I love – but in the last few years, I’ve been learning some hard truths about rest. Two years ago, I was working out before a full day of work, followed by a photography session, when I felt a pop in my back. I’ve had back pain my entire life, but I knew something about this wasn’t right. The pain started in my back and shot down my leg to my foot like a giant tooth ache. Over the next few days, I experienced excruciating pain that forced me to miss days of work and many photography sessions – all I could do was lay in bed. After a few months of physical therapy, the pain slightly decreased but was still debilitating. I finally went to the doctors for an MRI and found out that I had a severely herniated disc, along with a few bulging discs.

During this period of my life, I wondered why I was going through such pain. I constantly fought God, begging him to let me continue doing what I loved to do – but then, after lots of wrestling, I realized that this pain might have a greater purpose. I realized that the pain I was experiencing – no matter how extreme – gave me time with my husband. I wasn’t running a million miles an hour  (I couldn’t even get out of bed many days!), so I was able to spend lots of quality time with my husband – something we had been missing in our first few months of marriage. I was also forced to rely on other people – something I have never been able to do. I had to rely on my husband, my family, and my friends to help me physically and to encourage me spiritually. I had to pause my hustle. And even though it was hard at the time (and still is!), I’m so grateful for those sweet moments where I learned not only to trust the people around me, but the God who has my life in his hands and works all things together for His good.

Today, I’m happy to say that I’m on the road to healing in more ways than one. Physically, I can photograph a wedding without being bed ridden the next few days, and psychologically, I can take at least one day off a week as a Sabbath to spend time with friends and family without completely losing my mind. I’m slowly realizing that I don’t need to work 12 hour days or 60 to 80 hour weeks to feel fulfilled, and that hustle, while wonderful in moderation, doesn’t have to become an enemy of my rest. By choosing to be intentional with my periods of rest and relaxation, I’m better able to do what God has called me to do. I’m a better business owner, a better friend, a better wife, daughter, sister, and Jesus-follower when I choose to rest and deny hustle reign over my life. I still have SO far to go, but I couldn’t be more thankful for the lessons I’ve learned and for the direction I’m headed.

What’s denying you of the rest you need? Where and what might you be saying yes to that’s stealing the rest that your body, mind, and spirit so desperately crave?

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What Disney's Boardwalk Taught Me About Grace

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What Disney's Boardwalk Taught Me About Grace

Shortly after our honeymoon in Disney, Nick and I started waking up and asking each other “do you want to go to Disney today?” It’s a little inside joke we have – every day feels like a good day to go to Disney, but one day in February of 2018, the answer was finally a “yes” – we were actually going to Disney!

Nick had surprised me with my first stay ever on Disney property for our honeymoon at Disney’s Boardwalk Inn. We stayed in a corner room and could see fireworks from both Hollywood Studios AND Epcot from our balcony. It was stinking EPIC.

Honestly, I thought we would never stay at the Boardwalk again. A friend of ours who worked for Disney had been incredibly kind to help Nick get an amazing discount on our room for our honeymoon. But, low and behold, since our honeymoon we’ve stayed there twice more, but our third visit is what brings these words to you today.

After spending some time with family and friends at a house in Orlando, Nick and I decided we wanted to stay at the Boardwalk for a couple of nights, just the two of us, as a birthday/Christmas/Valentine’s/anniversary gift (gotta do what you gotta do to get back to Disney!). We decided a few years into our relationship that we’d rather gift each other experiences with one another than objects, so this was one of those experiences we couldn’t wait to share (again)! I think, out of the two, experiences tend to build a stronger relational foundation than any sort of gift might.

We chose the smallest, most inexpensive room – we just love the experience of being on Disney property (and being within walking distance to the parks was a bonus, too!!), and checked in on Nick’s birthday, which, for Nick, was probably one of the best birthday gifts he’s ever received.

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We checked in a couple of hours before our “official” 3PM check in (well – actually 5 hours before!), so we had a LOT of time to kill. We hadn’t really planned anything special for Nick’s birthday (besides checking into the Boardwalk!), so while Nick went to grab a drink, I slyly made my way to concierge service desk to ask if they could help. I explained that it was my husband’s birthday, that his favorite place ever is the Boardwalk, and asked if she might be able to give me some ideas for things around the Boardwalk we could do for his birthday while we wait.

The woman smiled, gave me a couple of suggestions, and said that she would have someone send a birthday card to his room – which I knew he would absolutely love! She also took our name and reservation number - so she knew where to send the card, I assumed.

About an hour later, we received a message that our room was ready. We were both confused – we had stayed at the Boardwalk before, and never had we ever been able to check into our room so early. Regardless, we went, picked up our luggage, and headed off to our room. At first – we couldn’t find it. We went through one hall of rooms, down a set of stairs, and outdoors, wondering if they had made a mistake.

After a few more steps, we spotted a little mailbox that had our number on it. Behind the mailbox was an archway with a fence and a little courtyard with some of the most beautifully manicured flower gardens I’d ever seen. We exchanged a glance of confusion and excitement, muttering that “there must be some mistake!” but when we got to the French doors, past the garden, and tried our keys – the most insane thing happened. They worked. The door opened.

We swung open the door to find a beautiful, two story room – Disney music softly playing in the background, natural light pouring in through the large windows hanging above our heads. My first thought was that they had gotten something wrong. We had stayed in the cheapest room at the Boardwalk before and it in NO WAY resembled this masterpiece, with a living room, kitchenette, staircase, master bedroom, and master bathroom with a Jacuzzi. Concerned that there had a been a mistake and that we would somehow have to pay full price for this immaculate suite, Nick called the front desk to confirm that we had the correct room number.

The kind voice on the other line assured us that while we had payed for the smallest, cheapest room – but somehow we had been given this suite and were meant to enjoy it. While Nick was on the phone, I started looking up how much this type of suite usually costs. The answer: about four to five times (per night) what we actually paid for it. We were both FLOORED. We had heard of “Disney magic” before and of cast members doing incredibly kind things for random guests, but we had never ever expected to experience this sort of kindness. My mind immediately went back to the woman in concierge who had taken our names and reservation number, and I knew it must’ve been her – it couldn’t have been anyone else! I tried multiple times during our trip to go back and find her to thank her, but I couldn’t find her. She just seemed to have disappeared.

To make things even crazier, we found out that with this room came something called “club level service,” which basically means that we were able to visit and utilize a particular room in the hotel that served complimentary breakfast, lunch, dinner, wine, beer, espresso, and dessert – all for free. Like, are you kidding me?!

As we filled up our plates that first night, it dawned on me: we don’t deserve this. We don’t deserve any of this. We haven’t paid for it, we hadn’t planned for it, and we were able to tell pretty quickly that we were certainly of a much different crowd than those who normally frequented “the club.” Someone had gifted a youth pastor and a photographer from Pittsburgh one of the best, most undeserved vacations that we had ever had – for nothing. There’s nothing we could’ve done to earn it, and there’s no price we could’ve paid for it. And then it dawned on me – this is exactly what God’s grace is like.

It’s undeserved. There’s nothing we can do to earn it, and the price has already been paid for it. And it doesn’t have anything with who we are. It has everything to do with who God is. Truthfully, there’s no way we could’ve upgraded ourselves with money or with position, because in the eyes of Disney, we didn’t have either (haha!). But because of grace – because someone gave us something we in no way deserved – we were able to experience an amazing gift that cost us nothing.

That’s what Jesus calls us to every day. All he wants is for us to accept the gift he’s already laid before us. That’s why we celebrate Easter, for Pete’s sake – because Jesus died a death he didn’t deserve, so we could live a life we don’t deserve. But only because Jesus makes us worthy, because of the grace he’s given to us.

As I started to eat my free dinner, tears started streaming down my face. I felt so humbled in and by the face of grace of the woman who had been so kind, but so much moreso by the God who has given me this life – this gift – no strings attached.

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Swimming In Muddy Waters

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Swimming In Muddy Waters

Meet my friend Kim (pictured above). She loves the beach more than any person I've ever met!

Also, I wanted to share a little piece of my heart today.

I used to love the beach. I had a beach themed bedroom, beach themed folders for school - basically everything I owned was covered in seashells and sand... Until I realized that I didn't like the ocean. There are few things worse to me than stepping into a giant sea and being unable to see my feet on the ocean floor, or what's swimming around my feet. When something unexpected brushes my big toe, I usually run out, arms flailing, heart racing.

But then, I went on a cruise, and not just any cruise - a DISNEY cruise. And as part of the cruise, we went to "Castaway Cay," Disney's private island in the Bahamas. And to my great surprise, upon arriving at the beach with a stack of books in hand to act as a diversion from the creature filled sea, I found clear, crystal blue waters. I could see everything in the water - everything swimming around me, all the way out into the deeper parts of the ocean! My courage returned as I put on my goggles and swam in the shallows. All was controlled and all was safe. I could see everything coming from nearly a mile away and could dart back to the shore if danger came near.

What a picture of how we live our lives sometimes. We wade into the safety of crystal blue waters where everything is certain, where everything is known. We can see obstacles coming from a mile away and can save ourselves from the pain of adversity and obstacle. But we forget that sometimes, the best lessons are learned in the muddy water. In the uncertainty. In the unknown.

The truth is, when I decided to NOT swim in the muddy water, I might've been safe, but I missed out on so many good things. Time with family and friends. The opportunity to build relationships. The joy of shared experience.

Where are you swimming today? Are you playing it safe, or willing to step out into the unknown?

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The Story of How We Met

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The Story of How We Met

I started attending Grace Community Church with my family when I was in eighth grade. I remember in particular visiting the Sunday after our school musical had ended – I always LOVED being a part of them, but for those of you who might’ve been involved in school musicals growing up, you know how exhausting they can be.

That Sunday after our musical ended, in particular, my parents decided to visit a church that we had visited a number of years ago – Grace Community Church. To be honest, I wasn’t excited. I was mad that I had to wake up so early after such a long week of late nights, but nevertheless, I pulled myself out of bed and we made it to the service… which ended up being pretty dang amazing.

Directly following the service, I met the youth pastor there, who introduced me to a girl a couple of years younger than me. Her name was Alisha, and it seemed like she knew everyone. I followed her around the lobby as she introduced me to tons of different people, finally stopping near the restroom where I met her mom and the rest of the members of her small group.

I remember thinking how kind she was. After that initial meeting, we talked a few more times, but didn’t hang out with each other too much.

Fast forward a year, and someone had convinced this shy introvert to go down to Panama City Beach, Florida to a camp called “Bigstuf” with the rest of the youth group. I had one close friend who went to the same youth group at the time, so when she decided to go, I decided to go, too. So we hopped on a bus with everyone else and drove down.

I kid you not, that camp changed my life. It changed the way I saw God. It opened my eyes to the things I needed so desperately to change in my life and opened up a new community of friendships to me (which, let’s be honest, for an introvert is like, one new person). But nonetheless – I was making connections and I was excited!

The very last day of camp, we were all waiting while the guys were loading our bus to had back up to PA. Our youth pastor at the time must’ve seen me standing shyly on the edge of the group, so he came over and introduced me to one of the most extroverted people on the entire trip. He had long, red, Justin Bieber hair, tons of freckles, and was very sun burnt. “Nick,” he said to the boy with the red hair, “doesn’t Jenna look like Pam from ‘The Office?’” which I later learned was Nick’s favorite show.

Immediately, I felt put off. I didn’t like ‘The Office,’ and, at the time, meeting new people made me incredibly nervous. I smiled, chatted politely about how cool The Office was (I’ve never actually liked it!) and walked onto the bus. Nick and I ended up sitting near each other – we exchanged a few words to each other throughout the trip home, and even though he was kind of loud, I decided I liked this guy named Nick.

When I got home, I saw I had a message waiting from Nick on Facebook. It’s like he had read my mind – being the shy introvert that I was, I always loved getting to know people via messengers. That night, we talked until, like, two in the morning (and trust me, I’m not a girl who stays up late!). We talked about the camp and how God I worked in both of our lives. I remember, at the end of that conversation, thinking this is a guy I could actually see myself dating.

It’s amazing to see how all of the dots were connected from my very first day at Grace. Alisha, the very first person I had met at Grace, I later found out was Nick’s sister. Thinking back to that small fact alone is such a testament to my heart – God was involved right from the very beginning. God does that – he whispers into the details of our lives to point us towards our future, even when we don’t know it. It reminds me of a story of Elijah:

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13)

I think it’s powerful when we can hear God whispering to us, but it’s just as powerful – and encouraging - when we can look back and see where God was whispering to us.

*Banner photo by Gabrielle Halle Photography.

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The Story of Our First Date

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The Story of Our First Date

My first date with my now husband, Nick took place over NINE years ago when we were both only fifteen years old. We started dating in August of 2008 and never looked back! One of my favorite stories to tell about our relationship is our first date because it is absolutely ridiculous! But why, you may ask?

Our first date included all of the clichés that you might expect from a first time high school date – my dad, literally cleaning his guns on his kitchen island (I was so embarrassed!!), Nick’s mom, driving us around telling embarrassing stories from when he was a kid (which just made me like him more! ;) ), and us getting scolded by the waitress for trying to order an alcoholic beverage that we just thought was just a milkshake (it was a mudslide, in case you were wondering) are just a few of my favorite memories from that first date! 

Maybe that last one’s not much of a cliché, but it’s pretty hilarious if you would’ve known us in high school – probably the last underage kids in the world who would’ve tried to order alcohol! I have to say, I feel like some of our seemingly most embarrassing moments we’ve experience together have turned into some of my favorite memories.

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Lessons from 2017: Margin & Bandwidth

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Lessons from 2017: Margin & Bandwidth

“It’ll be an hour and a half wait,” the hostess at one of my favorite restaurants said as she shuffled through a stack of receipts. “Our computers are down right now.” In a huff, I walked past a room full of empty tables and out of that restaurant, unable to understand exactly what computers had to do with me being able to eat at said restaurant.

I decided to be overly intrusive and call the restaurant from the car on my way home, wondering if she just hadn’t wanted me to eat there (as if this hostess who I had never seen before had some unknown vendetta against me!). That same hostess picked up the phone, and I asked how long the wait would be: “About an hour and a half, our computers are down right now.” Out of genuine curiosity (okay, maybe a little out of frustration), I asked what computers had to do with the wait time, and the hostess said, “our servers just don’t have enough bandwidth without our computers to take part of the burden.”

Oh, I thought to myself. That, I understand.

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I started feeling guilty for being upset, because I know how that feels. To be stretched beyond my capacity, to know my limits but to breeze past them onward in the name of “hustle,” and to have to turn people away, not because I don’t want to give them what I have to offer, but because I want to be able to serve the people I can serve with everything I have to offer.

Sure, that restaurant could’ve taken me and my friends in – but what would they have given me in return? Maybe the service would’ve been slow, the food cold, the waitress flustered, and I would’ve left with a bad taste in my mouth, ruining the restaurant for me for good. Or, the hostess could simply let me know that they just couldn’t handle any more guests to ensure that they could serve the guests they had already taken in to the best of their abilities.

That’s been one of my biggest lessons from this year: margin and bandwidth. Leaving room in my schedule instead of packing it full, and taking note of how much I can handle. Every season, I find myself coming to a crossroads. Do I take more work, or do I limit my work to ensure I can serve every person I commit to to the very best of my ability? This is the very first year that I’ve really tried to limit the amount of work I take per week, and I really believe it’s served me well. Why? Because when I don’t overbook myself, I can say yes to things that make me better as a person – not just things that make me look better in the eyes of other people. Things that make me a better wife, a better business owner, a better Jesus follower, a better daughter, and a better friend. I’ve found that I can’t serve ANYONE well if I’m overworked, exhausted, and overwhelmed. I lose my edge as a business owner, become an absent wife, a pitiful friend, and an unengaged Christ-follower. Did I still struggle to set boundaries this year? Heck YES. But really, I’m so proud of how far I’ve come and of the boundaries that I’ve been able to establish between my business and my life.

Really, I’ve started taking a limited amount of sessions and weddings because I find that it benefits my clients. I can give each more time, attention, and creativity when I bring a rested Jenna to the table – which is much better for everyone! ;) So I’d like to encourage you – if you’re in a season of busy, what boundaries can you make to make SURE you get the “recharge” you need to keep moving forward?

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