Dear Atheist Self,

Many of you know my testimony, but if you don't here's the short version: for the first 22 years or so of my life, I was an adamant atheist. Adamant. At the age of 22, I got saved. Now, I'm married to a man walking the road of eldership in a small, yet thriving, church plant. Yes, a complete 180. I know.

This is a letter to my atheist self. I know, however, had I read this letter at the time, I still would have shrugged it off because God definitely still had a lot of work to do in my heart before I was ready to listen to something like this, no matter who it came from. Regardless, maybe there's someone out there that needs to hear the same thing right now, so here it goes.

Dear Atheist Self,

First and foremost, I want you to know that you are loved. I know that sometimes you feel as if you aren't, as if too many things in your life have confirmed that you're not worth loving and protecting, but I want you to know that you are deeply loved by your Father and his Son. You are BELOVED and treasured and made perfectly in God's image. You have a great defender. I know that doesn't make much sense to you right now, and probably sounds ridiculous, but when you come to understand this, you will experience a freedom and joy you never thought possible. You will be freed of this burden one day. Mark my word.

I know that you don't feel like you're lacking in the life you are currently living. I know that you think you're a good, humble, loving, and generous person that has come a long way, and you are, but you are also hiding from the brokenness you feel within yourself. You're trying to prove yourself and earn favor because, ultimately, you feel unworthy whether you are ready to admit that or not. I want you to know that you don't need to find your worth in others, especially those relationships where you are robbed of your dignity and self-respect, because your worth will only come from one place: God. And guess what? You don't have to earn it from Him.

Next, I ask that you try to listen more and talk less. It's normal to question, and you always will because that's your nature, but don't take it too far. Be the open minded person you claim to be. When Christians approach you and tell you about their Jesus, listen. Stop focusing on what your comeback will be and listen. Also, stop viewing them as naive. You will meet many highly educated Christians in the coming years that are anything but naive.

This next one might come as a surprise but I want you to know that, yes, you are right, Christians ARE hypocrites. You're smart. Yes, Christians will not always practice what they preach because they are sinners. They will always be hypocrites, and that's alright. But guess what? You're also a hypocrite. Most people are. The good thing about Christians though, atheist, is that many of them are willing to admit to this hypocrisy. To admit that they don't have it all figured out and are in need of help. That's somewhere you struggle, friend. This is why we need Jesus, yes, even you.

Atheist, you don't have to be perfect to come to Jesus. I know those nuclear families that have generations of history in the church and speak confusing Christian-ese terrify you because you feel like they'll never understand where you came from, and I'm going to be honest, sometimes that will feel lonely. Sometimes it will be hard to be the one with a tough history, but I want you to know that everyone in the church is broken. Their brokenness might not look the same, but everyone is broken and everyone has their crap. Don't let that deter you.

I'll also warn you that it will be very hard to be an introvert in a church. I will warn you that not all churches value introverts in the same way they do extroverts, but I want you to know that God will use your introverted-ness for good. You don't have to be a perky, young-life-going person to know Jesus. Stop putting Christians in that box, atheist. I also want you to know that Christians aren't as boring as you think they are and that you won't have to become a cookie-cutter, bland Christian that doesn't have any fun. You will not only be able to be yourself more fully, but you'll know yourself more fully as a Christian. The good and the bad.

Finally, I want you to forgive more. Stop damaging the relationships where the other person hurts you or doesn't hold up "their end" of the friendship. Don't hold so many grudges. Forgiveness will be something you always struggle with, but once you understand the ultimate act of forgiveness, this will become easier for you. But for now, stop being surprised when you get hurt and stop taking it so personally. It's not all about you, dear. Love well even when it isn't deserved because, one day, you will realize that you are loved in a way that is undeserved as well.

You are wonderfully made,

Your Christian Self
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4 EASY Ways to Better Finances

You know you're an adult when you get excited about budgeting and saving money. Or maybe that's just how you know you're a graduate student... who knows.

M and I have recently gotten super serious about saving and I have found a few apps that make it SO much easier to save and even make a little extra cash! I already told you about Airbnb, so today I'll tell you about some of my other favorite easy ways to better finances.

1. Mint. Mint is a top-notch budgeting app that allows you to set budgets based on typical spending, set goals, and manage investments. M and I have a single account with all of our bank accounts listed so we can both stay on track with our monthly budget. It's great for keeping ourselves accountable, watching our spending trends, and being more mindful of long-term goals. We really love how easy to use and customizable it is!

2. Ibotta. Ibotta is a way to get cash back for everyday expenses. For example, you can unlock certain cash-back items from your local grocery store so that when you buy that item, all you do is scan the item and your receipt with your phone after purchasing and BOOM cash back. We recently got cash back for bananas, tomatoes, and onions. Things we buy all the time! You can transfer this cash to your paypal or use it to get a gift card (which is perfect for date night!). The app also has a feature where you can have "teammates" and work together for cash back. I might have a little too much fun with this one. If you sign up now you'll get $10 free!

3. Acorns. I just heard about Acorns and I'm still trying to figure it out. However, the app seems perfect for investing. You can choose to round up on your purchases and put the difference into savings, schedule recurring investments, or invest lump sums! It seems great for planning for things like retirement or buying your first home. There is a small fee associated with using the app which includes $1 a month for under $5,000 or 0.25% a year for those over $5,000. BUT it's free for students! I love the idea that I can round up on basic purchases while saving at the same time! A little bit can go a long way over many years! I would love if you used my referral code to sign up!

4. ThredUp. I mean, I have talked about ThredUp a ton before. I love ThredUp because you can sell back your used clothing and it's SO easy! I usually just go to Goodwill, so why not send them to ThredUp (for free) and have them donate what they won't buy? Sounds like a STELLAR plan to me. All you have to do is order a clean-up kit and throw it in the mail. It's seriously that easy. You'll get credit that you can cash out or use to buy new clothing items. I usually choose the latter since I don't have a huge budget for buying new clothes. It's the BEST. They even have plus size, maternity, and kids clothing! Sign up today and get $10 free!

Have you tried any of these apps? What are your favorite easy ways to better finances? I'd love to know!

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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Airbnb Hosting

Airbnb hosting
Many of you know that my husband and I are Airbnb hosts. After nearly a year of me trying to convince my husband to join Airbnb, we finally took the leap this last September. Since then, we have fallen in love with hosting and actually done quite well at it. We recently received superhost status.

I'm going to give you a quick rundown and then move on to some frequently asked questions. PLEASE feel free to ask more questions below and I will update this post with responses!

So what is Airbnb? Airbnb is a community where people can list, discover, and book various accommodations around the world. I love Airbnb because not only can you find super unique locations to stay, but you can also find them at an incredibly affordable price. Hosts can control as much or as little as they would like and they completely call the shots when it comes their listing, so things vary place to place.

Hosts can also determine who they do and do not allow to stay with them, what amenities they will offer, how much space in their home they will list (whether it's one bedroom, two, or their whole place), whether people can bring their pets, and so on and so forth.

Hosts get complete control over the minimum number of nights a guest must book, how much they charge per night, and which guests they allow to book. You can completely control which nights are available and which are "blocked." Airbnb has a great blinded review process which allows hosts to read about a guest's previous reviews before allowing them to book your listing. They have a verified identification process for each guest which requires guests to enter their driver's license or some other form of identification to verify they are who they say they are. Airbnb also has amazing customer service, host protection up to 100,000 and a completely secure payment process (mine goes to paypal). I have never felt "exploited" or taken advantage of by Airbnb.

Airbnb hosting
When we first started hosting in September of last year, we weren't sure if we would even get any bookings. After we listed our space, we had a booking within 15 minutes! Since then, we have hosted nearly 30 trips. The last two months, we earned almost our entire house payment on Airbnb income alone. However, I also want to point out that we don't do this for the money and if that's your only motivation, you might find this to be a lot of work. We give part of our earnings to our church and, honestly, we use it as an opportunity to be missional. Having people in your home, showing them hospitality, and loving them well is a great way to show Christ's love to people that might not otherwise spend time around believers or in a believer's home. We also have a rule that if it becomes too stressful or interferes with our marriage in any way, we take a week or so off from hosting. I think it's important to think about your motivations for wanting to be a host and to set boundaries for yourself.

Keep your eye out for a post on how to have a great listing and tips on how to be a stellar host!

Don't you worry about getting very unpleasant guests?
It would be unnatural not to worry about that, but really, it's less of a concern now that we have been hosting for a while. Sure, we have had some more challenging guests (one who was terrified of pets... we have 3), but the majority of people are really great. You can screen out "unpleasant" guests by reading through their reviews before accepting their request to book. If guests don't have reviews yet, you can always not accept their request. However, people are usually really grateful for our hospitality and very respectful of our space.

That being said, I really believe in the review process. It's your job to inform other hosts about unpleasant guests so don't feel bad giving guests bad reviews if you have to. It's how we keep Airbnb honest.

Isn't it weird to have strangers in your house?
Again, it was at first. We are both complete introverts and worried that we wouldn't be able to relax with people here, but the majority of people that stay with us are rarely even around. People don't book to hang out at your house... I think you get over having strangers in your house pretty fast once you start hosting.

We have pets, would that be a problem?
NOPE. You can indicate this on your profile so guests know ahead of time that pets live on your property.

Do I have to own my space to list it?
Negative. I have friends with extra rooms in their apartments who are hosts!

Do you have any more questions for me about Airbnb hosting or related topics? Leave them in the comments below!

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United Relay of America and How YOU Can Help!

Disclaimer: I received a free entry for United Relay of America as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

I'm really excited because I have recently been given the opportunity to participate in United Relay which is the first non-stop running relay setting off from Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles and meeting in New York City! Three routes from the West to the East coast of America, over 9,000 runners and one aim: inspire, empower and connect people across America – to not just be part of running history, but to be united for a better world! If you’re interested please consider signing up!

Part of participating in United Relay is raising money for one of the causes they partner with. I will be running a 9 mile leg and an 11 mile leg in mid-Missouri both on May 20th in honor of Girl Rising (GO RED TEAM!). Girl Rising is a global campaign for girls’ education. They raise awareness about the issue, inspire action and drive resources to their partners, and together make change happen. Their partners include World Vision and Room to Read, among others. You can read more about that here.

I’m writing to ask for your support as I get ready to participate in this race and raise money for Girl Rising. Here’s how you can help:

1. Sponsor me and help me reach my $300 goal. I have already raised 33% of my goal since signing up last week. With even a few dollars of help from 10 people I will reach my goal in no time! DONATE HERE.

2. Keep me accountable. I have run over 9 miles a many times, but the race is in the middle of the night and that will be a huge mental obstacle for me. I could definitely use encouragement, prayer, and accountability! I'm a mental runner so having a good mindset is going to be key.

3. Share this information!

Thanks so much! I can't wait to keep everyone posted on this journey! Follow along with me on instagram and twitter for training and fundraising updates.

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Blogging Hasn't Really Been My Thing Lately

Let me just start out by pointing out the obvious: blogging hasn't really been my thing lately. I have spent a lot of time thinking about my blog and although I really do love it, a number of things have made me question whether this is something I want to continue to have be a part of my life or not.

I initially started my blog to encourage other women. To point them to Jesus and build community, two things I feel God has called us to do. Somewhere along the way, I lost those things. Although I was under the impression that I was pointing people to Jesus and building community, a number of things have happened over the last year that have shown me that maybe I was fooling myself. It's easy to be "community" behind a keyboard, but man was I shocked about the real hearts behind some of those keyboards. Hearts I felt were not consistent with the words on their blogs. Hearts that hurt me and made me wonder "is this real?" Hearts that themselves are hurting.

Don't get me wrong, I have met some WONDERFUL, lifelong friends through blogging but others have left me with this icky feeling that maybe blogging is just allowing us to hide. To not venture out and face our demons. To hide behind our staged photos and pretty words instead of saying "I'm hurting." Well, friends. I'm hurting.

These last 6 months have been a really big challenge for me. There have been lots of changes, many heartaches, and many tears. Ministry is hard. Graduate school is hard. Marriage is hard. And blogging all of a sudden became hard for me. It became a source of annoyance. That's not what it's supposed to be, so I stopped. Instead, I started to practice self care and to reach out to those friends who would love me well in the middle of it. Some of those were friends I have met through blogging, and some where not. But I needed that for my heart.

I don't hate blogging or bloggers, but I think this community is lost. We call ourselves "lifestyle bloggers" or "food bloggers" but often get so caught up in having pinnable images or branded social media presences that we forget to be real people. We forget that other women read our blogs and instead of leaving encouraged, leave feeling less than because their house isn't all white and their husbands don't make them breakfast in bed on a tray with fresh flowers and they don't have 15,000 followers on instagram. I don't think any of those things themselves are necessarily bad, but it has left me craving authenticity.

I'm going to make a vow to all of you to be authentic. Obviously, I will continue to have boundaries about when and what I share, but I want this to be a safe space. Not a space where you exit your browser and feel that icky feeling I sometimes feel. In the meantime, I'll be getting back to the things I love. Reading my bible, running/cycling, and loving others well.

If you need to set boundaries for yourself and get rid of that "icky" feeling, here are some things that have worked well for me:
1. Seek Jesus first. I'm not always great at this, but this world is going to hurt and Jesus is our lifeline in that.

2. Practice self-care. For me that's running, reading a good book, or having a night alone with my husband. It's leaving my work at the office for the weekend and being present in my life.

3. Cleanse your social media. I used to think certain accounts gave me "inspiration" because their homes were beautifully decorated and their kids super cute and put together, but those accounts hurt my heart. They made me envious. It's nothing personal against those people, but you have to set boundaries for yourself.

4. Tell others you're not OK. A good blogging friend knew I was struggling with something in my life and she encouraged me to tell my friends that, even though they were the ones I was struggling with. She encouraged me to set boundaries and tell people, I love you and I'm happy for you, but this hurts for me. It was wonderful advice.

5. Let yourself be taken care of and take a step back. Stop trying to carry the world on your shoulders. Whether that's having a consistent blogging schedule, always trying to carry everyone else's burdens, or not allowing yourself to feel hurt when hurtful things happen, take a break and let others help you. Seek therapy if needed. It's OK to not be OK all the time. We're human.

To the friends reading this post, thank you. Thank you for coming back time and time again despite my failure to follow all the right "blogging rules." I appreciate you. Let us love each other well and with honest hearts.

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Hospital Hill Run

It has been a while since I have visited this space. I promise I'll share more about that soon, but first, I need to talk about one of my other loves: RUNNING. And more importantly, RACING.

Since moving to the Midwest I have raced in a variety of locations like Tulsa, but I have never raced in Missouri (at least not outside of mid-Missouri where I currently live). So in June, I'm headed to Kansas City for the Hospital Hill Run! This is a really well known race with a lot of history. I'm really excited to share more about it with you.

The hospital hill run has a 5K, 10K and half marathon!

Here are some fun facts I recently learned about the Hospital Hill Run:
1. It's the oldest race in Kansas City! 2016 will be its 43rd year!

2. There are 6 named hills in the half marathon course and 4 in the 10K course. These hills are something conquered with pride! People return each year to race these hills. I'll let you in on a little secret: I HATE hills, so I'm basically terrified.

3. The swag is SWEET:

4. They have a "re-run" where you can run the 5K on Friday and the 10K or half on Saturday.

5. Each race gets a medal and the re-run gets you 2 shirts, 3 medals, and 2 post-race parties. I mean, CAN YOU BEAT THAT?!

6. The race has FREE PARKING. In a city like KC, that's a HUGE perk.

7. There are a BUNCH of post-race parties including a family-oriented party Friday complete with balloon animals, face paint, and BBQ AND a Saturday party that includes a pancake breakfast. I mean, only thing runners like more than pancakes post-race is beer. So, it's basically a win-win-win.

8. I hear the course is wonderful!

Don't miss these upcoming events:
Fun Run at the Westin Crown Center (Thursday, April 7 at 6:30am)
Free Diva's Clinic at Fleet Feet (Thursday, April 7th at 7:00pm)

The next price increase is May 15th! Not interested in running? Consider being a volunteer!

Use the code "BIBRAVE2016" for 10% off your registration.
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