Life Lately.

Hey friends! It's been a bit silent around here lately as you've probably noticed. I had a blast co-writing the 31 Days series on Identity in October with Lauren but it required way more writing that I usually do so I guess I needed a break? There's been some fun stuff going on around here that I'll share with you soon but for now I'll just share a bit of what we've been up to lately.

We are full blown with holiday spirit these days. We put up our Christmas tree about a week ago (yes, I am one of "those" people). I just couldn't help myself. It's so pretty and I want to enjoy it for as long as we can. 

I've been soaking up lots of time with my little boy lately. He is growing so much and is such a joy to be around. He says things on a daily basis that make my husband and I burst into laughter. 

We got our first snow a couple of weeks ago and although it was less than an inch, Cooper wanted to go out on our balcony and "shovel". I bundled him up and then watched him play from the other side of the sliding-glass door where it was warm. He only lasted about 15 minutes but he had a blast. I love snow but I'm a pretty big pansy when it comes to the cold so this momma will have to suck it up and bundle up when the big snows hit in the coming months. 

Chicago is a beautiful city all year round but it's especially pretty at Christmas time. Cooper and I spent a little time in the city yesterday walking around some shops and driving along Michigan Avenue. Being in the city does something good for my soul and I can't really even explain it. I'd pick the city over the country any day. We live about an hour north of downtown and I love that a big city like Chicago is so accessible to us. Justin is taking me to a Bulls game on December 2nd for my birthday so some more city time is in our future:) And the Bulls game was my choice... I'm kind of a sports dork. 

We're excited about Thanksgiving this week and really looking forward to some family time and time away from all of our normal daily routine stuff. My mom is coming over from Des Moines to stay with us Wednesday-Saturday and we'll be heading down to do thanksgiving day with Justin's side of the family in Joliet, IL. 

Every year when the Christmas season rolls around my brain always gets to spinning on how we can do things different this year. Less buying for us, more giving to others. I've got some ideas that I'm excited to share with you soon. And just to give you a little taste of what I'm talking about... 

Go check out this great Holiday Handmade Gift Guide
Hope you all have a happy thanksgiving! We have MUCH to be grateful for. 

Going to the deep end. Of my heart, that is.

We're gonna get deep today ya'll. I know I'm not from the south but saying 'You guys' just doesn't sound as cool. It sounds so... northern. So southern friends I'm gonna borrow your lingo for a sec, ok? Besides, I've always claimed to be a southern girl at heart. 

It's Tuesday. Tuesday is my "mommy day". My three-year-old goes to a friend's house from 9am-3pm and I get to do whatever I want with those six hours. It's glorious. It makes me a better mom and a better wife to have intentional space to breathe. So today I'm at Starbucks reading, writing, staring out the window, watching people come in and order venti frappachinos, with music in my ears and a chai latte in my belly. It's fall-ish weather here in Northern Illinois today and the air has a certain crispness to it. I am a summer girl myself, but I can't deny the beauty and newness of fall. 

So friends, I've been in a season. Like a long and hard one. It started last October and I'm happy to say that I think I am finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.  It's been a year full of insecurity about who I am as a mom, wife, and daughter of my heavenly father.

We all have junk, right? And by junk I mean emotional junk. We'll save the physical junk for another day. Some of our junk might have been dumped on us from other people. Some of it we acquired ourselves. And while some of us have 'carry-on luggage' sized junk, others of us have eighty pound, can barely pick it up off the ground, sized junk. The last year for me has felt like I've got more junk that I know what to do with you. More junk that I can bare to lift. Have you ever felt this way?

A lot of my junk comes from the absence of an earthly father in my life. I did not grow up knowing my biological father. As a kid I don't remember being mad at him specifically, just mad that there was a huge hole in my life. For many years I sought affirmation from men I thought might love me like a daughter. Some of those relationships were healthy, most were not. It really took me up until I got married (at the age of 24) to not feel the need in my heart for that kind of affirmation anymore.

But there's still a struggle that I'm working through. A struggle that only my heavenly father can fix.

When it comes to my relationship with Jesus, I am learning to believe and rest in these truths:

There's nothing I can DO to make Him love me any more or any less. This one is huge. And also, hard.

He created me, to love me. And He wants to me love Him back. 

He is the ONLY one who can heal my broken heart. 

There may be some plans He has for my life but it doesn't mean that I'm ready to walk in those plans. I need to trust in His timing, not my own. 

I took a pause from this post to let it all just sit. I closed my laptop and starting driving home. As I drove, I began to think about how maybe one day I'll talk to my biological father again. I thought about all the questions I'd ask him. A part of me still cares about him not necessarily because he's my dad but because he's a person. A person who God loves, just as much as me. I find it hard to believe that he doesn't wish he knew all four of his kids more than he does. And anyone who's a parent can imagine the possibilities of that kind of pain. The pain of not knowing your own child. I wondered what it would be like to ignore one of my own children not just for years, but decades. Three decades, to be exact. I thought about all the seasons of my life in which I, myself, had been the ignorer. And then God said to me, "Courtney, even if you ignored me for 30 years, I'd still love you." 

Because THAT is the magnitude of how much He loves us. And isn't it interesting how sometimes God uses the failures of this world to show us how He is NOT. How His character, actions, love, faithfulness, truthfulness is nothing like ours. Like actually, it's the opposite. 

Have you ever ignored God for months, years, or maybe even decades? Well here's some good news... He still loves you. 

I'll be 31 in a few months and there's still a lot of cleaning to do in the 'junk' department of my heart. But I rest in the HOPE of the one of loves me the most. 

A Fellow Warrior Needs Our Help.

Hey friends. My heart is heavy today. It's heavy for a friend. And I even hesitate to do what I'm about to do because I just ended a month of bombarding you all with posts and requests for support to help me raise $1000 for clean water. 

But I'm here today with another request on behalf of a friend. This is my friend Vashti Downs. Vashti and her husband Martin live in Durban, South Africa with their two adorable sons, Joe & Jesse. 

I met Martin and Vashti about 10 years ago in Brooklyn, NY. I had the privilege of working alongside them at Metro Ministries, an inner-city children's ministry. Martin and Vashti are some of the most passionate and Jesus-loving people I have ever met. After working at Metro for many years they felt God leading them to move to South Africa to love and serve orphans, the homeless, and at-risk women who work the streets day and night. They have been doing this amazing work tirelessly for many years and it's starting to take a toll. 

Vashti wrote on her blog recently...

"We KNOW that He has called us here. We KNOW that quitting is NOT an option. He KNOWS that we will do what it takes to see His will done in our lives. We have proved this over and over. We could have quit a thousand times and no one would have blamed us... but quitting is NOT an option as far as we are concerned. So why do we spend our days holding our breath? Not knowing if we will make it to church or to take the kids to school because the petrol (gas) light is on. Not knowing what I am going to feed my family because the fridge is empty and all we have is lentils and a bag of flour. I thank Him for my hens that feed us with their eggs every day. (we definitely get enough protein). We do not get to take our children on vacation. We do not even get to shower with hot water. We live on a beautiful property that we believe God has placed us on but the reality is we could loose our home at any moment. I have no certainty in my life other than we will NOT quit. That is the one certainty that I hold onto. The knowing that HE has called us and He will not let us fall."

I know that the needs of this world are endless and maybe you already know or support a missionary or sponsor child or organization. If you don't feel God tugging on your heart to give to these friends of mine then it's totally ok. But, if you do have the desire to give to this family then I say YES & THANK YOU! 

This breaks my heart, friends. It breaks my heart that Martin and Vashti are serving the lost, broken, and forgotten so tirelessly and at the end of the day they struggle to provide for their own family. And please know that Martin and Vashti don't even know I'm writing this blog post or making this plea on their behalf. My intention is not to make you feel sorry for them but that we might be the answer to someone else's prayers. 

Here's how you can give to help the Downs family with food, gas (or Petrol as they call it in SA), and other basic necessities: Just click on the link below to give DIRECTLY to the Downs family. Any questions, feel free to ask away!

Influence Conf is Coming!

In just a little over two weeks I'll be heading to The Influence Conference with my friends Caroline, Karrie, and Reeve. Karrie and Reeve both live in the Charlotte area and I don't get to see them very much so I'm super excited to spend some car time with all three of them!

The ladies over at the Influence Conference blog are doing a link-up for all the women who will be attending the IC. The goal is to get to know each other a little and be able to put some names to faces for when we actually meet in "real life" soon. So here it goes...

1) Two things you will be sure to have packed in your bag:

  • My iPhone/laptop. I'm sort of a social media addict and will definitely want to be tweeting/instagramming the WHOLE weekend. And don't worry, I will be doing a social media fast soon so there's no need to plan an intervention. :)
  • Fall clothes! I'm really hoping for some fall-like weather the weekend of the conference so I can finally bust out some of my favorite fall clothes. (It's 95 here in Illinois today that might be a long shot. Here's hoping.) 
Sorry there's no spiritual answers like my bible or favorite devotional. I have a bible on my iPhone, ok? 

2) Two (or three) things you are most looking forward to during the conference:

  • Worshiping with hundreds of women. (And by worship, I mean musical worship). REALLY looking forward to that. 
  • Meeting some women I really admire and learning from them.
  • Hanging out with my roomies! 
And here's a picture of me. Please come give me a hug once you see this face at the Influence Conference! 

He Pursues.

A few weekends ago I went to a Women of Faith conference with my dear (and most hilarious!) friend Kathy in Peoria, IL. Kathy is 21 years older than me but you'd never know by the amount of fun we have together!

At the conference I was introduced to Lisa Harper (not personally) who is the Director of Ministries for Women of Faith. She played the roll of the emcee for the weekend as well as a speaker.  I loved her SO much! Kathy bought a few of her books and gave me one entitled "Untamed : How the Wild Side of Jesus Frees Us to Live and Love with Abandon". I started reading it a few days ago and came across the most amazing story that I just have to share.


     "Several months ago I was invited to be on the Life Today television show with James and Betty Robison. During the interview they asked me to relate a story that happened many years ago at the end of a large Christian women's conference event in the Midwest. Kathy Troccoli was leading worship at this particular event, and she concluded by inviting women in need of prayer to come forward to the platform while she sang a song based on Psalm 23.

     Now, I truly believe that inviting individuals to pray is almost always a good thing, but you know how people sometimes get whipped into an emotive frenzy in spiritual settings? Well, this was one of those times. Over a thousand women surged foward and began to cry and carry on and loudly express their distress. Personally, I'm a firm believer in weeping before the Lord -- even whining if you need to. And I appreciate God's assurance that he counts our troubles and stores tears. Scripture makes it clear that no sincere grief on our part is ever ignored by the Heavenly Father.

     However, much of the sorrow expressed at this conference seemed to be more self-induced than Holy-Spirit-generated, and I found myself thinking, Wow, we need to do something to shift the focus back to God's goodness and away from our misery! Kathy was thinking the same thing, because she wrapped up the song, she marched over to where I was hovering at the edge of the stage, shoved the microphone toward me, and said authoritatively, "Pray, Lisa!"

     A little flustered by all the drama, I wasn't sure exactly where to begin. But I've found that even much smaller groups of women typically include a few who are struggling in their marriage, some who are worried about their prodigal children, others who are suffering with cancer, and sadly at least a handful who recently lost someone they loved. So I simply started praying some of God's promises: that He's near to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit, that His name is a strong tower, and righteous can run to it and find refuge. Just as I was getting on a roll, I sensed God tap me on the shoulder and tell me to pray something else. Now I didn't hear God's audible voice as Abraham or Moses did, but the voice in my head was unmistakably His. John 10:1-5 assures Christians we can recognize our Redeemer's voice. And I couldn't ignore it.

     I have to admit, however, that I wanted to ignore it, because I was certain the words he was impressing on my heart to pray would be about as welcome as a vegan at a National Cattleman's conference. I couldn't help thinking, They killed prophets in the Old Testament, Lord. May I please just say "Amen" and be done with it? 

     Yet God's spirit continued poking me so insistently that I knew it'd be overt disobedience to refuse His request. So I prayed for women who were struggling with their sexuality and living in lesbian relationships. Yeah, I know. It's not a prayer you hear very often in a setting where most people are wearing matching purses and shoes. I don't remember any details about what happened immediately after my prayer that day. At least no one pelted me with rocks, and within a few hours I was safely on a plane headed back to Nashville.

     A few weeks later I received a letter from a young woman named Karen who'd been at the event. She explained that she'd been attending that conference for years, not because she enjoyed it, but to appease her mother. Karen had been raised in a Christian home but rebelled in college through excessive drinking, promiscuity, and homosexual relationships. Since she lived on the other side of the state from her conservative mama, she'd been able to keep her prodigal ways a secret. Karen wrote, "I don't know if you remember, but the prayer time at the end of the conference was really emotional."Yeah, I remember!

     As all those women gathered around the platform that day, Karen had stayed put in her top-row seat at the back of the convention center with her arms crossed and thinking, Ugh, I hate this! These women are a bunch of dramatic hypocrites, and nothing that's been said all day applies to me. In that moment, she wrote in her letter, she sort of dared God to show up by silently praying, God, if you're real, I dare you to make that lady - she had no idea who i was - say the word "lesbian," because I've been here for seven years in a row and haven't heard anybody talk about what I'm walking through. 

     Seconds later, when I said that word in my prayer, she was so shocked that she bolted out of her seat and escaped to the bathroom, where she stayed until the conference was completely over. Then she walked out to her car by herself, feeling overwhelmed, isolated, and unsure of how to handle what seemed to be an answer from a God she'd nearly stopped believing in.

     A week later Karen was driving down the highway in anguish because she'd lost her job and her latest girlfriend in quick succession. Despairing of her very life, she cried out to God and basically asked Him the same thing she had the previous weekend. "God if you're real, please help me find you." After her candid request, she absent-mindedly turned on her radio and was surprised to hear Kathy Troccoli singing the same song she'd sung at the end of the conference. Karen explained that she never listened to inspirational music and wasn't sure how her stereo got tuned in to that station! Then, even more astonishing, instead of a dee-jay's voice or a commercial coming on when the song was over, the station aired my prayer, and she heard that word a second time. She described the experience as being so unsettling -- and so unmistakably God -- that she felt compelled to pull her car over to the shoulder of the road and ask Jesus to forgive her and take control of her life.


How amazing are the ways that Jesus pursues us? Has He ever pursued you like this before? Or maybe used you in His pursuit of someone else? 

I am grateful for a father who would go to the ends of the earth just to pursue ME. And YOU. 

Introducing 'Story Hope'

If you haven't already noticed, I've been doing a little rebranding around here. What used to be is now You'll also notice a little design change as well. What can I say? I guess I just like change:)

Lately God has been putting dreams on my heart and deepening the ones that are already there. One of the dreams is to do more intentional writing. And to maybe even one day write a book. So rather than just write about 'whatever' on this blog, I'll aim to be a little more specific and purposeful.

The idea behind the name change is simple. I desire for my life to be a story of HOPE. I want to tell stories of hope that might inspire hope in others. I'll tell my own stories and maybe even other people's stories (with their permission of course). Some may be deeply spiritual and others maybe not so much. I'm not a very poetic writer so the stories may be straight to the point but the goal will always be that they will be stories filled with HOPE.

There's a great story I read in a book recently that I will be sharing in my next post. Although it's not my story, it's a GREAT one and gives me goosebumps every time I read it.

Happy Friday Friends.

I Need Africa.

If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time then you've probably caught a glimpse of my love for an organization called The Mocha Club.

"The challenged Africans face today are as diverse as HIV/AIDS, access to clean water, and the vulnerability of women. Mocha Club is committed to locally developed projects where the community identifies the needs and the response." -The MC

I've been supporting their clean water project for over a year now through the sale of Story Hope Tees and through a monthly donation of $9, also to their clean water project. It's very easy to get involved with the Mocha Club because they're simply a community of people giving up the cost of a few mochas a month to support development projects in Africa. Pretty easy, right?

Well today the Mocha Club launched a NEW campaign called 'I Need Africa'. Check out this short video to learn more...

There are a few ways to respond and get involved...

If you're not a current Mocha Club member, JOIN THE CLUB and then pick one of the 2.0 products (an exclusive fashionABLE INA scarf or the INA pocket tee) for FREE. If you're already a member, now's the perfect time to INVITE your friends to join you! When they join, you BOTH get to choose a FREE product! The INA 2.0 products are also available for purchase in the MC store.

Last year at the Influence Conference I had the chance to meet and talk with Barrett, who is the founder of Mocha Club, as well as Marisa, who is one of their amazing staff, and let me tell you that they are REAL people who are doing REAL and amazing work in Africa. 

If you're looking for an opportunity to do something outside of your own world, this is a great one. You won't regret it. 

25 things you might not know about me

My friend Megan over at She Does Justice did a '25 things you might not know about me' post and it was so fun I decided to do one myself. So here it goes...

1) I was born in Iowa. 

2) I've lived in 5 states.

3) The first time I saw the ocean, I was 19 year old. 

4) My first job was de-tassling corn. And it was a terrible job. 

5) I LOVE big cities. 

6) I'm kind of a neat freak. 

7) I'm a big fan of country music. 

8) I was born of Christmas Eve. 

9) I have four older brothers. 

10) I'm an introvert who borders very closely to extrovert.  

11) I have a HUGE sweet tooth. 

12) I'm a wanna-be vegetarian. 

13) My favorite actor is Denzel Washington. 

14) My favorite actress is Hillary Swank. 

15) I have two tattoos and I will probably get more. 

16) My favorite shows are Parenthood and Law & Order SVU.

17) I would drink Mountain Dew everyday if it didn't make me feel so terrible.

18) My husband and I are licensed foster parents. 

19) I really like to run. 

20) One of the things on the top of my bucket-list is to go to Africa one day.

21) I have a deep burden for the "least of these". 

22) I am a night-owl. SO not a morning person. 

23) I'm going to run my first half-marathon on October 12th, 2013.

24) I'd like to write a book someday.

25) I can't stand having long finger nails. 

Whew! That was way harder than I thought. Thanks for reading!

Purpose Project Update

Hey all! First things first, I'm doing a give-away! Enter here to win a Live With Less t-shirt and help me hit my Purpose Project fundraising goal. All you have to give is $5 to enter! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

With 5 days to go until the end of my Purpose Project for clean water I wanted to give you an update on how's it's going! 

The Running // Is going well! I'm up to 6 miles on my long run days and I have seven weeks to go until I run my first 1/2 marathon! No injuries thus far and hopefully it will stay that way. Some days I run with a friend, some days I run alone, and some days I run on the treadmill at our local YMCA which is my least favorite. Today I did a four mile run on the treadmill and it was close to torture. It's just so booooorrring. 

The Raising // At the beginning of the month I set a goal to raise $1000 for clean water in Africa. I fell in love with The Mocha Club last year when I attended The Influence Conference. I loved meeting some of their staff and hearing about how they are very intentionally making a big difference for the beautiful people of Africa. 

"The challenges that face Africans today are as diverse as HIV/AIDS, access to clean water, and the vulnerability of women. Mocha Club is committed to locally developed projects where the community identifies the needs and the response. The end goal is always to create real, sustainable solutions" (Mocha Club website)

When I decided to partner with the Mocha Club last September and give a portion of the profits from my Live With Less t-shirt sales to them, I knew I needed to pick one of their five projects. I was torn because I felt like all we're equally important but the one that kept resurfacing in my heart was CLEAN WATER. So I made the decision to support their clean water project and my passion has only grown for this cause/crisis over the last year. The statistics are staggering, friends. 

*Approximately 800 million people lack access to clean water. 
*More than 3 million people die every year from a water related disease. 
*The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns. 

Clearly there is MUCH work to be done. I know that $1000 probably won't even make a dent in the clean water crisis but I do know that it will still make a difference. 

So... as of today $376 has been raised towards my goal of $1000 and I have 5 days to go. Will you help me reach my goal and be a part of making a difference in the lives of people who desperately need clean water? 

Click HERE to donate any amount. And don't forget to enter the giveaway! Thanks friends!  

{And in case you missed this video I posted last week, here's a chance to check it out.}

Why I'm doing a Purpose Project.

During the month of August I am partnering with one of my favorite organizations, the Mocha Club, to do a Purpose Project. Mocha Club started the Purpose Project initiative about a year ago with Blair who was the first one to lead the way! The idea behind a Purpose Project is to choose something you've always wanted to do or accomplish and match it with a fundraising goal that would help support one of the Mocha Club's five strategic and solution-orientation, relief and development projects in Africa.

Those five projects are: 
clean water, education, women at risk, HIV/aids + health care, and orphan care. 

In September of 2012 I launched the Live With Less t-shirt line that would give 50% of it's profits to the Mocha Club's clean water project. The more I learned about the clean water crisis around the world, the more I became passionate about helping to make a difference. It's a devastating reality that millions of people around the world don't have access to clean, drinkable water and they're dying because of it. So for me, it was an easy decision to continue to support the clean water project this month as I embark on my first Mocha Club Purpose Project! 

Why did I choose to run a half-marathon as my goal? Well, to be honest I'm kind of asking myself the same question. I'm a little freaked out. I've always been a runner and I've always loved running but I've NEVER run that far in my life! But, it's always been something I've wanted to do. I feel like I can't call myself a "real" runner until I can put half-marathon (and hopefully one day a full-marathon) on my list of accomplishments. So I'm going for it. 

My goal this month is raise at least $1000 for clean water. And let me tell you, $1000 can go a LONG way in an impoverished country. Just $7 can provide clean drinking water for five Africans for 1 year! That's a BIG difference, right? 

So here's the question... will you join me on my journey this month and help me reach my goal? If my goal of $1000 or more is reached I will be running a half-marathon on September 29th in Lake Zurich, IL. 

If you'd like to donate just click here and then click on the DONATE button. 

Thanks for your support friends! 

Seeing beauty in the brokenness.

There's always some beauty even in the most broken of places, isn't there? In my opinion, New York City is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but it's also incredibly broken. You could be standing on the most dangerous and drug-ridden street in the city and also right next to a beautiful and one-of-a-kind piece of graffiti art, all at the same time. Beauty in brokenness. I've never been to a third world country (I will one day), but when I hear from people who have, I always here the same thing. Amidst so much poverty and pain, there is so much beauty. Beauty in the people, beauty in the culture, and beauty in the contentment they have with so little. Ironic isn't it?

I think the same goes for our hearts. There's always beauty to find in our own brokenness. I have a handful of friends who lend a listening ear when I need to process things. One of those friends is Miriam, and she always says to me... "Just BE. Let you're heart do what it needs to do. Don't rush the process." She's a smart lady and let me tell you, she's been through some STUFF. 

When my heart is in a broken place, my instinct is to push through the pain, to get frustrated with the way I'm feeling, or to try and fix whatever is wrong, as fast as I can. And those aren't necessarily bad responses all of the time but I think sometimes we just need to BE so that we don't ignore the beauty in the brokenness. 

May I keep my eyes open through the tears. 

May I keep my ears open to His voice. 

May I keep my heart open to His plan. 

And may I rely solely on God to make my heart whole like only He can.

If we love them well, they'll never feel like a project.

I grew up in a single-parent household. My biological father was only around until I was about a year old and then he was gone. My mom raised my older brother Josh and me by herself. My mom was and still is (at the age of 60) an incredibly hard worker. When my brother and I were young she often worked two jobs just to make ends meet. She somehow seemed to always find a way to get us what we wanted for our birthdays or Christmas, and it wasn't easy because we were the bratty kids who wouldn't be happy with anything less than name brands. Our tastes were fancy, what can I say? I guess a "Sorry Mom" would be appropriate. We received help from the government for a little while because we needed it, but my mom never took advantage of that. As soon as she could make enough money to pay all the bills again, she stopped accepting the welfare. 

(Side note: back in the late 80's and early 90's, food stamps came in the form of paper that looked like actual dollar bills but they were different colors. That was kind of an exciting thing for an eight year old.)

When I was in third grade I was chosen to attend a summer camp. Only one kid from my whole elementary school was chosen to go and that kid was ME. What an honor, right? I had no idea why they had chosen me but I was stoked! And here's the thing... the camp was totally free. AND... before I left for camp someone was going to come pick me up to take me shopping for everything I would need at camp. Clothes, shoes, backpack, sleeping bag, personal hygiene items, flashlight, etc. What!? 

I remember being SO excited when the shopping day came. And then the day I went off to camp was even better! I spent a week swimming, playing games, making friends, and feeling loved. I can't remember the name of the camp but I've never forgotten the name of my counselor. Her name was Dana. Dana was great and she made my experience at camp so amazing. 

Here's why I'm sharing this story. Many years later I found out that the camp was for "underprivelaged kids". The elementary school gave the camp my name and one of the music teachers at the school sponsored me to go. But my little third-grader self had no idea. And that's a beautiful thing. 

I never once thought they felt sorry for me. I never felt under-privelaged. I never felt poor. I never felt like I was just someone's project. What I did feel was loved and cared for, in a safe environment. 

For the people in our lives who really are under-privelaged, poor, marginalized, or falling through the cracks of society, may they never feel like we're only helping because we feel sorry for them. 

If we love them WELL, they'll NEVER feel like a project. 

Is there anyone in your life who might feel like a project? How can you love them better?

Thanks for listening, friends. 

A post for moms.

This Sunday will mark my fourth year celebrating Mother's Day as a mom. My first was in 2010, when Cooper was still in my belly. The next three with him on the "outside", of course. I love being a mom. I was never one of those little girls who always dreamed of being a wife and a mother. In 2nd grade I wrote a paper about how I wanted to be an Olympic track star when I grew up. I loved to run and I loved to run fast. Being a mom just wasn't on my radar. I wasn't the kind of girl who played with baby dolls either. I never really had any, mostly because I didn't want them. I remember getting a doll for Christmas one year when I was seven or eight but that's the only doll I ever remember having. I was more concerned about hanging out with my older brother and playing whatever sport he was. I was about as 'tomboy' as it gets. And you know those girls who run around the neighborhood with their shirts off WAY longer than they should even though their not "developed" yet? Yeah, that was me.

So fast forward about 20 years... at the age of 28 I become a mom. And it changed me, just like it changes all of us. I fell in love in a way that I had never fallen in love before. This little cone-headed, Asian-looking (because he looked Asian when he was born), wrinkly little boy stole my heart. And he's been stealing it ever since. I love being a mom. I mean LOVE it. But it's a hard job.

Hard in more ways than one. It's hard in the physically exhausting kind of way. Late nights, early mornings, sick days, bodily fluids, messy house, toys everywhere, insufficient amounts of caffeine, spaghetti sauce on the carpet... If you're a mom you can probably add another 100 (or million) things to this list. This is called the daily grind of motherhood. These are the things that wear you down day in and day out. But the glimpses of joy, the smiles, and the hugs and kisses make it all worth it, right?

But there's another kind of hard. The kind of hard that gets you a little messed up on the inside. The kind of hard that makes you question what kind of mother you are. And what kind of mother you want to be. I struggle with this one. Do you?

Am I being intentional enough?

Do I pray for him enough?

Will he see Jesus in me? 

Will he learn to love people because of the way I love people? 

Do I miss the "teachable moments"? 

Even though insecurities creep often, hope is always present. One of the biggest ways God blesses me in motherhood is by surrounding me with other amazing moms I can learn from. And there are so so many.

Caroline, Natasha, Kathy, Beth, Cassi, and so many more.

I watch how they interact with their kids. I watch how they teach and love and correct. I watch how they deal with failure, how they forgive, and how they love Jesus and their husbands in front of their kids. And I ask them questions. Lots and lots of questions.

I'm not sure I could embrace motherhood with so much grace if it weren't for these women.

I believe the saying is true that "It takes a village to raise a child", but I also believe it takes a village to make a great mom.

We need each other. In the high moments and the low moments. They journey is better when it's done with each other.

Happy Mother's Day. Now go hug another mom.

How vulnerable is too vulnerable?

Considering my last two blog titles have been in the form of questions I guess you could say I've been asking a lot of questions lately. I tend to be a 'question asker' by nature. It helps me learn and process. If you've ever met me you can probably confirm that I like to ask questions. Hopefully it's a good thing more than it is an annoying thing.

I've been in a season lately in which I feel a little extra vulnerable. A little more broken than usual. I mean we're all broken right? But some days the 'broken meter' seems to be higher than others. And when the broken meter is high, I struggle with this question... How vulnerable should I be? How much should I share? How much CAN I share without turning into a complainer? 

Here's one conclusion I've come to recently... I don't think we (as Christians) do a very good job at allowing each other to be vulnerable. Why? Because we don't ask. We don't dig. We only ask the easy questions. We just assume that everything is all good. At least sometimes I do. Can you relate? 

When was the last time you asked a friend how their weight loss journey was going? 

When was the last time you asked a friend how their marriage was going? 

When was the last time you asked a friend in a dating relationship how they were handling the "physical stuff"? 

When was the last time you asked a friend what they're passionate about? What keeps them up at night? 

When was the last time you asked a friend who just adopted how they were feeling? 

I know these are hard questions to ask (and maybe even to answer) but if we want the people in our lives to be vulnerable with us, and us with them, then we have to ASK. And if you find the courage to ask, brace yourself. Because the friend who you thought had a perfect marriage, probably doesn't. And the family you thought had it all together, well, they're probably a mess. And the friend who struggles with food addiction, well she's probably just waiting for someone to believe she can do it. 

In my life I've only had a small handful of friends who've asked me the hard questions. Two of them are Greg and Caroline TeSelle. I'm thankful that they didn't choose comfort over conviction. And I'm a better person today because of it. 

May we be the kind of friends who ask the hard questions not because we're nosey but because we care. 

How well do I listen?

This morning I was driving with Cooper to go meet a friend. I was on a two-lane road, in between towns, and there wasn't much to see for miles. Until I saw a man. I saw him from behind, he was walking on the side of the road in a grey sweat-suit and carrying a book-bag on his back. I would've guessed he was in his early twenties. My mind immediately started racing with questions... "Where is he going?""Why is he walking on a road with no sidewalks?" "It's like 25 degrees out, why isn't he wearing anything more than a sweatshirt?" "Should I stop and offer him a ride?".

I was so confused and partially concerned as to why this young man was walking on this long road with no civilization in sight, and in 25 degree weather for that matter. The only thing I could think of was that maybe he was walking to the YMCA but that was still a good five or six miles down the road. I did not immediately stop but as I kept driving I couldn't stop thinking about him. I felt something in my heart whispering "Go pick him up". I argued back. I had my two year old in the car with me. I'm a woman, and a small one at that. I'm on my way to meet a friend and if I turn around I'm going to be late, and I hate being late. This "conversation" went on for a few minutes.

I'm not sure if it was God's whisper or just something in my own head but the prompting wasn't going away and I felt like if it was after all, the voice of the Holy Spirit, then I'd better listen. So now that I was closer to my destination than I was further away, I turned around and drove back towards where I saw the young man walking to see if I could give him a ride.

(For all of you who just went into freak out mode...just keep reading. And listen, when you've lived in the hood of New York City, you're just not scared of people. Not trying to brag, it's just reality. And yes, I would do anything to protect my son. And no, most people are not killers. That's all.)

As soon as I turned around the anxiety over the decision was gone. I just needed to do it. I needed to obey. I drove for a few miles and I didn't see the man. In fact, I never saw the man again. Ugh. Now I was a little frustrated. I just wasted 10 minutes of time and gas for what? I hope the man ended up someplace warm.

As I turned around AGAIN to head back towards where I was meeting my friend I felt God say, "Courtney, sometimes I just need to see if you'll listen." Ouch. 

When it comes to my relationship with God, I'm not always the best listener. Sometimes I pretend like I don't hear Him. And sometimes, honestly, I hear Him and then I say no. Because I'm afraid. Or because I feel like He's asking too much of me. Or because I'm selfish and I just don't want to.

I may have had a mini Abraham and Isaac experience today. And by mini I really do mean TINY. I'm not sure it was ever about giving the man a ride... I think God just wanted to see if I would listen and obey.

May we be great listeners to the one who loves us the most. 

How well do you listen?

You're blessed when...

I read Matthew 5 in The Message version today and it penetrated my heart. Timely words I needed to hear. Hope you don't mind if I share it with you. 

{v. 3-10}

"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule." 

You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the ONE most dear to you. 

You're blessed when you're content with just who you are - no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought. 

You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.

You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being "care-full" you find yourselves being cared for. 

You're blessed when you get your inside world - your heart and your mind - put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. 

You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.

You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom." 


Our very first GIVE-AWAY!!!

I've been selling Live With Less tees for about five months now and I think it's about time to do a give-away!

If you'd like to win one of these super cool t-shirts there are multiple ways to enter below. If you already own a tee, don't worry, you can still enter to win a 'back-up' or win one for a friend!

Over the last five months I've been blown away at how many people (some I've never even met in person) have supported, encouraged, and cheered on this little endeavor of mine. So this give-away is just one small way I can say THANK YOU to all of those people.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

CONGRATS to Amber Z. for winning the Live With Less t-shirt give-away!!

Thanks to everyone who entered!


Watching... the clock to savor the amount of "nap time" I have left to get some things done. Those couple of quiet hours are a sweet part of my day. 

Listening... to All Sons and Daughters station on Pandora. LOVE them. 

Enjoying... catching up on some posts from some of my favorite bloggers, smells from a french vanilla candle burning next to me, and sipping on a Dr. Pepper courtesy of Chick-Fil-A which are the first drops of caffeine I've had in four days. 

Planning... on experimenting with iWeb to design a new site for Live With Less. I have no idea what I'm doing but I'm up for the challenge. 

Excited for... my husband to come home tonight! He's been in Tennessee on a staff retreat the last four days and we haven't seen each other in a week! 

Inspired by... many great women who God has crossed my path with lately. His timing IS perfect. 

Cooking... nothing. Because I stink at it. :/ 

Remembering... The Justice Conference last weekend. Loved being in a great city like Philly and being with so many like-minded and creative people. 

Missing... my long hair. Just a little bit. 

Happy Thursday friends:) 

To the land of Rocky Balboa, cheeksteak sandwiches, and brotherly love..

Tomorrow I'm headed to Philly! My friend Kristen and I are driving out east to attend The Justice Conference

"The Justice Conference is a two-day annual event to promote dialouge around around justice related issues such as human trafficking, slavery, poverty, HIV/AIDS and human rights, feauturing internationally acclaimed speakers, hundreds of humanitarian organizations and dozen of pre-conference workshops." (Taken from the JC website)

I am incredibly excited to hear and learn from some people who are making a huge impact when it comes to the issues of social justice both locally and globally. I am especially looking forward to hearing from Lynne Hybels, Lindsey Nobles, and Shane Claiborne

I am also excited to say that I will be participating in a Poetry Slam (hosted by Relevant Magazine) as a part of the pre-conference on Friday night. I submitted a spoken word video a few weeks ago and was chosen to be one of fifteen people to compete in the poetry slam. The winner will get to perform in front of the entire conference (5,000 people) at the final main session on Saturday. I'm pretty sure I won't win but in the chance that I did, I would probably have to forfeit my crown due to a foreseeable fainting incident. For real, I think I'd have a serious panic attack if I actually won. Haha! I am really looking forward to meeting some other artists and soaking in a lot of great pieces that will be shared. The two judges will be Micah Bournes and Jefferson Bethke. Geez, no pressure there. 

Can't wait to give you all a re-cap of our weekend when I get back! 

It's more than just a t-shirt...How I'm living with less.

The words 'Live With Less' for me, are not just about a t-shirt. If you've followed my blog even just for a few months you've probably heard me talk about the 'Live With Less' t-shirts I've been selling since September. The t-shirt, in my mind, has two goals. To raise money for clean water for people in Africa who don't have access to it. I don't want to just live with less stuff, I want to give more. The second goal is to encourage and inspire others to 'live with less' on a daily basis. The t-shirt project has been so fun for me. Starting a project like this brings inspiration, opportunities, and even new friendships. But I'm not just the "seller", I'm also a participant. It'd be kind of silly if I were seeking to inspire others to 'live with less' but I weren't actually doing it myself. I'm still growing in this area and I am by no means the expert. But I'm trying and I'm making progress and that's what matters right? Progress? And by the way, this whole 'Live With Less' is not meant to be intimidating. I'm not expecting people to get rid of 90% of their possessions and move into a studio apartment and live off the land and only rely on a bicycle as their main mode of transportation. If that happens to be the way you live then GO YOU! But for most of us it's not. My hope for you (which is the same hope I have for myself) is that you can identify a few areas of excess in your life and figure out how you can take the control back. Jen Hatmaker wrote an incredible book called "7" that takes a much deeper look into riding your life of excess. If this idea intrigues you, you should read it. 

So here's what I'm currently doing to 'live with less'....

  • I've cut my wardrobe down to about 35 items. This doesn't include pajamas, socks, underwear, coats, or shoes. Everything else I've cut down significantly and I'm trying to be content with that amount. It's hard because I like clothes and I like a variety. Sometimes I feel inspired when I really like the outfit I'm wearing and even though that's not necessarily a bad thing, it's not where my worth or security should come from. And as a side note, a lot of times if there's something I want... I'll try to sell something I already have and then buy that new thing. I wrote more about that practice a while back which you can read about here. It's a good one:) 
  • I don't buy stuff for my house. Like decorative stuff. I use to make weekly trips to Goodwill or Home Goods to buy something to fill a space on a wall or in a room. Even if it was a steal in terms of price I would usually end up feeling guilty because I knew I didn't need it. There are plenty of improvements I would love to make in my home but for me, once I start, it quickly gets out of control in my mind and in my heart. I wrote more about this here a while back. 
  • The latest experiment I'm doing involves credit cards. Justin and I have a few credit cards we use. We pay them off at the end of every month and we use them mainly for the reward points. A lot of cards give you cash back or money for gasoline. It's worth it to us to use our credit cards for as much as we can in order to rack up as many points as we can. But here's the catch... statistics say people tend to spend 12%-18% more when paying with a credit card versus paying with cash. My husband and I are currently going through Financial Peace University with Dave Ramsey and we've quickly come to the conclusion that I am the spender and he is the saver. Duh. This was not a surprise. It's not a problem for him to overspend when using a credit card but for me, it can be. So for the next 40 days (the Lent season) I removed all the credit cards from my wallet and I will only be using cash. I know this will be a challenge because I'm so used to just whipping out the credit card but the GOAL is that I will spend less. We'll see how it goes:) 
I know these are just beginner areas in which some of you are probably way ahead of me. I'd love to hear some of the ways you 'Live With Less'. Got any? 

**If you'd like to purchase a LWL tee to help you be reminded to live with less... just click the LIVE WITH LESS shop tab at the top of this page. 

A move & a new season.

Oh hey there friends, 

I'm back! I've really started to get the itch to blog again and I think this insane season we've just come through is finally in a calm place. A lot has happened in the last three months which is why my blog has been pretty quite. I'll spare you all the many details... Here's where we're at now. 

My husband accepted a new job at a new church. It's been almost four months since we've been apart of a consistent church community, i.e.: people we see on a weekly basis. This new job required a move so we are now living in Round Lake, IL which is an hour north of Chicago and an hour and a half from where we were previously living. We're renting a house and trying to find our way around town. This is the first time for us in two years that we don't have anyone living in our house that doesn't have the last name Laib. In October of 2010 it started with my mom who lived with us for about nine months, then our twenty-one year old friend Jenn moved in July 2011, then our twenty-two year old friend Niki moved in September 2012, and then we were placed with a five year old foster child in October 2012. Yeah, you counted right... we had SIX people living in our house, three of whom we're not biologically related to us. 

In many ways that was a sweet season because we loved Niki, Jenn, and our foster son very much, and still do, but it was a little too much to handle for this momma. No season lasts forever and it was time for our season to change. So here we are... at a new church in a new house in a new town. Just the three of us. And it's sweet. Our former 'house guests' will always have a special place in our hearts because of the time we got to love and invest in them and for the joy they brought to our home and our family. 

The weight I've been feeling for the last few months has been lifted and it's time to start running again. (literally and figuratively!) My soul is being refreshed and my passions renewed. I'm excited about this new season and how God will continue to shape me to do great stuff for Him. 

I'm back blogging world, I'm back. 

30. It's finally here.

About a week ago, on Christmas Eve 2012, I turned 30 years old. Good-bye 20's... it's been fun. We've had a ton of adventures and you've given me some of the greatest memories a girl could ask for. So many great things have happened over the last decade and even though it's kind of hard to 'wrap up' a decade of my life, I'm going to try.

Here are some highlights (twenty to be exact) of the last ten years of my life:

  • Lived in Brooklyn, NY from age 19-22 serving inner-city families in some of the toughest neighborhoods in America. Some of the best times of my life thus far with some of the best people I've ever met. 
  • Drove a school bus after I received a commercial driver's license. 
  • Visited Europe. 
  • Moved to Illinois to live with the TeSelle family. Watched the marriage and family life of Greg and Caroline up close and personal. 
  • Met Justin who I would marry in 2007 after a year of dating.
  • Received my Associate's Degree after years of taking classes one-by-one. 
  • Became a mom on June 23rd, 2010 to Cooper Marc. 
  • Lived in Ramsey, NJ the summer of 2006 working for Franklin Lakes UMC. 
  • Became a coffee drinker. 
  • Moved to California with Justin, March of 2009 only to move back to Illinois two months later.
  • Discovered the art of 'spoken word' and have cherished it as an emotional outlet and form of worship to my God ever since. 
  • Became a foster parent. 
  • Spent a week at the beach in North Carolina with some amazing women and made some life long friends. 
  • Started blogging. 
  • Got a couple tattoos. 
  • Became an aunt to Lincoln, Trey, and Zoe. 
  • Took a piano class. 
  • Traveled the country in a fifteen passenger van with a ton of friends and had some amazing adventures. And faced A TON of fears. 
  • Watched some of my best friends get married, have babies, and serve Jesus with their families. I've also watched some of my best friends stay single and serve Jesus with all of their hearts. 
  • Had the privilege of serving alongside some amazing people at Grace Bible Church, Inland Hills Church, and then Southfield Church. 
My twenties were a great, great decade. But I am excited to enter the thirties. 

I'm excited to see life through eyes that have more wisdom and experience than my twenty-something self. 
I'm excited for more adventures with my husband, my kids, and my God. 
I'm excited to continue to figure out who I am and how I can make an impact for the Kingdom of God. 
I am excited to continue to grow our family. 
I am excited to travel some more. 
I am excited for the new relationships God will bring my way and entrust me with. 
I am excited for whatever new church we will be apart of. 
I am excited to hopefully become a better blogger. 

And mostly I am excited for the person that God will continue to mold me into this year. 

So to the thirties, I say, Bring it on.