My 27th Birthday & Houses of Hope

Wow! I cannot believe that I am already 27 years old. The last 26 years have passed by so quickly. Adulthood has been such a journey of discovering what God has called me to do. Calling is a funny thing. So many of us, as Christians, think we need a specific call like a dream or hearing God’s audible voice. And while God does sometimes work that way, we often forget that if we are a Christian that God has already given us specific calls that we can start following. One that God so often reminds me of comes from James 1:27 “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means airing for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” It is very clear that we don’t have to wait around for a specific call, but that caring for the orphans and widows are our responsibility if we are following Jesus.

But what does that mean for me? What does that mean for us? I have often found myself feeling (as I’m sure many other people do)  frustrated and overwhelmed with all the needs and not really sure where to begin. Over the last year, specifically, God has been teaching me to be more present and with that, opening my eyes to opportunities that he puts right in front of me. In November Phil and I found out that an orphanage that he helped to start, Houses of Hope, was running out of water and in dire need of funds to dig deeper wells. I felt such a burden for those kids, whose pictures had become so familiar to me. And I knew quite quickly that God placed them on my heart for a reason so I decided to do a birthday fundraiser to work towards getting the rest of the funds needed for the well. Sometimes all it takes is being open to the opportunities that God puts right in front of you. And since I haven’t personally been to Houses of Hope yet, I wanted to hear and share Phil’s experience (italicized) and why it means so much to us.

My experience with Houses of Hope and African Leadership Development began back when I was in my early teens. Dr. Bill Rapier, the president of ALD, moved into my neighborhood and my family quickly became friends with him and his family. This was when I was introduced to the work he was doing in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

I was able to get involved with ALD by helping Bill collect items such as building materials, books, and computers to send in 40 ft containers over to help with the development of an orphanage in South Africa and as well as the development of people of all ages to help them gain computer skills and knowledge.

When I was 16 I finally got the opportunity to go over to Africa with a friend and with Bill to help with beginning construction on a new orphanage, to be located in Whunga, Zimbabwe. It was an amazing experience getting to go to a place where there was so much joy despite how little they had. There was no running water, no plumbing, no electricity and it really opened my eyes to the world outside what I had grown up in. We started the building of an orphan home and a church that would be supporting the orphanage.

Since then I have been able to travel back two times, although the middle trip I ended up sick on the flight over so I wasn’t able to make the trip to the orphanage, but the third time was in January of 2017 when I went with three of my siblings and one of my good friends. On this trip we helped with expanding the living space for the orphanage as well as a covered eating area for the kids. During this time I was really impacted as I saw these kids live their daily lives, be loved by the pastor who runs the orphanage and love on each other and us. It truly gave me an appreciation for what I have and for what it truly means to be joyful and thankful in any circumstance.

I know that for Phil and myself, and probably everyone else reading this, the concept of running out of water is completely foreign to us. Even if our water is shut off or if a pipe bursts, we can easily go to the store or someone’s house for drinking water, to do laundry or dishes, or to take a shower. But for the kids at Houses of Hope this is the reality that they are currently facing. And it breaks my heart to know that, through no fault of their own, they don’t have parents or family that can care for them and advocate for their needs, as Phil and I will for our own daughter. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to help provide for and advocate for these kiddos and their basic needs. It might seem funny to you that this is what I choose to write about for my birthday; but Phil would tell you, that for me, it’s really normal. This is so much of our life and I wanted to share a little piece of my heart with you today ❤

The kids at Houses of Hope would be so blessed by your prayers. And if you would like to partner with Phil and I in helping to get the rest of the funds need to complete the well projected; we would be grateful and honored to have you be a part of what God is doing in the lives of the orphans at Houses of Hope, Zimbabwe. Whether it is $5 or $10 or a much larger amount, it will come together to have a huge impact on them! I have included the facebook link to our fundraiser, but if you do not have facebook and still would like to participate, please reach out-I have both Venmo and paypal as well.

Houses of Hope Well Fundraiser

 

With Love,

Lauren Ashley

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It’s a Girl!!!

The other Friday, we went in for our 20 week anatomy scan and ultra sound. I was excited, but also pretty nervous. It’s at this appointment that you can learn the gender of the baby, but also see full scans and learn details about the health and development of the baby. I did not know quite what to expect by this ultrasound, but continue to be amazed about the technology that was used and the development of our sweet little babe! The farther along I get in this whole “growing another human” process, the more I am amazed by God’s design and human development.

I think I had tears running down my face for over half of the appointment as we saw detailed videos of every part of the baby’s body, from blood pumping through the heart, to the brain and spine, to the little hands and feet moving around. The technician laughed and said that we have a very active baby! We weren’t even able to get a 3D photo because she was moving around so much. At this point everything looks great and right on track for development. Before we left, the tech handed us the envelope, holding the much awaited for news!

We had a gender reveal planned for Sunday, and my mom went with us to the appointment since she wouldn’t be able to be there. I was so excited waiting for Sunday and couldn’t wait for everyone to arrive! We love hosting and haven’t had a lot of time for that, so we were also really excited to have so many people, that we love, come celebrate with us. We used confetti poppers outside and it was funny because it was windy AND i wasn’t strong enough to pop it on my own so I had to turn to look as everyone was yelling out and seeing the color PINK! Phil and I were both sooo excited!!

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We had done a vote the day before and it was somewhere around 38% guesses for a boy and 62% guesses for a girl. I honestly thought it was a girl for the majority of the pregnancy; I had a pretty vivid dream of our baby about a week we found out that we were pregnant and the baby was a girl in our dream. After that I was waiting to have more dreams, but I didn’t have anymore and as time went on I started to picture a girl when we talked about the baby and just started to have a feeling. Although, I did begin to second guess myself as we came closer to the appointment.

Lately, I have been feeling a lot better, just a bit more tired than usual. And now I am starting to feel more movements (I have anterior placenta, which means baby girl is behind the placenta so movements are more muted and I’m more likely to feel movement at the side of belly then the front at this point) and now also knowing that we are going to have a little GIRL, makes her feel so much more real to me. I seriously can’t WAIT to see Phil as a girl daddy and hold our precious little one! Phil and I feel so blessed by this little one that God has handpicked to be our child.

Please join us in prayer for Baby girl Denner as we continue into the 2nd half of our pregnancy<3
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Maple Acre Farms

I absolutely love exploring, fun day trips, and traveling, but lately we haven’t had too much time for that. With our lack of spare time, I really wanted to do some fun fall activities, but was content with at least going to pick out some pumpkins. I spotted a place to buy pumpkins on my way home from babysitting one day and figured it would be easy to go since it was so close. So when Phil and I found out we both had the same day off of work, we decided to go on a date and pick our pumpkins out.
We were pleasantly surprised at this cute little gem that we discovered! The place that I had driven by, was Maple Acre Farms in Plymouth Meeting. Not only did they have many pumpkins to choose from, but an adorable outdoor market, fields of beautiful flowers (that you can pick and buy), live animals, and even a hayride for the weekend! It was so cute and fun to explore! On the weekends it definitely gets more crowded, but it was so neat to find this ‘little’ (17 acre) farm, smack in the middle of the suburbs!

Maple Acre Farms has different things that they offer, all year round. I definitely recommend checking it out if you are local! The little market was full of fruits and veggies-all grown locally at other farms, if not from Maple Acres, honey, cheese, and milk, and some delicious cider. Phil and I had an amazing time, and this discovery was so good for my soul. We love little unexpected dates like this, and hope to find some new local spots like this in the near future.

& Baby makes 3!

If you don’t already know…We’re PREGNANT!!! Baby Denner is due April 2020 (only 6 months to go)! To be honest, I’ve had a really hard time writing this blog, starting over multiple times. There are so many emotions and so much that has been happening that I have honestly struggled to put it all into words, so pardon the length of this entry 😉

Wow. We are going to be parents!

There isn’t a time that I can remember, not wanting to be a mom. I have memories of wanting to learn to change diapers and feed babies (siblings and cousins) before I was even in kindergarten. For Phil it may not have been for quite as long. But growing up in a family of 9 kids, he has been looking forward to having children and being a dad for quite some time. Our relationship got off to a quick start and we were married in less then 14 months from when we started dating. We both came into our marriage knowing how much we wanted kids, but wanting to wait awhile to get settled into our lives together. I wanted wait longer than Phil did, but as always he was very understanding and open to doing whatever was best for both of us. But he did say he thought I would change my mind about timing and he was right, I did.

When I found out I was pregnant, I was so excited I couldn’t even wait for Phil to get out of work…I ended up FaceTiming him during his lunch break. We were both ecstatic and for the first few days I was on cloud 9, but then reality began to sink in. Please bare with me, as I get really vulnerable here. I honestly thought it would take a lot longer for us to start our family and while I was still excited, I also had (and still do) moments of panic.

We are in a very interesting stage of our lives right now. We have a roommate currently and Phil is in the midst of a career change preparing to go back to school full time to become a nurse, and we are in a tough place financially. The timing of it all began to hit us (I take change harder than Phil), and how many unknowns are looming ahead of us. Being pregnant now, is leading towards many extra adjustments that we didn’t originally foresee…rethinking the timing of Phil’s school, finding a new living situation, completely readjusting our financial situation (while Phil is in school we will only have my income), the possibility of a career change for myself, and now we may even be moving halfway across the country in the next year.

Wow. So many HUGE changes happening at once.

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Not to mention the adjustment of a newborn coming into our lives. How do we even start planning for the baby with all these uncertainties?  My happiness was mingled with fear and worry…and then guilt for not feeling happy 24/7 and feeling like I don’t trust God enough. I also had (still have) the normal concerns for our baby and baby’s health. Not to mention HORMONES…oh my goodness, add that to all my normal feelings, and I feel so irrational at times. Just last week I burst into tears and cried for 10 minutes over Phil eating a chocolate Swiss roll that I planned on eating (poor guy haha-went out and bought me a a whole box the next day).

Without including all the upcoming changes and my emotional state, the first trimester was not the easiest on me-or on Phil for that matter. At first I felt great with a lot of energy, then came the nausea, occasional throwing up and having trouble sleeping at night, and then I got sick and was throwing up twice a day for awhile. For weeks I didn’t have an appetite and now the nausea has definitely got better in the second trimester, but I still throw up occasionally…just last night I was throwing up at 4am.

I have to say Phil is the most AMAZING husband I could ever ask for. He has been so gentle and supportive, picked up extra hours at work (so I could cut back) WHILE still taking classes, does most of the cooking and cleaning, and things like holding my hair back while I throw up and making me tea at 2 am, when he has to be up at 3:30 am for work. Also, telling me how beautiful I am as I feel gross and fat, and super self-conscious about how early I started showing (at about 11 weeks). He has been so consistent, always pointing me back to God, and helping me to trust when I struggle.

I have so much more to share…but we still have time for that 😉 We are at 15 weeks now, and while I still have concerns and many emotions; I am already thankful for this time, as I can see God growing and challenging my faith, as well as growing our relationship as a couple. I already feel more prepared for the challenges we will face over the next year and a half , as I see how God is working in us during the unknowns and difficulties that we are facing now. In the midst of it all, I am in constant amazement at the little human growing inside me (I was in AWE at my first ultrasound), and how God created women to carry them as they develop. Wow!! And in only a few short weeks we will be finding out the gender of our little one. I am so thankful that God has chosen US, to be parents to this little human. ❤

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Our One Year Anniversary<3

I can hardly believe it was already a year ago that my husband and I said “I do”! In some ways it only seems like a month or two…but at the same time it seems like we’ve been married for years. But despite the craziness of the last year, I wouldn’t have it any other way and am so glad that Phil chose to do life with me! In honor of our one year anniversary I want to share some moments from our magical DIY wedding day (photos courtesy of my lovely friend, Keziah), which wouldn’t have been possible without the help of so many of the dear people in our lives!

We had both our ceremony and reception in Manheim, PA at the gorgeous, Lakefield Weddings .

My dress was from Country Threads by Gail in Manheim and shoes from DSW!

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My friend, Amanda Lewis, did a wonderful job on my hair and 5 of the other girls. Lauren (front, second from right) did my makeup, and my dear friend, Etsuko (front right) came the whole way from JAPAN for our wedding.

Phil and I are so blessed to be surrounded by so many encouraging and loving friends.

Our flowers and greens were purchased from Etsy and Costco and all arrangements from bouquets, to table settings, to our arbor were done by my talented, Matron of honor, Janelle Meador.

Both the arbor and photo display were built by my Dad.

Our pastor from Cityline Church, Jason Hsu lead the wedding ceremony. The washing of our feet and time of worship, are moments I will cherish forever.

Many of the signs and decorations were done by my sister-in-law Danielle, centerpieces borrowed from Eileen Sadik, and centerpieces, tables, and other details put together by bridal parties.

Our delicious taco bar was made and served by wonderful church ladies (led by Jan Bechtold) and my mama made all the cupcakes and wedding cake.

And of course dancing, a wedding just isn’t complete without it!

We are so thankful to our dear families for their help and support with our wedding and throughout our first year of marriage.

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I know I shared way too many pictures, and I honestly wish that I could include more. There were so many people, memories, and details that made our day so perfect. Thinking back on our wedding day reminds me of a few important things. First, God’s provision and care about the little details-He will always provide and is always there in the seemingly ‘unimportant’ details. Phil and I have an AMAZING support system of family, friends, and mentors who not only helped us with our wedding day, but are an encouraging presence in our daily lives. And finally, I am reminded of our vows and our promise to love each other through the easy and the hard… So here’s to many more memories, adventures, and anniversaries!

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Honeymoon: Isla Mujeres (Part 2)

When we first got to our resort and saw everything that there was to do, Phil started trying to figure out how we could fit in everything haha. I had to remind him that it was okay if we didn’t do everything-this time was about relaxing and spending time with each other, and we wanted to leave feeling refreshed. So we spend most of our time relaxing in the beach or pool, got massages outdoors together, visited the hot tub spa, and ate lots of yummy food.

In advance, we did plan one excursion to Isla Mujeres; to swim with the dolphins. This is something I had been wanting to do for about 10 years and we were so excited it was an option. So on Wednesday at 7:30am we were picked up from our resort and taken to a dock where we loaded onto a boat with a bunch of other people. It was about 40 minutes to the Island, and once we were there, Phil and I were in the first group to go out with the dolphins.

 

Our boat that took us to the Island and the start of our time with the dolphins.

 

Anyone who wanted to had the opportunity to be pulled through the water.

 

And also to be pushed by the dolphins. I was a bit scared, but Phil loved it.

 

We had about an hour with the dolphins, and it was one of my favorite experiences in my entire life. The dolphins were so friendly, as well as intelligent! After our time with the dolphins, we spent the rest of the day on the island. We ate at an all you can eat restaurant, went swimming in the infinity pool, took a small boat out with a few others to snorkel (that was AMAZING too!), got to swim with stingrays and nurse sharks, and got free Starbucks drinks. Everything was included in our excursion and by the time we got back on the boat we were completely exhausted!

 

We spent the rest of our trip relaxing together on the beach and at the pool. I am so blessed to be married to someone who loves to travel and adventure as much as I do!! I am so excited for the journey God continues to take us on!

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Honeymoon: Cancún (Part 1)

When Phil and I got married last June, we only took a 2 day mini-moon to Cape May, New Jersey. We were hoping to plan a trip later on in the year, but we weren’t sure if it would be happening. Then my husband won a trip, as a second place prize in a contest at work (it covered most of the trip-so proud of how hard he works <3)! I had time off in April so we planned our trip during that time, first spending the weekend in Washington, D.C. (previous post), and then flying out of Baltimore to Cancún.

For those of you who know us personally, you know the last year and a half has been extremely crazy and we both work long hours and multiple jobs. Needless to say, this trip was a much ancipated and much needed reprieve from our everyday life. This was Phil’s first time to the Caribbean and both of our first times at an all inclusive resort!! If you have never been to an all inclusive, we recommend doing it at least ONCE in your life (we hope to do it again, but it will definitely be awhile haha). It was so nice to not have to plan meals and outings-as everything is taken care of for you and planned in advance. I literally could feel my stress being stripped away on the first day.

The lobby and halls way of the resort were open air and our hallway opened up to the front where there were hundreds of palm trees!

The gardens, layout and beaches were absolutely beautiful. I couldn’t get enough of the flowers.

There were five different restaurants to choose from, including a HUGE buffet, steakhouse, Asian Fusian, and Italian. Phil loved the buffet- there was so much to choose from!

I think my favorite was the Asian fusion- the sushi was fabulous!

We spend a lot of time on the beach. There were rows of chairs under the palm trees. The dock in the second picture, with the Cabanas, was where we got our couples massage.

We loved the outdoors, but also enjoyed our room, and just all the time together.

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We spent most of our time at the resort, but did get out for one excursion (see next post). Relaxing, getting to bed in decent time, and getting up early to go out to the beach was just what we needed.<3