How to Beat Conference Exhaustion.. And Help Others, Too!

Today begins the 2014 ACFW conference, a day many have waited for with both excitement and near-panic. :)  As the conference begins, I want to give you all some quick tips I've learned over the years about making the most of your conference experience.

First, let's take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?

Here I am last conference:

Yep, that's me, all right, with a broken foot and two precious friends pushing me around Indianapolis!

Let's just say, not exactly how I'd planned to spend the conference.

If you're ever had a broken foot/ankle/leg, you know getting around is no small challenge. Even though my foot wasn't in a lot of pain at that point (thank goodness), I was soooooo overwhelmed trying to manage basics, like washing my hair. Add in the need to find food, and you've got a potential recipe for disaster!

Every. single. thing. last year was exhausting for me because of that broken foot. Getting around was, quite honestly, a real challenge, and took twice the physical strength/energy it normally would. Breezing over to Starbucks was not so simple as walking down there. It generally involved me texting my dear friend Angie Dicken and asking her to deliver my tea. ;)

As a result of this, I found myself worn down both physically and emotionally. It was hard to remember my pitch, maneuver independently from point A to point B, AND allow myself to feel refreshed by this special time with mentors and friends. Thankfully, my pitches went fairly well, and I didn't fall flat on my face, literally or figuratively. But by the end of the conference last year, I was drained as drained could be emotionally. Because every little movement from one floor to the next or from one classroom to an appointment session, took all the strength I could muster. And let me tell you, that really takes it out of a girl after a few days! I came away from the conference having learned a lot, and having had a fun time, but also feeling completely and utterly exhausted.

Even if you don't have a broken bone, let me tell you, this exhaustion is a real danger for all conference go-ers. You add "one more thing" into your schedule, then another, and before you know it, you're booked from 6 AM until 1 in the morning. You're not getting any sleep or any down time. And you can't even remember your name anymore, let alone your story.

So here's my advice. Keep your priorities in perspective.  If your prioritize is to learn from the classes, great. Focus on those. If your priority is to relationship-build, spend time networking. If your priority is pitching... don't get your hopes up. HA! No, I kid. But seriously, be open to the unexpected opportunities God has for you.

If you run yourself ragged, you may become so exhausted that you miss out on God moments. You may be too tired to interact with the editor He puts you in the elevator with, the author whose book you just read and loved, or the new conference attendee who's sitting in the corner, alone and overwhelmed.

It's oh-so-important we allow ourselves time to recharge so that we can be on the lookout for these God-moments both for ourselves and for those who need our encouragement. If you're only focusing on your own conference experience, you're going to miss a big blessing in reaching out to others and encouraging them. Be intentional about encouraging and praying with people before they pitch, be on the lookout for people who look discouraged or lonely, and just smile at people when they seem frustrated or down. Keep the good vibes going. :)

So here are some ways you can recharge, and I hope they help you to prioritize your own mental and emotional wellness while at the conference!

  • Minimize sleep deprivation. Fact is, we all sleep too little at the conference. But six hours versus one hour are a different story. Prioritize rest, whether you're a night owl, an early bird, or even if you take some naps.
  • Go back to the room/Starbucks/the lobby to recharge. Many people (myself included) need a few minutes of alone time to feel like themselves. I'm a total extrovert, but if I don't have a least a few minutes alone per day, I go crazy, like I can't make sense of my own thoughts.
  • Be intentional about prayer. Go to the prayer room, your own room, or even just a quiet spot in the lobby and have an ongoing conversation with God. Ask Him to help you see the opportunities He's placed before you, to help you be faithful, and to give you peace.
  • EAT! If you're too nervous to eat at lunch because you're sitting by your dream editor, then by all means, skip the first part of the next workshop and order yourself a sandwich. Skipping meals does not make for goodness whenever you're already keyed up with excitement and tired.
  • Don't feel guilty about skipping breakfast, sessions, or workshops if you need to rest, eat, or even just relax your mind for an hour. Yes, you want to get the most out of the conference, but in order to do that, you have to feel well. Your health, physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional, needs to be a priority so you can express yourself well to others.
  • Don't forget the cereal bars! It's always a good idea to have a few snacks on hand just in case your flight is delayed or you miss a meal. Be prepared with vitamins, medications, etc. just in case.
  • When all else fails, drink caffeine. :)

Your turn! What do you do to keep from getting overly exhausted at conferences? Any tips or advice to share?


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


Makeover Giveaway! Win a $15 Sephora Card!

Hey, everyone! Hope you are having a good year so far and staying warm. Can you believe we're supposed to get several inches of snow tonight here in Florida? It's crazy cold around here!

As you may've noticed, my blog has recently had a makeover, and I've decided to share the makeover love by giving away a $15 Sephora gift card to celebrate!

To be eligible to win, simply comment by Saturday, February 1st, and tell us one reason you're excited about 2014. I'm looking forward to hearing from all of you!


Postcards at Christmas by Julie Carobini-- A Cup of Christmas Cheer Blog Hop!

First things first, I want to announce the winner of the Christmas mug featured on Anita Mae Draper's blog last week is Katie J! Congratulations, Katie!

On the blog today, I'm so happy to be reviewing Julie Carobini's "Postcards at Christmas," which can be found in the A Cup of Christmas Cheer collection, Volume 2. I think you're going to really enjoy this story! Be sure to read the end of the blog for details on how you can WIN a copy of Julie's book, Fade to Blue! And if you'd like a chance to win the GRAND prize, be sure you stop at each blog on the tour and leave comment!

If you're a fan of Julie's other work, you won't want to miss this charming Christmas story. As usual, Julie has created a host of colorful, charming characters. Put that together with a small town at Christmas, and you've got the setting of "Postcards at Christmas." 

What would you do if you discovered an elderly woman is missing at Christmastime, and her son might not even know she's gone? 

That's exactly the situation Olivia, the main character in "Postcards at Christmas," finds herself in.

The story starts off when Olivia, who runs a thrift shop and longs to travel the world, discovers a box full of classic books and postcards from beautiful locales. When she sees the signatures on the backs of the postcards, she realizes the donation must be a mistake . . .  or is it?

Her search for the box's owner soon turns into an even greater investigation as she realizes the elderly woman whom the box belongs to is missing. What follows is a search involving everyone from Olivia's mother, to a neighbor, and even the postman, in a story sure to put you in the Christmas spirit.

But when Olivia does find the box's owner, she's in for an even greater surprise when the woman's son turns out to be quite different from what she expected. And, in the end, Olivia gets her own sort of Christmas gift as a result of all the work she's done to help others.

You'll just have to read it to see how it all turns out!

I thought Julie's story was such a fun read because the pacing was quick, the setting and characters were quaint, and it really had that wonderful Christmas feel! I always love a story with a happy ending.

Have you ever done something to help someone else, only to find yourself the one helped?

To be eligible to win a copy of Fade to Blue (B&H Books), be sure you leave a comment as well as an e-mail address where I can contact you next week in case you win. 

Fade to Blue is set on the California coast, in the shadow of the famed Hearst Castle overlooking the sea. The local is not unlike those depicted on the postcards that Olivia finds in "Postcards at Christmas." You'll definitely want a chance to snag this book right up if you don't already have a copy!

Julie Carobini is a fiction writer living in a non-fiction world. By day she shepherds non-fiction titles through the editorial and production process for Gospel Light/Regal Books. By night she writes novels set by the sea--five published to date. Romantic Times says, "Carobini has a talent for creating characters that come alive ..." Married to Dan and mom to three, she loves all things coastal (except sharks).

Now for a little more about our blog hope and the prizes! Each blog "hop" or stop will have a giveaway. And at the end of all the hops there will be a Grand Prize to someone who has visited and commented on every blog stop.  A $70.00 porcelain tea set from Yorktown's Victory Center will be part of the Grand Prize along with other gifts such as a $10 Amazon card, special hot cocoa packets, the two-book set of "A Cup of Christmas Cheer" and more!
Here's the complete Blog Hop schedule:
Friday, November 8th, Carla Olson Gade is on 
Carrie Fancett Pagels' blog 
Saturday, November 9th,   Ashley Clark is on 
Anita Mae Draper's blog.Saturday, November 16th, Anita Mae Draper is on Johnnie Alexander Donley's blog.
Sunday Nov 17th  Julie Carobini on 
Ashley Clark's blog
Friday, November 22nd,  Carrie Fancett Pagels is on 
Carla Olson Gade's blog.
Saturday, November 23rd,  Johnnie Alexander Donley is on 
Julie Carobini's blog 
Friday, November 29th,  
Colonial Quills Blog to announce Grand Prize winner.

The Grand Prize winner must have left a comment on each of the Blog Hop blogs.
A $70 porcelain tea set from Yorktown Victory Center, a $10 Amazon gift card, special cocoa packets and more will be given away. So be sure you stop at each blog and say hello! 


The Phantom Boot

When I was a little girl, I used to slip on my mom's heels and walk around the house. I dreamed of growth. I dreamed of having my own heels. I dreamed of being like my mom.

Over the course of time, I did grow. I did get my own heels--plenty of them. And I did--I hope--become like my mom.

Then one month ago, I broke my foot. It did hurt, especially at first, but beyond the physical pain was a growing frustration. I couldn't walk normally, couldn't wear normal shoes, couldn't do a whole host of things I had grown accustomed to doing. My independence was slashed, and some of my confidence went down with it. I learned such a greater empathy for those with disabilities, and such a greater sense of appreciation for the capabilities I enjoy every day. I hobbled around the ACFW conference last week trying hard to act like normal, but really, feeling a bit disheartened. Everything--even going to Starbucks for a sweet tea or two--required so much effort and energy than it used to.

This week, my doctor gave me glorious news. I can now start wearing normal shoes again! Can you say, "Hello, glitter flats"? But you know what? A funny thing happened when I took that heavy black boot off.

I still couldn't walk.

Well, not well, anyway.

The heaviness I'd grown accustomed to--the phantom boot as I like to call it--had changed the way walk. I had to adjust to this boot--this thing that was used to help me, but when it was gone, I kept assuming a heaviness that wasn't there.

For the past few days, I've been walking around in my flats, practicing.

I'd forgotten what it means to walk with freedom.

Today, you may have just come through a season of struggle, like me. Or maybe you're still in that season. You have grown into your high-heel dreams. It has taken time, and effort, and a lot of prayer and wishing. Then maybe, one day you fell, and it all came crashing down.

Take time to heal. You need that for your heart, especially if we're talking writing dreams.

But after you have taken that time, and after the healing is well underway, I want to ask you a question.

Are you wearing glitter flats, but walking with the heaviness of a phantom boot?

Jesus took that weight from you. He has set you free. So, go in freedom. Dance with joy. You are no longer broken. You and your dreams have been healed, indeed.



Take a close look at this picture. What do you see?

I took this picture while we were in Tofino, BC-- one of the most beautiful places my eyes have ever beheld, by the way-- so it has a particularly special meaning to me.

This is an old-growth forest, one of the rarest environments in the world. Some of these trees are over 800 years old. Tofino is home to rare and endangered wildlife, like bald eagles, grey whales, all sorts of sea lions and otters, and cool birds--many of which I had the chance to see.

When you look at this picture, there are several things that may call your attention: the green leaves of the trees, the sun shining brightly through the branches, the tall stretching trunks, or the huge grandfather of a tree that has fallen at the bottom.

When I saw these "nursery trees," I was really stricken with sadness. These are trees that have grown huge over a long period of time, and then something like a wind storm comes by, and they fall. Beholding that kind of majesty fallen feels somehow deeply saddening. Deeply wrong.

See, the thing is, we don't like to see things that are broken.

I've experienced this the past week with my foot. There have been so many times when I just wanted life-as-usual. To walk on my foot. To wear my cute shoes. To drive my car to a bookstore and get a tea while I write.

This whole thing has made me more conscious of how fake we can be with one another, especially on social networking websites. It's easy to post a picture of your food or your cat on Facebook or Twitter, and lie to the world, when all the while, you are feeling broken. And let's face it. We all feel broken sometimes.

None of us like brokenness, so we hide it. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, we grow ashamed of our weaknesses and hurt. We try to pretend everything is just peachy all the time because we've got Jesus. But I believe this propensity to fake it is weakening our witness to the gospel.

See, the thing is, God is big. Redemption is real. And so are sin and pain.

God can handle the truth about where we are, right where we are. Maybe everything is just peachy for you right now, or maybe it isn't. God is the very same loving God, no matter where you stand. He hasn't forgotten you. He hasn't let you go or lost control.

When we pull back from others and refuse to acknowledge our brokenness--in whatever form it may take--we refuse the power of Christ's redemption and the glory of his sacrifice for us.

Going back to the "nursery log," I learned in Tofino that these fallen trees serve a very important function. It can take hundreds of years before some of them decompose, and in the meantime, they actually serve as a sort of nursery to young plants. They shelter these seedlings from the harshness of the world until the plants are strong enough to withstand them. They provide nutrients even in their decay. They provide homes for wildlife--some of which won't nest elsewhere. In essence, the brokenness matters. It sustains the future. It can be redeemed.

Have you ever felt frustrated social media that may feel like a charade? How does getting honest about our pain point toward the depths of Christ's redemption?


The Tiny, Broken Bone

Friday was a normal day. Until I went into the garage for a screwdriver of all things, and fell. I heard a snap sound when I went down, and I knew it wasn't going to be good. Before I knew it, I was on the concrete of our garage, with a rushing pain like when you stub your toe. I called for Matt, and he and Schroeder came running. Two hours and a trip to urgent care later, I got the prognosis: I had broken the 5th metatarsal of my foot. 5th metatarsal breaks can be tricky, so they put me in a splint and referred me to a specialist.

Let me just say, you don't realizing how your life will be turned upside down by something like this until it happens. Sure, you can imagine. But when you can't actually get a glass of water when you're thirsty or peppermints when your stomach feels sick from the pain medicine, when you can't look out the kitchen window to watch hummingbirds or go get the mail, you get a new appreciation for mobility. And getting around on crutches is HARD! The receptionist at the doctor today told me she read that using crutches burns twice as many calories as regular activity because it's so physically challenging. I don't know what I would've done without the help of my husband.

And then there is the emotional slap in the face when you get a splint and realize there is a good chance you will not be able to walk for 6-8 weeks. And that's a pretty conservative diagnosis. Some people end up with surgery. I kept going back and forth between jokes--asking Matt to get me some jello like I was in a nursing home--and feelings of defeat. How was I going to manage? How was I going to teach classes and attend my conference? Would I have to put my entire life on hold while I sat on the couch each day with my leg propped up with water and snacks in reach? This on the tails of a super painful ear infection and really bad allergies?

Today, God answered my prayers in a big, gracious way. The orthopedist took a look at my x-rays and said that because my bones are so close together, he would give me a walking boot immediately, and I can start walking on it little by little as I'm comfortable. I'm planning to continue babying it for at least a few days because I don't want to overdo it, but this was a huge relief. Getting the split off alone was wonderful--the back of my heel had started developing a sore from the splint being on too tight. He said I may even be able to wear regular shoes in another month or so.

This got me thinking about I Corinthians 12:21-26:

"The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!' On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parks that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parks that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the  body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."

Let me just say, division in the body--division in the bones-- hurts. Badly. Division bleeds internally, and inflames, and takes time to repair. So for starters, let's be sure that when division does occur in the body, we allow the whole process to take place. Sometimes a blood clot has to form at the site of the fracture, and that place remains sensitive as we heal. Don't try to rush people with fractures. You will only hinder (and possibly prevent) their healing.

The other application I want to draw from all of this is that every little bone in the body matters. I thought about attaching an x-ray of my foot but was afraid that might freak some people out, so let me just tell you, my fractures are tiny. If you just glanced at the x-ray, you probably wouldn't seem them. And yet, a small little fracture (or three of them, in my case!) can cause problems for the whole body. The whole foot becomes inflamed. My ankle has been hurting even worse than my foot because of improper attempts to fix the problem (how often does the church try to fix one thing in a person and inadvertently create a bigger problem?!). My wrists and good knee are sore from hobbling around on crutches. I haven't been able to sleep well.

Three tiny little fractures in one tiny little foot bone have affected everything about my life.

Did you catch that?

God taught me today that even in the tiniest fracture in the body of Christ affects us--and Him--in a huge way. You may think that your sin, or your struggle, or your pain-- or even your calling-- is insignificant. That's not a lie. The enemy wants us to believe we don't matter, and that assuming we do matter is equivalent to pride. But that's not what God says. God says you matter. I matter. Immensely. 

God has given each of us unique roles in the body. Maybe you feel insignificant because your role isn't flashy enough. Maybe you wish you had a different career or town or lifestyle. I mean, who hasn't wished to be on Dancing with the Stars? But your purpose--your calling-- is vital. You may be a tiny little bone in the foot that no one notices, but without you living out your purpose every day of your life, we all suffer. The world suffers--because you were created to bring something unique and beautiful to it. If you don't serve your purpose, no one will. If you don't take up your calling, the whole body will be crippled because of it.

Did you know that when you break a bone, your body pulls nutrients and antioxidants from other parts of the body to repair the injury? Bone healing can even be encouraged and sped up by taking multivitamins and getting plenty of good-for-you things like antioxidants and zinc. Likewise, when someone is broken, we ought to pool all our resources together--no matter how long it takes or how debilitating the injury--to help bring forth healing.

So be encouraged today that you matter. No matter how small or insignificant your daily tasks seem, they matter immensely. Without you, your world hobbles. So hold your head up. And be careful when walking through the garage. :)


What Are You Racing Toward?

A couple days ago, I was driving to meet my parents for lunch when one car ahead of me almost sideswiped the car in the next lane. I almost honked to alert them to the danger, but it was so surreal, I found myself just watching, stunned. We had just come from a red light, so most likely no one would've been hurt, but the second car would've been badly messed up. We're talking... these people just decided to drive into the other lane without looking at all.

Well clearly not looking before changing lanes is Bad Driving 101. But what came next is what I found really interesting.

The woman in the nearly-sideswiped car didn't even honk. She just pulled as far to the right as she could, and pretty much stopped her car. But then a few seconds later, as if everything that'd just happened suddenly registered, she lost it. Like, really. I watched as she flew up to the other car, seemed to yell something through her window (and I'm guessing it wasn't "let's go to Krispy Kreme for some chocolate frosted"), and then she sped around them and cut them off! When they tried to change lanes and slow down to get away from her, she did it again. All down the road, she kept zipping through traffic and slowing down just so she could cut them off.

Meanwhile, I'm just ambling along at a usual pace, and I ended up passing both of them.

This whole thing got me thinking. 1) Don't change lanes without looking because that makes people very, very mad. 2) where we put our focus determines what we race toward.

I am sure both of those people had places to go and things to do. They started at the red light at the same place as me-- on a normal journey to their destination. But somewhere along the way, something happened. Someone got angry. Bitter. Distracted. Pretty soon, all either car could think about was the other person. How they didn't deserve the way that person had treated them. How frustrated they were.

And the irony is, all this obsession with the near-accident got them nowhere. Literally and figuratively. And here I come along, like the tortoise in the race, passing them all.

We all get sideswiped sometimes. We don't like to admit it, but it happens. It's part of life. Things come in our lane as we're going about our merry way, and they try to wreck us. It's what we do with the near wrecks that matter. Do we let them consume us? Do we dart through traffic just to cut those people off and prove a point? Or do we keep blazing ahead with our eyes on the finish line?

Hebrews 12:1-3 in The Message says it this way:

Do you see what this means-- all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running--and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed--that exhilarating finish in and with God--he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourself flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

I hope you're encouraged today to keep running the race, no matter what might get in your way. Oh, and look twice before changing lanes! :)