Monday, September 29, 2014

Embrace the Everyday



Vacation is over. Last Monday morning I sipped coffee on the balcony for the last time. We loaded our SUV and left our condo in paradise after spending five nights in Orange Beach, Alabama with my sister-in-law and niece. Every day was amazing - swimming, floating the Lazy River around the pool area, sitting in the hot tub, napping by the pool, writing, shopping. Before we left, my boys asked if we could buy a condo at the resort. I told them if I hit the New York Times Bestseller list, we'll talk about it.

I went home with bags of dirty clothes and a to-do list. My hair was crunchy from the salt water and chlorine, my skin was toasty, but my soul was refreshed. I honestly can't remember the last time I was so relaxed. It was probably our last big beach trip, ten years ago. This trip was exactly what a worn and weary momma needed.

Why don't I do this more often? Not just the vacation - there are obvious reasons we can only travel periodically, like jobs and gas prices. But why don't I embrace the little things: Sipping coffee on my patio as the sun rises, watching my kids play, lingering over the pages of a good book, enjoying the stillness and quiet without feeling the need to fill the silence?

My life - and I'm guessing yours too - is full of the busy and the bustle. Do this, go here, call them, drop off that. It's a crazy blend of work and grocery shopping and errands. The clock is always ticking. Do we ever slow down and really just take a look around, appreciating what God has gifted to us? Sometimes we need to just stop and realize how beautiful life really is.
I try to appreciate the little things with my One Thousands Gifts list. It’s made a huge difference, but I spent just a few minutes each day jotting down gifts. The rest of the time, I live in the busy, negative world surrounding us all – the world that pulls us down much too quickly. How do I hang onto God’s graces?
Late last week, I went running with my family through a quiet neighborhood in our small town. My oldest son caught sight of some flowers on the side of the road and pointed them out to me. They were nothing fancy – probably just considered weeds – but they were beautiful. It made my heart smile to see him appreciating something so small. It also made me realize maybe my efforts are paying off. The boys make fun of my tendency to pull out my iPhone for photos of birds, flowers, and spider webs. Yet here’s my oldest, noticing the same things. Maybe we can teach each other to be thankful for every moment and every breath, to embrace our everyday gifts.



Friday, September 12, 2014

When It's Time for Dreams to Take Flight


Have you ever kept something a secret for a long time? You walked around every day, desperate to talk about it but terrified of what everyone would think. That's where I'm at right now. I've been working on a huge project. Only a few people knew about it, but it's consumed a lot of my time and energy over the past few months.

I wrote a book. Well, it's the beginning stages of a book, anyway. It's a rough draft. There's a still massive amount of work to be done.

This past Saturday I finished the draft. I even typed "the end" just so I could have the satisfaction of seeing those words. I was so excited. Months of work and years of dreaming culminated in my first novel. I told my husband, my critique partner, my writing group. Emails and Facebook messages flew back and forth as they helped me celebrate the milestone. I was walking on air.

Until Monday night. That's when reality set in. I pulled out my laptop, ready to start some edits, when it hit me: Oh my word. I wrote a book. Now what do I do with it?

I spent months plotting, researching, and typing. I made up characters with complex histories and motives and agendas. I can tell you what each character looks like, what they sound like, what motivates them, and what they fear most. I brought this story to life.

Now what?

Technically, I know what's next: Edits. My critique group. Lots of coffee. Probably some tears. Writing contests. Polishing. Then the search for agents and publishers and (hopefully) a book contract. But that isn't what scares me most.

This novel is mine: my story, my ideas, my dream. It's fiction, but like any writing, it's intensely personal. Up until now, this story has lived only in my head. Now I'm launching it into the world. Other people will read it. They may like it. They may not. In fact, I know already that some people will hate it, because that's just the nature of the beast. No matter what we do, we can't please everyone. I'm letting people see a part of me that's been hidden for such a long time, and I'm opening myself up to criticism. That's scary.

But my dream has reached a point where it can't stay hidden anymore. Rough drafts can be written in secret. Dreams can be hidden for a while. But if dreams are to become reality - or even have a chance of becoming reality - they have to take wing. It's time to push my dream out into the world and see if it's fragile wings can catch the wind and take flight. It's been almost two years since I wrote about being a dreamer. Now it's time to take the dream to a new level.

I'm standing on the edge, looking into the unknown and seeing only a terrifying freefall. All the while, I hear a quiet whisper, "It's time. I've got this." God have me this dream. He called me to it. Now it's time to trust and take the leap. I'm scared, but I know my Father's courage will carry me through.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How To Structure Your Quiet Time


September is a time for fresh starts. Kids head back to school carrying new backpacks filled with freshly sharpened pencils. The relaxed chaos of summer, vacations, and lazy days gives way to structure and early bedtimes. It's a great time to start over.

Maybe you let your time with God slip away during summer. You know it's a good thing, a necessary thing to grow your relationship with God. It just got pushed aside. Or maybe summer allowed you more time with God. You had unstructured, unlimited (or less limited) time to savor your Bible study and prayer. Now that school is back in session, maybe you're tempted to rush through your morning quiet time as you hurry to get everyone out the door. 

I'm in the first group. After a chaotic summer, I'm more than two months behind on my 'read through the Bible in a year' plan. I'm preaching to the choir as I write this. I need a fresh start, too, but I'm determined to dig deep and finish my reading plan on time.

We know our time with God matters, but putting it into action can be pretty intimidating. You get up early, ready to check in with your Hello Mornings group or your She Reads Truth app - but suddenly find yourself staring into the distance, feeling lost. What now?

Over the past several years, through a lot of trial and error, I've developed a structure for my quiet time. It works well by keeping me focused, and I know exactly what to move into as I finish each part. 

There are five key areas I want to cover in my time with God each morning:

1. Gratitude

I always start my quiet time with gratitude. It helps me focus my mind on what I'm doing, and it starts my day on a positive note. A gratitude journal is the fasted way to improve your attitude, because once your start counting His gifts, you find yourself looking for more. Little things become big gifts as you look for God's graces.

2. Scripture Memory

This was the "missing piece" of my quiet time for years. I knew I needed to memorize Scripture, but I didn't know where to start. One of my favorite resources is Do Not Depart, a great website run by Katie Orr. Her "Hiding His Word" challenges are so encouraging.

3. Devotional

Jesus Calling is the most popular devotional out there right now, with good reason. It's a short read that always seems to have just the words I need for that day. I will be the first to say, this quick devotional isn't meaty enough to fill your entire quiet time - but it's a perfect way to focus your mind on Him and prepare your heart for your deeper study.

4.  Bible Study

There are so many great resources available for Bible study! You can join a Hello Mornings group, read through the Bible using the SOAP method, or go through a She Reads Truth study. I shared several different methods of Bible study back in April. Find the one that matches you and your needs, and dive in. The study you choose doesn't really matter - what's important is consistently getting into God's Word.

5. Prayer

I can't wrap my mind around the fact that the God who created the universe wants me to talk to Him. He wants me to ask for what my family and I need, to tell Him what's bothering me, to thank Him for His gifts. What an incredible privilege. While prayer should be on going conversation with God throughout the day, it's important to spend focused time praying over specific needs. I keep a list in my journal of daily prayers for my family, church, and friends, as well as specific prayer requests. (If you'd like to learn more about how I journal, check out my post series from January.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

When God Says No


"Mom, can I have a Coke?"

"No."

"Please?"

"No."

"A Dr. Pepper?"

"It's the same thing. No!"

I know I'm not the only one who has this conversation in some form on a daily basis. My kids don't like to hear the word "no." Many times, when I tell them no, they ask again. And again. And twenty more times. They're persistent, and they hate it when I say no.

A few months ago, I prayed for something I really needed. It was a really good thing. I didn't just want it, I truly needed it. I put it in God's hands, but honestly, I thought the answer would be yes. Turns out, I was wrong. God told me no.

Of course, I handled it in the most mature way possible - I spent the rest of the day moping, then went to sleep watching my favorite movie and dreaming about going to Paris. (It solved all Sabrina Fairchild's problems, so it should work for me, right?) Everyone around me knew, without question, that I was upset.

It wasn't fair. I wasn't being selfish. This was important to me. This was a need, not a want. So why did God say no?

The next morning, reality hit me. By moping and being upset, I was letting everyone know that I wanted MY way, not God's - that I thought MY plans were better. Ouch. I'm supposed to be more mature than that.

One of my favorite Bible verses is Jeremiah 29:11: 'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.' (NASB) God had a plan - and it didn't line up with mine. His plan was bigger and so much better than anything I could do on my own.

A few days later, God answered my prayer. It wasn't what I expected. It was a different answer, but the result was what I'd wanted all along. God worked things out perfectly. He has a way of doing that, even when I can't see what He's doing. Sometimes, when God says no, it's because He has something even better for us. 


Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Sneak Peak at Writing


I was excited to be tagged for this fun writer's blog hop! Here is a sneak peak at my writing...

1. What am I writing or working on?

I'm always working on several different projects. I normally write here on my blog at least once a week. It's been a little slow lately because of a huge children's ministry remodel I've been working on, but we finished Saturday, so I can get back to my regular posting schedule now. I'm also a contributor to the Christian mystery/suspense blog Sleuths and Suspects.

I've had two short stories published this year and I'm working on several more. I'm closest to finishing my first suspense short story - I'm doing edits and hoping to submit it to some magazines soon.

By far, though, my biggest project is my novel. Right now, I'm about 2/3 of the way done. I just entered my first contest with my novel this month. I also plan to enter ACFW First Impressions later this year, and my goal is to finish in time to enter the ACFW Genesis contest next year. I wish I could share more details, but I'm being vague about the plot because of the upcoming contests.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

My novel is a mystery, and it's Christian fiction - but it's a little different. It's not romantic suspense. My main character is a Christian, and the story definitely comes from a Christian world view - but at the same time, I want someone doesn't read Christian fiction to be able to pick this novel and read it without feeling "preached to."

3. Why do I write about what I do?

My taste in books definitely leans to the darker side. I love gritty, realistic mysteries. My favorite genre is mystery, but I also love suspense, YA dystopian (The Hunger Games) and books that border on horror. (Sounds shocking, I know, but there are Christian books that fall into this category - think Frank Peretti's The Oath or Travis Thrasher's Isolation.)

People have questioned me on my reading choices more than once. Here's the reason behind it: We don't live in a perfect world. We live in a dark world, with a spiritual war raging all around us. Our faith doesn't make us immune to the horrible things that happen in life. I find myself drawn to stories where people face the worst in life - and somewhere, in the midst of the darkness, they cling to faith, and God carries them through. I like books that show us that even in the middle do the darkest night, God is there. He's clinging to us, and He's never letting go.

4. How does my writing process work?

My stories usually start with just a nugget of an idea. It might be a line, a scene, or just the question, "What if..." My most recent story, Salt Water, started with the idea of a woman standing on the beach, shivering in the cold water and wrestling with the past, and it went from there. My blog posts often come out of something I'm struggling with or learning about myself.

I use the Werdsmith app on my iPad for all my blog posts and a lot of my stories. I typically write my entire blog post on my iPad, then paste it directly into Blogger to edit, add photos, and finalize the design. I'll usually start my stories on the app, then email them to myself and move them into a Word document.

My book actually started with the main character and went from there. The first idea I dreamed up won't be in the first book - I'm saving it for later. Over several years, I built my ideas of my character, her life, her family, and her surroundings. It took a long time to work up the courage to actually start writing the story.

I don't have a set writing schedule, but I do a lot of my writing on my lunch breaks or on weekends. I stay busy with my family, my job, and our church, so I squeeze in time whenever I can.

Now to tag a few friends:

Jenni Saake blogs at Infertility Mom. We met through an (in)Courage group a few months ago. She is so inspiring!

Karan Gleddie and I met through our Hello Mornings Twitter group. Karan is always an encourager! You can find out more about her at her blog, Karan K. Gleddie.

Anita Strawn de Ojeda is part of a wonderful writer's group that I became a part of about two years ago. Five of us founded the group, which has now grown to thirteen members. We call ourselves The Writer's Bra, because our goal is to support each other as writers. You can learn more about Anita at Blessed But Stressed. 

Last but certainly not least is my critique partner, Kelly Liberto. Kelly was an answer to prayer when I got serious about finishing my novel. She encourages me, and she pushes me to do better. She's also talked me down a couple of times when I've been on the verge of a meltdown. Check out Kelly's writing and more at her website.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Everyday Joy

"I'm exhausted, overwhelmed, hormonal, and desperately in need of chocolate." I was on the verge of tears when I sent the text to a friend a few days ago. It was one of those weeks when everything just seemed to grate on my nerves. Already exhausted, I was headed to the church to paint and work on our children's ministry remodel. It was easy to focus on the negative - and that's exactly what I was doing, until I got to the church and found a great surprise: homemade cookies and cream cupcakes from a church member. That simple gesture was all I needed to find my joy again.


The world isn't always a joyful place these days. We're surrounded by the negative: in the news, on social media, in line at the grocery store. Even among Christians, there is less joy and more criticism, complaining, and negative attitudes. What people have apparently forgotten is that, as followers of Christ, we should be the most joyful people on earth. We can laugh and smile and rejoice, because we are free. We were rescued, redeemed by our Creator, and inscribed on the palms of His hands - why shouldn't we be happy?

Joy is all around us. It's found in the simple, everyday things...
  • The way the sunlight shines through the leaves and Spanish moss in the oak trees in the morning
  • The rainbow hues of a sunset as I run
  • Cranes standing on one leg in marsh water
  • Fog shrouding plank fences and farmhouses as the sunrise spreads light across the sky
  • My boys' laughter
  • My husband's sleepy, whispered "I love you" as I leave for work in the morning
  • A friend's encouraging comments
My kids make fun of me because I pull out my iPhone camera for seemingly unimportant things: birds, flowers, raindrops, spiderwebs. But when I see these little details, I see God. I see His creativity and His love for beauty. I see His gifts, and they surround me.

A few years ago, I started keeping a gratitude list in my journal - a "one thousand gifts" list, inspired by Ann Voskamp. Gratitude is a funny thing, because when you start noticing God's gifts and thanking Him, you find yourself actively looking for more. You search out things to be thankful for.

Gratitude leads to more gratitude.

It leads to a heart that finds everyday joy in the simple things.

My challenge to you: Start a gratitude journal. Grab a notebook and a pen. Pick up your camera. Then start a list. Add in photos later. Look around you and find things to be thankful to have in your life. Big or small. Need help getting started? Download Ann's beautiful Joy Dare prompts for every day of the year. Count your gifts every day, before you start the rush of your daily life. You may be surprised at the everyday joy you find.

Monday, July 7, 2014

It's Not About Me: When Faith and Fitness Collide



One week. That's all it took to change my perspective and find the motivation I needed.

I knew things had to change. For months, I'd grown more and more exhausted, despite less stress and a more relaxed pace to my life. Aches and pains became normal. I was unhappy with my body. So when I saw a Facebook post in April about a local running group starting a Couch Potato to 5K plan, I signed up - and I drug my kids along with me.

With the exception of our youngest son, we are not a family of natural athletes. To be honest, I stink at sports. My youngest didn't inherit that from me, so I wasn't surprised when he took off running that first night, outpacing us all. I ran with the group, while my oldest stuck with the walking group. Neither child was excited about being forced into a workout group.

The second night, another runner talked my oldest into joining us. My son reluctantly agreed, but made it clear that he didn't think he could finish. We forged ahead with our run 60 seconds/walk 90 seconds plan. And he finished. He did the whole thing, right beside me.

Everything changed that night.

During the next several weeks, I watched my son go from saying "I can't do this" to saying "I'm going to run a 5K." I saw the determination on his face every time we went to the track. One night he even quoted Jillian Michaels when his younger brother wanted to quit: "Unless you're puking, fainting, or dying, you don't quit."

My youngest did eventually drop the plan - and I agreed, because he's young and I don't want to push him too much - but my oldest kept running. He dug deep and found a place in himself that he never knew existed. Every "first" has been amazing: quarter mile, mile, two miles, and a few weeks ago, our first 5K.


Seeing my oldest son running inspires me. He is learning lessons that will follow him into adulthood - perseverance, discipline, the value of a healthy lifestyle.

We push each other. 
Sometimes I really want to quit - but I don't, because he's watching. I'm faster, so sometimes I slow down and run with my son so he doesn't get discouraged. Other times I run ahead and call back to him, pushing him to dig a little deeper and move faster. Knowing that he is watching makes me run faster, better, and more often, because I want him to follow my example. 

Kind of like my life...

I can't quit, because they're watching. My sons are looking to me for an example, for encouragement, for a blueprint on how to navigate life and a walk with God. They need to see my faith lived out. It's terrifying, because I know all too well how weak I am. But I have to get pushing ahead, not just for myself - but for them.

As for running - now that our first 5K is behind us, we're planning for more. I'm looking at a possible race in August, we're planning to run a few together this fall, and I'm eyeing my first ever 10K in November. We run together a few times a week, and my youngest son is joining us again. He will be racing with us this fall, if all goes according to plan. 

It's become a family activity - sometimes fun, sometimes filled with complaints, but it's something we do whether we feel like it or not - because it's not about us. It's about the fact that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, bought with a price. It's about honoring God with our bodies. It's because through every run, the good and the bad, we're learning and setting an example. That's my motivation.