Grandaddy Mills’s Vegetable Soup

Living in Alabama, you never really know what you’re going to get when it comes to weather. Night before last, Jonathan and I moved the girls to the basement for the night because we were expecting tornadic weather in the night. After three rounds of thunderstorms that produced multiple tornadoes (none of which came too close to us), we were in the clear for a little while. We were expecting more storms yesterday afternoon, but they never really materialized. We went to bed last night breathing a huge sigh of relief and thanking God for His protection over us. We awoke this morning to reports that the Alabama Gulf Coast, along with parts of the Florida panhandle, were flooded. I checked immediately with my parents, who live in Orange Beach, and sure enough, they had 18″ of water in their house.


A picture like that is enough to make most people sick to their stomach, but my parents are some of the most positive people I know. They’ve been through flooding before. They have cleaned up and rebuilt and redecorated. My dad’s comment about last night’s damage was, “It’s just stuff.” Mom’s reaction was to pray for the safety of their friends and neighbors and the people involved in the clean up process. She is also praising God that He will work it all together for good. Make no mistake, they aren’t super humans who aren’t disappointed and overwhelmed at the prospect of cleaning up that mess. They just choose to have a good attitude about it. I wish I could make them a big pot of soup to make it all better.

When I was a little girl, my Grandaddy Mills did a lot of the cooking at my grandparents’ home. Whenever we’d visit them, he’d always make a big pot of vegetable soup. Their home was a place of comfort and belonging. It was a place where my brothers and I could run like wild banshees through their huge yard or sit for hours on their front porch swings. And since we southerners connect all of our life experiences with food, his vegetable soup became a symbol of warmth, comfort, and the sense that all was right with the world. Since I can’t get to Orange Beach to bring soup and help clean up my parents’ house, I’ll share my Grandaddy Mills’s Vegetable Soup with you all. I hope that when you make it, it will bring the same sense of peace to you.

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This is a soup that we make a little differently every time we make it. Because we usually use what we have on hand, the veggies are always a little different and sometimes the meat is, too. I usually leave out the okra, but I always add corn and butter beans. I didn’t have celery this time, and the soup was delicious without it. I used leftover ham from Easter instead of hamburger meat, and it was delicious. Leftover roast is also a good addition. I’ll give you the recipe, but know that you can change it up any way you think your family will like it best. How do you do your vegetable soup?

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aTeam Apartment Reveal: Dining Room and Den

It’s time for the final reveal of the aTeam Ministries apartment. We have already shown you the children’s bedroom and the master suite, so today it’s time to take a look at the dining room and den. Generous donors had already given much of the furniture for this space, including a dining room table and chairs, a sofa, a loveseat, and a coffee table. Most of what I did in this space was to accessorize and add a couple of new pieces of furniture. One of the kindest and most beautiful donations aTeam received was this breathtaking angel painting.

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It is HUGE – probably 5 ft x 5 ft. It is fabulous in the living space, and such a constant reminder that God’s presence is with us and He sends His angels to minister to us. This piece became the anchor around which we chose the rest of the furnishings. We used the existing brown sofa and loveseat, but threw in new throw pillows and blankets to give the room a splash of color.

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We still needed a little something to anchor the room, and so the generous folks at Mohawk Flooring donated yet another rug – this one a large rug to fit the space. The colors and pattern could not have been more perfect. We wanted to create a warm, inviting, comfortable space, and this rug helped pull that look together!

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A few weeks before we started this project, the ladies at More Than A Mission Trip asked for suggestions on what kinds of projects they could help support. I spoke up immediately on behalf of aTeam, and they were kind enough to choose us as one of their charities. They sent us the money to buy this beautiful red desk. Families who stay at the apartment now have a place to do school work, work on the computer, pay bills, write notes, or whatever else they need to do. Thank you More Than A Mission Trip!!

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As we move into the dining area, there are many more generous donations. Someone gave the table and chairs that we used.

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FLOR Carpet Tiles sent us a box of carpet tiles to make a rug. I’ve never used these before, but was so surprised at how simple they were to put together. My little bit helped me lay out the pattern I wanted, and then we taped them on the under side using the heavy duty stickers that come in the set.

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Once we had them all taped together, we flipped it over and put it in place under the table.

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It took us about 10 minutes to put it together, and we even have leftover squares to use as spares.

Y’all, I could never have imagined a project like this coming together without so many generous sponsors. I was privileged to have the opportunity to serve aTeam in this way. If you’re looking for an easy way to support aTeam further, check out their online store where you can purchase awesome t-shirts. You can also become a volunteer, be a prayer partner, or make a financial donation. God bless you as you support them and God bless aTeam as they continue to support pediatric cancer families.

aTeam Apartment Reveal: Master Bedroom and Bath

A couple of months ago, we introduced you to our partnership with aTeam Ministries. aTeam was started a few years ago by our friends Jan and Andy Thrower. After their son went through pediatric cancer (and is now a happy, healthy six year old), Andy and Jan became aware of the unique and overwhelming challenges that pediatric cancer families endure. The horrendous experience of childhood leaves parents in emotional, spiritual, financial, and sometimes physical despair. aTeam seeks to minister to these families by providing services care bags when kids are unexpectedly hospitalized and parents haven’t packed a bag, family fun days at Alabama and Auburn (even meeting the team on some occasions), and financial aid with groceries, gas, medicine, and bills. They meet every week to pray for the children and their families. Their home away from home program provides a place to stay while families are in Birmingham for their children to receive treatment. That’s where we came in.

We were so happy to have the opportunity to help aTeam collect furnishings for the new place. We revealed the children’s bedroom to you a few weeks back. Today, we are ready to give you a look at the master bedroom and bathroom. We really tried to create a space that was not only beautiful, but also functional. We wanted parents to have a quiet, comfortable place to unwind after a long day at the clinic or hospital.

A generous donor gave us money for the master bedroom bedding. We definitely could not pull off a project like this without the financial support of private and corporate donors, and the friends of aTeam Ministries really came through for us.

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Since most of the people staying in the aTeam apartment aren’t there for long, we wanted to give plenty of place to store luggage.

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My sister-in-law Cecily Hill Lowe, who is a very talented artist, generously gave us two of her latest paintings for the master bedroom. They are calm and peaceful, and they looked perfect in the space.

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Since the parents will not need the HUGE master closet in the apartment, we opted for turning it into a nursery. We have lots of families that have babies, and having a nursery allows parents and babies to stay with their regular sleeping arrangements instead of trying to sleep together in the same room. We all know how little sleep a parent gets with a small baby sleeping in the room.

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And many thanks to the sweet folks at HomeRight for sending me a Finish Max paint sprayer, which I used on a fun little project for the nursery. Every nursery needs a rocker, right? I found a diamond in the rough at the thrift store that I knew would be perfect with just a little elbow grease.

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The Finish Max sprayer made this job really simple. I gave it a fresh coat of paint to match the crib and pieced together a new cover for the cushions. And I do mean PIECED together! I am no seamstress!! But I do love the way it looked when finished, and I love the fact that mamas and babies now have a quiet little corner.

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And finally, the master bathroom. The master bath is a large space that is already well decorated. It has lovely dark wood cabinets, great granite, and beautiful tile. It only took a few finishing touches to make it complete.

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The shower curtain was a gift from a generous donor. The rug was a generous gift from Mohawk Flooring. They were so kind to donate several rugs for the apartment, including both of the bath rugs, and another special piece I’ll show you later.

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Thanks so much to the major sponsors to these rooms: Cecily Hill Lowe, HomeRight, and Mohawk Flooring. We also thank the private donors who provided the bedding, shower curtains, and accessories. We definitely could not have provided such a nice place to pediatric cancer families without all of you chipping in!

Gap Year Experiences

There’s a new-to-me phenomenon in education that I’m all shook up over (in a good way). I’m seeing more and more that high school seniors are taking a “gap year” between high school graduation and college to travel and/or work abroad. I couldn’t be more in love with this idea. The majority of students who take advantage of a gap year experience report that the two main reasons they do so are burnout from the competitive pressures of high school and the desire to find out more about themselves. When I was a high school senior, this wasn’t really a socially accepted or parent accepted notion. You went straight from high school to college, and that’s just what you did. Looking back, I think so many kids could have benefitted from a year off to figure out where they want to go in life and what they want to do with their time for the long haul.

The American Gap Association (Who knew there was such an organization, right?) reports that the three highest rated outcomes of a gap year are:

  • Gaining “a better sense of who I am as a person and what is important to me”
  •  Giving students “a better understanding of other countries, people, cultures, and ways of living” 
  • Providing students with “additional skills and knowledge that contributed to my career or academic major”

Missionary and blogger Seth Barnes says that sending his two oldest children on World Race’s gap year experience is “one of the best things we ever did to help them lead full lives and make their faith their own.” He says further, “(A gap year) introduces you to the person that God wants you to be. You’ll learn how God wants to use that to live the life he created you for.”

My friend Melissa, whose beautiful 18 year old daughter Meredith is also participating in the World Race Gap Year program says, “I personally feel that traveling to other cultures cannot be substituted with the class room. Young people need to see that the way we live is not the only way; the way we worship is not the only way. We tend to want to stay in our bubble and not venture out, but that is not Biblical, and to me, tends to make a person even more self-centered instead of other-centered. Meredith has seen unspeakable evil, but she has also seen incredible joy in hardships (like the typhoon-ravaged Tacloban, and people who praise God for what little they have while living in squalor). You cannot duplicate that experience just going straight to college.” Meredith’s gap year experience has taken her to three countries in nine months to work with people in poverty. She’s been to Honduras, the Philippines, and Botswana.

The American Gap Association reports that students participating in a gap year experience gain a better ability to focus on academics once they returned to college. “Taking a 1-year break between high school and university allows motivation for and interest in study to be renewed.” Not only do students do well in school, but they also fare better after graduation. Students who participate in a gap year experience are overwhelmingly more satisfied with their careers after college. Upon further questioning, participants explained that by participating in a gap year in which they saw more of the world and the problems people face, their focus became less self-centered and more others-centered. As a result, the careers they chose were ones that brought great satisfaction because they were more geared toward serving other people.

Are there risks to taking a gap year? Of course. My friend Melissa says about her daughter, “The biggest risk to me is that the student may not wish to pursue higher ed afterward. But that is with my mama hat on, and my fear of the unknown future. Of course, I think that Meredith needs an education so that she has skills to offer on the mission field when she returns. That is not necessarily God’s path for her, however.”

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Have you or your children taken a gap year? If so, what was your experience like? Benefits or risks? Share!

Urban Purpose 40.40.40

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Birmingham has a HUGE homeless population, most of whom ended up on the streets after drug abuse, mental illness, or alcohol addiction affected their livelihood. While we have extremely generous people in our city that provide food for our homeless population, one ministry takes help a step further. Urban Purpose was started a few years ago by friends of ours, and they exist to minister to the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of the homeless.

Urban Purpose provides a meal each Sunday afternoon to about 75-100 people living on the streets of downtown Birmingham. But the meal they provide is only a first step in building relationships with people. Volunteers talk to people, pray with them, and seek to become involved with them outside of the Sunday meal in order to provide help. Help can come in the form of temporary or long-term housing, counseling, medical care, drug and alcohol recovery, and employment opportunities. In the time Jonathan and I have been involved with Urban Purpose, it has been a real joy to see people turn to Jesus, and allow Him to help them put their lives back together.

Like all ministries, Urban Purpose is dependent on the donations of individuals, companies, churches and others to provide they services they do. They are just starting a fund-raising program, and I wanted to let you know about, in case any of you have been looking for a way to care for the poor. In the next 40 days, they are looking for 40 new donors to give at east $40 per month. It’s that simple. If you feel like God is calling you to do more for the poor in Birmingham than you are currently doing, please click here to be directed to their page. Of course, if you’d like to be more actively involved, you can plug into their ministry by going downtown with them on Sunday afternoons or providing the Sunday meal. They are always looking for individuals to counsel with their clients, especially in their spiritual walk. If this sounds like something you’d like to do, let me know and Ill get you plugged in with them.

Sabbath Selah: Acts 2:42-47

This passage from Acts is such a beautiful picture of how the Church, God’s body, should look:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Clearing the Cobwebs

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There is an old writing trick that I have to employ sometimes: clearing the cobwebs. All writers go through a time, be it seldom or daily, when the writing doesn’t flow smoothly. There are words and phrases and concepts jumbled together in the brain, but they can’t seem to come together in a way that forms a coherent piece of writing worth reading. It’s at those times that an exercise in clearing the cobwebs can help.

It might look different for me than for other writers, and that’s okay. I like to pull up a blank screen on my computer and write something, ANYTHING, whether it’s coherent or just phrases for a few minutes. The writing doesn’t have to go together or be on the same topic. Just get words out of your brain and onto the screen. Sometimes it takes me 15-20 minutes to clear out enough junk writing that my “real” writing mojo starts to pull itself back together. It’s similar to the times my husband needs to turn off the water in our home to fix a leak. Once the leak is repaired and the water is turned on again, there are fits and starts while the air is cleared from the line. After a minute or two of clunking noises and sprays of water, normalcy returns and the water flows evenly again. Writing works the same way.

And my guess is that you have something in your life that works that way, too.

Maybe it’s finding your place in a particular area of ministry. Perhaps it’s restoring a relationship that’s broken. Or maybe taking the first few steps of that business you’ve been wanting to start. I’d be willing to bet that if you were willing to clear the cobwebs with those first clunky steps you know you need to take, the next few steps would suddenly become more clear and certain.

In which areas have you been stuck for need of clearing away a few cobwebs? I’d love to hear how you’re going to move forward.

Food and Fellowship

I recently downloaded Shauna Niequist’s new book called Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table. I’d heard Shauna’s name in Christian circles, particularly as a conference speaker, but I’d never really read any of her writing. However, the other day I came across a podcast by Tsh Oxenreider in which she interviewed Shauna, and I was so struck by her use of food as a vehicle for friendship and grace and love that I wanted to hear more. I love it that her “thing” that she uses to connect with God is food and gathering people around her table. She says,” My friend Nancy is a nature person. To know her is to know that the created world — mountains, wildflowers, sunshine — is the tie that binds her to God, that demonstrates His presence to her in the deepest ways. For my dad, it’s the water. The sounds and smells and rituals of life on the water bind him to GOd in ways that nothing else does. For my husband, Aaron, it’s music. And for me, it’s the table.

“What makes me feel alive and connected to God’s voice and Spirit in this world is creating opportunities for the people I love to rest and connect and be fed at my table. I believe it’s the way I was made, and I believe it matters. For many years, I didn’t let it matter, for a whole constellation of reasons, but part of becoming yourself, in a deeply spiritual way, is finding the words to tell the truth about what you really love.”

I’m still reading the book, so I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on that later, but one of the questions Tsh asked had to do with what I consider genuine biblical hospitality, that virtue that welcomes people into your home and your life though you might not be prepared or have everything perfect. The question that Tsh asked was, “If someone stopped by your home unexpectedly just before dinner, and you just had to pull things from your pantry that you had on hand, what would you serve while you pulled together a dinner?”

Shauna’s answer surprised me because many of the things she’d consider an adequate offering are thing I usually have on hand, too. Her list included a tray of grapes, cheeses, crackers, cashews, fig jam, dark chocolate, and a bottle of wine.

Appetizer tray

The tray I put out for my family earlier in the day included crackers, cheeses (white cheddar and lightning jack), grapes, mandarin oranges, Conecuh sausage (which I usually have on hand in the fridge), BBQ sauce, cashews, and raspberry fruit spread. If we are serving guests, I will sometimes also include kalamata olives, pepperoncini peppers, chicken salad, or hummus and chips.

It’s not the food that matters as much as the gathering of hearts and minds and connecting with each other in a way that advances the gospel and shares the love of Christ. It’s about encouraging and being encouraged. But the food is the vehicle that we gather around, as Jesus often gathered with His followers over fish and bread.

When entertaining friends and family, what would you offer to them as an appetizer? What foods do you use to gather your people together? And what are your thoughts on true, biblical hospitality?

Sabbath Selah: Romans 2:4

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?

Living in a fast-moving society as we do, it is easy to become impatient and easily frustrated with ourselves, our children, and other people. We want people to do the right thing the right way and do it that way the first time. It’s a dangerous desire, really, because it leads so quickly to harsh words and attitudes against the one who has failed us. It leads us to raise our voices with our children or snap at our spouses. It leads to frustration with the bank teller who doesn’t move the line fast enough or the church member who complains too often.

I’m so thankful for the guidance God gives us in Romans 2:4 that He uses kindness to lead us to repentance. If He uses kindness to deal with me when I am wrong, I should be His reflection by extending the same mercy and understanding to other people. It’s hard to slow down enough to kindly talk through a situation. It takes time patience (which, by the way, is a fruit of allowing the Holy Spirit’s work in us) to gently remind when you’ve already gently reminded a thousand times. But of we are to be imitators of God, thereby showing a lost world how Jesus is, it is necessary for us to replace a quick fuse with patient kindness.

aTeam Ministries Apartment: Kids’ Bedroom Reveal

Several weeks ago we introduced to you our partnership with aTeam Ministries. aTeam is a ministry in Birmingham, Alabama, that meets the needs of families going through pediatric cancer. It was founded by our friends Jan and Andy Thrower after their son Anderson’s journey through leukemia. Anderson is now a vibrant, healthy six-year-old, and the Throwers are uniquely experienced to understand what pediatric cancer families need most. They provide financial, mental, and spiritual support for families in the way of weekly prayer meeting for the families, fun sports days so kids can forget about cancer for a day, and money/gift cards to help pay medical and travel expenses.

One of the largest expenses of pediatric cancer families, besides the medical expenses, is the cost of lodging if families have to travel for treatment. We are blessed to have Children’s Hospital here in Birmingham that serves children all over our state, but many families have to travel here from out of town. aTeam Ministries provides a place for these families to stay while their children are undergoing treatment. The apartment is close to the downtown medical complex, and it is clean, new(ish), and beautifully built. In addition, aTeam has been generously gifted with several very nice pieces of furniture. This gave us a terrific canvas from which to work. The Hill Hangout has been so privileged to be able to help furnish and decorate the new apartment. Having such good materials to work with made my job a lot easier! Are you ready to see it?

Let’s start with the kids’ bedroom. Here is what we had to work with:

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It is a great space with plenty of light. The carpet and paint are a nice neutral color, and the wood blinds are in great shape. Like I said, it is a great canvas to work with. I knew we wanted to add color and brighten the space up a bit. We wanted a happy, fun space that kids would enjoy when they stayed here. We created a mood board for the space using items we found to work with.

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We had so many individual and corporate sponsors who donated exactly what we needed for the apartment. God’s people are generous, and when we asked for items, we had people step up and donate money or goods. It is all because of them that we were able to put together a room like this…

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The bedding was a very generous gift from Wayfair gave us $250 to spend on the apartment, and we were able to purchase two sets of bedding for the children’s bedroom.

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Because many of the children have no immune system due to their treatment, we must be able to wash and sanitize everything in the apartment. Having two sets of bedding allows us to use one while washing the other. This allows aTeam to quickly get the apartment ready for the next family once a family leaves. And if there is any doubt about how much demand there is for these apartments, we had people move into this one before we even had it completely finished. The need is great! So many, many thanks to for their generosity on this project!

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The bed was a thrift store project, as was the green dresser.

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When working on a project for a charity, I try to keep the expenses as low as possible. After all, isn’t the ministry’s money better spent on the patient families? One way to make your money stretch further is to find what you want and ask people to donate it. I had an overall vision for what we wanted in this space, and when I asked people to sponsor it, they stepped up. One family gave these fabulous metal barn stars, and they are PERFECT in the space.

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When I saw this reclaimed wood star on a trading site, I messaged the artist and asked him if he would consider donating it for our project. It was risky, because I’ve asked people before and they weren’t so kind. However, the gracious gentleman that makes these turned out to be a pastor who willingly gave these when I told him about aTeam and what they are about. The star lights up and can be used as a nightlight. How cute is that?!?

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And I’ve already told you all about the fabulous piece of art donated by Red Letter Words. It hangs right beside the bed so that the kids can be reminded each morning and evening that God never leaves them.

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I pray that the children who stay in this room will be healed physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Would you join me in praying for the children going through the pediatric cancer journey. If you’d like more info, please go to and sign up for their newsletter. And join us tomorrow for the reveal of the next room!!