In Contrast


Confession: I often mistakenly call Good Friday, Black Friday.

For example, last year I asked Lauro, “Are we leading worship for the Black Friday service this year?”

I know, I know, who could mistake the day we remember Christ’s crucifixion with the day people flock to stores and malls in hopes of getting the best deals on materialistic items? That’s me, this girl. (But in my defense, Good Friday is a day of dark and sad remembrance and Black Friday can be good and exciting to an extent, so the backwards analogies fit one another.)

Easter in Christian circles is very often associated with bright and happy things: New life! Resurrection! Rebirth! He is risen! I have found it to be a rarity, however, that we stop to really contemplate what makes these bright and happy things so bright and happy. It’s easy for us to rush through Good Friday and Holy Week itself because we know how the story ends.

I believe that the contrast between the bright and happy and the darkness is part of what makes Easter so powerful. There was death before the resurrection. New life happened and is still happening because there was also death. Death makes resurrection transformative and revolutionary.

It’s natural for me to have a more personal perspective on Easter and resurrection this year because of the darkness I have been working through these past few months. There were so many times that I questioned God angrily and out of great frustration why He would make depression part of my life. I had been a faithful and devoted follower for my entire life, my husband makes his living doing ministry, and we moved halfway across the country for God and for the Kingdom to be glimpsed more here on earth. And yet the darkness shrouded over me.

I’ve learned, both academically and firsthand, that we don’t know why there are trials and suffering in our lives. It is impossible for us to completely understand why bad things happen under the existence of a sovereign God; it’s one of those things that our human brains are incapable of making complete sense of. Our limitations as humans leave some questions unanswered to our satisfaction, especially when those questions are about the God who formed the entire universe.

When that suffering makes its way into our lives the natural reaction of our hearts and minds is, “Make it stop! Make it stop!” Can you imagine, though, how different we would be if it weren’t for the trials in our lives? I know that because of my inner battle I have become someone new, a better version of myself. I am better equipped to face adversity, not because my skin is thicker or because it’s easier for me to just tough it out, but because now I have more knowledge and tools to help me navigate through it. Trials are not necessarily easier to get through, but now I have a different mindset and healthier ways of handling them.

My perspective shifted significantly, and a major step I had to take in order to come out of the darkness was untethering myself from all the cliché reasons people gave for my suffering. There are no cures or long-lasting remedies for suffering. Instead of trying to wrap it all up with a pretty bow and believing in a happy ending I had to learn to lean into the pain. As much as I wanted to get out of it, what I needed to do was stay in it for a while and learn from it. Hear me when I say, though, that there are some types of pain that are also harmful to us and we need to get out of their reach as soon as possible. For me, however, this season was something I needed to go through and grow through.

It’s all easier said than done, of course. Even the act of writing about pain and suffering grieves me. I’m sad that pain exists in our world and that we see it play out every single day. I still find my heart crying out, “Make it stop! Make it stop!” Whether it seems like it or not, though, there is hope (and that hope may look different from what you picture). I’m here telling you that beautiful things come from the darkness and that things will get better, and the optimist in me wholeheartedly agrees, “Yes! It will!” The realist in me knows that you deserve to be seen in your pain, not for it to be minimized or made excuses for. What you need is for people to just be there with you in it, to communicate to you that you’re not alone and that you can take the time that you need to be in your pain. The realist in me knows that you’re probably tired of people trying to bring your story to its happily ever after when you just want them to acknowledge it for what it is right now.

And so we live in both the bright and happy and the darkness. It’s awful and beautiful and miserable and incredible. We can’t avoid the suffering that comes into our lives, but know that it’s not a waste. Death was what made the resurrection so powerful, so be encouraged: Even when things seem hopeless, the darkness can be a catalyst for your transformation if you let it.


Perfect Storm


Hey, readers.

It’s so good to be back here. I had mentioned in my previous post that I was taking some time away from blogging in order to work through some of my inner busyness and intentionally taking time to learn more about myself. It was time that was much needed for me. I have learned and grown so much and I’m definitely excited to share those things with you over time as I get back to writing publicly.

So, in the spirit of vulnerability and raw honesty, the short explanation for my time away is this: Life got hard. Life got really, really hard.

There is a lot to the story of this season of my life, and it would take more than a single blog post of sensible length to unpack it all for you. I’m sparing you the many details for now with plans to give all the different aspects of my story the full exploration that they deserve in the future.

For now, I’ll start by saying that over my entire life I had developed some poor emotional habits. For 22 years I stuffed away any negative emotions that I felt. I lived by the motto of serving Jesus first, others second, and yourself last (J.O.Y. being the acronym that I would eventually and regrettably find to be so ironic). I did not know how to manage and embrace my thoughts and emotions in healthy ways and never gave myself the grace to make self-care and self-love priorities in my life.

When we moved to Florida that huge change in my life magnified everything that I had stuffed away and deemed to be “fine” over all those years. Things that I had struggled with (that I thought were small, forgettable things) all became a whirlwind that broke out into this perfect storm inside of me. It was probably about three months after we moved that I started experiencing emotional and physical symptoms that weren’t anything that I could push aside and forget about, although I tried to. Over the next few months they got worse and even frightening at times because I didn’t know what was happening. I later learned that those were things called triggers, bouts, and panic attacks. I became familiar with compartmentalizing and an emotional experience that I can only describe as “hitting a wall.” I slept a lot and had frequent headaches and tension in my neck and shoulders. It was all very scary at the beginning because I didn’t know what was happening to me.

I made the decision to start seeing a therapist just before Thanksgiving of last year. It has been hard freaking work, but so worth it. I was able to put a name to my struggle—situational depression—and start my healing process, fighting the battle that would rage between my head and my heart. Every week I unpacked a little more of the junk that I had been stuffing away for so long, and I learned about the power of my thoughts and emotions. I was able identify the symptoms I was experiencing. I was given tools and discovered things that I can do to help me heal.

As of now, I’m still putting in the work on my own and twice a month with my therapist to continue in my healing process. I’ve started to feel better, which is exciting to me, but I also recognize that this is a journey that I am on and that my mental and emotional growth won’t stop here. My thoughts and emotions are part of what make me human. They are valuable and powerful, so I’m looking forward to sharing more about the different parts of my journey with you in the near future.

Thanks for listening. It’s good to be back here.

Phase-Two: An Update of Thrive Church

At the end of last month our church had its second Grand Opening at our new location here in Lake Nona. This phase-two launch served as another big push to establish Thrive Church’s presence in our community and to publicly open our new location at a local middle school. Months and months of prayer, planning, and hard work all came to fruition and we were able to welcome about 180 people to Thrive that morning! It was a beautiful sight to see this place of public education transformed into a place of spiritual learning. The band room, choir room, and regular classrooms were crafted into environments for infants all the way up through middle schoolers to learn about Jesus. Within a matter of hours the cafetorium (cafeteria + auditorium) became a worship center where we had our main service. The coolest part is that God provided ALL of this!

Before Setup
Before Thrive’s service set-up
After Setup
After Thrive’s service set-up

Kids' HallwayWe are so excited about all the new opportunities that are to come in this school! Just the fact that we have so much more space is a huge blessing, because more space means room for more people and their kids to comfortably come and be in a warm, spiritual, learning environment. We cannot thank our Jesus and the leadership and administrators at the school enough for making this space available to us.



Our hearts are full and we are celebrating our new space, but not for the sake of the space itself. Our celebration isn’t because we have a brand new building to meet in with shiny floors and classrooms that hadn’t been touched until a couple of months ago. Our celebration isn’t because we have an actual stage from which to lead worship with a full band and to give sermons. It isn’t because we have an entire multi-purpose room to use for our services and now we can break out our pipe-and-drape and make use of our stage lighting. Our celebration is not because we’re that much closer to meeting aesthetic expectations and living up to the modern-church culture.

Our hearts are full and we are celebrating because this larger space allows us to welcome more people to join our church family as we all pursue God together. We’re celebrating because we have more space for babies and children and middle school students to be introduced to Jesus and His love for them. We’re celebrating because we have more resources to reach people where they are at spiritually and to teach people of all ages in the way that they learn most effectively. We’re celebrating because we can welcome and provide enough space for mamas with strollers, the disabled with service dogs, and the elderly with wheelchairs into our main service. We’re celebrating because the ability to include more gives us the opportunity to serve more, and therefore the opportunity to love more.

This is not so much a defense of our new space as it is a reminder. For me. For my church. For the Church. May this remind us and encourage us to keep Jesus at our innermost core as we minister to our communities in ways that are culturally relevant. What is so beautiful about the Church is that churches will look different in the ways that they minister and teach. In fact, they must look different in some aspects in order to effectively reach the cultures and people groups of their community. What unites us all is Jesus as our center, offering the hope of salvation and extending grace so rich that it seems foolish to the human mind and love so great that we can’t even begin to measure it.

We are grateful to have been able to see how God has provided for Thrive and are so humbled that we get to be a part of His work in our community. May His name be praised through it all!


Will you pray for us as we continue serving and working in our church and community?

  • Pray that Thrive will continue to grow and be a gathering place for people of every generation, culture, and background to come experience Jesus.
  • Pray for the many groups within our church that will start or continue to meet on a regular basis, like our community groups and the middle/high school groups. Lauro and I are currently leading the high school group and are working on starting a college-age/young adult community group in the near future, and we’re very excited about both!
  • Pray for perseverance and rest for our family as this season of our life is definitely requiring a lot of work physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Thank you so very much for your prayers and support! Are there ways that we can be praying for you in this season of your life? If so, please let us know and we would love to pray for you as well!

Baby Palm Trees

How does one find and secure a sense of place? A sense of home? A sense of belonging?

These are questions my conscience has been begging for answers to for quite some time, and the most frustrating part about that is the answer is simple: time. It takes time for a place to feel like home in your mind and heart. It takes time to take ownership of unfamiliar geography, claiming it as your own space of relaxation and returning.

It takes time, and time during which we can wait around, watching time drag its feet and when it reaches a destination that is the acceptable, man-made finish line that we declare to be the end of our struggle with waiting for our sense of home, we are exasperated and exclaim, “Finally!”

Or, we can walk alongside time and watch and learn and grow our sense of place and home little by little, encouraging our hearts and reminding them that yes, this is home and this is right. This is our new place of belonging and where our hearts are settling in and embracing the geography, the culture, and the people. This is where God has guided us and for which he has provided beyond what we need, and where He will continue to provide for us, His children.

Too often I find myself in the shoes of the first, in constant anticipation of the day I will finally call Orlando home and default to that answer when people ask me where I’m from. Right now that answer goes something like, “Well I lived in Missouri for two years for school, but I was born and raised in Kansas,” to which I get an unenthused, “Oh, okay…” Sorry, Midwest. Don’t get me wrong, my heart will always have a special love for the Midwest; I spent the first 21 years of my life there! All the while, though, I find myself waiting for that supposed breakthrough moment where one morning I will wake up and joyfully declare that this is my home, and I feel it and know it and believe it with every part of my being. This anticipated moment probably isn’t even a thing, kind of like having that one epiphany, that one realization, that one moment when you just know that your significant other is “the one” and that you want to spend the rest of your life with them. (Yup. Spoiler alert: that’s not always the case. Another lesson learned through the slow and intentional walking with time.)

But we are here and we know we’re staying. Our actions reflect those of a family who is settling in and putting down roots in a place they will call home. Though it hasn’t been easy, it seems that now we have our lives in order logistically: we have a place to live, we both have jobs, and we have a place to serve. We’ve been a part of the events our church has put on leading up to our second grand opening on September 24, one of which was a Sunday morning service at the beach! Not only was it amazing to have church at one of my favorite places in nature, it was such a beautiful celebration as well because we got to celebrate four people from our church family being baptized! We had a short service and then simply walked right down from the pavilion straight to the water, witnessing our brothers and sisters declaring their faith and dedicating their lives to serving and loving Jesus.Baptisms

Lauro has been quite busy making preparations in the area of worship for our grand opening next month. His main focus has been on assembling a worship team from scratch, and can I just say that this man was made for a job like this? I am so proud of how hard he has worked to build relationships with people inside and outside of our church, and through those relationships invited people to join our brand new worship team and be a part of our church family. I’m so amazed at how easy it is for him to network and connect with people of all backgrounds, truly out of love for them, and invite them to be a part of something amazing with us. God has definitely gifted him in that area, and even though there are days that he comes home exhausted from a day full of meetings and in the middle of a coffee crash, he knows that the work he’s doing is his niche and his passion, and that it’s results can and will be eternal.

MarriottThis past Sunday we had our last service at the beloved hotel conference room that served as Thrive’s very first meeting place, and beginning in September we’ll be at our new home in Lake Nona’s newest middle school that just opened this school year. Prior to that we’re having a back-to-school bash in one of the parks here in Lake Nona, complete with worship, food, community, and bounce houses for the kiddos.

As for the month of September, the first three weeks will serve as practice services where we will settle into our new meeting place and get the feel for things before we invite entire communities to join us for our second grand opening next month. So much preparation and behind-the-scenes work has been (and is still being) done by the church staff and many volunteers to make this launch possible. As much as we loved the intimacy of our space at the hotel, we are excited to get the chance to stretch our limbs and open our doors to host even more people on Sunday mornings. As we expand into our new space our prayer is that our influence in the community will also expand and broaden as we invite people to live their lives under the love of Jesus and experience the truth and the wholeness that is found in Him.

As our first summer as Florida residents is coming to a close we are amazed at how much God has been teaching us just over that past couple of months. If you were to ask me what those things are, I’d probably chuckle a little and say something like, “Well, let me count the ways…” The learning curve has been HIGH, my friends, and I don’t see that decreasing any time soon. We have loved our community and being a part of this church plant. We are still trying to settle our souls and our hearts into this place, as if they need convincing that, “Yes, this is home now. You can own it, plant down your roots, embrace the depth of the cool soil and let the water that falls from the sky hydrate you and give you life.” It hasn’t always been easy, but we know that it will take time for us to embrace this city as our home. (Simultaneously, Orlando is one of the largest vacation destinations in the country, and look! Everyone here is on vacation so we must be on vacation too, right?) As our roots are slowly being planted we so desire to keep our friends and loved ones in the Midwest close to our hearts and part of our lives, because without them we would not even be where and who we are today. They are just as much a part of this story in Lake Nona as we are, and we’ll always be so thankful for them.

So for now we are like baby trees, slowly and steadily deepening our roots and growing in our environment while being constantly supported by solid beams that are our family, our friends, and our church families of the past and the present.

Or rather, we are like baby palm trees.

Baby Palm Trees
Baby palms just outside of our apartment building

Will you join us as we saturate our phase-two launch in prayer? The power of our God is limitless and his influence knows no bounds. Our deepest desire is that we will be faithful servants as he launches HIS church and continues to live out his vision for the community of Lake Nona through us. We praise him in advance and thank you all for your irreplaceable love and support.

Hello, Orlando!

We made it. We made it. We made it.

As I write this I’m sitting in our sun patio, watching cars drive by on the road in front of our apartment in the cool yet humid air as a light rain falls. At 72 degrees it’s the coolest it has been in the afternoon since we arrived. When we got here we were greeted by temperatures in the high eighties and low nineties (and not to mention the Florida humidity!), and it has rained every day since. Welcome to Florida!

Florida State Line
Crossing the Florida State Line

It took us a total of two days, about 22 hours of travel time, four people, two cars, and one moving truck to get here. We left Joplin mid-morning about three weeks ago on a Monday and arrived in Lake Nona on Tuesday in the late afternoon. It seems so typical to describe the drive as “long” when people ask me how it was, but that’s truly the best way to describe it. As someone who hates driving, this trip was LONG. And I didn’t even drive the entire time like some of our driving crew did! Without a lot of things to break up the monotony of the drive, I was thankful when we got to pass through big cities that I had never been to before, like Nashville and Atlanta. When we passed through Nashville it was right as the sun was setting, and seeing the sun and sky reflect off of all the downtown buildings was absolutely beautiful. I was driving at that point, so I didn’t get to take it all in at once like I wanted to, but luckily Lauro was in the passenger seat and he got some great photos for me.


We finally made it to Lake Nona and our apartment complex, and after a quick check in and some final paperwork we were able to begin moving in to our new home! We were so blessed by the people who came from the church to help us unload our stuff and start unpacking. By that night we had the master and guest beds assembled and the kitchen all unpacked and put away—a big accomplishment! Especially when you’re doing all of that without air conditioning. Yes, that’ right. Our air conditioner was broken the minute we walked in the door. The filter was completely frozen over, so there wasn’t any amount of cool air being produced to relieve us from the Florida heat. It wasn’t until about a week later that it was finally fixed after two attempts by apartment maintenance and one by an outside A/C company. (There’s always got to be something that goes wrong, right? I honestly would have been worried if there wouldn’t have been any problems at all when we moved in. At that point in the moving process we just expected road bumps and inconveniences and learned to go with the flow.)

The Sotos
Pre-move photo of our little family

So here we are, starting our new life in Orlando, Florida. We had our first Sunday with Thrive Church on the 4th of this month and it made us so excited for the growth the church is experiencing now and how it will grow in the future. We’re starting to build more connections and relationships with people and deepen the relationships we had when we got here. Just thinking about how this church is going to expand and impact the community and reach people and teach and disciple and worship and love, all for the glory of God? I feel like a giddy little kid just thinking about it! Jesus is just so good, so, so good, and I want everyone to know and experience that goodness.

What is so amazing about serving our good God is that you get to be part of a body full of His people who are striving for the same thing: to live like Jesus. There is no way we would have been able to make it to Florida without the help of our friends and family, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Without them, we could have just forgotten about packing up our house in Joplin and loading up the moving truck. Driving our two cars and the truck to Florida would have been impossible. And even if we would have made it that far, I can guarantee that Lauro and I would have been absolutely MISERABLE travelling for a combined 22 hours without any help. It would’ve taken many hours to unload all of our stuff into our new apartment and get it all unpacked. Just imagining how our move would’ve gone if we had to do it all alone frightens me! I don’t think I can ever thank our people enough for how much they helped us. On both ends of the move we had so many people helping us, encouraging us, and giving us advice (and as young, married college students whose biggest move was a six-hour drive hauling our stuff in a borrowed horse trailer, we needed all the advice we could get!). People have packed, loaded, driven countless hours, unloaded, unpacked, suffered in the heat, offered us a place to stay with air conditioning, and provided household goods, food, and meals, all for us! I feel so undeserving, but that’s what following Jesus is all about, right? Giving to and loving those who don’t deserve it? That’s what Jesus did for us all, right?

I will always be so thankful for God’s people. He created us for community and to do life alongside other believers, and this move has shown me just how vital that is. By design we were made to be together, living and loving and serving others and each other. We were made to help shoulder one another’s burdens and to rejoice alongside each other’s victories. As the family of God we need each other to encourage and build one another up, not for our benefit, but so that we are able to go out and show people the love of Jesus with a full and encouraged heart sustained by the limitless love of our God and the support of our fellow believers.

Will you continue praying for us as we settle in to our new life in Orlando?

  • I am still looking for a full-time job here. Pray that I will trust in God and be patient, knowing that He will provide one at just the right time.
  • Pray for the Creative Arts ministry at Thrive Church. Lauro has started planning and organizing all the different aspects of this ministry, and soon we will be inviting people to join us in serving in those different areas. Pray that as the foundations for this are laid that Christ would remain as the center focus.
  • Please continue to pray for our financial support. We have been in absolute awe of how much God has provided for us already. We couldn’t be more grateful! As this is a three-year process, we ask that you will keep praying for the support we have to raise as we continue to trust our Provider.