Five Thoughts from a Blog Designer

As a designer, I have a myriad of blogs that come across my desk every day. Design blogs, blogs I’m building, friends, writers, ideas, concepts, you name it. Over the course of a year, I talk to lots and lots of fellow bloggers, thinkers, entrepreneurs, moms, sisters, friends who want to talk dreams. Plans. Goals.

So here’s my 5 thoughts for you, fellow bloggers, writers, seekers of truth and beauty, and miners of the diamonds amidst all the coal. These are what I would tell you if I could over coffee or peanut butter on toast with blueberries, which is my absolute favorite, but I digress…

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1. Your blog is an extension of you, but does not, and should not run your life. It’s really easy in this blogging world to get swallowed whole by the screen that you sit at every day. I’ve found myself taking out my iPhone, snapping a photo only to think, “I should blog about this later.” I’m sure you all know this feeling. Your readers, your friends, your family, don’t want your blog to run your life. TRUST ME. The best and most authentic posts and content come from people who are living rich lives, learning from mistakes and getting into the grit of the world they live in. This might mean you take some time off and that’s ok. I’m sure I’m going against all “How to get one million followers in one day” suggestions, but you don’t need to keep constant content. Keep GOOD content.


2. Uncluttered design is better for your reader. I come across a lot of designs that are full. Busy. Links and arrows, directions, options, ads and you name it. I love seeing so many exciting things going on for so many bloggers. But if people are coming to your site to read, make it easy to read. When it comes to the design, remember that there are three main areas your readers are looking — who you are, where to connect with you and what you’re offering. Keep it simple and cohesive. Too many colors, images, fonts, etc, will make it harder for your community to engage completely in what YOU are saying. Try to imagine your blog and website as another room in your home. Declutter it. Dust it. Refresh it. Give people beautiful things to look at, but not too much to distract them from why they’re really there — to see YOU. Whether you’re writing about parenting, home decor, organizing, the Gospel, whatever it might be… keep the main thing the main thing.

3. Don’t try to be someone else. We all know that there are some amazing writers and creators out there. So. much. good. stuff. But if we all tried to be like them, this world would implode really fast. As Dr. Seuss said: “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Own who that person is. Maybe it takes some introspection. Don’t be afraid to routinely ask yourself — Why am I writing? What is my story? What do I have to give? What is my voice?

4. Smaller can be better. Your audience is not a direct reflection on your content. In the business realm, it might be beneficial to keep an eye on stats, but sometimes it can destroy a personal passion. If you are PASSIONATE about something, then don’t let small numbers deter you. Your passion should not fly or fall based on the attention of others. We wouldn’t tell our children that they are less beautiful or handsome based on how many people tell them this, would we? And if you are trying to grow numbers, remember to stay authentic and press on. Hard growth doesn’t mean it’s bad. It could mean that you are just growing deeper roots.


5. Moodboard your life. With all the designs I do, I start with a moodboard. This is a collection of images, colors, typefaces, concepts to help myself and the client work from the same idea. We are both looking at the same collection of items regularly to make sure we’re not splitting too far from the concept. You can do this on your own for your own life and blog, and you should. Start collecting images, photos, prints, clips of things that inspire you. Maybe it’s a magazine ad. Maybe an old photo. Maybe it’s a quote in a book or a blogger who said something that went to your heart. Collect all of these things and put them somewhere where you’ll see them every time you write. Remember who you are and why you’re there.

(If you create one of these or already have one, link up here and share!)

I am thankful for all of your stories, voices, tips, bravery and passion.

Shine bright. :)

Writing for the Crowd

My sister is the mother of 8 beautiful children. Wife to a hard-working man. Homemaker extraordinaire, gardener of wild things and wild hearts, baker of cakes and cookies, and curator of the good stuff.

I marvel at her, managing 8 children, each teeming with dreams, hopes, and energy. They’re all weaving a whole story of their own under her rooftop. And she writes about them. Photographs them. Tells stories of them. Yes, blogs about them all.

She writes about their adventures. About their nature lessons. About hikes into the woods and valentines crafts, Christmas dinners and slow Thursday mornings.

I tell her it sounds like a storybook. She laughs and tells me that’s far from the truth
but she’s a seeker of beauty and I tell her that she does quite a good job of finding it.


Not long ago, we surprised her and took the years of blogging she had written, and printed each entry into a book. A real life, hard cover book for her own kids to hold and read. All those stories, poems, thoughts she had captured about the beauty of a simple life, there in hand to recall at a moment’s notice.

And that was when I realized — sometimes we’re not writing for the crowds of readers and tweeters out in the giant world. Sometimes we’re writing for the crowd around our feet, or the ones who are living life shoulder to shoulder with us.

She tells me her husband loves that she writes about the beauty of her life. That it helps him see it all too. That when it’s hard, or uncertain, she is chasing down the line of grace in the middle of it all, and holding up the light like a beacon of hope in their home. The children circle around the book. They recall the best of days and give thanks that someone captured it, and relive the good that is built under roofs of wood and in hearts of love.

She and me, we talk about the blogging world. How big it feels sometimes. How easy it is to feel small, insignificant, and like you’re not even sure who you’re trying to talk to anyway. There are so many voices, opinions and styles, it’s easy to feel swallowed up in the giant web of it all.

So we agree — it’s good to step back and ask, why? What is it that I really wanted to accomplish with all this blogging anyway?

Sometimes we’re not writing to give an angle on the latest controversy. Sometimes we write to give an angle on the beauty that is refracting into our lives. Sometimes it’s not about marketing and opinions, methods and how-to lists. Sometimes it’s foundations and memories, dog-eared pages and remember-whens.

If you’re writing to remember, that’s a good reason to write.
If you’re writing to capture, that’s a good reason to write.
If you’re writing to document, to frame moments, to tell stories, that is a good reason to write.

Sometimes having a blog isn’t about the numbers or how much traffic you can generate from a tweet at 2:15 p.m. Sometimes it’s much bigger, much better, much more meaningful than a stat or comment.

And that? That, I tell my sister, that is the best kind of blog.

When You Belong to No One

She always asks me, “You and me forever, right mom?” I assure her that yes, indeed, it’s me and her, forever.

We all want to belong to someone, don’t we?

It’s easy as a single parent to sometimes feel like I belong to no one. My daughter, she’s at home in my heart. But me? I feel the loneliness creep in with a heavy silence, long after the child’s play and songs have gone quiet into the night.

Confession: I snuck out of church a few weeks ago. I stepped off stage from leading worship, and when all greetings stopped, all backs were turned and all eyes were looking forward, I took my exit to the door and found a brick wall on which to sit. Sometimes I can’t handle all the couples coupling up. All the seats taken. All the places I feel unwanted or don’t belong. Sometimes it all feels a lot worse than it actually is, and when it does, I need to get fresh air and clear my head.

photo source: weheartit

And it was that kind of morning.

Outside on the city streets, I didn’t feel as alone as I did inside a room of several hundred people.  I don’t know if I can blame it on being single, divorced, being in a city without any family around, being friends with lots of couples, or what. I don’t think I should blame it on anything really. It just is. And every so often, it feels like I no longer belong anywhere, with anyone, to anything.

Even Mother Theresa said — “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”

So I sat on the brick wall outside of church, and watched the cars, the people, the city move on a brisk Sunday morning, and tried to regain some control back on my emotionally spiraling heart. I moped, really. I gave God the silent treatment, and let the tears flow.

As I did so, a woman wearing ragged clothes and no shoes passed slowly by in her wheelchair, and stopped in front of the other church that sits right next door to ours.

She rolled to the front of their steps and began shouting at the closed, metal doors.

“Hey! Hey! Anyone still there? Hey!” Her voice echoed off the stone building, and no one gave a glance, except for me it seemed. I watched her wheel to the side of the building, and she continued to shout vehemently, banging on the side door with no response. I knew what was coming. I felt the awkwardness seep under my skin. She turned to me.

“Hey you! Will you go in there? They have food for me and I’m late.” I hopped off the brick wall and walked toward her. She continued, “I blew a wheel out this morning,” she gestures toward one of the front wheels on her motorized wheelchair. “Another guy in a wheelchair helped but now I’m late. Will you go in and ask if they still have my food?” Food that they give to the hungry. Bakery leftovers. Day-old rolls.

“Yeah,” I said and walked up the steps, into the inner city church. A man brought me to the basement, grumbling about how the woman outside was almost too late, and “lucky for her”, handed me a few bags of food and sent me on my way. After delivering the food back to the woman on the street, she gave thanks: “God blessed me today. On behalf of me and my daughter, thank you. Thank you.” And she went on her way.

And like a ton of bricks, the Lord cut to the quick of my selfish, self-centered heart. As if he wanted to quickly answer my teary-eyed questioning of, “God, I don’t feel like I belong to anyone.”

“You belong to me,” He said. Fast. Fierce. Jolting me on the city sidewalk, and causing that familiar lump to rise in my throat. I felt the closeness of a kinsman redeemer, reminding me that my place is with Him.

You belong to me which means sometimes your seat is not among your peers and friends. Sometimes it’s on city sidewalks. Sometimes, even when you think you’re running away from me, you’re actually running toward me.
You belong to me which means the people I love are the people you love. The ones who belong to me, should belong to you too.

It’s amazing to me how in a moment when I wanted to use my sorrow as a defense against openness and community, God wanted to use it as an inroad to brokenness and humility. I made my way back indoors to my church family, and looked around. The belonging I ached for wasn’t a person, or a chair, or a face. It was that steady, Gospel-truth reminder that I’ve been bought with a price that I cannot repay. That in all of this life, I belong to something, Someone greater. My soul ached for something, and I labeled it loneliness with my flesh, but it really was disbelief in my position in Christ. I didn’t need back-patting encouragement; I needed Gospel-realignment.

This morning my daughter asks me again if we’re a family. “Yes love, we are.” 

“We belong to eachother, right?” she says wistfully. And I say yes, feeling my heart creak open to the reminder again that we are His. Our words. Our stories. Our seats. Our homes. We belong to Him. The kinsman redeemer. The one who places us within our boundary lines. The one who builds families, answers prayers, and also binds up broken hearts and leaves the 99 for the one.

We belong to Him.

Noise at Dawn, Turning Up Silence, and a Top Three List.

Sometimes I get tired of words. All the words. Everywhere. Including my own. Facebook. Twitter. Blogs. You know. 

I went through a time earlier this year where I was obsessed with words. With all the words. I’d wake up to my alarm, and before I gave anything else a second thought, I was staring with one eye open at an endless feed of thought — statuses, opinions, angles. Daily, before I kissed the freshly-awake head of my little girl, or even uttered a desperate prayer, I had filled my head with noise. 

My mind tried to sort, and file, and toss and keep, but just like any filter, when things start getting clogged, not much good of anything gets through. My heart weighed heavy. Anxiety went through the roof. Lies seeped deep and shouted when I was weak. Peace unraveled like a stray thread on a handmade sweater. I felt a continual weight of not good enough, not smart enough, witty enough, theological enough, beautiful enough, you-name-it enough. I found when I sat to write, I didn’t even know what my voice was. What did I believe? What did I want to say? Was my contribution even worth making?

(And even now as I write this, I can still feel it all crouching at the door.) 

I was listening to so much, and adding my own noise, that I had lost sight of the point. The point of why I wrote, designed, created. Why did I want to be the girl who did these things? And did I even know anymore what God was whispering in my story before I shouted my noise to the masses?

I needed to turn down the noise. Turn up the silence. Take every thought captive. Tune into my heart. To the Gospel and what anchored me steady under the waves. 

The rest quieted my soul and when I sat back to stammer out my meager helpings, I tried to focus on three things. Here they are. If you find that you’re hearing more noise than music, read on. (Feel free to interchange write with “design” “create” “draw” “sing” “play”, etc.)

1. Write to witness beauty. — I’ve heard several men who I respect talk about finding joy in God by doing the things that bring us joy. When we participate in the beauty of cultivating something we love, it becomes less about the “thing” and more about the wonder of enjoying the gift that the Creator gives to us. The stories I live become portals of love, and I get to experience them all over again when I tell them.

2. Write to remember beauty. — There have been seasons where I wrote as a weary traveler. Divorce. Affairs. Sin. Loneliness. I would make small altars of words, pour out my heart, and light them on fire in hopes my Father would see, hear my prayers, and remember us. At the time, it felt quiet. Now, I look back and while I remember how bleak it all was, all I can see is redemption. Grace. Sustenance. I wrote so that me now, years later, would see God is good and faithful.

3. Write for clarity. — Edward Albee said “Writing has got to be an act of discovery. . . . I write to find out what I’m thinking about.” In this case, seeing is believing. Or sometimes, seeing is knowing what it is that I need to un-believe. 

And finally, don’t be afraid to turn down the noise and take a breather. It’s loud out there, and none of us will be crushed if you finally say you need a break. Silence is beautiful, and God is near. 

 Throw deep anchors and rest.

Scars, Perfect Legs and Lifelines

I have a seven inch scar that stretches from the top of my left hip and down. It’s the reminder that I was born with a broken body. Sometimes, it feels like a stinging reminder that something wasn’t complete when I entered this world. Sometimes it reminds me that miracles happen through the careful hands of doctors and low-hanging surgical lights.

Then there’s the scar that sits dime-sized in the middle of my shin. An excited summer child running through a dark field, tripping on a big-revival-tent spoke. Legs marked by tree limbs, beach skirmishes, bicycles spinning wildly out of control somewhere around the bend in our middle driveway. Dots and lines of scars on my knees from sports injuries, slipped kneecaps, lacrosse in my junior year gone wrong.

I am marked with scars of life. I can remember looking at my friends unscathed legs, realizing that they would grow to have the legs of women that men marveled at. I would never have those legs. I would have the legs of a girl who was broken when she arrived, broken when she ran, broken when she fell, broken when she lived.

These are the things that sometimes cross my mind when I am changing and I feel the tension of skin against scar. I am always measuring my beauty against experience, and sometimes wishing my experience hadn’t stolen so much of who I could have been. And they’re not just on my legs. But I feel them in my heart too. All sorts of scars that make me wonder if my beauty and story is forever marred by the gashes.

I don’t know what Eve looked like on the outside, but I know when she took that fruit, she ripped a scar from her heart down the lineage line to my own. And that’s the one I’m most aware of.

photo by Kristen Rae Photography

I’m tempted to hide these scars, like her. With leaves. With lies. By flashing you a smile and an “A-Ok” attitude before you get a glimpse into how broken I sometimes feel. I cover them, sprawling my fingers wide along jagged edges I can’t conceal.

But these scars? If I trace them, they become lifelines. Stories. Reminders of healing. Reminders of lessons learned. Reminders of protection, foolishness, helplessness. I trace my finger along these white lines and feel the pulse of redemption. There in my heart too, I trace. I see that all things come back together for good.

The best kind of healing is the kind that happens fully, completely. What’s left behind is not a mistake. It’s a reminder that God came near, and His grace took over when everything could have been abandoned. I feel a sense of camaraderie to Jacob, and his limp, and knowing that God comes close and lets us wrestle, and then leaves us changed. 

So as we grow in relationships, friendships, at home or wherever we find ourselves comparing perfect shiny legs and bandaged, bruised hearts, remember that the things that break us are the very things that tell the story of our Rescue. Christ is taking all these broken pieces and making us into something we didn’t expect.

And we can trace these lifelines with our fingers and whisper thanks.

The Autumn Dance

I place one foot in front of the other. A stone wall is my balance beam, and I catch my breath as each rock tilts and shifts under my step. Me, 10 years old, out of the house until the sun has painted the sky orange, walking the old stone wall property lines in the land of my childhood. Under certain rocks rested pens and notebooks, words of my heart laying quiet until I would meet them after school to write and be silent.

This one certain wall that holds my memory sits at the top of the hill, overlooking the valley, and is where my mind wanders tonight.

“Mom? Are you happy?” This is a funny question for a three year old to ask, but ask she does. Her words stir me from my foggy mind. From under my grandmother’s afghans, she says these words while I swirl like a dervish around our home. I’m walking the lines of our home and in my heart, and sometimes the internal thoughts make their way out onto the lines of my face and the tone of my voice.

“Yes, bird, I am,” I sit down at her side, and she tosses the blanket over my lap. “Sometimes I’m happy. But sometimes I’m not. Just like you.”

She nods. “We are together. Me and you forever, Mom.” (If we could bottle moments up, I’d scoop this one up in all its color and tone and warmth, and place it on the top shelf where it’s sure to never break.)

It’s definitely autumn here in New York. Across the street, I’ve watched the poplar trees dance from summer into the wind, and now their leaves turn a slight shade of rusted red. A friend tells me the other day, “I miss you most in the fall,” and those words sidle up to my heart, stirring me warm.

“Autumn…asks that we prepare for the future — that we be wise in the ways of garnering and keeping. But it also asks that we learn to let go — to acknowledge the beauty of sparseness.— B.W. Overstreet, taken from Romancing the Ordinary, Sarah Ban Breathnach

It’s amazing to me how we all love a season that is so beautifully marking the end of things. We will drink our cider, jump in piles, pick apples ripe from low hanging branches, and at the end, give thanks for our lines falling in pleasant places (Psalm 16:6).

This is how it should be, I tell myself. Some hopes must be cast up into an autumn storm. Some prayers will dance into heaven and appear to die before we see life again. And in my heart, I am walking the stone walls of the places He has set us in. The “boundaries of our dwelling place” like Paul talks about in Acts. I’m stepping on the stones — the ones that feel wobbly, the ones that hide my heart, the ones that are solid and stuck in the earth, immovable, unshakeable. I’m feeling my way towards my God who has held me in the entire time.

I’m looking inside these lines — at what we’re garnering and keeping. There are pumpkin candles to light, books to read, quilts to fold, sweatshirts to snuggle in and unwritten pages of a beautiful year left in our hands. And I’m standing on the boundary lines, looking out at the things that we must let our branches shake off. The unwritten blogs, the places we did not get to, the silent graves we’ve stood beside, the to-do list items that remain unfinished, the parts of my heart to which He said “this time, no.”

From this view, autumn is turning, and the poplar trees are shaking, and I am holding an armful of the best things to keep and garnish — the love under this roof, the grace that has sustained us, the rocks that are unmoving. I am leaning into a trust that He has placed us here and established us, and because it’s from Him and through His hands first, I can say our boundaries are “pleasant and our inheritance is beautiful.” 

What are you keeping and cherishing this fall? What are you letting go into the wind? Has this season found you in places you didn’t expect?

When the Mirror is Most Dim

I feel upturned. Inside, mostly. I told my mom over coffee this morning that I don’t understand why God does this to me.

“God does this to you?” she smirked, swirling her morning tea with a spoon. She paused, letting the cream swirl in that beautiful caramel circle as she turned to me. “God does this to you. Hm. Have you looked in the mirror lately?”

I gave her a fake frown. Sipped my coffee. Rolled my eyes. And then said, “Well, yes I have. Why?”

I sometimes imagine God as a puppet master. His entertainment is pulling on the strings that make our arms and legs jerk helplessly, against our will. He pulls us along and displays a beautiful scene, but inside I feel like nothing more than an example of someone who has gone slightly mad.

I know this view of him is wrong. It’s a shadow of truth and lies. I take it to the cross and bury it there in tears. I can almost relate to St. Catherine of Siena when she refers to God as “Oh Divine Madman!” Except she does so because she sees his insane love for us. I whisper those words because I fear the worst.

So I stare into this mirror and I see broken pieces of what I do not understand. I look and I see myself. This curly-haired, green-eyed, somewhat frenetic mess of a girl. It’s her who is running me into the ground. It’s those eyes that never close, these ears that selectively hear, these hands that wring, this mouth that speaks doubt. This mind behind it all that dreams, and plans, and hopes against all hope, and crashes when all hope seems lost. I see her. I see her clearly. It’s Him I see dimly.

I think of that scene, in Pride and Prejudice (the new one, though I’m still blood-loyal to the BBC version) where Lizzie stares at a mirror for what seems to be hours, even as Mr. Darcy comes into the room and leaves her a truth-revealing letter. She stares into a mirror that grows darker with the night. The truth at her side, she stares into candlelight and things dimly lit. As am I — staring and missing the truth.

At what point will I rest my puppet arms, and lean back into His? When can I untie my own strings and turn from my own madness? I want to look into a mirror that loses its self-reflection, and instead becomes a looking glass into truth. When will I breathe deep and let go of that gnawing lie that I have to control everything? That lie is grinding my soul into fine dust.

He blows on that dust, it scatters on the surface of glass, and I look for the truth that sets me free. A fracture of light skims and dives into my heart.

“For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:23-25