You, my child, are my favorite!

I have one younger sister, Kerry. Our dad, who loves us completely and totally and with an unconditional love, has a standing joke when we call: “Is this the pretty one or the smart one?” After all these years, it still makes me laugh, and depending on how I feel that day, I give him ...

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I have one younger sister, Kerry. Our dad, who loves us completely and totally and with an unconditional love, has a standing joke when we call: “Is this the pretty one or the smart one?” After all these years, it still makes me laugh, and depending on how I feel that day, I give him a different answer. We both know he thinks both of us are pretty and smart. My dad has found a way to always let us know we’re special to him. If you would ask Kerry, she’d claim she’s his favorite. I, of course, know better. (Because I’m pretty and smart.)

One night, when my friend Sandee and I were talking, she said, “Don’t you ever, sometimes, imagine that you are God’s favorite—just for that moment?” At the time, I couldn’t say that I did. I wasn’t important enough. I didn’t know Him well enough. The only thing I knew was that I was jealous. I didn’t even know I wanted that special distinction until I heard her talk about it.

And yet, in spite of my actual qualifications, God looks at me and says, “Is this the pretty one or the smart one? The faithful one or the prodigal? The one who’s with Me all the time or the one who just found her way back?” And whatever the answer, it doesn’t matter. He already knows. He holds out His arms in welcome and says, “You, My child, are My favorite.”

How can that be? It makes no sense to us, particularly as women who are conditioned to compare ourselves to others (usually finding ourselves lacking in the ways we measure up). We’re too fat, too short, too insecure. We’ve become conditioned to expect the reward to be commensurate with our abilities. If we’re talented, we will succeed. If we’re pretty, we will find a man.

It’s a short step to apply that concept to “if we’re faithful, God will like us.”

God wants us to be more like Him, but He takes us just as we are—and multiplies what we have into something more. I love color and words and design. To me, there’s nothing more exciting than hearing people’s stories about God, but I’m an introvert. So God has filled my life with clients who have become friends and provided opportunities to talk about Him. He’s used my love of design and writing to allow me to tell people about Him without having to stand in front of crowds on a stage. Of course, He’s given me opportunities to do that, too, because He sees potential even when I do not.

Romans 12:6-8 says, “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.”

See? He doesn’t want to make you into something you’re not. He wants to make you into the most-fully-you possible. Don’t shy away from that. Figure out what you’re good at, what you love, what you need, and embrace it. It is only when we fully express ourselves, pouring it all out for Him, that we become fully alive. When we operate from that place, God becomes visible. Removes obstacles. Relieves fears. Opens doors.

And shows Himself to be more than we ever hoped.


Pray with me? Heavenly Father, as we’re starting a new year, help us embrace who we are—who You made us to be. Let us relinquish control and let You lead. Help us to humble ourselves and step back to let You shine. You can take what meager things we have to offer and make something spectacular. You’re the one who can change lives—but we pray that You will use us as instruments of that change. Thank You for the individual, personal, unique gifts You have given to each of us; help us remember that they’re all gifts from You, and one person’s gifts aren’t better than another’s. Let us be content in the way You made us and know You love us just as we are. Help us to love others with the kind of unconditional, generous love You show us. And let us believe that we are all that You say we are. That we are pretty, and smart. That we are loved. That we are yours. No matter what we do or don’t do, no matter how outstanding or inadequate our abilities are.

Together, Lord, we will do amazing things. Thank You for letting me walk with You. Amen.


This is an excerpt from my book, Designed to Pray, with a new prayer added. 

CONTEST: Let me design a prayer prompt calendar just for you

I love to design my monthly prayer prompt calendars. I love the colors, the quirky connections, and coming up with the themes. There are more ideas than time to produce them. The hard part is narrowing it down and selecting a direction. That’s where you come in. Because you know what? I think there are lots of ...

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I love to design my monthly prayer prompt calendars. I love the colors, the quirky connections, and coming up with the themes. There are more ideas than time to produce them. The hard part is narrowing it down and selecting a direction. That’s where you come in.

Because you know what? I think there are lots of you out there with great ideas, too. And there are a lot of online ministries I’d be honored to help in this small way, so I decided to run a contest for bloggers.

Submit your idea for a theme for my March calendar before January 31, and if I select your idea, you win! You’ll get a calendar designed around that theme that you can give away on your blog (either free when they subscribe to your blog, or just as a free download for everyone—your choice how to promote it). I will also use it as the March calendar on my website, but I will publish it on my blog, linking to your blog, along with a brief introduction to you and your message.

You don’t have to be a designer to participate—in fact, I hope you’re not, because then I have more leeway! 🙂 Your idea does not have to be completely thought through, nor does it have to look like one of mine. The sample calendars throughout this post are provided to help you start thinking. Many of mine so far have centered on that month’s holidays, like Christmas or Valentine’s Day or summer, but even in those cases, I’ve gone in a certain thematic direction (love, thankfulness, etc.). Let yourself be creative! At the same time, know that I’ll choose one entry based on the possibilities I see to be creative with it, so you don’t really need to provide the creativity—and you never know what idea will intrigue me the most. Here are some examples of what I’m looking for. Your submission does not have to be any more detailed than the samples below.

Sample idea based on a graphic concept:

Chalkboard—calendar can look like a chalkboard with hand-drawn graphics and type, with the prompts themed around people who use chalk (teachers, kids, sidewalk artists, seamstresses, or what have you)

Sample idea based on a ministry topic:

A real example I created for a friend—she writes about being a single mom and the issues she faces, so I designed a calendar with prayers specific to her audience (your ministry may be about hope, or forgiveness, or renewal, or marriage, or love…)

Sample idea based on a scripture or Biblical theme:

Fruit of the spirit—prayer prompts might be about people who exhibit specific fruit and prayers for us to manifest those things (example: pray for someone who consistently shows joy; help me practice kindness) —OR—

Psalm 91 (“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”)—calendar would include prayers about shelter (giving thanks for it), prompts related to things like protection, security, steadfastness, leaning on God, etc.

Sample idea based on book content (I’ll use my own because that’s an easy example):

Upside down—graphically, the type could be oriented in many different directions, and the prompts would be centered on unexpected people to pray for, ways to look at your own prayers differently or from a new perspective

or, say you write fiction:

Prayer prompts associated with your book, like people who share names with your characters; people who share professions or hobbies or quirks of a character; prompts about adventure or history or a specific place; and so on

Sample idea centered around specific people to pray for:

Prayers for children (infants and their parents; preschoolers; teens; athletes; someone struggling in school; kids whose parents recently divorced, etc.)

To enter, leave your ideas in a comment below or email me (kellyostanley@me.com). I need your website/blog URL and a brief description of your idea (doesn’t have to be any more detailed than the examples above) and how that relates to your site/ministry/message/book. You may include a sample prayer prompt or two, or not. If you have a certain style in mind, you can mention that (or show me a sample image)—or leave that part up to me.

If I select your entry, I will be in touch to learn more about your ministry and theme and to ask if you’d like to submit some of the specific prayer prompts as well. (Totally up to you; I am glad to come up with them myself, if you’d like.) Remember: deadline is January 31, and I’ll design the calendar by Feb. 20 so you have some time to promote it before March 1. Good luck! Can’t wait to hear your ideas!

P.S. I won’t use your ideas if you are not selected as the winner; they’ll remain yours, I promise. If you want to keep the ideas confidential, please submit to me by email with the subject line “prayer prompt contest.”

P.P.S. If you happen to be a man, I promise not to make the calendar look feminine or frilly. Don’t rule out this opportunity based on how my calendars have looked in the past. It just so happens that the majority of my readers are women, so I let myself be girly sometimes.

 

Reclaiming my voice

You’ll notice that this makes three posts from me this week! Have I been inhabited by aliens? Sheesh! I’ll never be able to sustain this pace, nor will I try to. But here’s the ironic thing: I may have published three posts in a week, but this is the first one in which I have something new ...

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You’ll notice that this makes three posts from me this week! Have I been inhabited by aliens? Sheesh!

I’ll never be able to sustain this pace, nor will I try to. But here’s the ironic thing: I may have published three posts in a week, but this is the first one in which I have something new to say. My first post was an excerpt from Designed to Pray and a coloring page. The second was a guest post. In the midst of putting those together, and uploading a post for Internet Café Devotions, I realized a truth I’ve been hiding from. Well, that’s it, I guess: I’ve been hiding. But now it’s time to come clean.

I feel like I’ve lost my voice.

I want to bring hope and encouragement, not despair and criticism. And over the past few months, I’ve struggled. What I’ve had to say hasn’t been popular, and knowing that several people will unsubscribe as a result of each of those posts has silenced me. (I’m not kidding: while I typed this post a few days ago (just after posting a different post), I received a notice of four new unsubscribes.)

I’m not complaining, I promise; I’m just being real.

I’ve struggled through the election and aftermath, knowing that my opinions are not popular ones, including among many within the Church. I’ve wrestled with what to say and how to say it. I’ve tried to stay focused on God and not politics, to only voice opinions if they’re backed by the Word of God. To only talk about it if there’s a bigger issues—living as a Christian, and what Christianity is about—not about a political issue. I’ve wondered if I have an obligation to use what little “platform” I have to try to effect change, or if I should just shush.

I’m certain that I’ve offended people, in spite of very sincere efforts not to. If you’re one of those people, please accept my apology.

The unfortunate consequence of it all is that now I feel as though who I am, what I think, and how I try to live my faith are not acceptable to a bunch of people I like and admire. (Please know that I’m not asking for affirmation. Truly, I regularly hear from people expressing gratitude for what I do and say and I’m moved by every one of those messages.)

But I’m human, and I want people to like me. Even more than that, though, I want to write and remain true to my God and my faith. And I’ve let myself go silent.

So consider this my public confession. What is kept secret often holds a kind of power over us and brings shame, but I want God’s light to fall on this. So I’m revealing my insecurities to you, trusting that this is a safe place for me to be real. I’m asking God to start fresh in me. To ignite new passion and point me in the right direction.

I’m asking Him questions like: What do I write next? What do people want to hear from me? And more important even than that: what does He want me to say?

Now I’m bringing this to you to ask for your prayers. To thank you for walking this road with me. And to admit that I don’t have it all together.

Yet I know who does have it all together—and in spite of my cynicism and disillusionment and lack of direction, I’m entrusting this to God. Because His will is my deepest desire. I don’t want to do anything if I’m not doing it with and for Him. And I’m not accomplishing anything of value on my own.

Pray with me? (And then leave a comment to let me know how I can pray for you, or what struggle you want to reveal in order to let God prevail over it.)

Dear Lord, I find that I’m withdrawing into myself, even though I’ve experienced firsthand the truth that healing is found in the company of friends, in the sounds of laughter and tears, in the breaking of bread together and the sharing of lives. Expand my view, Lord. Let me look beyond myself, reach past my emotions and opinions and ego and instead lean on Your truth. Let me remember Who You are… All that You are… All that You have been to me—and all that You want to be to me. Give me the desire to embrace it, and let me be willing to change. Even if it’s painful or embarrassing or complicated. Because I don’t want there to be a wall between You and me. You came to remove those barriers, to give us unlimited access, to build intimacy with us and to share our lives. This is one gift that I don’t want to throw away—or leave in a gift bag stacked in a corner. I want to use every gift You’ve given me to its full extent. I want to come alive again, to be used by You, to be revived by You, and to be Your instrument, fully obedient and passionately dedicated and weary from overuse, not lack of use. I offer my life to You, again, fully surrendered and releasing control. I walk forward in obedience, not sure yet where I’m going, but doing my part to keep moving forward until I get clear direction. And I feel my hopes rising up as I anticipate finding You on this path in a deeper way. I am Yours, Lord, in every breath, every thought, every dream, every hope. Yours and Yours alone. Because there is no One else like You. Thank You for wanting me. Thank You for hearing. And thank You for the answer I know You have for me. Amen.

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. ~1 Peter 2:1-5, NIV

A victory in the battle against fear

Today, I’m happy to feature a guest post from Kelly Balarie for her new book, Fear Fighting. I got the privilege of reading this early and endorsing it. This is the really short summary of what I had to say: In spite of everything—our failures, our fears, our worries, our attempted control of our own ...

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Today, I’m happy to feature a guest post from Kelly Balarie for her new book, Fear Fighting. I got the privilege of reading this early and endorsing it. This is the really short summary of what I had to say:

In spite of everything—our failures, our fears, our worries, our attempted control of our own lives—God loves us. He adores us. And if you don’t believe me, read Kelly Balarie’s Fear Fighting. You’ll walk away believing that God is on your side. That you’re not in the battle alone. Kelly is known as a “cheerleader of faith,” but she isn’t just standing there shouting “Yea, God!” This is a woman whose stories are exuberant and passionate and hopeful—because she knows what she’s talking about. She has lived with fear, faced countless challenges, and learned that God is the answer to it all. I think every single one of us can benefit from her encouraging insights and practical tips. In fact, as I was reading, I kept jotting down the names of people who should read this. And you might as well add your own name to the list, because there’s something in here for you. I’m sure of it!

And now, here’s a post from Kelly (because ya gotta love another Kelly, right?). The book releases today and I hope you will hop on over to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or your favorite bookseller and buy it right now. This is going to make such a difference to so many people. It was even featured on the Today Show recently as one of their favorite things! But even if you don’t pick up the book today, please pray for it to end up in the hands of the right people, for people to face down the fears that are holding them back.

Also, before you go, please leave a comment below to enter a drawing for one a copy of this book. Just give a shout-out to one person you know who is brave, who faces their fear in any large or small way and inspires you or other people. If you want to share basic details about a fear you’re facing, that works too, and know that I will pray for each one of you who leaves a comment below. I’ll do the drawing one week from today. Thanks. Enjoy!


I was SO angry at myself. Again, I was not trusting God. While I had prayed and prayed, I just couldn’t believe He’d help me move this massive barrier out of the way. I couldn’t imagine how He’d do the impossible – for me. Sure, I wanted to believe that things could change – and I knew I should believe – but, when I saw the reality of everything around me – I couldn’t. I just kept doubting things would end okay.

And, then began what I like to call the Fear Cycle. It goes like this, in a mind: I’m doubting -> I’m not faithful -> Now God will leave me -> I won’t do well if he leaves -> I will certainly fail -> Now I am even more doubting -> Now I am even more not faithful -> And now, even more he will leave me…. (you all get the picture). It keeps circling until you find yourself in the barren dry tundra of Alaska, cold and without any comfort. Alone, and ready to die. Afraid, and feeling anything like a Christ follower.

This is where I found myself one evening. I sat at the dinner table hunched and chomping on a salad, one I was certain was missing something from it – maybe fried onions??? Either way, everything looked bleak. Still, trying to be a good mother, despite feeling like a bad Christian, I whipped out my tried-and-true nightly question. It’s my way of getting my family to talk about their day, so I have some iota of what is going on.

“Tell me the best part of your day and the worst part of your day?”

My husband went first. “The best part was…and the worst part was when I used an overly ‘stern voice’ with you, son.”

Thank goodness, I came up with the idea to ask this question, because no longer than a split-second after my husband’s response, breakthrough arrived. It sounded like a 5-year olds’ voice. He said, “Daddy, that should actually be the best part of your day. Because it’s a big celebration that Jesus forgives you.”

And, Boom! It hit me.

What is the deep fear that I am a horrible mom, Christian, woman, writer, sister, daughter or (fill in the blank), is instantly healed by the letters – G.R.A.C.E.

My sons’s words remind me – every time I am at my worst I can celebrate Jesus is always at his – B.E.S.T.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Cor. 12:9

I love this! If we fall into his best gift, His forgiveness, He resurrects our mindsets again in our true identity – Him.

Where do you need celebrate that Christ is always at his best, even when you are at your worst?

We don’t have to go alone, wandering to some far off tundra where we sit in our anxiety and worry, but we can choose to receive God’s best and move to a place of new found freedom. We can go to the place where faith begins to return.


 

About the book, Fear Fighting, Awakening the Courage to Overcome Your Fears: Author and speaker Kelly Balarie didn’t always fight fear – for a large part of her life, she was controlled by it. Yet, in her book, Fear Fighting: Awakening Courage to Overcome Your Fears, with God, Kelly charts a new course. Join Kelly on the journey to go and grow with Christ’s bravery, the Spirit’s counsel and God’s unending love that squelches fear. This book reads like a love letter from God, while offering practical heart-calming prayers, anxiety-reducing tips, and courage-building decrees that will transform your day. www.fearfightingbook.com

 

About Kelly Balarie: Kelly is both a Cheerleader of Faith and a Fighter of Fear. She leans on the power of God, rests on the shoulder of Christ, and discovers how to glow in the dark places of life. Get all Kelly’s blog posts by email or visit her on her blog, Purposeful Faith. You can also find a variety of resources for your fight against fear here.

 

Dreaming in purple

As we head into the new year, most of us spend some time thinking about the past year and dreaming about what the new year could be—what we want to accomplish, what we hope for those we love, and how we will rededicate ourselves to spending time with God. Today, print this coloring page and ...

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As we head into the new year, most of us spend some time thinking about the past year and dreaming about what the new year could be—what we want to accomplish, what we hope for those we love, and how we will rededicate ourselves to spending time with God. Today, print this coloring page and let yourself dream by writing your dreams, hopes, and prayers in the sections around the coloring image. If you’ll share some of your hopes in the comments below, I’ll pray with you.


PURPLE: With the energy of red and the integrity of blue, purple (also called violet) represents imagination and dreams, a link between the physical and spiritual. Ambitious and self-assured, violet shows creativity and imagination, inspiration and originality, and traditionally has been used to depict royalty.

Ruler of All, Your originality and creativity are unending. You’ve given me the ability to dream big and without limits. But no dream I have will ever fulfill me if You’re not the One inspiring it, the driving force and the creative energy behind it. Help me to see that You really are in all things. Just as purple is the combination of these two colors, You are both the passion and love of red and the stability and strength of blue. You provide imagination and desire. Help me dream, Lord, with the magnitude and vision befitting of a child of the King of kings. Let Your dreams for me become my own. And provide all that I need to make them come true. Amen.

(Purple info excerpted from Designed to Pray.)

Everything you could possibly ever need

Well, maybe it’s not an entirely exhaustive list :-). As you think about what you will study, how you might adjust your prayer life (journaling habits, Bible study, and so on), and what you hope to accomplish this year, I thought it might be helpful to give you a list of some resources that are available here ...

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Well, maybe it’s not an entirely exhaustive list :-). As you think about what you will study, how you might adjust your prayer life (journaling habits, Bible study, and so on), and what you hope to accomplish this year, I thought it might be helpful to give you a list of some resources that are available here on my site.

Prayer Prompt Calendars—every month I create a new calendar, roughly centered on a random theme. By subscribing to my monthly e-newsletter, you will receive the link to download each calendar as soon as it’s ready. Print this and hang it on your fridge, tack it on the wall by your computer, or keep it in your journal or Bible to help you jump-start your prayers—and hopefully, along the way, expand your awareness of the importance of prayer and the needs all around us. Here is this month’s calendar for you to check out (without subscribing)—hope you like it enough to sign up to get new ones every month!


Designed to Pray


Praying Upside Down


A to Z prayer cards*—print these free downloads and use to help incorporate learning into prayer time with your child…or just for yourself!


Wallpaper downloads for your phone on computer—currently, I only have one design available, but hope to create more soon!


10 Ways to Love” printable—a list of scriptures to remind us of what’s important—how to show love in our daily life. Available in gray or in white.


*If you’re not already a subscriber, you’ll have to sign up for my newsletter to access these.

 

A Prayer for When Christmas Has Lost Its Sparkle

Happy to be able to share this post at Crosswalk.com… Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy ...

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Happy to be able to share this post at Crosswalk.com

Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy songs, and goodwill is restored.

In reality, though, some of us struggle this time of year. Since I lost my mom five years ago, I tend to feel sadness and loneliness more than I feel joy. Some of you may have lost spouses to death or divorce. You may have children who don’t spend time with you or demand too much of you, or parents who aren’t themselves (or are no longer there). Maybe your job requires you to work rather than worship, or you have so many past-due notices you could wrap presents with them—if you could afford to buy presents. Perhaps you’re jaded, knowing that, as a believer, Christmas should be spiritually significant, but your emotions are crowded out by material excess and a to-do list a mile long.

So when Silent Night seems like a quaint, far-off dream… when Deck the Halls provides pressure to be Pinterest-perfect… when O Holy Night feels, instead, commercial and crazy… won’t you pray along with me?

Read the rest of the post here.

It’s a gift… several of them, in fact

A friend messaged me the other night and said she was stuck. She wished she had some ideas for some hard-to-buy-for people on her list, and (in her words) I’m “so good at that”… and because I recognize that I do love to find quirky, unusual gifts, I decided to throw together a compilation of ...

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A friend messaged me the other night and said she was stuck. She wished she had some ideas for some hard-to-buy-for people on her list, and (in her words) I’m “so good at that”… and because I recognize that I do love to find quirky, unusual gifts, I decided to throw together a compilation of totally random gift ideas. Maybe this will help you if you’re struggling to find gifts you’re excited to give. I know it’s kind of late, but hey, I never claimed to be totally organized. Just partially.

Disclaimer: some of these gifts are custom orders, so I’m not sure if (in every case) if there’s enough time to have these things made. But if not, they’ll tell you so, and you can save the ideas for later.

Jewelry. Etsy is the answer for many questions. Pretty much anything that can be handmade is available there—so many beautiful options, but I particularly like the jewelry.

  • Get custom pendants or leather bracelets in luscious colors with your words stamped onto metal plates. I made some necklaces with the word “pray” (stamped upside down) on a little metal disk and put them on leather cords. I ordered bracelets for my prayer group with a phrase that amuses us. Here are just a few links to some random examples, but there are thousands of good options—for both custom ones and for initials, inspirational phrases, and so forth.   link 1   link 2   link 3
  • These leather cuff bracelets are really cool—I actually ordered from this shop. The leather is soft and scrumptious (at least in the color I got). I had a word stamped on it that’s a private joke, just for fun.
  • Signals catalog has a Lucky Penny necklace. Tell someone how lucky you are to have them in your life, and choose a year to commemorate a birth, anniversary, or event. One of my all-time favorite gifts is a dime from my mom’s birth year that one of her closest friends got for my sister and me after we lost Mom. I love to wear it. And this reminds me of that idea.
  • Longitude and latitude necklace or bracelet—you can find the exact location of a special place (where you met, where you were engaged or married, where someone was born, etc.) and then have it engraved onto jewelry. Can be very romantic (or sweet) and very cool. There are a million options out there, but here is a link to one of them.

If you’re not sure what custom word or phrase you would pick for someone, choose from preselected ideas. They can still be very meaningful.

Food. You can’t go wrong with food, but maybe you’re tired of giving regular gift cards.

  • This site offers customized food plans (and you can choose options like gluten-free). They give you a 20-item shopping list that contains everything you need for the week. We haven’t used it but my daughter found it and it looks like a good thing. Might be good for a health-conscious (or time-starved) person on your list.
  • A client recently sent me a gift from Blue Apron—I got to pick the meals of my choice (prepaid and preselected), and the ingredients and instructions will arrive in a refrigerated case on a designated date. I can prepare them at home, but I’ll already have everything I need. It was easy to complete my order and it all looks delicious, but I won’t know for sure until the 21st :-).

Have someone who loves clothes (and/or needs clothes but hates to shop) but you would never dare buy for them?

  • Try StitchFix. You fill out your style and fit preferences, along with preferred price ranges, and a stylist selects items according to your profile. They ship five items (shirts, sweaters, pants, outerwear, accessories, shoes, dresses, bags, jewelry—you can specify any categories you’re not interested in, as well as how dressy you are). You can even tell them if you need an item for a specific event and provide a Pinterest board to show your stylist your preferred styles. If you keep none, you are charged a $20 styling fee, and provided with a postage-prepaid envelope you can drop into the mail. If you keep all five items, you receive a 25% discount, or you can pick and choose. I’ve been so impressed with the quality and style—and everything fits! If you use this link and sign up for a fix, I’ll get a $25 account credit. You could purchase a gift certificate for someone to use towards their first fix. And they offer clothing for both women and men.

Get personal—search for people’s names and see what you find.

  • I have found eBay to be a great source for these things. I’ve framed a book of matches from Hotel O’Dell for my mom, bought O’Dell Brewing Company beer glasses for my dad, bought books with people’s names in the title, framed an old bill of sale for a company with a cool logo and the same name as my brother-in-law’s family, and bought my husband a craft beer label featuring the Stanley Hotel, which provided the inspiration for one of my husband’s favorite Stephen King books. It can be fun to look and see what you find. Search by first names, last names, and locations. Even if it seems kind of random, people will know you went to an effort to find a gift tailored to them individually—and they’ll know it wasn’t something you picked up at the last minute.
  • Walk through an antique mall… pick up an old motor oil can, sign, or license plate for a car lover. Or an antique postcard of a site someone has visited on vacation (maybe it’s the honeymoon destination of a couple who recently married). Pick out your own set of antique postcards for all the major holidays, and give them to someone with a small frame so they can display the relevant cards year-round (this is fun; I used to have a set I displayed and I’ve given them as gifts). Buy sheet music for an old song with the name of a friend in the title. Pick up an old battered vinyl album cover for a music lover (there are sources online to buy frames that fit).

For the listmaker or writer or organized person in your life (this is one of the coolest things I’ve seen lately):

  • Mod Notebooks – these journals include the cost of having the entire journal digitized and searchable through an app. I LOVE THESE.
  • These notebooks are customizable (you choose paper patterns, covers, etc.)—but there are lots of options for custom notebooks and journals out there.
  • A new journal, a set of colored gel pens, and a link to how to set up a bullet journal.
  • When my book released, a friend gave me a small leather journal in which she’d written some of the things people had said about my book. She told me to write down the comments and emails and things I received so I could have a record of all the lives I touched. I don’t know about that J… but it’s a cool idea. Might be a good idea for a gratitude journal (suggest that someone write 3-5 things a day for which they are grateful), and you can write the recipient’s name on page 1. Could also be a gift for a parent of young kids, as a place to jot down the funny things their children say.

Help someone else—make a donation in someone’s name.

  • We sponsor a child through Compassion International, but they and World Vision (and others) offer all kinds of ways to help people, from digging wells to helping women learn skills and start businesses, to buying animals as a source of food and income.
  • Make it more fun to open—if it’s an organization that provides water or drills wells, include a water bottle. If they will provide chickens or other animals, include a small, appropriate stuffed animal or toy.
  • You can also choose a local organization like a food pantry or shelter or rehab facility. Give the recipient a can or box of food with a note taped to it about how you/they helped feed the needy. Alternately, if there’s an inspirational book that has helped you, consider donating several of them to a local cancer center with a note inside saying they are welcome to take the book home if they want it, and that you’re praying for whoever picks up the book.
  • Or buy products from organizations that help give people a hand so that they can provide for themselves. A woman I met this year has a company called Girl Set Free. And there are lots of other places from which you can order and feel good about using ethically sourced or sustainable products.
  • I love these—they’re called Giving Keys and they’re all about paying it forward. The keys are made into jewelry and have a word stamped on them (things like Brave, Create, Dream, Fearless, Inspire, Strength, Hope, Let it Go). Give a word to someone to help them embrace it or to give them strength to face a difficult time. Then, when they are ready, they can pass it on to someone else who needs it.

Gifts based on things people enjoy:

  • What are their hobbies? Look for address labels with images from that hobby, team, sport. Or start a charm bracelet (sterling silver isn’t as expensive) with a charm that represents an event or favorite hobby.
  • For the wine lover—wine is always good, but this is something a little different, a wine barrel or whiskey barrel lazy susan
  • Have grandchildren’s names embroidered on a pillow.
  • Get a photo pillow made with an image of a favorite pet, a family reunion group photo, or just a great shot that you’ve taken.
  • For someone who spends a couple months in another place (like my mother-in-law, who spends some time in Florida every year): have business cards made with summer and winter addresses on different sides. You can choose from pre-designed templates on sites like vistaprint.com and overnightprints.com.
  • For the homebody (or a family that doesn’t get to go to theaters often), a movie basket (a couple DVDs, microwave popcorn and/or flavoring).
  • Tea lover? How about a tea set (flavors of tea plus a little tea bag plate or infuser and mug). Coffee lover? Get them a small, personal-sized French press.
  • For the traveler: Packing cubes, portable charger, power bank for cell phone.
  • For the creative: Sketchbook or journal, book of writing prompts, adult coloring books with markers, Wreck This Journal
  • For someone with multiple phones/iPads/devices—multi-device charging station
  • For the pet lover: get a friendship collar (it’s a bracelet that matches a colorful new collar for the pet)
  • An 8-roll washi tape dispenser with lots of colorful tape (just because it’s fun)—I have this one and love it

Great catalog sites if you just want to browse:

Also, museum gift shops are wonderful places to buy unique gifts—even if you don’t go inside and look around. You can also find them online—here’s IMA, MOMA, the Met, and Chicago Art Institute.

Turn it into a gift basket. Whenever you want to make a gift feel a little more special, pair it with a related item or two. Is the novel about a chef? Add a whisk and apron or a set of recipe cards. Are you giving someone a gift card? Find an ornament or small toy related to the card and wrap it up with the card beside it. Buy an inexpensive but reusable shopping bag or find a bargain on a tote bag and use that to hold the gift instead of a traditional gift bag, and then the bag becomes part of the gift too. Add pens or markers with a journal or book and it becomes a set. Include a pair of pretty cloth napkins with a ceramic bowl or put gourmet hot chocolate packets in the mug. I’m sure there are better examples than these, but my brain won’t produce them right now :-).

Books (specific novels, etc. with different themes) — of course, these are always a good choice. But I need a couple more days to compile a list of favorites by category, so look for that soon. In the meantime, though, I’ll leave you with one thought: Did you know you can buy and gift a specific book digitally (not just give a gift card, but actually pay for a specific title)? If your recipient doesn’t live nearby, or if they like the lack of physical clutter in their lives, this might be a good choice.

So, there you have it. A totally random, oddball selection of things I like. If you have any unusual or signature-type gift items (or sources) you’d like to share in the comments, I’d love to hear about them!

 

Seeing you, being seen, and seeing Him

My friend Tami and I are very different, although we’ve been close friends for years. We are on different ends of the spectrum politically and in many other ways. But the other day I met her for lunch and ended up pouring out my heart—how I feel, what emotions have come to the surface lately, ...

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My friend Tami and I are very different, although we’ve been close friends for years. We are on different ends of the spectrum politically and in many other ways. But the other day I met her for lunch and ended up pouring out my heart—how I feel, what emotions have come to the surface lately, and so on. I told her these things knowing she had different opinions, and she shared a little about where she’s coming from. We could do this because we were in a safe place—we both knew we were loved, differences and all, and we trusted each other to listen with an open heart.

It was a really healing moment for me. A reminder that differences don’t have to divide us.

One thing Tami and I have always had in common is we hate to be misunderstood. If you want to be mad at me, fine, but only if you’re basing it on the things I actually did or what I actually meant. We can’t rest until we’ve corrected mistaken impressions.

A big insight I’ve had lately is along those same lines: We all want to be seen and know that we’re heard.

[I promise this isn’t about the election… bear with me. REALLY. I promise. It has a God point and doesn’t take a stand about sides!]

I’ve heard analysts say that many thousands of people who supported our President-elect voted in large part because they felt like he understood their plight and was on their side. They supported him because for years they’ve felt overlooked by our government and media and now they feel as though they have finally been seen.

On the other hand, many who are disappointed about the results think that the people who voted the other way do not care about people of different colors, religions, sexual persuasions, and so on. And they want to be sure people understand the implications of that and what it means for the people who feel as though they’ve been overlooked.

See? Not politics.

It’s about being seen.

As I’ve been praying and thinking and talking and wrestling with my emotions and beliefs lately, I’ve landed here: Am I putting my money where my mouth is? Am I living the life and faith I believe we’re directed to live? I won’t go into all of those questions and ramifications—unless you have several hours to spare, you can thank me for that. But one of the conclusions I’ve reached is just what I said earlier. People want to be seen and understood. It’s a basic, driving force in human existence.

And it’s something we can affect, no matter who’s at the helm of this country.

In Psalm 139, David says:

“O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!
Psalm 139:1-6, NLT

Today, I’d like to suggest three basic steps towards healing, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. Because the truth is we’re all on the same side. God’s banner over us is love. And it’s over all of us—people of all varieties and backgrounds and persuasions.

1) Spend time with God and be open about your conflicts, turmoil, confusion, anger, joy, frustration with acquaintances… whatever you’re feeling. Because He already knows you, and He created us to live in relationship. We grow closer to God when we share with Him who we are. Healing happens when we get real with God, and time in His presence can bring clarity and peace.

2) Seek out time with a trusted friend. You certainly don’t have to talk politics. Share your life. Let yourself feel safe and understood. God created us to live in relationship, and healing often takes place in community, rarely alone.

3) Reach out to someone today and let them know they are seen. It doesn’t require a personal or controversial discussion—simply pay attention to the people around you. Praise your child for a small act of kindness. Kiss your husband on the cheek and thank him for taking out the trash. Compliment the server at a restaurant for her efficiency. Tell a stranger you like her sense of style.

One person at a time, we can begin to change our understanding, to recognize the beliefs that drive a person. We can make a difference one life, one moment, one baby step at a time. And over time, as this kindness and generosity of spirit spreads, maybe—just maybe—it will impact the toxic environment in which we live.

Because people will be seen. And in the process, they will see the love that drives us, and it will point them to the God who inspires us.

Dear Precious Lord, help us today. Soften our hearts toward others. Increase our compassion. Enlighten our understanding. Thank You for seeing us and knowing us. Thank You for caring. Thank You for being our safe place to turn. You are mighty and altogether lovely—and I want to show You to others through the way I care for them. Help me. Teach me. Go with me. Amen.

Maybe this is a good place to start

  Every time I see another person say “suck it up” or “stop whining and move on,” I feel more bereft than before—because those statements show that people don’t get it. This isn’t about politics, and suggesting that my sadness isn’t valid is belittling. Honestly, this response only underscores the reasons I’m upset in the ...

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Every time I see another person say “suck it up” or “stop whining and move on,” I feel more bereft than before—because those statements show that people don’t get it. This isn’t about politics, and suggesting that my sadness isn’t valid is belittling. Honestly, this response only underscores the reasons I’m upset in the first place.

Since hearing someone else’s story always changes my understanding, I’m sharing mine with you. I’m sure there are plenty of people who are whining and pouting and just like to be mad. But there are lots and lots of other people who, I think, feel much like I do. Our rights may not be compromised, but we see that those of others might be, and we feel the pain on their behalf.

If anything unusual happened during these past few months, it is that people went public with their thoughts and opinions and our social media environment helps remove social filters. Which should be good. We want honesty and authenticity, right? Except that in so many cases the thoughts and opinions exposed were ugly. Downright hateful and mean and insulting.

(I know this goes both ways, although among my friends, I’ve seen next to nothing of the sort coming from the liberals and tons of bashing from the conservatives—but many of the conservatives I know tell me that all the liberals are hateful and violent. And that’s exactly my point. When we make broad generalizations, we’re insulting actual, specific individuals. Most of us are not extremists, and general statements like that are, quite simply, not fair. And I’m genuinely sorry I didn’t realize that sooner.)

Am I happy with the outcome? No. I accept that Donald Trump will be my President, and I will try to give him a chance. But my political disappointment is no more extreme than that of a conservative when Obama was elected. About half the time, simply because of the way democracy works, we will all be disappointed. No big deal.

Am I grieving? Yes. But the reason is not because “my” candidate lost the election.

It is not because Donald Trump was elected. It’s because grief is sometimes the appropriate response when something is lost. It’s right to feel sad when you see wrongs and injustices.

These past few months, we all witnessed new levels of hatred and division, name-calling and bullying. As I watched the results pour in on Tuesday night, I started to cry because I realized that the conclusion of the election will not conclude the problem.

We’ve seen too much to go back. We’ve seen who we are—as a country, as different political groups, as a Church. Maybe Trump didn’t cause the ugliness in individual people but he inherently, by his own words, gave permission to people to speak out. They felt comfortable letting others see parts of themselves they would have once kept hidden. And now millions more feel acute rejection—because even if, as a Trump supporter, you’re not hateful or bigoted, Trump’s victory seems to many to be an endorsement of those traits.

When people are hurting, we—as Christians—should feel empathy and sorrow. It’s not sadness about Democrats “not getting our way.” It’s about having compassion for the millions of hurting people who need to know that even though Trump won, we believe they have value. We see them.

Here’s just a little bit of what else we’ve seen.

  • Many people—who are anything other than straight, white, middle class Christians—are feeling justifiable fear. Countless individuals are being taunted, facing hatred, and experiencing violent backlash simply because of their ancestry or a stereotype.
  • Millions of women are victims of sexual abuse, and many men simply cannot understand what mainstream acceptance of sexism and abuse does to a woman’s soul.
  • Not all Christians believe the same things—or if we do, we choose to live out our ideologies very differently.
  • Many Christians (and to be fair, probably many other religions, too) feel threatened by those who believe differently.
  • Nobody likes to be stereotyped; we want to be evaluated on our individual merits and behaviors, not someone’s opinion about a group we belong to.
  • Our actions have a real impact on others’ perceptions of who we are—especially as Christians, who are called to show God to the world. People (within and outside of the Church) are questioning if Christianity is all they thought it was, and if our God is worth following if His followers act this way.
  • Minorities and differences are not as accepted as we thought.
  • Thousands (probably millions) have spent their lifetimes feeling ignored, so when Trump made them feel seen, they responded to him. At the same time, countless others feel unseen now because of the number of votes for a platform seemingly opposed to their beliefs or lifestyles.
  • Because so many voted “against” rather than “for”—we know that negative emotions like dislike and distrust are extremely powerful motivators.

These issues aren’t about politics but basic human decency—the lack of it and the necessity for more of it. Now that we know, it’s not as simple as just “dropping it” and moving on.

This could be a really good thing. It could. When something is hidden, it can’t be addressed. Hidden things hold a dark kind of power over us.

But now we can change.

So, as a liberal, am I packing my bags and leaving the country? No. I won’t deny that in the midst of my emotions, I didn’t wish I could. But I don’t usually run from a problem, even if I could. So instead I’m spending time with trusted friends who make me feel safe to be me. I’m talking to God and trying to come to terms with our new reality. I’m praying for insight and direction and inspiration.

And I’m hoping—fervently, passionately hoping—that this will be the start of something amazing. That this will not be an era of hate, but that people will pull together to find the good. That we will work together to help people who aren’t just like us feel they belong. That we will learn to look beyond our own experience and be aware of someone else’s.

Recently, we’ve focused on our differences, but if we look harder, I believe we can find more to bring us together. And if we believe what our faith teaches us, we all have work to do.

  • As Christians, we have to forgive—not because it’s our gut response or because we’re feeling magnanimous but because we were first forgiven by Christ.
  • We have to love others—because we were loved first with an extravagant love whose depths we cannot begin to fathom.
  • We must stop judging because God is the righteous judge. We must stop casting stones because we are not without our own sin.
  • We need to accept others, because Jesus turned no one away. God’s love is freely offered to everyone.

But it’s not all hard stuff.

  • We get to hope because God alone brings hope into impossible situations.
  • We get to remember that these trials in our world are nothing for a God who is not limited by place or time or circumstance. No need is beyond his capacity for repair or his ability to procure.

We do know this, right? Then let’s act like we believe it. Let’s build genuine relationships with all types of people and not be afraid of that which is different. Let’s attempt to understand where those we disagree with are coming from. Let’s not get bogged down by despair but let’s do find more, better ways to extend kindness and generosity with sincerity and grace. Let’s show God’s love in more genuine ways. Let’s acknowledge that the Church will never be perfect because it’s made up of imperfect individuals—but that doesn’t mean we can’t be better.

It’s not all on us as a country or community, though. We each have our own personal work to do—getting to know God better, seeking Him sooner and more often. Turning from selfishness and ignorance toward the light of His understanding. Putting our trust in God, who never fails us. (He may do things we don’t like, but He doesn’t fail us.)

So even though I am mourning and hurting, and even though I’ve been insulted and am disappointed in others, and even though I’m overwhelmed with despair, I will keep trying to do what’s right. Because I know that someone else’s misbehavior doesn’t justify my own. Lashing out to hurt someone else doesn’t heal the wound they inflicted on me.

I have to believe that mankind is better than the examples I’ve seen lately. I have to trust that every insult directed at (pick one) liberals/Democrats/Christians/women isn’t a personal attack. I have to give people the benefit of the doubt, even when I don’t want to, even when it would be easier to skip church or cancel lunch with a friend or unfriend someone on Facebook. I have to be all right with knowing that lots of people don’t understand me and never will.

And it’s okay. Because in the end, I don’t have control over anyone else. I can only be responsible for myself, and I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I don’t want to be bitter. I don’t want to hold grudges and be bogged down by despair. I want to be better. I want to let other people know they matter. And I want to be able to look God in the face and hear “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

I want His best. I want Him. I want to be quick to embrace and slow to take offense. I want to live true to my faith and convictions. I want to see that in you and I want to develop that in myself. And that, my friends, is something that goes way beyond politics and elections, and it provides a solid start on a place in which we can agree. I hope you’ll join me there.

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