Getaway to Austin, Texas: Part Two

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Groupon Getaways for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.

I love old things- buildings, architecture, furniture. You name it.

I was excited to explore some of the history of Austin our Groupon getaway several weeks ago. The Capital did not disappoint.


It was grand and it was so fun seeing it through my kids eyes. They had so many questions. My husband and I were born and raised in Texas and even though we spent the first ten years of our marriage in other states, we got back here as fast as we could.


This was the view standing in the center of the room and looking up. Spectacular.

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We spent a lot of time exploring the old buildings, the basement, antique staircases and probably a lot of places we shouldn’t have gone. Oops. My girls took my phone and did a spontaneous photo shoot.






They are so shy and timid. It’s funny because when I tried to get a great shot of my children on these epic courthouse stairs, this is what I got.


After we finished our mostly legal exploring, we rolled down the great green hill in the front of the state building. And by “we” I mean my husband and two of my kids. My teenager and I are way too cool for that. We ended the day at Magnolia Cafe and ate our weight in gingerbread pancakes.

We headed back to the Omni Barton Resort and spent the last few hours of getaway at the beautiful pool. It was a great weekend away!

Little Girls Aren’t Supposed to Be Mothers

The room is filled with thirteen and fourteen and several sixteen year old girls.

Little girls who should be playing dolls instead of mother.


We sat in a circle and talked about courage. The girls took turns sharing bits and pieces of their stories. I was in awe of their bravery.

“I was in class 3 and a nasty old man raped me on the way home from school. If I didn’t live here, I would be dead by now. I don’t take life for granted,” I winced at the hard, honest words. For the last couple of days, we’ve talked about dreams and the strength it takes to say them aloud.  She took a deep breath, “I want to be a teacher one day.”

And I swallow down the knot because I know she doesn’t know how to read or write yet.


But I’m standing in a room full of the impossible and I believe her.

The stories are filled with loneliness, but they are not alone. It’s one of the beautiful tragedies of the rescue home in Kenya that Mercy House supports. Yes, there is pain and suffering and unspeakable sorrow, but when it’s what you have in common with your sisters and their babies, you feel a little less alone.

Sometimes it’s easier to find God together.


We live in a broken world where little girls become mothers. And if we watch the news, no place feels safe. We dodge crowded markets and avoid tourist spots when we are here because no one knows when the next terrorist attack will rock this country.


But God is the best at redeeming the broken places.

He creates family out of misfits. He binds the wounded. He reminds us again and again we aren’t alone and that he uses the weak to accomplish His purpose. I know this part too well. These girls can’t walk this road alone. It takes a united team.


God keeps showing me there is no “i” in team. I can’t help these girls. I can’t fund the thousands of dollars needed every month to run a maternity home in Kenya. I can’t even get all my laundry done most days. I am a part of a team of people and we are all on God’s team.


Yeah, so there’s no “i” in team, but there is a “me.”

Teamwork requires me to sacrifice my time. It asks me to give up my resources and lay down my will. Loving and serving others demands less of me, more of Him.

Because little girls aren’t supposed to be mothers.

But they are. And that’s why we need you.



We would love for you to join our team.

Team Mercy is our family advocacy program that invites you to join hands with Mercy House. The task at hand–reminding impoverished and oppressed women they are not forgotten–is monumental. It’s overwhelming and we cannot do it alone. We need you! Team Mercy members participate by sharing via social media, representing Mercy House at local events, hosting family-friendly fundraisers and many other fun and educational service projects to help us spread the word. We also have  a brand new reward store that allows you to earn points by advocating to shop for free. Learn more and join today!

If you join today, use this code FREEMERCY in our reward store to get 10 love mercy bracelets for FREE to share with friends and family (a $50 value).

Facing Fear: What Scares You the Most?

I found the lump unexpectedly a little over two weeks ago.

In my abdomen, rolling under my fingers like it wanted to be found.

Fear covered me like a heavy blanket.

Terrell confirmed the golfball-sized mass and I made a doctor’s appointment.

We have several friends battling malignant tumors right now and immediately my mind starting asking the “what ifs?”  I didn’t realize how much I feared discovering something like this until I did and dread filled every corner of my heart.

I had to wait a very long three days for the appointment and I constantly pushed the thought I have a tumor out of my mind. I reminded myself over and over again that nothing had changed. God was still the same. He is writing my story and I love living it. I wouldn’t change it, even though I don’t know what the next chapter holds.

But y’all, I was so afraid.

My doctor confirmed the mass and was concerned at the size. She scheduled an ultrasound, blood work, and a cat scan in case the results showed abnormal tissue. Another long wait.

That night, I filled up the tub with hot water and played the worship song “You Make Me Brave” over and over.


And I sobbed.

I did my best to act natural around my kids. I pushed bad thoughts away and continued to work and every time a negative thought entered my mind, I would pray. I’ve done a lot of praying lately. We went ahead with our scheduled Groupon trip to Washington D.C. (I can’t wait to tell y’all about it) last weekend.

I’m not sure when my teen daughter developed a fear of flying, but her white-knuckled grip on my arm and panicked look in her eyes, told me it was real.

The flight to Washington DC was turbulent and I felt my stomach roll with the lurches, but my daughter felt more than queasiness, she was deathly afraid.

“I’m so scared,” she whispered.

I tried to sooth and remind her that God holds us. Always. I tried to sooth myself with my own words.

“Don’t you ever get scared, Mom? What are you most afraid of?” she asked.

I couldn’t help but think of the paralyzing fear she didn’t even know I was living. I’ve never been a brave person. I’ve always struggled with worry and doubt.

“I’m most afraid I won’t be here for you and your brother and sister,” I could barely get the words out.

“I’m not afraid of death, you know,” she assured me. “Just the process.”

I had to laugh a little. I love honest kids. “Me, too,” I assured her. “Honey, sometimes we have to look fear in the face and remind ourselves God is in control. Someday, we just may face our greatest fear, but even there in that desperate place, God is with us. He loves us and He is glorified in our lives.”

We survived that bumpy flight and had a mostly-worry free, fun getaway Easter weekend.

But every time someone commented on how tired I looked (which was more often than usual), I just smiled. But I wanted to scream “You would look tired too if you were dying!” (Women, let’s not say that to each other, okay? It’s really a passive aggressive way to say “you look really terrible.” If we notice a friend who looks exceptionally tired, maybe we should say “Can I bring you dinner?”)

Monday afternoon finally arrived, I faced my fear and as the ultrasound tech measured the mass visible on the screen, I prayed.

Tuesday, I waited for the doctor to call all day long. And as my fear mounted, I pursued peace. But I discovered one is easier to find then the other.

I don’t think I knew how burdened I felt until I heard the doctor’s words, “Kristen, this mass is benign. You’re free to go to Africa tomorrow.”

I cried at the instant relief. I thanked God. And I continued packing.

Good news. Bad news. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. But we know who holds tomorrow.

I don’t know why we go through scary times or just the fear of them, but I know God loves us and He is in control.

Today, my teen daughter and I are getting on another couple of planes and going to Ethiopia and then Kenya. We will be meeting with Fair Trade Friday partners and new residents at Mercy House and celebrating Maureen’s newborn son. I hope you’ll check back in to read the updates, see the amazing pictures and join us in our yes to God.

We are going to a country that is experiencing random terrorist attacks.We are both facing our fears because we know who holds us.

What scares you the most? Say it out loud. Leave it in a comment below. Name your fears and believe that He is greater than all of them.

Because He is. No matter what the next chapter holds.

Solidarity, Moms: Less Is More

Every April I can smell it.


It’s coming and we are always ready and waiting.

Honestly, we are pathetic these last months of school. We’ve carefully counted up our missed days and tardies and we are barely gonna make without a truancy officer at our door. We stopped our second grade reading log weeks ago (she sadly discovered the Diary of a Wimpy Kids series and although I hang my head in shame, she’s reading like a champ!)

I’m longing for pool baths (you know what I’m talking about, good moms bring shampoo to the pool, moms like me let the chlorine do its magic), sleeping in until after the sun comes up and swapping the Netflix password for reading time from my kids (insert wicked laugh).


I don’t know about you, but some days I feel the pressure to never let my kids down, to parent “the whole child” with excellence, to always be fair, and provide for their every want and pack up summer with All The Fun. Our culture has been sucked into perfect parenting deception. And every Spring, I sort of panic and evaluate how I’m doing.

I’m pretty sure I already told you guys that when my youngest discovered the secret stash of baby books, it didn’t take long to realize hers was 1/16 of her siblings. I had been tucking pictures and cards into the book for years thinking I’d get to them some day. She’s 8 and “someday” never came. She seemed pretty disappointed, especially that the “first haircut” envelope in her baby book was empty. So one day while she was at school, I did a manic scrapbooking session and glued like a wild woman. I guessed at weights and heights and dates on all the first. I mean, it was correct, but I was there, so there’s that. It was hardly creative memories-worthy, but it would work. I had it all figured out except for the haircut thing. So, while my school-aged kid slept, I snuck in her room and snipped a lock of hair and put it in her book and acted like I found it in my secret hiding space.


It turns out I’m quite convincing. If that doesn’t make you feel better about your mothering today, I don’t know what will.

At the risk of sounding like a really bad mom, more and more I want to give my kids less in life. Because in a lot of ways, it is giving them more:

1. Less structured play and scheduled time: Last week, my younger two used a hammer, some string, a rubber band and nail to make an instrument in our Mercy House building after they tired of helping me paint. It was a night of imagination and it was awesome. Even later on, when my second grader’s said “instrument”  left a small gash in her head. It was fun after the bleeding stopped. Just ask her. Of course, some fun leads to lessons about swinging sharp objects . I love summer because it lends itself to more unstructured time. My kids thrive on free time and it seems so limited the rest of the year. Let’s choose to resist the pressure to fill All The Hours with things to do. Some of my favorite moments are when I can’t find my kids in the house. They are sprawled on a chair reading or tinkering in the garage. Or you know, finding their imagination.

2. Less focus on themselves and more on others: I want serving others to be so ingrained in my kids lives, they don’t even know they are serving (or mind it). Putting others before ourselves isn’t hard when it’s a way of life. But it is more challenging to complain about all you don’t have when you’re face-to-face with someone with a lot less. I believe every North American needs a regular dose of perspective. The best way to be thankful for what we have–is by serving someone with less.

3. Less of me making everything all right: I packed my second grader’s lunchbox a couple of weeks ago without a lunch in it. Her teacher called me from school. I felt terrible about my absent-minded mistake. It probably wouldn’t have been that big a deal, but I also forgot to wait on the porch when the bus dropped her off a couple of days before (she’s working through some fear issues about us not being there, even though I was just inside). It was a good reminder that mom isn’t perfect and that even though she doesn’t mean to, she occasionally lets people down. We can’t always make everything perfect for our kids. Some days life happens. When we fail our kids (and we all will), it’s a great time to remind them of One who will never let them down.

4. Less of me fixing their problems: There’s this overwhelming temptation to protect my kids from failure. There are things I could “fix” that would reduce their disappointment and defeat in school, sports and well, life. But often we learn the most through natural consequences, losing and falling flat on our face. I remind them of forgotten lunches and notebooks for a season, but sometimes letting our children face the consequences is helping them more in the long run. We can’t always keep our kids from failure, but we can help them overcome it.

And so I say solidarity now, moms.  We are imperfect, messy people with dirty floors and two-day old pony tails. We don’t have it all together, but we love our kids and most days, that’s more than enough. We are doing just fine. And if we can remember to throw in one or two of these things, we might just make it to summer.

The Beauty of Giving Away What We’ve Been Given

A couple of weeks ago the GPS led us to end of the road.

To a sea of white sand and rolling turquoise ocean.

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We were a few sandy steps away from a beautiful home, ours for the week.

As we explored every corner of the ocean oasis, I was overwhelmed at what we’d been given.

The way the sun hit the pale yellow walls and beckoned us to relax.






I can’t remember ever needing rest more, craving stillness.


I thought of the generous family who gave two weeks away -one to raise money for Mercy House and one to our family. “It is all for Him.  We are just stewards of His great grace, mercy, and provision-  so thankful,” and with these gracious words, she handed us the keys.

The guest book written with notes of thanks indicated they give away what they’ve been given. Often.

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I think it’s where heaven and earth meet-the crossroads of giving away what we’ve been given. Blessing others with our blessings. When we do this, we glorify God. When we give away what He’s given to us, we bless the Giver.

As I sat in solitude and listened to the waves hit the rocks, I wondered at what I’d been given.

So much. 

And I asked the hard question: Am I giving it away?



Yeah, money and stuff but more than that- gifts that God gives us. Gifts He wants us to share.

Hospitality because we love having people in our home. Dinner for neighbors because we love cooking. A home for a child because we have more love to give. Encouraging others because we can. Serving someone in need. Giving our time, our money, ourself away…

Look at your hands. What has God placed in them? 

What are you holding today?

We might not all have beach houses to give away.


But we have something.

And it’s beautiful when we share it with others.

Getaway To Austin, Texas: Part One

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Groupon Getaways for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.

We picked up our kids straight from school at 3pm and hit the road for our local Groupon getaway.

It’s a little less than a 3 hour drive to Austin and our son was shooting the Texas Indoor Archery Championship at University of Texas at 6pm.

That’s how we roll.


We  sat in the collegiate range for a couple of hours and he shot his personal best! A couple of people down from Olympian Vick Wunderlee. It was awesome.


While the boys shot day 2 of the tournament, the girls and I explored this beauty in Austin. The Omni Barton Resort we found on the Groupon Getaway site is a sight to behold:





We explored the vast and spacious property, ate delicious breakfast burritos and drank cappuccinos in the quaint on-property coffee shop. It was the perfect leisure morning.

When the guys returned by noon, we were ready to explore more of Austin. We found a food truck park and everyone split up and tried something new. I had spicy thai noodles, Terrell and Madi ate different versions of tacos, our youngest had a hamburger and the archer ate his fill of wieners. It was a breezy day and perfect outside eating weather.


We spent the rest of the day exploring local thrift stores. There are dozens in the city and they definitely add to the funky feel of the city. We were hunting for some small fixtures for our new Mercy House warehouse and found a couple of good deals. But the antique chicken coop wouldn’t fit in our car. But we tried.


We also visited the cool Tom’s store on the main drag and got a lot of great display ideas, including this huge chalkboard wall map. We spent a lot of time on South Congress, one of the main roads in Austin. One of our favorite stores was Ten Thousand Villages, which offers fair trade product from all over the world…right up my alley. We also enjoyed Uncommon Objects. Talk about weird.


We ended the night eating at a local hotspot and ate fancy. It was a restaurant featured on the Food Network. We always check the app in whatever city we’re in and try to discover delicious unique food.


We might have even cropped our kids out of the picture and pretended we were on a date. Don’t all moms and dads do that on Groupon Getaways?

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And The Destinations Are . . .

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Groupon Getaways for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.


After dinner one night, our family did something spontaneous. We made a list of all the places we wanted to travel to before our kids leave home.

That was four years ago.

We debated and narrowed down and the final list was amazing and crazy. It was audacious. We didn’t talk about how our family would travel to Paris, Hawaii, Colorado, New York City, Washington DC, the Grand Canyon and other amazing places.

But that didn’t stop us from dreaming. Since we started Mercy House in 2010, we’ve had the opportunity to travel to Africa periodically and we fell in love with traveling and exploring together.

One by one, we are marking destinations off the list. We won’t see them all, but we will see a few. (One way we save? We label empty water bottles with destinations and tuck every extra (and unexpected) dollar we can spare into the bottles. It’s taken years for some trips, but it’s slowly working).

When Groupon asked if we wanted to take a local and an out-of-state getaway, we jumped at the chance.

For our local getaway, we scoured the Groupon Getaways choices and tried to narrow down them down. Texas is not only huge, there’s so much to see and do. We’ve spent time in Galveston and we love the hills of San Antonio and the plains of West Texas.  Sometimes the most beautiful places are right under our noses. We just have to get in the car and go find them.


We ended up picking Austin, Texas. There’s so much to see and do there and we’ve never taken the time to fully explore it, even though it’s only three hours from us. We also wanted to do our part to help keep it weird.


Our son had a chance to compete in the Texas Archery Championship at University of Texas, so we thought it would be a great family getaway. On our list for the weekend: hunting down great thrift shopping and eating at out-of-the-way local restaurants.


Plus, food trucks.


Groupon makes it super easy to book a getaway with just a few clicks. You can just add your location and dates of travel and search dozens of destinations. The easy-to-understand layout of the pages allows users to easily clock on calendar dates for the vacation that you want. Plus, Groupon’s discounts can’t be beat.

For our out-of-state trip, the choice (and debate) was extensive. Our kids saw snow last year for the first time (yes, poor Texas children) and a restful snowy mountain getaway sounded appealing. But we also wanted the chance to see, explore and learn about a new city.

Our second grader has been studying US history and she said, “I need to see this.”


Washington DC won!

Besides getting as close to the White House as possible, we can’t wait to explore the Smithsonian, all the government buildings and Eastern Market. We’ve also heard there are some amazing places to eat and trying new places is always an adventure.


I can’t wait tell you more about our trips for #MyGrouponGetaway!

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That Thing You Can’t Let Go Of

Four years ago, we sat in a warehouse-turned-coffee shop and had a heart to heart. Terrell and I were visiting one of our favorite Texas towns and we stumbled upon the quaint shop. The walls had pallets hanging on them, holding fair trade product from around the world. I bought a few Christmas gifts and we sat down to enjoy a cup of coffee.

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This is what I want to do, he said.

I looked at my husband like he was crazy. Mercy House was only a year old, he was working 50+ hours a week as a sales rep and I was juggling family, writing and the new non-profit. We were overwhelmed.

Even with all these reasons, I heard something in his voice I will never forget: It was the sound of a dream being spoken aloud. And I know how much courage that takes.

Yeah, it was a cool place, but it was more than a global marketplace and a great cup of coffee. It was hope and opportunity for the countless women it empowered.

Fast forward a couple of years.

I was having a hard to sleeping. Again. What is it God? I whispered in the middle of the night. That was the first night I was burdened to create jobs for impoverished women. It didn’t make sense-this tangible intangible, this whisper in the night. I argued How am I supposed to provide jobs for women? I’m in over my head with my yes already. But I held onto the words.

Because I couldn’t let them go.

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You may know the rest of the story. A few months later, I visited an apartment complex in the heart of my city and started helping refugee women make product. I didn’t really relate it to creating jobs for women at the time. It just felt like obedience. But then Fair Trade Friday was born out of our vision for Mercy House and now with over 1200 members a month, we are providing jobs for many, many impoverished women all over the globe.

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The tiny building on our backyard that has housed Mercy House product and an office quickly filled and we added more shelves and volunteers actually had to move boxes into my yard just to fill orders. Product began to fill our garage and dining room. For months we carried thousands of fair trade items to my church every month for volunteers to pack monthly boxes because we needed the space.

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On the way home from my parents house one night a few weeks ago, I was feeling a little discouraged about our space problem and I passed a sign for a building lease. I picked up my phone and called the number. It was a Sunday night and the owner answered. He just happened to have a warehouse space for a rental rate so low I had to have him repeat it a couple of times. The building isn’t fancy (at all), but it has enough room for us to pack our boxes, house volunteers, have an office or two and a retail space.

Sometimes signs really are a sign from God.

As we scrubbed and painted and prepped our warehouse last week, Terrell stopped and pulled me close.

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This is what I saw all those years ago.

I hadn’t thought of that little coffee shop in the middle of  Texas in years. But I knew immediately what he was referring to. I nodded my head yes.

It was this place.

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I don’t know what you can’t let go of today. But can I encourage you to hold onto it?

God speaks in the dark of the night. He whispers a word, maybe two. He gives us a glimpse. He plants hope in our heart. And it may take months or years or a lifetime, but when God speaks, he will make a way. We might not know when or how or who, but He is faithful.

Don’t let go.


[If you’re local to North Houston and want to come  volunteer or help pack our monthly boxes, we’d love to have you! You can learn more here. Or if you’re just in the neighborhood and want to come shop, we’d love that too!]