Sarah turned one a couple Sunday’s ago. Her birthday was a little different than any we’ve celebrated for Josh or Grace. While there were cupcakes and Grace made the sweetest decorations, there was also a different feeling of awe. We celebrated Sarah’s birthmom, her life, and God’s faithfulness to lead us into adoption in the first place. For God to entrust this child to two imperfect people is a reflection of His love and grace. This little girl is something special, and her story is too. We are so grateful!


I haven’t done a family post like this in a long while, so I thought it might be sweet to capture the memory of her first birthday—and a few thoughts on our adoption a year later–here on the blog in words and photographs.


Before we adopted Sarah, I scoured the internet for adoption stories. At the time, I didn’t understand why some blogger friends didn’t post about their adoption stories, or if they did, it was months–and sometimes years–later.

Now, I understand.


Adoption is often private in many ways. There are many details of Sarah’s story and her birthmom’s story that are sacred and private. I wrote a bit of the story in Cultivate, but only the portions God told me to share to encourage others.

Adoption is hard and beautiful at the same time. We experienced so many emotions in the adoption process and after. For me, having just had a baby a few months before Sarah’s birth (Josh and Sarah are six months apart) gave me heightened feelings of tenderness for our birth mom. We were blessed with unexpected time—hours and hours of beautiful time–to be with her in the days after Sarah’s birth. I carry her with me often, thinking of her selfless love for Sarah, and genuinely missing her. She chose to make our adoption closed, asking that we send letters and photos through our agency every few months. But, our agency told us throughout this year that she hadn’t contacted them to get the letters. We prayed and prayed that she would one day ask for the letters, and feel encouraged by reading our prayers for her, and how much we all love her and think of her. I kept sending the letters anyway. Maybe at a year she would request them. But, when I emailed the morning of Sarah’s birthday to see if she had made contact, she hadn’t. (I have an update on that at the end of this post…)

Adoption is refining. Nothing has drawn us closer to each other and to God than the experience of the last year. The season of having a newborn and adopting another was unexplainably challenging, and it is in the hard moments that our faith grew. Good things came out of the hard things!


Adoption is a gift. We get to see God’s miracles unfold in ways we couldn’t have imagined. We get to watch Josh and Grace pour love into Sarah. We get to watch our neighbors and family pour love into Sarah. We get to watch our friends pour love into Sarah. And all of this love feels like God pouring love on our whole family. It’s like God is saying, I see you. I love you. I am with you all.


Grace spent two weeks making decorations and asking me about Sarah’s party. Every day she sat and made crafts and banners and cards for her.


She wanted balloons for her and lemonade and purple plates and cups (Sarah’s birthmom’s favorite color is purple).


We decorated with jasmine vine and daffodils from the garden.


And as per our new yearly tradition (started at Sarah’s Sip n See last year that I have yet to blog!), we put a board of seed packets up.


We asked guests to put their names on the seed packets and we’ll be naming each plant after them! This was such a meaningful touch for our garden last year. Here are a few of last year’s garden markers, lettered by my good friend Lauren

gracias garden markers lara casey

We used some of our favorite Floret seed packets for this year’s board.


Guests loved this! We’ll send them a pic of their special plant when things start sprouting.


Grace begged me for this lemonade stand, and I am glad I said yes. She had so much fun serving everyone pink lemonade.


Sarah loves our long-time friend Joslyn (who has been helping me pick out a few new classic wardrobe staples after several years of being on a clothes-buying hiatus – more on that soon)!


And Josh loves his sister… and strawberries (the red stuff all around his mouth).


There’s something magical about a house full of friends who have poured so much into your daughter’s life.


Josh’s little legs in the bottom right of this pic make my heart smile.


We kept this super simple since it was 2pm on a Sunday afternoon. We served cookies, cupcakes, strawberries, and some crackers for the kids. Oh, and lemonade of course!


At the end of the party, Ari offered a prayer for Sarah, and in thanks to God for our friends. It was a special moment.


After the party, these two were sufficiently filled with love and sugar, which made for an extra enthusiastic bathtime!


It was a sweet day celebrating a very sweet girl and the God who made her!

Like I mentioned, I haven’t written much here about our adoption because it’s not just our story. It’s Sarah’s story. It’s her birthmom’s story. It’s also a story I don’t quite have words for. It’s beautiful and messy, but God is in it all. I’ll share a little more in Cultivate in a few months, but I hope this little post was encouraging. Here is a video I put together of her first year and her birth. I cry every time I watch this!

2016: The Year Our Family and Hearts Grew from lara casey on Vimeo.

And remember how I emailed our adoption agency on Sarah’s birthday and they said our birth mom still hadn’t contacted them? Well, an hour later she did. She asked for all of our letters. I’m tearing up typing this. Her message to us: “I am well and I love you guys so much!” God, you are good! 

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This morning, Grace came in early (4:45am-ish) and snuggled in our bed.

Me: Hi, sweet pea. Are you okay? 
Grace: I came to snuggle with you because I knew you were all alone. 

Ari was gone speaking at a conference, so this unexpected wake-up call was a welcome gift. I checked the time and decided to read the Bible to us till we had to get up and open Cafe Isaacson for breakfast at 5:30. (We have hungry growing kids. Breakfast around here is quite a production!) Grace snuggled into me and peeked at what I was about to read to us. The first thing that came up on my YouVersion Bible app was the verse of the day in this picture format…

bible verse from grace

Grace: Mommy, why is that picture there?
Me: It’s a way to share about God with other people, like in a message or on a blog.
Grace: Well, then why don’t you share it on your blog?
Me: Well, I don’t know. (I didn’t have plans to today) You know what, that’s a great idea. I’ll do that! 

To all who may read this impromptu post, here is my prayer for you today: May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. With love from me and Grace. : )

IMG_9781Outside this morning with my very energized crew. Our peach tree bloomed early!

P.S. Get my free Cultivating Faith Guide here.

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Friends! Hi!!! It’s been a crazy few days here in the Isaacson house. Norovirus hit us hard, but thankfully we’re on the mend now. Nothing like a bout of sickness to make you grateful for the gift of being able to simply be on your feet. I’m also feeling grateful for this particular day – February 28th. Today I’m praising Him for the lives of two special friends who share a birthday and a first name: Emily Thomas (turns 30 today) and Emily Ley. I’ve had the joy of working alongside Em Thomas for 8 years (!) and I’ve been friends with Em Ley for just as long. I’m so grateful they were both born. Today is also the day that, six years ago, we found out some happy news.  It’s a good day!

It has been a month of little-by-little progress on my goals, but some areas need some changing. Here is the progress I made on my February Goals and my new March goals below.

IMG_9441Gracie doing “Celebration” with the flowers Ari gave me for Valentine’s Day!

My monthly PowerSheets goals for February:
– Settle into a new Cultivate What Matters work rhythm. YES! I spent an entire day plotting out content for newsletters, blog posts, and product releases in our Asana system, and it feels so good to have a realistic plan for the whole year.
– Finish my final book edits. In progress today–my final edits are due on Monday, so I’m taking a bit of a social media hiatus till they are done.
– Build what I’m calling a “Cultivated Calendar” + blog it. I made progress here and have written about 2/3 of this post. Moving this to March to complete.
– Write my Gardening 101 Guide. Yes! Instead of writing a PDF guide, I decided to turn this into a blog series first. Here’s part 1. This way, we can chat along the way and you can ask questions as we go!
– Memorize good words for goal number 3. I have not made good progress here, so it’s time to redirect. I’m adding this to March and trying a new strategy to get this going.
– Take the next steps in garden planning and start some seeds indoors! Yes! We are starting seeds today when Grace gets home from preschool, and I have a post in the works about how you can do it too.
– Continue to gather good homeschool info. Yes, I’ve been collecting some nature journaling resources and we applied to a local homeschool co-op program.
– Start my “little by little” painting, a painting I decided to create in celebration of what I’m learning in my Bible reading goal. I’ve gotten all the materials, so next, I’m adding “paint” to my April goals–lots happening in March already.
– Finalize 2018 PowerSheets. Yes! Draft one is done and I’m pumped about the changes coming.
– Prayerfully prepare for and experience the Faith Retreat, a biannual retreat my friend Nancy and I are doing with a few friends to spiritually recharge. Yes! This was a deeply refreshing time. Read more about it on Nancy’s blog here.


February weekly goals:
– Sabbath – lifegiving weekends. Yes! I have been studying what sabbath means for Jews and what it means for gentiles like moi. Since I’m married to a Jew, this has me extra intrigued. I particularly enjoyed parts of this article and this one. I had what felt like my first real sabbath day a couple weekends ago and it was so sweet. I felt God telling me to cease from “producing.” I spent the day with the kids (Ari was working) outside, not doing errands or trying to finish projects. It wasn’t easy at times. I wanted to get a few things done, but I kept remembering to pause and trust. It was fruitful. The day made me realize how addicted to productivity I can be, instead of just resting with Him and being with Him. It was a fast from busy, and very eye-opening. 
– Meaningful connection with Ari. Yes! We had a date night in February and great conversations in between.
– Learn and cultivate new sleep habits. Yes! We switched out the light bulbs in our bedroom lamps with these amber lights, and I got Ari this reading light. We also started using lavender essential oils in a small diffuser at night.
– Pray through my prayer journal. Yes, and I continue to love this thing. I spend the first week or two of the month filling it out as prayers come to me.

February daily goals:
– Read my chronological Bible reading plan (I have been loving this!) – Yes! I only missed a couple Sunday mornings when I was with the family, but caught up the next day.
– #RunLiftPraise – Yes, despite five days of norovirus and not getting out of bed for two of those days, I’ve continued to make progress and I feel great.
– Eat more raw foods. Yes! I’ve been eating raw peppers, spinach, and kale.
– 40 days of prayer with Ari. I didn’t finish strong on this one, but even doing this for the first couple weeks was a huge blessing. 
– Be active in my work day. Yes! Senorita FitBit keeps me moving.

Now, on to March!

FullSizeRender-4 3I got a little messy with my PowerSheets this month : ) 

My monthly PowerSheets goals for March:

I had a lot of goals for March, and after praying on them, I combined a few that worked well together. For instance, my afternoon Word refresh times. Instead of trying to do both the Lent study and memorizing scripture, I’m giving myself a choice each afternoon.

– Finish my final book edits.
– Prepare prayerfully for MTH and our family vacation at the end of the month.
– Celebrate our 11 year wedding anniversary well. The traditional gift is steel (these materials always make me giggle!), so I’m considering either these collar stays stamped with Ari’s favorite Bible verses or getting us family bikes. These are far too pricey for us, but look how fun these are.
– Finish 2016 taxes.
– Hire our new team member/s!
– Blog posts: 1. Release my book cover (next week!!). 2. Build and blog my “Cultivated Calendar.” 3. Parts two and three of my Gardening 101 series.
– Celebrate Sarah’s birthday. She turned one on February 26th, but with the sickness in our house, we moved the celebration to this coming weekend.
– Celebrate Purim.
– Begin afternoon Word refresh times: Amen Paper Company Lent study + memorize good words for goal number 3 by putting the verses on index cards this month. I hope to do this for a few minutes each afternoon to close my work day.
– Take the next steps in garden planning, and decide on garden structures (we need a bench) and a final garden plan.
– Make changes now to switch to my homeschool work schedule starting in the early summer.
– Spring cleaning!

FullSizeRender-3Where I’m sitting right now as I finish this post and book edits this week! That lemon is almost ready to pick. : ) 

March weekly goals:
– Sabbath – lifegiving weekends.
– Meaningful connection with Ari.
– Pray through my prayer journal.

March daily goals:
– Read my chronological Bible reading plan
– #RunLiftPraise
– Eat more raw foods.
– Be active in my work day.

sarah-and-joshMy little monkeys today : ) 

Your turn! I’d love to hear: how are you feeling about February? Do you have goals for March? I’ll pick one of you to send a special surprise box of goodies to from the Cultivate What Matters shop. I love sending real mail, and I love hearing your thoughts!

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Never in my life did I think I would be writing a series on my blog about GARDENING. What is happening here?!

nrp-olivia-swfruitfulsummer-1113In the garden with Josh by Olivia of Nancy Ray Photography.

Friends, I am an unlikely gardener. I have killed a lot of plants in my life! For the majority of my existence, I didn’t understand how people loved spending time with plants or getting their hands dirty. My mom and grandfather were always out in the dirt, but I just didn’t get it!

And then something unexpected happened. Here’s the very first peek at my upcoming book, Cultivate (comes out June 27th!):


Gardening seemed like a gentle hobby for those who had more time on their hands. Yet here’s a sentence I never thought I’d type, much less live: God was transforming a plant killer like me into a gardener.

Gardening was not a hobby I randomly picked out of thin air; it was a craving. As my life was being changed by God’s grace, my hands followed. I began to feel an insatiable desire to nurture what I had been given—and even more than that, to grow things I never imagined wanting to grow!

One spring day, I decided to get my garden growing. I stood in the yard and opened a pack of yellow pear tomato seeds. As I unsealed the packet, I steadied my hands. If you’ve ever enjoyed an heirloom tomato in the summer, you may have noticed the seeds. They are tiny and delicate. I reached into the packet and touched one with my pointer finger. It grasped onto me as if I now held some responsibility for its life. I could choose to cultivate it or let it remain dormant.


Inside a seed is something powerful: potential. And potential is scary, isn’t it? It calls us to grow—to take action, to become, and to step forward in faith.

Lifting the fragile seed carefully out of the packet, my breathing slowed.

Planting seeds is risky. It’s putting our trust in something bigger than us. It’s optimism and faith. It requires letting go, and I don’t like letting go. I like being in control. I like efficiency, security, routine, and predictability. I like having a plan.

As I looked down at the seeds, I knew I held possibility in my hands.

What do I do now? How do I plant this? When is the right time to plant tomatoes? How deep in the soil do I plant them? How much should I water them? How many seeds do I plant at once? What if I don’t do this perfectly and it doesn’t grow?

I had a choice: risk imperfect progress to grow new life or regret not growing anything at all.


What do you think I chose? It will surprise you! You’ll find out what happened with that little seed in June when the book comes out. : )

But, I did, in fact, start a garden.

Or rather, it started me.

lara casey gardenGracie is so little here! Watering the pineapple sage by Faith Teasley.

I get asked a lot of questions about this gardening thing (step inside Gracie’s Garden here on Instagram) and let me first tell you: I am no Master Gardener. I’m just a gal who happens to think growing things is the greatest thing ever. I have learned a thing or two, and I love seeing friends discover that they can learn to garden–no previous green thumb required!

So, let’s start with some basics. This is part 1 in my Gardening 101 series, with much more to come!

sJEddEmZbLzsgRoIzgFSa4WrmRpB8t0uqD45jpiXg-EOur zinnias (my favorite) by Emily March

1. Define why you want to grow things. What kind of garden do you want to grow, and why gardening in the first place?

For food? If so, what do you like to eat?
For teaching? This is why I first started our garden. I wanted Grace to experience the miracle of growing things–from start to finish–and all the garden has to offer!
For fun? My grandfather loved growing the weird things: pineapple sage (we love growing it too!), huge tomato varieties, and unique hybrids.
For beauty? Maybe you love the idea of creating a garden space as an environment to enjoy.
For filling vases? We love growing several flower varieties just for cutting and sharing with neighbors.
For attracting butterflies, birds, and bees? This is why we plant zinnias–the pollinators that love them help to grow all of our veggies.

What is it for you? You may have one reason or 10–there are no wrong answers here. List your priorities and it will help you determine what to grow, and what not to grow.

Maybe you are living in an apartment and only have space for a few pots by the windowsill–that’s great! Maybe you have just enough space for containers–that’s great too. Maybe you prefer low-maintenance air plants or you only want a few great house plants–wonderful. Or maybe you don’t like to eat veggies and you just want pretty flowers–that’s awesome too! The bottom line here: use what you have, and use it in a way that’s unique to you.

‘There are countless ways to grow a garden, just as there are many ways to grow an intentional life. There are kitchen gardens, vertical gardens, cottage gardens, raised beds, roof gardens, square foot gardens, window boxes, rose gardens, wildflower gardens, container gardens, terrariums, herb gardens, water gardens, butterfly gardens—and the list goes on. No two gardens are exactly alike. Imagine your life as a garden. Unique. Purposeful. Unlike any other.’ – another little snippet from Cultivate : ) 

2013-08-29 18.42.00

2. Find out your growing zone.

Like learning your Myers-Briggs personality type, this is very helpful information. Essential, actually. Knowing your growing zone will allow you to know what types of plants might thrive in your area in each season. This is like knowing the gardening language that allows you to read seed packets and plant labels. Most plant labels and seed packets have recommendations based on each growing zone. Look yours up here!

Lara Casey GardenSpotting seedlings growing (with Josh growing in my belly at the time!) by Robyn Van Dyke

3. Find out your ideal date to plant, and put that date on your calendar.

This tip is going to help you cool your jets about gardening for a bit, and help you to plan well! Unless you live in Florida, it’s not time to plant things in most parts of the country. You are not behind if you are just getting started on your garden dreaming–you have time. If you are going to garden outdoors, you’ll need to know what the last date of expected frost will be in your city. Find out here. For us, the ideal date to begin planting is not until after Tax Day – April 15th! Now, let me tell you, I have ignored this recommendation several times. And every time I’ve regretted it. In our area, the weather gets lovely in late February and March is magical, and it makes everyone want to plant things right away. But, wise gardeners know to be patient. I’ve gotten over-eager a time or two and planted tomatoes in March only to have to dig them out before a freeze and give them a temporary abode in my kitchen. Be patient in planting, my fellow gardeners. You’ll be glad you waited. You can also find a full list of exactly when to plant different varieties in your location on the Old Farmer’s Almanac site. Here’s my list for Chapel Hill! So helpful.

img_7959My mom and Grace planting our winter garden this last year.

 4. Go ahead and do a little Garden Dreaming. Knowing why you want to garden and when you can plant things in your area and zone, it’s time to start dreaming about what you want to grow. We’ll get more in-depth on this next (what grows well with what, etc.), but for now, start browsing seed catalogs and making your dream list. Grace and I did our Garden Dreaming a few weeks ago. We broke out all the seed catalogs (I love Park Seed, Burpee, Floret Flower Seeds, David’s Garden, Renee’s Garden, Botanical Interests, and the Southern Seed Exchange Catalog), and we circled and chatted and had a ton of fun making our dream list. Later, when we sketched out the garden (coming next), we paired down our list. For now, get garden happy and write out all the things you’d love to grow–what you would love to eat, share, or cut–depending on your answers to question 1. We’ll work through our lists in the next post. I can’t wait to hear what you’re dreaming of! : )


5. Repeat after me: you do not have to know everything about horticulture to grow a garden. Every year, some things grow and some things don’t! I still kill plants. I sometimes forget to water. I sometimes don’t weed. And you know what? My garden still grows! Even though I am imperfect, I am a gardener.

(And for some reason, I couldn’t help the tears typing those words.)

You can be a gardener, too, my friend. I’m excited for you!

Next up, we’ll tackle how to choose what to grow, some thoughts on simple garden supplies, fun with seed starting, how to make your own raised beds if you’re interested, and the five things you need to consider before finalizing your growing list: money, time, space, sun, and soil. I have some great (and simple) info coming for you!

Till then, it’s your turn! I’d love to hear your answers to what we just chatted about–and let me know what other questions you have too.

With love from my head tomatoes,
The Unlikely Gardener : )

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Whether we vocalize it or not, we often crave fast results and overnight success. But, what if we’re missing something? What if overnight and instant aren’t the most fruitful ways to grow things?

I was reading Exodus a couple weeks ago and was blow away by these verses (Exodus 23:29-30):


If God did it quickly, they wouldn’t be ready. Instead, He does it little by little so they will be prepared and readied over time! What a powerful story for our lives. Little by little progress adds up, and in the wait, we are ripened and readied.

Here are 10 things to help you cultivate what matters, little by little, in the week ahead!

1. Start writing your book. I felt unqualified to write books, and to share about how to write one! But, I wrote this anyway.

2. Shake on it. Grace and I have a secret handshake we do every night before bed. This simple connecting point for us has grown our bond, and it makes us giggle every time! This teacher made up handshakes with every kid in his class (and more!). Check it out.

3. Spend 40 days cultivating your faith. This Lent devotional from Amen Paper Company is beautiful!

4. Clean your kitchen. : ) Some awesome tips from my mom. The tip about clearing out your spices is one I need to do!

IMG_8974Lettering by my friend, Lindsay, from Jennie’s opening session at IF. 

5. Experience fresh faith. IF Gathering 2017 knocked my socks off. I pre-ordered the digital download so I can watch it again. I cheered out loud during almost every session, and couldn’t help the tears listening to Roce, a Bible translator from the Philippines. It was powerful! Pre-order the download here.

6. Explore the new Finally! The new site has officially launched, and it’s awesome. Read all about the new features, and get your free profile started!

7. Win a farm. Really! Even if you aren’t local to NC, wouldn’t this be amazing for someone to win? If you have farming friends, let them know about this.

8. Refresh your marriage. Valentine’s Day wasn’t always one of my favorite days, namely when my marriage was in turmoil. Read more here, get my free marriage guide here, and check out this marriage conference from Jen at Unveleied Wife!

9. Set goals with your significant other. Need some tips to get your sweetie on board with goal setting, or need a place to start? Here you go! These tips have been tested and approved–Ari doesn’t do goals, but he loved sitting down with me to do the Couple’s Goal Guide!

10. Start over, or start fresh. Cultivate What Matters Week was intended as a week of encouragement for all of you, but I have been double blessed by it myself! I wanted to give up earlier this week, and I learned something in that moment. Read all about it here.

Next up is something many of you have been asking for: Gardening 101! Sign up for my email notes below, if you haven’t already, and you’ll be the first to know when the series goes live next week! Have you thought about starting a garden? I’d love to hear any questions you have below so I can consider incorporating them into the series!

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