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Inspiration | Andrea Montgomery Designs

Inspiration

Sharing Thoughts from a Heavy Heart

Love is Beautiful. Styled Floral Hearts by Shay Cochrane.

It has taken me a while to get to the place where I could write this blog post. My heart is so very heavy. A lot of people are apologizing for how long it has taken them to say or write something, but I’m not going to do that – and I’ll tell you why.

When I first heard the news about George Floyd, I could honestly hardly process it and I certainly couldn’t watch the video footage. My first reaction was to pray for clarity and then to wait as I processed mentally a bit. Finally, I took a deep breath and watched the video and my reaction was exactly as I had feared. I could hardly think straight after watching it. I felt positively sick. A dark and stormy cloud moved in over the rest of my day and I have had a pervasive feeling of nausea ever since. I haven’t been able to go very long without thinking about George Floyd and those who came before him. If I’m being honest, when I watched the video of Floyd’s death, I was expecting more of a fight. More danger. More angry chaos. But, it wasn’t there. It was relatively quiet and very controlled. And so cold and methodical. It was absolutely haunting.

In the days since, I haven’t said much on social media, primarily because, as I said, I don’t know that the world needs more noise. We are already overrun with the vomiting of ill-thought out words in short soundbites in today’s world. I always want what I say to be thoughtful and usually that takes time. I didn’t want to just throw out a quick, trite statement. Because that isn’t enough. And yet, I wasn’t entirely sure what to say. I was afraid of saying the wrong thing or offending someone if I wasn’t able to express my thoughts in the right way, but silence can be misconstrued as well, and I am going to trust that we can all give one another grace as we navigate these waters together. And I ask for your grace as you read this post. I won’t get everything right and I will not be able to fully express everything that is in my heart, but I ask that you give me grace in the trying. Another reason that I have kept quiet is because I wanted to yield the floor to those who know more than I do – to those who have experienced more and are “experts” on racism. The problem with that, of course, is that the world doesn’t need more experts. The world needs more individuals who are open to looking inward and making a change in their innermost beings. The world needs people who are honest with themselves about their own hearts, but also who are malleable and teachable. During this time of my quiet reflection, the Lord has undoubtedly been working on my own heart.

In the past few days, I have read a lot of articles, listened to podcasts, watched videos, watched countless Instagram Stories and read thousands upon thousands of comments from people of all races. I’ve heard several popular “influencers” and “experts” as they discuss what the problem is and what can be done about it. If I’m being honest, not many of them sat well with me. My heart was rather unsettled by what many of they said. I heard a lot of vitriol (which is very different from righteous anger). I heard a lot of condescension. I heard some people tearing white people down and others lashing out with hatred. I read some terrible (and untrue) things about police officers on the whole, not just the individual ones involved in police brutality incidents. A lot of things were likely written out of abject anger and fear, which is completely understandable at a time like this.   But the disturbing part to me was the fact that at the base, I heard mostly self-serving language. The focus of almost every person who was speaking was “me”. Whether it was about them personally and what they think is “right” or whether they were taking the liberty to speak for their entire race, it was all very focused on self. Some were giving themselves backhanded compliments and others were using self-deprecating language, but even that still pointed back to self every time. I remember Beth Moore saying once in a Bible study of hers that I attended that whether you are conceited or struggle with self-worth, the root problem is actually the same…It is pride. Whether you think too highly of yourself or think too lowly of yourself, the problem is that you are still overly focused on self. I was rocked by her statement at the time. I had literally never thought about it that way. But, isn’t pride at the very root of the situation in which we currently find ourselves?

Please don’t get me wrong, I think that the statements that people are making are made with the best of intentions. I truly think that most people are appalled by what has happened and want to help. I think that people want to effect change. In no way am I trying to throw anyone under the proverbial bus here and I’m not sitting in judgment. Each person is absolutely entitled to share what they like, given our freedom of speech in this country. It is just that not much of what people were saying was resonating with my own heart in a genuine way. And so I sat, rather shamed by what some of these people were saying and the tone in which they said it. And we all know what shame does – it paralyzes us. And so there I stayed quietly reading and listening and searching for truth amidst the noise. I searched my own heart and I begged God to show me places in my own life that needed change and to help me impart wisdom to my four boys as I raise them up to be a part of the next generation.

A few years ago, my husband and I chose to move our family into Houston’s Third Ward. If you’re not familiar with Houston, the Third Ward has an incredibly rich history. It is also home to a high proportion of the crime in the Houston area. Just a few years ago, it was noted as being the 15th most dangerous area in the United States. The area’s violent crime rate is 75.89 per 1,000 residents, and people living in the area have a 1 in 13 chance of becoming a victim of crime each year. More than a few friends and family told me why our choice was both poorly made and flat out dangerous. The Third Ward happens to be the place that George Floyd was from. It also happens to be where Beyonce grew up.

Our family was one of only two white families on our entire street, save for the one biracial family across the way. I was so excited to be living there. God had worked out our moving there with details that I won’t go into here, but let me sum it up by saying that He opened a door and we were thrilled to walk through it. I was particularly excited for both our family and my children to have a more diverse group of friends. We met some truly amazing neighbors there and because of the size of our friends’ home that we were renting there, we were able to open it up to some incredible experiences, like a local church, Restoration Community Church, hosting their baptisms in our swimming pool. It was beautiful beyond words. We attended every neighborhood party and picnic and befriended several wonderful families. During the time we lived there, my understanding of race relations changed a bit. Some things that I thought were fairly simple turned out to be more complex. When I was younger, I truly thought that the answer was to ignore color entirely – to do my best to be “colorblind.” I thought that if race was never brought up, the issues surrounding it would naturally go away on their own. I hoped that if our differences were ignored or downplayed, they would cease to be a real problem. I think a lot of us were taught that race was something not to talk about. Now, however, I really believe that various races, ethnicities and cultures are different in many ways and that those differences should not only not be ignored, but they should be acknowledged and even celebrated.

Fast forward 18 months and we had to move out of our home there because of damage done by Hurricane Harvey. We packed up our things and moved to a rental house quickly, without much time to plan. I was pregnant with our fourth child at the time and a lot happened in the year that followed. When I stop and look back on our time in the Third Ward, I realize that I learned a lot through our time there, on many fronts. One of those fronts was race relations.

I’ll never forget speaking with an older man about the fact that we lived in the Third Ward. He asked me where we lived and I told him and he made a disapproving face, which was not an uncommon occurrence for me at the time when the topic came up. He asked me some questions about it and I mentioned that I was happy that my boys would have a more racially diverse group of friends. He smiled and told me that friendships are formed by shared experiences, not by proximity of living. Ouch. He was correct in his statement, but, in my naivety, I had never considered the distinction. The more I thought about what he said, the more I realized that friendships really are formed by shared experiences – being in classes together, being on the same sports teams together, serving on the same committee or with the same charity organization, attending camp together or pursuing the same hobby – not just by a few scattered playdates or interactions. True friendships are formed when standing side by side and accomplishing something together or sitting across the table from one another and sharing a meal while you talk about life and experiences and ideas. And if you’re really intent on introducing diversity into your world, you’re going to have to include economic diversity. That’s where the real differences come into play.

As we interacted with our new friends there, I noticed many differences between our family and some of our neighbors. Some of them were very small and some of them were quite large. I don’t think that talking about them specifically adds much to this conversation and I don’t want to detract attention from the issue at hand so, suffice it to say, I think we as humans have to learn to acknowledge and to celebrate our differences. I think that it’s normal to notice differences and it’s also understandable to be a bit uncomfortable in the presence of different cultures. The problem comes when we refuse to move from that place of discomfort. When we feel safer in the similarities and refuse to explore the differences at all. When we do that, we tend to get stagnant and comfortable where we are and we tend to avoid circumstances where we might be challenged or have to seek to understand someone who is different than us. And it’s not a far leap from there to fear of the unknown or thinking that we are better than another race or culture.

Almost every interaction I’ve had with someone who is different than me has changed me in some way. I’ve spent time serving people in several countries around the world and my heart was changed by the individuals of different cultures and races with whom I interacted on every one of those journeys. My global perspective was changed, my understanding of other cultures was expanded and my compassion for people was increased. I have never regretted any of the time or money invested on those trips. I grew as a person and I walked away with far more than I gave. But understanding and compassion are simply not enough.

A couple of days ago, I came across this message from a pastor in Dallas whose teaching I have been listening to for many, many years. I’ve heard him speak in person and even met him once or twice. I have always been impressed by both his wisdom and his humility. On this topic, as usual, his words resonated deeply. And I think the reason for that is that he kept his focus on God in the midst of this current situation. In this video, he speaks to his listeners like a father, speaking with conviction and truth and giving practical ways to bring about change. Though he is a black man himself, his words speak nothing of his own experiences with racism. His focus remains on the Lord. You can listen to Dr. Tony Evans’ heart on the matter here. And I really hope that you will. (Feel free to stop and do it now. I’ll be here when you’re done.) It’s really that good and his words are so much more eloquent than mine.

I think that it is dangerous to exclude God from the conversation about race for two reasons. He is the reason for our inherent value and He is the one who can bring about lasting change. At their core, all people have value not because someone else says that they do (or in spite of someone else saying they don’t) but because we are all created in the very image of God. And God Himself is by His very nature both righteous and loving. He is a God who demands both justice and mercy. Because of His creative nature, our world is full of differences, but each one of us bears His signature. Each distinct race and ethnicity comes together in His creation to form a beautifully patterned, complete whole. The diverse nature of our world contributes to its richness and beauty. Of course, our world is also fallen and far from perfect. Often that brokenness leaves me feeling sad, angry and defeated. But, if you are a believer in Christ, then your very faith is based on the power of God to change things. Change is at the very core of the gospel, as God makes us new, through the saving power of His son, Jesus. You cannot believe the gospel and not believe that God can change things – from cultural constructs to circumstances right down to the intricacies of the human heart. Throughout the Bible, He is consistently a God of hope and change who offers us grace. My former pastor from my time living in New York is also one of my favorite authors, Tim Keller. In his book Generous Justice he says, “There is a direct relationship between a person’s grasp and experience of God’s grace and his or her heart for justice.” I find those to be wise words.

What I know about the current state of things in America and around the world is that things must change. There is little doubt about that. We must work harder to fight racism and to build a society where justice for all is upheld. We must fight oppression and stand up for those who are suffering. As I write this, riots continue and people are hurting. My heart is broken for the pain in the world right now. There is such heaviness and it is exhausting and almost paralyzing. But, God. God is not surprised. God sees. He is moved by our situation and He is in the business of changing hearts. I love the challenge that Dr. Evans gives us in the video linked above. We have to act on four levels: self, family, church and community. We cannot simply move on one of those fronts if we want to effect change. We must address all four levels. While I alone cannot really control politics or policies (even though my voice is heard through my vote), what I can do is be malleable enough to allow God to change my heart. I can take actions to learn and to love others better. And I can change the shape of my family as I commit to raising my sons to know that ALL people are made in the image of God. I can work to effect change within my faith community and in the community at large. I can vote. I may be one person, but I can effect change, however small. And if we all commit to doing that, we will see bigger changes. I do not pretend to have the answers, nor am I even sure that I have any great ideas. But, it would be a real problem if that stopped me from doing anything at all.

Recently, a black friend of mine asked me to read a work by James Baldwin. He was so incredibly passionate about it that I did so immediately. He particularly wanted me to read one story because he said it was so much like his own upbringing in Harlem.  I’m a little embarrassed to say that I had never read James Baldwin until earlier this year. I was immediately struck by his gift of writing. He has a masterful use of words that can make you feel things and see things from a different perspective in ways you can hardly believe. I couldn’t put the book down. Some of the stories were hard to read and some were beautiful, but all of them gave me some increased insight into something I really knew very little about. I think you can learn a great deal through reading and I am personally committing to making more intentional time to do more of it to learn more. During this time, it is imperative that we listen to the voices of our African American brothers and sisters and that we do so with open minds and hearts to hear what they have to say.

I serve on the board of directors of Agape Development, which is based in Houston’s Third Ward. The mission of this organization is:  Transforming our neighborhood by preparing Christ-following, independent, community leaders. If you have a heart for the adults and children in the Third Ward community of Houston, I welcome you to getting involved in this organization. Agape was started by a long-time friend of mine and his wife, who moved their family to the Third Ward fourteen years ago to make a difference in the lives of their neighbors. They are doing a mighty work there and we would love for you to join us. The people you meet will be a blessing to you and your family as much as you are to them. I’m certain of it. And that is also true of so many worthy organizations doing important work throughout our country and around the world.

All in all, there are myriad things you can do to make a difference where you are. You can learn more about other races, ethnicities and cultures by reading and listening. You can interact in an intentional and meaningful way with people of other races and ethnicities more often. You can serve others who are less fortunate than you. You can stay open to change, recognize places where change is needed and work towards that change. You can teach your children by example to love others, especially those who don’t look like them. You can peacefully protest, join organizations whose missions align with your values and donate your time and financial resources to them. Through all of that, you can simultaneously maintain focus on the God who never changes. In an ever-changing culture, He doesn’t change. And in a self-focused culture, focusing on something bigger than ourselves is actually quite liberating.

Someone once said that we tend to glance at God and gaze at life when what we need to do is gaze at God and glance at life. (I’m not sure who to attribute the quote to, but if you know, please share!) In times like these, I am reminded of how true this is. Issues of race have existed throughout history in countless times and places. Racial tensions and inequalities are hardly unique to American history. Rather than look to our own culture for the answers, I am reminded that we need to look first to the author or life Himself – the Creator of those many races and ethnicities. In Mark 12:31, He commands us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”

Will you join me in being more intentional in doing both?

 

Some (Very) Last-Minute Mother’s Day Advice

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Mother’s Day is coming up this weekend and it has the potential to be beautiful… or to be an utter disaster. If I’m being honest, this post has been percolating in my head for weeks. I have so very much I want to say on this topic, but I couldn’t quite formulate it into words. So, I waited a while to gain clarity and then waited a while longer in an attempt to gain more around what I wanted to say. I’m still not sure it’s all together, but if I wait any longer, the opportunity will have passed me by. So, while it might not be perfect, I’m going to put it out there, because Mother’s Day is headed towards us like a freight train. And make no mistake, this freight train is loaded with emotion.

I’d like to start by saying that if Mother’s Day is painful for you, you are seen and loved during this time. Maybe you’re not a mom by your own choice or maybe you’ve struggled with infertility for years. Maybe your own mother is no longer living or maybe she is, but your relationship with her is strained and is a source of deep pain. Maybe you’re adopted and never knew your birth mother and the feelings are just complex. Maybe you’ve lost a child and the pain is more than most of us can even imagine in our worst nightmares. Whatever the reason, if this holiday is hard for you, you are not alone. I am holding space for you, however you feel. I don’t have words to heal, but I do know a God who has brought me great healing surrounding the death of my father when I was a young girl. He has the same grace and healing for you. He walks through the valleys of difficulty right alongside you and He longs for you to know His heart of love for you.

If you’re a mother of grown children at this time, I hope that you still get to celebrate in some way amidst the quarantine. I hope you feel like you are deeply loved and I hope that you are getting to rest and relax and remember this weekend. I cannot even fathom where you are, if I’m being honest. I’m simultaneously jealous of your “me time” and terrified of the time when my chicks have all left the nest. But that’s a whole different blog post.

Today, I’m really writing to the mamas who are in the thick of it. A few weeks ago, I saw a meme that said something to the effect of – You just know the quarantine will still be going on over Mother’s Day and then will be lifted just in time for Father’s Day. I laughed to myself because that sounds just about typical, doesn’t it? We moms are used to being fairly unappreciated on the whole. We give and give of ourselves to our children and family and it often feels like no one sees us. Like we all that we do is taken completely for granted, and often times it is. I’m hopeful that one day when my children are older, they will appreciate what I have given to them, both in time and resources, but mostly in love. But that day feels a LONG way off when I’m consoling them for yet another superficial boo-boo or breaking up yet another fight or changing yet another stinky diaper. And that’s under normal circumstances.

In this current world scenario, moms are being asked to pick up SO MANY additional plates and keep them spinning. I know that there are dads who are also doing more at home, but for the most part, the moms are bearing a huge portion of the burden of this quarantine time at home, even if the men don’t agree. (In fact, the New York Times has an interesting article about that here.) In the past two months, we have moved beyond exhaustion to absolute depletion. I, for one, feel like I have absolutely nothing left to offer anyone, much less myself, at the end of almost every day and if I’m being honest, I don’t feel all that much better in the morning after a good night’s sleep. This is such a bittersweet time. It’s so precious to have this much time at home with our children and to be rid of the “calendar pollution” as a wise friend of mine called it recently. It’s wonderful to be together as a family and to be learning more and more about our children as we steep in this hot water together. But, it’s also draining and we are being stretched in almost unimaginable ways.

Moms are stand-in teachers, which has completely changed the dynamic of our relationship with our kids. We’ve been “task masters” around the house for years, but those tasks are generally ones of our own creation. But now, we are being asked to execute the orders of our schools and teachers and to do things they way they want them done and to rally our children and get them on board to do the work. And then to help them in doing it if they struggle at all. For many of us, that is easier said than done. And if you have multiple children, it’s all the harder. It’s enough to make you lost your ever-loving mind. Let me pause here and say, please know that I mean NO disrespect to our schools or teachers. I’m beyond grateful for both of them. Saying that being a mom in charge of virtual learning in our houses is hard should take absolutely nothing away from how hard our teachers are also working. This is not a binary situation – it can be hard for all involved. We’re ALL building a bridge as we walk across it, so to speak, and that is always challenging and requires that we give one another enormous amounts of grace.

We’re also being asked to be one-woman I.T. departments. Oh, the number of apps to download, the passwords to remember, the broken links, the printing and scanning and emailing and troubleshooting and that’s to say nothing of keeping the electronic devices charged all the time! (This has helped me with that some.) Some of us are teaching our young children how to use a laptop or an iPad for the first time. (Don’t get me started on how we’ve been told to keep them away from electronics for so many years and are now being forced to give them a crash-course in using them while they do so 7 hours a day.) We are figuring out how to get simultaneous FaceTime calls going on different devices when your kids aren’t old enough to have their own phone. There are Zoom calls to keep a schedule of and due dates to remember and school/art/science/preschool supplies that are required.

At the same time, over on the home front, obtaining groceries and toiletries and cleaning products has become a monumental task of gargantuan proportions. Going to the store can be a nightmare of empty shelves, limitations on the number of people on one aisle and face masks that make you feel like you’re suffocating. And planning ahead for delivery (if you can even get it) is another difficulty and finding what you need with all of the items out of stock and the purchasing limitations (my family of six can eat a dozen eggs in a day, thank you very much) feels like a game of high-level strategy sometimes. Many of us had become quite reliant on Amazon’s Prime delivery service that comes in two days. That has vanished for most items as they try and prioritize essentials. It takes longer and requires more mental capacity than ever before to execute many small tasks. And if you’re also doing it for a loved one who is elderly and confined to their home? Just one more thing on the tower of tasks. We are figuring out how to make our kids feel special on their birthdays in this stay-at-home and away from friends and family time. We are trying to come up with creative ways to celebrate our spouse’s birthday and our anniversaries and loved ones’ special days from afar. Some of us are working from home, others are trying to keep small businesses afloat, trying to figure out how to avoid furloughing employees or at least keeping health insurance for them. Some of us are working outside of the home or our husbands are, because we (or they) are considered essential workers and that’s another set of challenges during this time.

All the while, our own emotions churn within us. We are fearful for our children, our parents and ourselves. For our collective health, both physical and mental, during this time. We are drying the tears of our children when they are sad and cannot even explain why. Their structure has been yanked from beneath them and it is starting to show up in fits and tantrums or tears that cannot even be explained. And the moms are the ones trying their best to protect this sweet time of childhood for them and not let it show that the world actually does feel like it is falling apart right now. We create a safe space for our families within the four walls of our home and it takes insane amounts of energy and determination.

That brings me to Mother’s Day. If I’m honest, Mother’s Day is always a bit of a struggle for me. Most moms that I know want to celebrate with the day their children, but we also desperately want some alone time. We yearn for quiet and solace and space. We want time to get a massage, a pedicure or just read a book uninterrupted, dare I say with a warm latte in hand. (We are quite used to drinking coffee cold.) We want someone to serve us a meal that we don’t have to cook or clean up after and we long for rest. Yet, we are pulled to be “Mom” even on our own day. It is a 24/7 job, after all. We still need to be up and dressed well for church or brunch or maybe even to host a meal for family in our own homes. Our children still need us on Sunday, so we summon the energy to slap a smile on our weary faces and to praise our littles for their handmade art projects and to celebrate our own moms if we are blessed enough to have them with us. There is a tension in this day. . .and that’s on a normal Mother’s Day.

On this particular Mother’s Day, in the midst of Covid-19, we enter the weekend weary to the bone, unsure of where to get more energy to carry on. We have laid down our desire for the Mother’s Day celebrations at school with our little ones and the sweet memories that those create. We have laid down our hopes of travel plans for the Summer and we are wondering just what we will do with our children over the next few months if the swimming pools and museums and zoos remain closed and now that day camps and classes are being cancelled. We are in need of being recharging more than ever before. Which is why I think this day has more pressure on it than in prior years. I don’t have a perfect answer to our collective problem, but these are my thoughts…

Take a moment to stop and think about what you need right now. Do you need to be left alone for an afternoon or a day to read or sleep or binge watch TV? Do you need some time with your best girlfriend talking on the phone or FaceTiming with a coffee or a glass of wine in hand or do you need to have a cocktail hour with a friend sitting 6 feet apart on her front porch? Do you need to not cook any meals for a day or a weekend and not clean up after them either? Do you need a ridiculous amount of fresh flowers – some for every room? Alone time for a bubble bath? Do you need a little retail therapy online, be it a big budget or a tiny one, just to grab a few things that bring you a dose of happy? Maybe it’s to snag your favorite candle to make your home smell sweeter or to help you relax or some cute and comfortable new leisure wear for all of these days at home. Maybe it’s a gorgeous pair of earrings that make you feel beautiful each morning even when you don’t take the time to wash your hair or put on makeup. Maybe it’s a cozy new throw to snuggle up under on your favorite chair with your favorite book. Or a new coffee mug to make your mornings just a bit brighter. Maybe it’s a purse you’ve been wanting forever or a new pair of running shoes or a cute + comfy pair of shorts for the upcoming warm days in the backyard with your kids. Whatever it is, take the time to notice what your heart really wants and then set your mind to getting it. This likely requires some communication with your spouse or kids, but I would encourage you to let them know what you need and make a plan for getting it. I’ve learned the hard way over the years that waiting for them to figure out what you need or to come up with a plan for you leads to unmet expectations and frustration on the part of everyone involved. A very wise friend in San Francisco told me that a few years ago and while I resisted her idea a bit at first, I realized that she was right.

During this time of staying at home, I have developed a new appreciation for the simple things – time with my family, time spent outside in nature, caring less about what I look like and more about being present in the moment. I’ve been reminded of how important family dinners are and how much fun it is to have a cleared calendar and just enjoy the simple things – slowing down, listening to your children laugh, reading, baking, riding a bike, being creative, just dreaming. You get the idea. I don’t feel like I’ve had a lot of extra time to do those things, but I’ve gotten enough of a glimpse of them that I know I need more of them in my life. Because of that, I’m convinced that this slower Mother’s Day weekend could be really, really beautiful.

If the reality of this weekend of Mother’s Day doesn’t come close to what you hoped it would be, know that you are still loved. You’re doing a great job, mama. If no one else is telling you, let me be the one to say it – Well done. It may feel like no one is noticing all that you do, but God is. He sees you where you are and He smiles upon watching you with your children. He is touched by the very details of your situation, whatever they are. He has chosen YOU to be their mother and He has chosen THEM for you. You are the very best mother for them in the world, even if you question it sometimes deep in the recesses of your heart where no one can hear.

Husbands, this is the time to love on your wife in extravagant ways. She needs you right now. If she is struggling, she needs you to reach down into the pit of exhaustion (and sometimes despair) that we all fall into every now and then and help her out of it. Don’t skimp on Mother’s Day this year. I know that it requires more planning, but such is the state of the world we live in. It’s not an excuse to do nothing. Buy her a gift (or a few!) if you are able. And for that, I would encourage you to shop small and/or local if you can. Small businesses need our support at times like these. Buy her flowers. Grab a card for her or write her a love note on a nice piece of stationery. If you’re struggling in this economy, there is plenty you can do for free. Give her some alone time, protected from the constant needs of the children, if just for a while. Give her some extra time to sleep or just to veg out in front of the television, uninterrupted. Make (or buy) her favorite meal. Bring her a latte in bed. Force her to take some time for herself, be that a bubble bath, a long run, a spa day at home or some time in the garden. Let her know how grateful you are that she pours everything she has into her children constantly. Tell her what makes you proud of her and how she is sowing seeds now that will reap a great harvest later, because sometimes she forgets that. Tell her that she is a good mother, because she doubts that on a daily basis. Love on your wife and I promise that it will pay dividends for your whole family.

And, of course, if you want to spoil her with jewelry, give me a call. I absolutely love helping with that! (And gift cards for handmade jewelry from your favorite designer are always a great last-minute option!)

 

**Disclaimer: This post contains a handful of affiliate links through Amazon’s Affiliate Program, which means that if you click on a link and end up buying something, I make a very small commission, at no cost to you.

Helping After Harvey, Locally

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Hurricane Harvey wreaked his devastation across the great (and very large) state of Texas and Louisiana this past weekend and week. It has been a gut-wrenching and heart breaking few days. These are difficult times, to be certain. But, in the aftermath of the storm, there is much to be done. And so many people have reached out to me asking how they can help. Not only that, people are asking me how they can help through local organizations, where the money is certain to go straight to the people impacted by this disaster. Many of us are more comfortable donating directly to smaller organizations with less overhead, red-tape and bureaucracy or even directly to families in times like these.

Sweet friends of mine across the country have been texting, emailing and messaging me asking for thoughts and ideas on where they can donate, so I thought it might be helpful to create a blog post with a few options. All of these organizations are ones with which I have a personal connection and can vouch for their honest intentions in helping and for the fact that they have very low to no overhead taken out of the money donated, as the funding for their organizations come from other development efforts. They are grassroots efforts that help people here in Houston every day. Of course, Harvey affected so many towns across Texas and Louisiana and I’m in no way suggesting that Houston is the only community in need. It’s just the place where I was raised, where I started my business and where my studio is located, so its near and dear to my heart and it’s also where I have the personal connections. I’m a firm believer that you should give where your heart leads you, so I would encourage you to jump in and help out where you feel comfortable.

I have so many friends and neighbors who need help during this difficult time that it is almost overwhelming. Where do you even start with helping? Most shelters I’ve been to are no longer accepting clothing and each one has a specific list of needs that is changing hour by hour as people bring more things. It can be hard to keep up with and know where to help. (For an interesting and informative look at what donations can actually be harmful, see this video from CBS.) Since sometimes cash donations are overlooked by people wanting to do something more personal, I thought maybe a list of small, local organizations that I have personal connections with might be helpful. Please note that this is not meant to be an exhaustive list of wonderful places to give. I tried to select organizations that do not have a national fundraising arm and therefore, often get overlooked in times like this, when it is hard for people (especially far away) to research local organizations who need help continuing to serve the people of Houston they have been serving for many years. I’m a big fan of supporting local businesses and charities and just wanted to provide some options for friends who are far away, but want to help. I’ve included links to the various websites, so that you can learn more about them if you’d like.

 

The Forge for Families is a community center in Houston’s Third Ward, where we live. Their mission is to holistically equip families to fulfill their God-given potential and their vision is to transform families in one generation. In the middle of the worst part of the storm and in the middle of a neighborhood in need, The Forge for Families opened their doors as a shelter. They are currently housing roughly 300 people that have been displaced throughout the greater Houston area. Currently, the shelter is being helped out by the Red Cross, but once they’ve departed, they will continue to invest in the families in need, just as they always have. Donations to the Forge for Families will allow them to continue to assist the evacuees while their lives are being restored. They will also allow them to refill essential supplies as needed. They have created a Hurricane Harvey Fund designated for supplies, operational expenses, facility management and all the extra cost that were not accounted for in our 2017 budget and you can donate to it here.

 

Agape Development was started by a longtime friend of mine, Kirk Craig. Agape also serves people in Houston’s Third Ward. Their mission is in transforming this neighborhood by preparing Christ-following, independent, community leaders. Agape Development staff was delivering food and water to families during the storm and aftermath when many households ran out of food and were cut off from grocery stores, many of which were closed. Now that the immediate crisis is ending and we begin recovery, Agape stands ready to help with that as well. For many, the beginning of the month looms around the corner as a financial deadline: rents, mortgages, car loans, cell phone bills, and any debt repayments are due and for low-income and working poor families, hourly employment during a natural disaster means forgoing income. If you would like to financially support the remaining recovery efforts they are conducting or support their fall programs to empower our neighborhood, please click relief.agapedevelopment.org. To volunteer with your time, please check out their volunteer opportunities or email volunteer@agapedevelopment.org.

 

Houston Pregnancy Help Center is run by a powerhouse of a woman named Sylvia Johnson-Matthews. If you’ve met her personally, you’ve been amazed by the combination of her strength and her humility. Houston Pregnancy Help Centers provide practical and compassionate support to women in unplanned pregnancy situations. We present life-affirming alternatives to the tragedy of abortion, while respecting a woman’s decision without ridicule or rejection. Currently, they are women affected by Harvey, including pregnant women as well as those with babies who need supplies, such as diapers, wipes, formula, clothing, etc. Donate to HPHC Flood Assistance here or by texting the keyword HPHC to 77977.

 

Yellowstone Academy is the premier school in Houston’s historic 3rd Ward. At Yellowstone, students receive an education that cultivates their intellect, nourishes their spirit, and empowers them to capitalize on their potential to create a fulfilling future for our entire community. They’ve been serving in Houston for 15 years and words cannot adequately describe the impact they are making on the youth of our city and their families. The stories will bring tears to your eyes. I’ve been attending their fundraising Love Brunch for several years and they stories I’ve heard are so encouraging. For 15 years, Yellowstone Academy has been standing with some of Houston’s most vulnerable students and families. Many of the families—from their students to their staff—have lost homes, possessions, wages, and more as a result of catastrophic flood levels. Even their newly renovated campus was impacted. As they sent this update, members of their team are on the grounds fully assessing the damages and making the necessary repairs to once again serve their students as soon as possible. A key component of their educational model is that all of their families pay tuition according to what they can afford, and the remainder is funded through scholarships provided by generous partners across the city. In these difficult times, families may not be in a position to fund their portion of tuition for the fall semester. As a response, they are waiving tuition for the semester for any family who needs it, with faith that our community can rally together to fund the difference. Stand with them today by making a donation towards that here.

 

Undies for Everyone enhances the self-esteem, dignity, hygiene, and success of Houston’s disadvantaged students by providing them clean underwear. Keeping kids in class and bullies at bay. During the Hurricane Harvey disaster, they are serving more than just students, as so many people in shelters don’t have clean underwear or access to laundry facilities. Brene Brown stands at George R Brown Convention Center, which is currently acting as a large shelter, making a plea for donations after what she has seen firsthand. View her video here. Please consider helping them by donating here.

Harvey

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As I sit here typing this, I am listening to the rain fall. I used to love snuggling up during a good ol’ Texas thunderstorm and I loved sleeping in one even more. It was actually something I missed during the time we lived in San Francisco. Strangely, it doesn’t really storm there. I only saw lightning and heard thunder two times in the five years that we lived there and it always struck me as rather odd. I actually missed it during our time there, as crazy as that feels to type now, in the midst of Harvey. It has been raining for four days now and has been raining without stopping for even a second for at least 24 hours straight. I’d love to tell you exactly how many hours, but I can’t, because I’m not even sure what day it is. Somehow, they are all meshing together in my head and I have lost all sense of time. It’s a strange feeling and I’m beginning to realize that cabin fever is a very real phenomenon. When you’re stranded on a makeshift island surrounded by water and unable to escape except by boat or helicopter for days on end, it really does alter your mind a bit. And we are among the more fortunate in this storm, of that I am very well aware.

The photo above was the view from our front porch yesterday. The floodwaters have filled the park across the street, with its hills and valleys that create a bit of a bowl that is 15-20 feet or so down. The street, which is probably 4-5 feet below our house is also flooded and impassable. You can see by the street sign shown how high it is. It is flooded in both directions as far as the eye can see. The nearest cross street is also underwater. And the water is in our yard and slowly moving up the driveway (which has a pretty steep hill to it) and closer to our home. My son’s baby swing in the front yard is halfway under water, so I’m guessing there’s about 2-3 feet of water in our yard. A family of ducks just swam by me the now lake that covers our front yard.

For four days now, I’ve been absorbing and processing. Absorbing information, photos, videos and the very personal stories of people close to me who are in dire distress. It’s an awful lot to take in. I’ve had so many thoughts I wanted to share, but neither the energy or the time to do so. It has taken all I have to keep life within these walls of our house as normal as humanly possible for my children. At the beginning of this ordeal, when Harvey was forming in the Gulf, I was checking the weather nonstop. It may have been a throwback to my energy trading days, when tracking hurricanes and their effects on production in the Gulf was a part of my job. Or it may have had something to do with the fact that though I have weathered Hurricane Alisha, Tropical Storm Allison, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ike, I have never weathered a hurricane as a mother. Now, with three boys who are dependent on us for survival, the game has changed dramatically. Regardless, I was glued to the weather. I quickly fell in love with Space City Weather, which offers information without the sensationalism. In the beginning, I didn’t realize how crucial that would be to maintaining my sanity. I left the news channels on for a while, as they had tornado alerts and other important information, but I couldn’t leave them on for long because of my children. When some desperate woman who had been rescued by boat started screaming about all the little children who were going to die in their homes and our three year old repeated those words and asked me why with a terrified expression, I turned the television off. Images and words on TV are powerful and my boys are so young that they cannot separate fact from drama. Please don’t get me wrong, I think the news people in Houston have done and are doing an excellent job and I am grateful for their selfless coverage of this unprecedented disaster, but my own heart aches deeply at watching the images and hearing the stories, so I cannot imagine what the little minds in my house are thinking as they try and process it all.

By now, however, I rarely even look at the weather. I’m simply exhausted by it all. Severe weather alerts have gone off on my phone around every 5-15 minutes 24 hours a day for the past 4 days. Flash flood warning, tornado warning, tropical storm warning, tropical cyclone warning. I get it. We’re all in great danger here. I just can’t even process them anymore. When the tornado sirens went off, we hunkered down in an interior hallway or in our basement. It’s a confusing thing when the authorities tell you to get upstairs because of flash flooding, but also to get to the lowest level because of a tornado. And when your kids are finally sleeping peacefully, do you wake them up to move from one to the other when the sirens go off? It’s a tough call, especially when you’re tired. When we were taking cover, my children were crying in fear. And I read one of my very favorite books to them, The Jesus Storybook Bible. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s a refreshing read of the stories we know and love that brings fresh tears to my eyes almost every time I read it to my children. It’s a powerful translation, even for adults. We read the story of Jesus calming the storm and talked about how we do not need to fear, because even in difficult times like these, God is still in control. Once it was over, my kids were “playing tornado” and hiding under the dining room table. I remember reading an article on child psychology about how this is how they process trauma in a healthy way, by acting it out again and again, so I let them do it and even joined in some. It was a bit of humbling experience.

We are just fine. We are safe and dry and our house has not taken in water other than some roof and ceiling leaks. We have food and plenty of water. We have electricity and we are all together. Though we are stranded here, we are absolutely fine and beyond grateful. God is merciful and through all of this horror, the loss of life is so much smaller in number than one might expect. For that, we are grateful.

More to come as I continue to process and reflect. There is much to share and there is much to be done in relief and recovery efforts. But for now, I will focus on our family. Keeping us fed and the house and dishes relatively clean, coordinating efforts of help for friends via the internet and Facebook and connecting people as we are so thankful that we have electricity. Until we are able to leave our home, we will do what we can to help, we will support and minister to one another in this time of crisis and we will pray. We will pray for the rain to stop, the storm to dissipate, the winds to die down and for peace for the people of our great city. And when we are able, we will act. We will join others in relief efforts, band together as a community and get our community put back together. We will be stronger and our perspective will be very different. May all of this experience change us for the better, starting with me.

Pretty Letters

andrea

On a recent Friday morning, I was treated to a lovely chalkboard lettering class with Kristara along with some darling blogger friends. Her Houston calligraphy studio is located in an gorgeous building filled with inspiring businesses on Spring Street. Just walking in, you are sure to feel more creative! And her space is just adorable – filled with sweet little touches that make you feel right at home (if you live in a home filled with well-curated lovelies, that is!) Her walls are adorned with her incredible work, like the adorbs invitations pictured below, and I was immediately smitten. If you’ve been to the Lululemon store in Highland Village here in Houston, you’ve likely seen her work, as she does the art on their chalkboards. And for daily doses of her beautiful lettering, follow her on Instagram here.

lovely lettering

As we walked in, she offered us coffees, mimosas and sweet treats. It was a definite blessing for this mama after a harried morning of trying to get the littles to school on time. After some gabbing and catching up with friends (and commiserating that getting up this morning was super hard after a late evening out at the A Couture Cause event the night before!) we sat down at a pristine white table that was accented with simple, yet beautiful flowers, chalk and chalkboards with each of our names on them. Tres chic!

To begin with, Kristara is incredibly sweet, very patient and totally relatable, which makes the class super fun. First, she went over some lettering styles and examples with us. She demonstrated tricks and tips and also gave us a handout with the information so that we could focus on having fun and experimenting during the class. I love the “But first, coffee” design she did below. (Please note the artsy photo my darling friend Candace took of me taking a photo of the chalkboard!)

but first coffee

After the examples, we went to work creating. We started out with chalk and in the end, those who wanted to make their designs more permanent used a chalk marker (which is still removable) to make the chalk art last longer. I practiced a few things, but erased them before I took photos, much to the dismay of my table mate, the always-adorable style blogger, my friend Carly, who thought they were way better than they actually were. (Must have been the mimosas talking!) Turns out, I’m more of a perfectionist than I thought and chalkboard lettering is harder than I thought! It sure was fun, though, and I’m excited to practice more at home on the chalkboards she gave us!

Kristara does hand-lettering, so you can hire her to address your next batch of party invitations for a beautiful touch. She also teaches calligraphy and brush lettering as well, so no matter what your style is, you’re sure to find something to inspire you in her class list. I cannot recommend her classes highly enough – especially if you go with a friend (or several.) You are sure to have fun indulging your creative side in her precious studio!

 

See Me

See Me

This year, our children’s school has committed to being a part of +Works (pronounced Positive Thinking Works). I went to a meeting introducing it a few weeks ago and I was blown away. In fact, I’m still processing much of what was said. There are several schools that are joining in this movement and I couldn’t be more excited that our school is among them. The women who started this initiative are two experienced moms (and friends) Sarah Fisher and Trish Morille. As I listened to Sarah speak, I realized how desperately our society needs this thinking. In tumultuous times like this, we need so much more of this and the very best place to start is with the current generation of children. As we learn alongside them and strive to model this type of life for them, our world cannot help but be changed for the better.

Today, our school sent out the following poem from +Works. It struck me to my core as I read it. Tears filled my eyes and my heart was deeply convicted by these words. I thought you might be as well, so I wanted to share them with you. We all need to read this. Multiple times.

Again, these words are not my own, but I did want to share them with you because they are so important. For more resources like this, which I have found very helpful in my parenting journey!) or for information on their movement, please visit their website here or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

SEE ME
I am your child.
I am your student.
I am your husband.
I am your wife.
I am your brother, your sister.
Your mother, your father.
Your friend.
Your neighbor.
I am a human being doing my best.
And I need you to see me as I am.

I need you to SEE me as I AM.

I need you to allow me to be myself with you.
I want to tell you my truth.
Can you hear me?
I am screaming at you with my eyes wide and my mouth shut.
I need you to give me the gift that comes in a simple card that reads:
You are not me.
You are you.
And I love you.
As you are.

I need you to tell me this to my face:
I love you even when and especially when you don’t agree with me because we have so much to learn from each other on this journey.

What is that so hard?
What are you afraid of?
Why do you tell me not to feel what I’m felling when I’m feeling it?
Why do you tell me to believe what you believe when I am still searching?
Why do you dream for me when I have my own dreams?
Why do you think you get to choose whom I will become?

Please know this.
Just because you are older or smarter or richer or poorer or ____er does not make you wiser.
I have seen wisdom spring from unexpected people and unexpected places.
Like youth.
And inexperience.
And silence.
Especially when that silence is imposed.

Please. It is awful not to feel loved.
Hear my voice.
See my face.
Feel my pain.
Set me free.

Happy Love Day!

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Happy Valentine’s Day, lovelies! On this day of love, I pray that you are surrounded by those you love and hold dear in this life. If this isn’t you this year – if you’re in a time of loss or pain or struggle, I am praying for you as well. And I’m sending you my very favorite Valentine’s Day quote. Wise words from (my former pastor and a favorite author) Max Lucado

 

“I hope you receive a rose or a special card from that special person today. If you didn’t and don’t expect to, remember that the One who loves you most has already sent you His very best.”

                                                                  – Max Lucado

 

Glamour + Grace

 

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I’m so thrilled to have my some of my bridal jewelry designs featured on the front page of Glamour and Grace today! Its truly an honor to have worked with such incredible professionals on this photo shoot. The sources are tagged at the bottom of this post, so be sure to check them out. Every little detail is just gorgeous!

I’m posting a few of the stunning pics below, but hop on over to the Glamour and Grace blog for even more of this beautiful spread featuring romantic jewel tone wedding inspiration that is sure to make you smile. And be sure to look around their blog if you’re planning a wedding anytime soon – they have such fabulous ideas!

View More: http://sheradeehurstphotography.pass.us/autumnalcharm

View More: http://sheradeehurstphotography.pass.us/autumnalcharm

View More: http://sheradeehurstphotography.pass.us/autumnalcharm

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View More: http://sheradeehurstphotography.pass.us/autumnalcharm

View More: http://sheradeehurstphotography.pass.us/autumnalcharm

View More: http://sheradeehurstphotography.pass.us/autumnalcharm

View More: http://sheradeehurstphotography.pass.us/autumnalcharm

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View More: http://sheradeehurstphotography.pass.us/autumnalcharm

View More: http://sheradeehurstphotography.pass.us/autumnalcharm

View More: http://sheradeehurstphotography.pass.us/autumnalcharm

View More: http://sheradeehurstphotography.pass.us/autumnalcharm

Photography | Sheradee Hurst Photography | Styling | Krissi Farrimond | Floral, Stationery, & Calligraphy | Inspire Events | Cake | Amy Cakes | Macarons | Brown Egg Bakery | Vintage Chairs | Borrowed Charm | Place Settings | Culinary Kitchen | Gown | Alvina Valenta from Prescott Bridal | Hair and Makeup | Andrea Lemonds of Trichology Salon | Jewelry | Andrea Montgomery Designs | Ring | Trumpet & Horn | Groom’s Attire | Spencer Stone | Vow Book | Wedding Story Writer

Introducing Our Pritchard Hill Collection

Pritchard Hill Wording

Our Pritchard Hill Collection was inspired by a Summer trip to the California wine country and our discovery of a lesser-known spot in Napa, Pritchard Hill.  Our collection features Pantone’s 2015 Color of the Year, Marsala, where deep brownish-red garnet abounds. Check out a few of the highlights below and then hop on over to the website to see the full collection here.

Interested to learn more about Pritchard Hill? (You definitely should be!) read our blog post about our incredible visit to one of the premier vineyards there. You won’t want to miss those photos!

Pritchard Hill Photo Grid

Upper left: Vineyard soil
Upper right: Marsala Earrings in Garnet
Lower left: Boon Fly Necklace
Lower right: Wine Pour

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Yountville Earrings in Garnet, Champagne Citrine and Labradorite

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Sea Ranch Necklace in Garnet & Citrine

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Petaluma Earrings in Garnet, Citrine and Pyrite

Introducing Our Carneros Collection

Carneros Collection

 

We are launching our latest collection, which was also inspired by a Summer trip to the California Wine Country. For our stay in Napa Valley, we were at the Carneros Inn, which is a serene property with accommodations that are both luxurious and comfortable at the same time. (Just writing about it has me aching to go back!) The muted orange tones and soft grey colors mixed together with stark white was the inspiration for this collection. Feel a bit of the relaxed sophistication of Napa each time you wear a piece. . . See some of our fav items below and then view the collection on our website here.

 

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Upper left: Domaine Carneros 
Upper right: Oceans Eight Bracelet in Moonstone
Lower left: Asheville Tassel Necklace
Lower right: Vineyards

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Oceans Eight Bracelet in Grey, Peach and White Moonstone E7121-PYR_blog

Oakville Earrings in Pyrite

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Yountville Necklace in Labradorite and Carnelian

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Petaluma Earrings in Labradorite, Carnelian and Pyrite N7845-BN&TQ_blog Asheville Tassel Necklace in Bone, Pyrite and Turquoise