Every Season Has a Story

It's summertime!!! 
I read a quote once that said, "every summer has a story." I love that. I tend to think of a lot of things in terms of stories anyway, so this quote really struck me. And the more I think about it, the more I think it can also be said that every season has a story.

In every season of the year, every season of our lives…there is a story being written and woven through it all.

What will our stories say? What kind of legacy will the stories of our days leave for those who follow behind us?

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The summer season is one way I’ve always measured our family time. It seems our years are divided into school days and summer days, with a few holidays mixed in between. 

When my girls were younger, the days were long and the end seemed so far away. So many summers of adventures were ahead of us, I don't know that I really took the time to be very intentional with the time…because it felt like we had so much of it.

But as they grow older, the days seem to be moving faster and the summers are shorter and we’re closing in on the last handful of family summers before they graduate high school and our time together shifts. Sure, we’ll still have some summer time and adventures together…but it won’t quite be the same once they are off on their own and beginning their own adventures.

My oldest just finished 9th grade, so she only has 3 summers (including this one!) left before graduation, and my youngest has just 5.

Just a handful of summers left.

That could be really depressing if I think about it too much, and I could curl up in the fetal position and cry for hours about how fast it’s passing and how little time we really have left and worry that I haven’t done nearly everything that I had hoped.

OR…I could choose instead to embrace each season and the story it is writing in our family, and in each of our lives. Because these days are precious and fleeting, and the only way to slow it down is to be fully present in it.

I don’t want to be distracted…I don’t want to be so busy that I don’t take time to slow and savor these summers, and each of the seasons--of the year and of our life--while we have them.

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Our family is actually facing a pretty major season of change in the weeks and months ahead. (I’ll share more on that soon ;) ) But there are a lot of exciting (but also kinda scary) new things on the horizon that will definitely impact the story that is told through the future seasons of our family.

And the one thing I want to do as we walk through these changes together is to remain intentional and present through every step of the journey. And that includes the story of this summer.

What is written on our hearts through the pages of these days will become part of the greater story that God is writing through each of our lives.

Every season has a story.

And I want to be intentional about the words that fill the days of this season’s story…I want the moments that we share to be like words that strengthen our souls and our family: the kind of words that point to Christ, that draw us close, that bring us joy, that comfort our hearts, that light our steps, and that remind us of the continual and abundant goodness and grace of God.

So I’m spending less time online and more time being present in real life instead. I’m saying no to some good things so I can say yet to the best things. I’m marking the calendar and setting aside intentional time for fun and adventure together. I’m putting down my phone and picking up a paint brush, a deck of cards, a book, a mixing bowl, my hiking shoes, my daughters' hands.

Because how we fill our days is how we shape the story of our lives.

What kind of story does your summer hold? What kinds of words are filling your season today?

Whatever you are facing, whatever kind of story is taking shape in your life, you can be confident that God sees you and He loves you and He has a plan for you. The question is, will we trust Him to hold the pen…?

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You can get this free “Every Season has a Story” printable, along with other monthly goodies, when you subscribe to Little House Studio!  This free 5x7 printable is being emailed to all my subscribers along with their monthly June freebies (a calendar, planning sheets, lock screens and more!). Subscribe now and I’ll send it all to you too!

Happy Summer, friends! May the days of this summer weave a beautiful story of grace into your lives.

A New Year, A New Word

Here we are again, on the cusp of yet another new year.

2018 is a year full of promise and opportunity, uncertainty and mystery. This year might bring the very best of moments into our lives…it may bring the very hardest of days…or it may bring both. This year could bring incredible joy, or it could bring deep pain…it will probably bring both. There’s so much we just don’t know about what the next 12 months might hold. But there’s one thing I do know, one truth that I can hold on to no matter what this next year may bring: God is with me, through it all.

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Every year I choose one word. Not a list of goals and plans. Just one word. One word to dig deep into. One word to really lean into and intentionally practice.

This year I’ve chosen the word “surrender.”

As I made my list of words that have been on my heart lately, my short list included words like “brave” and “risk,” “trust” and “given.”

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“What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?”

This was one of the questions our missionary, JJ Alderman, asked when we were on our mission trip in Togo back in October. It has been heavy on my heart and mind ever since. What is the greatest risk I’ve ever taken? What have I risked for Christ? Have I risked anything, really? I’m not naturally a risk-taker. I tend to do everything I can to play it safe and to maintain my secure little bubble of a life, guarded against risk and pain and failure. But more and more I can hear God calling me to take bigger risks, to step out of my comfort zone, to just trust Him and risk my comfort for His Kingdom. This year, I want to take bigger risks as I follow Jesus.

“The only way to abundant life is the broken way of risk.” – Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

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The Broken Way has been one of the books that I’ve gone back to over and over throughout this past year…so many of Ann’s words have made their way into my heart and shaped how I see my life in light of eternity and how I walk this broken journey along the way.

“Look at us all wandering around a spinning planet with these bucket lists, desperate to fill ourselves up with meaning, when meaning comes from emptying ourselves out….
…I wonder if that isn’t a better way to live than carrying around a bucket to fill up: live for something worth dying for. Let love break into you and mess with you and loosen you up and make you laugh and cry and give and hurt because this is the only way to really live. Bucket list or not, don’t waste a minute of your life on anything less. Don’t waste a minute on anything less than what lasts for all eternity.”
- Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

I don't want to waste a minute on anything less than what lasts for all eternity.

One thought that has stuck with me ever since our mission trip to Togo has been this: I want to live a life that outlives this life. I want to be a part of something that is bigger than my own lifetime. I want to invest in things that will outlive me, things that are eternal: the Kingdom of God, the Gospel of Jesus, the souls of people. I want to live in the light of eternity…to “think of eternity, and live backward from that.” (Ann Voskamp)

The way I will do that is by living fully surrendered to Christ, fully submitted to His will and His plan for my life, whatever that may be. The story He is writing is bigger and greater than anything I could write for myself. So this year, I surrender. I want to lay down my dreams and my desires and my very life at the foot of the cross and let God write my story…to say yes to what He asks me to do, to follow where He leads, to walk by His side and watch His story unfold in my life. What that will look like, or where He will lead, I’m not sure. But I’m sure of this:  “The Lord himself goes before [me] and will be with [me]; he will never leave [me] nor forsake [me].” Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV

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So, this year, I surrender.

“I choose to surrender my story wholly, fully to you. Take the pen, Lord Jesus. And write.” – Mary DeMuth, Jesus Every Day


What’s your “one word” for this year? What’s the one thing you’re leaning into?

I’d love to do a custom lettering of your one word for you! Now available in the shop: Custom “One Word” Lettering.

I’ll custom hand-letter your one word, and send you a JPEG image you can save and share and print, and a PNG image you can place on your own photos or graphics. The option to order a foiled print of your one word is also available, for a limited time. For more details, hop over to the shop and check it out!


Whatever your goals or dreams or your “one word” for this next year, I pray that 2018 will be a year that God draws you nearer to His side, that you will experience His love and trust His plan and find joy in this crazy wonderful journey.

Happy New Year, friends!

The Waves and Wind Still Know His Name

There are storms that bear down like a hurricane, destroying the things we've held dear.

The work of our hands and the treasures we've collected can crumble beneath the weight of the wind and the waves.

There are inner storms that can rage and change the landscape of a soul.

So many of us on this broken planet are facing storms of one kind or another.

Harvey left a sea of devastation last week. Irma is bearing down on us this week.

Our little family is watching the weather closely and hunkering down this weekend. We live in central Georgia and could be in the direct path of the storm this time. Though we won't get the worst of it, we're still preparing for storms. School has already been canceled Monday. Evacuees, friends from our south, have flooded into our little town and filled every hotel room.

The needs are great. The fears are felt. But our God is still in control.

This song has been on replay in my heart the last couple of days...it is like a balm to my often-anxious heart: 

"It Is Well"

Grander earth has quaked before
Moved by the sound of His voice
Seas that are shaken and stirred
Can be calmed and broken for my regard

Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
Through it all, through it all
It is well

Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
It is well with me

Far be it from me to not believe
Even when my eyes can't see

And this mountain that's in front of me
Will be thrown into the midst of the sea

Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
Through it all, through it all
It is well

So let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name

It is well with my soul
It is well with my soul
It is well with my soul
It is well with my soul

It is well it is well with my soul
ahhhhhhh (softly)

Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You Lord
Through it all, through it all
It is well with me.

It's hard to not be anxious and uncertain when so many are suffering and facing so much destruction in so many places around our beautiful broken world. But God is still good. I may not understand why there is so much suffering, why there are so many storms - on our land, in our souls. But I do know that He is calling to us...drawing us near to Himself. He loves us. HE is our peace, even in the middle of the storm...especially in the middle of the storms.

We don't have to be afraid.

Ann Voskamp wrote,
"In the midst of storms, all our storms, this is always true:
Sometimes God will calm the storm for you —  but sometimes God will calm you for the storm.
Sometimes God calms the storms — and sometimes the storm stills swirl and He calms our fears.
All storms only still to the sound of One Voice."

and

"The Wounded God does not say, “Do not fear, I will give you all the answers.”
He does not say, “Do not fear, I will take away all your pain.”
He does not say, “Do not fear, I will do whatever you all think.”
The Wounded God who is the one High, Almighty Wise God, who says it like a wide open embrace:
'Do not fear — for I am here.' "

He is here. He is right here. As the waves rise and the wind howls and the future is a thick cloud of uncertainty...God is right here, with us. And we can rest in Him and say with confidence, "It is well with my soul."

Praying for those facing the uncertainty of incoming storms, for those picking up the pieces from storms that have past, and for those being tossed to and fro by wind and waves in the middle of a storm that threatens to destroy the things you hold dear. Hold tight to the One who is holding you through it all...He is the unmovable, unshakable, unwavering God who loves you more than you can imagine.Trust Him. Rest in Him. He holds. 

How Togo stole my heart and broke it in all the best ways...

In October of 2013 I took a trip that changed me.

The trip was to a small town on the southern coast of Togo, Africa.
It was my first missions trip.
It was the farthest I had ever been away from my family.
It was the longest I had ever been away from my kids.
It was physically challenging.
It was emotionally exhausting.
It was so hard…and so wonderful.
It wore me out.
It opened my eyes.
It emptied me…and yet it filled me to overflowing.
It stuck with me.
It stays with me still.
Togo stole my heart and broke it in all the best ways.

We sat in a simple thatched building with a corrugated metal roof, on handmade wooden benches and sandy dirt floors. This was the church. And it was beautiful. There were no fancy sound systems or video screens or colored lights, no air conditioning or padded seats, and I didn’t understand very much of what was spoken that morning – and yet, I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced a church service that was more alive with the Holy Spirit.

Many of the Togolese people who surrounded us that morning lived in poverty like I had never seen before. But as I sat there and watched them worship Jesus, I realized that I was the one who was poor.  I had a life that was overflowing with comfort and privilege and plenty (we may not seem "rich" by American standards, but when you consider all that we have--a solid roof over our heads and consistent food on our table and running water at our fingertips--we are really quite wealthy and extremely blessed)…and yet, as I sat there in that church service half a world away from my everyday life and over 5,000 miles outside my comfort zone, I realized that I was actually the one living in poverty…in spiritual poverty. I had cushioned myself within my safe and comfortable little bubble, carefully planning and crafting my life into the shape I thought was best (which looked an awful lot like the shape of what our culture says is best): the shape of least risk and most safety, least pain and most comfort, least struggle and most stuff. Oh, Jesus was always a part of it, but He was not really the whole of it. I thought He was. I said He was. But He wasn't really. I thought I was pursuing Jesus, but I was really just pursuing the American Dream with a side of Jesus. My life was not conformed to the shape of the cross...it was conformed to the shape of myself and my own selfish desires. And I didn't even really realize it. I didn’t realize how tight my grip was on my life…I didn’t realize how little faith I really had…I didn’t realize what I was missing.

I went to Togo with this idea that I would somehow help them, but the reality is that they were the ones who helped me.

The Togolese people in the church that morning may not have had much as far as worldly possessions go, but they had Jesus, and He was enough. He was more than enough.

Was Jesus enough for me? Had He ever really been enough for me?

I want to love Jesus every day of my life with the same passion that I witnessed that week in Togo...like He is all that I really need and everything I could ever want.

The people of Togo stole my heart...our missionaries, JJ and Melissa, inspired my heart...and God used Togo to begin breaking my heart in the very best way.

That trip to Togo was the beginning of the soul-shaping process that God used to begin breaking my selfishness, breaking down down my walls, breaking apart the box that I had tucked my faith into. It was the beginning of God prying my hands open…of Him showing me how to let go of my life and live with open hands, trusting Him with whatever He gives, whatever He takes, and whatever He asks me to give away. I’m still loosening my grip…still learning how to let go. Because I forget…oh, how I still forget. 

It has been almost 4 years since my feet were on that African soil. And my heart has been longing to go back ever since I left. But I’ve been learning to let God lead…learning to trust His timing…learning to love where I am, and to see the mission field right here where He has placed me.

I’ve learned that I don’t have to cross the ocean to share the power of the Cross.
I don’t have to speak another language to speak the love of Christ into someone’s life.
I don’t have to look very far or travel great distances to find a mission field.
I don’t have to get on a plane to get my life on mission for Jesus.

But I do have to open my hands.
I need to loosen my grip and not hold so tightly to this life and what I have….it is all a gift. I am blessed to bless…I have been given much so I can give much. 

And I do have to take up my cross and follow Jesus.
Following Jesus always requires sacrifice. My life must take the shape of the cross...arms open in broken surrender to His plan and His purpose.

And I do have to look beyond myself and see the needs of others.
I have to open my eyes....to really see people, see the souls that Jesus loves, see their need, and then do something to meet those needs.

And I do have to be obedient and do what God is calling me to do.
And He calls all of us to share the Good News. As Christians, we are all given a mission to share Jesus as if souls depend on it...because they do. Because a thousand years from now, all that will really matter is a person’s relationship with Jesus. Everything else will fade away, but the Word of God and the Good News of Jesus and the souls of people are eternal. If I really believe that, it will affect how I live my days and how I use my time and how I see every single human being on this big beautiful broken planet.

"And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'”
Matthew 28:18-20 ESV
“Every Christian here is either a missionary or an impostor....It cannot be that there is a high appreciation of Jesus, and a totally silent tongue about him. Of course I do not mean, by that, that those who use the pen for Christ are silent; they are not. And those who help others to use the tongue, or spread that which others have written, are doing their part well; but I mean this,—that man who says, ‘I believe in Jesus,’ but does not think enough of Jesus ever to tell another about him, by mouth, or pen, or tract, is an impostor.”
- C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 54 

Sometimes obeying God may mean getting on a plane and flying halfway around the world.

Sometimes it means getting out of the recliner and taking food to a neighbor.

This October, for me, it will mean returning to Togo with a small group from our local church to serve and work with our missionary partners, JJ and Melissa Alderman. And this time, my husband Mark is going too! (I’m so excited to have him by my side this time!)

I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to return to the place that stole my heart 4 years ago.

The area where we will be serving, on the southern coast of Togo, is dominated by voodoo worship (witch doctors, fetish idol worship, sacrifices, etc). The spiritual darkness there is thick...spiritual warfare is very real…but the light of Christ is so bright, and the power of the Gospel is so strong. The work that the Aldermans are doing there is absolutely incredible, and it is a truly humbling grace to get to serve with them and work with them for a few days.

Here's what we'll be doing:

The Aldermans purchased a large piece of land on which to begin a camp and community outreach program. One of our goals on this trip will be to help with the construction of a building that will serve as a bunk house on their new property. This bunk house will be the first step toward reaching their goal of bringing locals in to share the gospel with them.

We will also be ministering to a few of the local church plants by spending some time with them and praying for their churches as they fight to share the gospel in their local villages. Most church plants there consist of about 90% new Christians – their passion for the Gospel, and the sacrifice many of them have had to make to follow Christ is both humbling and inspiring. We will also spend time with kids, loving on them and having fun with them to help build relationships between them and the Aldermans. 

I am also praying that we will be able to encourage and love on the Aldermans while we are there. Although, if it’s anything like the last time I was there, I’m pretty sure we will leave feeling far more blessed by them…just being around them and hearing their hearts and watching them do the work that God has called them to do, with so much love in their hearts and courage in their spirits…it is truly a gift just to spend time with them. They are the real deal…beautiful people who just love Jesus and want to share His love with the Togolese people and see this country experience the life-changing power of the Gospel. The dream God has given them for Togo is bigger than their lifetime…they know that the work they are doing is only a beginning, that they may never see the full results of their labor in this generation…but that doesn’t stop them from pouring everything they have into doing what God has called them to do. They are faithful to their part of God’s big story…and it is so inspiring and humbling to me just to be around them.

Mark and I are prayerfully preparing for this trip, and we are trusting God to provide all that we need. Our financial goal is, to be honest, a bit overwhelming…we have to raise a total of over $4000 since two of us are going. But nothing is too big for our God, and I am very confident that He will provide everything that we need. 

To help us reach our fundraising goal, I have designed a whole new collection of prints that I’m calling The Mission Collection. This collection includes 10 new designs, and 100% of the proceeds from all purchases will go toward our missions trip to Togo. Each of the quotes and verses I chose for this collection encourage me and remind me of the mission that God has given us. Perhaps one (or more) of them will encourage you, too? :)

Both Printable and Printed options are available. See more details for each design over on the Mission Collection page in the Shop.

If you would like to donate toward our missions trip, but would prefer to make a direct tax-deductible donation instead of purchasing a print, please email me at jennifer@littlehousestudio.net and I’ll send you all the details of how to do that. :)

Thank you in advance for supporting us and praying for us. We covet your prayers as we prepare our hearts for this trip and as we trust God to work out all the details.

And please be praying for JJ and Melissa Alderman and their Togo Palms ministry. God is doing amazing things through them. You can read more about their ministry over on their website: www.TogoPalms.life

 

Lettering for the Lord - a challenge for me & free printables for you!

Letter for the Lord Lettering Plan by Krystal Whitten

This month I have decided to jump in on Krystal Whitten's "Letter for the Lord" lettering challenge over on Instagram. I love her heart behind her work, and her lettering is absolutely beautiful. You can see more of her work on her website or IG.

A challenge like this not only encourages me to practice my own lettering skills daily, but it's also a great way to focus on God's Word every day...and to share it with you!

So I decided to try to turn some of these daily lettering challenges into printables that you can download and print for your home.  Links to all the printables of these verses is at the end of this post. I'll be adding to this list often throughout the month (you can follow me on IG to find out when a new printable is available). Hurry and snag your free printables now...they will only be available for a limited time! :) (I may turn some of them into prints in my little shop, with possibly some full-color versions as well...but for now, the sketches are all free to download! Enjoy!!)

And I'd LOVE to see your own lettering of these verses! You can jump in on the challenge at any time...read all the details over on Krystal's site, and share your handwritten verses on IG! (You don't have to have any special handwriting or lettering skills, either...just write out God's Word and share His truths to encourage your own heart and others. Remember, "it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful.") :)