Building an offline community.

One hears so much about building their "online community" these days.

   And while I think the friendships forged and formed with the aid of modern technology and social media are valid and valuable, I am afraid that in the pursuit of building a community spread over states and miles and countries and wireless networks, we lose something.

   It would have never even occurred to me a number of years ago to pursue meaningful relationships online.  Comments and emails and followers have always been nice, but not where I would turn for validation or affirmation in friendship.  That always happened in person, flesh and blood.  And while travel afforded me many opportunities to meet new people and form new friendships, the fact remained that it was at least REAL people.  People I had known and met and smiled with and talked to and experienced life with.

But times have changed.

   Now, we have Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Youtube and a plethora of other things I don't even really know how to use, to aid us in forming friendships and making connections and building that community deeper and wider and faster and farther.....and still not really, truly, walking in real life with anyone.  They clamor for our time and attention and resources, using us up until we have hardly any time left for the people around us anymore.

And really, it's so much easier to try and "build a following" than it is to make a real-life friend.

   It doesn't take nearly as much vulnerability.  They see only what you want them to see, and they only get as close as you allow them to be.  You can carefully select and edit your online persona whereas in real life.....it's just you.  The ugly and the beautiful.  The graceful and the clumsy.  The elegant and the unrefined.  The whole package.

   The nearest Costco to me is about 30 minutes away, and a woman who works there reads my blog.  (She might even read this, actually:)  I was sitting in the food court chatting with a friend and feeding the girls their supremely healthy and nutritious lunch of hotdogs when she came up and shook my hand and said, "Are you Shelley Smucker?  I read your blog!"

   And I'll never forget the way those words made me feel....instantaneous shock and surprise, followed by a thrill of affirmation, followed by fear.

"What if I'm not what she expected?"
"What if I was frustrated with my children in the checkout line and she overheard?"
"Do we look like a mess?"
"There's ketchup all over their faces!"
"Maybe it's all rather a bit of a disappointment, after meeting me."

  And these thoughts shoot rapid-fire through my mind because....well, in real life there are no buffers!  There is no auto-correct, no spell-check, no filters that make you look like you have a tan.

There's just...me.

  But our life's purpose is not the pursuit of comfort, and it's not always about the easy way out.  And so I've started doing things that scare me, stretch me, and take me out of my comfort zone.

   I am starting to invest more time and energy and effort into my church family, even when I would rather be alone, or just stay home.  Or writing on my blog.  Or building my "online community".

   I have begun meeting once a month with a small group of women who, when we are all gathered, represent three different churches and our paths would almost never normally cross.  But this group calls us out of our normal "realm", out of our comfort zone, and into coffee shops and each other's homes and lives, and creates community.  The real kind.  The kind where our children shyly meet and then run and laugh and play and we share stories and hurts and ideas and dreams and cups of coffee, and wonder how it is even possible to live so close in miles and yet so far away in relationship.

   My thoughts are so scattered and I could go on and on, but I'll leave you with this.......online community is a beautiful thing.  I am in awe and totally humbled at the gift of technology, and that the words I type in the quiet of my home could encourage or inspire someone at Costco, or in Canada, or beyond.  I am so grateful for the connections that I have been privileged to make through social media.  But it doesn't end there.

   God also calls us to real-life community and fellowship, and we need to be careful that we don't take the "easy way out".  We need to be careful that we don't pursue building an online community at the expense of the one a stone's throw from our front door.  Because there are people all around us, real people, SO VERY CLOSE to us that need fellowship.

I'd love to hear from you!  What are some ways you are building your "offline" community?


Rug mania.

   O.k. so in a totally unrelated note to this post...I hope it was clear in my previous post about maternity fashion that I was the late one in getting my stuff together, not Alicia!  Upon asking her to help me with that post she was perfectly prompt in sending me her pictures and info right away and it was totally my end of things that ended up taking forever.  So...I hope it didn't come across the other way around.  Sometimes things make perfect sense in my head because it's my thoughts and my fingers typing and then when I read over it later I'm like.....Hmmmm.....so.  Just wanted to set the record straight on that one.:)  A big thanks again to Alicia, for helping me out!  I hope you all were able to check her blog out and leave her some love.

   And now on to more important, life-and-death matters.  (kidding)  I need to find a rug for our master bedroom, and while I usually thoroughly enjoy shopping, there are a few things that will plummet me straight into the vortex known as the great World Wide Web for a shameful amount of hours, scouring the depths of the internets in hopes of finding just the perfect one.  Strollers, diaper bags, gliders, rugs....o.k. so a lot of things.  It is a wretched habit that I hope to be set free of one day.

   But in the meantime?  Selecting something of significant value or cost takes me F-O-R-E-V-E-R and by the time I have made my choice, I have probably seen hundreds (no exaggeration) of similar products and they all start to blend together in my mind and I start to go a little crazy.

It's just all a little bit silly, really.

  In my defense, I think it is because I like to be frugal and thrifty, and so spending a big chunk of money doesn't come easily for me.  That is why the decision is mulled over, contemplated, compared with others, reviews are read, ratings are checked, sales are searched for, and coupon codes are hunted down with vim and vigor.  And still, sometimes I just end up getting nothing and waiting around for no apparent reason before beginning the whole tedious process over again.

Like I said, it's rather ridiculous.

   So when we started re-doing the master bedroom and I knew that switching to wood floors would mean I would need to shop around for the right area rug.....part of me panicked just a little bit.  I know, first world problems, right?   I mean....I have pregnancy brain and two toddlers and 1,000 other things to do right now and the last thing I feel like doing is melting my eyeballs with 70,000 thumbnail images to sort through on RugsUSA.com.

So that's where you come in.

   I have put together a vision board (ha!  Not really, but the closest I could come to one) of a rather vague representation of what I like in a rug.  Some of the items are really similar and some are completely and totally unrelated so.......I suppose your guess is as good as mine?

   I guess my taste in rugs is sort of all over the board except for a distinctive bohemian/urban flavor?  I have no idea really.  So give feedback if you like, or send me a link to a completely different one that you think I would like, or just ones that YOU really like, etc. etc.  It'll be fun.  And this way, I can let all of you do the shopping for me!

Just kidding.  Or am I?

Happy hunting!


Maternity fashion.

  If the last thing you're interested in these days is a little maternity fashion, than you can just go ahead and click off of this page.  But if you ARE interested in maternity fashion, than today is your lucky day, because that's what this post is all about!

   I asked a fellow pregnant blogger to help me out with this fashion post, and I'll go ahead and save myself the embarrassment of revealing how long ago it was that I asked her, but hey, I'm posting this before she actually had her baby! So all is well.

Denim top from H & M
- Cardigan is thrifted
Belt from Target

   Alicia blogs over at Beautiful Undefined and one of the first things you will notice about her (by either following her blog or her stunning Instagram) is that she has MASTERED the art of neutrals both in her home decor, and her wardrobe.  Neutrals are everywhere right now and just shout hip, NYC, metro, young and fresh, and I would love to add more of them to my life!  But somehow my closet still just always ends up looking like a rainbow.  But you know what? I've embraced it and decided that for this fashion post, I'll let Alicia show you how to style some of those favorite neutral pieces even during pregnancy, and I'll show you some colorful options. 

- Old Navy Maternity Jeans
White tee from Kohls
- Faux fur vest from Brickyard Buffalo

I asked her for some tips on dressing while pregnant, and it seems she adopts a theory similar to my own....there is really no need to go out and acquire an entire maternity wardrobe.  So many pieces can be layered and used to last throughout your entire pregnancy, and beyond!  Some of Alicia's favorites are flowy tops, tunics, long tees, cardigans and dark-wash jeans. 

White top from H & M
Cardigan from H & M

   But of course we all know that non-maternity duds only work for so long (and even less easily with your third pregnancy)!  And so after the whole hair-band in the button hole trick isn't cutting it anymore, adding a few maternity basics to mix in with your normal wardrobe goes a long way toward stretching your closet to last the whole 9 months (pun intended) without breaking the bank.

(Please notice the lovely photo bomb by my darling daughter)

   A perfect example of making non-maternity items work?  This blue dress.  It was from Old Navy years ago and has been one of my go-to favorites for all three pregnancies!  To find something similar, just look for high-waisted, flowy and stretchy material, and with summer coming there are always countless loose and forgiving dresses around.  You're bound to find something just about anywhere (even on the clearance rack!) as opposed to those expensive maternity stores with limited options.   

   One of my favorite maternity combinations is a loose dress paired with leggings.  You honestly cannot even get much more comfortable that that!  The dress and cardigan are both second-hand, and the leggings were bought a long time ago.  (I am so not a fashion blogger)  But I LOVE the deep rust color of this dress and have found myself turning to it time and time again! Once again, it is not maternity, but high-waisted and stretchy with lots of room and movement.  

   As much of a rainbow as my closet seems to be, I definitely find myself turning to certain colors over and over.  This bright blue cardigan is a favorite and this fun striped dress was found at a garage sale.  I love deep, rich, jewel tones even though I have no idea (nor ever have) what my "official colors" are.  So maybe those are it?  The dress is non-maternity and most likely won't last for the whole pregnancy, but it works for now, with really stretchy side seams. 

  I found this green skirt at a thrift store and while I normally love wearing it, I haven't been brave enough to style it yet this pregnancy.  However, I threw it on for this post because of the rich color, and maybe I will pull it out of the closet more often when the weather gets a little warmer.  Anything with a stretchy waistband and enough length can be pulled up over your bump to appear maternity. And hats are ALWAYS a good thing, as the last thing a pregnant woman feels like spending a lot of time on is her hair.

  Ahh yes, the tunic and pants combo.  Don't you just love it when current styles just happen to also be friendly to expectant mothers?  The top was thrifted from Goodwill and once again, is not maternity.  Just look for a high waist with a tie-back sash or add a belt, and you are good to go! 

  I hope you found this post in some small way helpful.  I know from experience that it can feel so daunting while pregnant to try and figure out creative ways to style the pieces you already have.  But the alternative of investing in an entire new wardrobe that you will only wear for a few months is not appealing either, and so it can be done, I promise!  

   And now I'd love to hear from you! What are some of your favorite maternity (or non) pieces for pregnancy? 


Book review: You and Me Forever.

Hello, Monday.

   I don't know about you, but the beginning of our week has brought rain and puzzles, power naps and laundry, cups of coffee and only getting out of my pajamas for a quick Costco run.  Not too shabby, in my book of Mondays.  And speaking of books....one that you need to go ahead and rocket-launch right to the top of your MUST-READ list is this one, by Francis Chan and his wife Lisa.

   Life has been crazy lately with home projects and car shopping and investing time and effort into our real-life relationships, and a good, solid read was JUST what I needed to re-focus and ground me again.  After our pastor mentioned that he had recently read through it with his wife and highly recommended it, we bought it for a little Valentine's date activity and of course, I just now got around to reading it.

   Oh and by the way, this post is in no way, shape, or form a sponsored post, I am just gushing about it because I truly, honestly loved it SO much and wish everyone I know could have their own copy.  It's slightly laughable to me that I even have to make the whole "this isn't sponsored" disclaimer, but in a day and age when I feel like even my most favorite, genuine, authentic blogs are becoming walking billboards for products and promotions, I just wanted to make my intentions clear from the start.

   Anyway, one night, pregnancy insomnia (and WAY too much peach iced tea) had me up for almost the entire night, and I tore right through it.  And my brain is still spinning and swimming and trying to wrap itself around all of the ideas and inspirations and goals found between its pages.

  I cannot speak highly enough about this book.  It would fall into the category of "marriage books" but is like no other marriage book I've ever read or heard of.  Here's an excerpt from the back:

"Marriage is great, but it's not forever.  It's until death do us part.  Then come eternal rewards or regrets, depending on how we spent our lives.

While we cannot allow lesser things to destroy our marriages, we also cannot allow marriage to distract us from greater things.  

A jealous God asks us to pursue Him first and most.  Jesus was right, we have it all backwards.  The way to have a great marriage is by not focusing on marriage. "  --Francis Chan

   And if it sounds radical, than I guess that's because it kind of is.  It has taken the perspective of focusing on ourselves and our marriages and our families and our happiness and turned it all on its head, and blown my entire ideas WIDE OPEN of what my focus in life should really be.

  I think we all want to "improve" our marriages.  We all want really great ones. I mean, who doesn't? I think the highest two compliments I've ever been paid were:

1. "My wife asked me one time who is a couple a really admire and I immediately thought of you and Randy.  I just want a marriage like that."
2. "Every man deserves to have someone look at him the way you look at Randy."

  But after reading this book and thinking more and more about what it means to have a great marriage, I've realized that my goal should not be to have a marriage relationship that makes people say, "Wow, I wish I had a marriage like that" but rather, my goal should be to have a marriage that causes people to say, "Wow, I wish I served a God like theirs."

   This book won't lay out the best 7 ways to speak your spouse's love language, or how to get them to figure out yours.  This book is all about loving Jesus together, and serving on a mission together so whole-heartedly, it can do nothing else but bring you closer and closer and give you a better marriage than ever before.  Not because you have figured out the keys to love and respect, or know your spouse better than any other human on earth, but because you are both SO single-mindedly focused on your life's mission together.

   I LOVE how it addresses the topic of idolatry, and how that can apply even to something as honorable as loving our children and prioritizing family.  Because the truth is....we want to "raise children who love Jesus far more than they love us.  We want them to trust Him more than us, to enjoy Him more than us, to find more security in Him than in us."

   They make their goals of parenting not about becoming best friends with their children, or having a family unit that is tightly-knit and inseparable, but rather, their primary goal is to teach their children about the glory of God.  They make sure that their children know from an early age that their Daddy and Mommy don't control it all----God does.  All authority belongs to Him.

   And so they need to learn respect, not because Daddy and Mommy say so, but because He alone is truth.  "He alone has immortality.  He alone dwells in unapproachable light.  And because of His sovereignty, authority, power and holiness, we live our lives for His glory and not our own.  

   Our kids must be taught and shown that the world does not revolve around them-----it revolves around Jesus.  We live for Him."

  Man I seriously feel like I could just quote this whole book and that would get rather lengthy.....so instead of going to the trouble, how about you just hop on over to Amazon and check it out?  And then come back here and leave me a comment telling me about how wide-open your world was blown, just like mine.

How is your Monday going, rainy or otherwise?  And any other good reads lately?  I'd love to hear!


Thoughts on blogging.

Jocelyn: "Is your hair ready for the party mama?"
Me: "Yeah, I think so."
Jocelyn: "But it's so crazy!"

Randy: "What can we do that shows that we love Jesus?"
Charlotte: ................................*thinks for a really long time*.........................................................
.................."Take a shower".

Things have been quiet around here again.

   And usually that's because life has been super crazy or willfully neglecting my blog, but this time it's been more of a result of contemplation.  (Well, that and a little craziness, let's be honest.)  I've been trying to really closely examine my motives in blogging, my heart in this whole thing, and what God would have for me in it all.

   Lately I've felt this insane amount of pressure....that I need to somehow "make it" in the blogging world or else all of this amounts to NOTHING.  That I need to compete, or at least try and keep up, with all of the other bloggers.  That I need to try and fit a mold...the successful kind, the on-trend kind, the gets-lots-of-traffic kind, or the kind that provides something that people need and are looking for.

   And while I certainly DO what to provide something that people need and are looking for, I'm just not sure if that is necessarily what I've thought it to be in the past.  I want this to be a place of refreshment and encouragement.  I want this to be a place that leaves you feeling uplifted, and bolstered in hope, courage, and strength in your own journey.

   There is far too much Pinterest-perfection and Instagram-idealism out there already, and if I'm just adding to the noise, than I need to stop.  Because that's not what I want for this space.

   If there has ever been anything that has flowed naturally from my heart and onto these pages, it has been sharing my heart.  Whether that's funny or sad or light or dark or a crazy combination of the entire realm of emotions, THAT has been what keeps me coming back here time and time again.  I want to encourage.  I want to share about what is on my mind and heart, and I want to document our lives as we find our way through it all.

  So while you may still see the occasional random post about fashion or links that I like, or maybe even a recipe once in a blue moon, the majority of what will be happening over here at Frame of Mind is just sharing whatever it is that is on my heart lately.

   And it takes the pressure off of myself to just lay out there what you can expect from Frame of Mind, and then just go and BE THAT.  I don't want to try and be anybody else, and while there are a million blogs out there right now who are absolutely nailing it at what they do, that's OK.  It doesn't mean that I need to be a carbon copy.  That's the beauty of diversity.  You can literally find a blog (or ten or more) to cater to every specific niche or desire.  And so I don't need to try and be whatever it is that I view as relevant, or successful, I just need to be me.

   I don't know if Frame of Mind will ever quite fit into a specific category, or if it will ever be as consistent and predictable as I'd like it to be.  But once again, that's o.k.  And what I CAN tell you is that, to the best of my ability, Frame of Mind will be real.  Authentic.  I will strive my hardest to keep things real and genuine over here, and not ever try to be something that I'm not.

    For example....this picture heavy post?  I know that's not popular.  I know it's not the model of a "successful blog post structure" to upload a billion photos and blather on and on about life.  And so I've really tried to steer clear of that in the past and keep things more streamlined and simple.  And sometimes that works out for me, and sometimes it just feels like I'm trying SO hard.

 I used to take oodles of pictures of my girls and realized only recently that I don't have hardly any current ones of them, and I think this is why!  I've been trying to move towards something in my blogging style that doesn't leave room for lots of pictures.  And it's all kind of sad to me, now that I think about it.  If that's what works for us and works for my writing aesthetic, than it's OK.  Even if it's not what the other popular blogs are doing.

   And so here I am with 15 more pictures than I should be posting, and 500 more words than is probably necessary, but it's what comes naturally and so I am learning to embrace it.

   We can really only be who we are.  Everyone else is already taken.  And it can feel so vulnerable trying to figure all of that out about yourself while blogging.  Because the transformation can't really take place behind closed doors, it's just all out there front and center, in front of everyone, critics and fans alike.

 But I'm relieved that over the past years of blogging I am learning more and more about what feels natural and right, and I know when I'm trying to be something I'm not.

   We're all on this journey together!  And if you choose to follow along with us as we live our lives over here on Frame of Mind, I'm humbled and honored.

   And now I'd love to hear from you!  What are some ways in which you're trying to be more authentic and genuine in your own life?  It's not an easy thing to do!  But I can't encourage you enough to be just that......YOU.

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