Graham and I are blessed to be enjoying some time away together in Puerto Rico while I shoot a wedding.  This time has been SO good for our souls and we have also tried to use it very intentionally to talk about what worked and what didn’t work this past year and what we want to see change in 2013.  Intentionality is a theme that we keep coming back to and refining each year.  As a part of that, I have been so blessed and challenged by Lara Casey’s 2013 Making things Happen blog series and I am working through the steps one by one while we are here.  And…since transparency and being REAL is something that I value so much in my relationships, I wanted to challenge myself to do that here as well.  SO…here it is.  My Step 1 in the process of planning for the new year.  Unedited and in no particular order…what WORKED in 2012:

Step 1:  Evaluate what DID work in 2012 (50 things)

1. Consistent morning quiet times.  About half way through the year Graham and I had a conversation where we were both honest about lacking consistency in our time in the word.  Having Vera in February of this past year obviously changed our little “routine” as a family of three and we agreed to work together as a team to make sure that we were both getting the quiet, uninterrupted time in the word that we so desperately need. Graham agreed to take care of the girls in the morning and start work a little later so that I could have a solid hour in the word from 7-8am while he gets to spend some quality morning time with them over breakfast.  Chloe knows that it is mommy’s time reading her Bible and praying, it allowed me to start my day with peace (rare for a mom!) and it has allowed my relationship with God to grow in more ways than I can even express.

2. Vera.  This little girl has been the most amazing blessing to me as a mom this year…and I don’t just mean that in the way that all moms will call their kids a blessing.  Vera – her temperament and personality specifically, have ministered to my heart this year as a mom.  Vera was born about half way into Chloe’s version of the “terrible two’s.”  I have to be honest and say that Chloe’s second year was really hard and I found myself constantly feeling frustrated and guilty and overwhelmed with constantly contending with Chloe’s stubborn and dramatic personality. For most of Chloe’s second year of life I just felt like I was failing as her mom (if I used our daily interactions as a litmus – which is NOT accurate).  Anyway, in the midst of this, Vera brought a lot of joy back into mothering. God blessed and ministered to my heart as a mom with her constant smiles and cuddly happy nature.  It also bolstered my confidence as a mom because it was SO MUCH EASIER the second time around with a newborn.  We started coming into a better place with Chloe around about the time that she hit 3 ½ and it blesses my heart to see these “forever-friends” interact.

3. Moving.  This year by God’s grace and undeserved blessing we were able to move into another home that was more suited to Graham’s job working from home as an audio engineer and blogger (it still sounds really funny to us to say that. haha).  When we purchased our first home in FL we had NO idea that three years later he would be working sucessfully full time from home and his little office off of our living room (that originally was just going to be my office) just wasn’t going to work out for a husband in the audio industry recording tutorial products, mixing bands, and doing live podcasts 5 feet away from two crying children. God was enormously gracious to us this year in this area and we are just humbled and maybe even still a little in shock at the way he has heaped blessings in the realm of Graham’s business and allowing him to use his passions and talents to God’s glory.

4. Related to that, God has really been putting something on our hearts this year that we have gotten to experience play out in our lives this year specifically as it relates to Graham’s business.  I don’t know about you but I think we spend a lot of our lives suppressing what it is we really love and are passionate about or talented at and instead just press on doing the things that we think we “ought” to do for one reason or another.  This can apply to work, ministry, talents and gifts etc.  But here is a crazy thought that we have entertained and pressed into this year…what if God created you and I with specific quirky or random passions/talents/gifts because he wants us to actually pursue them and that in the pursuing of those things (sometimes instead of the things that make more sense on paper) is what will actually bring him the most glory and fame while bringing us the most satisfaction and joy!  I am not saying that as servants of God he will never ask us to do something that we don’t really want to do at the time, but this year we have really been challenging ourselves with the question, what if God actually wants us to pursue those specific passions and talents that he has given us because that is how He is going to get the most glory!  This may not even make any sense to anyone else reading this but hear me out, the most specific example that we have experienced this year is with Graham’s job.  Somehow, by God’s grace, Graham is able to work from home doing what he loves the most and in doing that, God has opened up unbelievable doors to share the gospel and point and connect people to God.  I think that Graham has shared the gospel and been able to point more people from all over the world and all different religious backgrounds more in the past year as a home studio recording blogger then in his whole life.  That is amazing.  What if God were big enough for us all to do that!?  To do what we actually love instead of just what we think we “ought” to do – what makes the most sense on paper – and in the doing of those crazy things God gets the most glory. What a freeing thought! I mean, isn’t that part of what Romans 12 is talking about!?

5. Date night.  This year we bit the bullet financially and made date night a weekly priority again the way it used to be in the days before we had kids and actually really needed time away alone. haha.  We stopped trying to pull together sporadic last minutes babysitters and instead we arranged with someone to be a weekly Tuesday night babysitter.  This not only allowed us to have consistent alone time to pour into each other but it took the pressure off of those sporadic date nights to be the “best ever.”  Some times date night was hard.  There were many Tuesday nights that were spent having difficult conversations as exhausted parents and strained lovers but the consistent Tuesday night gave us time and space to have those conversations that needed to be had and to also have a lot of fun reminding ourselves why we committed to each other 7 yrs ago.  It is easy to say that you don’t have the time or money for date night but if you are married and have children I cannot feel more strongly that this is a must.  The marriage comes first before the kids.   It is easy to hide a bad marriage behind being a good “team” as a couple.  This year we made enormous strides to grow our marriage in this area.

6. Family Fun Friday.  Because we are a part of a still-new church plant, Saturdays and Sundays are spent working, for at least part of the day.  Saturday Graham has band practice the first half of the day and about 6-7 hours of Sunday are spent making church happen.  For this reason, and because God has graciously given Graham a flexible job, we set aside Friday as our Sabbath and what is now lovingly referred to as “Family Fun Friday.”  It starts with chocolate chip pancakes in the morning and the only rule after that is that we can’t do any work and that whatever we do, we do it together as a family:)  It is one of my favorite days of the week.

7. Family relationships.  Far from being perfect, this year I have really tried to pour into my brother’s lives more and Graham and I together have intentionally tried to be a blessing in their lives. This has meant me making an effort at more phone communication (since they live 1000 miles away) but it has also meant really being intentional about having meaningful, rich conversation in the limited time that we have had together.  Some of my favorite memories from this past year involve long dinner conversations by candlelight out on our lanai talking about God, marriage, work and life.

8. Giving.  Two things I am grateful for in my husband…he is very generous and has always lead our family well in elevating giving back to God what is already his even when things didn’t add up on paper and we literally had no idea where the money would come from.  The second thing that I am grateful for is that he is always behind me 150% when I come to him with a crazy giving idea or need that God has brought to my attention.  I am convinced that I could come to him and say that I think God wants us to give our house away and he would look at me and say “ok!” haha.  I consider it an enormous GIFT to be able to give the way God has enabled us to this year and we want to give even more in the coming year because we are gluttons to see God’s gracious provision in this area.

9. Travel.  We have gotten a few opportunities to travel to new places this year and it always refreshes us and reminds us how much we love to travel and how we want to make it a priority as a family.

10. Genuine friendships.  I have been enormously blessed to be able to say that I have genuine meaningful relationships with a few very special women in my life.  Not everyone has friends that they can truly be transparent with, have meaningful conversation with, and do life with in a real and encouraging and challenging way and I have those friendships!  In fact…we all live in the same neighborhood now!  That is a blessing to my heart and I have said so many times this year that I don’t know where I would be without these sweet friends that help me to be a better wife,mother and believer.  I want to try even harder to be a blessing in the lives of these women and to do more giving than I do taking in these relationships.

11. Instagram. haha Ok, this might seem silly but I have always had a love hate relationship with my camera.  I never wanted to pull out my “big” camera to capture life because it always felt too much like work and I easily got sucked into getting “the perfect shot” and missed actually being in the moment.  The result was that I didn’t have a lot of pictures that documented those special every day moments as a family.  Thanks to Instagram I have hundreds and hundreds of images documenting the big and small moments of this past year.  These images are now hanging up in my house and will be printed and put into albums and they fill my heart with so much joy.  So much of live is an exhausting haze right now as a mom to young kids but Instagram has allowed me to both be in and capture these beautiful days that are passing by so quickly.

12. Not doing weddings.  It was VERY hard for me to bring myself to the point of saying that I was not going to take any weddings this year. (Ironically enough, I am writing this from a hotel in Ponce, PR where I am shooting a destination wedding tomorrow – but hey, I made an exception for a wedding in paradise and a mini vacay with my love). Actually, I haven’t even officially blogged about this.  Honestly, it has taken me an entire year to say what I have known in my heart for some time now…that weddings are not what I want to do.  All year I fought this.  I can’t even really explain why.  I used Vera’s birth as an excuse…it allowed me to say that I wasn’t going to take any weddings this year while keeping a toe in the water.  Meanwhile my website still had nothing but wedding work on it, I was still advertising myself as a wedding photographer and still fielding wedding photography requests.  It is only in the last month of 2012 that I was finally honest with myself and with the world (or the 30 people who check my website) and finally said “no” to weddings so that I can say “yes” to more work that is reflective of my true passions.  In one crazy night I pulled all but 2 or 3 wedding related images of my website, completely purged my site of anything that sold me as a wedding photographer, definitively said no to a few weddings requests that I had been entertaining and literally redefined myself as a photographer, over night. Will I never shoot another wedding ever again?  I hope not.  But I will no longer be a “wedding photographer” trying to keep a hand in that industry and I will only take wedding work that really appeals to me.  I would not be sad if I were asked to shoot one destination wedding a year. Not sad at all :) But finally letting go and saying no to weddings has been a huge step for me and a huge and exciting leap forward.

13. Defining what success looks like for ME.  This year has been all about loosening my grip on my business and allowing it to breath and grow in a new direction organically.  It has meant letting go to focus on my priorities as a wife and mother.  Making sure that my business is a blessing to my family and not an added burden.  Defining more clearly what my version of “success” is has played a huge part in that.  You can read more about that here.

14. Saying no.  Graham and I have said “no” to a few major things recently.  Saying no has been messy and hard, but not because it wasn’t the right thing to do…and not because it was done rashly or without prayer…these are things we have labored in prayer over for months…even years (unknowingly)…but it has been messy and hard because it has revealed in my heart how much I really care too much about what other people think about me, about Graham, and about our family.  We have said “no” not to become inactive or selfish but because we feel strongly that God is doing new and big things in our lives and hearts and that saying “no” is just a small part of seeing God work in big ways this year and in getting to the heart of the very specific mission that God has for our family. We know God’s big picture mission for us as believers but we are prayerfully asking God what that will look like specifically and uniquely for us as a family with the gifts and resources that he has given us.

15. Being outside more.  Living in Florida is such a blessing in that we are able to be outside for more of the year.  Moving into a new neighborhood has also allowed us to spend more time taking walks and bike rides as a family and this is something that Graham and I both thrive off of.  Fresh air.  Sunshine.  Being active.  Long walks and meaningful conversation.

16. Playdates.  One of my best friends started opening up her home once a week to allow sometimes as many as 50 kids and their moms into her home (ok maybe it just feels like 50 kids sometimes).  Some weeks it is just two or three of us with our little ones…sometimes it is a dozen women and their crazy kids all wreaking havoc on her home.  I am grateful to her and grateful for these playdates because it has created a culture in our church community where we can come together as moms…tired, with no makeup, overwhelmed, sometimes in a pile of tears, and we can do life together and be real and transparent and in doing so we can help each other through this very challenging stage of life with little ones.  My girls are surrounded with friends that they get to play with and grow up with and I am surrounded with women to both minister to and be ministered to by. And it is not just women who go to our church.  It is a place where we can invite other moms we meet and get them connected to meaningful community and even share God with them. This blesses my heart on so many levels.  It is SO far the opposite of your typical play date where a bunch of moms get together and try to prove to each other that they have it all together.  This is doing real life with other women and being able to laugh and cry together through these exhausting years.  It is unique and it is a gift to have this group of women.

17. My office.  With the move to the new house I was given my own office that doesn’t double as anything else (for now at least!).  This has been a blessing, a gift that I don’t deserve.

18. Photography Workshops.  This year was my second year teaching my own photography workshops and my first year offering one on one mentor sessions with photographers getting stated in the industry and even just hobbyists who are scared to death of all of the buttons and settings on their cameras!  I LOVE teaching.  It fires me up.  Where as I might leave a shoot feeling exhausted and sometimes frustrated, I leave a workshop bouncing off the walls with excitement and energy.  I usually talk graham’s ear off about how great it was to see these women and men get so excited about photography and go from being timid and insecure to being confident with their cameras!   It blesses my heart to be able to help someone “get it” and see a technical concept click for them!  Hosting these workshops has allowed me to marry two passions, photography and teaching/helping.  For that, I am grateful!

19.  The Essentials Workshop.  This was a brand new idea this year born out of years of Ashlee Proffitt and I saying that we want to put on a workshop together.  At the end of this year we finally sat down and put those ideas down on paper, gave it a brand and identity and launched one of the most exciting ideas that I have ever been a part of.  Even though we have not seen this reach its full potential yet, we have laid the groundwork and I literally burst at the seams with excitement over how helpful and amazing this workshop is going to be to so many people.  I have met SO many photographers over the past three years who have either e-mailed me or come to one of my workshop and they are just stuck and frustrated and questioning whether they should even continue with their little photography business.  These business usually are suffering from an identity crisis and can’t seem to get off the ground.  I wish I could have attended this workshop myself in my early years!  This is both something that I am super proud of for making happen in 2012 and so so SO excited to see grow and help other photographers in 2013.

20. Coffee.  Lets just say I made coffee happen in 2012.  I like to think I did my part to support the coffee bean industry and in return, it helped me to be a better wife and mother. haha.

21. A set work day.  This goes on both my “worked” list and “didn’t work list. It worked in that I was finally honest with myself about needing to suck it up and hire someone for a consistent day of the week to have a full day to get my photography related work done.  It just needs to happen.  My rule is that If I’m not making enough money to hire a one day a week nanny then my business must not be being that helpful and fruitful to my family in the first place.  It didn’t work because I have had a very hard time finding someone with that kind of consistent availability.  As a result I have had probably 2 dozen different people who have sporadically taken care of the girls so that I can get work done.  I am SO grateful to those ladies and am even more resolved to find a consistent nanny for this next year.

22. Babysitters in general. We have had probably 50 babysitters this year between date nights and work days.  I am blessed to have so many people who love my girls and minister to our family in this way and our marriage and my business have been able to grow as a result. My girls have been able to develop so many sweet relationships with these adults and it has been a very healthy and beneficial part of their childhood to be able to interact with and feel safe with and loved by so many different people who have loved on our family in this way.

23. Being like-minded with Graham.  Our marriage has its share of struggles but it is such a blessing to me to have a husband who is like-minded in goals and desires.  If nothing else it has made our marriage a safe place where we can openly acknowledge when something isn’t working – even if it is outside of our realm of control.  We can acknowledge and pray through the bad while appreciating together the good.

24.  Being real. Being transparent. Being honest.  This works.  So much of what I have already written alludes to it.  The alternative is exhausting. Being transparent leads to growth and depth and I have benefited this year from being a part of a friendship culture and church culture that cultivates this quality.

25.  Budgeting.  We love Dave Ramsey and I am blessed with a husband who devours finance and budgeting books like women devour romance novels. haha.  We have budgeted out every year since our first year of marriage 7 years ago and every year we reap the rewards of that both financially and in our marriage in that finances is something that we have never really argued about thanks to disciplined budgeting under my husband’s leadership.

26. Babywise.  I won’t get all crazy babywise-fanatic on you but Babywise was literally the best and most life changing parenting decision we have ever made.  It worked 3 and a half years ago with Chloe and it was a life and sanity saver again going from a mom of one to a mom of two this past year.

27. The Daily Audio Bible.  Another life changing resource I am thankful for in 2012 and will continue to use more in 2013.  The number one thing that I need going into this next year is more of God and less of me.  The Daily Audio Bible app for my phone has allowed this tired busy mom of two to continue to seek to saturate my life with scripture in what few “free” moments I have.  Listening to it during those long hours of breastfeeding Vera early on nourished my heart in so many ways.

28.  Working with inspiring creatives.  I met a few very talented ladies at MTH two years ago and those relationships have continued to be vital to my growth as a woman, an artist (which I have trouble even calling myself) and a businesswoman.  In 2012, my work with some of these ladies has helped me to identify my ideal client and given me some clarity about the types of people and the types of projects that I want to take in the future.

29.  Prayer.  Prayer also goes on both my “worked” and “didn’t work” list.  I saw God answer some major prayers this year in my own life and in the lives of my family and friends and yet it “didn’t work” because my prayer life is one of the biggest areas where I am not where I want to be.  I am so busy and distracted and type A that I really struggle with quieting my heart and mind and talking to God for longer intentional amounts of time.  And yet again, in God’s grace and despite my lack of diligence in this area, God worked in BIG ways this year.

30. Coffee and Colossians Facebook Bible study.  What started as a way to disciple two ladies through the book of Colossians turned into an online do-at-your-own-pace bible study with over 120 women from all over the US.  The fact that all of these women were seeking to know God and be in the word more just blew me away and totally fired me up!

31. Super Silly Saturday.  Being silly with my girls. Rolling around on the living room floor.  Dancing in the kitchen. I love our silly little family.

32. Listening to sermon podcasts with Graham.  One of the best ways to start family fun friday while Chloe watched cartoons and Vera played was cuddling up in bed in our pjs with coffee and watching a sermon podcast together.  It always encourages and fires us up and starts great conversation. This was also great to do on long car trips. Any time we replace our own grumbling/complaining with God’s word worked. Tim Keller of Redeemer church is one of our favorites.

33.  Bike rides.

34. Taking the time to seek our inspiration and living an inspired life.  I don’t reallly get on Pinterest much.  My time is stretched thin and when the girls are napping I need to use every minute of that time to get my work done. The same goes for reading blogs.  There is so much inspiring stuff out there and i just dont have time these days to follow it…and soem of it can be a black hole (Pinterest) BUT I am a creative and I have realized that I need to allow time for inspiration.  When I did allow for time to be on Pinterest or read a few blogs that I like I found myself energized, encouraged and inspired, coming alive and DOING the things that I love.

35. Learning from older women who are believers.  At our young church we are still among the “oldest” in the congregation.  I learn SO much from my amazing peers but there have been a few times this year where I have had the opportunity to sit and listen to some godly women who are in a totally different season of life and those conversations were life changing for my relationship with God.

36. Connecting and Transforming.  Theses are my two words for 2013.  Connect and Transform.  Any time that I was able to have a genuine, deep, transparent, honest connection with someone and be able to give something that would transform (teach/inspire/encourage) them I was SO  fired up.  These two things make me feel the most alive and purposeful whether it is a connection with Chloe, Graham, family, friends or even strangers and whether it was over life or God or work…times of connection and transformation worked and made my heart come alive with god’s purpose for me.

37. Helping and Giving.  Always worked.  Especially when it is anonymous or can’t be repaid. It always felt more right. If you can never repay me for what I have done then I feel like I am finally doing my job as a friend.

38. Honesty and transparency with Graham in our marriage always works.

39. Realizing what God has given me the grace to do and what he has NOT given me the grace to do and letting go of the guilt worked this year, as it related to parenting and pretty much all areas of life. It was good for my soul and I grew in my relationship and understanding of God.

40. Teaching.  Teaching always lights my heart on fire.

41.  One on one time with each of my girls – speaking their individual love language worked.

42. Time away with Graham to love, connect and have meaningful conversation worked.

43. Changing my focus and humbling myself from always trying to teach the people around me to trying to learn something from everyone worked.

44. Being attentive, aware and actively engaged in Graham’s job.

45. Acknowledging the weak spots and trials in our marriage worked.  Even when we could not immediately fix the problem.

46.  Skype calls with family to stay connected and do life together even from 1000 miles away.

47. Reading side by side with graham instead of watching t.v.

48. Family walks.

49. Opening up our home and having people over for dinner and being able to pour into them with good food and meaningful conversation and encouragement.

50. Praying and waiting instead of trying to control a situation.  That generally works:)

I would really love to hear what worked for you in 2012! Feel free to leave your comments here!