Influence Conference 2014 recap

Sunrise by Paper Dahlia

Sunrise by Paper Dahlia

I spent my weekend at the Influence Conference, a conference for Christian women with the ability to influence others for Christ (that’s everyone, you guys!). There were bloggers, business owners, writers, and pastor’s wives. And lots and lots of mamas.

Since the conference was in town, I was able to come home to sleep each evening. Each night, I felt worn out and a little frustrated. I was learning so much and remembering the importance of the words I use and the actions I take. When I write here, I want so much to be honest and genuine. And I also want to be positive and reflective. Those last two do not come as easy.

Each night, Dan asked how it was going and what I was learning, but I just wasn’t ready to talk about it. God was absolutely pressing some ideas into my mind that I wasn’t sold on yet. When we finally talked about it all over dinner on Sunday night, it all came out.

Here’s what I was reminded of this weekend… what I don’t always live out, but I know is very true:

+ God loves His Kingdom; He hates mine: I say I am for His Kingdom, and to those looking in, it might look that I’m successful. But I’m not successful each and every day. I make my kingdom look like a pretty home and loving my husband well and persevering through adoption. But really, I established a pretty home for my enjoyment, not His glory. I love my husband outwardly, but in arguments I’ve said “it would be so much easier without you.” And while we are persevering right now, there have been times I so badly wanted an out from the heartache we’ve felt.

+ God is out for His glory, but He is still gracious: So despite all this yuck heart around home and husband and adoption. Despite me not giving Him the glory, He is still gracious to me. He still provides the means for us to stay in our pretty home and doesn’t take it away in a fire or homelessness. He still allows me Dan beside me every morning, and He uses Dan to encourage and equip me. He still opens doors that lead to steps forward in our adoption of Theo and Elliot.

+ When I say “take away _____ from me,” God says “use it for Me”: When I realize He hates my kingdom and is still gracious to me, I get extreme. I want to say “take away my home!” I don’t want to use it to host strangers and friends to show Your light, so just take it away. I don’t want to strive to put a Gospel-focused spin on our adoption struggles anymore, so just take it away from us. But over and over, He’s saying He’s placed me here in this situation to use it for Him.

+ God loves to equip me with His Spirit to make Himself known: I feel ill-equipped. I feel that another Natalie would make a better wife to Dan. Another Natalie would open her home more frequently to those in her community. Another Natalie would hear that no progress has been made in getting our kids home, and she would turn immediately to prayer instead of tears. But He equips me! And he does it lovingly and happily, not begrudgingly.

+ It’s time to build: He has set me here right now. He has placed me in each circle I find myself in: work, home, marriage, church, friends, neighbors. It’s time to believe these Truths, make plans, and move forward doing work for His kingdom. There will be opposition. But it’s time.

I love this conference for its mix of little blogging tips and big spiritual calls. I’ll be applying some of the blogging wisdom (starting 31 Days tomorrow, by the way!). But the above stuff. That stuff is what I want to practice and believe over and over again. 

sponsored: making connections with Lindt HELLO

Lindt HELLO chocolate

When we moved a little over a year ago, we launched straight into (too much) busyness. We took a trip, we decorated the house, we took our first Safe Families placement, and Dan started work.

We neglected the connections we could have made with our neighbors. No excuses.

On Halloween last year, Dan used the opportunity to say hi to neighbors hanging out on their porches. I wimped out and used handing out candy as an excuse to stay home. When our power went out this past winter, our new neighbors came over to borrow a stick lighter. Again, we missed the opportunity to find out more about them than that they went to Butler University and like little elephant statues.

Lindt HELLO chocolate

So, I have to tell you, I wish I would have been more intentional about making connections with our neighbors. There’s something so positive that comes from feeling connected to those you see all the time or even only once in a while.

Lindt HELLO chocolate is all about connections — friends, neighbors, loves. And sweets make an awesome introduction gift. From now on, we’re hanging on to some bars of Lindt HELLO as welcome-to-the-neighborhood gifts. I love the packaging design.

Lindt HELLO chocolate

Right now, Lindt is producing an “It Started with HELLO” webseries. Lindt HELLO is also offering a new giveaway every week. Make sure you check out all the unique flavors of Lindt HELLO chocolate, too… Carmel Brownie, Strawberry Cheesecake, Crunchy Nougat, and Cookies + Cream. 

Lindt HELLO chocolate

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Lindt HELLO. Thanks for supporting sponsorships that support my blog!

our adoption referral story: two years ago


Two years ago, I couldn’t sleep. Adoption had been on my mind constantly since we sent off our home study and financial information for approval to adopt from governmental higher-ups.

Once we received approval, we would officially be eligible to adopt one or two children, male or female, between the ages of birth to one year old. Though this was the official approval, we had specified that we wanted to just one baby six months or younger. Because, at that time, two sounded like too much, and we really thought we’d be like to celebrate his or her first birthday with our baby at home. 

I reached over for my phone — bad habit — and saw an email from our agency contact person. The subject said: “Looking for a family for 6-month-old twin boys.” I opened it to find brief details with a request to call in the morning if we wanted more information.

I tried to fall asleep. And it was impossible. I said Dan’s name softly to see if he was awake. He wasn’t, so I said it again. And again louder. When he woke up, I told him that we were being asked to consider twins boys. He said we should try to sleep and get more information in the morning.

I didn’t sleep at all from that time on. 

I was immediately committed and Dan was immediately unsure. (Typical of our relationship, still today. He is cautious; I am pedal-to-the-floor.) We got more information and spent the day praying (both of us) and crying (me). 

Could I manage two babies at Target? (Ha!) Could we pay for the additional expenses of adopting a second child? Was our income high enough to support two? Was this really the plan God had for our family? 

We both sensed a very big “yes,” and we quickly committed to two boys with two sweet little names. 

We’ve been asked if we would do this again knowing what we know now about the difficulties we have experienced. That answer is still definitely “yes.” We said yes to unknowns and yes to pain and yes to adoption and yes to God and yes to Theo and Elliot. And we are going to continue to say yes to unknowns and yes to pains and yes to adoption and yes to God and yes to Theo and Elliot. Yes yes yes yes yes until God makes a way or closes this specific door. 


sending “hugs” to the boys two years later

conferences and insecurities

I love conferences. I do. But they frequently stir up my insecurities.

Insecurities about how I look and what I weigh and whether or not my lipstick makes it look like I’m trying too hard.

At adoption conferences, I’m insecure about my age and my household size and my very limited firsthand experiences and my hopes and dreams for my family.

At blogging conferences, I’m insecure about this little blog and the number of followers I have on Twitter and the number of people I know and the even fewer number of people who will know who I am. 

But I love finding my back-of-the-room spot in which to get comfortable and open my notebook and soak up wisdom. Especially the kind of seemingly-specific wisdom (adoption wisdom, blogging wisdom) that actually applies to my faith and my core and my identity. I’m happy to hear and learn and feel refreshing bits of inspiration for this time in my life.

mountain scape by R studio

mountain scape by R studio

Are any of you going to be at the Influence Conference this weekend? Fretting about what to wear and whether or not to bring business cards and what your blog is about and whether or not you really even want to blog? Me, too.

Let’s find each other! Please reach out on Twitter, Facebook, or by email. 

halfway through Whole 30

Ohhhhh, we’re halfway there. Ohhhh-OH. Livin’ on a prayer.

Watercolor Radish by Alexandra Dzh

Watercolor Radish by Alexandra Dzh

Two weeks down. I had a sugar withdrawal headache for three days, but I woke up on the fourth day, and it was gone. Thank goodness.

It’s been hard to persevere in this. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of any food that has lived in the water, so I’m a bit limited. The prepping and planning and cooking is a doozy, but wouldn’t you know my husband  is a saint and has done most of it. I’m real tired of eggs. But I finally found a make-at-home caffeinated drink option that I enjoy.

I had a bit of a freak-out this weekend (Whole 30, food, weight loss, adoption, marriage, friendships), and I cheated on Whole 30 with the three loves I’ve been missing the most: bread, cheese, and sugar. Not all three of those in one item. I won’t share what I ate lest I tempt others. I’m not proud of it. But, accountability, right?

I think most people would start over on their 30 days, but I know I’m not cut out for that. I’m going to keep at it, though, because I have sensed a difference…

A difference that includes more energy, better sleep, and clearer skin. (I seriously felt so sleepy after my first taste of sugar in two weeks.)

We watched Fed Up last week, still high on our fresh, new Whole 30 experience. I really recommend it to anyone with an interest in health and fitness. Or anyone like me who just four years ago couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t losing weight despite working out “all the time.”

We’re sold. And continuing on. And starting to discuss what choices we’ll make post-Whole 30 and what “rules” we’ll keep and what we’ll throw out. 

Safe Families + miss M

Scheduled trips and work picking up for me means we haven’t been able to take Safe Families placements lately. We’ve missed it, so we’ve been praying for opportunities to stay involved.

Yesterday, we got to spend the afternoon with 6-year-old miss M while her host mom was unable to be with her. We went to the apple orchard to pick $8 worth of apples and ride the hayride. She was pretty shy the whole time, but I think she liked it.


The girl answered “no” to just about every question.
Not because her answer is “no,” I don’t think, but because she doesn’t have the words to express something differently. On the way home, I noticed she was leaning toward the window. I asked if she was sleepy, fully expecting a “no.” She nodded yes.

Her host mom had sent her with a hat and some gloves which weren’t needed in the sun, but we had brought them in the car. I looked back again, and M had put them on. I looked back a third time, and sweet girl had fallen asleep before we made it to the playground near our house. 

We debated waking her up, but we let her sleep for a bit and drove home. She woke up as we pulled in front of the house. She smiled, unbuckled, grabbed the dolls that had ridden with us, and hopped out of the car. 

going to the Influence Conference

Well, hi. Here I am.

Today Dan and I hung out with a 6.5-year-old girl being hosted by another Safe Family. We went to the apple orchard! And then I rushed off to an unexpected get-this-home-study-done-ASAP home visit. I came home to a freshly cooked Whole 30-approved meal of zoodles (zucchini noodles made with this guy) with meat sauce.

And now I’m sitting down to finally share my Influence Conference introduction. I’m going to the Influence Conference again this year. Early bird ticket for a conference in my city about topics I love? Yes!

Me: So, we host kids through Safe Families, I work as a social worker, and we’re doing Whole 30. Other things to know about me: I’m a journalist turned social worker. I love blogs, books, home decor, and Mario Kart. I’m an INFJ.

My husband, Dan, is an emergency medicine resident and my very best friend. We’ve been married 2.75 years. We are at the (never-ending) end stages of adopting twin 2.5-year-old boys from a country in Central Africa. We have a mutt dog named Oscar.

Between this time last year and this time this year I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor and had it removed two days later. We’ve been on an up-and-down mission to become more healthy since the first of this year.

And I feel strongly that God calls many of us to tell about our everyday mistakes and worries and fears and joys and successes and share straightforwardly about what we’re learning from them. I’ve found that if I don’t force myself to express what I’m learning, I may never learn what I’m meant to learn.

Conference: I’m excited to sit toward the back or the side of every session and quietly take notes in my notebook. Last year, a few concepts struck me so hard they’re still frequently on my mind. I’m also excited to reconnect with some friends (hi, Kayla, Madison, and Sarah!) and meet new friends. Preferably the kind of friends who like to skip the small talk?

Besides my notebook, I won’t leave my house without my glasses. Enjoying the back of the room means I can’t see the person in front clearly. I just ordered some green glasses, and I’m hoping they look swell.

Disclosure: Affiliate links used

a surgery six months ago

I’ve had today marked on my calendar for a while. I don’t want to belabor the experience by writing about it over and over again. But I do think it’s going to be a fairly significant part of my life’s experiences. And if it’s not — yes! I would love for (awesome) experiences to far outshine this one really scary experience.

Being diagnosed with a brain tumor and undergoing surgery switched on the fresh perspective lightbulb for me in two big ways.

1. My time on earth is not guaranteed. I have spent so much of my first 26 years worrying about and aching for the next step in life. When I was in high school, I was desperate for college. When I was in college, I was desperate for a full-time job. When I was in an apartment, I was desperate for a house. Get it?

In the past six months, I’ve been reminding myself the truth that God has given me today, and He has not guaranteed anything further. While this in itself is pretty scary and sort of sad, it’s freeing, too. I am trying to focus more on today’s activities and the people with whom I will interact. I am free to push aside the worry and stress of future events. It’s nice. And I wish it hadn’t taken a night in the ER to get to this point.

2. There are many aspects of my health I can not control, but there are some I can. Though Dan and I had already been on a let’s-lose-weight kick before my hospital stay — and though I did go through a let’s-eat-all-the-things phase — I’ve decided to take more control of the aspects of my health that are within my reach.

I’ve (begrudgingly at times) learned more about the importance of being healthy… not just thin. I’ve learned that 200 calories of cupcake do not equal 200 calories of almonds, and burning 200 calories does not take the effects of that cupcake away. I’ve learned to look at food as fuel and sustenance and not a reward for the stress I’ve endured. 

I am in control of my fitness level. And my fitness level over the span of my life matters to my health. (So, pow, let’s do this, Whole 30 week two!)

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

one year with Oscar the dog

One year ago, after a couple impulsive weeks of browsing dogs on Petfinder, we met our dog, Oscar. 

His temporary home, Rescue Farm, had told us his little personality would be good for our lifestyle and hobbies. His online profile had three photos and a video of Oscar. In it, he jumped around, chased after a tennis ball, brought it back, and wouldn’t give it up. It was set to some sort of cheesy music. I watched it over and over. (And maybe cried a bit when I later watched it after he was home.)

The vet assistant — who also volunteered at the rescue — told us he was the sweetest dog. He had been there months longer than most dogs, and they couldn’t figure out why besides that his breeds were so uncertain. She brought Oscar out. He clobbered her with kisses while she sat on the floor to put the leash on him. 

We walked him around outside. He peed on everything, including piles of trash and wheels of cars. He liked being petted, and his tail wagging in a circle when he was real happy. We were totally not sure if we should agree to take him. But we did. And we’re so happy we did.

I feel silly saying it, but he’s been a lifesaver this past year. He has been happy, happy, happy every time I come home feeling any bit of lonely or sad. He’s cuddled with me when Dan works late. He sleeps in Dan’s place when Dan works overnight. He has motivated me to go on long walks, and I really think he was the initial reason we started exercising more. He has provide entertainment and excitement. He’s taught us a bit about what it’s like to care for another (dog) life every day all day.

He has his flaws. And there were plenty of times we questioned whether we had made the right decision. But that questioning totally diminished within a few months. And we really, really love him. 

Oscar, year 1:
+ turned 4 (we think) and celebrated with a little bowl of Cool Whip
+ traveled to Cincinnati, Iowa, Chicago, Louisville, Nashville, Traverse City, and Atlanta
+ learned sit, stay, lay down, kennel, leave it, speak, down (kind of), and kisses/no kisses (kind of)
+ likes peeing on things, getting pets, giving kisses, retrieving balls, going on walks, chasing chipmunks and squirrels, eating cheese, and riding in the car
+ dislikes thunderstorms, the vacuum, and the mail lady









health challenge: Whole 30 pessimist

Stacked Peaches by Erin Niehenke

Stacked Peaches by Erin Niehenke

The months of January to March of this year were great for my health. I paid attention to what I was eating, I exercised regularly, and I lost weight.

Then I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had surgery two days after. I’ve continued to exercise, but most of the healthy eating has gone down the drain. Something about brain surgery and the deeps thoughts about life made me want to just eat all the things. Life is too short to skip cupcakes, or something? Right?

In the past month, Whole 30 has crept into many of my conversations with Dan. He was into it from the start. I had my doubts. I dislike trendy health and wellness things. I rarely participate in them. I’m a Whole 30 pessimist right now. (But you guys, I also had doubts about essential oils, and I’m now using tea tree oil on my face on a regular basis, and it’s amazing.) We did some research and read about Whole 30. I don’t buy into it 100 perfect. But I do know I have a sugar addiction, and I do desire to kick it.

And confession time: My hormones are perhaps not completely normal. And I do think what I eat perhaps throws them off even more. I am frequently hungry right before I go to bed. So hungry I can’t sleep unless I have a snack. And, also? I don’t sleep well. I wake up at least a few times nearly every night. And I feel pretty tired pretty often.

So, we’re giving it a try. I’d like to sleep better and have more energy and not feel like I need to feast before bed. And thank goodness for my husband. He’s so excited about it, and he’s so kindly roaming among a few grocery stores as I write looking for compliant bacon and grass-fed beef.

We start tomorrow. And go for 30 days. No sugar, no bread, no cheese. Coffee with coconut milk from a can.

I may not blog every step of this, but I’ll definitely update at the end. And in the meantime, if you see us huddled in the corner with fries and a milkshake at Bub’s, please do confront us.

We’ve frequently been reminded of Portlandia while discussing our Whole 30 plans. You gotta watch this.