Branch Out with Me — 2016 Reading Challenge

It’s a new year, and I love reading challenges. Or, at least, I like the idea of them. Not sure I’ve ever completely followed through. But I’m willing to try, and hope you are, too. Things are always better when you do them together. Quite a few of you responded to my blog survey. (Thank you.) ...

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It’s a new year, and I love reading challenges. Or, at least, I like the idea of them. Not sure I’ve ever completely followed through. But I’m willing to try, and hope you are, too. Things are always better when you do them together.

Quite a few of you responded to my blog survey. (Thank you.) What I learned is what I already suspected: You don’t have a lot of time—and you are tired of the conventional. You like to face doubt, explore, and find new, practical ways to live your faith.

Clearly, so do I. And what I have learned is that it is always good for me spiritually when I am challenged. When I face new thought and ideas (even if I don’t agree with them), I grow because it forces me to figure out what I believe. To read, to study, to research.

Don’t worry, though. You’re not required to do anything extra. But what I hope you will do is let this be your excuse to try something new. To hear other voices, ones you might not have encountered on your own. To keep an open mind in the hopes that it will enrich your spiritual life. That it will deepen your faith. That you will have a newfound respect for other people’s opinions, and that you will realize that different views don’t have to be threatening.

First rule: no pressure. I want this to be helpful, not another obligation you feel you have to endure. So here’s the deal: If you hate it, you don’t have to finish it. If you love it, you can take your time with it—read it all year long if you wish, and skip the rest. If you want to check off the challenge but don’t have a lot of time, skim your books. Read the first chapter, flip through the book, and read the last chapter. Maybe you’ll want to go back and read it all, maybe you won’t, but you’ll at least have some awareness of the approach, writer, or concept presented. Or read some reviews online. Or check out the author’s website or blog. Or take a break and join us again the following month.

Each month I’ll provide a list to help give you some ideas—but they’re just ideas. Insert your own. Let this be a reason to explore, to strengthen your beliefs, to start new discussions. To see what God will reveal, to be open to hearing from Him in a new way, to expect surprises and insights and revelation.

So won’t you join me? Please? When you do (even if it’s only periodically), I hope you’ll share your book selections in the comments. Each month, I will write something about the books I read. And if you have any “nuggets” from your book—a single quote that you’ll remember, your overall impression, or whatever—it would make me so happy to have you share those with me.

So how about it? Ready to branch out a little? I know I am.

If you’re planning to participate, please comment below with the name of the book you plan to read. And at the end of the month, when I tell you about the book I read, you can share your insights in the comments below that post. Thanks!


My pick for January: For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. Why? Because I love her but I haven’t read any of her actual books yet (only her blog and social media posts). And because my book club is reading it anyway. (That’s not cheating—it’s simplifying to give me a better chance of success :-).) I also chose this because she’s part of the team of women who are speaking on the new Women of Faith Belong Tour—which, I’d like to add, is the organization for which I wrote my next book, Designed to Pray (coming out in August for their first event).

Some other ideas to consider (note: I’ve only read a couple of these so I have no idea what they’re like… all I know is they look interesting):

Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily Freeman
Color the Psalms: An Adult Coloring Book for Your Soul (Color the Bible)
I Was Blind (Dating), But Now I See
by Stephanie Rische
Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey
Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women by Sarah Bessey
Bandersnatch: An Invitation to Explore Your Unconventional Soul by Erika Morrison
The SuperMom Myth by Becky Kopitzke
The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns
Girl Meets Change: Truths to Carry You through Life’s Transitions by Kristen Strong
Longing for Paris: One Woman’s Search for Joy, Beauty and Adventure—Right Where She Is by Sarah Mae
Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are by Shauna Niequist
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
by Rachel Held Evans
Living Well, Spending Less: 12 Secrets of the Good Life by Ruth Soukup
Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way
by Amber C. Haines
Untangled: Let God Loosen the Knots of Insecurity in Your Life by Carey Scott

The answer to your Christmas gift needs

The short answer: books. The longer one: My inbox keeps filling with more posts about Christmas gift ideas—last-minute ones, inexpensive ones, things to make, and so forth. So I figure why not add to the clutter with my own thoughts? Really, though, here’s the truth: I love to give books. And most people I know ...

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The short answer: books.

The longer one: My inbox keeps filling with more posts about Christmas gift ideas—last-minute ones, inexpensive ones, things to make, and so forth. So I figure why not add to the clutter with my own thoughts? Really, though, here’s the truth: I love to give books. And most people I know love to receive them (or at least they do a good job pretending). And what I love even more is pointing people to new authors, particularly when they’re friends of mine. So here’s a list of some of my favorites. It’s not too late to order them on Amazon or Barnes and Noble (or at your favorite independent bookseller). I’ve taken the liberty of stereotyping personalities and genders for this list, but most of these overlap and would be great for, well, everyone.

For the men in your life who love cars:

The Detroit Electric Scheme (and Detroit Breakdown and Detroit Shuffle) by D.E. Johnson — great mystery series set in (you guessed it) Detroit in the early 1900s, based around the story of early electric automobiles. You don’t have to love cars to enjoy this mystery. I couldn’t put them down!

Truck: A Love Story by Michael Perry. My friend Scott, who never read a single book (besides the Bible) after he got out of school, loved this. So much. (I did, too.) A fun, quirky memoir about rebuilding a 1951 International Harvester pickup truck… and so much more than that. Confession: I’ve met this author but he has no idea who I am. I still love him.

For teens or tweens:

It’s a Wonderful Death by Sarah Schmitt — YA novel with a wonderfully snarky protagonist and a fun cast of characters…and a moving and heartfelt message underneath it all.

The Hunter Awakens and The Spirit of Steel by J.R. Roper — adventure for the middle-grade reader, especially boys. Ethan, the main character, is on a dangerous adventure, and he’s just the kind of kid you’d want your children to hang out with.

For people of faith:

When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman — truly one of my most favorite memoirs. Addie’s story is about carrying the baggage of growing up in the Christian subculture of the 1990s, and her search to find faith again on her own terms.

Found by Micha Boyett — a memoir about losing prayer and her Spirit-life, and then finding it again. Beautifully written and eminently relatable.

Praying Upside Down (sorry, I know it’s obnoxious, but I have to at least mention it) — part memoir, part practical advice, and not (I hope) ultra-gooey-religious. For men and women.

For women:

The SuperMom Myth by Becky Kopitzke — fun and practical, this book talks about letting go of preconceived ideas of perfection and embracing the role of mother without guilt or fear. She somehow manages to do this without preaching at all. It’s so good. Probably ideal for those with younger kids, but even for me (whose kids range from 15 to 22), I learned plenty and found it relevant.

Untangled by Carey Scott — such a good book about how we all feel as though we don’t measure up. Great advice about how to untangle your self-esteem from the world and find it in God.

For women who love mysteries:

The Manor House Mystery Series or The White House Chef Series by Julie Hyzy — cozy mysteries that are well-written and entertaining, with protagonists who are eminently likable (as is the author).

Soul’s Prisoner by Cara Luecht (or any of her books, because they’re all good) — a woman in Chicago in the late 1800s discovers something she shouldn’t. A great, suspenseful historical fiction book.

For women who love good stories:

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy Reichert — food-centered story (so, really, how can you go wrong?) about love and misunderstandings and Milwaukee. I loved it. (Pair it with a whisk or spatula or bag of coconut to make a themed gift.)

Anything by Elizabeth Berg — my favorite is Talk Before Sleep, but be warned: it’s sad and probably not the right book for someone dealing closely with cancer. The Pull of the Moon is another favorite, about a woman having a menopausal crisis. And Durable Goods, a story about an adolescent girl in the 50s, is lovely.

For anyone (thinkers, activists, or anyone else):

Where Am I Eating? and Where Am I Wearing? by Kelsey Timmerman — a journalist travels the world to trace the origins of his food and his clothes. Fascinating glimpse into the lives of those who make or grow things we take for granted. Kelsey is a great storyteller and the books opened my eyes to so many things without making me feel guilty for my ignorance. (Add a bar of chocolate or pound of coffee to Eating or a pair of boxers to Wearing to make it a fun, themed gift.)

 

For the writer:

Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True by Elizabeth Berg — so good. That’s really all I can say.

And although I don’t know him personally :-), I ADORE Stephen King’s On Writing. And I can’t call her a friend, but I did get to meet her once, so I’ll also include Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Another must-have book for the writer.

**

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing that the real gift I’ve been given is the gift of some amazing friends. So thankful. And honored to be able to share them with you.

Calling all SuperMoms. Especially those who aren’t [giveaway]

Today is the release day for my friend Becky Kopitzke‘s book, The Super Mom Myth: Conquering the Dirty Villains of Motherhood. I got to read it early, and I loved it. Even though I’m kind of tired of everything related to being a mom. Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids. And you never ...

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Today is the release day for my friend Becky Kopitzke‘s book, The Super Mom Myth: Conquering the Dirty Villains of Motherhood.

I got to read it early, and I loved it. Even though I’m kind of tired of everything related to being a mom. Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids. And you never stop being a mom. But I am past the “kid” stage so I wasn’t sure how I would relate, even though I knew I would love what Becky had to say, because she’s awesome like that.

But I loved it. Here is my official review:

As a mother of three, I am sick of all the messes, whining and complaining (mine, not my kids’). I try not to worry about all the ways that I have failed in this holy role God granted me. But in The SuperMom Myth, Becky Kopitzke pairs her stories with God’s words and wisdom to soothe, convict, and repair my tired, tattered soul. She somehow climbed into my head and heard my excuses, justification, insecurity, and guilt—and helped me leave them behind. She is real and relatable, and did I mention funny? Her gentle answers reveal Biblical truths and fresh insights that every mom needs to hear. She points us all to the only Superhero who is infallible, reminding us that, by ourselves, cape or not, we can’t save the day. I’ll gladly serve as faithful sidekick to the One who can.

If you still have children at home, you should read this. If you know someone who has children at home, you might consider this as a Christmas gift. It’s a fun read—the material has depth, but you never feel like you’re having to slog through. It’s in bite-sized pieces. And it’s real and loaded with wisdom and truth. It’s the book I wish I’d had when my kids were younger and I was struggling with learning how to juggle the craziness that is life. You can order it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or wherever books are sold.

I like this book so much that I’ll tell you what: Leave a comment below before Saturday, December 5 and you will be entered into a drawing for a free copy. My treat :-).

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What you missed (Allume 2015)

Allume is a Christian women’s writing and blogging conference that was held in Greenville, SC. I posted about my insecurities earlier this week, but like I said, that has more to do with my messed-up brain than with the actual other attendees. In addition to gaining several new friends, there were plenty of good things. ...

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Allume is a Christian women’s writing and blogging conference that was held in Greenville, SC. I posted about my insecurities earlier this week, but like I said, that has more to do with my messed-up brain than with the actual other attendees. In addition to gaining several new friends, there were plenty of good things. Here are a few highlights.

The aforementioned friends. The swag bags—and oh my goodness were there lots of free books! A little bit of heaven. Seeing my book displayed alongside some truly amazing authors, and getting to meet a bunch of others. Late-night talks, and time spent with my agent. Dinner with some people from Tyndale.

allume collage 2A few random (but profound) tidbits from some of the people I heard speak (top left to bottom right):

Logan Wolfram, director of Allume—”Peace only comes through the whole body… Their differences paved the way for them to undertake their ministry together… We all end up at the foot of the same Jesus… Be curious about what makes you different, but more curious about what makes you the same.” Excited to join the street team for her upcoming book, Curious Faith.

Austin Channing Brown—”Doing nothing is no longer an option… Committing yourself to constantly entering the brokenness… Whites have been elevated beyond where they should be, and blacks pushed lower. Both are false identities and have interfered with the way we see God… Incredibly important to the work of justice is to follow the more marginalized… Reconciliation cannot be done alone. It must be done in community.” Her words really stirred up something inside me, showing me why I must care about racial issues.

The Museum of the Bible—being built in D.C. to open in fall 2017. An immense undertaking—and an exciting one, because they want to show people the history of the Bible. And it sounds amazing. I’ll be posting more about it later, but you can go to their site right now.

Tim Willard—spoke on the language of beauty with language and ideas too beautiful for me to replicate. A couple phrases from my notes: “What God creates communicates joy because there is an echo within us. He is echoing in you because he is alive in what you see… What connects with people in writing is that which comes from joy or tears… Beauty demands something of me because I have to first pause to see it… The embodiment of beauty in your writing is what actually makes it so.” I bought his devotional, Longing for More, and the intro alone brought me to tears. Something so beautiful and profound in his words.

Chrystal Evans Hurst—Author of Kingdom Woman with her dad, Tony Evans—and what an amazing speaker. “We serve a God who loves to interrupt us. Every interruption serves to introduce us to Him in a new way… Rest is worship. It’s trusting God. Believing He’s got this. Stop, beloved.”

Gwen Smith (not pictured)—you should listen to this beautiful song. Right now. And then listen to all her other ones.

Wendy Speake—such an inspiring session. “Your heart message usually comes out of your story. Not the first one, but the second story (the ‘I once was lost but now am found’ story). We’re just a reflection of that message. And until we understand our own stories, we can’t tell those of others.”

Esther Burroughs—reminded us of the power of the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit whispers and He nudges—and if we don’t hear Him, we’re not still enough… When the Holy Spirit works, He always points to Jesus, not to you or to your book or your blog… A woman of God who trusts the Holy Spirit has to live this way: instant confession and instant obedience.”

Lots to chew on. Lots of thoughts whirring through my brain. So many people with so much to say… and a whole bunch of books to read, as well. Looks like my mind is going to be busy this fall and winter!

A letter to the women at Allume

Haughty eyes, a proud heart,
 and evil actions are all sin. Proverbs 21:4 Can you forgive me? I don’t like to admit this, but the reality is that I judged you. I looked at your skinny legs in your skinny jeans, at your fashionable tall boots, at the stacks of bracelets wrapping your slender wrists, ...

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Haughty eyes, a proud heart,
 and evil actions are all sin.
Proverbs 21:4

Can you forgive me?

I don’t like to admit this, but the reality is that I judged you. I looked at your skinny legs in your skinny jeans, at your fashionable tall boots, at the stacks of bracelets wrapping your slender wrists, at your taut, luminescent skin. I listened to your gracious southern drawls talking about intentionality and living life in grace and nurturing your precious babies and the holy calling of being a mama. I looked at your popularity—how many people you know, how many followers you have, which publishers you are with, what you have accomplished. You sang popular worship music and knew all the words and I made assumptions about your churches and faith.

In short, I walked in with a judgmental, divisive spirit. You came in to the conference as empty vessels, preparing to be filled up. I lugged in bushel baskets of ugly. I looked through lenses of envy and jealousy. I let my longing to be better ignite my insecurities about my weight and age and the church background I come from. I assumed you weren’t interested in anything I might have to offer, so I held tightly to myself.

I pride myself on my ability to look for similarities, to focus on what people have in common rather than dwelling on the differences. So I’m feeling especially appalled and ashamed that I fell so far and so quickly.

True, I may be in my late 40s and you might be 23. I may have a muffin top and no excuses while you wear a FitBit and manage to work out even with a little one (or two or three or four). You may be especially stylish and I may feel frumpy. But since when has surface stuff mattered to me? And why did I let it consume me?

Maybe it’s this: I sense that you are genuinely that selfless and gentle and kind, and I’m just not as nice as you are. And I don’t like it when I become—what was it Logan said?—Judgy McJudgyPants? And the more I didn’t like me, the more inferior I felt next to you.

But when I took the time to fight through my feelings, when I turned again towards God and away from the master liar, I rediscovered the beautiful truth: We’re not that different. We both love God—love Him so much that He has become our source. We’re not in competition. We’re on the same team, and we’re representing the same Kingdom. We’re inspired by the same Source, and even so, we’re not meant to be exactly the same.

What you’ve found with God does not in any way diminish what I have found or what remains available to me.

You will have stories I won’t, and you will use them to reach people I can’t. That’s good. It’s how it’s supposed to be. Forgive me for succumbing to the falsehood that there are not enough pieces of pie for each of us. Please grant me forgiveness for my ugly—and unfair and unfounded—thoughts.

We all know the story of the woman at the well. She went in the middle of the day, alone, because she was an outcast. But Jesus met her there. He saw through her charade and spoke truth to the innermost part of her heart, and she discovered something in the water He offered that she had never found anywhere else.

When I picture the women who taught us, I can’t shake this image: Women who draw their strength from the well of life, which is the Word of God. The idea that won’t leave me is that of each of you casting your bucket into the well with abandon—and withdrawing life-sustaining power. You don’t drink of the leftovers or rely on others to bring it for you. You lower your buckets and when you draw them back to you, they’re overflowing with living water, and you bathe in the overflow. Even more impressive, you go back again and again. And again. Because you can’t get enough. You’re not content to merely survive. You long to grow, to thrive. To live.

I spent so much time dwelling on this idea that I missed something. Apparently, I am the woman who walked alone to the well, certain that I would be judged, and I almost missed taking a drink because I made such an idol of who I thought you would think I was.

But you? You welcomed me with kindness. Your face shone with the reflected glory of God as you shared your stories. I spent a lot of time feeling like an outsider, but that’s not your fault. I could have gone to the well early in the morning, like the other women of the village. But I chose not to.

The beauty of it all, though, is that Jesus still met me. He still waited and He still had something to offer.

Because He always does. He whispers the truth of who He is, and who we are when we belong to Him. He reminds us that this life has nothing to do with other people and everything to do with Him. Period. I need to look upward, not sideways. I need to ask Him to change me, to help me learn to be content, to instill in me such a confidence in His love for me that I no longer measure myself against others. He sees me—with all the ugly on the inside—but He doesn’t run away. He pulls me closer and tells me the truth about myself. And reminds me what I already knew: I am forgiven.

So now I need to forgive myself. I hope you will forgive me, too.

I went into Allume focused on promotion and meeting people who could help me further my career. And boy did I miss the boat. Because this conference wasn’t about success, or even really about publishing. It was about nourishing the souls of women who write about God, about feeding the desire we each have to connect more deeply with Him through knowing others.

And it was a learning opportunity. A place where God could show me my weaknesses in His ongoing efforts to prune me, to refine me, to redeem me and mold me into His image. I have a long way to go. But you know what? I’m feeling a surge of gratitude in my heart that I have the opportunity to walk alongside you on this path.

I’m finally feeling what I should have felt from the start.

I’m thanking God for the beautiful women He allowed me to connect with—in spite of my insecurities and inner turmoil. And I’m asking God to nurture you, to open doors and allow you prominent platforms from which to tell your God-stories. I’m praying for your success in publishing, and I’m trusting that God will reveal new things to you along the way. I’m in awe of your authentic relationships with Him and I’m inspired to renew mine. I’m pledging my help to you, in whatever ways I can, from a genuine desire to see you go forward, to see you change lives.

It’s how I’m turning my prayers upside down today. With each pang of insecurity I feel, I’ll pray for all of you. And I believe that in the process, God will transform me. Because He’s good like that. Oh so good. And I’m so grateful.

How I got my book published

“Hey, Kelly, have any advice for me about getting my book published?” I have no shortage of opinions (about anything, really). Whether they’re useful to anyone else remains to be seen. I’m always happy to share my experience, but I’m an expert only on my own experience, not on the industry in general. I know what worked for ...

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“Hey, Kelly, have any advice for me about getting my book published?”

I have no shortage of opinions (about anything, really). Whether they’re useful to anyone else remains to be seen. I’m always happy to share my experience, but I’m an expert only on my own experience, not on the industry in general. I know what worked for me, but it might be completely different for you. However, I’m asked this question enough that I wanted to post some answers on my blog.

There are many, many helpful resources online for writers. My first go-to source is Jane Friedman. Her site is full of accurate, realistic information and she is a master at curating helpful resources for writers. This post covers all the basics of getting a nonfiction book published. You can go there, explore and read for days and days, and never need to look back here. You can also find information on Michael Hyatt’s website and in The Christian Writer’s Market Guide—or a million other places.

But, in case you’re curious, here is how it worked for me.

I had a quirky idea for a colorful gift book called Praying Upside Down. Various circumstances and comments led to me realizing it could be more than that. I spent nearly a year (working on it a little bit here and a little bit there) preparing a nonfiction book proposal, which contains information like summaries of each chapter, marketing ideas, competitive titles, my qualifications, and anticipated audience. I also wrote several chapters to get a feel for how the book would all come together and to establish my voice. I planned to pitch my idea to an agent who would be at the Midwest Writers Workshop that July. (She liked the idea and asked me to send her the full proposal, but eventually got back to me and said it was “out of her wheelhouse” and she wouldn’t be able to help me.)

In the meantime, I Googled “Christian literary agents” and found a list compiled by Michael Hyatt. I visited each agent’s website, printing out information about what types of books they were looking for and who else they represented, which I then alphabetized in a three-ring binder, complete with tabs. (OCD much?) After choosing the agents that seemed to be good matches, I narrowed it to my top three choices. Two of them asked for electronic submissions, and one requested a hard copy by mail. I sent off the emails and then, when I got together with a couple friends to pray over a house one of them needed to sell, I took the envelope with me and we prayed over it, too. I also submitted a shortened version of the proposal to Christian Manuscript Submissions, a website I’d read about online.

And then I felt like I really wasn’t in the place to be writing about prayer. I was floundering spiritually and emotionally, and I wanted to try something new. So I did the practical, obvious thing (not) and decided to go to Italy for a writers workshop with Elizabeth Berg and learn about fiction. Instead, I learned about myself, and God started healing my broken heart. I wrote this essay about it, and then came home. Six weeks later (almost four months after sending my queries), in one weekend, I heard from the acquisitions editor at a small publishing house and from the agent who received the prayed-over envelope, wondering if the book was still available.

A while later I signed a contract to be represented by that agent, Blythe Daniel. She helped me improve my book proposal and sent it to seven publishers. I got an offer on the book from the small publishing house I mentioned earlier, and then got one from Tyndale. Eventually I signed the contract, agreed to a pub date almost two years away, and got to work writing the rest of the book. (For most nonfiction that is not memoir, potential publishers only see a proposal and sample chapters up front, and you write the bulk of the book after you’ve accepted an offer.) After a year or so of writing, and several months of editing, and numerous hours building my platform (developing my blog and increasing subscribers, establishing a presence on Facebook and Twitter, reaching out to writers I’d met over the years at conferences, and so forth), and a few more months of waiting, Praying Upside Down came out in May of 2015.

It sounds fairly easy. It isn’t always. I was fortunate—it’s unusual to get an agent and publishing offers so quickly. But in a way it wasn’t quick—I had attended workshops for years to improve my writing and I didn’t send anything out until it was the best I could make it. I had worked hard to polish my query letter and book proposal, and I was deliberate about where I sent it. Later, I found out that I hadn’t quite followed the rules. I wrote each of the chapter summaries in my “voice,” and they were too long. (Ideally, they want a utilitarian, short paragraph explaining the content, not a beautifully-crafted, ultra-condensed chapter.) I did a terrible job of selecting comparable titles. My overall proposal was way longer than anyone really wanted. The agents and publishers didn’t get back to me in the timeframe I expected.

But it worked. And I have some ideas about why. My background is in marketing, and I had lots of ideas about ways to promote the book, ways to merchandise it and extend it into a line of books. I also had a quirky, catchy title and an unusual approach. And it just so happened that I had chosen to write about a topic which interests a lot of people and answers a “felt need”—in other words, even if they hadn’t articulated it to themselves, people want to know how to pray. How to do it better. Why they should do it. Because so many people feel inadequately equipped to pray.

But even if I’d done absolutely everything else right, I wouldn’t be here without Him. This book wouldn’t exist if He hadn’t wanted it to. Because one thing I can tell you for sure: this book wasn’t just about prayer. It was prayer. It was my act of worship and sacrifice and thanksgiving. My whole life’s story. A love letter to God. My church prayed over it at every stage. Friends “took” a chapter apiece to pray over as I revised. I enlisted people to be involved in a prayer campaign leading up to the release. My pastors and friends (and even some near-strangers) prayed that God would inhabit my words, that He would prepare hearts, that He would make Himself visible in the process and in the product.

Whether or not anyone else ever thinks the book was in any way divinely inspired, I know He was with me as I wrote. Because He changed me, taught me, and molded me as I wrote. Maybe He did all of this just for me, and having the book published is just a bonus. The book has opened up conversations with family and friends; built relationships with people I’ve never met who live all across the country (and even overseas); and made me stronger and bolder in my faith. I have no idea what God will do with that book, or with the next one coming out next year, but I’m absolutely giddy that I get to write.

I guess it all comes down to one final piece of advice, then. Ask God to inhabit what you do. Ask Him to use you, teach you, and prepare you for whatever He wants to do. And if you think He wants you to write, then by all means, write—with all of your passion and ability and heart. And if He doesn’t want you to write, that’s OK, too. Whatever He has in mind for you is the right thing. Our part isn’t to decide how God should use us. It’s to be open to exploring the opportunities He gives us…and then to give it all you’ve got. What you get back in return is so much better than what you had to offer in the beginning.

When prayer was all we had left: the Bowers Story

Let’s give a special welcome to my friend Carly today. She and her husband have an amazing story to tell about the way God carried them through a tragic accident. Their lives and attitudes inspire me (that sounds cliche, but I don’t say that lightly). I asked her to post here as they’re gearing up ...

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Let’s give a special welcome to my friend Carly today. She and her husband have an amazing story to tell about the way God carried them through a tragic accident. Their lives and attitudes inspire me (that sounds cliche, but I don’t say that lightly). I asked her to post here as they’re gearing up to release the book (very soon) that tells their story. When it’s available, I’ll post a link here. But in the meantime, here’s a little taste…

My name is Carly Bowers. Sixteen years ago, I received the phone call that each one of us fears to ever get. As I was working in our home office, the phone rang. I impatiently grabbed the receiver, thinking it would be another telemarketer asking me to dish out money.

“Hello,” I said, not even trying to fake chipper.

“Is this Carly Bowers?” a woman on the other line asked.

“Yes, can I help you?”

I would have never been prepared for what came next, nor will I ever forget those life-changing words.

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“My name is so-and-so. I’m a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital over in Port Arthur. Your husband David has been in an accident, a serious explosion at work. You need to come down to the emergency room as soon as possible.”

That day, our family began the journey through refining fire when my husband David was severely burned in an explosion at work. Our “perfect little world” was turned upside down in a flash as we were told that he wasn’t expected to survive his injuries. At the time of the accident, our daughter was just days away from her ninth birthday, and our son was two years old.

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For the next four months, friends and family members would care for our children as we focused on David’s physical needs at a burn unit that was almost three hours away from our home. Each day was a rollercoaster ride- a nonstop rollercoaster ride full of twists and turns. Some days David would wake up and be coherent, by lunchtime he would be fighting off a life-threatening infection and be heavily sedated and then by bedtime he’d be lucid again. Then we’d repeat the ride the next day. It was physically, mentally and spiritually exhausting.

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The healing process for our family has been an ongoing battle, but through it all we have grown closer to God and to each other. Even in our darkest moments, we’ve been blessed with reminders that God has a plan, a purpose, and hope for our pain.

Our family has witnessed, firsthand, the power of prayer. There were many days that I would find myself curled up on the tile floor in the hallway just outside the double doors of the burn unit. As the doctors and nurses worked diligently to save my husband, I felt helpless. The only thing I could do was pray. At the time, it felt like such a small gesture, but over time I realized the powerful impact of my simple pleas to my heavenly father.

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Within hours of David’s accident, prayer warriors from our church began sending out emails, telling people of our story and asking for prayer for our family. A community prayer vigil was organized the very night of the explosion. Within weeks, the email prayer list grew to include hundreds of people from across the nation and spanned the globe. We felt overwhelmed by the fact that complete strangers were praying for us. We felt so undeserving.

A dear friend from church wrote, “They faced a battle for life, armed only with prayer, and WON!”

Even though there were plenty of days that my strength weaned and I felt like I was running on empty, I was able to continue to put one foot in front of the other, day after day. I felt an indescribable strength, a sense of peace and I felt like God’s arms were actually wrapped around my shoulders, comforting me in ways that simply weren’t humanly possible.

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David and I have felt nudged to write our story many times over the years and we’re excited that our book, Walk Through Fire, is finally completed, and releases in early October. We have come to realize that how we respond to the unexpected trials that God allows us to go through can greatly impact how successful we are in our quest to move forward and start living again. Pain is unavoidable, but we can choose to overcome suffering with a positive outlook and we can seek ways to find joy amidst our circumstances. We have come to realize that how we respond to the unexpected trials that God allows us to go through can greatly impact how successful we are in our quest to move forward and start living again. I am currently writing our family’s story in order to share personal insights on how to use prayer, faith, humor and joy to find hope in whatever situation you may find yourself in. Pain is unavoidable, but we can choose to overcome suffering with a positive outlook and we can seek ways to find joy amidst our circumstances.

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We hope Walk Through Fire will encourage others who might find themselves in the middle of an unexpected tragedy by focusing on the power of prayer, faith, humor and joy.

We are so honored to have the opportunity to encourage others who are facing hardship. We believe God can use our story to serve others, and I pray that you are encouraged.

We believe in laughter, we believe in hope, and we believe in a God who brings light even into the darkest of places.

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Reaching the end

I’ve been kind of busy, you know… what with FINISHING the complete first draft for book #2. Yes, you heard me correctly. Finished! I’ll tell you the truth. Since this wasn’t a novel, I didn’t really need the words “The end.” But it just felt so good to type them. Over the next two months, I’ll ...

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I’ve been kind of busy, you know… what with FINISHING the complete first draft for book #2. Yes, you heard me correctly. Finished!

I’ll tell you the truth. Since this wasn’t a novel, I didn’t really need the words “The end.” But it just felt so good to type them. Over the next two months, I’ll be working on edits with Bonne, the same magnificent editor I worked with on Praying Upside Down. That gives me great pleasure, because she’s something like magic. She makes me look good. I’ll keep you posted on things like release date (next spring) and the cover and so forth, but for now all I have to offer you is the title: DESIGNED TO PRAY: Creative Ways to Engage with God. It’s an 8-week-long prayer journal/activity book filled with creative prayer exercises, stories, Bible verses and quotations, and lots of fun artwork. And I’m really excited about it. But I’m also quite tired. I’ll be sending this to my editors Sunday afternoon after asking everyone in my church to pray over it first. And now? I’m going to indulge in reading a good YA novel and watching TV with my son. I may also find some chocolate.

Here’s the link to download the new prayer prompt calendar for September. Hope you enjoy!

Sept 2015 prayer prompts

Perfectly formed (guest post from Courtney Westlake)

When my daughter was first born, I thought they just needed to wipe her off. At first glance, she seemed to be covered with a thick coating of white, causing confusion and near-panic with the medical staff in the room. It soon became clear that the towel the nurse was using to clean her wouldn’t ...

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When my daughter was first born, I thought they just needed to wipe her off.

At first glance, she seemed to be covered with a thick coating of white, causing confusion and near-panic with the medical staff in the room. It soon became clear that the towel the nurse was using to clean her wouldn’t alleviate anyone’s concerns.

Because the white covering was her skin.

Our daughter Brenna (our second child and sister to our now five-year-old son Connor) was born in 2011 with a very severe, very rare genetic skin condition called Harlequin Ichthyosis (har-le-kwin ick-thee-oh-sis).

This severe disorder means that Brenna’s body has trouble with things like regulating her body temperature – she can’t even sweat – and keeping bacteria out, so she can get skin infections easily. It also means that her body produces skin about 10 times too fast, leaving her with very dry, peeling skin that looks like a sunburn all over her body.

Brenna’s condition affects our lives very profoundly every day and has caused the last three years to be filled with surgeries, doctor and therapy appointments, and a lot of health issues. But my husband, Evan, and I have never questioned why – we have believed from the very beginning in God’s plan for Brenna’s life.

We are often asked what is “wrong” with Brenna, with her skin or her face. But to be wrong is to be mistaken… and I don’t believe that mistakes happen with our awesome God.

When Brenna was just a few days old, critically ill in the neonatal intensive care unit, a family member came to us and said: “I haven’t talked to God in years… but I’ve been praying for Brenna.”

It was in that moment that I was assured that God had an extraordinary purpose for her life, and that he was bringing his children closer to him through our daughter and working through her to reach the hearts of others.

And, as I soon discovered, God was also working through me, by giving me the courage to stand up and say that my daughter is not wrong, she is beautiful.

God has given us the courage to find the beauty in this life, not the tragedy. We believe whole-heartedly that Brenna was given to us uniquely and beautifully created by God, not that she was given to us broken.

Within this, we are learning every day how to discover the beauty in the different and the unexpected. Where society often mocks different, we have found God’s beautiful creation in our differences and are learning to glorify his awesomeness through our distinct personalities, talents, and yes, appearances.

And yet, as we learn to appreciate and to celebrate our differences – our own and each other’s – it also serves as a great reminder that the God who created each of us with unique purpose and talents also created us with a likeness in his image.

We are different, and we are the same – none of us perfect, but formed purposely by a perfect Creator. And there is nothing wrong about that.

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To read more of Brenna and Courtney’s story, visit her blog at www.blessedbybrenna.com.

What question should we ban from small talk?

Today’s guest post is from Sarah Philpott. I’ll share with you her bio from her website, allamericanmom.net, to give you an idea what her blog is like: Hey y’all! I’m Sarah—a farmer’s wife and mom to two mischievous little kids. I’m a lover of big earrings, the written word, traveling, hosting parties for my friends, ...

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ThePhilpottFamily-131Today’s guest post is from Sarah Philpott. I’ll share with you her bio from her website, allamericanmom.net, to give you an idea what her blog is like:

Hey y’all! I’m Sarah—a farmer’s wife and mom to two mischievous little kids. I’m a lover of big earrings, the written word, traveling, hosting parties for my friends, and sitting on my front-porch soaking up life. This blog is devoted to helping families through the turmoil of pregnancy loss. If you’ve found yourself here because you’ve experienced loss…please let me tell you that I am so sorry. On occasion, I like to give a glimpse into my day-to-day life as a millennial farm mom. Thanks for dropping by! ~~Comforting Others with the Comfort We Have Received~~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

What I’ve discovered, as someone who is fortunate to have not had to face infertility or the loss of a child, is that even though I personally haven’t faced these things, I have friends who have. And the recurring theme in all that I’ve read is that when people face these struggles, they often feel alienated and alone and unable to share the truth. I think we all, whatever stage of life we are in, need to be aware of what so many people face and learn to have the awkward conversations but to do it with love and compassion and grace. This is such a good post that Sarah was willing to share. Enjoy!


So, when are you going to have a kid?
Do you want more kids?
Are you finished having kids?
Why don’t you have any kids?

When we reach a certain age, these questions come directed at us with sniper-like speed. They are asked by the sweetest, most well-meaning people ever: the little old lady who sits at the end of our church row, the older-widowed gentleman who is behind us in line at the grocery store, and the man at the party who doesn’t know a follow-up question to “what do you think of the weather.”

But, these questions are also asked in a taunting and teasing manner. You know the ones: “So, when you are you and Vanessa going to get that baby making started? Do you need me to tell you how it works?” ( wink, wink) says your husband’s business colleague in the middle of the company party.

Tisk, tsk, tsk. Neither Emily Post nor Amy Vanderbilt would approve of such banter as appropriate. I’m sure it is mentioned in their etiquette books between the chapters of “how to address a wedding invitation” and “how to fold a napkin.” To put it simply, “baby makin’ ain’t a topic for small-talk.”

IT’S JUST A SIMPLE QUESTION. WHY DO YOU HAVE TEARS IN YOUR EYES?

The reason questions related to procreation can be uncomfortable is because a large percentage of couples face the reality of infertility or pregnancy loss. For these couples, their heart’s desire and the timing of God fail to intersect at the same point. It can bring with it angst, sadness, and confusion. These couples have learned that creating a child isn’t as easy as making a dinner reservation, and they don’t necessarily want to share their personal details with the man standing behind them at the grocery line. It’s not that they want to keep this a secret; it’s just that they don’t really want to unleash real, raw emotions in the middle of Publix. A deluge of tears might spill down aisle 5.

WHAT ARE WOMEN REALLY THINKING?

Let’s examine the thoughts of ten women when they are asked the innocuous question: “Are you going to have kids?” You can read how emotionally laden such a simple question might be:

??? SO, WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE KIDS ???

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I say, “Enough already!”As you can read, this simple question can trigger a variance of emotional responses for many women and couples.  Fertility issues are invisible burdens that many couples bear; we should acknowledge that possibility before asking such a personal inquiry.

Questioning in the middle of the grocery store- not okay. Questioning over a cup of coffee during an intimate conversation- okay. Questioning in the middle of church “hand-shaking” time- not okay. Questioning in the middle of a private conversation at church-maybe okay.

We should definitely give grace and forgiveness to acquaintances whom inquire about such personal matters. Many have a motive of pure kindness and are not privy to inner struggles. Also, opening up to other people about struggles and fears can be extremely helpful; it is through conversation and vulnerability that we find out that others might have faced similar circumstances and might be able to offer us hope, wisdom, and kinship.

Those of us with fertility issues might also consider responding with the truth—even if the question-asker is put in an awkward position. Responding by saying, “Actually we do WANT children, but we have complications with fertility. Do you mind praying for us?” Answering this way can be powerful, freeing, and makes a social statement that infertility and pregnancy loss are not topics of shame.

But as a society we should all stop using the question of children as small-talk. Only ask if you are prepared for a real answer and ready to provide a listening ear (or a slap in the face). Likewise, let’s all (men, I’m mainly talking to you) make a concerted effort to stop teasing people (mainly your fellow guy friends) about having or not having kids.

Readers, repeat after me, “I will stop teasing people about whether or not they have children. I will stop asking acquaintances if they want more or any children. Instead, I will ask about the weather or their summer vacation plans.”

And we all say, “Amen.”

So, what’s your favorite small-talk question to ask someone? And, what’s your favorite way to answer the “Do you want to have kids?” question?

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