Monday, September 21, 2015

Where I've Been - and Why I'm Ready to Come Back

Watching your son's dream come true is amazing. My youngest is a huge fan of the Dolphin Tale movies. He almost has them memorized and can rattle off all kinds of details about Winter and Hope, the marine stars. When we went to Orlando for our family vacation/business trip last month, we were only an hour and a half away from the marina where the movie was filmed. So on our last day of vacation, we made the drive. It was amazing! We saw all the animal stars of the movie up close. We got to touch stingrays, and both of the boys fed them.

That day was special, but the whole trip was amazing. Five days at Disney parks, a trip to both Disney water parks, and multiple visits to Disney Quest, plus Clearwater Marine Aquarium. We snorkeled with sharks and stingrays, ate dinner at our favorite restaurants, rode all our favorite rides, and marked everything off our list. 

It was a great trip. After the rough year we've had, we desperately needed this break from the routine. We were all sad to leave, especially because we know this was probably our last Disney trip while both boys are still home.

Now we're firmly planted back in reality. My husband is dealing with church business, paperwork, and sermon prep. I'm back to work and adjusting (very happily) to a great new job just minutes from home. I'm planning children's church lessons, writing, and doing laundry. Our homeschool year started just after we returned, and adding to the stress is the fact that our oldest started high school. Record keeping is a lot more complicated now.

After more than a year of writing and revising, my long dreamed-of novel is finished. It's about to go through the final editing test - six "beta readers" who will read it cover-to-cover with fresh eyes before I send it to agents in January. In the meantime, I'm working on book proposals for my finished novel, starting a brand-new one (book two in the series), and writing a short story to submit to a magazine later this year. I also have some other potential writing opportunities coming up that I can't wait to share.

It's been a year of refinement. Life has taken us through a lot of ups and downs. But it's a year that has taught me a lot. The ups I've had, the moments of celebration, wouldn't have come without the downs. Some of my greatest blessings this year grew directly out of some of my greatest disappointments. That's just like God. He took what was meant for harm, and He turned it around, making it into a gift. I couldn't always see that at the time. I only saw the bad. But He knew what was waiting just down the road for me. 

Now life marches on, much faster than I'd like. I'm already missing our days filled with roller coasters, snorkeling, and dinner at our favorite restaurants. God has given me lots of reasons to celebrate, though. He's refined me this year. He  may not be done yet. If He's not, that's okay, because while the process is hard, the end result is worth it.

While I share a lot about my Bible study methods and notes here, if you want to see more, you can find me on Instagram. If you want to follow my fiction and where I'm at with my novel, you can follow my author page on Facebook.

Monday, July 6, 2015

How I Study My Bible

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen my new Bible study chart. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the method I’m using, so I wanted to share my methods and the resources I’m using.

I’ve been studying the Bible for over twenty years, since I really got serious about my faith as a fifteen year old high school sophomore. My methods have changed a lot over the years as my life has changed. The one discovery that changed everything, though, is when I was introduced to inductive Bible study. I’m a very visual and tactile learner – I have to see something and work through it to understand it. My learning style makes inductive study a perfect match for me. My chart has developed out of that, but I’ll get to that a little later.

I’m starting to add art journaling, too, but I’m very new to it. That’s definitely a work in progress. I think it will add a lot to my current study. I want to get more comfortable with it before I share it on my blog, though.

The best starting point for inductive study is KayArthur’s book, Discover the Bible for Yourself. This is how I got my start. She walks through a detailed approach to inductive study and provides step-by-step instructions, charts, and more for each book of the Bible. 

Along with the book, I highly recommend the symbols key available as a free download at PreceptsCamden. I printed this list and keep it in my Bible study notebook. I use it every day. I’ve added a few symbols to the list, but this has just about everything you’ll need.

Now for my chart. There’s no printable for this, it’s just something I draw out on notebook paper to help organize my thoughts from my study. The idea came from Pinterest. I loved the basic concept of the chart I found, but I knew it wouldn’t work for every chapter, so I took the idea and tweaked it a little.

I use the same basic layout for my chart:
  • ·    Basics (who, what, when, where, why, how – recommended in Discover the Bible for Yourself)
  • ·    Key Words/Phrases (I list them and draw the symbol I used)
  • ·    Key Verse (This is something I may verse map or art journal later)
  • ·    Word Studies (Words I want to dig deeper into at a later time)
  • ·    Chapter Theme (another Kay Arthur recommendation)
  • ·    Extras (timelines, notes on specific topics, etc.)

As you can probably tell from my Bible pages and my chart, inductive study is a slow study of the Bible. I usually spend 2-3 days per chapter. My usual breakdown is:

·         Day 1: read chapter – mark Bible with symbols
·         Day 2: fill in chart
·         Day 3: word study/journaling

I love this slow approach to God’s Word. It gives me time to really soak in every detail of a chapter.

If you’d like to see more of my Bible study, followme on Instagram, where I post pictures from my study most days. You can also follow my Pinterest boards, including Bible study, Bible art journaling, journaling, and more. And if you’re on Periscope, I’ve started doing a few videos. Periscope is new and hosted by Twitter, so you can find me by my Twitter handle (@graceourmoments).

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Fun Weekend Links

I'm so glad the weekend is here! Lately I feel like I've been spinning in circles. My work schedule is busier than ever, my summer is full of children's ministry events, I've got several writing projects going, plus life and family stuff. I have a couple of quick, fun things you might enjoy this weekend.

First, my friend and writing partner Voni Harris has done a great series on her blog this month. She challenged four mystery-suspense authors to write a short story based on the same prompt. She's wrapping up the series this weekend with my story, Run. She's also offering a fun giveaway. You can check it out at her blog, Vonilda Writes.

Second, I did my first ever Periscope chat on Bible study! It was really fun. If you're wondering what Periscope is, it's a new social media outlet started by Twitter. I describe it as SnapChat meets YouTube. Periscope users broadcast live videos, which are then available for 24 hours. Mine should be available until around 10:00 a.m. Sunday (CST). Here's the link if you'd like to check mine out: How I Study My Bible.

I'm planning a post next week that talks more about my current Bible study method, why I chose it, and how it works. Until then, I hope you have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Last month, San Antonio left me unraveled. Not the city itself, not the trip, but a combination of things. I sat in our hotel's library one night, thankful for something familiar, missing my family. The day was full of convention exhibits and continuing education classes required for my dental hygiene license. At night, though, my heart ached because someone I respected fell hard, shattering the image of the person I thought I knew. Just one more rock tossed at my soul in this year of refinement and hard grace.

This whole year has left me reeling. The girl who hates change has faced constant shifts: job changes, writing groups dissolving, my youngest struggling with health issues, plans changing. 

The urge to curl into a fetal position and hide has been strong. Despite our 90 degree Texas summer, I crave leggings  and fuzzy socks and my favorite hoodie sweatshirt that's two sizes too big. What I'm really craving is comfort. Safety. Security. An end to the unraveling before everything I know and love changes. 

But sometimes everything unravels in the best possible way.

God has a way of preparing things before us, laying a foundation for what we need long before we even know we'll need it. Looking back, I can see Him working when I read Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist as I started the new year. It deals in large part with Shauna's job loss and how she wrestled with it - and I read it days before my boss announced his retirement, which meant my own job loss. God spoke to me on those hard days, telling me exactly how He was going to work things out. I wish I could tell you I boldly trusted Him, but I didn't. I was a weepy, emotional mess. True to God's promises, I found another job that started as soon as my old job ended. But if it was a test of my faith, I failed miserably.

The changes didn't stop there. It's been a year of refinement, a year of learning to cling to God. James 1:2-3 have taken on a personal meaning to me: "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance." Testing is hard. Refinement is not a process I get excited about. "Joy" is not the word that comes to mind when I'm going through trials. It's painful. But verse 12 tells us that God makes the pain worthwhile: "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which The Lord has promised to those who love Him."

That's our true joy in the middle of the pain: knowing that God is in control. We don't have to panic, because it's not our job to work it out. God will take care of it. He has a way of taking our disasters and turning them into fresh starts. When life unravels, He weaves a new, more beautiful pattern.

This year has been hard, but it has also defined me. The changes have forced me to focus on what matters most and refined what I believe, what I cling to. My time with God has become slower, forcing me deeper into every word and nuance of His Word. The year has left me on my knees begging for more grace. It's drawing me closer to God. 

Life has left me unraveled...but God is weaving the pieces into something new. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hard Lessons in Grace and Trust

I'm excited to link up (for the first time ever) with Emily P. Freeman's "What We Learned." April has been a month full of hard lessons in grace and trust. It's driving me to my knees...and I have a feeling that's exactly why it's happened this way.

1. Failure is part of our story.

The words hit me so hard I stopped the podcast to think about what I'd just heard. "It's not enough to write a good story. We have to live one." 

Reading is my passion. I love getting lost in a good novel, being so caught up in the story that I feel like I'm there. Any good story has conflict. Who wants to read a story where the main character just floats along with no opposition? When I write, my motto is "How can I make this worse?" It sounds horrible, but the higher the stakes, the better the story. So I make things as difficult as possible for my main character.

Why should my life be any different? If I just float along with no struggles, I won't experience victory. I texted a writing friend recently about my novel. I'm halfway through edits right now, and it's making me crazy. I told my friend how discouraged I was. "I'm feeling so fragile right now...but maybe that's what I need. So when the victory comes, I'll stand there with trembling hands, knowing it's all Him and nothing of myself." Life imitates art. I talked to her about writing, but it's true for my personal life as well. God is using my circumstances to make my story better.

2. God is enough - and because of Him, I am enough.

After 35 years, you'd think I would know this by now. I do know, but I need a lot of reminders. This post from Shauna Niequist was perfect.

3. My soul doesn't need empty calories any more than my body does.

4. Bullet journals are the best thing ever created.

Technology is great, but when it comes to planning, I'm still a pen-and-paper kind of girl. I'm also weird about my calendar and how I want it laid out. So bullet journaling is a perfect match for me. It's basically a build-your-own-planner project, and it's working beautifully for me.

5. There's a good reason why Rhonna Designs is my favorite photo editing app.

This is the app I use for all my blog photos. It's so easy to use and has so many options. When the latest update released, they added even more. AND they've been offering free backgrounds to their Instagram followers. I love this app!

6. Our world is only as big or small as we make it.

This, from the latest She Reads Truth Bible study, has been rolling around in my mind for days. Since January, I've been wrapped up in my own problems. My thoughts and prayers have centered on me, even though my problems are small compared to what's happening in our world. I need to broaden my horizons and realize just how big the world is, and just how small I really am.

7. This quote is true, and it's where I'm at right now.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

When Your Soul is Full of Empty Calories

Breakfast last Thursday morning was a Coke and a devil's cream cake. Empty calories. Junk. Not what my body needed as fuel before I spent the morning seeing patients. It was a guarantee that I'd crash before lunch and need a snack to pull me out of my slump. My body doesn't function well on empty calories. If I start the day with my normal fruit and yogurt smoothie, I can go strong for hours. But if I'm not prepared, or if I simply decide to be lazy and not take the time to make something healthy, I grab junk food, and I pay the price.

It's easy to feed my soul junk, too. When I'm feeling worn down, it's so much easier to open Candy Crush Saga than my She Reads Truth app, or to pull up Criminal Minds on the DVR instead of opening a book. I can make every excuse for why I should veg out on the couch instead of going for a run or working on my to-do list. Not that it's always bad to relax. Sometimes our body and brain need to tune everything out. More often, though, we need to push through the exhaustion and the cravings for junk and really feed our souls.

This has been a tough year. I've gone through two job changes. My family and I stayed sick for weeks at the beginning of the year, passing illnesses back and forth. Right now I'm deep into edits on my first novel. It's painful. One of the hardest things I've ever done. Emotions are high right now. Fear peeks around every corner as I make plans to submit my manuscript to agents in a few months. It's been a year of refinement, in more ways than one, and it's scary.

I've learned something through all these changes. I am weak. That's the biggest thing God is teaching me. On my own, I fall so easily into sin. I slip into fear, negative attitudes, and bad habits. It takes so little for me to fall. One day of not reading my Bible, skipping a morning of reminding myself of His promises, and I'm falling, my faith growing weaker.

Clinging to God isn't an option. Dwelling with Him every day isn't just something I should do - it's something I have to do. If I don't stay on my face before God seeking Him, I'll fall on my face. The older I get, the more I learn about Him, the more I realize how desperately I need His grace and mercy. I am completely incapable of making it on my own.

Psalm 31:16 (NASB) should be our daily prayer: "Make Your face to shine upon Your servant; Save me in Your lovingkindness." Save me, Lord, because on my own I'm own, I'm a sinful, fear-filled mess. I can't do this life without you holding my hand. My soul can't live on empty calories. Help me fill up on You every day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How I Use My Commute Time

Commuting can get really, really boring. In good traffic, I drive 30-35 minutes. In rush hour traffic, which is pretty much every night, it's 45 minutes. Add in wrecks or road construction, and I'm in my car for over an hour, one way. I spend anywhere from 1-2 hours in my car every day, five days a week.

As much as I love music, it didn't take long to get bored with my favorite radio station. When I started dreading my time in the car, I had to find something to fill those hours. Here are my favorites: 

1. Podcasts

My first foray into podcasts was a disaster. I downloaded the app to my phone and found it eating up massive amounts of data. After just a few weeks, I deleted it. Months later, I got an iPad mini and realized I could use the podcast app on it. I quickly subscribed to several podcasts. Now on my drive to work, I can just plug in my iPad and listen.

There are so many great podcasts! The first one I listened to was How They Blog by Kat Lee (of Inspired to Action). Kat's interviews with bloggers have given me so many ideas for my own blog. I've learned an incredible amount from her. From her podcasts, I found The Portfolio Life by Jeff Goins. 

I sometimes listen to health and fitness podcasts, although I haven't found one yet that I really love. I'm open to suggestions. I just subscribed to The Art of Simple but haven't had a chance to listen to it. If it's as good as the blog, I know I'll love it.

When my favorite radio personalities left Air1 several months ago, they started their own podcast. If you want something fun that will keep you laughing, check out Brant and Sherry's podcast.

2. Audiobooks

This is my newest obsession. Modern Mrs. Darcy introduced me to audiobooks. Listening to my first one was such a great experience! 

3. Memorizing Bible verses

Katie Orr changed the way I memorize Scripture. In the past, when I learned verses (which was rare), I chose one or two verses. Katie introduced me to the concept of memorizing entire passages. Over the past couple of years, I've memorized Isaiah 55, John 15, and Psalm 27. When I'm memorizing, or even just reviewing, I love listening to the passage. Using the Scripture Typer app, I can record myself reading verses.

4. Brainstorming

Sometimes my mind is just too busy to focus on listening to anything. There are days when ideas are rolling through my mind and I'm tiring to sort them out. That's when my iPhone's voice recorder comes in handy. I can not ideas for my writing, things I want to research, or a list of things I need to do.

Note: These ideas work for driving. If you commute by subway or bus, you have even more options. You could use this time to plan, read, knit, write, or just about anything else. 

Do you commute for work? What do you do during your drive?