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?

Reuben Sandwiches and Happy Birthday to Me!

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Somebody around this place turned another year older this week, and I’m glad to say it was one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. My people were so sweet to me, trying their best to make it a special day. Saturday night the big guy took me out (sans kiddos) for dinner at Texas de Brazil, a new Brazilian steakhouse i town. It was FABULOUS! If you ever get a chance to eat at a Brazilian steakhouse, be sure to bring your appetite. The salad bar is a meal in itself, with over 50 dishes like spicy shrimp salad, orzo pasta salad, smoked salmon, marinated mushrooms, sushi, and a ton of other really delicious dishes. Then they bring out a dish of garlic mashed potatoes, along with a card that has a red side and a green side. They have gauchos walking around, each with different cuts of meat. When you are ready to try a few, you flip your card to the green side, and the gauchos bring their offerings to your table. They served parmesan chicken, Brazilian sausage, pork tenderloin, and lamb, among other meats. But my favorite was the filet. I could have just had the gaucho stand beside me and keep filling my plate with it. Such a fun concept for dinner!!

After dinner, we walked a couple of blocks to the BJCC, where we had tickets to see Elton John. Listen, I’m not really a concert type of girl anymore. I’d much rather download the CD on iTunes and listen in the comfort of my own car. However, IT WAS ELTON JOHN!! If you’ve ever had a chance to see him in concert, you know he does not disappoint. He is an incredible talented musician. He plays the piano as naturally as if he is tying his show. It seems as if he does it without thought, and it is flawless. He played all the classics, plus a lot of songs from his new album. Definitely a bucket list experience!

And since my birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day, we usually try to have a traditional corned beef and cabbage meal at some point. This year I used Pioneer Woman’s recipe, and it was the best we’ve ever made at home. MUCH better than the last one I made, which was in the crockpot. Corned beef, like all tougher cuts of meat, has to be cooked low and slow in order to break down the tough fibers and become tender. I cooked this one in the oven on 325 degrees for about 4-5 hours, and it was perfect! We even followed her recipe for the cabbage.

Of course, we had leftovers. Glorious leftovers! I have been craving GOOD reuben sandwiches, so this was the perfect time to make one. The thing about a reuben sandwich is, you need really tender corned beef. If your corned beef is the least bit tough, you can’t bite into the sandwich. Grody! Since the Pioneer Woman’s recipe made such tender corned beef, we had delicious sandwiches! They are really easy to make. Start with good corned beef…

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And good rye bread. I like to get mine from the bakery at the grocery store.

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Butter one side each of two slices, and place it in a skillet over medium heat. Place one slice of swiss cheese on each piece of bread, and pile on the corned beef. You can slice the corned beef or chop it, whichever you prefer.

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Allow it to cook long enough to melt the cheese and toast the bottom of the bread to a golden brown.Remove from heat. Pile on sauerkraut and about a tablespoon of thousand island salad dressing.

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Put it all together and enjoy!

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Reuben Sandwiches
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Ingredients
  1. Corned Beef
  2. Rye Bread
  3. Swiss Cheese
  4. Sauerkraut
  5. Thousand Island Dressing
  6. Butter
Instructions
  1. Spread butter on one side each of two slices of bread. Place in skillet on medium heat. Place swiss cheese on top of bread. Top with corned beef. Toast for about 2-3 minutes or until bread is golden brown on bottom.
  2. Remove from heat. Add a few spoonfuls of sauerkraut. Top with about a tablespoon of thousand island dressing.
Notes
  1. Reuben sandwiches are terrific on their own, or as a way to use up that corned beef left over from St. Patrick's Day. Be sure you use quality, tender corned beef, as tough corned beef makes for a bad sandwich.
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Snow Ice Cream

We have had more snow this winter in Alabama than any winter I can remember. My girls have had a ball building snowmen and throwing snowballs. Tonight we all got to experience a first for us all: Snow Ice Cream.

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All you need is a big bowl of snow, half a can of condensed milk, a teaspoon of vanilla, and about a quarter cup of milk. Mix it all together and serve to some very happy kiddos.

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Gift Ideas for Children

A few weeks ago, Steady Mom wrote a post titled “5 Gifts No Child Should Be Without.” While she gave no explanation on WHY children should have these types of toys, I must say that I agree that her list of categories. The types of gifts she lays out all strengthen a child’s creativity, imagination, and intellect. They develop large and small motor skills and critical thinking. Plus, they are all FUN to play with and play is a critical element in a child’s development.

I have put together a list of toys, games, and other items that meet the criteria on her list. This list is as much to guide my own buying this Christmas as it is to share with you. Please be aware that all links are affiliate links, which means I receive a small payment on every purchase to keep this little blog running.

Something To Build With:

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The Melissa & Doug Wooden Blocks provide kids with hours of building fun. The 60-piece set allows children to create towers and towns, roads and playgrounds. Simple wooden blocks are a fabulous tool for enhancing creativity, motor skills, and critical thinking.

It’s no wonder LEGOs have been around for ages. They are a timeless toy that kids of all ages enjoy. The LEGO Duplo Building Set is a great beginner set. For more experienced LEGO builders, try the DeLorean Time Machine Building Set, the Minecraft Village, or the Creator Construction Hauler.

Another classic building toy that has stood the test of time is Lincoln Logs. The Lincoln Logs Classic Edition Tin is 86 pieces of fun to keep kids building for hours.

K’NEX Building Sets are another fun building set for children of all ages.

Something To Dress Up With:

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All kids love to play dress-up, and the Melissa and Doug dress-up costumes are perfect for girls AND boys. These are available in MANY styles including Fire Chief, Veterinarian, Chef, Hair Stylist, Waitress, Construction Worker, Cowgirl, and Astronaut.

And for the SEC fans in your life, check out the Alabama Crimson Tide Cheerleader outfit or Auburn Tigers Cheerleader outfit. Other cheerleader outfits available are LSU, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee. And for the football players in your life, try a jersey from
Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, LSU, and Mississippi State.

Something To Create With:

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There is no shortage of products to help children create. Whether your kids are crafting gurus, painters, mixed-media specialists, or seamstresses, there is an abundance of resources available to inspire creative ideas in little minds.

The Duct Tape craze has hit our home, so Tape It & Make It: 101 Duct Tape Activities looks enticing. And don’t forget the Duct Tape. It is available in bright colorful patterns like Zig-Zag Zebra, Zig-Zag Zebra, Retro Owls, Hello Kitty, Candy Dot, and even Duck Dynasty.

My girls love to sew, but I am not a master seamstress. In fact, I don’t do much sewing at all. I’m hoping Sewing School: 21 Sewing Projects Kids Will Love to Make will be a fun book for them to work through. And for the more advance sewers in your home, the Brother XL2600I Sew Advance Sew Affordable 25-Stitch Free-Arm Sewing Machine is a bargain.

We love some Play Doh around our house, so the Fun Factory Deluxe Set will keep my little one busy with creativity.

I had a spirograph design set when I was little and it was one of my favorite art projects, so I know my girls would love the Spirograph Design Tin Set.

For the Star Wars fan in your life, what about the Star Wars Thumb Doodles or the Star Wars Origami book.

And, of course, you can never go wrong with a good art set like the Art 101 Kids Mega Paint Set.

Something To Pretend With:

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This Pretend and Play Doctor Set by Learning Resources is one of the best I have seen. It includes LOTS of pieces with which to pretend.

The Learning Resources Teaching Cash Register teaches math, service, and basic business skills. All great lessons for little ones to begin learning.

One of our sweet neighbors gave my oldest daughter a Melissa & Doug Band in a Box when she was born, and eleven years later we are still being treated to band performances with these instruments.

Any budding cooks in your home? The Kidkraft Vintage Kitchen might be the cutest play kitchen I have ever seen! Love the retro design. It is available in pink, white, red, and blue. With these great colors, toy kitchen are no longer just for girls!

The Melissa & Doug Wooden Project Workbench looks just like the real deal. Teach kids the basics of using tools and woodworking with this fun set-up.

And I LOVE her last category – Plenty of time and space, both outside and in, to play with the above (This is perhaps to most important gift we have to offer our children!)

Thanksgiving Blessing Snack

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When my oldest daughter was in kindergarten (before we home schooled) parents got to send snacks every so often for the class to share. My turn rolled around in November, so I searched high and low for a cute Thanksgiving-themed snack for her to take to her friends. I came across a recipe for this snack mix, and I knew it was the perfect snack mix to help kindergartners understand the meaning of Thanksgiving. Her teacher was such a dear that she really took the time to explain all the ingredients to the children. She told them all about how the pilgrims came to the new land and how much we have to be grateful for. When I picked up Mary Anneliese up from school that afternoon, she told me over and over again how much she loved it. She was so proud to be able to share such a neat snack with her classmates. Since Thanksgiving is next week, I wanted to share the recipe with you in case you need a little happy for your kiddos.

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All you do is mix together the ingredients and package it up with the card attached. Please feel free to print out the card below to tie onto your goodies.

Thanksgiving Blessing Snack
Each ingredient in this snack mix is a reminder of how much we have to be thankful for!
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Ingredients
  1. 2 cups Bugles
  2. 2 cups mini pretzel twists
  3. 1 cup M&Ms
  4. 1/2 cup raisins
  5. 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  6. 1 cup chocolate chips
  7. 1 cup candy corn
Instructions
  1. Mix together and place in plastic bags or Mason jars with card attached.
The Hill Hangout https://thehillhangout.com/

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Thanksgiving Tables

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” — Psalm 107:1

This verse has been little Pitter Patter’s memory verse the last few days, and I’ve been writing it on my heart as well. Such a small verse, and yet it goes straight to the heart of what the Christian life should look like. A life of Thanksgiving because of a God who is good. Good enough to right wrongs and redeem the human race. And He doesn’t do it with a heart of punishment for our wickedness, but because of His love. Hallelujah!

It is with gratitude for His generosity toward us that we enter the season of Thanksgiving. We are grateful for God our Father, Christ our King, and the blessed gift of the Holy Spirit. We give thanks for the institution of family and the gift of friends. We express gratitude for Christ’s bride, the church. We give thanks that one day all the wrongs of this world will finally be made right through the salvation of Jesus, our Lord.

The Thanksgiving holiday is a time to celebrate extravagantly the gifts that God has given to us. It is a time to feast, not only on food and family time, but also on the blessings in this life and the life to come.

The gathering of family to celebrate together is one of the best blessings of the holiday. There is no right or wrong way to do Thanksgiving. Next year, we will spend Thanksgiving eating our lunch on the sidewalk at Disneyworld. In years past we have celebrated with just the four of us gathered around our little kitchen table. This year we will gather at my parents home with all of my parents children and grandchildren present. I see the great blessing in each celebration.

No matter the setting for your Thanksgiving, it’s always fun to turn the day into a celebration. This year’s celebration for us will have us gathering around multiple tables and enjoying each other’s company. While you can gather around any old table, I love the idea of a Thanksgiving table that makes guests feel like they are worth the effort. Beautiful tablescapes don’t have to be expensive or dramatic. You can use what you have on hand. Following my friend Mary’s advice, I put together a table that we’ve enjoyed using all week, even though the big day is still a week away. I used my white everyday dishes, the colorful Anthropologie bowls the girls gave me last Christmas, gold chargers that I bought at Fred’s for $1 each, and a few colorful mis-matched plates I have picked up through the years at Target, World Market, Pier 1, etc. The burlap “runner” is an oddly-shaped piece that I had left over from a craft project. The McCartey pottery pieces came from my bookshelves in the den. And the hydrangeas are blooms I cut off of our bushes when they were blooming and placed them in my china cabinet. They dried there perfectly.

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As always, look around online for inspiration. Here are a few tablescapes I found that could be easily replicated.

From Shabby Sweet Cottage:

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From Redhead Can Decorate:

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Love the cotton bales from Sophia’s Decor:

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Such a pretty table using fresh vegetables and striped ribbon from Mariah at Giggles Galore:

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These branches by Lisa Griffith are fantastic! Each leaf has written on it something for which she is thankful.

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The love of family and friends is what makes Thanksgiving memories so special. The hospitality of creating a beautiful table will only add to those wonderful times.

I’ll Title This One “Brain Dump”

Y’all. I’m not really sure how it’s already November 21st and I have only posted one time this month. Not only have we been B.U.S.Y., but I have also had a bit of writer’s block. If you ever doubted that that was a real thing, I’m here to tell you that it is REAL. But sometimes you just have to push through and make yourself write, even if it isn’t your best material ever. I guess I say that to say that this post might just be more for me than it is for you. A sort of brain dump to clear the pathways for “real” ideas to flow again. And because this space is as much a scrapbook for me as it is a place for me to talk to you, I want to mark down a few things so that I don’t forget…

1. My oldest daughter was baptized two weeks ago. It ranks among my wedding day and the day my children were born as one of the best days of my life.

2. My little Pitter Patter had a birthday last week. Can’t believe that sweet girl is 6!! She celebrated with a ballet birthday party. Her big sister gathered a few friends to teach the little ones a ballet dance. It was kinda my favorite.

3. I traveled to Nashville with the Freeset team to sell merchandise at the Lifeway Women’s Leadership Forum. It was my first time at Lifeway HQ, and we were treated to an awesome time of worship with Travis Cottrell, followed by amazing Bible teaching from Vicki Courtney, Margaret Feinberg, Angela Thomas, and Esther Burroughs. There are so many truths tucked away in my heart from their talks. And I reconnected with many friends that I haven’t seen in a long time.

4. I was asked today by a local ministry to help them with a very cool project. More details coming soon, but I so appreciate how God has allowed me to do some really fun things in His kingdom lately.

5. As I’m writing this, my husband is sitting at the kitchen table working away on his computer. He has been up since 5:00 this morning, and now he is working late into the night. Im not sure how that man does what he does. And yet, he’s not complaining one bit. Just patiently typing away at whatever he’s working on. Keeping on keeping on so that the girls and I can do our thing everyday. He’s a keeper.

6. I have tried several new recipes lately, all in an attempt to share something new with you. They’ve all been less than stellar. Tonight’s Pasta with Spicy Tomato Cream Sauce and Scallops was so bad we threw it in the trash. I really want a good recipe for spicy tomato cream sauce, but I’m 0-2 so far.

7. The girls and I have had a good run finding pieces at the thrift stores lately. We have purchased about seven new pieces to refurbish. Two sold the day we finished them. It feels really, really good to be using a little creativity after not being able to paint for a while.

8. We traveled to Arab, Alabama, last weekend for a soccer game. To get from Birmingham to Arab you have to travel quite a few back roads. There are some funny sights on Alabama back roads. The drive-in movie/wedding venue ranks high on my list of funniest sights ever. Wish I’d known about it 15 years ago.

9. I’m struck everyday by how much this world needs more kindness. There are a lot of people pushing for their way and looking out for themselves only. Shouldn’t we be known by our kindness? Gentleness, too. We need more gentleness. And joy. You know what? We just need more fruit of the Spirit all the way around.

My OCD is telling me I need a #10, but I’m ready to go lie in my bed and watch 30 Rock on Netflix. Night, y’all.

Baptism Weekend

We had a super hugs weekend around here. Our baby girl is turning 6 this week, so we held her birthday party Friday night. On Sunday our big girl was baptized. Needless to say, this little blog took a back seat last week. Here’s a picture to hold you over until I can get back to writing this week.

baptism

Buried with Christ in baptism; raised to walk in newness of life.

Home Remedy for Eczema

It’s been a while since I posted about our home remedy for eczema, but that post remains one of my most popular. When I first posted about using apple cider vinegar, I had no idea that number of people who suffered so from this condition! I will give you our story again in hopes that it might provide relief to other sufferers as well…

My little Pitter Pat has suffered with eczema since she was a baby. And listen, folks, I don’t use the term “suffer” lightly. It has been the biggest source of physical pain and misery she has had in her five years. Her case is especially bad in the summer, though it can flare up in any season. Though the dry air in winter does make it flare, she also has a HUGE reaction to the sunscreen, bug spray, and pool water during summer. Even the sand and salt water of the beach bring on tears of pain, itching, and burning. We have had our fair share of screaming and inconsolability over her eczema, and until now, we haven’t had much of anything with which to treat it. Lotion is okay, but any kind of fragrance only makes it worse. Hydrocortisone clears it up for the moment, but it thins the skin, only making it easier to break out the next time. We’ve tried castor oil, baby oil, Vasoline, Aquaphor, and even Aveeno’s Eczema Therapy cream. They each work in varying degrees to provide a little comfort, but nothing works log-term. As you might imagine, I have done hours of research on the internet, talking to our pediatrician, taking to other parents, and tried each of the many ideas I have gotten from them. Still no real solution.

Until the other day.

I came across the archives of an old chat board for skin issues. It was a LONG archives, but I was desperate after yet another round of tears over burning legs. One entry caught my attention because it was something I’d never tried before.

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The commenter was singing the praises of diluted apple cider vinegar for her child’s eczema. Her story sounded familiar to us, as she’d been through the same battles we have, but she vowed that apple cider vinegar not only treated her child’s eczema, but actually CURED it. Now, I can’t say yet whether it will cure eczema completely, but after trying it, I am also singing the praises of this treatment. **(We have been using this treatment for over a year now, and I’m happy to report that we only use it every three or four months now. For the most part, it has treated my daughter’s eczema so effectively that we rarely have to use it..)**

Here’s the deal: Dilute about 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar with about 3 cups of water. Saturate a cotton ball with the mixture, and apply it to the affected areas. **(I have since learned to apply with a spray bottle. So much easier, and it doesnt drip as badly.)** If it is a fresh spot, it’s going to BURN LIKE CRAZY, so be ready to blow on it. Diluting with more water will make it burn less, but will also prolong the healing process. However, patches that are a few days old shouldn’t be so bad. Apply it in the morning and again at night. Sure, you’ll smell like vinegar for a while (not too badly), but if you’ve ever dealt with eczema, you won’t care. For treating eczema on an adult, feel free to dilute as much or as little as you’d like. The higher the concentration of ACV< the more quickly it will heal. However, for treating eczema on children, please be mindful of how much pain it causes to their tender skin. If unsure, dilute dilute dilute!! Please understand that I am not a medical professional, and this little blog certainly does not give out medical advice. However, I am a mom that has had a miserable child, and I would LOVE to pass on what what worked for us to any other parents out there who has lived with the effects of eczema in their kiddos or themselves. If you’ve dealt with this problem and my remedy works for you, I sure would love to hear about it. Just leave a comment or shoot me an email to let me know.

A Letter To My Daughters About Modesty

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Dear Ones:

Let’s have a frank discussion about modesty. There was a time in history when modesty was something to be valued. Women didn’t flaunt, and men didn’t ogle. Women wore beautiful, stylish clothing that made them look smart, successful, and self-controlled. And those appearances were backed up with equally honorable behavior. I realize that much of what you see in our culture today doesn’t reflect those values. I want you to know that it is okay to go against society on this one. In fact, it is way more than okay. It is honorable, necessary, and God-honoring to present yourself to the world in a way that is appropriate and modest.

You have a heavenly father who loves you and created you in His image. You are His beloved child, and He has great plans for you, plans that He put into motion before you were even born. He created you smart, strong, brave, powerful, and humble. Your outward appearance is a reflection of your heart. When you are walking in the plans He has for you, the way you dress and carry yourself will reflect it. But the opposite of that is also true. When you allow self-doubt, the need to impress, and hunger for attention to creep in, your dress and behavior will reflect that, too.

First Timothy 2:9-10 says, “Women should adorn themselves with respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness with good works.” The great thing about these verses is that they leave you so much room to have your own style. I’ve been shopping with you, so I know how hard it is to find modest clothing, but there are literally thousands of items of clothing that express who you are without being immodest. Have fun with fashion. Put outfits together that reflect your personality and interests. Accessorize like a champ. But do it in a way that tells the world that you are God’s child and you value your relationship with Him.

You see, Satan is active and working in the hearts of your generation. He tells young women that they aren’t pretty enough, smart enough, loved enough, funny enough, skinny enough, tall enough, WHATEVER enough. He leads them to be so insecure about themselves that they dress in ways that will bring attention to their bodies. Maybe it’s not a conscious thought, but it’s there nonetheless. He feeds them the lie that attention equals value, so they compromise their standards in the way they dress and the way they act. The problem is, there is always a payment for lowering your standards. What started out as a way for them to feel better about themselves ends up making them feel empty and sends them down a path to fill the insecure places. I want you to know there is nothing in this world that can satisfy your heart like a daily walk with Christ. Satan will tell you that you aren’t enough and so you need to destroy yourself and your reputation in order to gain the love of men. Jesus tells you that you aren’t enough, but He has been enough FOR you. He has placed Himself on the cross and born the weight of your sin because you are loved and important to Him. Cling to that. Show the world THAT.

You are beautiful. You are kind. You are smart. You are brave. You are a world changer. Dress to show the world that your heart is aligned with your Father’s heart. Never let insecurity, fear, or doubt have a voice in how you present yourself. Only speak, walk, dress, write, and live the love of Christ to everyone you meet. You are loved by your daddy and me, but you are so much more loved by Jesus.

You are always in my heart,
Mom