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5 Tips for Setting Realistic Goals

tips on setting goals

Yesterday I wrote about why I think setting goals is a healthy thing. I do realize that some people don't like goals because they make them feel overwhelmed, too pressured, or a failure. Setting achievable and realistic goals can be a tricky thing, but with the few tips below, you'll be well on your way! I am in no way a master goal maker, but I've developed some ways to make sure my goals don't overwhelm or discourage me.

Think about goals for each role that you play in life
When I wrote my post on fall goals, you may have noticed that I had a goal for each area of my life- I had a goal for my job, a goal for my personal/social life, a goal for my blog, and a goal for my church life. Thinking of my life in certain categories- nurse, wife, friend etc. actually helps me set specific goals for each of those roles I play. That's not to say that each role I have has a certain goal, but by thinking of goals in these terms, I'm able to come up with a balanced range of goals.

Make your goals realistic
I think a lot of times the reasons goals or resolutions fail is that they're not very realistic. Your resolution is to workout 6 days a week at 6am when you haven't been working out at all? Please let me know how that's going in February. If your goal was to work out 2 days a week at 6am and then gradually increase, then you're probably going to have lot better results and your goal will be much more sustainable.

Goals are there to motivate us, but sometimes we need to keep our lofty ideas under control a little better. Starting slowly and building up to your final goal is usually a lot more effective and productive. If you feel like a goal you have is maybe too lofty, take it down a notch- you'll be more likely to achieve it, and if you supersede it-great! I always try to have my goals on the lower side of realistic- a number or measure that will still motivate me, but that won't be so unattainable that I get discouraged. If you're not sure if your goals are realistic, run them by someone- your friend, your spouse, your mom- and see what they think. Sometimes a little outside perspective is needed to develop some realistic achievable goals.

Make your goals measurable 
Creating measurable goals is the vital component in making your goals achievable and realistic. It can be hard to make a goal measurable, but it can be done. For example, if you are looking to grow your blog, maybe instead of just saying "grow your blog", put a specific number on it. For me, that meant giving myself a specific goal of how many times to post in a week. For you that may be participating in a certain amount of linkups, sponsorships etc. Whatever the goal is, make it measurable by adding a number, time frame, or something else that can help you see more concrete progress to your goal.

Be accountable to someone
Finding someone to hold you accountable to your goals is key to succeeding. For me, my accountability partner has been you, the blog world. That may seem silly to many because I know none of you are going to come hunt me down if I don't finish all my goals, but at the same time knowing that people are reading my goals and the outcome of those goals is enough accountability to keep me motivated.

Maybe you need an in-person accountability partner. Grab a friend and suggest that you make some goals together (not the same goals, you just each make your own goals and hold each other accountable to them); share your goals with your spouse and see if they'll hold you accountable. Find someone to report to- it will increase your motivation ten fold.

Give yourself a measure of grace
In all goal setting there is much to be said about giving yourself a measure of grace. No matter how hard you try to set realistic and achievable goals, sometimes they just won't happen. And that's okay. Goals that are unfinished can always be goals for the next season or next year. It's not a failure, it's just something to be continued.

Out of my five goals this past fall, I really didn't accomplish two of them. That means I barely accomplished half of my original goals, but I was okay with that. The three goals I did accomplish had kept me really busy and I felt good about what I had accomplished. By focusing on what I did achieve instead of on what I didn't achieve, I was able to be okay with not accomplishing two of my five goals.Those two goals I didn't finish are rolling into my goals for winter of 2015 and I'm perfectly okay with that.

Focus on the goals you do accomplish rather than the ones that you didn't, and remember that it's okay if they're not all done in the time frame you wanted them done. Life happens, give yourself enough grace to be okay with that.

What are some ways that you make realistic, achievable goals for yourself?  
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Why Setting Goals is Healthy

I don't know about you, but I've always been a goal setter and a lover of New Year's resolutions. I love the fresh start that a New Year brings, and I've always been a goal minded person. 

In college, my time, accomplishments, and goals were marked by semesters and summer break. Now that I'm a working adult without the structure of a school year, I've discovered that it's all too easy to let life slip by without me knowing where it went. I've had to learn to set goals that don't revolve around grades and school work, but still give me purpose to my days. 

How many of you hear your parents or other older adults say something along the lines of "I don't know where the time goes"? I think part of this is that life does go quicker than we ever expect, but I also feel like maybe less of us would say this if we lived our days with more intentionality and purpose. There are a lot of ways to do this, but I have found that setting realistic, achievable goals help me to live intentionally and I find myself saying "where has the time gone" a lot less. 

This week, a lot of people are reflecting on their goals and personal challenges for 2015 so I thought I would start of the week by discussing why I think goals are healthy. Later in the week I'll be sharing how to create realistic and achievable goals, as well as share my New Year's resolutions and my goals for winter 2015. 

First, let's look at why goals can be healthy. 

Goals provide focus and structure
In a world that's filled with dinging notifications, ten million people wanting our attention, and obligations coming out of our ears, goals serve to keep us focused. By having a few set things we have chosen to strive for, we decrease the likelihood of spending time on things that are unnecessary. We are able to better discern which obligations are important to us and which aren't. Having four or five goals in mind will help structure your days and time, allowing you to live life with more focus. I shared my goals this past fall, and I will tell you that having five themes to my season helped provide a much needed focus. 

Goals can quiet your life 
Many think that by adding goals they're simply adding something else to check off on their to-do list. I would argue the exact opposite. With a few achievable goals you attain focus of what's really important and then it becomes easier to set priorities and bow out of obligations that aren't in line with your goals for that season. Does everything you do have to be goal oriented? Definitely not. But I do believe that setting goals helps you prioritize things in your life, ultimately leading to a life of less stress. I am becoming increasingly passionate about finding a balance in life and learning not to be busy. Prioritizing my obligations based off of my goals helps me be and feel less busy, helping me find a better balance in life.

Goals can provide a sense of accomplishment
Ever since graduating nursing school, there have been few things that have left me feeling accomplished. When I was in college I got great satisfaction from finishing a paper and getting a good grade or finishing a clinical rotation. Now that I'm working, it seems like the chances to "complete" something and feel accomplished are few and far between. Setting goals and achieving them help me feel accomplished and add purpose to my days. 

Goals create effectiveness
I believe that adding structure (accompanied by a measure of grace of course) to one's life, can actually increase your effectiveness. By implementing a general framework (your goals) to your days,  your days and time off will be spent with a purpose. I don't know about you, but I've certainly had weeks and months of my life that I don't know what I did or where the time went. Of course, life was happening (as it always will), but the lack of structure made me feel like I hadn't done anything. By adding a few measurable and attainable goals, I find myself being more effective and efficient in all areas of life. I'm also able to look back at that season of life and know that I lived it with purpose. 


All of that being said about goals, I do understand the need for downtime. A life that's too structured can create stress in the same step that an unstructured life can. But sometimes in this culture of "go go go", the idea of some downtime is often forgotten and not even valued. If you're a busy mom or busy working professional, maybe scheduling down time for yourself is exactly what you need to do. Making downtime a goal is perfectly realistic and a healthy idea. 

The trick of it all is finding a balance between too much structure and too little structure. Goal setting can be tricky so read my tips on setting achievable, realistic goals that will help you feel less stressed and more accomplished.

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Five Goals for Fall: A Recap

accomplishing your goals

Back in October, I wrote a post discussing my five goals for fall. With Christmas less than a week away (how did that even happen?) I decided it was no longer fall anymore and it was time to examine how I did with my goals. 

1. Start working on our wedding scrapbook. 
I bought materials from Hobby Lobby. They now sit in the corner waiting to be used. Does that count? I'm hoping with winter upon us I'll be spending more time inside, thus spending more time on actually working on the scrapbook. 

2. Increase the posting frequency on my blog to 2-3 times a week. 
I actually did pretty good with this one and was consistent with twice a week posting except for maybe one week. For all of you who post every day- I don't know how you do it! I'm working on getting my consistency up and hopefully posting closer to 3-4 times a week in the new year. I did find that by posting more often I actually came up with more post ideas instead of less making it a lot easier! 

3. Get involved in one way at church. 
So basically, didn't happen. Not for lack of trying, however. We did email our church and never heard back from them so we're going to shoot them another email in the New Year and see where we can help out! 

4. Be intentional about making connections and creating community. 
It's funny- once I posted this goal, I had a few friends from work reach out to me to see about hanging out. Throughout the course of the past couple of months I've enjoyed a couple movies with a new friend and a walk with another. The outings and new friendships developed were a huge blessing to me this fall and have made our most recent move a lot easier! 

5. Get ACLS and PALS certified. 
If you don't remember from my original post, these were goals related to work and something I'd wanted to do. I took both classes the week before Thanksgiving and spent a few weeks up to then studying! It was a long week full of exams and testing scenarios, but now I'm officially certified to save you and your child's life so there's that. 


I must admit, between hanging out with new friends, studying for my certifications, and blogging more frequently, I had a lot less time this fall! But I can't even tell you how good having goals was for me. 

I'm a goals person and always thrived on the structure that came with school- semesters and seasons were my jam and made me tick. Now graduated, it's been easy to let seasons slip away, yet hard to find a purpose for this current life stage. All this to say- creating seasonal goals is a good idea for me... be on the lookout for my goals in the new year! 

Did you set goals for the fall? How did they go? Are you a goals person or would you rather just take life as it comes? 
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A Balanced Life: I'm not busy

I wrote last week on how I've spent the past year developing a work-life balance . I know that sometimes work isn't the problem; sometimes life is the problem and it's hard to find balance between spouses, kids, church involvement, volunteer work, and our relationship with God. 

A few weeks ago, DJs on a radio station I listen to were talking about this idea of busyness and one of the DJs mentioned part of this quote by Eugene Peterson: 
"I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself - and to all who will notice - that I am important... busyness is the enemy of spirituality... It's filling our time with our own actions instead of paying attention to God's actions." 
It's a long quote. Read it twice if you have to. Every word in the first part describes my heart. Every word in the second part strikes me with conviction. 

I was the girl in high school and college who had a planner jam packed with activities, tests, and meetings. Part of it was that I had a lot of assignments to keep track of and I was involved in {probably too many} sports and organizations. But a very large part of the jam packed planner was that I loved love being busy and I seem to thrive during the times where I am constantly going 24/7. I used to love it when people looked at my planner and made a comment like, "Wow, you're so busy; how do you do it all?" I didn't realize it then but I was addicted to busyness 

Then comes October 2013. I'm graduated from college, moved to a new city, working full-time, and married all within the span of a few months. All of a sudden I'm busy learning how to be a nurse and learning how to be a wife, but my schedule looks empty. 

I remember having coffee with a friend and confiding in her that I felt terrible that I wasn't doing more in church or in volunteer activities. She replied with, "Sarah, it's okay that right now your marriage is your ministry. Your job is your ministry." At first, I wasn't okay with her answer. But the more I let it sit, the more I realized she was right. 

I had become so addicted to doing this for church, being involved with this organization, participating in this fundraiser, that now I felt bad for not doing any of the above. But did I feel bad for the church or the people impacted by the organization? Nope, I felt bad for myself. I felt useless, selfish, and like I should be doing more. My friend's words were profound and caused me to realize that my need for busyness was a pitfall in my own heart. Instead of taking the transition period to really pour into my relationship with God, my new husband, and my new coworkers, I let guilt tell me that I was worthless. I forgot that my worth is in Jesus, and not in the things I do. In that moment, I didn't realize that the job and marriage set before me were the tasks requiring day-to-day faithfulness.   

Now, what I'm not getting at is that you shouldn't be involved in your church or different volunteering avenues. In fact, just the opposite. I think involvement in church and places that focus your eyes on someone else are so important. But involvement in these things must come from the right heart and at the right time. I've learned the hard way that being busy is another way to mask insecurity, and busyness can so quickly draw you away from what the Lord has for you. Below are the three strategies I've implemented over the six months to make sure that I am not being busy just to be busy or feel valued. 

Learn to say no. I'm preaching to myself here because I'm terrible at saying no (this is very connected to the fact that I want to please everyone). However, there have been a couple occasions in the past six months where I was presented with an opportunity that I felt like I should have said yes to, but was able to see that it wasn't good timing and therefore declined the offers. 

When contemplating saying yes or no to an opportunity, pray about the timing of it. The Lord may not be saying "no"; instead he may be saying "not yet". 

Develop a "rule of life". Perhaps the book that has influenced my life the most over the past six months is God in My Everything by Ken Shigematsu. It was our church's read over the summer and an absolute fantastic book that I would recommend to everyone. The author's basic premise examines the life of the Benedictine monks and their so called "rule of life"- a series of practices (daily, weekly,  monthly, or yearly) that provide structure in their spiritual and every day lives. Shigematsu explains how developing certain practices in our life will actually help ground us spiritually and keep us focused on what's important. 

After reading the book, I started thinking about certain rituals that I could and should implement my life to give it a good order. Things like running on my days off, reading Sarah Young's "Jesus Calling", and prioritizing date nights with my husband are "practices" that have really helped me settle into life over the past few months. 

There is so much more that I want to share about this book and this idea that it's hard to sum it up here. Basically, what are some practices that you practice daily, weekly, and monthly that form the framework to your life? These should be rituals that are life giving, reenergizing, and important to you. That way, if you start finding that you no longer have time for these rituals, then maybe that's your clue that you are too busy with other things. 

Pick up a copy of that book and look out for more posts to come on this idea! 

Learn to be okay with not being "busy". How many of us when asked how life is going respond with something, "Oh good, just really busy!" I know I have (and still do). If you ask someone how they're doing and they responded "Oh good, just hanging out" would your initial reaction be a negative one? I think it's a major cultural shift (in Christian and secular worlds alike) to accept that not being busy is okay. Not being busy is not laziness, it's simply prioritizing what's important and paying more attention to God's work than your own. We (I) need to learn to be okay with not being busy. I need to remember that the pressing feeling of guilt that comes with a seemingly wide open schedule is not from God. Instead, I need to focus on God's work instead of creating my own. 

I need to stop finding value in a packed schedule, and take a few steps back to listen to what God is telling me is important at this moment in time. I have a long ways to go in this department but slowly, I'm learning. 

Have you struggled with being busy all the time? 
What are ways you keep a balance in life? 
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On A Budget: Saving on Groceries

how to save money on groceries

One of the biggest budget killers in any household is the category of groceries. We all have to eat, and who doesn't like to eat good food?? With some practice, Alex and I have learned to get a handle of this category. Below are the ways we keep our grocery bill down. Grocery prices can vary drastically depending on region, but using the basic principles I've described below, you'll be able to save a lot of money regardless of where you're located. 

1. Have a plan 
This is probably the most crucial step in saving money on groceries. Planning a weekly menu will help you be organized-you know what ingredients you need and already have, and you can use some of the same ingredients in multiple recipes. All of these things will save you major bucks. I started planning weekly menus and now I'm up to planning for the whole month (more on that in January!) Start small- plan one or two meals a week and then gradually increase from there. 

2. Shop less 
Having a plan means that you won't be going to the grocery store multiple times a week. The less time you spend in a grocery store means you'll spend less money because there's less of a chance of impulse purchases. We go to the grocery store once a week maximum and that's only if I forgot to pick up a critical ingredient that I can't substitute. 

By having a grocery list when I do go to the store and not going additional times beyond that, our grocery bill stays low. 

3. Shop sales
While making a menu plan for the week, I sit down with my grocery store's ads and try to plan at least a couple of my dishes around what's on sale. The sales I especially pay attention to are the sales on veggies and meat since these are the most expensive (and important!) parts of our grocery list. If something calls for an ingredient that's expensive and not on sale, I'll often substitute the ingredient (i.e. green peppers for red pepper) or, if possible, leave it out all together!

3. Be okay with repetition 
We have a really good dinner menu and I try a new recipe at least twice a month. However, breakfast and lunch stays pretty standard for us. Breakfast consists of cereal, toast, or fruit (maybe an egg if we have time), and lunch is almost always sandwiches or dinner leftovers. Alex and I are okay with the repetition and that keeps our costs low. We're not spending boku bucks on frozen entrees for lunch or different kinds of cereal, pancakes, fruit, frozen waffles etc. 

4. Get creative 
One end of the spectrum is being okay with repetition but the other end of the spectrum calls for some creativity when designing your meal plan. I know a lot of families that have a couple of meatless meals a week to help cut down on the meat cost. The hubby likes meat a lot so we only do meatless meals a couple nights a month. However, we save on meat by using cheaper meats that you wouldn't ordinarily think to use. For example, we use pepperoni in a couple dishes a month- it's cheap but still fulfills the protein need that Alex has. :) Turkey bacon or deli cuts of lunch meat find their way into mac n cheese or chef salad. I'll substitute ground turkey for ground beef in a lot of dishes because it's healthier and cheaper. 

Creatively substituting proteins or going meatless can significantly bring your grocery bill down. 

4. Buy less junk 
You will {almost} never find our house with soda, frozen snacks, candy, or other prepackaged items (think cookies, chex mix etc.) We do buy a couple bags of chips a month but only pull those out for the Broncos game. We try to have healthier snacks around like yogurt, nuts, and cheese sticks. Pre-packaged stuff is expensive and we'd rather just not have the temptation around. 

By skipping a lot of the prepackaged snacks we're healthier and we keep our grocery bill down. If you think you or your family will have trouble cutting out some of their guilty pleasures, start slowly. Don't buy soda for a couple weeks, then the next couple weeks don't buy soda or cookies- so on and so forth. Gradually breaking yourself in is the way to do it- soon you won't miss those items and when you do get them it is a true splurge! 

How do you save on groceries? 
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Monthly Date Challenge: Dancing Gone Wrong

cowboy boots for a date night at a country club

A few months ago, Alex and I initiated a monthly date challenge to motivate ourselves to get out of the house and go on different dates. The general idea is that we each plan a date for each month, that way we're having at least two monthly date nights (which is more than we used to!) 

November was Alex's birthday so I landed up not planning a separate date because I was so focused on all of the birthday festivities. Alex was on top of it and managed to plan a fun one for us. Read more below to find out about our dancing gone wrong and to see some pictures of my guy's birthday! 

Alex's Date 

There is nothing that I love more than walking through our front door and being greeted by my man saying, "Hey are you okay if we do something a little different tonight?" This little "something different" included me not having to cook dinner so of course I was game. 

We hopped in the car and drove to our favorite gourmet Italian place... Noodles & Co. It's actually not our favorite Italian place but Alex got a coupon for a free entree for his birthday month so that night it was our favorite. 

Then we made a pit stop at one of our favorite stores Goodwill. 

date night at Goodwill thrift store

Now, lest you think my man is cheap and doesn't plan good dates, I'm pretty sure Goodwill was not part of the original date. But. It happened to be right across the street from Noodles & Co. and we hadn't stopped by since we'd moved so thought we'd wander around inside so that the country club we were going to later would have a chance to get wild (more on that later). 

We actually do love thrifting and have gotten some pretty cool stuff from it, but this Goodwill was slightly ridiculous. There was a strand of (used) Christmas lights that was $15... we plugged it in and it didn't even work. Need I say more? 

We headed to this new country club that we'd heard about from a friend. After going, leaving to find an ATM because they only took cash (really, who does that?), and then going back, we entered a very large and empty country club. 

Alex and I LOVE country dancing, it's one of our favorite things to do and we had both been excited to try this place. We were ready to dance the night away! 

cowboy boots for date night at country club
(like our boots? yeah, me too)

We picked a perch on the side of the dance floor and immediately noticed that they were playing some really weird music. We had seen on the website that the night's theme was west coast swing and two step (not paying more attention to the "west coast swing" part was our first mistake). The music they were playing must have been considered "west coast swing" music. All we knew was that the five people that were dancing were definitely doing some step that we had no idea how to do. 

We decided to be patient and wait until after 9pm. After all, it was a random Thursday night and we figured the music would get better. It didn't. 

There was a continuous mix of weird oldies and hip hop. Did you know you could country dance to hip hop? Yeah, neither did I. But apparently you can, as was proven by the 60 year old couple that was somehow country dancing to Usher. 

Alex and I got out for a couple of dances to the two country songs they played, but for the most part this is how we felt about the night: 

funny face

 And this is the most fun I had that evening:

funny selfie with my husband

(One of my absolute favorite things to do is taking selfies of us while Alex isn't looking. I've thought about doing an entire blog post of these kinds of pictures. He's less than a fan).

We left the club after about an hour and decided that we need to go back on a normal night to try it again. It wasn't a date fail by any means because we had fun and spent time together, but it certainly was dancing gone wrong. 

Sarah's Date / Alex's Birthday Celebration 

I will admit I slacked on the date planning department in preparation for the big guy's birthday. We celebrated his birthday a weekend early because I was set to work the actual weekend of his birthday. 

The first weekend we celebrated an early birthday for both my husband and his mom whose birthday is three days before Alex's. We went out to eat at this Brazilian place (so.good.) and then opened presents at my in-laws house. 

tucanos brazilian grill allen bike rack dinner picture

For his birthday, I got Alex a bike rack for his car... something he's been wanting for forever. Despite it being winter and not being able to use it much right now, he was still pretty excited.

The weekend of his birthday I had Saturday off and was supposed to work Sunday (his actual birthday). Saturday we went to a little festival in the town we just moved from. They light a giant star in the middle of the town and there's always lots of free food and music. We enjoyed walking around our old town, enjoyed seeing the star lit, and then had pizza with friends after.

That Sunday night I had requested to be called off if they had an extra nurse at work. So after a terrible night's sleep (I was scared I would miss the call), they called me at 5:20 AM on my husband's birthday and made my dreams come true. I was so thankful I didn't have to go into work on his birthday!

That Sunday his family came up to Denver and we watched the new Hunger Games movie (intense for sure), then went to dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory (which probably actually is our favorite Italian place... anyone else ever been to one??) All in all, it was a fun month filled with birthdays, yummy Thanksgiving dinners, and dates to laugh about.

the old spaghetti factory castle rock star lighting

How was your month?? Any fun dates? Anyone like country dancing besides us?
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Developing a Work-Life Balance

As I have transitioned into the work phase of my life, I have had to adjust to a number of things, the main thing being a developing a work-life balance. When one starts into the work force we are often prepared to work the long hours, go the extra mile, and take all the grunt tasks to “get ahead”. In trying to get ahead, I’m afraid many of us struggle with finding a work-life balance. We work hard because we’re trying to prove to ourselves, to our superiors, and to those around us that we can do this. A handful of us work hard because we enjoy our jobs, we feel needed, and we fill fulfilled. I would classify myself in both categories- I love my job, I feel fulfilled in what I do, but I also wanted to prove (to myself more than anyone) that I am a good nurse.

Part of what made developing a work-life balance difficult was there are many times when I feel like what I am doing at work is so much more valuable than time spent with family or time spent with friends. My Dad spent years working at an orphanage in Mexico, and my mom later told me that when he was raising us kids sometimes he felt like he wasn't doing much “good” because he was no longer helping the orphans. His sister reminded him that he is doing the most important job there is in raising his own kids, but I often wonder how many of us feel like my Dad? How many of us feel more useful and needed in our jobs than at home? Maybe we think that by focusing in on our time with family and friends that we are being selfish. I would argue just the opposite. You may feel needed at work but you really are needed at home too. The time you spend investing in those closest to you and the breaks that you should give yourself are what allow you to be effective in your day job.

In this first year and a half of being in the work force I've learned that more important than working hard in my career is learning to balance my work with other responsibilities. I've had to learn that my purpose is greater than my job, and that my purpose can include time spent with family and friends.

Both the family I was born into and the family I married into have been great examples of what it looks like to have a good work-life balance. Both families viewed (and still view) work as something that was necessary, working hard was a good thing, but family and relationships trumped all.

I've also spent some time in the last year and a half examining what this work-life balance looked like for Jesus. If we examine His life a little closer, He spent the first 30 years of his life developing relationships with his family and friends in preparation for his public ministry. During the times of His public ministry we know that he had a close relationship with his mother and we see how much time he spent with his family (the disciples). He spent a large majority of his time pouring into his disciples' lives, ministering to them, and then he took his ministry public.

Time with friends and family can feel selfish or fruitless, but something about this time spent nurturing relationships of those closest to us in turn provides us with strength that we may have not had otherwise. The time we spend outside of work can truly help us do our job better when we are at work. This time outside of work can easily be devalued if we’re constantly checking our work email, thinking about work, and doing tasks that really should only be done at work. There is much to be said for truly “leaving work at work”.

This work-life balance looks different for different people and may even look different depending on the part of the world you live in. For me, the work-life balance includes a few deliberate choices. I have chosen not to have my work email connected to my phone- nothing is going to happen if I get back to someone in a couple of days instead of a couple of minutes. This is something I really struggled with when I started my job- I was new and wanted to be professional and prompt so  I connected my email to my phone. I soon realized that this was causing me to think about work outside of work way more than I should have, and I was stressing about things that I read in my email without even having to set foot in the hospital. Disconnecting my work email was one of the best things I've ever done in achieving a work-life balance.

I also practice a few mental techniques to help me leave work at work. I have a 5 minute walk from the hospital to the car and during this time I imagine myself holding two suitcases, one in each hand. Each suitcase holds the bits and pieces of the day I just worked. As I walk towards my car I imagine myself dropping each suitcase on the ground and leaving all of my day on the grounds of the hospital. If a particular part of my day stays in my head on the drive home, I think about it during my drive and then pretend that I’m locking up that situation in my car as I lock the car doors to go inside my apartment.

In a job that’s filled with human connection and personal exposure into people’s (often sad) life stories, I’m not always good at leaving everything at work. Sometimes I walk through the door and have to unload my day on Alex (bless his heart). The verbal processing is sometimes the only way I can get over my day but  I also try not to make it a habit. Sometimes talking through my day will actually make it a lot worse and it’s easier if I leave things unsaid and keep my house a safe work-free zone.

The main way that I keep a healthy work-life balance is by making the most of my days off. This means taking time to take care of myself and not feel guilty about it. Some days this means that the house isn't cleaned and dinner is frozen pizza. This means taking time to meet with friends and putting in the effort to hang out with someone. This means taking time to connect with family whether it’s dinner together or Facetime. This means taking time to invest in my two most important relationships that I have- getting in the Word with my guy Jesus, and having date nights with my guy Alex.

By disconnecting myself, using imagery techniques, and making the most of my days off, I feel like I’ve developed a healthy work-life balance. Work is work. It is not and should not be the only thing that defines you or the only thing in life that gives you purpose. You were given the people around you for a reason, and the strength you gain outside of your work day by investing in these relationships will make you ten times more effective at your job. Finding a work-life balance is vital in this life journey; it’s a process but it’s a process that will contribute to your health, your peace, and your overall happiness in this life.

Have you ever struggled finding a healthy work-life balance?  What are some ways that you have developed a healthy mix of the two?
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**Sometimes out of work obligations are just as stressful (or more stressful) than work obligations- come back next week for a followup post on balancing life demands**

On a Budget: Not Letting Money Control You

We've been in this series about budgeting and discussing different ways to save money. Saving money is a passion of mine- it's something I love doing, something I love learning about, and something I love helping others with. Just as I have had to learn how to save money, I have also had to learn how to not let money control me. Sometimes, I get so passionate about money that I forget that it's just money. 

If you find yourself constantly thinking about money, stressing over it, and maybe obsessing about saving it (or spending it), you may be letting money control you. Read on to find out the 3 main ways I've developed to not let money control me. 

Keep money in perspective. 

In today's world, money is power and money controls things. You need money to survive in the world but it doesn't have to control you. Perhaps the best way I keep money in perspective is by remembering that my money is not my money

The Lord has given me the money in all my bank accounts and funds to steward and watch over. I believe the Lord wants us to save, live within our means and not be a slave to the lender (see Proverbs 22:7). I think we are also called to tithe, to give generously, and to use the money he has entrusted with us to enjoy our family and enjoy the life He has given us. 

When I see my money as simply money I was given to manage, it's a ton easier to give, spend, and save freely without losing perspective. 

Allow yourself a measure of grace 

Sometimes, Alex and I get so intensely focused on saving money that we won't spend hardly any money on doing fun things (a large part of why we instituted our monthly date night challenge). 

I (we) have had to learn that it's okay to go over on our entertainment budget by $20, or it's okay if we spend a little more than we were anticipating at dinner out with friends. Alex and I have both stressed over money so much that it gave us physical symptoms- stomach pains, headaches, back aches- you name it. 

When we release our money stress to God and allow ourselves a measure of grace (AKA "wiggle room") in our budget, our physical symptoms go away and we feel the weight lift off of our shoulders. 

Now, if you are a chronic spender and/or trying to pull yourself out of debt having a mentality of "spending an extra $100 is no biggie" can be dangerous and very unhelpful. However, if you are genuinely trying to curb your spending habits and slip a little, don't forget to give yourself grace in that situation. It's never too late to get back on track. 

Remember what is important 

Tying into the above idea of keeping money in perspective, it's also vital that you keep in mind what (or who) is important. Remember that it is often the who and when (as opposed to the what) that is important in life. 

Money does not make memories- people make memories. Is an expensive vacation more important than the people who are on vacation with you?   

Time is so much more valuable than money. Some of my favorite things that Alex has done for me have been gifts of his time and not his money.

There is incredible value to being on a budget and being wise steward of the money God has given you. But people, experiences, and simply life are so much more valuable than money, and money should never take priority over loving people, experiencing memories, or enjoying the precious moments of your life.

Not letting myself be controlled by money is a still a fairly consistent struggle for me- one that I am getting better at and praying through. 

Have you ever found yourself controlled by money? What are ways that you don't let money control you? 

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On Moving Mountains

"...I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."- Matthew 17:20

I had this verse written on my left hand as I went in for knee surgery on April 28, 2008, because I was absolutely convinced that my faith was surely as big enough as a mustard seed, therefore when the doctors opened my knee, they wouldn't have to replace my ACL because God would have miraculously healed it. 

Well, imagine my disappointment when 5 hours later in the recovery room I groggily hear my doctor tell me that my ACL was indeed completely torn and they had to replace it. Now, a mustard seed is tiny- smaller than a sesame seed, bigger than a poppy seed. I surely thought I had at least that much faith and that my "mountain" would move. 

I was convinced that my mountain was my injury, and if I prayed hard enough to move my mountain, that was the same thing as getting my injury healed. Since my surgery, I've prayed for God to move this mountain or this mountain... sometimes I think my prayers work (the mountain gets moved according to Sarah) but a lot of the times I found myself frustrated- God I have faith! Why isn't this mountain moving!? ("The way I want it to" is often tacked on the end of that prayer). 

One night shortly after surgery I was praying and felt the Lord explaining to me that maybe the mountain is something different. I (we?) tend to look at the mountain as the broken heart, the injury, the loss, the trials... and maybe we think that moving the mountain is fixing the broken heart, healing the injury, bringing back the loss, or taking away the trials. 

But what if the mountain is actually something (aside from our problem) that is hindering us from keeping our eyes on Jesus? Instead of seeing the mountain as our problem, maybe the mountain is what's keeping us from focusing on the One who will help us through our problem? 

I firmly believe that Jesus moves mountains every day—people are healed against all odds, marriages find restoration, and God provides daily. I do believe that this verse can be taken in its simplest form—that faith will move mountains and we will see miracles happen.

But I also know the anger and frustration that can come from having faith and not seeing the mountain moved in the way I thought it should (as was the case with my torn ACL). I believe that Scripture applies to every situation, and I think that sometimes moving our mountain means that our problem is not solved the way we would like to see it solved.  In these situations, maybe moving our mountain means moving the obstacle that is keeping our focus from Jesus and understanding that God is indeed moving mountains that we simply cannot yet see. By moving the mountain hindering our view of Jesus, we will find a restorative peace because we are once again focused on the One who has the power to heal. By refocusing on Jesus, we are reminded that he is always moving mountains on our behalf, even if we cannot yet see them moving.

What mountain is hindering your view of the One who heals and restores? Maybe this mountain looks like anger, frustration, or hopelessness. Whatever mountain is preventing you from focusing on Jesus, surrender that mountain to the Lord. Focus on Him and find peace in knowing that He is moving many mountains on your behalf. Continue on faithfully trusting and believing in a God who has power to restore, heal, and redeem. Gaze upon His face; don’t let any mountains get in the way; let Him hold your hand and walk with you in the journey, strengthening your faith so that, indeed, you will have faith as small as a mustard seed.

What mountains are you facing? What mountains have you faced? What mountains has God moved for you?

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On a Budget: Save on household items

Something we all have to buy are things that I've labeled in my budget "household items/necessities". These things include (but are not limited to) toilet paper, toiletries (shampoo, razors etc.), and medicines (i.e. ibuprofen, tylenol). This category also includes any sort of cleaning supply that I don't consider food groceries (laundry detergent, dish soap, miscellaneous cleaning supplies, paper towels, foil etc.) 

This category is one in our budget that is extremely difficult to set the proper amount for. Many months we'll spend little to nothing on this category, and the next month we'll run out of everything at once and blow the amount I have budgeted. I am still working out the kinks to this category, but along the way have learned 3 major ways to save in this area of our budget without using coupons.

Disclaimer: I know all you couponers out there are getting this kind of stuff for dirt cheap. I've always been somewhat of a coupon skeptic so these are the ways I've learned to save on these items without couponing. (For the record, I am dabbling in some couponing and will later post my success or failure with the endeavor. In the meantime, use these tricks to save today on items you need now.) 

Buy in bulk
I often suggest buying in bulk cautiously because a lot of times I think bulk purchasing is often disguised as a good deal when it's really not. However, we have found that our local Costco often has good deals of bulk purchases of certain personal care items including toilet paper and deodorant. 

For the sake of an example, lets examine toilet paper. We pay around $17 for a 30 count toilet paper at Costco. To make the comparison, we will compare sheet per sheet of the toilet paper roll because that is a better indicator of how big the individual rolls are. The Costco brand toilet paper claims to have 425 sheets per roll of toilet paper making the cost per sheet around $0.001 per sheet. A similar "mid-grade" toilet paper will cost you $11.97 at Wal-Mart for 24 rolls. Each of the Wal-Mart rolls claims to have 208 sheets making the cost per sheet around $0.002 per sheet. 

Okay, so we are talking about fractions of pennies here but if you notice- the Wal-Mart toilet paper brand is twice as much as the Costco brand of toilet paper when comparing sheet per sheet. This goes to show that in this instance, buying this particular item in bulk is a great deal. 

If you live in the middle of the Alaskan tundra 500 miles away from the nearest Costco, or simply don't have a membership, do not purchase a membership for the sake of a few items.

Instead, try to stock up when your favorite toilet paper is on sale, Google search for some basic coupons that will save you a couple dollars, and be willing to try new products that could be a little bit cheaper than the brands you are currently purchasing.

Hit your local dollar store 
This is really the main way we save money in the area of household necessities. In my pharmacology class in nursing school we learned that there is very little difference in brand versus generic medicines. Most of the time, brand names are more expensive because they are paying to use the actual brand name. If you compare a brand name with a generic brand of the same medicine, 9 times out of 10, the drug or active ingredient is the exact same

I have found a couple exceptions to this rule, but they are few and far between. The fact that the drug or active ingredient is the same in most medicines, brand name or not, is why I frequent our dollar store for 95% of the medicines we use at home. I buy ibuprofen, acetaminophen (tylenol), and Excedrin all at the dollar store. We save a ton of money and the drugs work just as effectively than if we had bought brand names. 

I also frequent our dollar store for some household kitchen items that can be really pricey everywhere else. Things like plastic sandwich baggies and plastic wrap are all a steal at $1 each versus the usual $3-4 that you'll pay at a regular grocery store. 

Simplify cleaning routines 
I have learned to clean effectively without spending a ton of money on expensive cleaning products. Blue Dawn dish soap, baking soda, vinegar, and this cleaning product from our local dollar store are staples in my cleaning routine. Aside from those four items, I don't use much else to clean. I have found that the above products do a great job, are less toxic than most commercial products, and best of all are nice to my budget. 

If you find yourself spending boku bucks on expensive cleaning products that you love, maybe Google a DIY version of the same product. I will admit, some DIY products are just not the same as the real thing (I know from personal experience), but a lot of them do a great job. You won't know until you try it! 

This category can be a huge money sucker for most people, and one that I have personally struggled to save money in. By buying generic when you can, purchasing (wisely) in bulk, and simplifying what and how many products you use to begin with, you can cut the spending in this particular category. 

**I was not reimbursed for mentioning any particular store, brand, or product in this article. These are the items that have simply worked for me and kept my budget on track**

What other ideas do you have to save in the category of household necessities? Does anyone else struggle to cut this budget? 
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A Monthly Date Challenge: Bicycles & Basketball

I can't believe how fast autumn is flying by; I mean it's already almost Thanksgiving! #canigetanamen. In July, Alex and I created a date night challenge for ourselves. We decided we needed to get out more and move our dates past the couch and Netflix. I plan one for the month and he plans one for the month. Read below to find out what we did in October. 

Date #1 Sarah's Date

We have some friends who have repeatedly told us about this date idea that they do. I must admit it sounded like fun, but it involved bicycling which I can do, but it's not my favorite thing in the world. My husband man, on the other hand, LOVES biking so I figured I would put up with it for his sake. 

Denver has this awesome thing called the B-cycle program where you rent a bike for $8 for the entire day. As long as you check in at stations along the way, it's the one flat fee. A large majority of the stations that you get these bicycles from are downtown Denver, so I figured that we could rent bicycles and ride them to dinner. 

Now, riding a bicycle is my forte... if it's on a small deserted (preferably paved) path along a river or something. Riding bicycles downtown Denver? That sounded extremely intimidating and I almost talked myself out of it. Thankfully I called my friend (who had done this date many times before), to help me walk through the bike renting process, and she convinced talked me back into it. 

Alex got home, we threw helmets in the car and headed for downtown. We luckily found a place to park for free (I didn't want to have to pay for parking and a bicycle). We found the bicycles, rented them, and headed out. It was nerve-wracking at first but as I got more comfortable and realized how many of the streets had really wide bike lanes, I enjoyed it more and more. Did I mention it was October and the perfect night out? Like 70 degrees!

Alex was easily comfortable on his bike and led the way to the Mexican restaurant that I had picked out prior to leaving the house. We were downtown with cars honking, steam rising from potholes, and skyscrapers all around us... to this small town girl, the urban night life was both overwhelming and exciting at the same time.

We sat and enjoyed Mexican food... which is also a huge deal because if you know me I'm really picky with my Mexican food (as in I don't really like it unless it's New Mexican food- and YES, there is a huge difference). This place had awesome reviews and great prices online and they didn't disappoint.

The waiter got so tired of refilling our waters
that he eventually just brought an entire pitcher
out. Oops. 

It was dark outside by this time which made riding the bikes a little bit scarier, but they came equipped with a flashing front and rear light which made me feel a lot safer. We walked around the famous 16th street mall after dinner, stopped into Starbucks for a frappucino dessert, and then hopped on our bikes and rode around a bit more until we headed back to our car.

Alex loved the date, I thoroughly enjoyed the date, and we can't wait to hop back on the B-cycle. 

**Also, just as a note... you can download the B-cycle app through the App Store and see if there is a program in your city... there looked to be a program in a lot of the major cities around the country, not just Denver. Check it out to see if it's in your city! 

Date #2 Alex's Date 

So, if there's one thing that Alex and I will forever love, it's basketball. I have been a die hard Denver Nuggets fan since I was in 6th grade. And when I say die hard I mean that- I had my entire bedroom covered in posters, newspaper articles, jerseys, and other paraphernalia of Carmelo Anthony. #15... those were the days.

I also may or may not have pushed a little kid out of the way when  I was a sophomore in high school so Carmelo Anthony could sign my basketball.

Anyway, last season was pretty rough, but every season is a new chance. Since our latest move, we are only 15 minutes from Pepsi Center- the stadium where the Nuggets play. This is good and bad- good because we can watch games easier, bad because we probably should not spend all of our money on tickets. 

We had friends invite us to one of the games and when we looked it up, we found out it was opening night. Um, we'll be there! So, Wednesday October 30th we watched the Denver Nuggets open the 2014-2015 NBA season against the Detroit Pistons... It was awesome to start off the year with a win, and even more fun to share the game with friends (one whom had never been to a Nuggets game before).

Going to a Nuggets game with friends would just be too boring though. In the middle of it all, we got caught in traffic, missed the first part of the game, vowed next time just to take the light rail... and then locked our keys in our car. 

Our friends dropped us off at home after the game to get a spare key, we drove back to the Pepsi Center to get the car with keys locked in it, and pulled into home finally close to 11pm. When it was all said and done, we had a good time and were happy to welcome in basketball season. Go Nuggets! 

All in all, it was another great month of dates... 

Do you like riding bikes? Would you ever do it in a big city? Have you ever gone to a professional basketball game? 
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On a Budget: Spend less on entertainment

The first and most important step to making the most of every dollar that you earn is creating a budget that will work for you and your family. One of the main categories in our budget (and most budgets) is the category of "Entertainment". For us, this money includes eating out, date nights, and any other entertainment type expenditures including our Netflix subscription.

This category is one of the budget areas that is hardest to control because we love date nights and we love going out to eat (like most other couples). We've learned some good strategies to help us have a lot of fun with a little money and stay on track with our budget! I would love to hear any additional ideas that your family implements in the comments section below! 

We don't have cable 
*gasp* I know. I never grew up with cable so this was an easy thing to cut out for me- my husband, not so much. We've compromised by getting Netflix and an antennae. The cost is a fraction of what we would pay for cable, and honestly, not having as much TV has forced us to be more creative with our time together. We get a couple shows we like and the Broncos games, and, really, what more do we need? 

We are hardcore Grouponers
For those of you who have never heard of Groupon (or other similar sites like Living Social), they are websites where you can purchase coupons for restaurants, services, and products. Usually it's something along the lines of you pay $12 but get $20 of food at the restaurant that the Groupon is good for. We do this all.the.time. It's awesome because one, we save money, and two, we're forced to try new restaurants that we wouldn't normally try. I've used Groupon for places to eat with girlfriends, different salon type services (think manicures!), and I would say 80% of the time my husband and I are out, it's because we have a Groupon. They save us major bucks- we love them! 

We go out for dessert instead of dinner 
You can have a ton of fun doing at-home dates, but sometimes you've just gotta get out and go somewhere! When we get the itch to go out, a lot of times it will be for dessert not dinner. One of our favorite things to do during the summer is go to McDonalds (we're high class, people), split a frappucino and take it with us on a drive or walk. This is, of course,after we've eaten dinner at home. Dessert is soooo much more affordable, but is still a great way to get out of the house. If you have a lot of kids, this can be a really affordable way to go out for a treat without the $60 restaurant bill. 

We sign up for promotional emails
Most of you are saying- huh? Why would I intentionally sign up for junk email? Well let me tell you why- because you can get a lot of free stuff! Alex and I set up an email that we use solely for the purpose of signing up for promotional emails. We sign up on lists of our favorite restaurants, stores, and entertainment places. For example, we haven't paid for a Red Box movie rental in months because we get codes for free movie rentals in our email all the time. The free meal coupons we get in our birthday months are totally killer, and the coupons we are sent can make a not-so-affordable date completely reasonable. 

We take those surveys! 
I don't know if you've ever noticed, but often there are surveys that are on the bottom of different stores' receipts. A lot of times if you take these surveys, you'll get a coupon code for something free or discounted the next time you come into the store. We take these surveys all the time. We don't usually spend time on a survey if it's just for an entry into some sort of sweepstakes, but if it offers us something for free, we'll totally do it! We've gotten free breakfast at Chik-Fil-A, free cookies at Subway, and a free entree at Panda Express doing this (just to name a few!) Time is definitely money here, though, and if it's a 30 minute long survey, then it may not be worth it. 

We shop around
This is really one of the overarching themes of how we make it (comfortably) on a single income. My husband is the coupon master, and has found us great deals on internet, TV streaming products, and restaurant deals. If you're willing to have a little bit of patience and a lot of self restraint, doing a little research before you buy or go out can save a lot of money. I've saved us money by shopping around for tickets to basketball games (one time we got free dinner for being one of the first 500 in the door!), and we often try to coincide our dates with different promotional events. 

We are 100% the couple who pulls out the coupon almost every where we go, but as a result we have a lot of fun on a small budget. 

What are other ways you save money on entertainment? 

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Adoption: When church made me cry

resources for adoption

As some of you may or may not know, November has been declared National Adoption Month. This means different things for different people. Fast food chains get involved, people share awesome articles about adoption, and for me... well, for me, it means I write a post that has been heavy on my heart for awhile, but one I've been hesitant to share for one reason or another.

For as long as I can remember, I've had a special place in my heart for the orphan and adoption. Maybe it was my Dad's stories of volunteering in an orphanage in Mexico for seven years, maybe it was seeing the adoption specials that would come out on TV around Christmas time, or maybe it was a seed placed in my heart by the Lord himself (or a good combination of the three).

Long before I entered blog world, I found a blog about a huge, beautiful adoptive family , and to this day that blog is one of my favorite daily reads. Needless to say, when Alex and I were dating the subject of adoption came up and we both agreed that it was something we would both like to pursue in the future when the timing was right.

+ + +

Fast forward a couple of years, Alex and I were sitting in church one Sunday morning (this happened just a couple of months ago). Our pastor has the entire congregation pray for specific things or groups of people (i.e. teachers and students at the beginning of the school year). During these prayers, they invite people that fall in the particular category (teacher, student, etc.) to raise their hand so that those who don't fall in the particular category can gather around and pray for them.

This particular Sunday, a pastor connected with the church was leaving the following week to pick up his two children from Haiti, so the topic we were to pray for was adoption. The pastor asked those who were in the middle of the adoption process, had adopted, were praying about adoption, or were otherwise connected to the process to raise their hand.

Out of the entire congregation, only fifteen people raised their hand. 

You guys, the church I go to is not small. That morning, there were probably 400 people in attendance, and out of those 400, fifteen raised their hand. Was I one of the fifteen? No, I wasn't. Was I shocked that only fifteen hands were raised in a church that supports orphanages overseas, and stems from the evangelical and pro-life movement? Yes. 

My eyes instantly welled up with tears and my heart started aching as I looked around. Now, granted, had the pastor phrased his question in a way that included those who prayed for adoption and supported those in the process, there may have been several more hands raised. But, my point remains this- in a church that should be and seems very pro-adoption, only a handful of people were actually involved in the process.

James 1:27 clearly states "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (NIV). 

Adoption is not how it was supposed to be. Every child was supposed to be in a forever family, just like no one was meant to suffer from cancer or live through the death of a child or spouse. But it's a fallen world, and children are born every day and left orphan. It happens in your city, it happens in our nation, and it happens around the world. If orphans are at the heart of God and what He considers pure religion (see the verse above)... shouldn't orphans be at the center of our heart too? 

Adoption is not all about sunshine and roses... ask anyone who's been adopted or who has adopted. I have seen adoption go so very wrong, but I've also seen it go so very right. And no matter the end result, adoption is hard. In a culture that values ease, comfort, and prosperity, its no wonder that only fifteen people raised their hand. But what if there's more to the ease and comfort promised by having a perfect American family made up of two biological kids, jobs in corporate America, and a white picket fence?

Adoption can be a picture of redemption, mercy, grace, and love. While adoption is hard, I believe it gives us a glimpse into the heart of God- the love, the mercy, the grace, and the redemption that He has for each one of us.

Now, I do know that not everyone is called to adopt. Do I think there are more people called to adopt than are willing to admit? Absolutely.

Do I think everyone has a role in supporting adoption in one way or the other? Absolutely.

 Do I think we, as the church, have a long way to go when it comes to adoption? Absolutely.

I'm not writing this post to stir up a debate or cause controversy. I am writing this post as a plea with you. Please pray about your role in adoption.

Maybe you are called to adopt but are too scared. I pray that you find the courage and support you need to obey the calling and take the next step.

Maybe you are called to support those adopting and you don't know where to start. The book Orphan Justice is one of my personal favorites- it has a ton of resources and ideas of how to get involved in supporting the adoption process.

Check and see if your church has any adoption support programs. If not, maybe you can be the one to start one. Adoption is expensive, maybe consider donating to someone you know that is raising money to bring their son or daughter home.

Know of a family who just brought a child home? Bring them a meal, offer to run an errand or two for them... many of the same things you would do for a family who just brought a newborn home from the hospital can be applied to a family who just brought home their adopted child.

And last, but certainly not least, something we can all do is pray. Pray about your role in adoption, pray for those who are in the middle of the grueling process, pray for the children that lay awake at night hoping for a forever family. While you're at it, you can pray for some of these kids by face and by name.

That Sunday morning my heart broke because out of 400 people, I was sure more than fifteen would raise their hand. I hope and pray every day that people are receptive to the call of God on their life and that we as a church make it our mission to place every orphan in a forever family.

Check out some of my favorite resources and organizations supporting the cause of the orphan:
International Voice of the Orphan
The Gem Foundation
Adoption: Q&A 
We'd Adopt if We Had Money
Should Single Women Adopt?

What other resources can you add?

What are your thoughts regarding adoption?

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