A Before & After In the Making

We all love a good before and after story, do we not?!  From weight loss comparisons to home renovations, it can be both inspiring and a little dumbfounding how something can be transformed.  My husband, Steve Smith, and I own Irish Realty.  He is one of the top realtors in our area, and I own a subset company called Designed to Flourish.  My work in DTF helps compliment his efforts as a realtor.  When we work with someone who wants to list their home, He makes recommendations on updates they need to do to maximize their potential selling price and limit their days on market.  Then I come in and make selections for those updates; paint, carpet, new countertops, new light fixtures, etc.  I also often end up staging these homes with furniture and home decor accessories.  It’s really a blast to see the potential in a home be manifested before our eyes into sale-able updates and style.  When we are done with the homes, they are much more on trend and updated so that they meet what the market desires.  This process makes for some great before and after photos.

Today I thought I would share the specifics of one such remodel.  I’ll show you the actual photos and also explain what we did and why.  This home is one of our newest listings and is located in Mishawaka, Indiana in Sagewood Estates.

 

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The front exterior of this home got a small but valuable face lift!

At first glance it may not appear like we did all that much to the front exterior.  And while the bulk of the budget indeed went towards the interior updates, some important changes were done outside as well.  For example, we changed the carriage lights by the front door and garage from brass to nickel finish.  We did the same for the front door handle and kick plate as well.  In fact that’s all we had done until the week the listing was about to go live.  I stopped by the house to make a final to do list and prepare for staging it and when I pulled up, the thought crossed my mind that the front door needed a little pop and contrast to complete the transformation.  So we called the painter back for one more task and voila….the front door now has a rich java look that gives the whole exterior a little more interest and depth.  These changes were not expensive BUT they contributed immensely to the updated style and they make a great first impression for guests and potential home buyers.

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The front entryway of a home is important as it serves as a first impression.  Here you can get a good look at the difference our fresh paint and carpet makes.

When we started helping the sellers on this home, they shared with us they had had their home on the market for over 4 months last year with little showings and no offers.  Our specialty is helping people update their home and go to market with a product that will be in high demand.  In this case not only will the home sell faster but it will most likely sell for well be above the margin of their investment.  Ie. we are helping home owners create instant equity in their homes!  One of the MAIN things we often suggest is fresh paint and new carpet, which is on display above.  My staging also helped make the most of the home owners existing furniture.  They already owned most of these pieces but I added new mirrors and accessories.  I also removed the multiple, dated rugs from the foyer and let the wood floors shine on their own more with just one pretty neutral rug at the front entryway point.

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Letting in more natural light and removing dated furniture allowed this room to look much larger and more luxurious.

While draperies and window treatments are important for privacy, I removed them here to both update the home and let in more natural light.  It also shows off how beautiful this big bay window is!  The furniture shown here was already the home owners, but came from another room.  I brought these pieces in so that the room was not empty after I removed the dated couch set.

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The great room also got a facelift: new carpet and paint continued into this room.  We also painted the mantel white and replaced the fan.  

This great room was already a wonderful gathering space, but the intense colors and overcrowded furniture was not as conducive to selling.  Again we removed the heavy window treatments to brighten up the room.  We changed the paint colors from bold Burgundy and mustard to grey walls with white trim, including the woodwork on the mantle. When I cam back and staged the furniture, I simply added a couple new pillows to the couches and decluttered the walls and surfaces.

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Kitchens are an important part of a home.  The home owner’s budget kept us from being able to paint the cabinets in this case or add granite/quarts BUT we still made some key changes!

We all have heard that the kitchen is in fact THE most important room in the house when it comes to selling a home.  And that could not be more true!  In this case, our budget for updating the kitchen did not allow for a total overhaul.  Had we had the room, I probably would have painted the cabinets white, added crown to them, changed the appliances to stainless steel, added a tile backsplash, updated the hardware, and added grant or quartz counters.  However, we DID make some awesome changes that will still help maximize the sale price of this home.  Some of our changes here include new high definition laminate counters with an ogee edge, removal of wall paper and painting the room grey with white trim, changing out all electrical faceplates to white, new light fixtures in both the kitchen and the dinette, and decluttering the surfaces throughout.

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The laundry room is now so much more fresh and bright!

Before, this laundry room felt small and enclosed with the dark blue patterned walls.  We simply painted the walls grey and the trim white as well as decluttered the space to get this brighter and more cheerful impression.

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This main floor guest bath now looks much more modern and luxe.

These are the same cabinets folks!  We simply painted the oak with Sherwin Williams “Black Bean” color!  We also traded the old Builder mirror for a framed one that matched our new cabinet color and then continued our effort to paint the walls grey and trim white in here.  And while you can’t get a great view of it here we also put in a new vanity light above the mirror.  Finally the right staging shows off the new look.

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If the kitchen is the most important room, the master bedroom and bathroom are a close second!

This master bedroom was laden down with old wallpaper and too much furniture for the space.   We simplified things with fresh paint, more natural light, less furniture, and fresh accessories like a new duvet and pillows.

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The master bath looks amazing now!  Read on below for how we made this new look come alive!

Once again we used Sherwin Williams Black Bean to update the cabinet and woodwork in the master bathroom (like we did in the main floor guest bath).  We also reglazed the counter tops, tub surround and master shower).  We removed wall paper and painted the walls grey with white trim.  And we removed the unframed builder mirror and installed elegant framed ones instead.  Finally staging with new accessories helped show off the new updates.

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One of the secondary bedrooms got updated too!  Here’s how we did it…

I love a good canopy bed and in fact always wanted one as a little girl.  So I was exited when I saw the potential this room had to offer.  To make it ready to sell, we painted the room grey with white trim, put in new carpet, removed extra furniture including the trundle under the bed, rearranged the furniture placement, and added some fresh decor accessories.  Now the room looks much more inviting and modern.

There were more rooms too, but this gives you a good indication at what all went into this renovation.  I have to give a HUGE shout out to the homeowners.  They were extremely open minded in letting us make these changes and they worked tirelessly to prepare the home for the remodel and contributed to decluttering and moving the furniture etc.   Also, thank you to our amazing crews of painters, flooring experts, handymen etc who made it all possible.  And lastly can I also point out how amazing our photographer is and what a difference there is in the quality of images too?!  This home is now listed and available for purchase.  Call Steve Smith at 574-360-2569 to see this home in person!

Avoid These Common Design Mistakes

I can’t tell you how many times my husband, Steve Smith of Irish Realty hears this comment; “Steve, every one of your listings looks like it could be on HGTV or in Better Homes and Gardens”.   See, Stephen and I make a GREAT team.  We work together to make these houses look their best before going to market.  When Stephen meets with a homeowner who wants to sell their house, he advises them on how to get the MOST our of their home, which more often than not includes some updating and design.  That’s where I come in.  Sometimes I simply make some recommendations, but other times I actually help design a total remodel.  From new paint and carpet to new counters and light fixtures, we are helping Michiana homeowners update and then sell their homes, often with competing offers and within a few days of listing.  My favorite of all our projects is when I get to to come in and “STAGE” a house after the remodel.  Sometimes a house is vacant and I bring in my own furniture and accessories.  Sometimes though I use the homeowner’s existing furniture and rearrange it and/or bring in accessories.  A lot of times, homeowners have beautiful pieces but they just don’t know how to put all the puzzle pieces together to get the best look.  That’s where I can help.

But if you’re not ready to sell your home and you still want to get that curated design look….I do have some tips and tricks to share with you today.  Since I cannot make it in person to each and every one of your homes, I thought I would write a quick blog post on avoiding common design mistakes.  Fixing these common errors will ensure a much more elegant look in your home.

  1. MISTAKE: Pushing all the furniture against the walls.  So many times when I arrive at a home to advise someone I find that all their sofas and furniture pieces are anchored against walls.  So “free” the couch, so to speak!  Bring the couches together out in the center of the room in front of a fireplace, or bring a desk into the center of the room facing the doorway.

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    Here the furniture “floats” out in the space, creating an intimate setting for conversations.

  2. MISTAKE: Over-crowding surfaces and counters.  Life happens but there ARE ways to keep clutter at a minimum.  For example, use things like drawer organizers to keep pens and pencils tucked away.  The place I see this happen the most is the kitchen.  Often kitchen counters will be laden with small appliances, cook books, cutting boards, knife blocks, canisters, fruit bowls and more.  Focus in on just a few accessories to create a more elegant space and find little tricks and systems to keep functional clutter at bay.

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    Countertops should be mostly clear with just a few select items left out

  3. MISTAKE: Hanging Pictures too high and off center.  If these were ranked this error would be my #1.  Many times pictures are hung on the walls at standing height of the man hanging them.  The correct height for a picture on the wall in most instances is that the middle of the picture is at eye level from a sitting position.  Another good rule of thumb is that a picture hung above a console table or mantle should ALMOST look like it’s setting on top of it but in fact is floating above the surface below it by just a few inches (depending on scale).  And remember to center pictures on a wall or within it’s visual area.

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    Note how the artwork behind the chair is hung low enough to eclipse the chair

  4. MISTAKE: Using only flat or one-dimensional artwork on walls.  Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper is the source for this tip.  But Jo is absolutely right.  Often times, artwork and wall decor is limited to flat canvases or framed pieces.  So, when it comes to adorning your walls, try thinking outside the box (literally).  Here are some 3-dimensional items to consider hanging on the wall to add texture, depth, and visual interest: a weaving, wall planters with plants or flowers, vintage plates, animal busts, or wood boxes or crates used as shelves.
  5. MISTAKE: Being too matchy-matchy.  At one time it was considered a stylish luxury to buy an entire matching set of living room or bedroom furniture.  However, that time has come and gone.  I often see whole houses where almost every piece of furniture (the legs of the living room sofa, the hallway console, the dining room table AND hutch, and an entire bedroom suite) are all the same wood tone and style (think 90’s cherry).  If you are in the market to buy new pieces, don’t be afraid to mix wood finishes and textures.  A raw wood farm table looks beautiful across from a painted buffet.  A tufted headboard looks elegant next to a mirrored nightstand and so on.  If you already have a house full of furniture and can’t afford to buy new, consider using a chalk paint or gel stain to change up the colors and finishes of your pieces.  Or consider just switching out the end chairs at your dining room table to taller, upholstered ones to create a new look.

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    I changed out the end chairs of this dining set to provide a little variation in wood tones and to avoid being too “matchy-matchy”

  6. MISTAKE: Letting fabrics become overly worn.  One fairly affordable way to update your home’s style is to freshen up the fabric pieces.  An attractive duvet or coverlet can instantly change the look of your master bedroom for a reasonable price.  Why have a bedspread that is older than this year’s graduating class if a coverlet can be purchased for less than $100?  In fact, many times people spend large sums over and over dry cleaning the same tired bed spread when they could have afforded to buy a new duvet several times over.  Other considerations to freshen up your look would be purchasing new towels or floor mats, new dish towels or even new pillows for the existing couch.
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    This chair in our nursery is older and in fact if you look closely you can see a stain on the seat.  We couldn’t afford to get a whole new chair so I added a new pillow though to distract and update the look.  

     

  7. MISTAKE: Poor lighting.  Lighting has a way of making spaces come alive and look more luxurious.  If you don’t have built in lighting that really does the work, then you can still make your room shine with floor and table lamps.  Add a floor lamp next to a chair, add an art light above your favorite painting, add a lamp even on your bathroom counter, and so on.  It’s hard to get too much lighting.

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    In this room, I added both a table and a floor lamp to add more light even though the space already had natural light and overhead lighting

  8. MISTAKE: Painting rooms all different colors.   There’s nothing wrong with creating a color palette for your home with varied, complimentary colors for different spaces.  However, painting one room dark burgundy, another lilac, and then one aqua can create a split personality disorder for your home.  Colors should compliment one another.  Personally I also like to stick to the one hand rule: that’s no more than five colors on the walls in a home.  An example of this might be main living spaces done in grey, the master suite in a sea foam, a little girls room done in a peachy pink, a little boys room done in a darker grey, and a sunroom done in white on white.  I also recommend that your trim color and ceiling color be white in most cases and stay consistent through the entire home.

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    This home design had grey walls throughout but we added a soft and complimentary sea foam color (Oyster Bay by Sherwin Williams) in the master bedroom to add interest but not detract from the cohesiveness of the design. 

  9. MISTAKE: Mixed Color Appliances.  I understand that budgets can make this mistake unavoidable so bear with me.  However, the goal should be to end up with a cohesive look for your appliances.   Since finishes can vary from brand to brand, you might want to consider keeping most of your appliances in the same brand family too.  It can be distracting when an oven is black but the fridge is stainless steel.  So when completing your design and/or especially before going to market, take care to make your appliances one finish.

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    Aim to make appliances match in finish and brand when updating your kitchen

  10. MISTAKE: Old electrical faceplates.  At one time most faceplates for light switches and electrical plugs were bisque or black.  However, today the style is predominantly white.  It is not that hard or expensive to trade out these dated faceplates for new white ones and it makes a BIG impact.

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    The current style is white faceplates for outlet and switch covers as seen here.  With an older home, just switching these out will really freshen things up.

  11. MISTAKE: Old, dirty fireplaces.  A lot of homes that we go into have brass framing around them.  And, often the inside of the fireplaces is a natural stone which shows the scorches and debris of the fires that have transpired.  One of our favorite things to do is to clear out the fireplace, paint the inside BLACK (make sure and buy a special high temp, flame retardant paint available at most paint or hardware stores) and then set back in the logs only (no little bits of charred items, fluffy stuff, etc).  We also unscrew the faceplate or framing, take it in the garage or outside and spray paint (again use a special paint here!) black and then simply reinstall.  You wouldn’t believe the difference this makes!

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    When we started with this home the fireplace was natural stone with burn marks AND fluffy insulation style embers below the logs.  We cleaned it all out and painted the inside black for this much clearer and more modern look.  Again this is a VERY affordable fix for most homes.

Well, there you have it.  I hope this gives you some ideas on how to update your home no matter what your budget is.  It can be very rewarding to see your home take on a new and fresh look.  And the best part about spending on your home’s design is that it is an investment!  Even purchasing new furniture or decor will update your home’s look and would help support a higher home value should you ever put it on the market.  Happy decorating and should you need a team to help you update and list your home for sale, then feel free to call or message us!  Steve Smith, Irish Realty 574-360-2569 and Vanessa Smith, Designed to Flourish, 574-210-8866

 

 

Warm Up With the Ultimate Sugar Free ‘Salted Caramel’ Bullet Coffee

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The Perfect Cup of ‘Salted Caramel Bullet Coffee’

While spring may be right around the corner, it’s still pretty chilly here in Indiana.  For months I’ve been experimenting with the perfect bullet coffee, which is my go to drink to keep me warm during the cold winter months.  If you aren’t familiar with bullet coffee, let me explain.  Bullet coffee is your traditional coffee but with healthy fat added to it via butter or coconut oil.  The added ingredient gives you the necessary fat to both keep your metabolism steady and keep you feeling full throughout the day.  And for those of us who follow a low sugar/ high fat (or Paleo, Keto, Atkins, etc) diet, this warm and yummy drink is a favorite.  It may sound strange at first to add butter to your coffee, but trust me it is delicious!

The reason this coffee is traditionally called “Bullet Coffee” is because normally the steps to make it include mixing the hot coffee with the butter or coconut oil in a Bullet or other type of mixer.  This ensures that the oil does not sit on top of the coffee but rather gets truly infused into the coffee.  The thing is this step has always driven me crazy: it makes a huge mess, and often by the time I mix all the ingredients together and then pour it into my mug the coffee can be lukewarm. So when I set out to make the PERFECT BULLET COFFEE I knew I wanted to not only develop a scrumptious recipe but also a solution to the mess and extra time the step in the bullet creates.

One day I was watching a video when I saw someone making a latte with a handheld frother and it dawned on me, the frother could be the solution to mix the coffee with the butter/coconut oil with less mess and time!  So I tried it out and sure enough it’s the perfect life hack for those who love bullet coffee!  I learned the hard way not to fill the cup up too high but once I got that balance down, the PowerLix frother I purchased from Amazon helped me make the perfect cup!

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The quick and easy solution to make Bullet Coffee: the PowerLix Frother

When working on my recipe, I wanted to make something that resembled my favorite Salted Caramel Mocha from Starbucks.  Using pink himalayan rock salt ended up being the ideal ingredient to give it that special flavor.  And for the “caramel” flavor, the butter or coconut oil already give the drink that buttery, smooth taste.  Find my recipe below!

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The Ingredients for the perfect coffee!

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My secret ingredient to make ‘Salted Caramel Bullet Coffee’

Ingredients

  • K cup coffee of your choice
  • Real whipping cream (straight from the carton)
  • Splenda, stevia, or other sugar free additive as desired
  • Coconut Oil or real butter
  • Pink himalayan rock salt

Directions

  • Make your cup of coffee via a keurig or as desired (don’t fill the cup up too much or it will spill when you use the frother so use an extra tall mug)
  • Add sweetener and/or cream as desired
  • Add 1-2 tablespoons of butter or coconut oil
  • Use frother to stir the coffee right in your mug.  You may have to start and stop some to keep the drink from spilling, but it will nicely mix the ingredients
  • Add just a small pinch of the himalayan rock salt
  • Enjoy!

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Top 10 Reasons To Love Your 30’s

This past weekend, I turned 35.  Wow.  35.  How can that be?  How is it possible I’m almost halfway through my life?  How is it possible I am halfway through my thirties already?  Time flies is the answer; with every year seeming to go faster and faster!

To kick off my birthday weekend, I had lunch and pedicures with one of my best friends, Amanda on Friday.  At one point she said, “I love getting older and I never thought I would.”  I thought about this for a while.  Did I feel the same way?  There’s a few things I don’t care for as much…like some pesky wrinkles that have appeared all of the sudden.  And, I’m not a fan of the statistic that fertility drops off a cliff supposedly at 35, but I still want to have more babies.  But on a day to day basis, and with those two things set aside, I agree. Then at dinner on Saturday night with my family, both my mother and mother in law expressed sentiment at how much they had loved being in their thirties.  I haven’t been forty yet…but I’m hoping this appreciation will only compound and that I could eventually write a list of top 10 reasons to love your 40’s down the road!  In the meantime, here’s why being 30 is awesome (*note that these are generalities and represent a mix of my own thoughts as well as those of my friends.  So more or less may apply for you personally.)

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Turning 35….

  1. You know who your true friends are and you’re perfectly happy with that.  Gone are the days of high school, college, and your 20’s where you are trying to figure out just where you fit in.  By now, you know who your tribe is and you’re perfectly ok with those who are in it and those who aren’t.
  2. You’re done being a bridesmaid.  Don’t get me wrong, celebrating your friend’s weddings is important and special.  However, the tab that comes with the plane tickets, gifts, dresses, tanning, makeup and hair, bachelorette party and more can make you say “credit card debt” faster than you can say  “Of course I love your bridesmaid dresses!”
  3. You love being called mom.  For those of us with kiddos, the thirties is that stage where being a mom feels just right.  I had my first son at 24, a little ahead of most of my friends.  It took me a while to feel comfortable with my new role.  Now, when I hear a little one call out “mom” in the grocery store I always think it’s me…. I LOVE being called mom and feeling chubby arms around my neck and carrying my kids to bed.  It’s the biggest blessing I could ever ask for.

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    I LOVE being called Mom.  There’s a song my mom used to sing to me by Steve and Annie Chapman that goes; “I count it as a privilege, I count it cause for praise…to kiss my children goodnight at the close of every day”  I couldn’t agree more!

  4. Your Husband.  Dating in your 20’s can be tricky.  And being a newlywed is exciting, but there’s a lot to learn about one another and figure out.  But the 30’s seems to mark hitting your stride with your husband.  You know each other’s likes and dislikes for real now.  You’ve got each other’s backs.  You have mutual favorite tv shows, restaurants, couple friends, etc.   And being parents together is pretty darn amazing.
  5. You’ve finally made peace with your body.  It took me years of agony.  When I was skinny I thought I was too fat.  When I was pregnant at 24, I thought I was too fat.  When I gained weight from stress while owning my business I thought I was too fat.  Basically, I spent every year until recently beating myself up.  Somewhere in my thirties, I made peace with who I am and my focus shifted to being happy and healthy.  And gosh is that a mind game I don’t miss.
  6. Your mom is the wisest person you know and your best friend .  Sometimes when I open my mouth, my mother comes out.  And, I’m totally cool with that.  Why?  Because my mom is pretty darn amazing!  Gone are the days of sneaking behind her back or rolling your eyes at her advice (although Mom if you’re reading this I promise I did not do that very much anyway!).  Instead, you cherish her words of wisdom and see her for who she is.  You’re old enough to appreciate her and she’s still young enough to go do fun stuff together.  So take advantage: travel together, brunch together, laugh together.  Life is short.

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    My mom: my confidant, my cheerleader, my best friend!

  7. You’re in the money, honey!  As student loans get paid off, and your earning potential rises, a certain peace sets in.  Ok, you may or may not be truly banking it.  BUT, you do have freedom and capacity to start investing, buy a car, buy a house, go to the Salon and so on.  It feels good to start seeing the rewards of all your hard work.
  8. You know to value life.  By now perhaps all your grandparents have passed on.  Maybe a friend has even died or been killed.  Maybe you’ve experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth.  You see how fleeting life can be.  And yet you see how beautiful it can be. This balanced awareness starts to impact your decisions.  It guides who you stay friends with, how you spend your free time, where you travel to.  And it feels good to appreciate this gift we call life on earth.
  9. You think of taking care of yourself as a luxury.  Most of us are pretty rough on our bodies and health in our 20’s.  We stay up too late, drink too much, work too hard, etc.  Now, it feels like a luxury to take a run, linger in a hot shower, get a facial, drink a green smoothie, eat organic food, and go to bed early.

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    I’ve learned to take care of myself and view it as a joy and luxury.

  10. Your faith is flourishing.  In college and in my 20’s, I went through a period of questioning.  Did I really believe everything I had learned from my parents, at church, and at the conservative high school I attended?   But somewhere along the line, I found my way back to my faith.  I decided that I believed in Christ because I wanted to and not because my parents wanted me to.  I fell in love with the Lord all over again.  And my faith grows every day.  It gives me purpose, comfort in hard times, and helps me have peace about eternal life.

May I have this DATE for the rest of my life?

All the former Flourish girls would tell you, along with any of Stephen’s clients, that every Wednesday night is Stephen and Vanessa’s date night. My husband and I have a standing weekly date night on Wednesday’s and have for about five years now.  We have only missed a handful and it is something we look forward to with joy.

About five years ago my husband went on a retreat for Christians in Commerce, an organization he belongs too.  While there, one of the pastors at the event told him that he needed to work on his marriage.  He was shocked to hear this because we both believe our marriage to be one of our biggest blessings in this life, and felt it was rock solid.  This was not a pastor who knew us well either…it was just something he felt moved to tell Stephen. With further reflection and conversation at the retreat, Stephen came away with a couple ideas and much advice from those older and wiser.  Here’s what he told me when he came home from the retreat.

  1. Let’s read The Five Love Languages.  This book by Gary Chapman was recommended to him by several people there at the event.  The same pastor who told Stephen to work on our marriage told him how this book helped him see little ways to love on his wife that spoke volumes to her.  Every morning he now makes her a cup of coffee and sets out a donut for her.  She feels loved when he does this simple act of service.  But they discovered that acts of service like this gesture were important to her or “one of her love languages” by reading this book together.
  2. Let’s have a weekly standing date night.  We did at the time, of course, have the odd date night out.  But several of the men at the event suggested upgrading to a standing date night in a habitual way.  They shared how the ritual of making time for their spouse and making sure they stayed in communication opened new doors of friendship and intimacy.

At first when Stephen shared all this with me, I felt a little defensive.  Our marriage was great I said.  But, then I decided to focus on how loving it was that my husband WANTED to invest even more in our relationship and I agreed to give these two goals a shot.

We read the book and filled out the surveys on our next vacation.  It was amazing to see how both us had the tendency to try and love the other person the way we wanted to be loved…  We were using our preferred love languages, rather than learning the way each of us needed to be loved in turn.  Stephen values acts of service, words of affirmation, and physical touch highly….but he places almost no value on gifts.  I, on the other hand, value words of affirmation, quality time, and gifts.  By growing in this knowledge of one another we grew in understanding on how to better love each other.  I could see that when I bought Stephen a new sweater and he seemed only mildly thankful, he just did not understand the time and love I put into the gift…it wasn’t his love language even though it was mine.  But conversely, I could see that when I rubbed his back or told him how proud I was of him, that those things really helped him feel loved and cherished.  The book ultimately really helped transform our marriage for the better and we reference it all the time to this day.

Date night, too, became a method for continual and purposeful deepening of our marriage. The very first date night Stephen went to great lengths to make it romantic, taking us back to the spot we first met and got married, at Trinity School, and then on to a delicious dinner.  Over time we found that our budget and schedules necessitated easier, less extravagant dates.  But nonetheless, for the better part of five years now, every Wednesday, we go on a date.  (Bless my mom for baby-sitting so religiously).

For several years we almost always went to dinner and a movie.  Now with a nursing baby, we more often only get to dinner.  But the time spent over dinner is the most important anyway.  We turn off our phones.  We connect.  We talk.  We dream together.  Sometimes we cry together.  And once in a while we even argue…the time alone allows us the chance to bring up conflict that may be residing just under the surface.  But it’s the time we need to resolve those issues so it’s just as important as the time spent laughing and loving.

I encourage you to consider a standing date night with your spouse.  Life is busy, and you may not feel you have the time.  But remember your priorities should rank: God, then your marriage, then your children, then your career, and friends.  If you look through your calendar and you are making time for all the other priorities but not your spouse…that’s not a recipe for a strong and fulfilling marriage.  Make the time for him/her.  You won’t regret it!

Here’s a little document of last week’s date night.

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Sorry sweet baby Thieren, Mom & Dad are headed out for date night!

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Ok, it is hard to leave this sweet little face!

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I try and look cute for date night….WHITE JEANS…. if you are a fellow young mom you will know that this is a FEAT not to go unnoticed!  I wound’t dream of wearing these while feeding Thieren baby food, cooking dinner, etc.

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Both kids are with Grandma (Jeje) and we have the beautiful open road in front of us.  We headed up into Michigan last week to Wheatberry in Buchanon.  The drive was just as beautiful as the food was delicious!

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We love getting out of the day to day monotony and cherishing quiet time together.  A beautiful and country drive on the way to dinner, gives you even more chance to unwind, listen to music, hold hands, and chat about life together.

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More of nature’s beauty along the way.

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And, we arrived at our destination: Wheatberry.  Sorry no phones allowed on date night at dinner, so this is the last pic of the evening.  I love this man!

Nursery Reveal

Closing my boutique, has allowed me the opportunity to pursue another one of my passions: interior design.  Unlike running a retail store front, design allows me the flexibility to work some from home and define my own schedule, so that I can spend more quality time with my family.  I can take the baby with me to Lowe’s or a lighting store.  I can swing by to look at samples or a project on my way to pick up my older son at school.  I’m not married to store hours any longer.

Luckily, I’ve been able to jump right in on numerous projects which has made the transition seamless.  Personally, we recently sold our own home, which we bought in 2013 as a flip.  Over the past three years we slowly fixed it all up and sold it just a month ago (whole house reveal with before and afters coming soon!).  And now we are building a new house so I am busy making selections for that project.  Professionally, my family is in real estate so I am doing the design for two flip projects and three spec homes!   I plan to share my design adventures here on the blog and on my new Instagram page: DesignedToFlourish.

Today, I’m excited to reveal our nursery.  Our son, Thieren is named after my paternal grandma Rachel Elizabeth (Thieren) Cooreman.  If you knew Rachel, you knew she loved nature.  She loved to garden, and loved animals like deer, owls, rabbits, etc.  So when I started working on Thieren’s nursery I settled on a Forest Animals theme in honor of his namesake.  I added in some trendy tribal details too.  Colors such as navy, mint, ivory and gold combined with geometric shapes and patterns to complete the look.

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Shop this look: Navy & Ivory Trellis Design Rug  (Similar Here) –  Tee-Pee with Pom Poms  –  Custom Monogram  –  Stuffed Stag  –  Stuffed Fawn  –  Name Pillow  –  Clover Valances

 

This wooded landscape artwork from Hobby Lobby brought together the different metallic colors in the room; including silver, gold, and bronze.  Soft touches like these stuffed animals from Amazon are perfect for a nursery.

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Custom details like monograms and name pillows personalize spaces and don’t have to be expensive when you use a site like I did with Etsy.com!

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When decorating a bookcase, add visual interest by placing books horizontally as well as vertically.  Use vintage or thrift store figurines as bookends too!  These bronze deer were originally black and I hand painted them to better suit the room.  Use a can of spray paint to transform a vintage find from your Grandma’s collection but keep family pieces in your decor.

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These prints tied together the room’s colors of navy, mint and gold.  I found the frames at Hobby Lobby, and they worked perfectly to accent the space between the two windows.

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And of course, a nursery reveal wouldn’t be complete without my little man!  Nothing completes a space quite like the people you LOVE!

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Get Baby’s Outfit from Carter’s (Top on Sale for $10.99!)

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*Meagan Gilbert Photography

How I’m Overcoming PCOS

As you all know one of the reasons I decided to close Flourish is that I recently had a baby. Our 9 month old son is full of baby giggles, smiles, cute little baby chub and a couple of teeth now too!  But, not too long ago I could not have imagined he would ever be here in my arms. Before I got pregnant with Thieren, we had been trying to have another baby for almost 5 years.  My husband and I were starting to have the difficult conversations about what to do if it just never happened for us.  I was beginning to give up hope.  But right around that time, in the summer of 2014: two friends, both within a one week’s time, recommended I see Dr. Uthman Cavallo.  So, in a last attempt to try something new, I looked him up on the internet, called his office, and made my first appointment.

Right away when I arrived at my appointment, I could sense the difference between his practice and other traditional dr. offices.  We met in his office that first appointment, rather than an exam room.  He went over the extensive blood work reports that he had required me to get beforehand.  And he asked me to tell him about my history: my fertility history, my medical history, my weight history, my stress and lifestyle history, etc.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I told him about the struggles I had experienced with my weight since having my first son in 2006 and then even more so since opening my store in 2008.  I said, “I know I have a weight problem”.  At this point he stopped me and he said, “You do not have a weight ‘problem’…. When I look at your blood work and weight charts over the years, I can see someone trying so hard to be healthy and lose weight.  So no you do not have a weight problem.  You have a medical condition called PCOS, and you just don’t know how to keep it in control and eat in a way to keep it in check.  But that’s what I am here for and I will teach you how to manage your PCOS and it should help you feel better, lose weight, and hopefully allow you to conceive”.  When he looked at me and earnestly told me that I didn’t have a weight problem: I broke down in tears.  Every day, especially working in fashion, I felt so much embarrassment and sadness at my weight and size.  I felt hopeful for the first time in a long time, and I felt like someone saw the real me.  He saw the proof of how hard I had tried to lose the weight.  He saw my struggle.  And he might just have the answer to help both my weight and my fertility.

From there, I had to learn what PCOS was.  Essentially, PCOS (Poly-cystic Ovary Syndrome) is an endocrine disorder that creates an imbalance in your hormones.  One in ten women have PCOS and it is the leading cause for infertility in the U.S.   Many traditional doctors will diagnose a women with PCOS after she presents the common symptoms such as irregular periods, and then treat her by putting her on the pill so that her cycles become regular.  However, the pill does not treat the real root of the problem and obviously is counter productive for anyone who wants to get pregnant. Dr. Cavallo treats the whole you and specializes in getting to the root of PCOS.  By taking a class at his office and meeting with their dietician and specialists, I began to understand my PCOS.  A woman with PCOS is insulin resistant.  This means that by no fault of her own, her body does not respond to the insulin she is producing: when she eats sugar or carbohydrates (which are overly prevalent in the American diet), her blood sugar stays elevated much longer than an average person.  She’s producing insulin, but it’s not bringing down her glucose levels like it would in a healthy person.  Prolonged exposure to high sugar in the body produces cysts on the ovaries (and elsewhere in the body too!).  These cysts on the ovaries interrupt the normal production of hormones, causing extra androgens (including the male hormone testosterone) to be released.  With elevated male hormones, and imbalanced female hormones, the following PCOS symptoms can occur:  irregular periods, lack of ovulation, weight gain, depression, acne, hirsutism, tubular breasts, and of course sadly infertility.

When a woman with PCOS regularly consumes sugar, the imbalance can progress and worsen over time, which will lead to more and more weight gain as well as ongoing infertility.   It’s important to note that when I say consume sugar, I’m not saying eating truck loads of cotton candy and milk shakes.  Sugar is everywhere and often in items we may think of as healthy: fruit, whole wheat bread, potatoes, rice, cereal, skim milk, etc.  Much of what women consume while trying to eat “healthy” is actually loaded with carbs.  For a woman with PCOS, counting calories will almost certainly still be unsuccessful, if she is continuing to eat carbs because it is not treating her insulin resistance.  So I learned that all my years of trying to count calories, or points, or portion control were understandably unsuccessful: because while I did that I was still eating things like subway sandwiches, lots of fruit, whole wheat toast, baked potatoes, etc.  The main way to combat PCOS is by eating a low carb diet AND consuming enough healthy fats (coconut oil, avocado, butter, whipping cream, etc).

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PCOS Awareness Infographic (PRNewsFoto/PCOS Challenge, Inc.)

It took me months of learning from Dr. Cavallo’s practice before I finally decided to go cold turkey and limit my carbs to no more than 45-60 per day.  Even my daily green smoothie which I thought was so healthy was loaded with carbs once I did the math.  My morning smoothie alone had 25-30 carbs in it, just because it was loaded with juice,  fruits and spinach.  January of 2015 is when I finally committed to eating this way.  Even that February when I went on a buying trip to Las Vegas, I stayed true to my new diet.  While my mom, who was traveling with me, ate a piece of bread at dinner or drank a french martini: I was eating filet mignon, mashed cauliflower, squash soup, asparagus, salads, etc.   Actually, I felt like I was eating like a queen that trip, ordering a steak almost every night!

As I began to eat according to their plan, which balances out how many grams of carbs, protein, and fat you eat, I began to notice some awesome and almost immediate changes. First the weight began to fall off, my periods came back, daily sugar crashes and cravings were gone, and pain throughout my body disappeared.  But the best result of all came on March 6th….  That night after my husband had gone to sleep I was still awake and noticed what I thought felt like mild period cramping, even though I wasn’t on my period.  I decide to take a pregnancy test (you know just in case).  I can’t tell you how many sticks I had used and thrown away in disappointment….but this time when I looked down I saw TWO LINES.  Yes, I was pregnant!  I did not sleep a wink that night.  My mind was racing and my heart was overspilling with joy.  Nine months later, I gave birth to our sweet and healthy Thieren.  During my pregnancy, I only gained 10 pounds, compared to 60 with my older son.  And after I delivered, in the couple weeks that followed, my weight kept dropping and ended up 15 pounds BELOW where I was when I got pregnant and almost 25 pounds below where I was in January of that year!  So, while pregnant, I managed to lose 25 pounds by the end of the year!

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Dr. Cavallo holding Thieren.  I am so thankful to him and his staff!

After having Thieren, and going through the hard time while I decided what to do with Flourish and navigating major life changes, I fell off the wagon with the diet for a little while here in 2016.  However, I got back to it this summer and am maintaining my weight loss and headed towards more.  However, weight loss is no longer my main goal: my focus is on being healthy and eating in a way that reduces my PCOS symptoms.  I  feel great, and after I finish breastfeeding in a couple months we will be trying for number 3!   I finally have come to peace with my weight and body.  No matter what the scale says, I KNOW inside that every day I work hard to eat healthy, and I know that I am finally taking care of myself.  Plus, this body gave birth to my two amazing sons.  What could be more awesome than that?!

I share all this to help women who might also be struggling with PCOS.  Maybe you’ve been diagnosed and you don’t know any information on how to manage your symptoms.  Maybe this will give you hope that you can fight the symptoms, lose weight, and even get pregnant.  Or, maybe you’re experiencing some of these symptoms or infertility and this is the first time you’ve heard about the disorder, but you relate to this.  Hopefully this will give you a starting point and some encouragement.  Feel free to reach out to me if you want to know more information about my doctor, the diet I followed, meal plans, etc.

Dr. Uthman Cavallo:  http://www.caringforthewholeyou.com/

*I am in no way a doctor, dietician, or expert.  I am simply sharing my own experience.  Please consult your dr. before making any major changes to your diet.

 

 

The “Make It Work” Mom

Having spent the past 8 years working full time outside of the home, I know all too well the feelings of “mom guilt”.  Mom guilt reared it’s head almost daily for me.  I felt it when I packed my son’s lunch with a Luncheable (for the 5th time that week), when I took him to piano lessons without having practiced, when I missed his first day of school every year to attend market, when I was late to his Christmas concert because of work, and so on.  Some days I would hit a burst of energy and I’d feel like I’d finally conquered the mom guilt by checking all the to do’s off our list for the day.  But that feeling of accomplishment was always quick to vanish with new clashing priorities and work just around the corner.

Unfortunately though, my mom guilt was not always just self-imposed.  I felt the judgement externally from many other sources too: teachers, coaches, sometimes family, and most often stay at home moms.  I’d meet someone new and upon asking her if she worked outside the home (and after having told her I owned my own business), she would tell me she stayed at home but then go on to tell me all about the dangers of letting someone else “raise” your children.  She may even share how she and her husband just wouldn’t feel good about ignoring God’s call to motherhood had she worked.  OUCH!  What a slap in the face that always was.  I often wondered…was she just being accidentally insensitive or was she telling me this perhaps out of her own feelings of insufficiency and self doubt?  None the less, I can tell you that the mom guilt for working moms is real and the divide between the working mom and the stay at home mom can be wide, deep, and fairly impassable.

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When I announced to the public that I was deciding to close my store, in an effort to focus on my family, I knew it would unleash a plethora of comments and opinions from both sides of the divide.  And indeed, so many people applauded my decision to give up my career in order to stay at home with my children.  I’d like to set the record straight though. I said I wanted to spend more time with my family, including my parents, and husband.  And, I said I wanted to focus on them and give back to them as they have served me over the years while I pursued my vision for Flourish Boutique, but I did not actually say that I was 100% staying at home.  You see, running Flourish was more than a typical full time job:  I worked at least 60 hours a week, often beyond that into the wee hours of the night, while managing a team of 25 employees, and managing a growing family at home too.  I found I could not do both things well and in the end the cost to my family was to much to bear.  That being said, I enjoy working.  My new plan is not exactly stay at home, and it’s not exactly work from home, and it’s not exactly part time working either.  I will be doing a mix of family management (grocery shopping, cooking, taking care of the children, carpooling, etc), helping my husband in his business from home, blogging, and I am doing the interior design selections for my family’s fix and flip houses and spec homes.  Call me Joanna Gaines 🙂   So, I will be incredibly busy and wearing many hats still.  However, the change here is that my professional efforts will go to further one family business and my personal efforts will help manage our family finances, cooking, organization, etc.  The result should be a more balanced life for our family, all the while still doing my best as a mom AND feeling creatively challenged and fulfilled.

With my store officially closed now, when I run into acquaintances, they often ask me how I am enjoying my “retirement” or “just staying at home with my kids”.  OUCH!  I get it now.  Stay at home moms get the SAME judgement thrown at them, but just in reverse. I had no idea!   Despite my plan to help with my husband’s marketing and design selections, people think I am staying at home now and so I have gotten to experience the reverse judgement.  I often find myself defending my decision or plan, and explaining how I will be helping in the real estate business and new construction design, etc.  But why?!  When did taking care of a teething baby through the night, only to wake up tired and start all over again become “retirement”?!   In my new role, even without regards to the work for my husband’s business, I have jumped right in to throwing my whole self into being the best wife and mom I can be: meal planning, library going, budgeting and more.  I am applying all my talents and skills with just as much gusto and work in this new arena as I ever did at Flourish.

So, from a woman who has been on both sides of the divide, and more accurately lives somewhere in the middle now: I want to suggest a new term.  I’d like you to meet “the make it work mom”.  We are every where and we don’t fit into the cookie-cutter terms of working mom or stay at home mom.  We are both.  You might know her as someone who sells Norwex, Mary Kay, or Rodan & Fields.  You might know her as the mom who also blogs.  You might know her as the mom who makes time for volunteering.  The bottom line though is, many of us moms, don’t fit so perfectly into these divided roles.  And that’s ok: in fact it’s pretty darn awesome that we live in a world where we can be trucking our kids around town and checking our voicemail and inbox in the school parking lot.  We have the freedom to chose how we spend our time, maximize our gifts, and bless our families.  And, for some of you that freedom means that you do fall on one end of the spectrum or another.  And that’s ok too.  Can we, moms, agree to stop the judgement?!  Can we agree to uplift each other instead?!  Can we recognize that each mom is doing her best and each family’s circumstances are different?  Can we agree that lots of mom’s fall in the middle and just make it work?  Can we agree that it’s a blessing to live in a time and in a country where we as women can chose to work full time, part time, from home, or in the home?!  Can we accept that in the course of our lives, moms will often go through various seasons: just as I have transitioned from owning my own business to this new make it work season…   The bottom line is this: motherhood is special but it’s hard too.  And the last thing we need to do is judge each other or imply the other women is making a mistake in how she spends her time.  Give grace and love to your fellow mom: uplift her and tell her she’s a great mom.  And give that same grace and love to your self.  Stop judging your own choices so harshly, stop defending your role, and just be thankful for your freedom and your family.  Make it work for you, and let that be enough.

Make it work mom

 

#dreamjob

In my last post, you may have heard me describe my time owning Flourish as my dreams realized. Being a boutique owner was in fact my dream job.  Ever since I was a little girl, I had this unwavering love for art, beauty, and fashion.  I spent solid days playing barbies with my cousins, lovingly changing out each doll’s outfits over and over.  I published my own magazine at the age of 10, with dedicated “fashion editorials”.  In high school and art, I pursued my artistic side and eventually declared an art major with a focus in fibers (which is as close to a fashion degree Saint Mary’s College offered).  I went on to work in another local boutique, where I finally determined that being a boutique owner was my calling: I was enthralled with the mix of fashion, business, and working with people.  It was a perfect myriad of all my skills and passions.  And from there, I spent the next years of my life dreaming and longing for the day that I could open my own store.  That’s when I began calling owning my own boutique, my #dreamjob.

You are most likely familiar with that term, “dream job”.  And even more likely you are familiar with their ever present friends; “dream guy”, “dream house”, “dream body”, “dream vacation” and so on.  These terms are upheld in our culture and even daily conversations with a silent common understanding: everyone should have a clear picture or blueprint of their dream _____  and go after it with reckless abandon until at long last you have achieved and conquered it.  Those of us who are lucky enough to have staked claim to our dream ______(you fill in the blank) are esteemed by others.  We uphold, pin , and aspire to phrases like “She believed she could, so she did” or “dream big” and so on.  Undoubtedly, many of you reading this looked at me and my work at Flourish and thought something like, “there’s someone who went after her dreams”…. And, over the years, many people came to me and shared how inspired they were by my pursuit of my dream career.

I, myself, put so much stock in achievement and pursuit of my “dream job.”   Once I opened the doors to my “dream boutique” though, I raised the bar on that definition.  It had to be bigger, better, more well known, and more successful.  If we had 10,000 fans on Facebook, let’s set out sights on 100,000 fans.  If we had a 1,600 square foot store let’s go for a 3,600 square foot store.  My “dream job” became a proverbial carrot out in front of me…always one step ahead, beckoning me on to try for more success.  Along the way, I married my “dream guy” and bought my “dream house”.  In all honestly, I’ve spent the better part of the last 15 years, going after all my “dreams”.

Now let me pause for a moment and pre-empt your concern: there is nothing wrong with espousing to excellence.  And, in fact, I think it is a high calling to look for beauty and excellence in everything and then work to improve the world around you.  Further, I want to clarify that goals are important.  Goals like, “I want to find a worthy career” or “I want to marry a man of character” are critical to your well being and your ability to function both in this world and to become a contributing member of God’s kingdom.  That being said, I think there is a real and present danger in the the common place terms “dream job”, “dream house”, “dream guy” and so on.

The word dream attached to all these important parts of our lives is what is dangerous.  A dream is “other wordly”. It’s ethereal and allusive.  A dream is a creation inside your mind that does not necessarily exist.  So when we are young and formative and we start to affix the word dream in front of our future spouse, job, home, car, body, or vacation, we open ourselves up to danger.  These dangers include the pressure of achieving unrealistic expectations, the disappointment that failure to do so creates, and most importantly an isolation from God’s plans for our lives.

Having unrealistic expectations for a dream guy, dream house, dream job, etc is detrimental.  It creates an environment of pressure to perform.  For me, my drive to achieve my “dream job” in becoming a boutique owner accelerated my steps and actions.  Before I opened Flourish, my wise dad said to me, “I think you could do anything you set your mind to and specifically I think you would be a great boutique owner.  However, I think there is wisdom in waiting a while so that you can have a family, and then start when your kids are older and in school.”  However, the ever present concept “dream job” was floating around inside my mind, creating an unhealthy urgency in my decisions.  I felt that I would not be “complete” or “satisfied” until I started my store.  My dad’s wisdom fell on deaf ears, because I didn’t have the patience to let my story unfold in God’s timing and instead I was obsessed with achieving my dreams as fast as I could.  In fact, you could even say, “I believed I could, so I did”.  But as I found, once I started…the term dream job or in my case “dream store” alluded me.  The actual opening of my store didn’t quench my thirst.  I would find myself thinking, “If we just carried this line, the store would be perfect.  Or, if we were featured in a major magazine then we really would have arrived.  Or, if I redid the displays tonight even if it takes all night then the store would be perfect.”  I was never satisfied or filled up.  The pressure to achieve that dream was self inflicted but it was a contest I couldn’t ever win.

When those same unrealistic expectations are applied to your “dream guy”, the stakes are even higher.  When we predetermine that our dream guy makes a certain amount of money, looks a certain way, lives in a certain city, wants the same amount of kids, etc: we apply these etherial and unrealistic mixture of qualities to our potential mates.  If you’re lucky enough to find someone who measures up, what happens though once the honeymoon phase wears off, and a character trait is revealed that isn’t part of your “dream guy’s” resume? Or worse, what happens if something happens that changes him?  What happens when he gets in an accident and his dream face is altered?  How do you react then when he loses his job, and his dream salary isn’t coming in?  Does he still fit the mould of your dream husband when he sits broken on your couch crying, or if he gains weight, loses his hair, or falls short in some other area?  This same line of thinking can be applied to the other allusive milestones too.  What happens when you can’t actually afford that “dream house”?  Well, for many of us it means we buy it anyway and go into debt.  What happens when we can’t find that dream job?  Perhaps, we take the next best position, but sulk and resent our boss every waking minute.

Disappointment is that next danger.  When the dreams give way to reality or if we never even find that dream job/guy/house, we are left in the wake of disappointment.  That may look different for various people.  Some may feel like nothing is ever good enough and they keep working harder and harder to be good enough, some may give up and harbor resentment, and some may decide to keep looking and keep searching for their ideal dream.  It makes sense that all around me I see Millenials either not getting married at all (no one measures up right?), choosing divorce (dream guy was not as advertised),  job jumping (this current job is not my dream job and definitely does not have my dream salary), or working out to the point of obsession (dream body from Pinterest is only a few planks away).

But, more dangerous than all the above is the consequent isolation from God that many of us experience because of the emphasis on our dream plans.   While we are busy dreaming, plotting, and pursuing our perfect ideals, we miss out on what God has for us.  God designed us to prosper and flourish, but I don’t think he defines that prosperity as we so often do.  The bible says,

“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:13-15)

When we become single minded in pursuing specific dreams, we don’t leave room for the plans God has for us.  My favorite passage (Jeremiah 29:11) also says;

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord”

Note that it does not say, “For you know the plans you have for yourself”.  And yet, this is how I was living my life.  Before Pinterest even existed, I had imaginary wish list boards in my heart all filled up with my ideas for my dream store, my dream house, my dream kids and so on.   None of that has panned out as I had planned.  Not one darn thing.  My dream store that I worked so hard to build, is at this very moment, being unassembled and piece by piece sold off.  And, my dream house is about to be put on the market too: it’s too much house and too much debt for us and I’m ready for a change across the board.  My dream husband, who I absolutely adore, is an imperfect person. Sometimes he hurts my feelings and (insert gasp) we argue to the point of tears at times. My dream kids (who again I adore) get sick, don’t want to wear the clothes I try to dress them in, throw tantrums in front of other people, and I quickly learned have their own ideas and don’t like to conform to “dream plans”.  My dream body….don’t even get me started there, lol.

One by one, I have laid down every dream.  But here’s the thing.  I have never been happier.  I didn’t lay down my dreams out of defeat… I laid them down for His plans instead of my own.  Maybe it’s being almost 35 and getting a little life experience under my belt, but I began to realize that all these dream ideals were exhausting me.  I didn’t measure up across the board.  And, I never really achieved any of them.  From the outside looking in, it may looked like I did.  But, behind the scenes I was struggling to keep it all going.  I bought my dream house but then was too busy to decorate it or have anyone over.  I had my dream job but at the expense of enjoying life with my family.  And so on.  I began to realize that if God knows the plans he has for me, maybe I should look to Him instead of myself.  And, as I have started to defer to His will instead of my own, I have found so much joy and so much freedom.

Go through your list.  Cross out the word dream, and insert the word “God’s”.  I want “God’s house for me”, “God’s husband for me”, “God’s career for me”, “God’s healthy body for me”.  And then just watch the pressure and strife melt away.  Remember, God wants good for us, so you don’t need to be afraid either.  In time and as you shift your pursuit from running after ideals to running after His will, he will reveal all his plans for you in the right way and in the right time.  Trust in Him, and worry more about what you can do for His kingdom, and how you can serve Him: and the joy and fulfillment will so outshine your old dreams.  Plus, remember dreams are short…they become fuzzy once in the light….they allude us.  God’s plans are real and present, they work for your good, and He knows us better than we know ourselves.  So stop dreaming, and start living.  Stop pursuing perfection, and find rest in His guidance.  Stop trying to control your job, your spouse, your kids, your health, your wealth…and instead give thanks and let the Lord sit in the driver’s seat.

She believed

My version of this beloved phrase

 

 

What does God’s voice sound like?

As many of you know, two weeks ago I made the bittersweet announcement that I was choosing to close my successful business, Flourish Boutique.  In the statement I released, I mentioned how I felt the Lord was calling me on to a different path.  While He called me to open the store, He also called me to close it eight years later.  That announcement post on Facebook went viral, and I received countless calls, emails, comments, and messages from all of you.  The level of love and support we received following our announcement was completely unexpected and touched our family more than you can imagine.  One common theme to the feedback we received both online and in person, was the appreciation for my willingness to openly recognize that my decisions were faith based and my decision to share my testimony publicly.

More specifically, I have had many people ask how I knew what God’s call was or what His voice sounded like.  What a great question.  It makes sense that so many people wondered this…I mean if God’s voice was as easy to hear as a song on the radio or a voicemail in our inbox we would all be leading the most fulfilling and directed lives imaginable, right?!  Of course though, it’s not that easy or distinct and it was a long and painful process for me to determine that closing Flourish was indeed God’s call for me.

Owning Flourish Boutique, was my lifelong dream realized.  It was never about making a lot of money, working a nine to five job, or even the glitz and glamour of pursuing a career in fashion.  As an artist, Flourish was my masterpiece.  The inspiration bubbled up from within, the call to share my ideas with the world felt pressing, and everything from the light fixtures to the clothes we carried were a form of self expression.  The love, time, and energy that went into developing everything from the mission statement, the team of women that worked at Flourish, each season’s collection, the music we played, the displays, the marketing, etc came from deep within me.  And, to say I worked tirelessly to build Flourish is an understatement.  It was the baby I stayed up nights with, my masterpiece that I toiled with, and my God given vocation to pursue.  So about a year ago, when I started to feel and see God’s pull in a new direction, I did not easily acquiesce.

How did I hear God’s voice then, especially when He was not saying what I was expecting to hear?  God’s voice is not one dimensional.  It is not a voice like ours.  God’s voice is a current, which tugs and pulls your life in a direction.  It manifests itself in various ways:  for me it was the opening and closing of doors, major life events, reoccurring themes in songs and Church sermons, threads of conversations with friends and family, and eventually a deep “knowing” inside my soul.   When we don’t necessarily want to recognize that voice or further to obey it, our instinct can be to fight the current.  As a business owner who scrapped and fought to make my boutique survive the recession and prosper thereafter, my instincts to protect my store were strong.  For over a year, I swam against the current: determined I could do it all and determined to stay “true” to my original plans. But that’s the thing about currents: they’re strong and attempts to fight them eventually leave you tired and in danger.  God knows the plans he has for us…plans to prosper us and to give us a future, the bible says.  For me, letting go, and swimming with the current meant putting all my faith in Him and His knowledge for my future.

Gods voice

So many people “congratulated” me as they heard my announcement.  And, don’t worry, if that was you, I’m not upset or hurt by your words.  But, I definitely found it ironic.  Yes, my store was a very successful venture for many years.  Yes, I made a choice to close my store to better fulfill my role as wife and mother in this season in my life.  Yes, spending more time with my loved ones will bring me great joy.  And to some degree, yes, I am looking forward to having some time off from the massive responsibility of being a business owner (especially at the large scale we ran Flourish at).  But, the truth is: I made that decision out of an act of obedience to Christ.  There is real, deep sadness present in my heart right now too, even as I joyfully look forward to a summer spent with my boys.  This was not a course change I planned on or wanted.  This was something God designed for me and I put aside my will and said, “Yes, I will follow you Lord”.

So, when you feel the current in your life change and you realize all the sudden you are fighting to make any progress forward…ask yourself: “Is God’s voice redirecting me?  Am I struggling right now because I’m not meant to swim in this direction?”   If you realize you are in the current of His voice then stop, listen, and watch.  Are doors closing on you that used to stand open?  At Flourish, for me that looked like changes in social media that made it hard to reach my customers.  It meant my best selling model basically going radio silent and not returning phone calls or texts.  It meant long time employees who were ready to move on with their careers.  And then evaluate: are new doors opening?  For me that meant that my husband’s business was growing so much it made it hard for us to pursue two small businesses.  And, where I used to hate domestic work, I found myself finding surprising joy in things like grocery store trips and making home cooked meals.  Further, are you currently experiencing major life changes that make your prior plans challenging?  Are you swimming upstream against major changes.  In my situation, I had a new baby and trying to be a new mom again while still working the insane amount of hours I was used to working, to make Flourish prosper, was near impossible.  My work habits and needs greatly conflicted and even threatened the kind of mom I wanted to be.  So ask yourself: is what I am doing, threatening my character?  Are major changes in life making my old way of life difficult?  And lastly, look for common threads and themes in everything from conversations to songs you hear.  God’s voice and it’s current will find its way into almost every aspect if you are listening.  For me, I found myself listening to the song  Trust in You, by Lauren Daigle, which references “letting go of every single dream” and “Lord, I want what you want and nothing less”.  And then I found myself watching a video featuring a testimony by Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper, which details how she walked away from her first version of Magnolia Market to follow the Lord’s call to spend more time at home raising her children while they were little.

These reoccurring themes, eventually became a deafening roar around me.  And as I continued to fight the current of the Lord’s voice, the current grew stronger and louder, leaving me more and more exhausted.  As I finally relented and opened myself up to what God was saying to me, I found rest and peace even in spite of the coinciding sadness.   He picked me up, tired and barely submissive, and I found myself carried in the current of His Love.  No longer struggling, no longer fighting, I let go and let God.   I still don’t see the exact reasons WHY He changed my course, but I DO feel and recognize the peace that only His path provides again.  I know I’m back in sync with His voice and will finally.  And there is no better place to be.

So I encourage you: listen for God’s voice in your life.  Watch for the change in current, the opening and closing doors, the changes in life that inherently point you in a new direction, the reoccurring themes, and the deep knowledge of what is right inside your heart.  And I promise you that if you stop fighting against the current of His will, even if you are fighting for something that seems good and used to be right, you will find the rest and peace that only He can provide.  The leap of faith is hard, but the price you pay if you keep fighting is high.