Anything

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou

I started a new bible study this winter with some women from my church. We’re going through a devotional book from Jennie Allen that asks one big question: “What if we told God we would do anything?” (Check out the book here.)

What might that entail? Change – the kind that requires laying ourselves down for the glory of God – almost always requires a painful letting go of something within me. This whole dying to self thing is never easy. But without it, I might never see the beautiful transformation.

Frosted TreeOh, I’d rather it didn’t come with the pain of letting go of my will. I’d so much rather experience beauty just cropping up in my life, full of joy and grace. But I know better. The sinful, willful nature in myself is so subtle, so pervasive, that it must be cast off if I am really going to ask this question sincerely. And I also know that the fruit of that transformation is so much richer when it is formed with a refreshing breath from heaven. When He breathes a freshness through my heart and answers with a calling… Purpose. 

The beautiful transformation that awaits on the other side is well worth the struggle. I don’t know what will come from this prayer in my life, but I have seen this prayer uttered by saints before me. And that gives me hope that he might just have something He can do through me too…

God is in the business of creating beauty from weakness. But it starts with a humble prayer: “Lord, I will do anything. What do you want me to do?”

Step by step,

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An Honest Look Inward

“You were only meant, created, commanded to be who you are.” – Shauna Niequist

If you look ahead 10 years, who do you see yourself becoming?

I was talking with someone recently who gave me a picture of the qualities they thought I needed to learn to really be successful in life. It was an eye-opening moment. Their image for my life was far different from the person I really want to become.

I believe we become what we invest our lives in. We become like the people we are around the most. But if our lives simply become a pursuit of something others want for us, we lose the unique, God-given ability we have to really impact the world for His kingdom.

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I realized how easy it is to quietly tuck parts of my spirit when they don’t seem to benefit the “needs” immediately in front of me. Things that inspire me or are something that might ultimately even lead someone else closer to Jesus seem like easy things to cut when I’m overwhelmed with a list of things that I feel like I’m expected to be.

“How many of us have learned to look inwardly with courage?” – Oswald Chambers

Sometimes we need to step back and think about the 10-year view of ourselves. And if it’s not who we want to be, then we need to start asking the questions that will help us prune or add the necessary things that we need to change. God has created us uniquely with talents, passions and personality for His glory.

I don’t want to miss my unique part in making God famous because I was too busy trying to fit into this world. 

These two devotionals have been really helpful to me as I’ve considered this theme over the last week:

Shauna Niequist: Be Who God Created You to Be

Oswald Chambers: Have you Ever Been Alone With God?

I’d love to hear your journey too. Do you like the 10-year version of yourself? What are you doing to intentionally become who God wants you to be?

Step by Step,

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New

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” – T.S. Elliot

I love to start each new year contemplatively. But the intentional quieting of my spirit does not come without effort. Sometimes it’s hard to find the space for quietness in the midst of activities and those never-ending lists of things to do. Other times, it’s just hard to quiet my mind enough to really feel like I walked out on the other end with a peaceful spirit. Perhaps that’s why I like things that can help me focus on one thing at a time.

photo source: my talented husband, Nick Steffen

photo source: my talented husband, Nick Steffen

Here’s a few things that help me reflect, prepare and contemplate the year ahead: 

  1. Pick a Theme Word. I’ve done this for three years now, and I can’t believe how insightful this has been for me. Pick one word that you want to focus on this year, write it down, and keep it close all year long. The first year, my word was INTENTIONAL and last year, COURAGE. This year, my word is INSPIRE – live inspired to inspire others. These have not been chosen lightly, and I have really benefited from this. What is your word?
  2. Start a day-by-day calendar. I bought a cheap (but cute!) day calendar from Target and started mapping out a few things. I love having a week-by-week calendar. It makes the lists manageable and gives me a sense of order when things seem a little crazy. (I also have PRODUCTIVITY SHEETS for my work that help list out the projects for the week. VERY HELPFUL!)
  3. Remember these 5 things. I like these simple reminders and short articles that give me a sense of peace as I consider the year ahead. What articles would you add to the list?
  4. Do a 2016 Dream Guide. These kinds of guides are a great thing to go through near the start of a year to reflect a bit. I love this one…
  5. Commit to live one day at a time, with joy, inspiration and hope. I believe there’s a great year ahead – and don’t want to miss it. When the calendar fills up too heavily, or I try and pack five more things on my to-do list, I miss the moments that make up this life. And it’s not worth it. So this year, I want to commit to live each day purposefully.

What helps you start a new year out on the right footing? I’d love to hear what you’d add to this list!

Step by Step,
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The Great Christmas Cake Challenge

For the last four years, I’ve been on a mission to create something special to share at the holidays. My sisters (and a few friends) have helped create some amazing creations… but the real joy is the memories being made with each year’s decadent Christmas cake.

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Year 1: Peppermint Hot Chocolate Cake

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Year 2: Frosted Cranberry Chocolate Cake

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Year 3: Bourbon Orange and Cranberry Cake

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Year 4: Gingerbread Castle (with Pumpkin Spice and Peppermint Chocolate Cupcakes)

It seems that there is something almost reverent in this season when we pause and make room for these activities. It’s the peals of laughter as the gingerbread castle collapses or watching the cranberries cause the four-layered cake to sag dramatically to the left…

These are  gloriously time-consuming and time-defying memories with the ones I love.

Merry Christmas!

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P.S. – What special Christmas memories or traditions does your family keep? What new ones have you started this year?

Sustainable Fashion at Our Wedding

Our wedding was full of those special details that created a beautiful celebration of our marriage. Since then, I’ve had many questions about where we sourced different items. We did try to make a point of buying artisan made goods and fair trade items whenever possible – and had an amazing family that rallied around us and used their incredible skills to make the day unique and fun!

Fair Trade Dresses

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Sourced from: bridesmaid’s closets, ModCloth, Asos, Dainty Jewels, and Mata Traders

I’ve always loved a mix-and-match style and knew that would make finding fair trade dresses a much easier process too. When we started looking, it was clear that with a bit of homework, there are actually quite a few options out there. From using dresses some already had it their closets to fair trade or boutique dresses, it came together beautifully!

Bridesmaid’s Purses

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Sourced fromMoriya Ethiopian Accessories

Moriya is a handmade accessory business based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I’ve had the privilege of working with these women over the last several years and was so excited to have them play an active role in our wedding this way. (Read more about my work with them here.) We worked together to design these especially for my wedding using traditional Ethiopian wedding beads and handwoven fabric. It was such a great experience – and added a beautiful element to each girl’s attire!

Bow Ties

bow ties

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Sourced from: Mrs. Bow Tie in England

Each of our groomsmen (and the handsome groom!) wore bow ties sourced from England (they have a fair trade collection) – and offered a unique detail to the men’s attire.

Cakes
naked cakes

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Sourced by: April Steffen

My sister did an amazing job making three decadent varieties of cake for our wedding. Not only did she do an amazing job, but was able to create unique and fun flavors and naked cakes for our cake table. We were thrilled with how it turned out (and had FABULOUS review from everyone on the chocolate orange combination!) If you’re based in Indiana, she’s a great personal option for wedding cakes or events!

Biscotti (Favors for the Guests)

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Sourced by: Doreen Steffen

I am so thankful for extended family that pitched in from all across the country to make our wedding so special. Doreen has sold her fabulous biscotti at farmers markets across the East Coast for years – and when we thought about unique favors for our wedding, she was our first thought! It was so special to have individually wrapped, amazing biscotti available for our guests. But more than that, it was a beautiful way for her to be involved in our wedding preparations before the weekend.

Flowers & Table Arrangements

flowers

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Sourced by: Marcia Steffen (floral arrangements), reception (Marcia Steffen and Lori Steffen and collaborative effort)

My mom is super talented with floral arrangements. I think it gave her a very vague idea of what I wanted – and she came back with beautiful, unique creations for my floral bouquet and most of the table decorations for the reception. My mother-in-law pitched in and together, they made a reception room that was unique, relaxed and elegant. We loved it!

Cheese Boards

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Sourced by: Eric Steffen

My Dad made elegant wood cheese boards with an antique map of Italy carved into the top. Those were beautiful and such a special addition! (We served baguettes, cheese and spreads on them.)

Guest Map

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Sourced by: Macanza on ETSY

We wanted a unique guestbook that we would actually look at later on, and found this fun option via ETSY. You can find all kinds of creative alternatives online – and we love the artistic, handmade quality to pieces like this.

 

If you’re interested in details or are looking for some help in sourcing fair trade products – or trying to create an ethically sourced wedding like we did – I’d love to help point you in the right direction too!

With love,

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To be Loved

My little niece Averi is six months old. I’ve had fun playing photographer for her as a newborn and at her 6 month session. And each time as we giggle and dress her up and ooh and ah over how beautiful she is, I think of how blessed this little girl is.

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Born into a family with aunts and uncles and parents who love her deeply. Born with endless opportunities and a faith community around her that will support her and help her grow. She will never have to be alone. 

And then I think about so many children that I’ve met around the world. Children that before they reach the age of five have watched their parents die horrible deaths, known the pain of starvation, experienced the whip at the hands of their masters and watched as the world around them seemed to want to swallow them up.

vulnerable childrenThese children aren’t starting with the incredible privilege of love that my niece is. But that reality should not paralyze us. That should compel us with every fiber of our being to change that story for more children.

I write this as someone who spends every day working on behalf of vulnerable children around the world. And I write this as an aunt, who sees the plight of children just as worthy as my niece Averi and knows that it isn’t right. But its deeper than all of that too. I loved how Together 4 Adoption’s blog wrote this:

We should be energized for the same reasons we are humbled. Because caring for others is primarily the ministry of Jesus, through union with him we participate in what he does. This guarantees effectiveness! What we do for the fatherless matters—really matters—eternally. Even when we are “off our game,” Jesus takes our five loaves and two fish (Matthew 14:19) and multiplies them exponentially. When we engage in caring for orphans in Jesus’ name, it’s never just us, or even primarily us: it’s Jesus! If anything will mobilize us as Christians for long-term missional engagement, it will be a deeper understanding and appreciation of our union with Christ. It really is just that simple. (Read more here.)

This Sunday is Orphan Sunday, and I’d encourage you to do something special to remember those vulnerable children. Pray. Connect with an organization that’s actively working to change the lives of vulnerable children around the world. Look into foster care in your area. Talk to an adoptive family… Collectively we can make a difference – for the vulnerable children who deserve to know what family is.

Step by Step,
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Our Wedding

On September 20, 2015 we walked toward each other and made vows for the rest of our lives. We promised to love each other more every day and to pursue a life beyond ourselves together. You can listen to our wedding service here.

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woodlandsThanks to Patch 36 Photography for the wonderful pictures to remember this by. You can view more on facebook here.

Our wedding was perfect. It was a beautiful time with family and friends that we will always cherish. But I read a quote today that made me look towards something even better. It is simply this: “I want a marriage more beautiful than my wedding.” 

No matter how perfect the day, our vows that day are just the start of a marriage we pray will draw others to Christ. And that is the point of moments like this.

Step by Step,

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