In the boat with Jesus—and a giveaway!

Ever since I started genuinely following Jesus, I’ve felt an almost desperate longing for more of Him. For revelations that can only come from God. For a deeply passionate and intimate faith. But I can only go so far in that direction before I falter. My heart longs for more of God, it really does. ...

Read More

Ever since I started genuinely following Jesus, I’ve felt an almost desperate longing for more of Him. For revelations that can only come from God. For a deeply passionate and intimate faith.

But I can only go so far in that direction before I falter.

My heart longs for more of God, it really does. Even in my lesser moments. But, inevitably there comes a time when it gets hard to keep living out my faith. Really hard. (Or I get bored. Or busy. Or discouraged. Or I feel like He’s not listening—or maybe that I have nothing to say.)

At those times, I’m not sure I have what it takes to stick with it. There’s a verse in James chapter 4 that says, “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” In context, it’s talking about not knowing what will happen tomorrow, about the insignificance of our lifetimes in the span of eternity.

But every time I read it, I’m haunted by the certainty that it’s Jesus speaking to me.

I am like a mist… I’m here now, but before long—tomorrow? next week? an hour from now?—I’ll vanish. I’m a vapor. Not solid. Impermanent. Uncertain. Fickle. Not dedicated enough. Weak and weary. All too aware of my lack of discipline, my inability to stay focused on one thing for the long term. I know that I can do all things through Christ. I know that He has called me, and that when I let myself abide in that holy place with Him, my abilities (or lack thereof) fall away and His take over.

And yet, some days the responsibility that comes from wholly committing to this life weighs heavy on me. The knowledge of my weaknesses immobilizes me.

51svFT1o0FL._SX321_BO1204203200_I recently read an Advance Copy of Suzie Eller’s new book, Come with Me: Discovering the Beauty of Following Where He Leads. There are so many things I would like to share with you, but I’ll stick to the one that truly stopped me in my tracks.

Remember in Matthew 4 and Mark 1 when Jesus asked Simon Peter and his brother to leave their nets behind and follow Him? They did.

And yet, we see in Luke chapter 5 that Jesus sees two boats, left there by fisherman who were washing their nets at the end of a discouraging night. He gets in the boat belonging to Simon and asks him to put out from the shore.

Here’s what I never noticed: At some point, Simon went back to fishing.

He was weary and wasn’t catching anything. Jesus had him try one more time, and this time the results were spectacular—but what came before that is the bigger point: Jesus waited in the boat for Simon to come to him. No shame, no beating him up for disappearing again. Jesus knew just where Simon Peter would be, so He went to him.

And Jesus knew just where He would find me—returning again and again to my old ways. He knew that, just as Simon was having no luck at all, catching no fish, feeling tired and discouraged, so was I. When I hurt my arm, I got weeks of much-needed time off work. A dear friend commented one day that I was given this gift of time, so why would I fill it up with the same ol’, same ol’? Why not do things differently this time?

Indeed. Because clearly my old way of doing things wasn’t working so well. No fish in my nets—no margins. I didn’t have time for the people who matter the most. I didn’t have the energy to reach out and do things for people, to be God’s hands extended. I didn’t have the kind of prayer life I want to have.

So I’ve pondered and prayed. I’ve let my crowded mind slow to a leisurely pace, accepting the fact that I need help and cannot do it all myself. I’m evaluating the way I work, the tasks that fill my days, and who I think God made me to be.

And what I’ve discovered during these weeks of figuring out who I am when I’m not being defined by my work is that I’m not doing it alone. All along, Jesus has been sitting in my boat.

I don’t want to meet Him and follow Him temporarily. I don’t want it to be a phase I move in and out of. I want to commit. To follow Him—truly follow Him—without limits.

12998589_10209527014311098_646484234081389908_n

Jesus is waiting in my boat for me to push out from the shore of who I’ve been and row towards who He wants me to be. I’m not having to do it alone. I’m moving forward with the One who knows where we’re going. The One who knows what I need to do. The One who sees me, understands me, and inspires me.

But the biggest miracle, as Suzie Eller pointed out at a retreat I attended, is this: when I cast out into deeper waters, even if I never have any fish—the miracle is that I am experiencing a deeper walk with God. As she wrote, “Where we go is not nearly as important as who we go with.”

So I am going, with no hesitation whatsoever. Facing forward eagerly and happily. No looking back. Because as long as I’m in the boat with Jesus, there’s no place I’d rather be.

__

I’m giving away a copy of Come with Me. To enter, leave a comment below before midnight on May 2, and share where you think God is leading you. Or what He’s asking you to say yes to. If you don’t win, you can order the book here or from your favorite retailer. It releases on May 3. #livefree #comewithme

Finding Peace & Purpose in a World of Crazy

The irony is not lost on me. I have post-it notes all around my computer monitor, lists of deadlines and checklists to keep me on task. I eat at my desk. I stay in my office until late at night, trying to squeeze in one more project, one more email, one more blog post, one ...

Read More

The irony is not lost on me.

I have post-it notes all around my computer monitor, lists of deadlines and checklists to keep me on task. I eat at my desk. I stay in my office until late at night, trying to squeeze in one more project, one more email, one more blog post, one more cog in my social media platform. Then I get an email asking for help—can I read this book and post a review THIS WEEK in exchange for some free books? Of course, I say. Because, if you know me at all, you know I always think I can do one more thing. On Monday, I was a superhero designer, accomplishing massive, voluminous feats without breaking a sweat.

Tuesday was a whole other thing. A crappy day. Dreary, dark, blustery weather to match my mood. Work was making me crazy. Such a huge list of deadlines and not enough information. I sat at my desk and cried, but only for a sec, because who has time for this? I had piles of things to put away, galleys of my own second book to proof and return, and a son to pick up from school. I sent emails, checked the proofs, ran to the store, answered the phone, begged my husband to drive through someplace and bring back dinner because I had so much to do. Finished proofing while watching Downton Abbey. Power-watched two episodes of a brainless Netflix series (to escape reality and relax), and then I realized it was only 10:15. I could squeeze in a few chapters of my new book (the one whose review is due in three days) before bed.

I’ll be honest. I planned to skim it and get the review done quickly. But I immediately discovered that would not be possible. I underlined something on nearly every page. Marked almost every word on others. Drew clouds and thunderbolts and stars and boxes around things.

Breaking Busy Book. Alli Worthington. If it doesn't add to your life, it doesn't belong in your lifeAnd all the while, everything that I’ve been so frantically juggling decided to crash down around me.

I already knew my life was out of control, unbalanced. I knew I wasn’t handling things well. I’ve felt God nudging me, whispering to me, suggesting changes. But this wasn’t a still, small voice anymore. God was shouting. Not in anger, but it had to be loud to make me sit up and take notice. It had to be strong to get me to respond.

Earlier that same day, God spoke into my soul—hours and hours before I opened the pages of this little turquoise book—and said I need to make changes. I need to trust Him. I need to stick up for myself. Live the way I know I need to. Quit setting myself up for spiritual failure—spiritual, emotional, physical overload.

It needs to stop.

But it’s never quite as easy as that, is it? Because I feel like I have some kind of responsibility to do more, to do everything I’m capable of doing. Because I evaluate myself with such twisted measures of success. Because I need to earn money. That’s often what it comes down to for me. Quality of life I want schedule-wise, or quality of living money-wise?

Breaking Busy spells out the havoc of a life lived the way I have been living mine. It shows why we can’t and shouldn’t try to define ourselves by how busy we are. It spells out the dangers. Asks the right questions. Discusses warning signs and danger zones. And kindly, gently, with a good sense of humor, the author prodded me until I could see—no, admit—the problems I’ve avoided.

unspecifiedYou probably wish I’d talk more about the book and less about myself. But like all the best books, Breaking Busy spoke to me deeply. Books like this spark inner debate, stir up passions, and inspire—to such an extent that the change seems disproportionate to the actual words that started the spark and in a way that makes it impossible to separate the resultant change in me from the content of the book itself. But after sleeping on it, and getting up and reading more, I’ve prayed and prayed, talked to friends, and already taken some steps towards the changes God is showing me. I don’t know what it will all look like in the end because I’m still processing, still trying to ask for and hear what God is telling me. All I can say for sure is that this book has changed me, and I absolutely believe I will come out better in the long run, even if the process is hard.

If you don’t live the kind of crazy, always-striving life I do—if you do things like find quiet time for yourself, take the occasional nap, and let yourself fully engage with your family whenever you can—then this book probably won’t speak to you like it did to me. But it might, because it’s full of wisdom—new insights from scripture and old stories told in new ways. If you feel like there’s always more you should do, then grab some kleenex and a journal and sit down and know it won’t be a quick, easy read. It might, however, be just what you needed to hear. It will definitely be worth it to contain the “busy” and find the calm that comes when we live as the people God made us to be. No more, no less. But just exactly right.


Just say no to unnecessary crazy. BreakingBusy.com #BreakingBusy


I received a copy of this book plus a book bundle from Zondervan in exchange for my honest review of Breaking Busy.

Branch Out—what to read in February

Earlier this week, I wrote about the book I read for January (Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love). Today’s post is relatively short: I’ll tell you my pick for February and offer some ideas to help you pick what you’d like to read. I really hope you’ll consider reading some books with me this year and ...

Read More

Earlier this week, I wrote about the book I read for January (Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love). Today’s post is relatively short: I’ll tell you my pick for February and offer some ideas to help you pick what you’d like to read. I really hope you’ll consider reading some books with me this year and telling me what they’re about. It doesn’t truly substitute for first-hand experience of reading it myself, but it sure saves me a lot of time. And as a bonus, it will help me clear out those “to be read” piles of books I have all over my house.

And (after all, this isn’t supposed to be all about me) you might learn something new in the process. See? Win-win.

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 3.06.35 PMOK, so “a classic Christian voice.” The first name that comes to mind for me is C.S. Lewis, and I have a book of his on my shelf already that I haven’t read, so it’s my pick for this month. A Grief Observed is a book I’ve had recommended to me many times, but I felt too tender to read it. So we’ll see how I do now. (Every time I think I’m “done” with my grief over losing Mom, it hits me fresh. It doesn’t matter that she’s been gone for more than four years. And you don’t have to tell me—I already know—that I’ll never be “done” missing her.)

Some other ideas to consider (and be warned, I’ve only read a couple of these so I can’t guarantee you’ll like them, but pick whatever intrigues you. Even if you don’t read it all, you’ll have a better idea of what it is):

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom with Elizabeth & John Sherrill
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
Something by Oswald Chambers 
Dark Night of the Soul by Saint John of the Cross
Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton
The Cost of Discipleship by Frederick Bonhoeffer
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas á Kempis
The Helper (or any others) by Catherine Marshall
No Greater Love by Mother Teresa

And a few other names to think about:

Peter Marshall
John Calvin
John Milton
John Wesley
Dwight Moody
Martin Luther

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!

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

  As part of my Branch Out Reading Challenge, I chose as my pick for January (“a best-selling Christian book, something new and/or popular”) For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. Just from reading her blog and various other things, I knew I loved her. And I’m excited that she is one of the big-name speakers for the ...

Read More

 

As part of my Branch Out Reading Challenge, I chose as my pick for January (“a best-selling Christian book, something new and/or popular”) For the Love by Jen Hatmaker.

Just from reading her blog and various other things, I knew I loved her. And I’m excited that she is one of the big-name speakers for the new Women of Faith tour, Belong. (In case I haven’t mentioned it—ha—my new book, Designed to Pray, is being published by Tyndale and Women of Faith for that tour.) Shamefully, though, I had not yet read any of her books. But now I have, and so should you. Because A) she gets it. She gets all of it—motherhood, being a wife, writing, struggling, loving Jesus, being real. And B) she may be the funniest person on earth. I exaggerate not.

I realize she’s a few years younger than I am, but I want to be her when I grow up. Besides her amazing talent for writing and speaking, she also has great style and loves food.

I read a review once that criticized this book, saying it was too light and fluffy—the reviewer wanted to read about how to live as a Christian, not discuss yoga pants or leggings. I disagree. I would argue that there is room for both, and in all of my favorite friendships, we can easily segue from one topic into the other and back again, seamlessly. When I read this book, I found depth in the more theological thinking, the stories of how to live this life and share it with others and not beat ourselves up—and relief when, for a few pages, the topics got lighter and she made me laugh. As a writer, I’ve often said that I write to make myself known, because then others will reciprocate and open up. But this time, I got to experience that from the other side. Reading this book made me feel known and understood. Jen spoke truth to this phase of my life, both as a mom and as a writer.

Besides, even from the very first page, you can see that she is not all about herself. Her endorsements are purposely not from celebrities, but from her readers (with qualifications like “introvert, blogger, Jesus-follower, lover of free swag” and “harmonica collector, embracer and contributor of awkward situations, guacamole lover”). Jen is kind of a big deal, but she doesn’t act like it. You gotta like that about a person.

There is no way I can include all of the nuggets that I will carry with me, so I’m going to include a few of the sections I underlined from the first few chapters. (On a side note, recently I gave a copy of a book I was reading to my friend Vickie. She brought me a new book later that day to replace it, but kept mine, because her favorite part were the notes and underlines I made. So that’s sort of what I’m sharing with you here today.) 🙂

“Folks who thrive on God’s grace give grace easily, but the self-critical person becomes others-critical. We ‘love’ people the way we ‘love’ ourselves, and if we are not good enough, then no one is… [God] is good at being God. Hooray! We don’t have to be saviors and critics for each other; we’re probably better as loved people beside one another. We aren’t good gods, but we can be good humans.”

“I fretted and agonized and vacillated before I remembered to pray. (I am a delightful choice for your spiritual advisor, yes?)… People will take as much as you will give them, not because they are terrible humans, but because they only want this one slice of you. It doesn’t seem like much to them. On paper, it’s just that one thing, that one night, that one commitment. Plus, you’re probably good at their pet thing. But they don’t observe the scope of your life and all the other tricks on your beam. They just want that one dip/scoop/lean, but only so many tricks fit into a day… Gracious noes challenge the myth of Doing It All. When I see another woman fighting for her balance beam, I am inspired because if she has permission, then I do too. Wise women know what to hold onto and what to release, and how to walk confidently in their choices—no regrets, no apologies, no guilt.”

GRAPHIC jen hatmaker quote

“Theology is either true everywhere or it isn’t true anywhere. If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti, it isn’t true… We get to labor over our “calling” because we are educated and financially stable, so many of us eschew the honor of ordinary work and instead fret over the perception of wasting our lives….Your career may not involve ‘Christian-sanctioned’ labor, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t walking in your calling… Every goodness God asked us to display is available to you today. Through ordinary work, people can be set free, valued, and changed, including yourself. God’s kingdom will not come in any more power elsewhere than it will come in your life today.”

“God created an entire package. It all counts. There are no throwaway qualities. In fact, those qualities might point you in just the right direction. Nothing is wasted: not a characteristic, preference, experience, tragedy, quirk, nothing. It is all you and it is all purposed and it can all be used for great and glorious good. Maybe your best thing won’t draw a paycheck, but it is how you shine and glow and come to life and bless the world.”

“The best I offer the world is the truth—my highest gift. What the world does with it is not up to me. I am not in charge of outcomes, opinions, assessments. I am not in the business of damage control. When I present a fabricated version of myself—the self who knows it all, is ever certain, always steps strong—we all lose, because I cannot keep up with that lie and neither can you.”

She has some great, down-to-earth parenting advice (“The best parents can have children who self-destruct, and the worst parent can have kids who thrive.” And “Popularity is a terrible goal, because you have to lose yourself to find it.”).

And she recognizes the life-sustaining value or good friends. “It’s tricky, this new online connectivity, because it can become meaningful and true; it has given way to actual friendships I treasure. But it can also steal from friends on porches, the ones who truly know you, who talk about real life over nachos. Online life is no substitute for practiced, physical presence, and it will never replace someone looking you in the eye, padding around your kitchen in bare feet, making you take a blind taste test on various olives, walking in your front door without knocking.” She also says, “Nothing can happen—no tragedy, no suffering—that cannot be survived through the love of God and people. This is holy territory: a loyal friend on the other end of the line, a companion on your doorstep holding King Ranch chicken casserole because sometimes that’s all there is to do. When you say to me, ‘I will see you through this,’ I can endure. Between God’s strength and yours, I have enough. We are not promised a pain-free life but are given the tools to survive: God and people. It is enough.”

And to top it all off, she includes a recipe for Beef Bourguignon that includes an entire bottle of pinot noir. Which I’m making tonight. And which, as she promised, smells heavenly. Wish you were here to eat it with me and tell me all about whatever you read this month! Will you tell me anyway? (Even if you just read one chapter. Even if you didn’t like it. This is a guilt-free zone.) Looking forward to reading about the books you read (or didn’t) in the comments below.


On February 1st, I’ll share my selection for February and offer some choices for you to consider.

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.) ...

Read More

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 ...

Read More

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 ...

Read More

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 :-).

Gods-love-green-500

Holy-job-orange-500

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. ...

Read More

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!

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 ...

Read More

“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 ...

Read More

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.

PHOTO #2

“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.

IMG_0304

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.

EPSON MFP image

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.

PHOTO #5

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.

EPSON MFP image

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.

IMG_0300

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.

IMG_6762

This website and its content are copyright of Kelly O'Dell Stanley  | © Kelly O'Dell Stanley 2017. All rights reserved.

Site design by 801red