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Sunday

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). www.juliecarobini.com

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! 


Friday

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.

Monday

Brokenness



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?

Tuesday

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. :)

Wednesday

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! :) 

The Persistence of Pain

Happy August, everyone!

I think I mentioned last week that I have been battling with allergies this summer. Well, this weekend, the ear pain started. At first I thought, "Meh, I'll give it a few days and see if it goes away." Then it started getting worse. And worse. Until even the thought of eating Godiva chocolate in Hawaii didn't make it better. So I knew it was time to see a doctor.

The doctor said I have an infection in my ear canal, which is a pretty easy fix, so he prescribed me ear drops. One would think this process would be simple enough, right? Nope.

I get a call from my usual pharmacy stating they don't carry those ear drops but could order them by tomorrow. I'm thinking, "Maybe you don't understand that I currently feel like an army of miniature elves are stabbing my ear canal with their miniature daggers." But instead I just say, "No problem. Thanks." I then call my doctor's office and have the prescription sent to a different pharmacy. I call to check on it a few hours later, and they tell me I'm not in the system and they can't find my prescription.

Lovely.

Long story short, turns out that pharmacy didn't have the medicine either, so I ended up driving to yet another one. I'm standing in the middle of the cosmetics aisle at Walgreens, and the elf-stabbing feeling is getting increasingly worse, and I am just desperate to feel better.

And I started thinking about the importance of pain.

In life, we all try to avoid pain. I think it's generally on the top of everyone's priority list right next to, "don't die." It's human to avoid pain. And so sometimes we blame God when we're hurting. We think, "God, why are you letting this happen to me? Can't you please just make it stop? If you really care, why are You letting me suffer?"

It's a hard issue to grapple with. I don't have the answers to why some people are healed and some people aren't. I know it's not because the un-healed people are loved any less by God than the healed people... despite how convenient it us for us to think that if our faith is strong enough, nothing bad will ever happen.

But I do know this. Pain is important. Pain serves a purpose. Pain points us toward redemption.

When I was standing there in Walgreens so miserable, I would've given my shoe collection for some medication. I was desperate. We're talking, worse pain than my wisdom teeth removal surgery. And in that moment, I realized how serious my infection was.

Had I not experienced that pain, I probably wouldn't have gone to the doctor. I definitely wouldn't have made it a priority. And meanwhile, the infection in my ear would have continued spreading... to the point it could have affected my hearing.

The absence of pain, then, affects our ability to hear clearly.

My pastor is diabetic. Several years ago, he walked for a month upon a broken foot without realizing anything was wrong. As a result of that experience, he had to be in a wheelchair for almost a year as the tiny bones of his foot healed, and he also faced the possibility of an amputation (which, thankfully, did not happen).

The fall is real. Sin is real, and so is its consequence.

If God took away all the pain in the world, would we take that truth as seriously?

For those of you who have children, imagine what their lives would be like if they felt no pain. They would be paralyzed, and they would injure themselves in such catastrophic ways if they never learned that oven burns hurt and fire ant beds can't be played in.

God is looking out for us by allowing us to feel pain. He doesn't want us to become numb to the wages of sin. He doesn't want us to become paralyzed in our lives, to lose our desperation for redemption. Because if we stop believing the infection is real, we'll never go to the physician--meanwhile, we'll be wasting away, and our purpose will go unfulfilled.

I hope this encourages you with whatever you are facing today. So often, people are quick to dismiss the real problems of the world, and I think that does a disservice to the redemptive power and the great love of God. God's got you, wherever you are, and He's not letting go.

What Keeps You Going?

Today was one of those days. Nothing really went wrong. I had a pleasant cup of tea and snuggled my dogs before planning write. And then... nothing. Just not really in the writing mood.

I kept finding things to do to distract myself. Ever been there? Laundry, dusting the piano, watering flowers. Finally, after a few hours, I sat down in the office chair to try writing again.

It was hard. Like studying for an exam in college after you've just taken cold medicine. Nothing was wrong. I just wasn't feeling it. I've found that this happens sometimes.

We all have moments of elation in our callings. We go to conferences and get so excited as we catch a vision of where our writing might take us. We meet wonderful friends online and swap work, so happy to get positive feedback on our precious WIP from mentors and critique partners. We have those moments--those often quiet moments--where God whispers, and we know... we just know... the things ahead are nothing like the things behind. We know the calling is worth the work it takes to get there.

But then there are other moments--the everydays--when it's so much easier to sit back and not write. To turn on the TV, or grab a book, or get lost in Facebook statuses. Before we know it, another day has passed, and maybe we didn't pull up Microsoft Word at all. Maybe we didn't feed our calling. And maybe a little part of it dimmed.

If we're not careful, we can slip into this it's-still-my-dream-but-I'm-just-not-feeling-it-now routine, that, over time, undermines our calling. Whatever you feed, grows. All it takes is one glance at my weed-filled garden to prove that! So feed your dreams. Feed your calling.

But how do we feed our God-dreams? Through daily discipline. Through the mornings we don't want to get up early and the afternoons we feel tired and the nights we want to watch TV. I am so bad at this sometimes. I let myself get caught up in a bunch of distractions.

I would encourage you to write down your dreams and a timeline for when/how you want to achieve them. Pray about these goals, and ask God if He has more.

We have to be intentional if we want to dream big dreams. They aren't going to come true on their own.  How do you build a stairwell to the clouds? One step at a time. :)

What do you do to help stay focused when your daily routine seems busy or boring? How do you make yourself say no to distractions?

Monday

Happy Monday!


Hi all! I've been battling with allergies for a couple weeks now (bleh!) and taking Benadryl every day to keep them under control. So needless to say, no DIY project this week! Instead, I've been totally wrapped up in reading Redeeming Love. Crazy, I know, but this is actually the first time I've read it. I thought to myself, could it really live up to all that hype? Uh, yes it can. No wonder this book has sold over one million copies!


How has everyone's week been? Are you all on track with your writing goals now that fall is just around the corner? (At least, I like to think that whenever it's so hot outside-ha!) I need to do some serous catch up work this week because my allergies have given me that fuzzy-headed feeing, and I've fallen behind. But I'm determined to get this book done and done well before conference season!

Read any great books lately?


Wednesday

Pray Well







I don't know about you, but sometimes when I pray, I come away feeling more burdened than I began.

Let me give an example, and this may sound pithy, but I think it works to clarify. You know those photos people post on Facebook of lost dogs? Yeah, the terribly sad ones. I always try to pray, even if it's just for a few moments, the dogs or cats will find their way back home. But often, as I think through all these different scenarios of things that might have happened to these poor people's beloved pet, I end up stressing myself out and coming away from the prayer feeling burdened.

This was never God's design.



If we're not careful, this can become a vicious cycle that actually turns us away from, rather that toward, God.

Today I was listening to KLove with the following verse was read:


Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. (John 14:1 NLT)


Don't let our hearts be troubled? Trust in God and in Christ? Isn't that what I'm doing when I send up these frantic prayers? Well, maybe not . . .

Today I want to challenge you--and myself--that if prayer leaves you feeling vulnerable, fragmented, and worrisome, then something is wrong. Prayer is designed to put us in connection with God, and His presence will always make us whole. We may not always like His answer, but it's best for us, and something deep within our soul recognizes that. When we hear from God, we find peace. We feel settled.



Prayer should be a conversation with God, not a one-sided street where we beg God to do what we want and hope He hears us. We need to do less "convincing" and more listening. 

Time and again, I am amazed when God reminds me He's been two steps ahead of me all along. I don't have to figure it all out and suggest a game plan to Him. I don't have to talk Him into doing things my way. I don't have to beg Him to be good or to care about my life. He already is good, and He already does care. More deeply than I know.

What I do need to do is trust.

See, without trust, the trouble sets in. With trust, on the other hand, we can find freedom. Have you ever dated someone you didn't trust and found yourself constantly trying to govern their behavior? Don't treat God that way. He's in the business of healing us, not breaking us down.



So let me point out several areas where we can trust God, and thus avoid the troubling of our hearts...


  • Trust who God is. Do you really believe God is good? That He loves His children? That He loves you and died for relationship? That He knows your day to day moments and is highly invested in redeeming your life, and your heart? This seems like such a simple concept, but it's difficult to put into practice. When challenges and disappointments come, we tend to doubt God's nature. We wonder if He is still good. We wonder if He has forgotten us. God is I AM-- who was and is and is to come. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Taste and see that He is good. And can I also just say something else? He gets us. He loves us. It's no surprise to Him that we doubt His love. So ask Him to show Himself to you, to make His love real in your life in a whole new way. Ask Him to remind you of His goodness, and He will.
  • Trust who you are. You are a child of God. A friend of God. Sometimes in the church, we harp on our fallen nature a lot. We hear about how fallen, how bruised, how broken we are, and how far we are from God's original plan. Yes, it's important to recognized our flawed state because it's the first step to receiving grace. However, I think we make a major mistake when we oversimplify our characterization of humanity as broken. We are still infinitely valuable to God--despite the fall and even in it. We were created to do good things--created in the image of God. Did you catch that? You were created in the image of God. Not just Adam or Eve or Noah or David or the apostle Paul. You. Your friends, your spouse, your children. God cares about you just as much as He cared about them. You don't have to talk God into caring, or listening. He already cares much more than you realize. Instead of trying to talk Him into getting in your boat, step inside His. It's a much more fulfilling ride, I guarantee, because God is the one who designed your heart in the first place, and you were created to crave intimacy with Him. You are uniquely valuable to Him as an individual, so don't dismiss the creation He so desperately loves... yourself.
  • Trust God's promises. Has God promised you something but hasn't delivered yet? Are you feeling like Abraham... old and desperate for affirmation of God's promise? Sometimes we have to wait before we hear from God, but He always answers us, and He always listens. Hold fast to the promises God has spoken into your life and into your heart. He has not forgotten them, and He has not forgotten you.
When we begin to reshape our perspective of God, ourselves, and His promises, we begin to pray differently... we start seeing prayer as a way to ask God what He wants rather than as a means to our own end. God is not your personal genie. He's got too much more in mind for our lives to give up His heaven-sized plans for our earth-sized ones.

What about you? Do you ever find yourself growing weary in prayer? In what ways have you learned to trust God, and how does that help your heart?



Monday

Anthropologie DIY Ballerina Dress


Is this dress ah-mazing or what? I'm going to add it to my DIY project list but wanted to show you all the nice version before I take a shot at my own, because it probably won't look anything like this when I'm done!

This woman has an amazing blog full of fabulous DIY projects. Check out her ballerina dress here: http://kojo-designs.com/2012/02/kojotutorial-the-ballerina-dress-an-anthropologie-dulcie-dress-knock-off-2/

And here's how hers turned out. Now let's hope mine looks half as good!





















How have you all been this week? Is anyone working on any cool projects?

Wednesday

Give Me a Break! (No, Really.)


I'm sorry for posting this blog so late in the day, friends! I couldn't think of something to write about for the life of me, and that so rarely happens. Then I took a nap, and--whala!--started feeling alive again.

It's amazing how much our bodies like sleep. And sweet tea. And chocolate.


So today I want to chat about something I think often gets neglected amid the deadlines and the mad-dash rushes to get books to our agents to prospective publishers. And that is rest.

Sometimes we all just get tired. Take today for example. I really had no one reason to be wiped out (aside from the sinus problems I've been having--bleh!), but by this afternoon after a stressful vet appointment and a delightful lunch with my mom, I could not seem to sit down and write.

Often, we think if we could just push through the tiredness, we could something productive. But more likely what we end up doing is spending two hours looking at the Sephora website because we never could muster any energy. :)

Are you running on fumes? Here are a few signs it may be time to just take a nap:

  • You start feeling jittery and little problems feel like big ones.
  • You have trouble bringing to mind what should be simple information, like why you walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.
  • You can't seem to find motivation to do what needs to be done.
  • The only thing that sounds exciting is pushing the snooze button.
  • You've caught yourself being overly sensitive or having a grouchy attitude to those around you.
  • You walk around feeling constantly overwhelmed.
I think most of us, at one point or another during the year, just get burned out. Maybe you're a teacher like me, and you consider a choice between grading final papers versus eating brussels sprouts a toss up. Maybe you have toddlers and you feel this exhausted every day of your life. Here are some things that can help:
  • Take naps. Even just a 15 minute power nap might seem like a luxury, but can really boost your productivity. Just be sure you actually get up! Ha!
  • Avoid caffeine. Ah, it's so tempting, isn't it? Caffeine does give you that immediate pep. But I know in my experience, caffeine makes me really jittery, which in turn makes me fretful. And then I once again have to visit the Sephora website to relax. ;) It's a vicious cycle!
  • Listen to Pandora. I really like the Bethel worship station and the Billie Holiday one. Music helps bring another dynamic to your day, especially if you're working on something creative.
  • Try getting more antioxidants, like delicious fruit smoothies, to help keep your immunity up. We like to mix Chobani yogurt, strawberries, blueberries, and orange juice.
  • Reward yourself by doing something fun. Watch a quick episode of Say Yes to the Dress or even Gilmore Girls to give your brain a break. You're much more productive if you work in spurts rather than exhausting yourself. Studies have shown that in people preparing for finals.
  • Stay consistent with your devotions. I don't know about you, but when I start getting overwhelmed, my devotions are usually the first thing to go. Why is that, when spending time with God is one of the best ways to keep our perspective?
  • Surround yourself with positive people, quotes, movies, books, etc. that help you keep a healthy framework.
Doing these things will help you feel like yourself again, and in the end, make you all the more productive. There's only one you. So don't deprive the world of what you have to offer. :)

Monday

DIY Project Week 20 Ribbon Necklace


This week's DIY project is officially the easiest DIY in the history of all DIY projects. Not to mention, it's SO cute. Doesn't it just scream, "I'm from Anthropologie but not really!"? :)

I saw this pendant at JoAnne's Fabric last week and fell in love. I didn't feel like putting it on a traditional chain, though, so instead I opened for a skinny ribbon in a cream color. It's about 1/4".

Then, I cut the ribbon so the necklace would fall at a long length (though you could adjust it to any size), threaded it through the hole in the pendant, and tied a dainty little bow. The bow is also something you could customize according to the look you want... I think a thicker ribbon with a long bow would be lovely, but I wanted to call attention to the pendant, so I kept the ribbon subdued.

And whala!

What I especially love about this necklace is that it's so comfortable. Nickel necklaces will sometimes irritate my skin, especially in the heat, but this one is very cool and classy no matter the temperature.

Hope you are inspired to create your own!


Wednesday

The Next Right Thing


dream
 Many of you are writers. Coming up on conference season, you may find yourself with a whole lot of dreams and hopes and a whole lot of disappointment and frustration as you try to achieve them.

Maybe you absolutely love writing a story, but life has put weights on you one at a time that are becoming difficult to carry. Would a publisher ever be interested in such a risky subplot? Would ABA want something like this? Would CBA? Are my readers going to be mad because I said the word "crap"? Can I get published if every single year I fail to final in the Genesis contest no matter how badly I want to win that whole thing? What if I don't have a litany of superstar authors backing me up, willing to endorse me? What if I clam up during my appointments with editors, and I can't even remember my name let alone my story?

And then life, sometimes, very simply just exhausts our dreams. We go into survival mode for one reason or another-- busyness, emotional exhaustion, physical exhaustion-- we shove our dreams into a corner, and little by little, we let them starve.

Don't let your dreams starve. 

Sometimes, in the middle of the summer, you may find yourself sitting on the coach with a laptop in your lap and an empty tea mug beside you. The page count on your WIP is not what you'd planned. Butterflies are fluttering around just outside your window, begging you to ditch your story and go play outside. Maybe you have kids and are running around completely frazzled, trying to keep up with their summer activities.




Maybe you find yourself asking, "What's next?"

It's a natural question. When we invest our hearts in something like writing, it's only natural that we want to keep them safe. We want the best for our story. We want to see our calling come to pass through publication.

Sometimes it seems God likes to ignore that question. But more likely, He's trying to get us to change our focus. To ask different questions. Better ones. To grow. To learn. To trust.
If you find yourself stuck in the hum-drum routine of daily writing and wondering if your heart is still in it, and if God still cares at all, let me encourage you with something my pastor always says:

If you can't hear God telling you His plan, take the next right step.

See, the next right step is a whole lot easier than having to figure out a master plan of getting published, getting an endorsement from Terri Blackstock, and hitting the NY Times Bestseller list. The next right step is a lot more visible, and a lot more manageable. And that's where Satan tricks us. So often we fall into the trap of believing we have to have it all figured out.

We don't. We just need the next step. So maybe that next step is beginning to design your one sheet, practicing your pitch, or simply writing a few words down on page 57 of your WIP.

But don't devalue the next right step just because it isn't the final one.

Have you ever found yourself frazzled because you don't know what's up the road? How do you refocus and find productivity in the day-to-day, often mundane moments?

Monday

DIY Shutter Crafts



So, this week's DIY is more of a planning post... I'm getting some old, sentimental shutters from my parents in the next few weeks, and I want to make something out of them, but I'm just not sure what! I've been scouring Pinterest for ideas, and here's what I've come up with so far:





































































Source: bobvila.com via Ashley on Pinterest



What do you guys think? The bookshelf is pretty cool, isn't it? I like that a lot, but the shelves seem a little more practical. I'll let you know how it turns out!





Wednesday

Why Destruction Bothers Us, and Why It Ought To


A couple months ago, I drove past a commercial lot that was being cleared. Oak trees with huge, spreading limbs were being uprooted and knocked down by claws and trucks. I wasn't particularly attached to those trees. In fact, I'd never really noticed them. But as I watched this process of clearing out trees that had taken decades--maybe a century--to grow so mature, I wanted to cry. There was something fundamentally sad about it all.

I think as Christians, we have a tendency to resist acknowledging destruction and the sorrow it brings. Somehow, we feel as if confessing the reality of death-- of decay, of undoing-- shows a lack of faith. That if we were really good believers, we wouldn't feel so utterly weak sometimes from the weight of this world and its harsh realities.

But recently, I've been thinking about this tendency. I don't think it's Biblical. In fact, I think it's just the opposite. I want to challenge you to consider an alternative: that perhaps the very nature of destruction, and our deep desire for something more, actually points TO God rather than away from Him.

Life in the garden was different from life today. In God's initial plan, animals didn't eat each other, there was no breech of trust, and people didn't die. I have to believe this shows God's heart for our existence. He created us for something more, and deep in our blood, we desire that something.

What if despairing the state of the world doesn't show a resistance to God? What if it actually shows a desire for Him?




Source: Uploaded by user via Chelsea on Pinterest


Several months ago, I listened to a John Eldridge sermon where he challenged the audience to consider that the deepest dreams and desires of our hearts serve as reminders to us of our deeper calling. Like glimpses into Heaven, these moments of beauty remind us that there is more to this life than darkness and despair. There is something more to live for, and our calling is real. To tune in to these moments of honesty is to tune in to our calling.

So I want to encourage you. If you are facing a difficult time right now, do not be afraid to come clean with God about how frustrated you feel. God is not working against you. I would even go so far as to say He is every bit as upset about the state of His beautiful world as you are. Ask him to show you the beauty even in the destruction, and the power of His redemption.

I'm going to be talking more about these beautiful moments and how we can capture them with our writing over at The Writer's Alley tomorrow, so be sure to stop by. Until then, thanks for reading. :)

Monday

DIY Project Week 19: The Perfect French Mani


Have you ever tried those French mani stickers? How'd that work for you? I can't be the only one who ended up with white nail polish all over her nails and fingertips. What about just painting white tips on? Well, while I'm decent at painting my left hand, my right hand is another story.

And yet French manicures are so pretty! There's something classy about the good ol' standby French manicure. She's been to weddings, job interviews, and first dates, and women keep turning to this look because it says, "I'm polished. Look at me."

Problem is, as anyone who has ever tried to do their own French mani knows, white smudges all over your fingers and uneven lines do not. They say, "My hand shakes a lot." :)



I am excited to say, though, after years of smudgy manicures, I think I finally found a solution!

Have you ever noticed that nail techs use a little paintbrush across the edge of the white tip to straighten it out? This got me thinking. I have brushes. I have nail polish remover. Why can't I use that same trick at time?

As it turns out, this technique was even easier than I had expected.

Just take a flat tipped brush, dip it in nail polish remover, and sweep it underneath the white tips after you have painted them. The trick here is to get enough nail polish remover on the brush that a few sweeps will actually take off the polish.

I used this brush. It's a cheap-but-good Elf eyeshadow brush (that I'm not planning to use on my eyes again, btw. Ha!).



I also used Julep's French Mani Trio set, Orly's No Chip top coat, and Julep's acetone-free nail polish remover.

I like Julep (as well as Zoya and Orly) because they are 4 free, meaning they don't have usual litany of toxic chemicals many other nail polish companies use. But I've also found that these brands are good about not chipping.

(Julep actually offers these neat monthly boxes, and if you haven't signed up before, your first box is free. A pretty sweet deal for such expensive polish. That's how I first discovered them. Here's the link if you're interested: http://www.julep.com/rewardsref/index/refer/id/222492/ )

And whala! They should be dry within a few minutes if you use these polishes, and you're good to go! No one will ever know you did them yourself.




Wednesday

Lessons from Cinderella


I loved this and just had to share! Hope your day is going better than mine... I've managed to come down with a terrible sore throat. Boo! Happy Wednesday, friends.


Monday

DIY Mineral Eyeshadows


About a year and a half ago, I first posted this blog about make-your-own mineral eyeshadows, and it's been one of my more popular posts ever since! I realized many of you who have been following my Monday DIY projects probably missed this post when it was originally written, so I thought I'd do a throw-back this week. These were SO fun to make, and I think I might actually make some more colors within the next few days. Hope you enjoy! 



Recently, there's been a buzz about the safety of traditional cosmetics and soaps, particularly calling into question their use of preservatives and harsh chemicals, such as colorants that may be associated with cancer. Concerned about the safety of my makeup bag, I decided to look into making my own makeup. What I didn't realize is how easy and fun it is!

Check out my new collection of mineral eyeshadows:



It only took about an hour or two to make all of these, and I got all the supplies for $20. Not to mention, I've barely even put a dent in the supplies I purchased. I expect to be able to make four or five times as many eyeshadows as what you see pictured (keep in mind that these are mini-eyeshadows in 5g size jars).

All you need is some colored mica, iron oxides, and some kind of agent that makes the mica smooth and easily applied (I chose Sericite). Here are my supplies. The jar on the left is a full size colored mica (waylarger than I expected the jar to be), a jar of Sericite, and a jar of brown iron oxide. You don't have to use the iron oxide, but it will help your eyeshadow be more pigmented. You'll also need a small container to keep (and mix) your eyeshadow inside, as well as little scoopers for each color you use.

I also ordered three sample sized micas that arrived in baggies. They were only $1 each. One is dark purple, one is brown, and the other is a fairy dust silver.



Using these supplies, I mixed a variety of micas, iron oxides, and Sericite until I found color combinations I liked. Keep in mind that you'll have to experiment because some combinations will give you a very sheer shadow, whereas others will be significantly more pigmented.

I used a ratio of 2 scoops of Sericite for each 4-6 scoops of mica/iron oxides. The more Sericite you put in, the lighter and less sparkly your color will be. You can also add a couple drops of Jojoba oil if you like. I wanted to do this but didn't have any on hand.

Here's what the final product(s) looked like:


I purchased my supplies from Coastal Scents and was very happy with their promptness in shipping the package. They also included a free mineral eyeshadow sample. I've read great reviews about Bramble Berryas well.

Any questions? It really is as easy as it sounds! You'll be amazed how sparkly these shadows turn out!

Wednesday

Learning to Dance


Last weekend, my husband and I saw some of my favorite Dancing with the Stars dancers who came to town to benefit a local charity. I've been dancing around ever since! Like, literally. Spinning around my kitchen.






Earlier this morning, as I was practicing spotting my turns (ha! no joke), I remembered something I learned when I took a lesson with Tristan MacManus a few months ago. He said it's important to not anticipate what your next step is going to be. If you have all your weight on the wrong foot out of anticipation and your partner tries to lead something you aren't expecting, you can fall off balance and miss the next step.

Wouldn't you know I would sit down a few minutes later and read almost the exact same concept in Jesus Calling? In the June 18th entry, she says...

"Concentrate on keeping in step with Me instead of trying to anticipate My plans for you... Your main focus should be on staying close to Me."

Wow.

So much relies on each next step.

How often do I do this exact thing in my life? I think I've figured out the dance, so to speak, so I anticipate what it seems like God will do next, and I put all my weight on that foot. Often times, it works out. But over time I stop depending on my partner and start depending on myself. I think I don't really need a lead because the dance is so predictable. And when God tries to turn me, I find my balance is off.


I used to do this same thing when I took piano lessons. At some point, I stopped counting the beats when I was practicing because I have a certain amount of natural rhythm. Then one day, I was working on a more difficult song, and I got busted. My teacher realized I hadn't been practicing each beat.

Do you ever catch yourself doing the same thing? Maybe your intentions are good, and you're doing a lot of productive, "good" things with your life, but you are relying on your own perception of what you should do each day, rather than seeking God's? The only way we can avoid toppling over in these situations (figuratively and perhaps also literally!) is by training ourselves to start being more sensitive to the movement of our partner with each choice we make.

After all, isn't that what dancing is really all about? :)

Here are a couple extra pictures from this weekend, as well as a video of one of Tristan and Emma's beautiful dances. Enjoy!
















Monday

DIY Week 18: Burlap Dry Erase Board


I first saw this DIY project in an e-mail from Julip (which is a really snazzy nail polish company), and I knew I was going to have to make it. It proved to be just as easy as promised!

All you need for this project is an empty frame, a piece of burlap, a dry erase marker, and some scissors. I got the frame at TJ Maxx for around $7, and a whole yard of burlap at JoAnn's for $2.50. Not too shabby!


Once you have your frame and burlap, take out the inner paper and use it as a guide to measure how much burlap you'll need to cut:



Then, frame the burlap just as you would a picture, and you're set!



The words on mine look a bit blurry because I used a dry erase marker. If you were willing to really commit to a particular saying, I think a Sharpie would give you a lot more precision when writing out your quote. I liked the idea of using a dry erase marker so I can change out the saying from time to time, but I'll probably redo the words because they do look a bit blurry. Also, be prepared that you might have to go over the words multiple times with the marker to make them dark enough.

Hope you enjoyed this week's DIY project and that you're inspired to create your own! :)