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Wednesday

The Flight

Have you ever had a dream? Sure. We all have. But I'm learning that the funny thing about dreams is they're most clear when we aren't looking directly at them.

I had a very good experience at the ACFW conference this year. A lot of positive feedback, great time with friends, and the editor interest I was hoping to find for my new book. So there I am, sitting on the airplane headed home, and what do I do? My thoughts jump to what is coming next. I begin to pray and ask God to lead me to the next step of His plan. But then it hits me. He already is.

As I sat there trying not to breathe in too many plane germs, God spoke to me. You know what He said?

You're already on the plane.

Did you catch that? YOU are already on the plane too. That thought overwhelms me with thanksgiving. I may not know where I am going next, but the thing is, I am going somewhere, and so are you. The plane is no longer on the ground. We have left the former things in pursuit of the things to come.

That can be very nerve wrecking when you're a planner and like to know what comes next. But slow down for a second and let it sink in. But we aren't just waiting around. We are moving forward. The plane has left the ground. God's purposes for your life are already in action. Isn't that an incredible thing?



This was my view from my airplane window leaving Dallas.


I like knowing what comes next. I always have. So many times, I pray about God's next step for my life, and when I say I pray, I pray a lot.

But really, when it comes down to it, what I'm doing is taking myself out of a reliance on God. The praying is just a ruse for trying to take control. Instead of trusting Him to put the next step in front of me when it feels like I'm stepping into air, I'm looking for a step on my own. This is not how faith operates.

I know I've referenced this verse a lot lately, but let's look at it again. Hebrews 11:1. The NIV says it this way, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

KJV says, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

The moment we cannot see the future is the precise moment we learn to step out in faith. Faith in what is seen is no faith at all. Hold fast to your calling, for if it is true, then even when you can't see it, that calling is the surest ground you could ever walk upon.

This past week, God has spoken to me that I need to slow down and just trust Him along the journey. So often, I get myself stressed out because I'm spending too much energy trying to figure out "the best thing" to do in every situation. But that's wasted effort. If we just look to Him, our footsteps will align with where they ought to be.

Our Heavenly Father delights in giving us good things. If He has put a calling on your heart, there is a reason. Keep your confidence in the work He is doing in your life. Being confident in His purposes is not pride--it's a very good thing. You may not see where He is taking you, but the important thing is, if you've committed it to Him, you're already flying.

Do you ever find yourself getting ahead of the place God has put you in? Maybe you haven't yet achieved your dream, but have you taken time lately to let the progress you've made sink in? How can we remain sensitive to what God is doing in our lives now instead of being so overwhelmed by future things?

Sunday

ACFW Conference :)

I had SO much fun at the ACFW Conference this past weekend and am having a hard time believing it's already over! The whole thing feels like a dream. A very tiring, very memorable dream full of laughter, nerves, and wonderful friendships and opportunities. I don't know where I'd be without this organization and am so thankful to those who listened to the pressing of God when He laid it on their hearts to start ACFW.

Some highlights of the conference...
  • Using the word "peeps" in a conversation with Becky Monds. Thankfully, she laughed.
  • Stalking the appointment board and driving poor Casey Miller flat crazy.
  • Lots of laughter with my roommates Angie and Amy, staying up until welllllll past our bedtime. The rooms were so quiet, we couldn't sleep!
  • Making connections with past and present heros, like Allen Arnold, Allison Pitman, and Rene Gutteridge.
  • Wonderful workshops, thanks to which (shout out to Rachel Hauck!) I think I'm finally going to shake my terror of brainstorming.
  • Worship with other storytellers, the shapers of the world of fiction. What a privilege.
  • This piece of pecan pie.





Here I am with The Alley Cats. Love these ladies! So excited to be an Alley Cat this year. :)


I was so happy to be able to spend some time with Sarah Forgrave this year. Love this girl!



Lindsay is SO much fun!


This year I had the privilege of meeting the cutest pregnant woman of all time, Kristy Wedge Cambron. Love this girl! 


Roomie pic! Angie, Amy, and I before the banquet. I pretty much have the prettiest roommates in all the land. Such great times with these women!


Mentor of the year herself: Allison Pitman. After spending some time with her this year, I can tell you the award was well-deserved.


My editor and friend from the e-zine I write articles for, SciendaQ. Happy to meet you, Cat! So fun chatting!


Casey is absolutely the cutest! Such the glittering social butterfly! Loved getting to meet you this year, Casey! 


One of my favorite moments of the conference... meeting Rene Gutteridge.  


Beth Vogt is so PRECIOUS. I could talk to her for hours.


Cara, Amy, and I


My friend and published author, Krista Phillips! So fun hanging out with her this year!


These ladies are so much fun. Linsday Harrel, Katie Ganshert, and Gabrielle Meyer. You should see the picture that followed this one!


And last but not least, here's a short clip from the MBT pizza party this year, featuring Lindsay Harrel, Karen Ball, and Susie May Warren. They had me laughing so hard with this song.

I miss you already, writing friends!

Wednesday

Being Available

Today I want to encourage you with something I am constantly having to remind myself of: the importance of being available.

So imagine you're a writer, and your dream editor is sitting in the lobby of a hotel. This could, by the way, be a reality for some of you going to writing conferences this year! You, like every other writer on the face of the planet, are nervous about your pitch, so you are hiding in the corner of a hotel coffee shop and mumbling your pitch over and over again to yourself. It's not perfect. You're forgetting words. You're forgetting details. You may even be forgetting your characters' names. At this point, you have two options. You can sit in that same spot in the coffee shop, rehearsing your pitch until you turn blue, or you can put one foot in front of the other until you end up in the lobby.

I don't know what the "coffee shop" may be in your life, or what your "lobby" is, but I know this. We spend too much time focusing on our insufficiency and not enough time focusing on God's ability.

I think one of the most vital and challenging aspects of the faith is simply allowing ourselves to be open. We like to have our own plans and feel prepared. We like to keep fiddling with details until every little thing turns out every little way we want it to. But life is messy, and sometimes being available means stepping out into the unknown. But isn't that what it means to have faith?

So much of the time, we need to remind ourselves that it's not about being perfect. It's about being willing.

For those of you who will be attending ACFW this year, this message is one I hope you carry with you as encouragement this week. God can use you no matter what you have done wrong. Whether you're sinned or whether you've forgotten your one sheets or whether you've accidentally slept through breakfast. Open your eyes to the opportunities He has placed in your pathway, because the plans He has for us are far greater than we could ever imagine. And if that's truly the case, why do we try so hard to stick to our own plans when He has something so much greater in mind?

Have you ever stepped out in faith and found God met you there in a cool way? We would love to hear your stories!

Sunday

Honesty in Writing

Lately I've been doing a lot of thinking about what separates good writing from great writing. There are probably many things, really. Things like picking just the right details and knowing how to paint a larger picture with them, skill with sentence structure and an almost lyrical ability, and creating a strong enough conflict to sustain the plot arc.

But the longer I write, I'm convinced that one of the absolute most important qualities of "great" writing is honesty. This is also one of the hardest things for writers to do, isn't it?

To create a great book, you have to put heart on the page. You have to put vulnerability in the words. You may even have to hurt or to feel things you don't care to feel. The events in your book don't have to be biographical or true-to-life, but the feelings your book evokes do.

For my newest book, for instance, I'm brainstorming a story that involves a girl who has lost her house. Have I ever lost my house? No. But I can imagine it. I've evacuated for hurricanes before. I've watched the news, wondering if my house was still going to be standing when I got back to my neighborhood. I also have a tendency to resist change in my life. So it's very easy for me to imagine how terrifying it would be lose something of that kind of significance.

I've realized, as a reader and as a writer, that the stories that really stick with me are the ones where the characters' emotions and thoughts seem real. Where even if the plot is completely different from my own life, I can identify on a deeper level with what's going on. The first book of Robin Jones Gunn's Katie Weldon series even had me in all-out tears the first time I read it. It's no secret any of you blog readers that I love Robin's books, and in particular, the Christy Miller Series. Reading Katie's story felt like having a reunion with old friends. That is the kind of connection I want to build with my future readers. I want them to forget for a few moments that these characters aren't real because the characters feel more real to them than their own friends.

Books that really make an impact are the ones with characters we can imagine ourselves as being. They don't only seem real. They seem like us.

It's only through honest writing, however intimidating that vulnerability may be, that we can connect with readers and make a lasting impact on their lives.

Can you think of any stories that have touched you by their honest prose? How can we write this way and create characters who touch the hearts of readers?

Wednesday

Unpacking Your Heart


Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. -- Proverbs 4:23

Do you ever find your heart just feels heavy?

This happened to me recently with the whole Chick-Fil-A fiasco and the tumultuous debates that followed. I resisted throwing my opinion into the mix because I really felt like one more perspective was not going to help anything. I even stopped looking at Facebook for a little while because every time I did, I just felt weary.

Same thing with Shades of Grey and even the political debates. I'm not saying we shouldn't take a stand on these issues or even debate and converse about them, but I as I've said before, I do think we have a problem when we're more concerned with proving our rightness than we are about loving the hurting. You didn't see Jesus walking around correcting everyone all the time. But alas, I diverge from my point.

My purse is very, very heavy with random stuff. Hand sanitizer, my wallet, at least three lip products, gum, various gift cards, coupons, pens, mints, Advil, random notes, receipts, and on and on. At the end of the day, I get home, and sometimes my shoulder aches from the weight of it all. It's even aching now. Can you relate?

I think if we aren't careful, this same thing happens to our hearts. No matter how cute we decorate them on the outside, they get overburdened when throughout the day, we pick up troubles and become overwhelmed. Pretty soon, the weight is more than we can carry alone. And we can't get the rest of the way home with all that stuff.

Today I saw a dragonfly while I was stopped at a red light, and I stiffened and held my breath as it made its trek across the road. Cars were whizzing past, totally unaware, and even if they had seen it, they wouldn't have slowed down, because who stops for something so simple as a dragonfly? I found myself even praying it would get to safety. Such a small moment, but such a beautiful creation. And do you know what happened? The dragonfly flew up. The cars kept whizzing by, but didn't affect the dragonfly's flight, because she went above the threat.

Source: etsy.com via Ashley on Pinterest


When I think of the verse about guarding our hearts, I've always considered that within the context of protecting ourselves from danger by making wise decisions. But what if there's more to it than that? What if there's a way to actually rise above the danger to begin with?

I'm convinced we are trying to do too much emotionally. We have taken on too much, and we've to stop picking up all these extra "things" and putting them inside our hearts. In a way, doing this really prevents us from ever hearing the voice of God. When we rely solely on our own discernment in any particular situation, we neglect the yearning in our hearts for God, as well as the direction of His Spirit in our lives. We never learn to trust Him when we're so busy trusting ourselves. But God never called us to that. He's said He's given us all we need to fulfill our calling. He never promised anything about the calling we place on ourselves.

Look at Jesus. I am sure His compassionate heart was constantly being tugged by all the broken people and situations He witnessed. But instead of "fixing" everyone, what did He do? He spent his time here connecting with the Father, learning the Father's will for Jesus' ministry and life. I am convinced Jesus did this not only because He knew He ought to, but also to leave a pattern for us.

If you are feeling overwhelmed today or weighed down, I encourage you to ask yourself if you have been guarding your heart? Proverbs says the heart is the "wellspring of life." Lately I've been realizing that when we take too much on ourselves, we feel heavy from the weight of it all, and we allow too much into our hearts. All that extra stuff takes the place of time, energy, and emotions that we should be investing in our specific callings. Not to mention, it distracts us from hearing the voice of God. So today, let's all unpack our hearts to make room for our calling. Let's listen for the voice of God. Imagine the peace that will follow.

What kinds of things do you find fighting for the real estate in your heart? How do you guard your heart and your energy and motivation in life?

I sang this song at our church on Sunday, and it just came on Pandora. What a great reminder of God's love for us and His investment not only in our lives, not only in the product of our work, but in our hearts.




Monday

Writing's Like Dating: The Courtship

I found this old post and thought it was appropriate with the upcoming ACFW conference. As you're prepping for those nerve wrecking appointments, keep in mind that it's not so much about that individual sale as it is about building relationships. I hope this helps calm some of your nerves and encourages you not to settle for anything less than God's best for your writing career.
 
If there's one thing everyone likes about the writing process, it's the courtship phase. You know the stage. It's all chocolate candy and flowers until someone throws around the word "rejection." :)

In all seriousness, though, something that stirred me at the ACFW conference was the complete lack of reverence on a few authors' parts when communicating with very respectable folks. Now, this wasn't a prevalent issue throughout, don't misunderstand, but one or two in a crowd is more than enough. Think about this with a little perspective. Editors and agents are the equivalent to managers, vice presidents, and presidents in businesses (and some of them literally function in both realms). Would you walk up to the president of your company and say, "Hi, I know you don't really know me, but you should go out of your way to listen to my idea, and if you don't like it, that's your loss"?

So what's the appropriate way to woo an editor or agent, and what if--lucky duck--you find yourself to be the object of the wooing?

Well, you've got to think of it a lot like a relationship.

At the 2011 conference, Allen Arnold, VP of Thomas Nelson, said entering into a contract with an author is a lot like entering into a marriage. Because if they have doubts about you in the beginning, those doubts are not going to get better over time. :) It's so true, isn't it?

So what can we learn from this?

Don't be a bridezilla.
No, but really, you need to be pleasant to be around. Don't be pushy, but on the other hand, don't be afraid to talk about your work.

Take time to find the right fit.
Just as you wouldn't marry the first guy you dated (mercy, can you imagine?), you probably won't sign with the first editor or agent who expresses interest. That's okay. What's important is that you're following God's plan in all of this. And I assure you, He knows what He's doing.

In the meantime, do your research. "Date" your options. See who's a good fit. And stay true to yourself. Find strength in your writing voice so that when you do finally make that perfect match, you'll have something of substance to offer.


Have you found yourself courting an agent or editor, or, even better, being courted? What have you learned? Anyone have any funny dating stories to share?

Wednesday

Tortilla Recipe

So, I've been making these homemade tortillas lately, and they are seriously delicious. I found the recipe on Pinterest and thought I'd share. You can find They do take a little while to make because you have to give the dough time to rise, but they're super easy. And you may want to make extras, because you'll definitely be eating more of them than you'd planned! Enjoy!

Here's the link.


Monday

What to Bring to the ACFW Conference: Healthy Expectations

The ACFW Conference is just weeks away, and everyone is buzzing about it. I'm planning to do a series of blogs each Monday until then to help you feel more prepared for the conference experience if you're planning to attend. This will be my third year at the conference, and every year, I learn so much both about writing and the ways to make the most out of your conference experience.

For the first blog in this series, I want to talk about something I think is so important for a positive conference experience, and that is having healthy expectations. Any time we invest a lot of our resources into something, whether it be our heart, our finances, or our time (or a combination of these things), we often feel we need to get some kind of return from that investment. It's only natural to feel this way. But today I want to challenge you to think through what kind of return you are expecting from your conference experience.

Many new conference attendees feel they won't have a successful conference unless they sign a book deal with their dream publishing house, or sign a contract with an agent. Let's face it: meeting face-to-face with editors and agents is one of the most exciting opportunities available for conference attendees, and one of the strongest motivators for spending the kind of money it takes to get to a conference like ACFW. It's perfectly fine to make these things a goal and to hope for them. But if that's your measure of success, you have a problem. Because you may be operating outside of God's timetable and instead, inside of your own.

Conferences are about establishing relationships, not signing contracts. If you get a contract out of it, great. But don't make that your goal going in, because you're bound to be disappointed. Even if you do end up with an agent or a publisher because of a meeting you had at a conference, that process is likely to take months. An editor interested in your project may not even look at your proposal for a year. I hate to be a buzz kill, but that's the truth. Now, there are always exceptions, so don't let that get you down. I signed with Karen one month after last year's conference. So it does happen. But just realize that in the writing world, things often take time. Even if an editor or agent adores you, they probably won't offer you a contract on the spot. But a girl can dream, right? :)

So how can we go into the conference with healthy expectations for our experience?

  • Open hearts. God has a way of changing our plans, replacing them with dreams that are way bigger than our own. If your heart is closed to His whispers, you may miss out. If you find the lunch table you wanted to eat at is already full, cast off your disappointment, hold your head high, and look for other opportunities. You never know... a chance to eat with your dream agent or editor (maybe someone you'd never even planned to talk with) may be just around the corner. Each conference, I am always amazed and humbled how God has His own plan for my being there and leads me to people I never would've expected I would be able to network with.
  • Flexibility. The thing about being open to God's plan is that it often means being flexible, something I struggle with. During my first conference, I reached the point of sheer exhaustion and knew I needed only one thing: sleep. I set my alarm for a couple hours later than I'd planned, canceled my agent appointment in hopes I could pick up a different one last minute (totally outside of this plan-everything girl's usual paradigm) and waltzed into Starbucks for a late breakfast. In the next fifteen minutes, I met an editor who remembered me the next year as she was waiting in line for coffee, and I picked up a last-minute appointment with a different editor that ended up in a full manuscript request. Sometimes in order to open our hands to reach out for what God is giving us, we first must let go of what we have been clinging to so desperately. That may mean being flexible in your plans. If things don't go as you'd planned, instead of getting in a funk, take a few deep breaths and open your eyes to the bigger opportunities that may be ahead of you. You never know. The very thing that seems like a disappointment to you may be paving the way toward a larger landscape of possibility.
  • Holding on to dreams. Remember that you are here for a reason. Between the exhaustion, the pressure, and all the famous authors you'll be rubbing shoulders with (even if they are a humble bunch), you are bound to feel discouraged at least one point during your time at the conference. I know I always do. My first conference in particular, I remember hitting a wall at one point, going back to my room, and praying, "What in the world am I doing here? Do I even have what it takes to be a writer? These people around me all know what they are doing." I ended up at Johnny Rockets with a chocolate milkshake that worked a miracle. By the way, I realized I hadn't been outside in three days. Even at the conference, and I realize you want to "get the most bang for your buck" so to speak by taking advantage of opportunities, it is still very important that you take time for yourself to relax. You need to hold on to your dreams and remind yourself why you are there in the first place. Listen to the affirming whispers of God in your heart. Surround yourself with people who believe in your calling, and believe in theirs as well. God has brought you into this season of your life for a reason. Enjoy it, and hold on to that calling with all your might, no matter if your doubts say otherwise.

I think it's so important--yet so difficult!--to remember that at the end of the day, God has a plan for it all. He really does see us, just where we are. What it comes down to is whether or not we really trust and believe that. 

Lord, give us the faith to see what You see, the plans and dreams You have for our lives.

What tips do you have for having healthy expectations for the conference? How can healthy expectations help us to have a better conference experience?