Menu

Wednesday

Declutter

I'm happy to say we made it home safe and sound from Hawaii after a minor scare we might get stuck in the Houston airport thanks to Hurricane Isaac. I just kept thinking, "Really, people? We couldn't have gotten stuck in Honolulu?" But it was an absolutely phenomenal trip, and I can't wait to sort through the pictures and share some with you guys soon. There's something about getting away for a little while that really helps reframe your priorities, hone in on your focus, and catch your motivation again.

So that's what I decided to write about today. Several weeks ago, I felt God telling me to declutter my mind. I thought that was an interesting concept and one I wouldn't have come up with on my own, yet exactly what I need to be working on. I don't know about you, but I'm always worried about something. Usually it's nothing big... just an accumulation of lots of little things. Some times it's even dumb things, like remembering to take shoes back or do the laundry. But after a while of holding on to all these little things in my mind, they take up all my mental real estate so that I struggle to  hear the ways God's nudging me. It's like I'm in pool, and instead of being led by a gentle wind, I'm flopping around between a hundred floats and pool toys--which is especially appropriate here because I don't know how to swim.

It's time to throw the floats out of the pool.

Last week, we took a day trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, and the attitude of the Hawaiians there really resonated with me. They have such an "aloha" spirit and are very mellow, not wasting time worrying over things they can't control. And after a while of being around that, it started to rub off on me.

I started thinking a different kind of "what if"-- what would happen if I let go of my worries? I mean, really let go of them and laid them at God's feet? If, instead of going over and over things in my mind, I prayed about them and let go? Is this not what the Bible says to do anyway? The concept began to settle in me. Do not worry about tomorrow, for today has enough trouble of its own. If your heavenly Father knows when a sparrow falls, do not fear, for you are worth more than many sparrows. This same God who created the heavens and the earth and the most beautiful sunsets and stars and mountains and oceans and waterfalls sees me, right where I am, and cares for me. What help can my worry add to that kind of power?

As we were flying home, we ran into trouble in Houston, as I mentioned earlier. When we did board the plane after something like sixteen or seventeen hours of traveling already, I was a little freaked about flying through a tropical storm. But something really cool happened. I checked my phone, and a prayer I had prayed earlier that day was Bible Gateway's verse of the day.

Isaiah 26:3: "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you."

Our vision gets blurred when we allow anxiety and worries to cloud the picture. We lose sight of who we are meant to be, and what we are meant to be doing. We lose sight of purpose.



Then we saw this. Check out the picture Matt took from the airplane. It's not super clear because he had to take it through a plane window, but in the middle there is a rainbow. Above the clouds. Above the storm. I thought this was just the coolest thing. 

God's promises are still there, whether or not we see them. And especially in the storm, He is always reminding us of His love. I hope that encourages you today, whether you are going through a little storm or a big one. Declutter your mind. Look for the rainbows. They may be just above the clouds.




Monday

Book Winner!


I'm excited to announce that Lindsay Harrel has won this stop of Cara and Melanie's blog tour contest!


A big thank you to everyone who entered! Keep an eye out for an announcement from Cara and Melanie about the grand-prize winner!

I'm traveling back home today and can't wait to share some pictures with you all when I get back to my regular blog posts on Wednesday. Hope you all have a great day today!


Wednesday

Mackinac Island GIVEAWAY!

Today I'm SO excited to be hosting Cara Putman and Melanie Dobson on their blog tour. These two ladies are not only special to the hearts of many of us writers, but they are also phenomenal authors. So without further adieu, please welcome Cara and Melanie. Giveaway details are below.



Mackinac Island. It’s a magical place that allows you to step back in time from the moment you first step off the ferry. Authors Cara Putman and Melanie Dobson have teamed up for a tour of the island, now and then. Comment at each stop for a chance to win a copy of one of their books set on Mackinac Island. You’ll find the list of stops here. Share the tour on twitter, Facebook, pinterest and other places, and you’ll gain extra entries for the grand prize of a copy of each of their books and a 5 slice box of Murdick’s Fudge, straight from Mackinac Island. Just be sure to email Cara at cara@caraputman.com, so she can record your entries. The grand prize winner will be drawn August 27, 2012.

Cara Putman: A Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island The draw that pulls my heroine Alanna to return to Mackinac Island is helping her parents keep their art studio open. Several shops on the island display art and photos created by local and regional authors. That served as the impetus for me to create the Painted Stone studio. The island is a place that inspires photos that show the blue sky reflected off the lake in contrast to the grass and quaint shops and Victorian homes. It’s hard not to shoot tons of photos under a cloudless sky.

The island has drawn artists and writers from its earliest days. There are several shops that highlight local artists. And the plaque pictured to the right is in memory of Constance Fenimore Woolson, an early American writer who loved the island. Is it any wonder we were drawn to the island as a setting for our stories? 

A Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island Join attorney Alanna Stone as she returns home despite her determination to never set foot on Mackinac Island again. Once again in close proximity to Jonathan Covington, her first love, she vows to protect her privacy and her heart from the man who still makes her pulse race. But when her worst fears are realized and history repeats itself—landing her in the midst of a murder investigation—Jonathan may be her only hope. Will they be able to lay aside the past and let God heal their hearts, or will reconciliation come too late?  Read the first chapter here.

Love Finds You on Mackinac Island: As the Gilded Age comes to a close, Elena Bissette’s family has lost most of its fortune. The Bissettes still own a home on fashionable Mackinac Island, and they spend summers there in hopes of introducing Elena to a wealthy suitor. Quickly tiring of the extravagant balls at the Grand Hotel, she spends her days walking along the island’s rugged coastline. There she meets Chase, a handsome laborer who invites her to watch the ships from an abandoned lighthouse. The two begin to meet there in secret, hoping to solve a mystery buried in the pages of a tattered diary. As Elena falls in love with Chase, her mother relentlessly contrives to introduce her to Chester Darrington, the island's most eligible bachelor. Marriage to the elusive millionaire would solve the Bissettes' financial woes, and Elena is torn between duty and love.  Read the first chapter here.


GIVEAWAY! To be eligible for this giveaway, simply leave a comment below telling us why you think Mackinac Island sounds like a cool place. Cara and Melanie will round up all the comments at the end of their tour and do a random drawing for the winner's choice of any of their books. Sounds like a sweet deal to me! So get chatty, and good luck!

Monday

What to Bring to the ACFW Conference

This was my very first vblog, and I can't tell you how many people stopped me at the conference to tell me they found it helpful. That totally made my day! I hope you find it helpful too!







Do you have anything to add to my list? What are you bringing to the conference this year?








Wednesday

Hiatus...

Hi all! I'll be taking a short one-week break from blogging and will return to new blog posts on August the 27th. In the meantime, I'm planning to pull a couple of my older blogs to help get everyone in gear for the ACFW conference. Can you believe it's just about a month away?

Just for fun today, why don't you tell us your dream vacation spot and why.

I would have to say mine would be a tour of Europe, with a long stop in Italy. Italian food is my favorite, and the history there is so fascinating. Maybe someday I'll swing a European trip in the name of "research." A girl can dream!

What about you? And if you're having a hard time choosing, what's the coolest place you've been?

Sunday

Two Dog Bowls and a Merciful God

I wrote this blog post back in 2010, when my only readers were my mom, and on a good day, my husband. As I was thinking about something to post for today, I found this, and it touched me all over again. I hope as you prepare for the next season of your life, be it back-to-school preparations or getting ready for conferences, you are encouraged by this message to persevere in your writing. Things may not look how we expect, but God always has a plan ahead of us.

I've also included a couple newer pictures of the puppies for your viewing pleasure. :)

***
Schroeder's favorite spot to nap is on top of the couch. He seems to think he's a cat.

Maddie enjoying a Greenie treat. Doesn't she look like she's smiling?


A few months ago, though, we decided Maddie needed a friend. I'm a huge believer in animal rescue, as there is currently a terrible problem with pet overpopulation in America, so naturally I started researching dogs at various local rescues.

I didn't want a shelter dog (from a kill shelter) because shelter dogs have a stigma. They're not always vaccinated. They sometimes come with emotional baggage. And let's face it, kill shelters are terribly sad.

But then I found Schroeder, my handsome purebred Cocker Spaniel, and he changed all that. We took a chance on him, and oh, what a glorious "chance" it turned out to be.

So you can see how my dogs teach me daily about redemption. They came from awful situations, and now they're sleeping on Brookstone blankets. At least, when we're not looking.

That's where this blog fits in.

Maddie has this obsession with their food bowls. She wants their food to be in both bowls. If one bowl has food but the other doesn't, she will paw at the empty bowl until someone comes to fill it up. So the other day, there I am, sitting on the couch and watching TV, and Maddie walks over to her food bowls and proceeds to shamelessly paw at the empty one in an effort to get my attention. I told her, "Maddie, you have plenty of food in the other bowl. Eat out of that one." Reluctantly, she walked over to it and ate from it.

And in that moment, I thought to myself, how many times does God say to me, "Ashley, you have plenty of food in the other bowl. Eat out of that one."? Sometimes we get so distracted with what we think is the perfect means of sustenance that we miss out on the bigger bowl. We're so filled with discontent that it blinds us from seeing provision.

In what ways do you find yourself focusing on the empty bowl, and how has God called you to a bigger one He's already provided?

Wednesday

The Power of Words


"The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit." Proverbs 18:21

Have you been keeping up with the Olympics? Like the rest of the world, I've become such a fan of Gabby Douglas. I think she's just adorable and such a joy to watch. If you don't know, she's sort of a star on team USA and helped us win gold in the team event last week.

Since that time, the buzz about her has abounded, and with it has come the inevitable snark from certain segments of the media. One big thing people have been criticizing is her hair, which frankly, is so dumb. For starters, there's not even anything wrong with her hair. I'd sure hate to see what they said about my hair on my, "Meh, I don't think I need to dry it" days. But even if her hair were awful, um, hello critics, she is a famous Olympian. People love her. Get over yourselves. Unfortunately, it doesn't stop there. Apparently on the bully-a-successful-sixteen-year-old bandwagon, attacking her mother's financial stability is also fair game. Needless to say, Gabby caught wind of it, and the past couple events, she has performed terribly.

She posted this message on her Facebook page this morning: "Whew I finally got some good rest after having to deal with some of this negativity. First my hair - then my mom. I guess noone could wait till we finished competing so that we could keep our concentration and focus. But you know what one more final to go! Ladies let's make it count!!!! LET'S GET EM!! #USA #beamfinals #floorfinals Pray for us  Gabby" 

This message makes me so sad. How often do we underestimate the power our words have on others, especially when we see them as famous and invincible? The same goes for people who we see as beyond our reach... the ones who seem to live such different lifestyles than us. But I think it's so important to remember that no matter where a person is, they have a story, and that story matters to them. It matters more that we can imagine. People don't just wake up one day and decide to be difficult. Circumstances in life shape them. They shape all of us, and our words have the power to do that shaping.

I'm reminded of the Casting Crowns' song "Jesus, Friend of Sinners," and I hope it encourages you today. Remember that your realm of influence has a much greater circumference than you could ever see.


Monday

The Responsibility of Story Telling

This weekend, I saw the Batman movie. So many of my friends were raving about it, and I generally like superhero movies, so I was looking forward to it. Now, disclaimer, before I say anything else, I tend to be fairly sensitive to movie content, and I'm not suggesting here that you shouldn't go see Batman just because it bothered me, nor will I think you're a terrible person if you already saw it and liked it. But moving on... if you don't know, this version of the Batman story is called The Dark Knight because... well... it's darker. No surprise there. I knew that from the other two movies. But this one was different for me. In a nut shell, (and I won't give too much away in case you haven't seen it) one of the villains is taking over Gotham City, and he wears this really creepy mask throughout the movie and is highly unpredictable in his "bad guy"persona... shooting people left and right. I can't tell you how many people I saw get shot in this movie. And I kept thinking about those poor people in Colorado, and a few times I felt like I couldn't breathe.

Now, I'm not suggesting the movie is at fault for what happened in Colorado. Not even a little. I want to be clear about that.

But I am saying that as I was sitting there, I felt really disturbed deep within my spirit. At one point I even felt a little panicky. The lines between fiction and reality kept blurring, and I thought back to how all those people getting shot in real life was so similar to what I was watching on this movie screen, as entertainment. As entertainment?

This happened to me once before while teaching. One of my students told me he couldn't finish a short story I'd assigned because he had flashbacks to when he'd fought as a soldier. I was horrified to have put him in that position, even if the story was rather tame in my opinion.

At what point do we cross the line? At what point have I? In the name of "being realistic," "appealing to the audience," "reaching the unreachable," have we gone too far, even in Christian writing? This issue isn't specifically about Batman; it's an issue of how we tell stories.

And I don't know where the line is. But I know there is one. The only way I know to find it is to pray honestly and listen fiercely to what the Holy Spirit says, and even then, sometimes it's difficult to tell where He's leading.

I believe we have a responsibility as storytellers. As Willy Wonka says, "We are the dreamers of the dreams." We create the thoughts and craft the stories that people go to sleep after reading and dream about and carry with them through the next day. That is a high privilege, and a fearsome thing. It's so easy to get small-goal oriented and forget about the bigger picture. We think about our line-by-line edits and whether we've repeated a word too many times. We think about whether we've grabbed the readers' attention enough from the beginning. But the bigger picture is this. Stories change lives. Your story will change lives. The question is this. What kind of a change will it create? Will it be for the better? Or will it be just another deadening, burdensome depiction of the lost and fallen state of the world? In Christian writing especially, even in the heavy-hitting topics, I think we have a responsibility to show light to a dark world that may never see it otherwise.

What do you think? Have you ever read or watched something that really just unsettled you? How do we go about responsible storytelling? What about when dealing with stories that plunge into deeper, difficult subjects?

Wednesday

Facing the Hard Questions

My heart has been so heavy these past few weeks with the way media, and Facebook in particular, has been so riddled with hate. Have you noticed this? I guess we have the political campaigns to blame for forcing people into camps, so to speak, but everyone seems to be picking sides... even when there weren't "sides" to begin with.

It seems you can't have an opinion without the implication being that you disregard the other perspective. And why is this? I think it's because often, this implication is true. If you stand for one thing, the insinuation is you don't tolerate others. But going back to my posts on postmodernist binaries a few weeks ago, I want to challenge us beyond this line of thinking. I fall into it a lot. I'm sure we all do. But these opposing "sides" are so often arbitrary, aren't they? How were they constructed in the first place, and how can we move beyond them, while at the same time, retaining a firm hold on the Truth?

For starters, I think we have to know what Truth really is, and to do that, we must be in relationship with God, feeding ourselves His Word. How easy it can be to slip into a lifestyle where we simply mimic what we think God would say rather than ever asking Him ourselves. We move toward information when we should be moving toward relationship.

And I guess that's where my position stands on all the debates that have arisen lately. I have thoughts on the issues, and some of them are strong. I won't back down from telling someone my perspective if asked. But when we get to the point that we're more concerned with being right than we are with engaging relationships, I think we are on dangerous ground.

Today I really want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on the ways hate and dissension have been spreading so rampantly through social media websites lately? How can we combat this while still keeping our feet set on a firm foundation? How would Jesus handle this if He were here now? I'd love to hear what you think and look forward to your thoughts!