Sunday, June 28, 2015

My Week of Hope


What a week this has been.

If you've been following me on social media, you know that I accompanied our youth group this past week to Nashville, TN, for a mission trip focused on serving the community.  My husband is the youth director at our church, so I've been helping him prepare for this trip since we got to St. Paul's back in November.  I have to admit, I was more than a little nervous about this trip for a number of reasons.  As an introvert, I value my alone time and we had almost fifty students and leaders going on this trip.  The church we stayed at didn't have shower facilities and only had two toilets/sinks for all of the women staying there.  We slept in a big room on air mattresses with a small window air conditioning unit to keep us cool.  Basically, all of the comforts of home were going to be missing on this trip.

But it was an amazing experience and God totally "reframed" my attitude in many ways throughout this past week.

Justin and I the day before we left for the trip.  We went with several other leaders to pick up the rental vans.
The kids (and adults) decorated the vans with car paint during one of our pit stops on the way to Nashville.
The theme of the week was "reframe" and how following Jesus helps to reframe our lives.  There is so much that I could talk about in this blog post because SO MANY amazing and wonderful things happened while I was in Nashville with our students and leaders, but I think I will work through this past week by writing about the ways I believe God "reframed" me through this trip.

Our sleeping arrangements at the church.
Our tiny air conditioner that worked very hard to keep our room comfortable.
Our shower facilities at the church.  They were tents with hoses where we had to shower in our swimsuits.
At least the water was cool in the hot weather!
The church that hosted us!
Trinity United Methodist Church, Nashville.
1)  God reminded me that he is always in control.

I am the type of person that likes to feel like I am in control (and I'm sure God gets a good laugh out of that).  I worry about things a lot and I feel like God is constantly reminding me that he is in control of my life and he loves me and won't let me fall.

I was practically smacked upside the face with these truths this week in Nashville.

The first experience that reminded me that God's plan will always prevail and that he is orchestrating my life happened on Monday during our first shift at our work site.  We were on this mission trip with two other church youth groups, one from Michigan and one from southern Indiana.  I was the adult leader for my group (Crew 6) and I had three students from our youth group (Brad, Cameron, and Gavin) and two students from the Indiana group (Nick and Brielle).  We were assigned to a summer school program for kindergartners and first graders that was sponsored by an organization called the East Nashville Hope Exchange.  The first day, the supervisor at the school assigned Brad and Cameron to a single classroom that was particularly rowdy and then put Nick in a classroom by himself and Brielle in another classroom.  That left Gavin and I to work in the kitchen preparing meals and snacks for the kids throughout the day.

Crew 6.  I was continually blessed by these students throughout the week.
Working in the cafeteria.
Preparing snacks for the kids at my work site.
I got this pic of Justin after he returned from his work site one afternoon - he must have been working hard since he broke the limb cutters!
I was a little disappointed because I felt like I wasn't going to be reaching anyone if I was stuck in a cafeteria preparing food, but God had other plans.  Gavin is a student that is going into ninth grade, meaning that he just left our middle school youth group at St. Paul's and is transitioning into our high school youth group.  I really only work with the high school kids at the church, so I didn't know Gavin at all going into our work day on Monday.  But I know now that God had planned for Gavin and I to work in the kitchen together, and I felt like my "job" that day was to just listen to him and learn more about him.  We had six hours together in the cafeteria kitchen for him to just tell me about himself, share his thoughts and feelings, and just have an adult listen to him and love on him in a world that is typically so busy and chaotic that meaningful human contact gets put on the back burner.  Life is so fast in the modern world and we rarely have the time or attention span to really get to know someone, let alone our youth that are constantly bombarded by images and messages in the media that are pulling them away from the message of the gospel.  Our youth rarely feel heard.  They struggle to feel loved.  So I was so thankful that God put us together that day and allowed us to really spend one-on-one time together.  Gavin is a great kid and I know my life is that much better having gotten to know him.

The second way that God reminded me that he is always in control still blows me away when I stop and think about it.  When I went off to college my freshman year, I joined a campus ministry called Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) with my best friend and roommate, Cohen.  Through this ministry, I met my friend, Nathan, and through Nathan, I met his sister, Heather.  Nathan and I became amazing friends in college - he was in a band and my roommate and I would go to all of his concerts, we would go to music festivals and concerts together, we would share in fellowship at BCM and beyond.  He has always been one of those friends that, no matter how much time would pass without seeing each other, we would always pick up right where we left off when we would see each other.  About a year ago, Nathan told me that he wanted to move to Nashville (where his sister was already living), but that he wanted to pay off some debt and save some money before he did.  He worked very hard, and about two weeks ago, he was able to move to Nashville from Indiana.  Because of schedule conflicts, Justin and I were unable to see him before he moved.

Before we left for the trip, I let Tim and Bobbie (leaders from our youth group) know that I had some friends in Nashville and asked if it was a possibility to have them meet up with us at some point during our trip.  Tim said it would be great to have someone familiar with the area show us around, so I let Nathan know that we were coming and to meet us during our "free night" on Tuesday at Dave & Buster's at the Opry Mills mall.  I couldn't wait to see him and it was such a wonderful blessing to give him and Heather a huge hug when they showed up at the mall on Tuesday.  They joined us for dinner and I introduced them to our group. They fit in immediately.  Since Nathan had only lived in Nashville for two weeks, Heather took charge on showing us around a bit and took some of our group downtown to see the sights.  It was amazing to spend time with them and it was hard to say goodbye that evening when they left to go home, but God had other plans.

Getting ready to enjoy our free night at Dave & Buster's.
The whole St. Paul's crew enjoying their dinner at Dave & Buster's.
Getting to see the Opry Hotel with Nathan and Heather.
The Opry Hotel.
Heather took us downtown where we were able to see this gorgeous view of Nashville from the top of the George Jones Museum.
Nathan and Heather are both musicians and Nathan's hope is to break into the music scene in Nashville.  He has an absolutely beautiful voice and Justin and I thought it might be nice for him to join us for worship the next day during program time at the church.  Nathan realized he only lived three minutes from the church and ended up coming the next two days to lead worship for our group.  Worship the previous nights had been led by one of the leaders at the camp with only a guitar, but Nathan brought so much energy to the worship.  He sang beautifully and was accompanied by two back-up singers and even brought his electric-acoustic guitar for one of the students to play.  Justin had the creative idea to turn one of the coolers into a drum box.  All of it came together for an absolutely amazing worship set.  Everyone sang and praised and worshiped God beautifully.  You could feel God's presence in that church so clearly.

The students getting energized to Audio Adrenaline's "Get Down" before the evening program.
Justin sharing a "God sighting" with the group.
It just so happened that Nathan led worship for the first time on "cry night," a night of deep reflection with your youth group that typically becomes very emotional.  As a former worship leader and youth leader, Nathan led an a capella song after worship was over and was able to pray with and help console students after the service.  "Cry night" was a particularly difficult time for our youth group since we just lost one of our students back in December, so it was amazing having Nathan there for extra support, and I thank God for planning it all out and allowing him to be a part of our group.  He truly connected with our leaders and students and we were so blessed to have him there.

The third way God reminded me of his ultimate plan happened on Wednesday at our work site.  I was working in the cafeteria alone when the supervisor at our school ran in and said one of my students had been hurt.  I ran up front to find Brielle bleeding profusely from her leg.  The custodian at the school was holding pressure on it with paper towels, but it was bleeding through.  Brielle had been cutting a backdrop out of cardboard with a box cutter and sliced her leg open.  The wound was deep and definitely needed stitches.  I managed to get a hold of Justin at his work site and he contacted a leader back at camp.  The leader, Kristen, dropped Justin off at my site so my students would have an adult present and then took Brielle and I to the hospital in downtown Nashville.  It was definitely a scary situation, but God used it for good.  Because we were at the hospital for four hours, it gave the three of us the opportunity to get to know each other and spend time with each other.  We laughed, we waited, we smiled, we was a bad situation that ultimately brought the three of us together. 

May I always remember that God can turn our chaos into joy.

Kristen and I with Brielle at the hospital before she got her stitches.  She was so brave through the whole situation.
2)  God showed me that it's okay to "let people in" and to allow myself to be vulnerable.

I am a very private person.  I struggle to tell anyone about concerns or worries that I have because I always want to appear strong.  I hold back emotions and tears when other people are hurting so they can come to me for love and support.  I have a hard time expressing my emotions at times because I see it as weakness.  I know this is a huge problem.

But God helped me open up this week.  He showed me that it's okay to be vulnerable.  He showed me that I need to trust people.  He showed me that I need people to help me through difficult times.  He showed me that opening up isn't embarrassing or weak, but that it's why God created friends, family, community, and fellowship.

Our last night in Nashville, some of the students and leaders in our group wanted to hear Nathan sing some more.  After the evening program, a few of us got together in the sanctuary to hear him sing while Justin played guitar.  I asked him to sing the song "Amazing Because It Is" by The Almost, a song he used to sing all the time when we were in college.  The song really got me thinking about my best friend, Cohen, mostly because Nathan sang that song at a retreat we all went on about five years ago with our campus ministry.  I automatically associate Nathan with Cohen, as well, since we all used to spend so much time together.  And if you don't know about my best friend Cohen, this post will fill you in on the details:

After Nathan sang, I felt God putting it on my heart to have us pray for Cohen right then and there.  No one except Bobbie knew about Cohen, so I started to share her story with the others.  I'm usually good at keeping it together (at least in front of people) because I don't like people seeing me cry, but God opened up my heart in a way I haven't let myself open up in a long time.  I broke down, sobbing because I miss my friend and sister and because I don't know how to pray for her or help her.  It has been a hard couple of years trying to grieve for Cohen during her illness and pain and I truly feel like a piece of me is gone because things will never be the same for her.

But this moment of vulnerability turned into a beautiful time for me to be surrounded by friends and students and love and prayer.  They cried with me and comforted me and Nathan prayed for me and for Cohen and we all shared in a moment of God's overwhelming presence and love.

God is always making me new.  He's teaching me trust.  He's teaching me vulnerability.  He is helping me to open up and express myself in ways that I never knew I could.

3)  God showed me how beautiful it is to serve, even when I am out of my comfort zone.

We are called to serve others, but I know my heart and attitude were not in the right place when I was getting ready to go on this trip.  I was worried about showering outside in a tent with cold hose water, I was worried about the heat and lack of adequate air conditioning, I was worried about sleeping on the floor, I was worried about not having access to vegetarian food.

But it was a blessing to not have the comforts of home on this trip.   

It helped me to focus on the reasons why we were in Nashville in the first place - to share in fellowship with other believers, to serve the community, to praise and worship God, to get to know the members of our group and the other groups on a deeper level.

When you are put out of your comfort zone, it's a lot easier to focus on the important things.  I stopped worrying about the outdoor showers after the first night.  God was with us and he was going to provide for us immensely, and he did.

I got to know our students and leaders so much better. 

The wonderful group of student leaders I was able to work with in Nashville.
One of my students asked me to proofread her English paper for a summer class, so naturally the adult leaders left plenty of goofy photos for her on her laptop.
Here are a few of the blessings I was able to witness/receive during this past week:
  • Having Danielle (one of our leaders) braid my hair every other day to help me stay cool in the hot weather
  • Getting "stuck" in the freshman room as the only adult, and then realizing it was a great blessing to be with those girls
  • Finding out that an air mattress on an old church floor is actually quite comfortable when you are completely exhausted at the end of each day
  • Loving the cold water of the outdoor showers when I just spent the entire day in the Nashville heat
  • Watching everyone fill out "care cards" for their fellow crew members and leaders (everyone at the church had an envelope where you could place a "care card" to show them what you loved about them)
  • Getting to know the leaders in our group on a personal level (Mike, Danielle, Allie, Dan, Beth, Tim, and Bobbie)
  • Having the opportunity to help one of our students write and proofread a paper for her summer English college course
  • Seeing Brad and Gavin (from my work crew) step out of their comfort zones and work with the kids at the East Nashville Hope Exchange and love it
  • Seeing everyone love on each other and offer hugs, sympathy, support, and a listening ear during "cry night"
  • Hearing everyone's "God sightings" from their work sites at the end of each day
  • Having the option to get peanut butter and jelly for lunch everyday (the vegetarians were definitely taken care of!)
  • Having Heather and Nathan show our group around the Opry Hotel and downtown Nashville
  • Getting to see all of Nashville from the top of the George Jones Museum and getting to hear live music
  • Being able to see old friends (good friends are truly one of God's greatest blessings)
There is so much more I could say and so many more photos and memories I could share.  Week of Hope Nashville 2015 was truly an amazing experience I will never forget and God was reframing me the whole time.

Thank you Jesus for always making me new.

If you want to see more photos and videos from our trip, visit our youth group's Facebook page:

You can also see photos and videos on the Week of Hope Nashville Facebook page:

"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."
Matthew 18:20 (NIV)

"Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble."
1 Peter 3:8 (NIV)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Upcycling: Our "New" Dining Set!

When Justin and I lived in Indiana, we had a very small apartment and didn't have space for a dining room table.  For our wedding, my grandparents got us a small table with two stools that actually had to go in our living room since we were so limited on space.  It worked for us during our two years in that apartment and gave us a place to sit and share meals together, but we have a much bigger living space here in Ohio.  We have a dining room that we've turned into an office area for me and a music area for my husband and a breakfast nook in the kitchen that we use as a dining area.  Whenever we would have people over for dinner, I became increasingly annoyed that we would have to sit in the living room since we only had room for two people at our small table.  This led Justin and I to start looking for a new dining set for our new home in Ohio that would seat at least four people.

One weekend while we were visiting my family in Indiana, we went to an antique shop near my parents' home.  There was a booth at the shop filled with beautiful furniture from a vendor called the Repurpose Room.  This vendor specializes in upcycling furniture - they take old, scratched furniture and refurbish it by sanding it and painting it with bright colors and designs.  There was a wonderful dining set there that I really wanted for my home...until I saw the price tag.  Upon further investigation, we found out that the Repurpose Room had an entire shop downtown where they sold refurbished furniture, so we went the next day with my mom and my brother's girlfriend to see if they had anything that was more in our price range.  They had beautiful furniture and dining sets, but we still thought they didn't fit our budget.  But Justin and I were inspired.  Why buy a new dining set or one that has been refurbished by someone else when we could refurbish our own dining set and customize it with colors and designs that we wanted?

So that's what we decided to do.

Here's the table from the Repurpose Room that inspired our project:

I loved everything about this table - the color, the arrow design, the shape.
I loved the set of chairs, too - the black paint, the distressed look, the vintage feel.
Unfortunately, the table alone was $300.  Also, it didn't have a protective coating on it and the arrow design looked poorly done. 
The set of four chairs was $295, which would have made the dining set almost $600.  The chairs also seemed a bit unstable for such a hefty price tag.
If you know me or have read my blog before, you know my husband and I love to thrift shop.  We decided to start looking for a secondhand table that we could refurbish.  Over Memorial Day weekend, Justin and I took a mini-vacation to Indiana/Michigan and decided to look for a table we liked while we did some thrift shopping there.  We ended up finding the perfect table at Goodwill.  The table was in great condition, but the four chairs it came with were falling apart.  They were asking $49 for the set, but we talked them into letting us buy the table for $39 without the chairs.  We had a $25 gift certificate from making so many donations to Goodwill before our move to Ohio (and it was only good in the Michiana area), so we put that toward our table for a total of $14 for the table.  (Somehow we managed to get it in the back of our Scion and get it home to Ohio!)  We were still on the lookout for a set of four chairs. 

The table before it was sanded.
When we got back home to Ohio, I was looking for something in the garage and came across a set of four wooden dining chairs (two had a flower design, the other two had a harp design).  I wasn't sure if they were left by a previous tenant, so I texted my landlord to ask.  She said they actually belonged to her, but that we could have the two harp design chairs if we wanted them.  She wanted to keep the flower design chairs, but said there were two other chairs in the basement they didn't want if we wanted them.  We jumped on the opportunity and had our four chairs for our "new" dining set project.  (We have two chairs with the harp design and two chairs with a different back design, but since we were sanding them, repainting them, and reupholstering the seats, we thought they would look fine together once the project was completed).  Best of all, the chairs were free!

We have two chairs with this design.  It already looks black here, but the paint was chipping to reveal a coat of red paint underneath. 
We have two of these chairs, as well.  Our landlord had reupholstered all four chairs with this fabric, but we planned on changing the fabric once the chairs were repainted and sealed with a protective coat.
Once we had the table and chairs, it was time to sand.  My cousin, Kurt, let us borrow his orbital sander, but we took a trip to Home Depot to get some sandpaper and two quarts of paint for around $30.  Since we were following the design from the original table we saw at the antique shop, we got black paint for the chairs and the underside of the table.  Instead of turquoise for the tabletop, we decided on a bright, happy lime green.  We made a stop at Walmart for some paint brushes, paint tape, a sanding block, and a quart of polyurethane for a total of about $25.

Justin spent all afternoon one Friday sanding the table and chairs on our front porch.  Afterward, we laid down a drop cloth in our breakfast nook and transferred everything in there so I could paint.

The sanded table.
Our four sanded chairs.
I ended up using three coats of paint on the tabletop with 24 hours between each coat for drying.  I painted the legs and the underside of the table black with two coats and 24 hours between each coat, as well. 

The painted table before I added the design on the tabletop.
Painting the underside of the table.
I  wanted to do an arrow design on the tabletop like the one we saw at the store, but I wanted it to look more professional.  I hand-made an arrow stencil out of cardstock and Justin helped me measure out the middle so we could get the arrows looking perfect (we wanted three of them).  I traced them with a pencil and then hand-painted each arrow black.

My homemade arrow stencil.  It took awhile to get this just how I wanted it.
The first painted arrow.
Pencil outline of the last two arrows.
Two down, one to go.
The arrows were finally finished.  The table was ready for the first polyurethane coat.
After the table was painted, Justin put a protective polyurethane coat on the table (he ended up doing two coats on the table and each of the chairs with adequate drying time in between).  I started painting the chairs.  Each chair took two coats of black paint with at least 24 hours of drying time in between each coat.

After the chairs were painted, Justin put two polyurethane coats on each one and they were given time to dry.  Yesterday, we went out together to pick out the fabric for reupholstering the chair seats.  We visited three different fabric stores and couldn't agree on which one we liked best, but we ended up with a design that was very different than what I originally had in mind, but I love it!

This fabric fits our style perfectly - colorful sugar skulls with green accents the same color as our tabletop.
For reupholstering the chair seats, we spent about $10 at Joann Fabrics & Crafts on fabric and replacement tacks for the bottoms of the chair legs and about $15 for a staple gun and staples at Walmart.  Once the fabric was on, Justin reattached the seats to the chairs using their original hardware and screws. 

Total time to find table/chairs, sand, paint, apply polyurethane, reupholster, reassemble chairs, and clean up:  two weeks

Cost of furniture:  $14 for table at Goodwill, chairs were free (from my landlord)
Cost of supplies:
     Orbital sander:  free (we borrowed it)
     Paint and sandpaper:  $30 at Home Depot
     Paint brushes, paint tape, sanding block, polyurethane:  $25 at Walmart
     Fabric and furniture tacks:  $10 at Joann Fabrics
     Staple gun and staples:  $15 at Walmart

Total cost of "new" dining set with custom color and design:  $94
Total cost of table and chairs from Repurpose Room:  $595
Money saved:  $501

Now, I LOVE the Repurpose Room and their gorgeous furniture, and after doing this project, I definitely understand why they charge so much for their refurbished furniture - it is A LOT of work.  But if you are on a budget, I encourage you to do a project like this yourself!  Not only did my husband and I get to choose the design, color, and fabric, but we spent some great quality time together working on this project.

Here are some "before and after" photos and some photos of the complete dining set:

Before and after - the harp chairs.
Before and after - the brown chairs.
Before and after - the table.

I had a lot of fun working on this project and am a bit sad that it is over, but now Justin and I can enjoy our "new," upcycled, customized dining set!