You are God’s Poetry

The word "POETRY" written in vintage metal letterpress type in a wooden drawer with dividers.

“Do you want to read the prologue?” My son asked. I stopped what I was doing and nodded my head gently, trying to be as casual as possible. It is not often that I get to read what my son is writing while he is writing it. He often hesitates to share his stories until he is near the completion of them. Pushing the computer toward me, I began to read. The words ran like an effortless stream around bends and corners, leading me through the set up of the story line.

When I got to the end I could only think about one thing: this boy is meant to write.

It is inspiring, especially at such a young age, to see how his writing flows so naturally from his mind to the page. It’s what he was made to do.

We all have a gifting like this inside of us. For some it is fixing broken machines, for others it’s helping fix broken hearts. Some sing, some program computers, some cook, some decorate rooms, and some teach from a pulpit.

And guess what? These gifts are not a surprise to God. In fact, He authored them, and desires for us to use them to impact, change, and better His world.

For we are Christ’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.                                                      – Eph. 2:10

The Greek word for handiwork is “poiema,” which is where we get the English word, poem. Poiema is only used two times in the Bible – that’s it! And He uses one of those times to tell us that we are His poem – His art. Isn’t that beautiful? God fashioned us for purpose, and when we are in motion in that work, we are writing God’s graceful prose.

Eric Liddel, the Olympic cross-country runner on whom the classic movie Chariots of Fire was based, says “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

What he was saying is that running is his poetry. And it became a worldwide platform for him to glorify God and draw others to faith. His running was both an act of worship and an act of obedience in living out his purpose.

What is your poetry? Sometimes we do not recognize it because it comes so easily that we don’t consider it a gift.

Sometimes we simply cannot accept that we are God’s masterpiece. We feel like a lonely painting on a forgotten canvas tossed to Goodwill rather than an artist’s magnum opus at the Louvre.

But that is exactly what God says we are. We are His greatest creation – the crown jewel.

If you do not yet know how He has created you with unique gifts and abilities, spend some time asking these questions:

Finding.My.Gifts

In college I took a class called “Physics for Poets.” It was a course designed for people like me who simply did not get science, but needed to take the requirement to graduate. I believe that if God wanted me to be a world-changer in the field of science, He would have made me good at it. As I learned in that class with the upmost clarity, He didn’t, and that is not where my passions lie either.

Instead, people are my heartbeat. I can sit and listen to others’ stories for hours and never tire of it. It stirs my heart with passion and excitement when I consider how I can connect with people in authentic, life-giving ways.

Whatever our calling, of one truth we can be sure: If God calls us, He will also equip us to do the work He already planned for us to do. We are worthy of His calling because He is able to do more than we can imagine. And His strength is made perfect in us when we are weak. Our part is to stay on our knees before Him and simply live the poetry He is writing.

 

I’d love to know, how do you lean into your gifts and take the next step you feel God is leading you to take? How do you encourage others to do the same?

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Seven Signs of a Successful Blogger

Blogging Connects Us

If we asked seven people for their definition of a “successful blogger,” we’d likely get seven different responses. Because every blogger is unique. Our reasons for blogging are different too.

A successful blogger is oftentimes categorized by virtue of certain statistics. This data reflects the way a post is resonating with readers, and we can appreciate the information these numbers provide. But there’s more to blogging than statistics. Much more.

We blog because we want to share a part of ourselves with others. Blogging has become an amazing way to build bridges with folks we might not have ever met otherwise.

Blogging connects us in ways we couldn’t have ever imagined. <Tweet this!>

This is why we enjoy gathering once a year. The Allume Conference is a place where all of our online bridges connect for one special weekend of real togetherness. My favorite part of the conference has always been the people — people who share a love of words and a love for God and a love for reaching others with the Light of Christ.

Blogging is one way we get to share our soul’s message of hope and freedom. And we want to blog with excellence. So what does that look like? What does a successful blogger look like?

While statistics have become a basic measuring stick for bloggers, there are key qualities in a successful blogger that can’t be easily quantified. Here are seven signs of a successful blogger that you won’t find on a bar graph anywhere:

1. Successful bloggers can look back at their earliest blog posts and see considerable improvement in their writing.

Blogging provides a wonderful venue for practicing the craft of writing. We improve with time and practice. When you read your first posts, do you notice a difference in the way you write today? How has your voice developed and changed?

2. Successful bloggers continue to refine their purpose for writing online.

The more we write, the more we grow. And as we grow, our purpose for writing continues to come into focus. Sometimes we begin writing about one topic, but we end up writing about another. That’s part of the process. We gain greater clarity as we write through the years.

3. Successful bloggers persevere through the inevitable ups and downs that accompany the blogging life, and they find their own rhythm.

Every blogger, at some point, entertains the idea of quitting. Blogging takes effort. Sustained effort. Yes, bloggers will take a break every now and then. Maybe even a really long break. But eventually, successful bloggers settle on a pace that works for them, and they stick with it.

4. Successful bloggers build relationships with other bloggers.

The beauty of blogging comes from the people we meet. At first, we might distinguish our “real life friends” from our “online friends.” With time, however, we discover that our online friends have become our real life friends too. There’s no longer a distinction. These online relationships span continents and oceans, and they become the truest testimony of our “success” as a blogger.

5. Successful bloggers create a body of perennial work they can point new readers to.

A perennial flower is like an evergreen tree. It’s flush with life, all year round. In the same way, successful bloggers can direct new readers toward a ready collection of posts that represent the best of their years as a blogger. This isn’t just a list of archives either. These posts are their penultimate work. They enable new readers to get to know them and what their blog is about relatively quickly.

6. Successful bloggers connect with readers and make a positive impact on their lives.

This is the most important part of blogging — making a difference. A truly successful blogger is someone whose life and writing have changed someone else for the better. Maybe it’s a comment on a thread. Or maybe it’s a private message sent. When readers reach out to tell you that your words have touched them in some way, that is the best thing about blogging.

7. Successful bloggers begin to mentor newer bloggers.

Successful leaders never hoard information. Part of what lends to their success is their ability to share what they’ve learned with others. Success always multiplies itself. Successful bloggers are generous with the tips and tricks and tools of the trade. They’ll come alongside newer bloggers and share what has worked for them and what hasn’t. One person, of course, can’t possibly be available to everyone on the internet, but one person can establish mentor relationships with at least a few other bloggers who would love to learn and grow.

So if we extracted the key verbs from each of these seven signs, it would look something like this:

A successful blogger will . . .

Look Back
Refine
Persevere
Build
Create
Connect
Impact
Mentor

That’s the definition of success.

What would you add to this definition of a successful blogger?

 

Unfolding Grace.

unfolding grace

As I teach my kids about Good Friday, they always ask, “Why is it good? I don’t understand.”

From the outside looking in, it doesn’t appear good. It is confusing to them. How can it be good that our Hero is beaten, bruised, torn, wrongly condemned and dying viciously on a cross of shame?  What about that feels good?

Looks and feelings can deceive the human eye. Oh, how often they fool us.

Seeing good in the midst of a mess is hard. Let’s face it, hard is hard.

As Christians, we can sugar coat tough times and say it is “all going to be okay.”  But the truth is, that as I watch too many of my friends walking a hard road right now, and as my own family of four walks out our version of hard, I really just want to scream. I am constantly telling God, “I don’t understand. You need to fix this.” I act as if I have a front row seat to all the brokenness that He isn’t seeing.

When I take the time to examine my own crazy trainwreck of a redemption story, I am able to see the power and beauty that comes out of Christ’s journey to the cross for us.  Out of mess, beauty comes. Out of all the broken pieces, a tapestry of abundant life is created. There is a bigger story being written in all this hard stuff going on and my job is to trust the Author as He unfolds grace.

It is in the unfolding of grace that hope is found. I am a witness to this playing out in my own family.

cbw-0591

This picture was taken on my wedding day. What you can’t tell is that 10 hours prior to this picture a family “war” broke out due to my husband’s brother, Chris, being drunk. What started out as a silly, funny, drunk guy turned into rage and anger which eventually created an environment where one of the sisters didn’t feel safe. Looks can be deceiving, huh?  While everyone kept their happy face on for the wedding pictures, the days that followed led to broken and fractured relationships. Things were said that were ugly and hard to mend. Chris had not drunk too much only that night. The truth was that Chris was an addict. He was using and abusing multiple substances. It was a hard reality that no one wanted to confront.

The story that happened the night before our wedding is one of many stories that would play out over the next eight years. The addiction caused a domino of mess inside of this family unit. Never would you have heard me say that it was “good” until today. After zillions of prayers said, multiple times in rehab, and a plethora of opportunities to start over, we are finally at a place where there is good coming out of the mess. Chris is now eight months sober and we are witnessing grace unfold before us in this love story.

bobby and chris

What no one saw coming is that this unfolding grace wasn’t all about Chris. It was about restoration and wholeness of a family.  It was about his twin brother finding his role in this greater story. It was about keeping hope when all seemed to be lost.

Chris’s twin, Bobby Bailey, happens to be an amazing storyteller and film maker. As one of the founders of Invisible Children, Bobby has traveled the world conveying the plights of suffering people. The stories he tells have power and purpose, but now his eyes are opened to the fact that there is an incredible story to be told, sitting right in front of him. This time it is personal. Together Chris and Bobby are stepping out to create change for those facing brokenness, inner demons and addiction. This is amazing good coming out of some really hard times. Take a moment and watch the powerful story of how God led Bobby to a homeless and broken Chris on the streets of California.

STEP INTO LIFE: CHRIS BAILEY WALKS ACROSS AMERICA from Bobby Bailey on Vimeo.

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, MSG

Because life-giving stories spring up in the midst of the hard, I know I can hold on. I can wait and trust. I want my kids to know that what we see in Good Friday is raw and real… human flesh vs. God’s power. It is an epic battle that they will one day fight one day too, and no matter how hard and ugly the story seems, it always ends with good.

Good is found in the sacrifice that is undeserved, unmerited and for some, unwanted. Our eyes stay fixed on the drama of Good Friday because it is hard and we can all relate to hard. But as we watch the hard, grace unfolds for us, and it is good.  It is so good.

How to Untangle Your Brain And Focus

Spaghetti with Zucchini, Leeks and Fresh Tomato

Ever heard the phrase, “Men are like waffles, women are like spaghetti?”

According to Bill and Pam Ferrel who published a book on the concept, men think in boxes—like the separate compartments of a waffle. (Ever try to have a deep conversation with your man while the television is on?)

And women? Our minds are usually working on several things at once—like a tangled web of noodles. For most women, everything is interconnected. We are the queens of multitasking. (Betcha you’re doing laundry or taking care of little ones or working on a blog post right now.)

I usually view this ability as a blessing, but not when I’m writing.

My natural bent toward multitasking paired with countless distractions of our hyper-connected world makes focusing difficult. (By the way, remind me to pick up a hostess gift for tonight’s dinner party…)

Also, like many of you, I have more than one passion. I get fired up about writing, but my heart also beats fast when I talk about discipleship. I cry when I think about adoption and have a relentless ache to help teens process grief and loss. I bet your passions are just as varied and equally as strong.

The fact is no one is exclusively a writer. We are wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters. We are homeroom moms, bible study leaders, hardworking executives, half-marathon trainers, cupcake bakers, boo-boo kissers, our husband’s cheerleaders, relentless learners, conference attenders, and so much more…

So how in the world does a passionate, busy woman stay focused?

Give yourself grace.

When I’m unable to focus I quickly feel unproductive and frustrated, which usually prompts me to give myself an angry pep talk about how I need to get my stuff together. Then, I start to wonder if I should be writing in the first place and decide I maybe I should just quit and pick up tennis instead. And that makes me worry if we have the money to pay for tennis lessons, which reminds me I need to pay my AMEX bill… Y’all, it’s exhausting!

I’ve finally learned that beating myself up is counterproductive. Instead, I practice extending myself grace. And I hope you’ll give yourself the same freedom.

Paul, in Ephesians 4:1-2 encourages us, “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which [we] have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.”

We simply cannot love others well through our writing if we do not first extend the same humility, gentleness, patience, and tolerance to ourselves. Let’s start now.

Make lasagna instead of spaghetti.

I’m grateful God gifted us with the ability to multitask, but what if we took steps to organize our “spaghetti brains” a bit?

Recently I downloaded Donald Miller’s Storyline Productivity Schedule. It’s changed everything for me. His method forces me to specifically identify and prioritize three main projects for the day. It’s allowed me to view my day in layers, instead of a tangled web of to-dos. (Lasagna not spaghetti.)

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says there is, “a time for everything, a season for every activity under the heavens.” It does not say, everything can happen at one time. When it comes to writing, we must determine what activity our time is meant for.

Here’s what I mean: Rather than setting aside generic blocks of time for “writing,” I try to be more specific. I strive to define my time blocks explicitly—time marked for brainstorming, writing, editing, and drafting social media posts. When I’m editing, my social media ideas can wait—only editing is allowed to happen during those 30-45 minute sessions.

Organizing the blogging process into layers helps me narrow my focus, target my energy, and ultimately be more productive. When I wrap up a focused “layer” of writing time, I feel accomplished and energized. I’m ready to move on to the next part of my day. I’m free to be more intentional and present with loved ones at home and colleagues at work.

What tips do you have for untangling your brain in order to focus?

Navigating the Hard Days.

navigating hard times

I am moving. Geesh! There, I finally said it in an official kind of way.

And I don’t mean moving my blog address or moving down the street. I mean moving 865 miles from Phoenix, Arizona to Denver, Colorado. (Anyone need a house in Phoenix?)

EVERYONE has assured me that I will LOVE Denver and thanks to the Allume Community I have been welcomed and connected to what seem like amazing people in the Denver area but the reality is my heart is happy and content  in Phoenix where I have resided and built a life for the last 17 years. I don’t have one complaint about where I live. YEP! You won’t even hear me complain about the 122 degree summers because I am from Texas and if you have known 99% humidity with 100 degree heat then 122 with no humidity is nothing! The phrase “It is a dry heat.” is real, people!

So why move you ask? For at least 8 months my husband and I, along with a community of people, have been praying for an open door to a job where my husband would feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment in what he does. And that door opened…it just happens to be a door located in Denver. (We failed to mention in our request that the door was supposed to be in Phoenix. I kinda just assumed God knew. Lesson learned!)

We feel confirmed that this is the door to walk through but that doesn’t mean it is not hard to leave behind a group of girlfriends that know me inside and out, pull my kids away from two sets of grandparents , walk away from the small group we lead that was just building momentum. It doesn’t means it’s not hard to think about finding a new church when we have one that is “just right” for us. Oh, and don’t get me started on finding a new school for my kiddos. Figuring out Kindergarten last year felt painful enough. The thought of doing that all over again feels like being forced to eat liver and onions or swimming with sharks. Then you throw in selling and packing up my house that brings me comfort and joy and I just about teeter over the edge…STOP THE MADDNESS! I have cried more in the last 25 days than in all of 2014 I would guess.

In the tears my husband always reminds me that we don’t have to do this. He assures me that he is willing to stop packing boxes and begin looking for a job in Phoenix. Every time I say… just because it is hard now doesn’t mean it is not going to be good.

Hard today does not mean there won’t be good tomorrow. 

What is your “hard now” thing?

I am thankful for the biblical examples that goes before me. People who have taken “hard” and found the good; Jochebed releasing Moses, Ruth choosing Naomi, Rahab throwing the rope, Joseph accepting Mary and the ultimate in Jesus bearing the weight of our sin. Without the Mighty One God and His perspective on this transition I would be an utter train wreck of a girl right now. But as the sun rises and sets I am reminded of His power.

Psalm 50 - 2 final

Getting to the land of good is going to mean navigating the hard days well.

For me it is a move. What is it for you?

  • A marriage that feels hard?
  • Kids that feels hard?
  • A job that feels hard?
  • A financial situation that feels hard?

How are you going to navigate the hard days well so that you can see the good?

I have created three non-negotiables for my transition.

  1. Choose Scripture

No matter what mood I wake up in or what seems to be going wrong my day STARTS with scripture. It may come from a devotional book, something someone sends me via text or from a Bible reading plan but it is my priority that keeps me grounded in truth and helps me to distinguish between feelings and reality.

  1. Maintain Clear Focus

Because I have a variety of balls that I am juggling between parenting, coaching, retreat leading, Allume & MOVING it can be easy for me to get distracted by the variety of to-do’s. To maintain my focus I keep a slew of Christian music playing at all times depending on if I am with my kids, making dinner or working. It is hard to go off the deep end with my kids when I have “Boom Chaka Laka” playing in the background. I also work off a to-do list that contains ONLY 5 things. Once I finish those 5 things then I add more. This simply helps me not get overwhelmed by a running list of 50-100 things. (Download printable to-do list here)

  1. Ask for Help

I consider myself a highly capable person who can handle a fair amount of stress but I am about to embark on the task of single parenting while my husband heads to his new job and we wait for the house to sell. I am not going to pretend to be excited about this. I am dreading this! I know without a shadow of a doubt that I will not be able to maintain my sanity if I don’t ask for help. I will need to crash a family member’s house for dinner, plan extra play dates so I can have adult interaction or even grant the kids a bit of extra screen time so I can finish up some work.

There are hard days ahead but I know if I intentionally commit to these three things there will be good in the midst of hard. I choose to trust in the land of good that is to come because I know He cares for me. What about you? What non-negotiables will you choose?  How can we be praying for your hard days?

P.S. – Allume Conference tickets go on sale Sunday, March 1st at 8:00 a.m. EST. The first 50 tickets get the early bird discount. Set a reminder on your phone today!

ticket sales 1

an Audience of ONE

We make it incredibly chaotic.  We make it all about our words and our life and consistently say.. “look at me, look at my life, look at the mess I am wading in.” There isn’t a need for it and quite frankly, our God is not a God of chaos.

He is the God of order, intention, intelligence, justice, joy, compassion, relationship and love.. I could fill pages.  If we focused on the Mighty One God, how much of our own agendas, our need to be heard, or need to be seen by the world how much would fade away?  How much more frequently would we see the Eternal God through our words or worship or social media channels? How much more joy, compassion and love would this world be flooded with?

Psalm - 3 final

 

I know it gets kicked around and misused across the Christian landscape a lot but our lives are really only about the audience of One. Before our feet hit the ground, before the first words roll off our tongues, we have a choice.  Each of us has the ability to choose the audience we worship in front of every single morning. God’s given us each an individual story to write or if you will, worship set to play out before Him.

In the midst of our messes we wade in, are we truly surrendering to Him?  Are we tending to our primary ministry that He has given to us individually? Regardless of what that ministry looks like, there is no greater call on our lives than the one that God commanded us to choose : Love God and Love Others.  Period.  No question, no division, no compromise and absolutely no complaining.  After all, as we look ahead to the beginning of Lent, He’s already sacrificed it all just for us, hasn’t He? And yep. That means the sacrifice is for you too.

 

Measuring Sticks, Insecurity, and Some Conference Advice

Size Platform Measure Worth 2

I begin in the west and fly halfway across the country before I finally arrive for the conference. The driver picks me up at the airport and I’m reunited with my online friend who started her journey this morning in the east.

We chat a mile a minute and look forward to seeing our “smaller” blogger friends and many of our “bigger” blogger friends too.

During the conference I meander through sessions with my “smaller” blogger friends, all the while casually noticing who’s interacting with whom. I watch the “bigger” bloggers interact with their own circles of friends, while I engage with mine—looking them in the eye, listening, and relating.

But I deceive myself, because while I think I’m fully present in each conversation, in reality I’m partly absent. And as the conference presses on, I realize I’m disappointed when my “bigger” blogger friends have not initiated a fuller connection with me.

And it’s the last day of the conference when God convicts me of a cold hard truth.

My disappointment is a symptom of my illness—the virus of insecurity—hovering like a flu.

It has infected me. And I ache with its uncertainty while questions linger…

Do I matter?

Do I fit in?

Do “they” notice me or even want to be my real friend?

That last afternoon I leave the lunch table with my friend Alia, and make my way across the room toward our other roommate Amy—my in-real-life friend and newbie blogger—who has come with me to the conference.

And as we approach, she immediately turns to us, as if our timing is perfect.

“Hey guys! There’s someone I want you to meet.
This is Jennifer, another newbie.
And at lunch I asked her which of the “bigger” bloggers she most wanted to meet here.
And you know who she said?
Jacque Watkins and Alia Joy.
So I told her I could probably hook her up, since you guys are my roommates.”

I startle, like a deer caught in headlights.

Did she actually just say my name with the phrase “bigger” blogger?

Shocked on the inside, I greet Jennifer with a smile, flattered and completely stunned anyone would consider me a “bigger” blogger. She is sweet and gracious—a tea-drinking mama of four. And after our delightful interaction, I’m better for having met her.

As I fly home, reflecting on the conference, the Holy Spirit woos and convicts me again.

During the conference I wasted so much mental time, and internal dialogue, wondering if I’d get to build deeper relationships with  “bigger” bloggers.

While probably there were others there, who would’ve loved to build a deeper relationship with me.

And the recognition of this truth is like medicine for my ill and insecure heart.

Could it be possible everyone thinks of themselves as a “smaller blogger” and is waiting for that “bigger blogger” to initiate a connection?

Could it be that no matter who we are, there will always be someone “bigger”  to look to? That the one we see as a “bigger” blogger has an even “bigger-blogger” person they’d love to be pursued by too?

And could it be, that to someone, somewhere in the world, YOU are the “bigger blogger”?

That there is one someone scanning the room–looking for you—wishing they could meet YOU?

Hoping YOU’D go out of your way to pursue a connection with THEM?

No matter the size of our platform, we are all asking the same questions at our core:

Do I matter?

Do I fit in?

Would they really want to be my friend?

And the real truth is, our worth and purpose and significance is not dependent on whether a “bigger” blogger knows our name or pursues a friendship with us.

And we need the real truth to sink deep into the crevices of our hearts:

We all matter and fit in because we are His.

He chose us.

And He has great things planned for each of us to do.

So what if, instead of finding our validation from the “bigger bloggers” in our lives, we find our soul’s validation in our time spent with Jesus?

Allowing His Word to inform our starving souls of who He is,

And the truth of who we are because of Him…

Chosen.

Beloved.

Redeemed.

The child of God.

We are eternally valuable regardless of the size of our platform. 

And the size of our platform does not measure the worth of our soul. 

[Tweet that]

So when we set foot inside the walls of the Allume conference this October…

What if we become the initiators of connection because our security in Christ compels us to do so with whomever God places in our path?

What if we say hi first? Flash a smile first? Begin the conversation first, as a people who love in His name?

What if we stay fully present with whomever we’re with—refusing to allow our minds to be “noticing” the room?

And what if we make an effort, to not only hang out with our “people,” but to branch out to new circles of beautiful people? So that no one leaves feeling small and alone.

May we remember we are in this together…

Cheering for each other,

Fighting to believe who He says we are,

And really knowing we ARE already enough because of Him.

I can’t wait to see you at Allume!

Will you be there?

 

All About How You Rock

You rock - Allume

Let’s do something fun today. Let’s celebrate our gifts and talents and what makes us unique as bloggers.

We tend to beat ourselves up for what we don’t do right, don’t accomplish and haven’t  yet achieved.  Sometimes we beat ourselves up so much that we are paralyzed with fear to even take a step. I’m guilty of this very thing.

I have far more things on my to-do list for my blogging than I have actually achieved.  I have unwritten ebooks in my head and widgets to install and posts left half written in my drafts. But today, as I was thinking on these things and starting to get a little depressed, I was reminded that I need to take my thoughts captive.  God knows my limitations and most of these ideals are my own and not pressure that He puts on me.

Let’s allow ourselves to think today about how far we’ve come and what we have learned and achieved.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:14

Let’s praise God for how fearfully and wonderfully we are made. For our uniqueness and the way He weaves our stories together for His glory.

Because the truth is that YOU ROCK! There is no one else exactly like you. No one else has lived your life, walked in your shoes and has truth to tell in the same way that you do.

Your blog? It’s awesome! It’s a reflection of you and that is beautiful. Even if you have things to polish up, look for the beauty where it is right now.  It’s a process and I guarantee you that being grateful for where you are at each step of the way will get you farther than beating yourself up ever did.

Speak kind words to yourself today.  Go ahead.  Tell us something absolutely amazing about you and your blog today!  We can’t wait to hear and celebrate with you!

When Someone has Lost a Child Some Things to Do … or Not Do

Grief Quote - CS Lewis

 

Twenty-two years ago today, I buried my daughter, Amy. Amy had a genetic disorder and lived 4 days. She was born on June 9, 1992, died on the 12th buried on the 16th grave. She is buried in another state and I will not be able to visit her. She isn’t there and I know that, but I still wish I were there to put flowers on her grave. To brush the dirt and grass off of her headstone. To sit quietly for a few minutes in the cemetery with the birds singing and a maybe a lawnmower running in the background.

As I reflect on that time 22 years ago, I know that the experience of losing a child played a large part in making me the person I am today. It was also the hardest thing I have ever endured. Yet, I learned much about myself and others during that time.

One of the things I learned was what is helpful and what is not during a situation such as this. I want to share some things TO do and say or NOT to do and say when ministering to someone who has lost a child.

A disclaimer: I do not profess to know other parent’s feelings. I am only sharing what I know from my own experience; what I have learned from talking with other parents who have lost children – children of various ages, infant to young adults.

  1. DO tell them you are sorry for their loss and you are praying for them and their family.
  2. DO take a meal. We had so much food brought to our home that family members packaged it up and put it in the freezer. After things calmed down and all the out of town family left, it was weeks before we had to cook. We could just pull a meal from the freezer. One less thing to worry about in the days and weeks after she died.
  3. DO be specific when offering to help. Instead of saying, “call me if you need anything.” Say “I’ll come by on Tuesday and clean your bathrooms. Or is there another day that is better?” or “I’ll be by on Monday to cut your grass.” It is rare for people to call and ASK someone to clean their bathroom, but it is even rarer for those grieving to turn down an offer such as this!
  4. DO say the name of the child. Days, weeks and months down the road parents want to know that other people have not forgotten their child. I have a sister-in-law whose birthday is near Amy’s. She usually remembers to send me a text, e-mail or phone call letting me know she remembers.
  5. DO send a card or hand written note. Your note doesn’t have to be fancy, long or eloquently written. Just a note letting the family know you care. I was shocked at the number of sympathy cards we received when Amy died. I went back and read every single card multiple times. Currently, they are bound together and in my closet. They are precious. You may think sending a card is not a big deal. It is. And better yet, send the card or note a week or two or even three weeks after the burial. By that time, out of town family has returned home, the parents may have gone back to work and for those on the outside, things look normal. But, I assure you, in most cases, normal has taken on a new image and receiving a card and knowing someone remembers is comforting.
  6. DO offer to babysit, if appropriate. The parents may be overwhelmed with all the details and having someone help with the other children will, most likely, be well received.
  7. DO remember the grandparents. Not only are the grandparents grieving the loss of a grandchild, they are grieving for their children and the pain they (their grown children) are experiencing.
  8. DO remember the siblings. Two years after Amy died, my oldest brother’s son died and two years later his only daughter died, leaving two young children and leaving my brother with only one son, at that time a young adult in his mid-twenties. A few years after Kathy’s death, my brother’s  only living child got married. It was a joyous occasion. The young lady the son married was the only person that had sent my nephew a sympathy card. The only person to acknowledge HIS grief.
  9. If the child is an infant or young child, do NOT tell the parents they can have another one. The child is not a pair of sunglasses or a vase. One does  not just “replace” a child. Even though Amy only lived 4 days, I carried her for 9 months. I HAVE memories and I HAD dreams. Dreams that died with her. Dreams that slowly slipped away the afternoon she died in my arms.
  10. Do NOT tell the parents they are lucky their child died young. Yes, I had someone tell me this when Amy died. I was lucky that she died young and I hadn’t had time to get attached. Please see number 9 above. I assure you, when you bury your child there is no feeling of good luck involved.
  11. Do NOT tell them that it was part of God’s plan. While I knew that to be true, it was not comforting to me at the time. It took months, a couple of years even, for me to embrace that truth. Parents in the early stages of grief are not ready to hear this. It is Ok to say “we don’t understand God’s ways” or simply, “we don’t understand.”

In closing, one of the things I found to be very helpful for me while I processed my grief and walked that long road with ever-changing landscape was listening to Christian music. There are many songs that are fitting, here is just one: God and Time by Newsong

Have you lost a child or someone close to you? How did you process the loss and deal with your grief?

For Whose Glory?

allumegraphic

I haven’t sat down to write in weeks. Haven’t opened up my blog, or a word document, or a Facebook post. Nothing.

I’m a writer, who isn’t writing.

But with good reason.

This is a difficult post for me to write, difficult because my pride screams at me to not write it. Don’t admit this! Keep it to yourself. It’s that pride, though, that is the root of the problem. The root of a lot of my problems, if I’m honest.

When I started blogging, like many of you, it was just for my family. Then, it morphed into something else. A hobby. A business. A brand.

A calling. A way to use my gifts to serve the Lord, and to encourage other women.

And as I pursued that calling, and ran hard after the purpose I thought God had for me, my blog grew, and my little community became a bigger community. My pageviews went up, and the number of Facebook fans and email subscribers grew and grew. I wrote eBooks, and gathered launch teams, and people started asking ME blogging questions, like I knew what I was doing.

So, I started to think that I did. I let the accolades of others fill my soul and speak to my worth. I loved the recognition, however small, and craved more. And I slowly took the reigns of my writing career away from God, and placed them firmly in my own hands.

Not consciously, of course, but I did it. Instead of praising God over the growth of a ministry, I stressed over the numbers that still weren’t “enough”. I slowly stopped writing what was on my heart, and started writing what I thought people wanted to hear, what I thought might have a shot at going viral. I lost sleep over implementing social media plans, I read books on how to make money blogging, and I lived stressed. All the time, stressed. Always one more thing to do, one more post to schedule, one more status to write.

The truth hit me after one particularly stressful week, and it hit hard. What started as an overflow of my life in Christ, was now sucking me dry and leading me away from the Lord. I was no longer working for Him; I was working for myself.

That’s the part that is hardest to admit. Somewhere down the line, I’d stopped writing for God’s glory, and started writing for my own. I wanted the numbers, the name, the notoriety. I wanted to stand out, to feel like all of my work was worth something. I wanted to feel like I was worth something.

I’m reading Kristen Welch’s book, Rhinestone Jesus (which is amazing, by the way), and she talks about this idea a little bit.

“Our desire to touch others must come from the transforming power of Christ within. Our ultimate goal should be to make His  glory known. There are a lot of do-gooders in the world. A few are misguided people looking for significance. We cannot offer eternal change on our own. It is found in discovering God’s purpose for our lives, whether big or small, and allowing Him to use us in a way that brings recognition to His name, not our own.

Misguided people looking for significance. That’s been me. I don’t think it coincidental that as soon as I took the reigns into my own hands, my blog essentially stopped growing. That no matter what I did on my own, I couldn’t get those numbers to go up and stay up.

Writing had become an idol for me, something that gave me a false sense of value. I had elevated the call of writing above all else, including my relationship with the Lord and with my family – my first callings! I’d stay up late, neglect my home, order out for dinner again, snap at a child, and turn on another episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse – all for the sake of one more shared blog post. One more comment. One more accolade.

I heard, not for the first time, God ask me to lay it all down. Truth be told, He’d been leading me that way for the past year, but I had a list of excuses that I threw up every time I felt the nudge. This time, though, I obeyed. I stopped writing altogether.

It’s not been easy. It might sound extreme, but it’s been a bit like rehab. Life rehab. I have to fight the urge to classify every event in my life as “bloggable” or “not bloggable”. I took Facebook and Twitter off my phone. I moved my computer out of the kitchen and playroom and into the office (where I rarely go).

I’m relearning how to live, right here, in this life I’ve been given – being present for the moments that are right in front of me, not just the ones I feel are worth writing about tomorrow.. I’m relearning how it feels to start my day in the Word instead of on my computer. I’m relearning how to spend face to face time with my kids, giving them my full attention instead living distracted.

I’m remembering where my worth truly comes from, and how worthy is the One who gives it to me.

I want to want to write for His glory again, not my own, one day. But I still find myself caught up in the pursuit of glory for myself, when the urge to write strikes. So, for now, I’m quiet. For now, I will listen instead of speak, and follow where He leads, whether that’s to the playroom, the laundry room, the mission field, or, eventually, back to my keyboard.

Because nothing else, no striving or stressing, no hard work or carefully laid plan, brings the peace and joy that self-centered glory falsely promises. Instead, when I serve as He calls me to, I am humbled, and He is glorified.

As it should be.

 

Do you struggle with pride in your work, whether it’s writing, or speaking, or mothering? How do you handle that?

When the Rejection of a “NO” Feels Like the End

AllumeMayThe email came on a Friday afternoon–an email I’d been waiting on for over a month…

The email that would hold the answer to a dream I’d been nurturing for some time, and the answer would be a simple yes or no.

When I saw it arrive in my phone’s inbox, I halted mid-stride in front of the light-filled window. And plopping myself onto the couch in the middle of the room, I took a long deep breath and clicked it open.

And it didn’t take long for me to read the answer.

This time, the answer was no.

I’d been talking with God about the possible answer for over a month. We’d been hashing things out, Him and I. And I thought I’d reached a conclusion which had me settled and stable:

He was in control, and the answer I’d get would be from Him, not from them.

I’d purposed my heart to surrender to whatever it was He’d give, whether it be a yes, or a no.

The email was full of grace, insulated with words of affirmation and cushioned with kindness. But no matter the graciousness of the no, the fact remained that the yes I’d dreamed of, would not become reality. And insulated or not, the dream-spaces of my heart felt the sting.

We’ve all had hard no’s…

Relationship no’s.

Financial no’s.

New endeavor no’s.

No’s are strangers to no one.

And neither are the real and deep feelings of rejection that come with them. Even when a “no” may be best.

The rejection of a “no” often feels like the end. [Tweet that]

And receiving a “no” ignites a grieving of sorts–a letting go of what could have been, with an acceptance of what will never be. At least not how we’d dreamed.

Grieving is hard work.

And grieving is a valley experience, the exact opposite of a mountaintop.

Earlier in May, we went miniature golfing for my son’s tenth birthday. I was last getting out of the car. And as I approached the entrance I couldn’t miss the beautiful tree ahead of me.

It was full of yellow spring blossoms contrasted against the bluest sky.

I stopped.

And I stared.

The yellow on blue was stunning.

flowers250 Yellow flowers150

Later I learned why the view stopped me in my tracks: yellow and blue are complements on the color wheel, opposites.

And opposites contain a tension that holds our eyes–a tension that makes us stop and pay attention. If blended together, they make gray–a neutral, uninteresting, and lifeless color. But side by side, in their brightest form, they create a tension our eyes can’t help but notice–a tension we’re drawn to, stunned by, and crave again and again.

Mountaintops and valleys are opposites, and one can’t exist without the other.

Without a valley, a mountaintop would simply be flat, like a plain. And while that plain would have less pain and adversity than a valley, there’d also be no invigorating view either.

Sometimes a “no” is not the end, but the beginning of a yes from God. [Tweet that]

It’s an invitation to start in the valley, and begin the climb TO the mountaintop, with Him.

That “no”, which plummets us to our valley beginning, grabs our attention because of the tension–a tension that stuns us and holds us. Making us take notice, and driving us toward God.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV)

May we be a people who surrender to our no’s, embracing with joy the beginnings they bring.

Because sometimes a “no” really is a yes from Him–a yes to begin the climb.

And you know what, friend?

He promises to be with us every step of the way.

 

What “no” have you experienced?

In what way was it actually a beginning?

 

Ashamed of My Gospel

ethiopia visit.jpg

I left a part of my heart in the blood-red Ethiopian soil. I don’t know if I’ll ever reclaim it. These months back feel like a skin I need to shed, and I’m wriggling, tensing muscles and prying myself loose.

I’ve said before I’m not the same girl I was when I boarded that plane.  But the truth is that we are never the same day-to-day. If life were time lapsed, each day would show the indents and soul creases accrued when we brush up against a lifetime. Each day adding another layer to our story. And some days remove layers, scrape them clean off like a dirty film.

Africa did both.

Before and afters litter the years of my life. Sometimes they are an improvement, often they are not.

I have a pair of walking clogs I wore when we weaved our way down the path to the huts. They sit in the entry way, they still have African soil grooved into their soles. And I do too.

I am restless and contented and I’m making my peace with this tension. How can a soul be stirred up and kindled white-hot for the things of God and then asked to simmer and stay and dwell in suburban obedience?

I dreamed of being a world changer when I was young enough to think that meant suitcases and passports and no ties to keep me from living radically. But I’m older now, wiser maybe. I see world changing doesn’t begin with a stamp in a passport or selling all your possessions.

It starts with knowing God. It starts with asking what He wants and sometimes that means all of those things but often, I’m finding that obedience is just as hard when the grand adventure that awaits you is paying bills and loving your neighbor and shopping for groceries with a gaggle of children in tow. Sometimes it’s purging the soul of excess.

Sometimes it’s so hard to see God in the ordinary rhythms of our lives and it takes a mighty blow to remember we are on holy ground. Walking each day in the grace and glory of a life redeemed and a call to make it known among nations and neighborhoods, near and far.

I find I struggle most when I am swept along with the current of a culture that can’t ever fill those soul holes.

We are rampant with desire for all the wrong things. And I think back to the patches of sunlight breaking through the mango trees littering the ground with dappled light and I remember sitting on the slimmest wooden bench hoping to God my weight wouldn’t snap it in two. These are the things I thought about in that hut in Ethiopia as I sat with my sponsored daughter. I was filled with joy and remorse.

I thought about the weight of my soul and my body lumbering down the narrow path, reeds and stalks snapping against my bare arms because the path wide enough for two Africans to walk side by side barely accommodated me. How far I’ve wandered in the filling of my life.

Traveling to the third world as an overweight American changed me in ways I’ve yet to reckon with.

I carry my excess, my sin, on my frame, visible for every emaciated and waif-like child, every villager who hasn’t got enough. But then we all do, don’t we? Some just hide it better. Who of those people could see our sprawling homes or our overstuffed closets, our shopping carts overfilled and our appetites for more. Only mine was visible because it rolls off my body and bulges at the seams.

If the gospel were real.jpg

I am ashamed at the way we represent the gospel that sets us free. I am ashamed of the bondage I bring with me.

I know a grace that covers the brokenness. Oh how I know this. But I want to believe the gospel. I want to believe he binds and makes new. I want to see the new creation fully alive.

I flew home with the promises of God whispered in my ear. You are free, child. You are filled. I believe them.

I step tentative toes on the scale and see barely the tiniest dip. It doesn’t match my restraint. But I’m not on the quest for an after that dons skinny jeans or poses with fat pants that could house 3 of me.

I am in search of an after that means my gospel is truth. Only Christ in me, the hope of glory. Nothing else fills. And I know the sum of my parts and my soul are not measured in numbers but obedience. I find my appetites are quelled. My soul doesn’t salivate for more, only my spirit seems unquenchable.

I have tasted God.

When Your Voice is an Idol

We spend more time analyzing ourselves than ever before. With the rapid expansion of social media and technology, we live in a world constantly bombarded with self.

Which profile picture will I use for my avatar? What do my liked pages say about me? What interests do I showcase that make me look good?

We live in a culture that capitalizes on more than our personal tastes, it capitalizes on our persona, our brand. 

Whether it’s the TV shows we like, the books we read, the stores we frequent, or the places we go, there is a growing desire to share bits of who we are with others. You can tweet during your favorite shows, share excerpts of the books you read, capture your pumpkin spice latte and map your location down to your favorite neighborhood Starbucks.

Some would argue that this narcissistic bent is why connection is often difficult, why comparison and insecurity arise when everyone else’s Instagrams are so much cooler than yours, because you never eat watermelon in cowboy boots and a floral dress whilst leaning over a vintage table with the perfect yesteryear wash bathing the photo in golden hues. You just stand at the counter in your faded yoga pants and spit seeds into the garbage pail next to the pile of dirty dishes you have yet to get to.

And maybe you’re doing it wrong. Maybe the life you live is less than. Or maybe you are the girl with the cute boots and impeccable taste Instagramming away your seamless life? Even you know there’s more to your story than the pictures you share.

default of the heart

But social media or not, I think the human heart always seeks to compare. Our default is to be concerned and consumed by our own glory. If ever there were an idol of our times in the blog world, I believe it is our voice. Our need to always be heard saying something.

There are the shock value bloggers capitalizing on every current event, every controversial divisive line needing to be parsed and severed and inspected with scathing sarcasm and open letter rants.

There is the desire for our words to reach further, to impact more, to challenge or encourage or matter. But there is a grace-less way about always needing to have our voice heard. And there is the quiet despair for those who faithfully share their voice and stories to the humble reception of silence and wonder if they matter at all.

We gather at conferences and wonder about the elevator speeches we’re supposed to prepare summarizing who we are and what we offer. And sometimes I think we’re too practiced at saying all the right things that we never stop to listen.

Because at the heart of it all, we tie our performance with words and platform and branding to our worth. If our story doesn’t matter, maybe we don’t either?

And I know I’m not the only one, but I’m tired of it.  I’ve felt the sticky fingered lure of candy coating what is, at it’s core, pride. The syrupy tongued words that pave the way to a bigger audience have sent me writhing back to silence, like a child found in bloated emptiness amid a flurry of candy wrappers the day after Halloween.

I’m an advocate for story because I believe the word of God’s people, the testimony of His beloved brings glory to Him, connection to the body, and light in the darkness but there will always be the temptation to focus so much on ourselves, our story, our path, our contribution to this writing world, that we forget that to live a good story, we’d be wise to listen and slow to speak.

Because grace happens in the pauses, when we stop to soak in words that are not our own. We live better questions when we stop reciting what we have to offer and start to champion other people’s voices. Start to believe in the storyteller who’s writing our moments with a master’s precision. When we find our humanity not just in the words we craft but also in the words we cultivate. When we worry less about our own voices being heard and allow God to speak.

crafting words

 I will always champion God’s people using their voice, but let us also learn to hold our tongues and listen with bold ears and hearts wide open, and maybe then, God will speak and our words will be tinged with grace, soothing to our souls, and full of life.

Worth Tasting

Worth Tasting

My college professor spread out our creative writing papers before her like a feast.  The sight of 12-point font made her eyes sparkle like Thanksgiving china.  When she took a paper up in her hands, she read it with the expectation that something in it was going to be worth tasting.

Miss Williams loved words.  She delighted in the way you could mix them up and create something so profound, it lingered on your tongue for days.  She read our own words back to us, slowly savoring the sentences  in her mouth and searching for the tasty bits of well-turned phrases and clever dialogue that clung to our unpracticed writing like bits of bacon.

“Oh, Lawd!  Oh, sweet Jesus,” Miss Williams said when the words tasted so good, it was like chocolate. “Girl…hmmm…I gotta read that again.”   And she would, double-dipping without an ounce of shame.

Sometimes, one of us nailed it.  When that happened, well, we may as well have served her warm cherry pie with vanilla ice cream dripping off the sides because she was going to eat every crumb, and lick the plate besides.

“Bless me,” she said when everything was cleared away and grades were scribbled at the tops of pages and she was wiping her eyes because she was so full, it squeezed the tears right out of her.

If you’ve ever made anyone cry over the stuff you put down between one-inch margins, you know it feels like being the person who brings homemade Butterscotch Blondies to the church potluck, only better.  It’s like being the caramel sauce. 

I thought I was the caramel sauce, too, until I found my old writing folder from Miss Williams’s class.  I was horrified to read through my final class project and find a typo right there on page two.  I wanted to call her up and yell, “You gave me an A+ when I had a typo on page two?!”

But I knew what she would say.  She would say that it was Mrs. Johnson’s fault I had a typo on page two because Mrs. Johnson taught grammar, not she.

Mrs. Williams’s singular job was to teach us how to cook up a good story.

“The hardest thing about being a writer is not remembering where to put the commas!” she’d say in class, suffering a plastic desk to carry the weight of her bosom as she leaned into her tirade.  “The hardest part about being a writer is writingYou have got to get over the fear of putting words on paper imperfectly.  Perfect writing is just imperfect writing that has had practice.

It’s too bad because I always liked perfection more than I liked practice.

“Nonsense,” Miss Williams said whenever I hesitated to show her my half-cooked words.  “We’re just tasting as we go, that’s all.  It’s the only way to make sure it turns out right.”

It was agony.  I auto-corrected in my mind as the words came off my lips, but Miss Williams wasn’t listening for dangling prepositions.  She was savoring the words and anticipating the way it was going to come together in the end as if she could taste it, even when there was nothing in the pan but baking soda and flour.

Always, Miss Williams made me feel like it was better to have something imperfect on my page than nothing at all. Because Miss Williams loved words, even words that needed a little bit of stirring before they were done.

When my final story came of the printer, hot and smelling of ink, it was exactly what Miss Williams hoped it would be.  She licked the plate and scribbled A+ on the top, not because it was perfect, but because it was good.

It can be crippling, knowing people are reading my work who might not love words the way Miss Williams did, the kind that pick at words instead of tasting them.

I encountered one such person recently.  She believes that writers are so uneducated and lazy these days, she stops reading as soon as she finds one mistake.  She says she can’t take a writer seriously after that.

One mistake. 

I agonized over her statement for days because that’s the kind of thing that keeps my pages blank.  That’s the part that makes writing hard, when I can’t start because I’m afraid of failure or what other people will think or whether I’ll end up with burnt oatmeal instead of strawberry crepes.

Because I have a typo on page two.  There is probably another one on page five.

But there is bacon on page three and caramel sauce on page four and it is worth putting the words on the page even if not everyone is willing to read along while you learn how to do it better.  It is worth the try because excellence doesn’t come without practice and practice doesn’t happen without mistakes. 

But there are always people like Miss Williams who will think it’s worth tasting, burned edges and all.

for when we long to be accepted

Hi. I’m the one person on the planet not going to Allume this year. Blah. Which is sad to me because I love my bloggin’ sistas. I love the late nights of talking and the sessions full of Divine wisdom and the photo booth thingy and the make-me-hyper coffee!

So I prayed about what I could possibly say to all of you amazing bloggers who do get to go to the conference, as well as to those who don’t get to go. And the word that came to me was “acceptance”. Acceptance.

 
Accepted
 

We all so desperately want to be accepted. That’s partly why I’m disappointed that I don’t get to go this year. I don’t want to miss anything. It’s also partly why I’m guessing some of you are nervous about going. You don’t want to feel left out.

I know that I know that some of you are spending sweet time worrying about what cutie outfits you will wear, because I’ve done that. Or worrying about what you will say, because I’ve done that too. Or worrying about what people will think of your wanna-be-rapping skills, maybe that one’s just me. When at the root of all that time and energy is a longing to be accepted.

But we get it sooooooo twisted. SO twisted. Because here it is. You ready? You and I will never ever find our ultimate acceptance in other humans. It isn’t possible. People are too volatile, short-sighted, and self-focused, just like us. And if we spend our energies looking to other humans for our acceptance and our identity, we will never truly embrace the woman that God created us to be. What a travesty.

If there’s anything I hope we each prepare before jumping into new things or jumping onto flights to new places, I pray we prepare our hearts. Let’s spend time looking at our Maker. Spend time meditating on the things He says about us. Spend time reveling in the beauty He whispers.

When we truly embrace who we are in Christ, we’re empowered to walk confident into a room of hundreds of other women that we’ve never personally met. Not because we have some haughty view of self. We can walk confident because we know WHOSE we are. And when we know WHOSE we are, we can know who we are — accepted and beloved, regardless of whether we’re wearing the trendiest pair of boots.

I don’t get to go to Allume this year — unless crazy, unexpected things happen. But I’m fighting those “missing out” feelings with truths that my God declares over me. The same truths He declares over you.

 
How have you wrestled against that nervous feeling of wanting to “fit in”?
What does our God say about us as His daughters?

 

When You’re Afraid to Leave

When You're Afraid to Leave

She could barely get the words out. Her tears soaked my hair as her little face rested against mine.

Bedtime started as ordinarily as ever last night, but as I turned out the light, fear spilled out of my little girl’s heart. These were big things — sickness and death and goodbyes. Cares a five-year old shouldn’t be carrying.

Worry oozed and fear gripped my girl.

I could see myself in her. Fear has always been a stronghold in my life. Even as a child, I couldn’t last the night at a friend’s house without being so ravaged by fear, I’d have to call home.

Homesickness, they called it.

The only way I could make it a night away was to open the Word and cling to Peace.

So last night, I did with her, what I learned to do so very many years ago. We leaned on Truth.

I looked forward to bedtime yesterday.

I had been eager to get writing. The deadline of this post loomed, but I knew that no naps and lots of fresh, fall air promised an easy, early bedtime for the kids.

But bedtime wasn’t what I expected, and as I sit here now, searching for words to fan the flame of excitement about Allume, all I can think of is how scared I am.

I am so excited about Allume — about seeing friends and meeting you and growing and learning and being challenged and encouraged. But I am afraid to leave.

I’m afraid to be so far away. I’m afraid of what could happen and the million what ifs that are traipsing through my mind.

These four people are my whole world.

The idea of leaving them behind as I fly across the country petrifies me. The thought that something could happen to one of them makes me so scared, I have honestly considered selling my ticket and not attending the conference.

Friends, call me weak, but I am afraid to leave home.

I know this post won’t be for everyone. I might even seem a little crazy to some of you, but in case there are a few others who are afraid to leave behind everything that makes this world seem right, may I just remind you, as I remind myself, what my daughter and I remembered last night?

I need to hear these words again and some of you do, too.

God knows each of our days. He numbered them. He wrote the story. He planned each day before even one came to be. And our God is a good God, who loves us and chose us and cares for each of our needs.

Everything that we experience, He has already filtered through His loving, sovereign hands, and He works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.

Yes, in this world, we will have trials. We will experience pain, but God has overcome this world. In Him, we have a new and living hope, a hope that will not disappoint!

Dear Sister, if you, like me, are facing fear today, may we saturate our minds and our hearts in the Word of God. He will keep in perfect peace, she whose mind is steadfast because she trusts in God!

While we are away, when we are scared, can we strengthen one another with these words?

I will need you to remind me of God’s truth and of His character, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

What an opportunity we will have to encourage one another to hold fast to our God who holds us all!

May it not be said that we never feared. May it be said of us that when we were afraid, we trusted God.

Praying that each of us, by God’s will, will come with joy and be refreshed by each others’ company. May the God of peace be with us all!

-erika

erikadawson.com

 

Question for You: In thinking about the upcoming conference, what are some of the fears you are facing? How can I pray for you?

 

*I referenced quite a few Scripture passages in this post. These are a few I come back to again and again —  Psalm 139:16, Psalm 100:5, John 15:16, Ephesians 1:4, Philippians 4:19, Matthew 6:25-34, Psalm 103, Romans 8:28, John 16:33, 1 Peter 1:3, Romans 5:5, Isaiah 26:3, Psalm 56:3-4, Romans 15:32-33

 

Flickr Photo Credit: Angelo DeSantis

The Life to Which You Were Called

1cor7

A week or so ago, I started my day with Jesus, expecting to read a chapter or two, and I got stuck on this single verse.

Truth be told, I’ve been stuck on it ever since.

“…let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him…”

Lately, I’ve really been struggling with trying to figure out what my assignment is supposed to be.

I’m a writer. I write blog posts and eBooks and even have a traditionally published book coming out next year. (I know. I’m still getting over the shock.)

I’m a mommy. I’m raising a toddler and carrying a baby who is supposed to make his appearance sometime in the next few weeks.

I’m a wife. I followed my husband to a new job, a new place, a new home. I’m working on making us a life here while he works to put food on our table each day.

I’m a housekeeper (not a great one, but still), a cook, a daughter, a sister, a friend. I have big dreams and little ones and honestly, I just don’t know how they all fit together.

I feel like I’ve always been told that there’s supposed to be one thing, you know? One thing that I am made to do, and if I do it, then I’ll for sure be on God’s path for my life. I’ll be living out the life He called me to.

But there’s always more than one thing for me. I don’t know that there’s ever been just one. Life is messier than that.

As I get older, and more things clamor for my attention and focus, I’m learning that the life He has assigned to me has less to do with the one thing that I am supposed to be doing, and everything to do with the One I’m walking beside.

Maybe the life He is calling me to has many parts. Wife, Mommy, Writer – they all matter. Some days, one will require more than the others. But every day, I have a Companion along the way. One who fills me with grace and strength to do the things He’s placed in front of me.

But, maybe, it’s not really about me. Not about who I am or what I do. Maybe it’s all about who He is, and what He does in and through us.

That life He has called me to? The one He has assigned for me?

It’s a life of relationship with Him, before anything else. It’s letting go of my supposed-to’s, taking His hand, and just walking forward, one step at a time.

Because at the end of the day, all I know for sure is that I’m called to walk with Him.

Skyscrapers are Moved When Dominoes Fall

Skyscrapers are moved when dominoes fall

Sometimes in life, we exist as one domino in a row of many, poised and positioned to fall in the most glorious ways … changing one another’s lives forever.

She emails to tell me of the farm lady with the blog. But I know nothing of blogs in January of 2011. And it’s not until I’m standing in line at the Ft. Lauderdale airport I pay attention. It’s her text this time, “You HAVE to get this book for your flight home….”

I download the book before I board the plane, and the five-hour flight seems only five minutes long as I pour over her profound and poetic words.

I scour her site and read every word, and it’s at the bottom I see it: a link to a place called (in)courage. I click on it, and am ushered into a world of writing I’ve never known before…

One which will change so much for me.

One  in which He’ll use even me, to give hope to other broken hearts.

“Because God intends to use each one of us to change the world.” ~@RichStearns [Tweet that]

I discover blogs. Countless blogs. With words, link-ups, and communities of real people.

But it’s not until September when I learn of The Relevant Conference (now called Allume). A conference for bloggers who long to be used in real and relevant ways, to bring the light of Christ to the world through their writing.

And the conference is already sold out.

But little did I know, even God can use Twitter to accomplish His plans.

collage1

I stalk the Twitter stream and gain enough courage to send a tweet: “If you’re needing to sell your ticket, I’d love to buy one…”

And it’s a stranger named Denise in Bloom who responds. She doesn’t know me at all, but sweetly offers to watch for a ticket. And it’s through her help, a way is opened for me to go.

Less than two days later, with a last-minute conference ticket in hand, I quietly tweet to ask if anyone needs a roommate.

And this time it’s Annie at Home from New York who replies. She’d been on the waiting list and obtained a last-minute conference ticket too. We chat on the phone and it doesn’t take long to feel like we’ve always been friends.

But since Annie is driving to the conference, she won’t be there the first night I arrive.

So I meander onto Twitter again, to ask if anyone has room for me to stay with them for one night.

And it’s Erin from Home with the Boys who tweets back, generously offering me to stay with her and Brooketwo close friends offering to open up their room to welcome me, a complete stranger! Their kindness overwhelms.

Airplane Flying Over the Clouds

Before I know it I’m on a plane to Pennsylvania for my first blogging conference ever. I know no one and have only read a couple of blogs. And as the plane lands, I have no idea I’m about to encounter some of the most generous and kind women on the planet. Women whose dominoes are about to fall into mine.

“God creates elaborate plans with spiritual dominoes, and the chain reaction begins with one domino at a time.” ~@RichStearns [Tweet that]

We stand at baggage claim and watch the suitcases circle around. She tells me her name is Kat, and that she’s from Texas. And standing with her weight on one foot, she leans against her suitcase and asks about me. I tell her I’ve been blogging only 3 months about mercy and grace. And she fills my heart with encouraging words. Welcoming me to the blogging world and inspiring me to write as God leads.

I go to dinner that night with my new friend Annie, and we inconspicuously sit at a table in the back. But they’ve seated speakers at each table who rotate tables to meet us. And at our table I’m introduced to the down-to-earth and inviting Emily Freeman, the good girl full of grace, who interacts with us just like a close friend.

After dinner a woman with a smile as wide as Colorado tells me her name is Kristen. I tell her I’m new, and she tells me not to worry about that. Not one. little. bit. And throughout the conference, she tracks me down, and hugs me tight, time and time again. As if it’s her personal mission to make me feel like I matter and know I really belong.

Allume friends

At lunch the next day, I sit by a quiet girl with long flowing hair, who subtly leans over to say hi, and tells me our names rhyme: Myquillyn and Jacqueline. And we commiserate over the spelling challenges of our names and chuckle about the ways people get them wrong most every time. We chat about everyday down-to-earth things over salad and chicken, and I leave feeling better for having crossed her path.

With such an unusual name, I wonder if she blogs. And it’s then someone tells me that the Myquillyn I met, whose name rhymed with mine, is none other than The Nester. Who is also the sister of Emily Freeman. I had no. idea. And neither did she find the need to tell me. What humility and grace.

I work up my courage to approach Lisa Jo Baker, the host of Five Minute Friday. As a new blogger I’ve been learning to write with her community, and I blurt out my confession as soon as we meet face to face, as if to alleviate the secret guilt I’ve been carrying all three months of my blogging life.

“I have to admit to you I cheat on FMF posts,” I confess. “…I set the timer for five minutes, pause it every so often to think, and turn it back on to furiously type.”

She throws her head back in laughter, and hugs me tight like we’ve been friends for a decade, melting my anxiety into a puddle on the floor.

And across the room I recognize Christin in the lounge. Hers is one of the few blogs I’ve read. And I rush over to thank her for her words at Joyful Mothering. We eat cupcakes and talk into the evening.

Ann and Jacque 2011And it’s the next day, I meet the farm girl. Ann, full of grace. I wait at the end of the line, and when we talk, I cry the entire time. Eyes-pufffy, tears-pouring cry. And she locks her eyes on mine, as if I’m the only one in the room. And she tells me I am loved … that God wants to use me too.

Oh the grace and kindness of each heart I encounter.

Rich Stearns, president of World Vision, U.S. describes how God has big plans for us all … how He always uses ordinary people to change the world.

Yet in God’s story, we are dependent on one another. Because together we can do things we could never accomplish alone.

Did you know it’s been shown that if you create a chain of dominoes, each one 1 1/2 times the size of the previous one, the cumulative effect of their fall is exponential. So much so, that if the first domino in the chain is a mere 5mm high and 1mm thick, the 29th domino to fall would be the height of the Empire State Building?

One tiny domino falling with the tiniest force, has the potential to effect the kind of change that could fall a domino the size of the Empire State Building!

“Only God can multiply seemingly insignificant things to knock over skyscrapers.” ~@RichStearns

In His plan, God places us in the right place, perched and ready to fall at the right time, by His Divine providence alone.

And as He sends us opportunities, He whispers:

Lean in. And fall.

And when we do, He magnifies the results to accomplish things we never dreamed were possible.

Introductions and smiles, and conversations at meals … all of them connections.

One domino leaning over to fall the next, as God orchestrates it all in His time.

I become friends with Denise in Bloom, and in time become a contributing writer at Sisters in Bloom. I find sweet friends among the writing team there. And it is Amy Bayliss, one of those Sisters in Bloom, who gives me the life-changing advice and push I need to share my story of how Mercy Found Me.

“You are a domino precious in His sight. Be willing and say yes … be available to be used.” @RichStearns [Tweet that]

Through the random kindness of Erin and Brooke, we become friends. And in time I begin to write for The MOB Society, and later for Team Hope, the team of women who encourage weary mama-hearts at Brooke and Stacey’s place, Hope for the Weary Mom.

In time I figure out who Kat is and find the Hello Mornings community.

And I continue to receive Skype calls and cheerleading from the sweet and generous Kristen Strong.

Because of Lisa Jo, I become connected with (in)courage, leading an (in)couragers group. And I’m honored to participate in the video footage for (in)RL 2013, sharing my passion for community. And in more time, Christin emails me and invites me to write for the Allume blog.

Certainly when I arrived at the conference in 2011, I never anticipated how it would change my life. I never imagined how I’d encounter such gracious and humble women–women and writers without pretense, who display such a pure love for Christ.

His love compelled them to reach out in kindness to even me–a newcomer and nurse who never imagined she’d be a writer at all.

We are dominoes falling into one another, with skyscraper moments ahead.

“Because skyscrapers are moved when dominoes fall.” @RichStearns [Tweet that]

Are you ready for Allume?

Are you standing tall in your domino spot?

Are you ready to lean in and fall, that your life may change another?

As you prepare for Allume, poised and positioned in the exact place God intends, get ready sweet sisters.

Get ready for the divine appointments He has waiting for you.

May you expect them,

Watch for them,

And find them.

And as you do, may we one day see the skyscraper-size impact He accomplishes through each and every one of us.

One smile, one hug, and one conversation at a time.

I can’t wait to see you there!

 

How have you been changed by Allume?

What are you most looking forward to?

 

Photo Credit 

The Seasons of a Dream

I’ve neglected my children.

I made allowances for my need to write, to follow hard after dreams. But I’ve done it all wrong.

Because a vacancy moved into their lives as the rabbit’s hole of my laptop screen beckoned and swallowed me up.

But didn’t my ministry and passion need to be tended too? The reading and interacting. The tweets and status updates and link-ups. The silence and time to write.

It seemed I killed my blog just when I was seeing fruit. Just when I had built up subscribers and was feeling like the hard work was paying off.

God was being glorified, right? This is after all, the dream He gave me. The call I was responding to. The call I felt God confirmed in so many different ways. 

She told me I have the potential to be great. That I’ve got a voice and skill and passion and that if I learned to combine those with a little direction, I could really rock this whole writer thing. Maybe get published and have a real book on a real shelf instead of piles of journals stacked in old boxes in the garage.

She said that as an encouragement to me, her eyes warm and expressive, the kind that make you nod like a puppy and lap up anything she says, because after all, she is living this dream. And when my feet finally landed back on earth, I was giddy with dreams I’d always held but never dared speak aloud.

I wanted to rip her words from the air and type them into a crisp contract I could present to God to sign.

After all, everything I’m passionate about, everything that makes my fingers fly at the keyboard, everything that inspires me and draws me out to splash around on a canvas of words starts with God’s glorious inspiration.

The breathing of words and story into the wounds of my past, the joys of my present, the fears in my moments, and the dreams of my future. It only seemed right that any platform built is going to shine directly on Him.

 But I couldn’t get past the Holy Spirits prompting that I was getting it wrong. Again.

I’ve found myself failing at the dream.

The time to write and pour myself into this ministry of words is spotty at best. The time to invest in those dreams, spaced and erratic.

And the kids are ready to be tucked in and pleading for one more story and I’ll lay there resenting my time  being used up on another rendition of “If You Give A Mouse a Muffin.”

Bed time

Because I feel like the poor child in the story, being overrun with requests, each one leading to another. If you put your child in pajamas, they will decide they only want to wear the batman ones, and you will remember those are in the wash, so you will bribe him with another story, and if you read him another story, he will fall asleep on you, so you will have to carry him to his bed, and if you carry him to his bed, he will wake up and want another story…

And I’ve bought into the urgency of now.

I see other bloggers succeeding, and I know they deserve it, but I’m also grieving and feeling left out.

I can’t keep up with the pace or demands of blogging, and mothering, and homeschooling, and ministry, and mentoring, and being a good wife. If you add in showering, cooking, and keeping house, you have the trifecta of failure.

I’m looking for dead weight to cut and I see nothing but my words. So the blog often goes silent. And numbers dive.

And I’m mourning the dream, pity washing over me when I remember, “It’s not a loss, it’s a sacrifice.”

It is laying my dreams and promises of God on the altar, trusting that in His time He will provide.

It is trusting that the path I’m on isn’t a race to the finish line but a slow steady obedience, each step moving me forward closer to Him, where dreams are birthed. It is trusting that blogs can be resurrected from the dead or slaughtered completely and it makes no difference as long as I’m faithful.

I have friends waiting on the Lord. Bleary-eyed new mothers craving a full nights sleep and shirts free from spit-up and days when they’ll have the energy to fix their hair again. Women facing vacant rooms in a once loud house, longing for Thanksgiving break, knowing  their kids will be visiting instead of just home. Friends who long for things I so easily take for granted, when kids climb up onto my lap asking for more of mommy.

I forget God created seasons. We brush past eternity every time we stop to really see where God is in each one. And that, when we choose what might seem like a sacrifice, it’s not a loss at all, because nothing is lost which is released into His hands.

Just a Mother

Spiritual act of worship

You are standing in the kitchen in the same sweat pants you went to bed in, trying to figure out how to feed the kids from the nothing that is in the fridge.  Real mothers go to the grocery store, you think, but you don’t know how to fit one more thing into your day, and you can’t help but feel a little sorry for yourself that the most exciting thing you’ve done all week is run to Walmart.

It seems like such a waste.  Anybody can go to Walmart.  Anybody can change a diaper.

But within your heart burns the desire to do more for God, to use the gifts he has given you.  You can write!  And you long to build a blog that is noteworthy, post something profound, or write something that will impact people beyond just your immediate family—and then cast the whole lot at the feet of Jesus so you can hear him say, “Well done.”

But here you are, smearing peanut butter and folding laundry, diligently raising up a kingdom of priests, which most days, looks like nothing more than refereeing fights and wiping noses with a Bible verse thrown in for good measure.

It is a struggle just to put two words together on a page, in between the churning of the washing machine and the roar of the minivan.  You feel that if you could just get your act together, maybe you’d have something more for to show for your talent then an inconsistent smattering of blog posts.

This is not real writing, you think, especially when your news feed is filled with the latest blog posts and book contracts your writer friends are managing to pull off in their spare time.

Everybody, it seems, has better and brighter gifts to offer.  They’re hauling grass-fat lambs into the temple to sacrifice and you’re standing there with a gaggle of kids around your legs and a pigeon in your hands.  You feel insignificant, foolish, and offering-poor. 

Just a mother. 

Do you think God wishes you could somehow manage to be more than that?

You know he does.

But you are wrong.

He sees the selfless acts of motherhood as an act of worship, a sacrifice holy and pleasing to him.  The daily mundane that keeps you from doing anything truly impressive, is an act of worship.  Knees to the ground, head in your hands, eyes on the kids worship.

It is the worship of a heart surrendered to the will of God, the will of God that made you a mother in the first place.  It is the soft submission of a woman who could do so many things, but chooses first to pour her life into her husband and children because she knows nothing else in this life is as important.  Not blog posts.  Not book contracts.

Just motherhood. 

It doesn’t look like glorious.  But then, true worship rarely does.  The right-ness of the priority and the sacrifice it requires does not lend itself to notice.  It will not catch a publisher’s eye or help to build a prosperous writing ministry, at least, not in the little years.  In fact, it can keep you from doing anything else as well as you can.    

And like Cain, you fight against it sometimes because that kind of sacrifice doesn’t showcase your strengths.  You begin to believe that God can’t really want what he’s asked of you.  Surely, he must want something more because you want to give something more.

He doesn’t.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17

Your offering, small though it may seem, is exactly what God wants of you.  And when the needs of your family push the words aside, God notices, and he breathes in the offering and counts it as worship.

Every extra bedtime story that steals away time for writing, every sick child that keeps important thoughts from being written, every dinner that is lovingly served to picky eaters when you could be doing things to build your name—all of it is known and accepted by Him just as if you had loaded up the altar with twenty-five best-sellers all dedicated to Jesus.

With what shall I come to the LORD

And bow myself before the God on high?

Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,

With yearly calves?

Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams,

In ten thousand rivers of oil?

He has told you, O man, what is good,

And what does the LORD require of you

But to do justice, and to love mercy,

And to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:6-7a, 8

When all you have to offer God is the daily task of working at home and humbly raising the children God has given you, know it is an offering pleasing to God.  Even when blog posts don’t get written and you postpone that book proposal yet again and all you are all day is just a mother, know this: he is more than satisfied with the offering. 

He is delighted.  

When Comparison Crushes Your Heart and Steals Your Joy

When Comparison Crushes Your Heart and Steals Your Joy

It’s close to noon and she’s huffing and puffing, feeling the pressure to push.

Another nurse gives me a break, so I can inhale my food in the nurse’s lounge before my patient delivers. I escape for a while and open Feedly, to catch up on words I love, written by writers who make me better for reading.

And it’s the title of the last post I read, which stirs feelings that are always residing just beneath the surface: Comparisons Will Kick You in the Teeth and Hijack Your Dreams Every Time.

It reaches out and grabs me by the throat. And wouldn’t that title trigger a tsunami within any woman? As if comparison is one of the genes on the x chromosome.

I finish her post and I’m a mess–a tears-streaming, nose-running mess, as I realize my teeth have been kicked and my dreams are being hijacked. And it’s been happening for a long time.

Thankful I’ve eaten alone, I do my best to pull it together. Because when someone’s having a once-in-a-lifetime birth moment, it’s never good to lose your I’m-so-happy-for-you presence.

Her delivery ends up being all she hoped for–a moving moment without a dry eye in the room. But as I wipe off her squiggly vernix-covered newborn, crying and squinting under the warmer’s bright lights, my mind still ponders the post and questions still simmer in my mind…

Do I matter?

Am I good enough?

Do the words I write make any difference at all?

But the words of her post echo, pushing against my questions with the resistance of a fierce wind…

Don’t waste even a moment of your own beautiful life comparing it to mine…
Let’s choose to rejoice with one another…
Let’s not trample what we’ve been given in order to get to what we wish we’d got…

I marinate in her words for a few days, letting them soak and tenderize places deep inside.

And it’s on a walk, a few days later, I pass a planter filled with flowers of different sizes and at different stages; some budding, some blooming, and some just finishing their bloom.

When Comparison Steals Your Joy

And it’s as if God screams it to my heart:

Flowers don’t bloom all at the same time, and neither do any of you.

I stand stunned at the realization; convicted and relieved at the same time.

Convicted because comparison’s been crushing my heart and stealing my joy.

Why do I assume I should bloom alongside everyone else?

Why do I think I’m further behind than I should be?

Why am I never fully satisfied right where I am?

Yet relieved because I’ve been asking all the wrong questions … trampling all I’ve been given in an effort to try to get to what I wish I’d gotten, and failing to see the beauty that is my now.

The truth is, I’m in my own stage of development, and SO ARE YOU–the very stage God has planned from the beginning of time, for each one us. For now.

And when we long for the next thing, we are rejecting the now thing He gives. [Tweet that]

There are invisible moments before a bloom … preparation and work and cultivation … a maturing God longs to accomplish before the full beauty of our blooms can be realized.

God prepares all things and all circumstances.

He sets blooms in His time and in His way, to bless and beautify the whole world.

He cultivates a garden of alternating blooms, so their beauty will last over the longest time,

To bless the greatest number of people, for His purpose alone.

She was right. Comparison does kick us in the teeth and hijack our dreams. Every. Single. Time.

So will you join me?

Let’s save our teeth, and keep our dreams.

Let’s embrace our stage in God’s garden, allowing Him to bring our blooms in His time.

Let’s be faithful in our now thing and stop longing for our next thing… [Tweet that]

Each of us a member of a body…

Functioning together…

To bring the most glory to His name.

May we surrender our comparison, to be used by Him in the now thing He has planned for us, whatever that may be.

 

What does comparison do to your heart?

What is the now thing God is asking you to do?

How can we cheer you on?

5 Ways To Rock A Conference When You’re An Introvert

5 Ways to Rock a Conference as an Introvert

If you ever want to see me act completely awkward, put me at a conference with several hundred women who are changing the world with their words while I wander around trying not to get lost in the crowd. Or trying TO get lost in the crowd I never know which I would prefer!

Here’s the thing. I’m an introvert. Give me a computer screen, a keyboard, and a few minutes to put my thoughts together (with some heavy use of a backspace and several moments to stare blankly into space) and I can come across like this social ninja who has it all together.

In reality? Walking into Allume last year by myself was the single most terrifying thing that happened to me in all of 2012. I knew no one. If the conference hadn’t been 45 minutes from my house, I probably would have talked myself out of attending because of the fear of being by myself in a crowd of hundreds. And I’ll admit, while there were some fabulously amazing, life changing, God-inspired moments, there were also times when I wished I could melt into the walls. At one point I remember contemplating skipping lunch just to avoid the crowded buffet lines, or sitting and pretending to be on the phone rather than admit that I didn’t have anyone to hang out with.

If you’re an introvert and I’ll have the blessing of meeting you at Allume, I want to encourage you. We can rock a blogging conference! Here are some tricks I learned last year:

1. Show up.

This is key. You can’t rock it if you aren’t there! Can’t be there in person? You are officially in charge of keeping the Twitter party going!

2. Connect before the conference.

If this is your first time attending, join the “newbies” Facebook group. Put yourself out there online before the conference so that you already have friends you can look forward to meeting when you get there! Read the blogs of the other attendees, connect on Twitter, start putting real names to faces (you know..instead of Twitter handles..because it’s not awkward at all to only know someone by their Twitter name..ahem..). Connecting before the conference is also a great way to find roommates!

3. Do your homework.

If you’ve ever taken a DISC assessment, you’ll get what I mean when I say I’m a “high C.” Like a 99 on the scale. Mama loves her some information. So one of the things that helps me feel a little less anxious before a conference is to learn everything I can about the agenda, the speakers, the sessions, and the other attendees. Last year I even made a fabulous binder so I could remember who I wanted to meet, what sessions I wanted to go to, and where I needed to be at what time. It gives me a focus – so when I’m overwhelmed about meeting 300 women, I can take a step back and look for the women on my list first, to make the room seem a little smaller.

4. Give yourself grace.

Sometimes, it’s ok to take a break. The entire conference is going to be jam packed full of incredible information and resources. Even if you wanted to, you wouldn’t be able to be at everything. Need to leave the socializing time a little early to go grab a quiet shower and regroup? Snag a cupcake for the road and go for it. Feel God nudging you to take some quiet time for prayer? Follow His lead. It will be ok.

5. Ask questions!

Wondering if you should bring business cards? Or what to pack to wear in South Carolina in October? Or how breakout sessions will work? Ask us! Ask on these blog posts, ask on Facebook, ask on Twitter – we’re here for you. No question is too small or too silly.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What are your biggest concerns about going to a big conference? I’d love to answer your questions or know how to pray for you!

5 Sanity Saving Essentials for Blogging Conferences

Essentials for Blogging Conferences

Remember God is guiding your steps.

  • That moment when you see swirling crowds and wonder what the heck you’re doing at a conference with hundreds of women, remember God has a specific purpose for you. It’s not the same as your roommates, the speakers, or your blogging buddies. Let your agenda be dictated by God’s leading and you’ll never falter.

You’re the boss of you.

  • If you need to find a corner to sit and stare at the wall to recharge, do it. If you need to turn in early because your eyelids are dragging so heavy you might trip on them, tuck yourself in. If you want to wake up early and jog before breakfast, I don’t understand you at all, but hey, go for it.
  • Believe that the opportunities God has for you are not going to be “missed” because you aren’t on every second.
  • Trust that the capacity God’s given you isn’t a mistake. The Allume organizers are an amazing group of godly women who pray for you and have designed the content to leave room for God to work. Trust in that.

Think deep not wide.

  • At my first blogging conference I had only been blogging for 6 weeks. I traded tons of business cards, gave my awkward elevator speech a zillion times, and tried to jam in all the information I could. Everyone told me I had to network. It was exhausting.  Turns out the long lasting relationships maintained from that conference came in the slow moments. Lingering over coffee, sitting down to a long dinner, following up after the conference and investing in their blogs.
  • In many ways, the idea of networking makes my stomach sour. I don’t want to connect so I can climb on your shoulders and have a larger platform. I want to connect because you have something to offer that is unique: YOU. I want to know you.
  • Think of it as a chance to connect with God breathed people, joined in spirit, not just an opportunity to guest post or get retweeted.  I know now that meeting ALL the people is much less important than connecting with a few. Take your time and really value the people God brings across your path.

be loved friends 650

Think of ways to invest in people you meet and encourage those where you are or even mentor those coming up behind you.

  • I had someone tell me recently that they saw me at Allume and were too nervous to introduce themselves. I snort laughed at the craziness of that. Although flattered, I am not a rock star contrary to the tens of people who think so.  Ok, the ones of people, but still. Come say hi.
  • We’re all sisters here. But please, don’t be offended if I don’t recognize you right away even though we’ve tweeted back and forth every week. You are much taller than your avatar, and I am much, ummm, fluffier. So yeah, it might take me a minute. Again, grace.

 Don’t listen to the lie that you aren’t important. That your story and words don’t matter as much as the famous blogger. That no one is interested in you. That’s pure crap.

  • Each of you has a gift. A story of redemption, a story of a God who loves you, a story of life.
  • You may have a style blog and have an eye for beauty in a perfectly mismatched teal bag with platform sandals and a flowy maxi dress. You may have a food blog and share the glory in the crisp snap of fresh greens, laid like an offering, scattered with toasted goat cheese, raspberries, and roasted hazelnuts, a sweet mustard vinaigrette drizzled like the swirl of a painter’s brush. You may have an organization blog where you help women like me put labels on pretty baskets and get rid of the stack of sweaters I’m planning to felt someday. You may share stories, your life in words, your tears and triumphs and soul words.
  • Whatever God has given you, you have a gift to share. Go confidently knowing that you are called.

Is this your first conference or are you a veteran? What do you feel God is leading you towards as you prepare for Allume?  

 

How Writers Can Overcome Fear with One Word

Writers overcome their fears when they do one thing: Begin

My daughter grips the handle bars of her new bike — the kind without training wheels. With consternation and dread, she stands motionless on the sidewalk while the other kids ride their bicycles up and down our street.

Fear holds her back.

“Explain it to me again,” she asks.

But we’ve already given explanations and demonstrations. We’ve even promised to run beside her and hold her bike upright. It’s time for her to pedal. No one can do this for her.

When it comes to riding a bike, we learn by doing.

It’s the same with writing too.

We can observe great writing in others. We can listen to good advice about the craft. We can accumulate lists of dos and don’ts. But until we push a pen across paper, we’re merely gathering information.

We learn to write by writing. This sounds simple enough. But our fears paralyze us. Only it’s not a scraped knee we’re worried about.

We’re afraid of looking foolish.
We’re afraid of using incorrect grammar.

We’re afraid our work will bore readers.
We’re afraid our work won’t have any readers.

We’re afraid we’ll be misunderstood.
We’re afraid we’ll be understood but not liked.

These fears have one thing in common: They might come true.

But we’ll never know unless we begin.

We may think our words don’t mean much. But our words matter. Our stories matter. And a writer must be faithful in the telling. Maya Angelou once said:

“There is no greater agony
than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Are you carrying an untold story?

Would your story bless someone else?

Is fear holding you back?

 

If we could meet in a café and talk about writing, I’d tell you this:

 

  • Never let the fear of incorrect grammar hinder you from expressing your ideas. Yes, good grammar is important, but it’s reserved for the later stages of editing. For now, just write.
  • Let the writing flow from the deepest places inside you. Reveal the real you. Readers connect with humanity, not perfection.
  • Embrace the process as much as the final product. Through the act of writing, we acquire a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Take your readers on this journey with you.
  • Allow yourself to “fail,” and view each “failure” as a chance to grow and learn. No one ever achieves mastery on a first try. And if they did, no one else would be able to relate.
  • Keep writing. There’s mystery in momentum. Once we begin, we can usually find the next step, even when we’ve yet to uncover the final destination.

How Writers Can Overcome Fear: BEGIN

When it comes to writing, we’re halfway finished the moment we begin. Because getting started is the hardest part. It requires pushing past the fear.

My daughter discovers this same truth when she finally starts to pedal. At first, her slowness of speed threatens to topple her balance. So she has two choices. Either pedal faster. Or quit.

She soon hears the neighbors cheer.

“Keep going! You can do it!”

With her fears hanging on the verge of fruition, she leans forward and pedals faster. The momentum begins to work in her favor, and she feels the rush of wind against her cheeks. Shrieks of wild delight can be heard around the cul-de-sac.

I’m left standing in the street, breathless and panting and smiling at another milestone marked.

Will she ever fall and get hurt?

She might. But we remove the might — the power — from fear when we stop worrying about what might happen.

Will our words ever meet with disappointment?

They might. But they might also bring sheer bliss as we lean forward with fingers flying across keys.

Fear loses its stranglehold when writers refuse to let hypothetical scenarios dictate their destiny.

Writers can overcome the manacles of “maybe” and “might” when they choose to do one thing: Begin.

 

Do you have an untold story inside you?

What fears are preventing you from writing?

 

TWEETABLES:

“When it comes to writing, we’re halfway done the moment we begin.”  <Tweet this!>

“We remove the might—the power—from fear when we stop worrying about what ‘might’ happen.”  <Tweet this!>

“Writers overcome the manacles of ‘maybe’ and ‘might’ when they do one thing: Begin.”  <Tweet this!>

 

Ready to push past fear and begin writing?

Practical writing tips on how to get started are
HERE and HERE.

 

4 Ways to Make the Most of Failing

 

Successful woman onlineA few Fridays ago I hosted my blog’s first Facebook chat to kick-off the first day of summer. I whipped up snazzy graphics and posted announcements all over Facebook and Twitter. The day of the chat, I was giddy with anticipation as I tried guessing how many people would join in. 10? 20? 30? Or, maybe even more? In the end, you know how many people showed up? Two. Just me and one of my blog’s contributors. Thirty grueling, drawn-out minutes spent hoping and waiting for the crowd to arrive. But it wasn’t to be. (Granted, a few others eventually chimed in with comments in the days to follow.) I was disappointed…and quite embarrassed if I’m honest. For a hot second, I considered deleting my Facebook page and ditching blogging. What’s the point of it all, I questioned. After feeling sorry for myself for a few minutes, I was reminded of countless success stories lined with bumps in the road called failures. So why then, would I let this blip derail me? Instead, I decided to F.A.I.L. like a boss. Here’s how…

1. Have Faith

Failure undoubtedly causes fears to rise. Do I have what it takes? Does anyone care? How can I make it when there are already so many great _______ out there? Instead of believing these lies, trust in your calling. Forget the numbers. Forget how long it takes to get where you’re going or who’s doing what. You must believe in your dreams first.

2. Check the Attitude

When plans don’t go the way you expected, your true motivations often show. Are you out for your own fame or praises, or are you truly seeking to do the will of God? One will let pride and embarrassment stop you, the other will push you to persevere. If giving up comes easy, check the attitude.

3. Investigate

Step back and look at the failure objectively. What could you do differently? Are you lacking certain skills or resources? Is there someone with the expertise to help you? What does a trusted friend or mentor have to say?

4. Listen

Go to a quiet place. What does God have to say about it all? Perhaps He is using the moment to draw you closer or teach you something new. Instead of complaining or whining about how things turned out, take time to listen for His voice.

 

While failures can seem like an end to a dream, they certainly don’t have to be. Have you ever been sidetracked by a failure? How did you get back on the path to success?

kacey-bess

As one of the voices behind Next Level Mama, Kacey has a heart for leading mamas to parent with purpose. By day, she analyzes numbers as a budget analyst, but it’s her “job” as mama to three little ones that’s her most challenging and enjoyable ever. This die-hard Texas girl can’t get enough of blogging, Kindle books and desserts. You can catch her tweeting away at @nextlevelmama.

What Satisfies You?

contentment || Teri Lynne Underwood

Do you ever have a feeling there has to be something more?  Like something is missing or incomplete but you are not sure what it is?

I imagine most of us have been there.  And if you haven’t, you know someone who has. We can look around us and see all the ways people are trying to satisfy a need they can’t really define.

Drugs. Gambling. Alcohol.  Pornography.

We look at others who have those “issues” and we wonder how their lives could get so out of control. But there are so many ways we try to fill that empty space inside ourselves.

  • We seek communion online and neglect the community around us.
  • We savor food instead of the Bread of Life.
  • We accumulate more than we could ever need or use and walk past those with nothing.
  • We build big houses while countless children around the world are orphans.
  • We spend countless dollars eating out when millions of people are starving.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with good food or beautiful homes or lovely vacations … I enjoy all of these. But there is a need for each of us to periodically check our hearts.  To pray as David did,

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.  Psalm 139:23-24 ESV

We need to ask the Lord to search us, to test our thoughts. We need Him to reveal to us those places that are not His … because we were not made for this world, my friends.  We were created for something more, something better.  He has called us to this time and this place for His glory and for His service.  But we, like countless others can claim the promise of a heavenly country, for God has prepared for us a city {Hebrews 11:16}.

As you look ahead to the weekend, I pray you will carve out a moment or two for reflection, for confession, and for a turning of your heart toward the only One who truly, eternally satisfies!

5 Ways You Know You’re Doing Too Much

 

nest

I am a “go-go-go” person. I seem to somehow involve myself in everything. If I see a need, I usually volunteer. This isn’t a practice I’m encouraging you to emulate-but instead it’s something I’ve lately realized is quite a problem. After years of overcommitting myself, I now see a pattern. It’s a cycle of “go-go-go” followed by a swift crash and burn. When I fill my calendar to the max, my body eventually becomes physically spent and my motivation to be involved in anything outside of sleep waivers.

As writers, mom’s working inside or outside the home, wives, friends, daughters, disciples, and countless other roles, we tend to get involved everywhere, don’t we? We see a need, and we jump in.

And I wonder, have you stopped to look at how this lifestyle is affecting you and those around you? Do you burn-out? Do you recognize when a burn-out is around the corner? Do you recognize when you’ve overcommitted yourself? Only recently have I begun to slow down and truly seek His agenda for my time and energy. With that said:

Here are 5 Ways you know you’ve committed to too much….

  1. You feel like you’re just ‘going through the motions’
  2. You neglect other responsibilities {family, home, job, etc.}
  3. You start to dread the things you normally love
  4. Your body tells you so {‘Can I just get a nap, please?’}
  5. You neglect your time with Jesus

A few years ago I had a very wise friend tell me (and I’m paraphrasing), “a need doesn’t constitute a calling“. This phrase runs through my head often. I now realize that I must sift very carefully through the needs and opportunities laid before me. Just because a ministry volunteer position opened up or someone needs a leader for VBS, doesn’t mean it is my duty, or my calling to step into those roles {even if it is a passion of mine!}. We must go to the Lord over each opportunity presented to us.

Sometimes us ‘go-getter’ types can get caught filling our calendars with what others think we’re supposed to be doing, rather than with what we really should be doing. Sometimes we neglect to pray about who He may want leading a particular ministry, or contributing to specific blog. Maybe He has that role reserved for someone else, and it’s our responsibility to turn down the opportunity on their behalf. Not only will this bless this intended participant, but it could also bless your life in ways not immediately apparent. Perhaps He wants to give you some much needed time to breathe and focus on your family. Maybe He wants you to focus more on your personal blog. Have you thought about that? Sometimes it is our job to pass on opportunities in favor of other women, women who may need the encouragement of another to step up and lead.

If you understand your purpose, it is easier to set boundaries.

-Hula Hoop Girl, by September McCarthy

Each season of life brings new opportunities and new limitations. Because He is the ultimate Ruler in our lives, He deserves to control our schedule, honing in on what we’re called to do for Him in each season. We must ask Him to show us when and how we can step back, give another an opportunity, and determine when He has truly opened a door He wants us to walk through.  We must properly sift through what’s on our respective plates, for if we do, He will not neglect to lead us exactly to where He wants us!

Happy sifting, sisters!

By,  Mandy Scarr

 

Ripening or Replicating: How are we growing as writers?

When I first started blogging, I often heard,” Don’t compare your middle to someone else’s end.  This was usually said at conferences by bloggers with platforms, RSS feeds bursting with subscribers, and years of experience being social media ninjas. As someone just starting out, I’d look at my one or two comments and think, I’m just not there yet, with yet being the operative word.

If I’d started in 2006 when the competition and noise on the internet felt more like the mingling at a cocktail party than an olympic stadium with the roar of the crowd drowning out the clacking of my keys, then I’d be further along too. I’d scribble the line in my notebook, or tweet it to my 25 followers, nodding my head because everyone knows comparison in blogging will make you . Once you go down that path, you may as well break out the duct tape to gag and bind yourself, because it’s pretty hard to write authentically while trying to replicate someone else’s success.

So I’d plod along faithfully, wrestling contentment down with each post, imagining when my “end” would come and I’d have arrived. When I could count myself a writer. Maybe get a book published or reach a certain number of subscribers. When I’d be the one dispensing anecdotes about the good old days of blogging and tips for building your platform. I’d dream of a time when my voice would matter.

 We often think of growth as a linear thing.

We back kids against door frames and etch pencil scratches along the years as the tops of their head stretch upward from chubby thighed toddlers to gangly teens. Failure to thrive would be, well, failure.  We think of growth as the raise you get after each faithful year on the job or the beater car with the tricky alternator that turns into the minivan or new SUV as each new child comes along. The dorm room of your college years to the 4 bedroom 3 and one half bath home with the wrap-around porch.  Growth means bigger, and bigger means better.

But what if growth isn’t always linear?

What if my end never looks like theirs because my journey isn’t taking me in that direction? What if growth was less about replicating and more about ripening ? Less about measuring up and more about pouring out?

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Because lately, I’ve been looking down the road and I don’t see the horizon brimming with the things I once thought I was headed for. Even the things I thought I wanted. And I’m realizing there is a great freedom in that. That in my corner of the internet, my words are enough, no matter how small.

I feel a collective pull of my writer friends, back into their lives, to write what they love, not just what gets tweeted or shared. There is a dedication to the seeking of words and story and truth that all writers wrestle with, but there is a calm too.

So many of us, who started with God sized Dreams of doing the big things, have learned that God works those out in the small things. That growth often comes in the deep blush of fruit swollen and ripe, and not just the arching branches seen from miles away saluting the skies. It comes in tiny rings spreading modestly across a trunk year after year, no more than the width of a fingernail. It comes in pruning season and it comes in harvest. It comes in roots grown wide and long under scorched earth, seeking out water and life and bedrock with which to sustain it’s might.

We don’t always see it. We just sink our teeth in, letting the juice gush lavishly down our chins, we taste and know it’s good.

psalm 348

God Sized Dreams

God-Sized Dreams

Can I make a confession? I have a God-sized dream buried deep in my heart.

It has been there as long as I can remember, but I’ve only recently gained the courage to give voice to it.

Maybe you do, too. Maybe you have a dream so big that you keep it tucked safely away where this world of disappointments can’t touch it.

I’m reminded of a movie I watched a few years ago, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton (don’t laugh!). In this movie, one of the main characters (Pete) is secretly in love with the female lead (Rosalee). And the wise bartender challenges him to go after her. Here’s part of their exchange:

Pete: I’ve tried everything.
Angelica: What did she say when you told her that you love her?
Pete: Well, actually, maybe not everything, but…
Angelica: What did she say when you kissed her?
Pete: OK, maybe it’s more like two things I haven’t tried.
Angelica: Well, what have you tried?
Pete: I have very unsubtly implied how I feel about her.

Aren’t we a lot like Pete sometimes? We have this dream. A dream so big that it fills our hearts with longing, and we just have to follow after it.

But we can’t.

Fear holds us back. Doubt and insecurity hold us back. Feelings of inadequacy hold us back.

Because, if we don’t try, we can’t fail.

But God says we are more than conquerers in Christ Jesus. If God planted this dream in your heart, He will equip you to carry it out. He will finish the work He started, and help you conquer it.

But you have to put one foot in front of the other. Take the first step, and then another.

Maybe you’re more like me and stuck in that waiting place of only hinting at your dream. Waiting for your children to grow up, for more education, until you’ve perfected your life or your faith. Maybe you’re waiting for an elusive state of being “good enough”.

Dr. Seuss has a great description of the waiting place in his classic “O, The Places You Will Go,” and it’s a place to be escaped and avoided.

I have to interject here that there are times when waiting is a good thing. Sometimes it’s God telling us to wait for His perfect timing, or so that He can prune, and grow us. So that He can prepare us.

Other times, God might be changing our hearts to make room for another dream. And in these cases, letting go (at least for now) is the best thing we can do. His word says He will give us the desires of our hearts if we delight in Him, but sometimes only He knows what will truly satisfy our souls.

Sometimes our waiting is caused by fear. And God’s word tells us that He has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and a sound mind.

What would it look like if we started pursuing our God-given dreams with power instead of fear?

I’m not talking about trying to force something to happen outside of God’s will. I’m talking about being faithful, taking reasonable action, and persevering through obstacles. Being willing to press on toward the goal that God has given us for our lives, and allowing Him to finish the work He started, whatever that may be.

Do you have a dream that is yet unfulfilled? What steps can you take to get closer to achieving it? What’s holding you back?

Crystal Brothers Bio Pic

Crystal Brothers is a daughter of the one true king, wife to a forest ranger, and homeschooling mama to 2 rambunctious little boys. She is also a dreamer of God-sized dreams and blogs at Serving Joyfully, a place where her desire is to encourage women in faith, homemaking, and motherhood. Visit her blog, Serving Joyfully.

It’s not too late for a tune-up…

sunset for allume

“When our kids are grown gone, we want to be just like you and Mary.”

That is what a friend said to my husband sometime back.  He was referring to the fact that John and I travel a lot, but we didn’t just start that when we had an empty nest.

AND…it isn’t the travelling that is the key.

It is about learning to do this thing called life together, even when things are not so great.

Let me start at the beginning…

John and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary in May of this year.  Life didn’t turn out exactly like I thought it would.  I don’t have 2-4 children.  I don’t live where I thought I would.  I am not doing the work I thought I would be doing. But life is good and my marriage is even better!  I am married to my best friend, yet life has not always been roses.  Some of you may know that we have buried a daughter, we left our home of 25 years and moved across the country, we’ve endured sickness, and we have had periods of no income.  While these things help shape who we are, they do not define who we are or what our marriage will be like.  Marriage takes work, everyday.  Every year.  And then some.

There are a few things that I believe are key when it comes to having a good marriage.  Here are a few ideas:

  • have date night.  Take the time to be a couple at least once a month.  It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.  Buy a bag of $2.00 popcorn and rent a movie for $1.25.
  • talk.  Seriously.  I mean this.  A friend with several children and a husband that travels regularly told me that once he started travelling, she thought it had been good for their relationship.  How you ask?  She said it was because since they were talking on the phone after the kids had Skyped or talked they were talking with each other about life.  About them.  About things…not just about the kids. I think, at times, it is easy to fall into the trap where our conversations with our spouse revolve around the kids, the house or the bills.  We forget to connect on other levels and we start to lose something.
  • don’t put your kids before your marriage. You were a couple before you were parents! God created the couple BEFORE he created the family with kids or the church! I knew a couple that did so much with and for their kids that when they got older and their kids were gone, they really had nothing in common.  He did his thing.  She did hers.  It is OK to tell your kids, no you can’t do this or that.  I know another couple that chose not to have their children participate in an activity in which they had previously been very active.  Why?  Because the volunteer commitment required by families was more than this family could do, so the family made a different choice.
  • have s*x. Enough said.  If that is a problem and it is a medical issue, then discuss it with your doctor.  If there is another problem, then discuss it with someone whom you trust. Make this a priority.
  • pray for your spouse. At Allume last year I received a copy of Kathi Lipp’s book, Praying God’s Word for your Husband.  I had always prayed for John, but this changed the WAY I prayed.  In a good way.  You might consider buying the book.

It is easy to stand at the altar and say “I do.”  Maybe we looked at our spouse with dreamy eyes and imagined how perfect our life would be.  Ten weeks, months or years later things didn’t look so perfect.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be good.  It just might need a little tune-up!

Does your marriage need a tune-up?  What can you do to make a difference?

Blessings~

Mary