2014.

Whew. What a year 2014 has been. As I write this, we are preparing to head to Abilene next week to celebrate Christmas with Chris's family and our new (and first!) baby niece. I'm so ready for two-week-old baby snuggles. I'm wrapping up some projects and going to do my best to keep the laptop closed for the next two weeks... Time to enjoy some rest and relaxation, and meditation on the birth of our Savior. 

But before I sign off, I've written you a bit of a love letter. I'd love to start 2015 off right by saying...

 

Thank you!

 

Thank you to all of our friends and family who’ve been with Chris and I for our 2014 journey. Chris and I learned so many things from you and value the time we've had with each of you. Whether it’s in the form of an occasional text or an in-person conversation that lasts hours, we love to continue learning and wouldn’t be where we are today without you.

 

January... A Refresh.

 

TPA started off the year with a facelift and a new vision. It went through a transformation this year with a bio video, portfolio content, and other details that help tell my story. Before this, TPA was a women's lifestyle blog with a variety of content, but it didn't hold a message that was true to who I am. After praying over the blog last fall (including multiple times when I asked Him to let me know if I needed to let this dream die), God started gently pulling me in the direction where maybe, just maybe, I let Him be in control of the blog. Over the course of 2014, TPA became a home for deeper, more authentic conversation and what came out of that was incredible... here are a few: #TheRubyProject was born. I met so many sweet readers through the comments on the blog and on social media. Freelance design projects started lining up, and that's been such a sweet mission field for me. I love getting to serve people one-on-one and make their dreams (visually) become reality. I had several of you refer to the blog as one you loved (still can't get over that). The profits created from my freelance work enabled Chris and I to more freely give. That alone makes me so teary, because this time last year I would've never thought our budget would allow room to give outside of our church tithe. God has made himself and his provision so evident to us this year, and a large portion of that happened through That's Pretty Ace. 

I would share stats about page views and unique visitors to the site or perhaps the number of followers TPA now has on Instagram, but I honestly stopped looking. This blog has become more than a possible source of income and instead has become a piece of my heart placed lovingly (and with risk) out on the internet to serve you. 

The branding refresh has served you and I well, and I've continued to do updates here are there. It's no longer the girly-girly, let's host a party lifestyle blog I had imagined and is literally a life blog. You'll notice the About page has been simplified and re-written, and now includes a fancy bio sheet (if you happen to be looking for one). The services page has gotten a bit of a facelift, and colors and details throughout the site are a fresh shade of blue (my very favorite, and so soothing for you). My goal for the branding of TPA is to tell the story – God's story that He's woven in my life – the best and most honest way it can

 

Experiences

This year has held a lot. God has rattled our hearts and our lives in ways we never would have expected. Chris and I became members of The Village Church this year. Taylor and I created and ran a series of workshops. I ran a 5K... and a half-marathon (WHAT). We celebrated our first wedding anniversary. We celebrated the first anniversary of this blog. Chris had the pleasure of working at two amazing firms this summer. Our circle of real, Christ-like community widened. We went to California and spent time fasting and praying together. I met precious little Jennie Allen. I started a monthly dinner group with some incredible ladies. We grew so much closer to God, and in turn, closer to each other. I've never had friends like this before. I've never given like this before. I've never lived like this before. 

 

Projects

I've had the honor of working with some amazing people this year. I can’t list everything and everyone, but I would love to share some highlights... #TheRubyProject, art directing the Goodness Gathering, mentoring three wonderful women this summer, teaching several ladies how to use Illustrator and Photoshop, running the TPA shop, designing several incredible branding projects, and photographing a fundraiser for missions in Haiti are at the top of the charts for me. Each of you who contributed your hearts and your skills, or simply reached out to me – I'm so humbled by your generosity. Thank you for blessing me and my family, so that we could bless others. 

 

And A Glimpse Into Next Year

Next year will be an adventurous year for Chris and I. I've been dying to share all of this with you, and now that all the important people know, I finally can! 

We're Moving...

To Austin! Chris has accepted a one-year-long clerkship under a Judge, and I'm beyond proud of him. This is such a huge honor! God has really given him a gift for mentally processing law and for desiring knowledge. I've loved seeing him learn how to use his gifts to serve. His clerkship will begin in September of 2015, and we are expecting to move at the end of August.

...And Coming Back.

Chris has also accepted a position for after his clerkship finishes, and it will take us back to DFW – Fort Worth, specifically! Chris will be working for the appellate department at one of the firms he worked at this past summer. We were so honored that they extended him an offer, and even in the department Chris was most excited about. We love the city of FW and have made such wonderful friends there. Accepting this offer means we would be settling down in cowtown in July 2016! We also know that, often, our "plans" don't go as expected, and sometimes the Lord leads us on surprising journeys... so we are being open-handed with all of this and doing our best to prayerfully listen where God is calling us to be. 

AND... I'm heading back to school. 

A complete surprise to me this year was the Lord leaning into my heart to consider attending seminary school. He had whispered it in the back of my mind, but I kept thinking maybe that would be nice in the far-off future. Over Labor Day weekend, Chris asked me if I had ever thought about it (I had.) and he said he had looked into it financially and asked around about several schools, and highly encouraged me to think about it. We spent a few weeks praying about it on our own, and then slowly began asking friends and family to pray over the decision as well. I applied to Dallas Theological Seminary with the request to be considered for the fall 2015 Master of Arts in Biblical Studies program. AND I GOT ACCEPTED! It's a two-year long program that goes through every single book of the Bible, with a basic theological education, and a bit of teaching on writing and speaking. DTS has an extension campus in Austin, and this degree is the only one they offer almost entirely online. I will go through my first year of school while we are in Austin, and my second when we come back to DFW. My heart might burst, I'm so excited. 

More than anything, I just want to know the Lord better. If that pours out and leads others to know the Lord better... that's the giant cherry on top. He has truly made Himself my desire, and though I repeatedly fail and seek other things, He has firmly rooted the things He wants in my heart... which is mostly more of Him. 

I'm planning to work part-time during school, and will continue taking on freelance projects. With that said, if you have any dreams you'd like to see come to life, please let me know! 

 

For 2015 we have so many adventures on the horizon, and I can't wait to see where the Lord is taking us. I'm choosing to meditate on these verses for the coming year...

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire."
- Hebrews 12:28-29 -

We're ready to continue sharing joy in new and more adventurous ways. Bring it on, 2015!

Redeeming Christmas

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I blinked and it's Christmas. I'm still not sure how that happened.

Christmas is looking a lot different to me this year. Honestly, I haven't ever really given much thought to what this season is about. In the past, it's been a time of joyous gatherings, listening to Christmas music, baking too many batches of cookies, and giving and receiving many gifts. I love giving gifts. So naturally, this is a time I thoroughly enjoy.

However, as we slid into December this year, I started feeling a little weird about it all. Why do we make such a big deal about Santa, but not a big deal about Christ? Why does it fill my heart with joy to sing, "do you wanna build a snowman" and I feel lukewarm singing "the Lord has come"? Why am I running around feeling like each person I love needs to be given a lavish gift from me to express that love? It all felt weird, and suddenly very uncomfortable. I felt so guilty for never once celebrating Advent before. I wasn't really sure how to celebrate a baby in a manger... it just felt like part of the Christmas decor. 

Let me back-track a minute and say that Thanksgiving was a time of immense joy for my family. We gathered (even stayed in a big house for several days together!) and had 24 people sit down to dinner with us. We've never done this before. We didn't know what to expect. And God stepped in and made some beautiful memories happen.

Shortly after that, Chris's only sibling had her first baby. We were able to travel and be there when little Cassidy was born. We took turns holding her and loving on the new mom and dad. Again, God stepped in and made some beautiful memories happen for our family. 

So I have some pretty big expectations for Christmas. What if it doesn't go well? What if people don't have fun? What if someone gets accidentally offended? (It's possible any or all of these things could happen, because that's what happens when you get people together. Because people – because life – is messy. And the mess is a beautiful thing.)

My expectations for the season include long, deep conversations by the fire. Miraculous healing in relationships. For everyone to have a good time together. For me to be able to eloquently express to friends and family how much I love them. For Chris and I to dream and talk about 2015 and be on the same page. I fantasize so much, and I know that's just not what this season is about... not even the good things, like family. So I start to walk with a burden of guilt for not knowing how to celebrate the birth of our Savior. 

But you know what's crazy? God redeems that. All of those feelings – all of the promises we expect Christmas to come through on – those feelings aren't wasted. They are purposeful. The yearning to watch "Elf" ten times in a four week period? It's because you yearn to feel the innocent joy over the birth of our Savior. The hope you have to see family come together in love? That's hope for Christ's triumphant return. They're just misplaced desires, desires that take up just an inch of the immense magnitude God's glory demands. Because you feel these things, you already know in your heart how to celebrate the birth and coming return of our Lord. 

I'm learning how to do this, day by day. God is so good to provide when you come to Him and ask. Let's take the small joys of the holiday season and turn them into huge songs of praise for Jesus Christ. All those cookies you baked? Take them to your neighbors, or maybe drive around and pass them out to the homeless. Start thinking about the lyrics of Christmas hymns and singing them honestly as praise to the Lord. Invite your loved ones into your home and don't worry about whether or not you have a DIY setting for each person. Instead of spending money on a nice gift for someone, why not invite them to grab a cup of coffee with you so that you can tell them how amazing they are? (Or, if that totally freaks you out, just tell them you love them to their face and hand them a letter with the details of how great they are. It works just as well :) ) And when it seems hard or tough or that the holidays just aren't meeting your expectations, remember that Christ is coming back. Really. That's a new one I've learned to appreciate this year. When the news gets scary or you don't know what to say, just pray and thank God for Jesus's promise to return and make all things new. Let Earth receive her King :) 

Holiday Gift Tracker

 

Sometimes it would be nice to borrow an elf from the North Pole during the holidays... especially to keep track of all the little goodies you're gifting! I wasn't able to track any elves down, but I was able to put together this little free download ;) 

I've made you sections to write the name of the recipient, what you're planning to give them, and then places to check off if you've bought it, wrapped it, and given it. I find having a list like this encourages me to find more ways to give during the season – and it doesn't all have to be expensive! Listed below are a few ideas to fill out your form with...

 
 

December Goals

 

Honesty moment.

Guys, sometimes something sounds like a great idea in your head and then you realize after the fact that it just wasn't the best. Posting my monthly goals is one of those things.

Several of my favorite ladies I've been following for years have made a habit of sharing their monthly goals. I find it encouraging and inspiring. It makes me want to turn around and write out my own goals. I also love a good list. I've made that known on more than one occasion! But when I tried to tell myself why sharing my own monthly goals was a good idea, I didn't really have any other words besides, "it sounds fun for me." I started thinking of how I would feel reading one of my friend's goal lists for the month. I'd like to think that most times, I would be happy and excited for them – but I don't think that I would personally get anything out of it. I think it would probably make me feel a little bad about myself.

We are constantly driven to compare. Us ladies tend to have a hard time looking at another's success without deciding where we measure up next to them. We also love to pursue perfection – goal-setting is fun because we see a better version of ourselves on the other side of accomplishing that goal. It's dark, and it's why sometimes we feel worse after scrolling through Instagram instead of uplifted.

But our God redeems. He knows where we stumble and fall most often... He is never surprised by our behavior. He says, "Why don't you let me take that? I can make something beautiful with it." When we keep our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith, we will not grow weary. We will not lose heart. The position of our hearts begins to change, and instead of seeing pedestals, we see an equal playing field. We look at each other and think, "I'm a sinner like you. I'm created in the image of God like you. I am God's beloved, just like you." Compliments and encouragement begin to drip off of our tongues like honey. And honestly, God encourages us to set goals as long as He is in them. Sometimes you may not know if God is in something, and you may realize He wasn't after the fact (this post is a great example of that...!). Daily, discipline yourself to fix your eyes on Jesus. Cast off the weight and sin that so easily entangles, and run with endurance the race set before you. 

All this to say, no more monthly goal posts here for now! I know for me, personally, it was a selfish move that pointed the attention towards me and not towards the divine Author. Please forgive me, and let's redirect that path ;)

Happy Friday!

 

Hope you're all having a wonderful holiday! We're skipping the sales and spending good quality time with family today. Feel free to follow along over on Insta. And if you're looking for something to get you in the mood for Christmas (since we can officially be excited about it now!!)... listen to this. Honesty: our tree has been up for two weeks. Is it just me or has everyone been extra excited to get the Christmas ball rolling this year? I don't mind.

Also... the winner of Monday's giveaway has been chosen!!!! Thank you for all of your sweet, heartfelt entries. Since I'm with my family this week, I let my younger sister do the random drawing – and the winner is @karratipton!!! Congratulations! I'm so excited to get to serve you. I'll be contacting you on Monday to get started.