Giving Away “Giving”

I am a giver.Years ago, when Pastor Peg walked us through The 5 Love Languages book at church, it verified what I already knew: giving is my love language. It’s my favorite way to express love to the people in my life. It’s not about things, yet I love to find just the right thing to ...

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I am a giver.Years ago, when Pastor Peg walked us through The 5 Love Languages book at church, it verified what I already knew: giving is my love language. It’s my favorite way to express love to the people in my life. It’s not about things, yet I love to find just the right thing to do for someone, the perfect quirky gift, the thoughtful and surprising things no one even knew they wanted until they opened it… But I also like to give money when I can—to people, to my church, to other organizations I believe in. Which is why I’m excited today to announce the release of a new book, which I cannot wait to share with you.

My friend Kelsey Timmerman is an all-around great guy. He adores his children, is kind to everyone he meets, tells great stories (and founded a nonprofit to help communities share their stories)—he’s simply a ton of fun to be around. The more I am around him, though, the more I realize how much depth and kindness and compassion and integrity he has. He also just happens to travel the world and write about the stories of those he meets, which is way cool—and he does so with a sense of empathy and awareness. I loved his first two books, Where Am I Wearing?: A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes, and Where Am I Eating?: An Adventure Through the Global Food Economy with Discussion Questions and a Guide to Going “Glocal.” Today his latest book comes out, and it’s called Where Am I Giving?:A Global Adventure Exploring How to Use Your Gifts and Talents to Make a Difference.

I want to give generously—and I think this book will help me know how best to do that. What I can do that actually helps. What might not help as much. And what qualifies as “giving” besides sending someone money. (That’s probably the part I’m most excited about.) At the same time, it is filled with Kelsey’s stories of the people he met around the world, what they had to say, and how they actually give, so it allows us glimpses into these lives around the globe that we would otherwise never encounter. I’ve ordered a copy for myself, but I want to give away two more copies.

To enter a free giveaway for one of two copies of this book, comment below (either on my blog or on Facebook or Instagram) and tell me something about giving: a quote that inspires you, or a story about a time you were the recipient of a thoughtful giver, or about what you would like to be able to someday do for someone else. Drawing will take place August 21.

I have not had a chance to read the book yet, but I did get a sneak peek at a couple chapters, and I think this is going to be his best book yet. If you’d like to know more, you can click the book image below or click here to read the description on Amazon. The book even includes discussion questions and a guide to giving locally and globally, which means it would be a great book club pick, too. Buy it today for someone you know who likes to give or wants to know more about giving thoughtfully and with wisdom—a great way to ignite a trend of giving, don’t you think?

It’s a process (how I create my prayer prompt calendars)

Several people have asked me to write about the process for creating the prayer prompt calendars. Creating them is one of my favorite things to do. It’s difficult to capture the stream-of-consciousness thoughts that lead to one, but I kept notes and took screen shots as I put together the calendar for August, so I ...

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Several people have asked me to write about the process for creating the prayer prompt calendars. Creating them is one of my favorite things to do. It’s difficult to capture the stream-of-consciousness thoughts that lead to one, but I kept notes and took screen shots as I put together the calendar for August, so I could try. (If you’re not really interested in the process, I won’t take offense—simply click here to go straight to the August calendar download.)

Before I tell you about how I create these, let me back up and tell you about why I started doing them in the first place. In order to find a publisher, an author usually needs a good “platform”—which, simply defined, is the audience the author has influence with, usually consisting of social media followers, blog readers, and so forth. One of the tried-and-true ways to increase blog followers is to offer free downloads as an incentive for subscribing. Many other Christian authors offer free downloads of inspirational quotes or scriptures. As a designer, it would be simple for me to do the same thing, but then I realized that as nice as those are (and I hope to offend no one when I say this), those weren’t really something I wanted or downloaded for myself. So I started researching, looking for something I could offer that related to my book (Praying Upside Down) and seemed specific to me. My Pinterest board from that time was filled with downloadable quotes, prayer journal pages, etc… but nothing really jumped out at me. I didn’t want to do something just for the sake of having something, but I wanted to create something useful. Then I saw a calendar somewhere, and I thought, hey, what if I made a monthly prayer calendar? When I sat down to do it, I grabbed a bunch of random, colorful photos and started playing around. The first several months were completely haphazard.



Over time, the process evolved, becoming less random and more intentional. I started thinking about themes (beginning with giving thanks for November), and then, apparently, I got tired of bring confined to the straight calendar grid and started breaking out of that structure.

People started responding to the calendars, and I started keeping a list of potential themes or graphic ideas when I saw something that inspired me. I’ve done a few calendars tailored to the content of some books I loved (Hope Prevails by Dr. Michelle Bengtson, Rush by Jayme Mansfield, and The Spirit-Led Heart by Suzie Eller), and some just based on fun or graphic images I found.



Somewhere along the way, these calendars became one of my favorite things to do. They’re all about prayer… creativity… coming up with something new… having fun… finding a new look, a new approach—a combination of words and images and prayer that I’m uniquely suited to create. I’ve been making these monthly since March 2015—over three years—and I’m not tired of it yet. As you can see, especially when you compare these to the first calendars I did, they’ve definitely evolved over time!

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OK, so now that you know the background of the calendars,
let’s talk about the specific process of making one.

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I start with just a vague idea about possible themes, usually tied in somehow to the month. If it’s spring, it might be focused on growth, or words and phrases connected to the color green. Summer might be about freedom. September might be back-to-school (even though our schools start in August—old habits die hard)—perhaps a chalkboard theme, or teaching or learning. Some of the holiday months are pretty obvious—gifts for Christmas, gratitude for Thanksgiving.

For my August calendar this year, I considered some concepts related to the month—the colors of the August birthstone, definition of “august,” checked out the holidays that month. In the end, I chose the theme of travel/exploration/adventure, simply because I was preparing for a trip to Malta and that was the mood I was in.

From there, I went to Shutterstock.com, a stock photography and illustration site I subscribe to for my graphic design business. I scribble ideas on a piece of paper and start searching related words, looking for some kind of overall graphic look. It might be a complicated illustration, or a border and a bunch of little pieces. I collect them in a “lightbox” until I have plenty of possibilities. Using Adobe Illustrator, I can change colors, modify shapes, and so on.


I decided that I loved the look of the retro travel stuff, the postmarks and luggage tags, so I started playing with the airmail envelope border and then filled in with smaller graphics related to the individual prayer prompts. I also picked one graphic to use as my primary color palette (the six postcards in the third graphic in the row above this paragraph). Starting with my calendar template in Adobe InDesign, I began copying and pasting individual elements to try to come up with a workable structure.

After playing with images for a while, I went back to words. First, I searched for travel idioms to inspire the prompts…

  • Mile a minute
  • Bad news travels fast
  • Have __, will travel
  • Travel light
  • Off the beaten track
  • Travel broadens the mind
  • Travel with someone
  • Right up my alley
  • Whatever floats your boat
  • Jump ship
  • Train of thought
  • Step it up a gear asleep at the wheel
  • At a crossroads
  • At a fork in the road
  • Backseat driver
  • Put the cart before the horse
  • Cool your jets (calm down)
  • Fifth wheel (someone who’s superfluous)
  • In the driver’s seat
  • Ships that pass in the night
  • Middle of the road (moderate)
  • My way or the highway
  • Road rage
  • On the right track
  • Going nowhere fast


Then I looked for more graphics on Shutterstock related to some of the key words that seemed to have potential.

  • travel
  • map
  • suitcase
  • Airport/airplane
  • cars
  • trains
  • boats
  • tickets
  • world
  • globe
  • stamps
  • coins

Next, I pulled out some of those pictures and scattered them around the page, then started typing in (in a random order) some of the prayers inspired by the images. I keep paper in front of me so I can jot down ideas as they come.

  • Someone who feels lost
  • Sunglasses – what people see
  • Camera- something you’d like to capture, seeing the beauty
  • Vintage travel – suitcase
  • Suitcases – heavy – carrying something they shouldn’t
  • Wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round – someone who’s spinning in circles, getting nowhere
  • Give thanks for the life you have, not the life you want
  • Train tracks, ships that pass in the night
  • Train coming out of a tunnel – pray for someone to get to the light at the end of the tunnel, or pray for someone passing through

From there, it’s simply a lot of back and forth… a few prayers, a few more images, a few more prayers inspired by those images. It’s like a giant crossword puzzle, and I keep moving things around until they fit. I add some color here and there, add things in, take a few things away, substitute shapes and color blocks for some of the calendar squares… Eventually, all the squares are filled, and I’ve squeezed in whatever graphics I can and found a reasonable overall balance to the page….

And voilá! The calendar is ready to download.
[Click here to download your August prayer prompt calendar.]


It’s always just a trial and error process, one in which I follow my gut instinct and operate on a whim. I try to find funny twists on the words and graphics, and I don’t shy away from irreverence. I want this to be fun, and real. I want people to know that prayer doesn’t have to be stiff and formal, that it can be fun and whimsical.

And from there, I hope people will take the same approach I used to create these—and run with it. Use the prompt to get you started but let your mind roam freely from there. Follow the seemingly random connections. Let God bring people to mind and use your individual thought processes in a creative way to guide your prayers.

I can provide a starting point, but it’s up to you—and God—where you go with it from there. Just as I go back and forth, following whatever obscure connections I see in the space between the words and the pictures, I hope you will follow those trails through your own brain. We’ll never get it all. We’ll never pray about every situation that needs prayer. We’ll never remember everyone we care about. The world’s needs are too great. People are too numerous. We’re too limited.

But our God is a creative God. I believe He delights in us when we offer our creative selves to Him, when we try to channel that creative energy that is at the foundation of who He is and all that He creates. I believe He uses these calendars—not because of anything I did, in particular, but because each one of you opens yourself up to His leading when you open your mind to prayer.

I’m thrilled that I get to be a part of it.

Pop Quiz: Evaluate Your Thoughts

Happy to welcome Kelly Balarie back to my blog with a guest post about her new book, which releases TODAY! Leave a comment below to be entered into a drawing for one of two copies! Just list your go-to Bible verse that encourages you when you’re struggling. I’ll draw the winners on July 14. Ever ...

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Happy to welcome Kelly Balarie back to my blog with a guest post about her new book, which releases TODAY! Leave a comment below to be entered into a drawing for one of two copies! Just list your go-to Bible verse that encourages you when you’re struggling. I’ll draw the winners on July 14.


Ever felt that panicked feeling?

It’s that oh-no sense you get when you ram your car against the one behind you. Or when you smash a heavy door right on your baby’s 10-month-old toe (yes, this did happen to me). Or when you speak what should have remained the unspeakable. Or when your deepest fear is about to come true.

Panic steals peace. You cannot have both. Which is why, about a year-and-a-half ago, I decided I needed to learn how to be Battle Ready. I was tired of the same old trials and tribulations tumbling me to the floor with stress, worry, and panic. Something had to change.

Are you in this place? Do horrible things keep on happening to you? Do those same feelings of angst, trepidation and fear keep coming? Do you easily lose faith in God’s ability to come through for you?

It doesn’t have to continue. Just because you’ve always done something, doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it. Just as we love to see our children grow and learn, so does God love to see us forge a new direction with Him…

…especially with our thoughts. How do you think? Consider…

Scenario 1: You trip over the shoes that you left in the hallway last night. Your chin hits the floor with a loud thud! You mean to move them earlier, but you forgot.

Do you say to yourself:

  1. I’m so stupid, I am so forgetful,or I am always doing dumb things?
  2. Or, It’s okay. Everyone forgets things sometimes.

Scenario 2: You blurt out, “When is the baby due?”, or some other statement that you immediately wish you could take back. You know you shouldn’t have spoken like you did, but it is too late. The words are out.

Do you say to yourself:

  1. I am such an idiot, I am rude, I am always making a fool of myself or I am horrible.
  2. Or, I am learning how to use wisdom with my words. God will be faithful to teach me.

Scenario 3: You share a lot one evening when you’re together with a group of friends. You talk about things you’re excited about. You tell people about some things you are going through.Do you say to yourself:

  1. I over-talked. I take up too much space. I come across too (smart, much, arrogant). People think I’m annoying.
  2. I can be who God created me to be. I don’t have to fear what people think of me. God made me just right.

How we think in specific scenarios says a whole lot about how we think in life. Begin to observe your thought-life patterns. Thoughts are usually clear-cut: you’re either hard on yourself or full of grace, full of God’s truth or dwelling on lies, standing in faith or faltering in doubt.

You either think: God is for me or God is against meGod is with me or God is abandoning meGod will never…or God will certainly….

But know this: how you think can change.

People who are walking full of God have to work on it. It doesn’t come naturally. They renew their mind in Christ Jesus, they filter their thoughts, they consider the strategies that work so that they walk with God continually. These are the attributes of a person who is Battle Ready.

There are, in fact, specific strategies to stand strong and firm with Christ. Did you know them? Do you know how to respond proactively, rather than reactively? How to change bad habits? How to renew your mind in Christ?

Many people think it starts with these 5 steps…

  1. Think about what you are thinking about.
  2. Check to see if aligns with God’s truth.
  3. Replace the lies with truth.
  4. Take action based on that new thought.
  5. Notice the better outcome.

…but a life full of faith, full of peace and joy, transcends this. This is a good start, but not the finish line. The finish line is a life that stands on God’s Word as if it is the ground it walks on. It is a hope so secure it feels it is as though it is already won. It is belief so strong, that no man can shake it. It is a life so on purpose, it does with no regrets.

You can get there. You can be full of faith, strong in battle, sure when challenges hit and unwavering when enemy forces come up against you. You can be Battle Ready. There are scriptural tips, biblical stories, practical wisdom and scientific studies that will help you seize new habits, forge new thought patterns and change your life.

Why not proactively prepare your thoughts today to seize great faith?

About Battle Ready: Train Your Mind to Conquer Challenges, Defeat Doubt & Live Victoriously

“The best time to be strengthened against the Enemy’s tactics of doubt, disappointment, and devastation is before he makes his first move toward us. We all desperately need the biblical guidance and preparation found in Battle Ready!” ~Lysa TerKeurst, New York Times bestselling author and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries

Battle Ready is a hands-on scriptural plan that teaches you twelve easy-to-implement, confidence-building mind-sets designed to transform your thoughts and, therefore, your life. You’ll gain practical wisdom, like how to

· make new habits stick in just five steps
· disarm the seven most common attacks that plague women
· exchange self-limiting thoughts for purpose-driven, love-releasing thoughts
· implement thirty-second mind-lifters that deliver peace
· create boundaries so you live life full of what matters

Buy Battle Ready here: https://amzn.to/2l5qQrw

To get Battle Ready freebies – printables, devotional reminders, a customizable daily Battle Plan and the “Find Your Battle Style” quiz, visit: www.iambattleready.com  

To order the companion Battle Ready Daily Prayer Journal that will help you practically change your thoughts, then your life, click here. 

 

Kelly Balarie, an author and national speaker, is on a mission to encourage others not to give up. Through times of extreme testing, Kelly believes there is hope for every woman, every battle and in every circumstance. She shares this hope on her blog, Purposeful Faith, and on many writing publications such as Relevant, Crosswalk, and Today’s Christian Woman. Kelly’s work has been featured on The Today Show, 700 Club Interactive, Moody Radio and other television and radio broadcasts. When Kelly is not writing, she is chilling at the beach with her husband, a latte, and 2 toddlers who rightfully demand she build them awesome castles.

And Then I Blinked

My dear friend Terri DeVries agreed to let me use one of her posts on my blog. It’s been ten months since I lost my dad, and I’m still deep in the valley of grief. Terri lost her husband five years ago, which is a completely different thing—and yet I draw such solace from her ...

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My dear friend Terri DeVries agreed to let me use one of her posts on my blog. It’s been ten months since I lost my dad, and I’m still deep in the valley of grief. Terri lost her husband five years ago, which is a completely different thing—and yet I draw such solace from her wise observations and the truths she’s learned. I hope you do, too.


I’m not the same person I was five years ago. There are the obvious reasons, such as the fact that I am five years older, and my energy level has changed. But those things are not the real reasons. Five years ago I was one-half of a couple. Five years ago all the major decisions were made by two people. Five years ago we were both working; my husband full time and me part time. Five years ago we went on vacations and planned new ones to places we wanted to see. Five years ago I was grudgingly picking up socks and underwear and towels and papers and dishes…

And then.

It was a phone call. And a whole string of what-ifs. Followed by a thousand why, why, why, whys. It was a thundering of blood pumping in my ears, my heart beating so fast I thought I might pass out. It was my body shaking so hard I couldn’t imagine driving myself anywhere. And it was the end of normal as I knew it.

March 17, 2013. St. Patrick’s Day. Beautiful, sunny, deceptively peaceful and perfect. You can’t imagine such a thing happening to you on a day like this. But it did. Life as I had lived it for almost forty-seven years came to a halt.

It was entirely the fault of the widow-maker, that type of heart attack that kills quickly and surely. My husband was healthy, in great shape, training for his third marathon, eating well and doing everything right. Then I blinked, and he was gone.

Reality is like a sharp knife. It cuts your past from your future with an accuracy that stuns. Like magic, what was is gone and what is to be is hidden behind a curtain of grief, the sorrow weighing you down so that you find it impossible to stand. And then in that weak moment come the henchmen; anger, denial, depression.

Wow. So where was my faith in all of this, you ask? Great question. And I’m not sure I have a clear-cut answer. Looking back over these five years since I became a widow (a word I hate with all my heart), I’ve searched for the threads that lead back to that day. Five years ago I was indescribably angry. I spent day after day ranting at the God who took away my husband. Betrayed, let down, disappointed, heartbroken, so alone, discouraged, weary, and feeling deserted, I was certain God had left me. I couldn’t find Him or feel Him anywhere. What kind of God leaves you like that? Consequently, I lost the faith I’d had in Him my whole life, or so I thought.

But here’s the thing. Anger is black, opaque, un-see-through-able. And necessary. God stood beside me, watching, loving, and protecting all the while I was ranting at Him. As the anger diminished, His presence gradually became obvious. He’d never left my side as I thought He had. In fact, He had spent much of that time carrying me as He allowed the anger. And although my faith took a real beating in those weeks, it was always there. The result of my loss was to learn that no matter what happens in your life, no matter how bad it gets, if you believe in the same God I do, He will stay with you always. ALWAYS. Especially in the hard times. Even when you can’t understand the why of it all.

The best way to explain it is to refer to an old story describing our lives as a tapestry we see only from the back side. There is a dark and ugly mass of strings in varied colors, some cut and woven back in and others continuing on. It’s messy, with knots and jumbled threads. None of it makes sense. It isn’t until we see the finished workmanship on the right side of the tapestry that we realize what a magnificent masterpiece it is.

This is what I take from that; I’m still seeing the underside of the tapestry, and for the past five years I’ve been trying to follow the threads that run consistently through the it. The thread of faith can be hard to find because it’s hidden for a time under other threads, but it always reappears at some point. It always reappears. Imagine someday seeing the right side and saying, Oh, look what the Master Weaver did with my life!

I am not the person I was five years ago. I’m older, yes. But that’s not the point. I have learned so much about trust in God, a God who loves me more than I can fathom; I have learned about my own faith, a faith which has grown and blossomed and become the center of my life. I have learned about dependence, a complete surrender to the God who planned out every second of my life before I was even born, and who knows exactly what will happen every second of the life I have left. I have learned how strong I am. I have learned how hardships and difficult circumstances molded me. I have learned how much I still have to learn.

That thread of faith that seemed to disappear right after my husband’s death? It was there all along, and now I’m learning to embrace it, holding it close and letting go of all the doubts and fears, and yes, the anger, that I used to allow free reign.

Because I don’t have the ability to see what’s ahead for me. But I know Who does.


If you’d like to read more about her journey, or know someone else who’s on this road with her, check out her book. It’s wonderful (and so is she).

Empowered by the Spirit (freebies and a giveaway!)

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” ~Luke 24:32 Have you ever had one of those moments? Where you’re going about your ordinary business, trying to make sense of things, when all of a sudden it feels ...

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They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” ~Luke 24:32

Have you ever had one of those moments? Where you’re going about your ordinary business, trying to make sense of things, when all of a sudden it feels as though your heart is on fire? When the hope wells up and overflows? When emotions are high and everything feels possible?

When you know—just know—that God is near?

This verse from Luke kept running through my mind as I read Suzanne Eller’s new book, The Spirit-Led Heart.

I have always connected closely with the idea of the Holy Spirit. Maybe it’s because I go to a Pentecostal-ish church and we operate by the Spirit, seeking after Him, not making excessive plans for the service but instead trying to connect and follow the Spirit. Maybe it goes back to the early, exciting days of my faith, when God opened my eyes to see Him in new ways, and I devoured books like Catherine Marshall’s The Helper. Whatever the reason, the minute I heard the name of Suzie Eller’s new book, I knew that it would be one that would be important to me.

When I had the chance to be an early reader, I jumped at it, and even so, it exceeded my expectations. It’s one thing for someone to inspire you, and Suzie is one person I watch and learn from. She’s the real deal, and I’ve learned to trust her guidance because I’ve seen how she truly lives her faith and always points people back to Him. She tries to never get in the way but to do her part and then get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

But it goes deeper than that. This book woke up my spirit again. It reminded me why I love my God like I do. It reminded me of how the Spirit enlightens and informs and encourages and empowers. And it made me realize how much I was shortchanging myself by not embracing the Spirit in every step that I take.

It showed me that I may be walking that road to Emmaus, just as the disciples in the book of Luke, and I may be talking about God, but so often I find myself oblivious to Jesus’ presence and forget that He is RIGHT HERE. RIGHT NOW.

Here’s the promise: that God is near. And WITH GOD, all things are possible. The gift of the Spirit isn’t something for a select few—it’s a treasure that we can open again and again, every single day. It will shape every moment and change the way we live.

When I finished reading, I asked Suzie if she would consider allowing me to design my May prayer prompt calendar around themes from The Spirit-Led Heart. Graciously, she said yes.

So this month, as always, I’m sending you a prayer prompt calendar to help jump-start your prayers for the month. But this time it feels different to me. The gift Suzie gave to me when I read her inspired words is impossible to measure or quantify, but it was huge. By offering this calendar to you, I hope that I am offering you so much more than another colorful piece of paper. And when I recommend this book to you, I hope you believe me when I say this is not a lukewarm recommendation. I’m not supporting the book’s message out of obligation or charity. I’m involved with it because it changed things for me, and it has the potential to do the same for you.

So right after you download the calendar for May, I hope you’ll click over to Amazon (or your favorite bookseller) and order a copy or two. Ask God to show you who you should share them with. Give yourself this gift and let the book open up discussions about the Holy Spirit with your friends and family.

DOWNLOAD THE CALENDAR HERE
and then read on to enter a GIVEAWAY and get some awesome freebies!

If you order the book before May 1 (the release date), Suzie is offering some awesome pre-order bonuses on her website.

  1. Two chapters delivered immediately to your inbox so you don’t have to wait to get started reading
  2. A gorgeous printable Spirit-Led Heart Manifesto
  3. Be entered to win full registration fee to Suzie’s fall women’s retreat (I’ve been and it is awesome!)
  4. And, of course, the printable 30-day Spirit-Led Heart prayer calendar designed by yours truly (which you can get anyway since you subscribe to my newsletter)

The details of how to get your downloads are on her website, too.

Also, I’m giving away two copies of this book! To enter to win, simply tag a friend on Facebook below my post about this and say why you want her to read the book or download the calendar. If you’re not on Facebook, print an extra copy of the calendar to share with a friend and comment below this blog post telling me you did so. If your name is drawn, I will mail you twocopies of the book (one for you and one for your friend), along with print-outs of this month’s prayer calendar. Deadline to enter is May 5 (date randomly chosen because 5 is the number of grace), so be sure to comment now so you don’t miss your chance to enter.

Lord, I pray for every person reading this prayer, that they may come to know the fullness of the power of Your Spirit. That they might embrace it and see You. I ask You to banish their fears and let them be confident in Your love. I implore You to empower them with supernatural power—inspire them, heal them, lead them, inform them. Love them as only You can love. Amen.

Your answer may already be right next door

I’m giving away one gift every week this month. Be sure to read to the end to find out how to enter this week’s giveaway! It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given, and I’ve talked about it ever since. I even wrote a book about it. But can I let you ...

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I’m giving away one gift every week this month. Be sure to read to the end to find out how to enter this week’s giveaway!

It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given, and I’ve talked about it ever since. I even wrote a book about it.

But can I let you in on a little secret? I don’t think I began to know what the gift really was until about ten years after I got it.

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. Matthew 7:11, NLT

Many of you have already heard some version of this story. In 2007, my husband and I decided to buy the house next door to the one my sister lived in. We weren’t looking for a new home, but this old house being put on the market by her elderly neighbor was everything we hadn’t realized we wanted until we saw it. On top of that, it was cheap. It needed tons of work—all-new electrical, ugly shag carpets removed to reveal hardwood floors, lots of wallpapers stripped and walls painted. But we knew we could renovate it, sell the old house, and make a profit. So we got to work. My dad and I rebuilt the kitchen and everyone in the extended family pitched in in some way. This new house was so much better suited for our family of five and my home office, and we felt God’s peace there.

We were certain God was in this.

And yet the old house would not sell.

Our credit card balances rose steadily, as did my stress. I’d sneak downstairs in the middle of the night, unable to sleep because of the financial disaster we were facing, and I’d cry along with the Psalmists. The bank wouldn’t refinance our mortgage, but my grandmother had loaned us the money to buy the new house—and she decided we didn’t need to pay her back. It was a gift. The house was a gift. (Spoiler alert: as amazing as that is, this isn’t the gift this story is about.)

After many months on the market but hardly any showings, we finally had one scheduled. As I vacuumed in my bedroom, I got real with God. “Lord, I don’t know what we’re going to do if we don’t sell this. We are going to be in real trouble.”

And, without even a hint of hesitation, God spoke to me. “Pray for the woman who will someday buy your house.”

I sat down on the bedspread in silence and awe. I’d heard from God. I knew I could hold on a little bit longer to help her, whoever she was. So I prayed. As I wrote my mortgage check every month, I mentally gave it to God. “This is my offering. I’m doing this for her.” I knew I could manage to go a little bit longer without selling the house as long as I knew God was in it, that He was at work. I believed with all of my heart that was true. So I put more stuff for the house on our credit cards, worked more, and prayed more.

And yet nothing happened for a long time. So we moved. We were declined when we tried to refinance our first mortgage. We anointed the house and prayed for all who would enter it.

And nada.

As we neared the two-year mark, a woman who’d looked at the house earlier came back with an offer that, while low, was one we had to consider. Even so, we couldn’t make it work—until our realtor waived his commission, we got a first-time-ever tax refund, and my mom gave me the rest so we could pay off the bank, at least—never mind the credit cards. Less than ideal, surely, but we felt we had to say yes.

I was like a sulky teenager. Even though I should have been rejoicing, all I could see was that it hadn’t happened like I had planned. And then I saw what God had done during that time in the life of Rosanne, the woman who bought the house, and I realized that He really had answered me. He used our house to answer so many of her prayers. And because I was praying for her instead of focusing on myself, I got to be part of it . When I really looked at the situation, I got to see what God really did.

There’s a lot more to the story, and you can read a little more here; it also became the basis for my first book, Praying Upside Down.

For years, I’ve been talking about this—about how sweet God is, that He brought Rosanne and I together as friends, that He cared enough about her to go to such lengths to provide just what she needed. And how He used the experience to launch my writing career.

But you know something? I was wrong. Maybe not completely, but I guess it’s safe to say, at the very least, that my understanding was woefully incomplete.

In late June, my dad went into the hospital with what we thought were AFib issues. After a few weeks, with my sister and I flying down to Florida for alternating weeks of being with him, surgery revealed cancer—everywhere. It was bad, and Dad didn’t have long. I was in Florida when the surgery happened, but by the time we realized that Dad was likely not to recover enough to come home by means of a regular mode of transportation, my sister Kerry was with him. As a nurse, she understood the situation intuitively and she made the call to have Dad flown back to Indiana via a med flight.

Because I lived next door, it was easy for me to oversee the setup of a room at Kerry’s house and to coordinate with the doctors on this end. I met the oxygen delivery people, set up hospice care, and arranged for delivery of the hospital bed, rolling tray table, and so on. I bought privacy curtains and all the random things we’d need to care for him there.

When Dad got here, he wasn’t doing very well. He was trying to recover from his surgery, deal with a pleurex drain, and the cancer was causing him a lot of pain. From the beginning, he needed someone with him at all times.

It was horrible. And yet it was the best possible scenario. I could walk across the driveway in my slippers, carrying my own coffee, and sit with Dad while he watched the Today show and dozed. While I was there, Kerry could shower and throw in some laundry. I stayed on the days she worked, and on her days off I came home to do my own work—switching off shifts to accommodate our various appointments. Our families shared meals, our kids could come see their Bebop in between activities, and Kerry, her husband Doug, and I took turns sleeping on a futon in Dad’s room each night.

For years, I’d believed that the whole story about selling my house was about seeing God’s answers to prayer, about a new friendship, about giving me insights and the opportunity to write about them. Still true. However, during those tumultuous and overwhelming three weeks before Dad died, I saw the true gift in it all: God was establishing Kerry and me next door to each other so that we would be able to care for Dad like we did. My dad kept saying, with a sense of wonder in his voice, “It’s so neat what you girls are doing here. Who would have thought it would work out like this?”

God knew. Ten years ago, He looked down the road and saw that the only way we could get through the incredibly exhausting and emotional time coming up was exactly the way we did. Side by side, helping each other out, seamlessly interchangeable.

Such a beautiful gift, and one that was planned years ahead of the need.

This is what is so amazing about our God. Nothing is wasted. He sees beyond our immediate needs and He puts answers in motion long before we even know to ask.

Sometimes it feels to me as though God has stopped answering prayers. And then He nudges me, points my thoughts in a new direction and lets me really see: The answers haven’t stopped. Some are still coming. Some look different than we expect. And some are only partially fulfilled—so far. There may still be layers yet to be revealed.

None of what is happening is a surprise to God. We just need to keep hanging on, confident that our God will keep giving to us good and precious gifts. And remember—we don’t necessarily need to look far and wide to find them—they may be waiting for us right next door.


To enter to win this sterling silver charm bracelet—hand-crafted by yours truly with blue and green stones and beads—leave a comment below. Tell us about a gift you remember that God gave you, a gift hidden within a gift, or simply leave a comment or prayer request. I’ll draw names to select a winner one week from today.

A month of gifts—and Talking to Jesus

If you read my post last week, you know that I decided to give away something each week during December. Last week it was a book called Over It! by Kristine Brown. Read to the end of this post for info about a giveaway of a copy of this new book, Talking to Jesus: A Fresh ...

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If you read my post last week, you know that I decided to give away something each week during December. Last week it was a book called Over It! by Kristine Brown. Read to the end of this post for info about a giveaway of a copy of this new book, Talking to Jesus: A Fresh Perspective on Prayer, by Jeannie Blackmer.

I’ve written two books (and countless blog posts) about prayer, but it had been a while since I spent any focused time in prayer. So the other morning I searched high and low for my journal, which had gotten put away weeks ago and forgotten. After I found it and sat down in the quiet, I felt heavenly light shining down on me, and I just knew the Holy Spirit was there with me, and my eloquent, holy words tumbled over themselves as they poured onto the pages…

Except that wasn’t how it went at all.

I had nothing. NOTHING. I don’t feel like I’m in a “crisis of faith,” and I’m not mad at God, and I do believe prayer is important. But I sat there and my mind was a complete blank.

That day, my 17-year-old son was home with another headache. Three days in a row of missed school. I got the emailed updates of his grades, and he’s falling behind. When I try to remind him to do something, or—heaven forbid—inquire in the slightest way into his life, he snaps, “I’ve got it, Mom.” The truth is, I know he doesn’t have it together as much as he thinks he does. I do think he is capable, and I believe he has the best of intentions, and he is a really awesome kid. But I also know he gets stressed when he gets behind, and the stress triggers more migraines, and he misses more school, and gets farther behind, and so on. We went through this last semester (not a good experience) and his older sister has been battling migraines since she was 15, so even though my worries are for him (and her), they come with a bunch of residual stress for me. I’m the one who has to call in to school, get homework, negotiate doctors appointments and prescription refills and have my son take out his frustration on me.

On top of that, he had a bad wreck a couple weeks ago. Thank God he was OK—just some burns from the air bags—but he totaled the car. We had to find time to drive an hour to sign over the title and then find a replacement vehicle. The past few weeks have been busy and stressful, with a sale of the paintings my dad, a professional artist, left behind when he passed away this summer. Work deadlines. Lack of writing time. Financial decisions to be made. Several speaking engagements. Some travel.

It’s not all BAD stuff, just a LOT of stuff. I’m emotionally exhausted. Physically worn out.

And I sat there in the quiet feeling like a failure. Have I learned nothing? Am I a hypocrite? Why couldn’t I pray?

I looked at the pile of devotional-type books on the table beside me, and I picked up a brand new one, Talking to Jesus. Have you ever noticed that sometimes it’s easier to read about prayer than to actually pray? Maybe it’s just me.

Anyway, I started reading. As you might imagine, I love the topic of this book, so when I was given the chance to write a review, I jumped at it. However, I wondered if it would truly be a fresh perspective on prayer—after all, that’s how my books have been described, too. But I immediately discovered this is a different approach from mine in several ways:

  1. This is centered around the idea that prayer is nothing more than a conversation with Jesus—and because of that, any of the conversations people in the Bible had with Jesus qualify as prayer—and can be the basis for your own prayers.
  2. As Jeannie tells the stories (which all come from the book of Matthew), she fictionalizes each as a way to help the reader put herself in the story.
  3. Each short chapter (about 6 pages) ends with a few related scriptures for reflection as well as a few observation questions to help you apply the concept to your own life. The book is not long and intimidating; it’s a good size for a personal study or devotional workbook.

Jeannie’s motivation for this book was trying to find ways to pray on behalf of her teenage children. As she searched the Bible for tips, she realized some of the New Testament stories were about parents approaching Jesus on behalf of their children. As the parent of three children who are now 24, 21, and 17, believe me—I can relate to Jeannie’s desire to come to God on behalf of my kids (can’t you?). And I began reading right when I was faced with doing just that. But the approach isn’t limited to praying for your kids. It applies to all kinds of situations—facing doubt, praying for friends, feeling burnt out, having trouble forgetting… It’s comforting to be reminded that these same problems were faced by people in the time that Jesus was walking the earth. And to remember that just as Jesus answered them, He will answer us.

So that morning, I let these conversations others had with Jesus serve as a stand-in for my own prayers. And I felt a little less empty. A little more sure.

Because I was reminded that I don’t have to bring the faith to my relationship with Jesus. He has enough for both of us. All I have to do is show up.

So let’s pray together. My prayers are for my son (because that’s what’s been on my heart lately), but your prayer requests can be about anything.

Leave a comment below with the basic info about a prayer request you have, and you’ll be entered in a drawing for a copy of this book. Keep your comments vague to protect the privacy of those you’re praying for, but let’s go together to God and lift up these needs. Also, would you take a moment to pray for the comment before yours? It’s easy—all we have to do is talk to Jesus. Because it is in those interactions that we get to see who He really is. And we come to believe that He will do all He says He will do.

I’ll announce the winner next week… and tell you all about the sparkly bauble I’ll be giving away instead of a book!


Jeannie Blackmer was the publishing manager for MOPS International where she helped create more than 20 books for moms. Now she writes full-time and runs the blog for her church, Flatirons Community Church outside Denver, CO. She has spent the last 3 decades professionally writing everything from articles to press releases, and ads to several books. She has a passion for storytelling and spending time with her husband and three sons who are in their 20s.


 

A month of gifts—and when my greatest obstacle is me

I know Christmas isn’t about things, but it’s also true that anyone who knows me knows that I love to give gifts. So that’s what I’m going to do this month… offer giveaways every week. Just because :-). This week we’ll kick things off with a guest post from my awesome friend Kristine Brown. At ...

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I know Christmas isn’t about things, but it’s also true that anyone who knows me knows that I love to give gifts. So that’s what I’m going to do this month… offer giveaways every week. Just because :-).

This week we’ll kick things off with a guest post from my awesome friend Kristine Brown. At the end, I’ll tell you how you can enter to have a chance to win a copy of her book.


When My Greatest Obstacle Is Me

I stood on the other side of the auditorium door, just steps away from the moment that stirred in my heart just weeks before. I had seen the flyer advertising open auditions, and I wanted to be in the school play more than anything.

There was just one small problem. This wasn’t a play. It was a musical, and I couldn’t sing. At least, that’s what someone told me once, and once was all it took for the words to stick.

I thought I’d moved beyond that self-defeating thought. For the past three weeks, I’d planned and practiced a ballad taught to me by a family friend. A ballad I would be expected to sing by myself in front of total strangers.

I committed to follow through, to open the door and step into whatever happened next. But now, so close to that moment, the doubt came flooding back like a raging storm set to destroy.

I’d like to say I marched with confidence onto the stage and sang my heart out, not worrying about the outcome, but that wouldn’t be true. After staring at the back of that door for a few minutes more, I turned around, walked straight to my car, and drove home. I’d let myself become my greatest obstacle.

“And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, ‘You are out of your mind.’ But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, ‘It is his angel!’ But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed.” Acts 12:13-16 ESV

Rhoda knew what it took to stop the ugly voice of doubt from invading her thoughts and causing her to lose confidence. Just a young girl, Rhoda served in the house of Mary. Many believers gathered there that night for a massive prayer meeting. Peter had been arrested by King Herod, and Christ’s faithful followers came together to pray for his safety.

When Rhoda heard Peter’s voice on the other side of the door, she knew it was him. They’d been praying for his release all night, and God answered their prayer! No one in the house believed her, but that didn’t keep her from opening the door.

“They said to her, ‘You are out of your mind.’ But she kept insisting that it was so…” Acts 12:15a

From the actions of this innocent servant girl, we can learn an important truth.

We stop words of doubt from invading our thoughts by insisting on God’s promises.

Inside each one of us, there’s an unsure teenage girl still waiting behind the auditorium door. Every day we face circumstances where words from the past creep in and try to build an obstacle inside our very hearts. It’s hard to stay positive when negative words plant seeds of doubt, causing us to lose faith in what we know to be true.

Rhoda’s story brings hope when we’re tempted to give in to self-defeat. So let’s join together today and insist on what God says to be true. We are worthy. We are loved. We believe.

And with the promises of God in our hearts and minds, we become our biggest ally instead of our greatest obstacle.

To enter a drawing to win a copy of this book, leave a comment below. Share with us one of God’s promises, a truth that you hold onto when times are rough. And then, if you would, pray for the person who commented before you. I’ll announce the winner next week.


Kristine Brown is a communicator at heart who teaches about God’s powerful, relatable Word. She is the author of Over It. Conquering Comparison to Live Out God’s Plan and founder of the non-profit organization, More Than Yourself, Inc. You’ll find Kristine’s weekly devotions and Bible study resources at kristinebrown.net. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

The Fear of Relationship (+ A Special Invite)

I’m thrilled to welcome you to a guest post written by Kelly Balarie. We have something really cool to offer you, but regardless of whether you’re able to participate, I think most of us can relate to the words she’s sharing with us below.   This is my confession to you: I am a stinky ...

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I’m thrilled to welcome you to a guest post written by Kelly Balarie. We have something really cool to offer you, but regardless of whether you’re able to participate, I think most of us can relate to the words she’s sharing with us below.

 

This is my confession to you: I am a stinky friend.

I don’t call people back until at least a week later. I don’t remember birthdays. I get myself spread so thin I rarely reach out like I intend to. I get nervous and run away. I wonder if they are sizing me up in their mind. I consider what they are considering and figure there is no way they could like me. I can only deal with short bursts of time, where I call the shots…

But I am learning.

I am learning, because I am pressing into what scares me: women. Usually, I’d turn myself around and walk the other way from their perfectly aligned necklaces, sweet smelling perfumes and highly organized houses—like they are mosquitoes looking to bite me with their perfection. I think, they’ll: 1. Hurt me 2. Judge me, or 3. Hurt me.

You see where this is going, right?

But, lately, as I’ve pressed into what scares me—women—I’ve noticed something. They don’t bite. In fact, when I draw near to them, God seems to have this way of drawing love out of me. I come home and my husband is all, “You had fun, didn’t you?”

Everything in me wants to get all Negative Nelly and pretend I still don’t like them, but, in reality, I’ve actually grown to love them. This is what happens when you spend time with them. When you really listen. When you ask and when you seek their heart.

You find out they are more than appearance: so many of them care about the heart.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. You see, I just got finished with spending time with 35 amazing authors and love-forgers in the world. I chatted with them about home life, work life, worries, fears, marriage, sex, love, friendship, the unexpected and the unfair. We talked about every fear under the sun. I laughed and I cried. I related to their words. I shared their feelings. I understood their stories. I learned a whole ton of stuff without it feeling hard to digest or unsettling to my stomach.

These 35 fear fighters all make up The Journey Together Summit. Spending time with these women changed me.

Rather than judge them, I started to grow fond of them.

Rather than thinking they were better than me, I saw they were just like me.

Rather than believing I was alone, I learned, we are all in this together.

Life is not easy. Friendships are hard. But, when you get a helping hand from a woman who has lived the pain you are walking, something clicks. It clicks like a bracelet reminding you of the ongoing nature of God’s love and it’s tight hold on you.

As I conducted interviews with these women, it was like each one extended me a bracelet. Their stories made me believe I could press on, they reminded me of faithfulness, they lifted me up in God’s Word, they drove home truths and they helped remove debilitating thought patterns of fear. I am so grateful for them. I love them for this.

I believe you will love them too—and find new courage, and drive into what fear is stopping you and come alive in your own way. Why not see what happens? This event is free. Sign up today for The Journey Together Summit as we talk about fighting your fears from June 5-8th.

There are topics for everyone, including: unmet expectations, an unfair life, shame from the past, uncertainty of the future, worry, anxiety, feeling like a bad mom, marriage, intimacy, work issues and so much more.

Can’t attend then? No problem. You can get the All Access Pass giving you availability to all the sessions, at any time.

If you feel alone, down or debilitated in life, I am confident, these women, like they did when I talked to them, will give you a breath of fresh life.


 

Now it’s me again, the other Kelly. I just want to thank Kelly Balarie for including me in this line-up. I’m not kidding or being falsely humble. I cannot believe I’m seeing my name alongside some of the other authors who are included. This is when you know God is working in spite of you. I’ve talked about this before, but I learned that one way to follow God is to stop dreaming up plans and asking Him to bless them. Instead, look around and see where God is already at work, and then get on board.

That’s how I feel about this. God is already working. He is changing lives and drawing people to Him through the words of this amazing group of people. I’m delighted to get to walk alongside them and watch and see what God is busy doing. I hope you’ll come along with us. This isn’t just a sales pitch—I really mean it. And I hope you’ll be part of this.

 


About Kelly Balarie Author and speaker Kelly Balarie didn’t always fight fear – for a large part of her life, she was controlled by it. Yet, in her book, Fear Fighting: Awakening Courage to Overcome Your Fears, with God, Kelly charts a new course. Join Kelly, on the journey to go and grow with Christ’s bravery, the Spirit’s counsel and God’s unending love that squelches fear. Get all Kelly’s blog posts by email or visit her on her blog, Purposeful Faith. You can also find a variety of resources for your fight against fear at http://www.fearfightingbook.com/. Don’t forget to take part in The Journey Together Summit.

No matter what… Grace.

Do you really understand grace? I don’t. But oh, how much beauty there is in the sliver of comprehension that I can wrap my head around. I recently read The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, and it transformed my faith. Well, maybe that’s not exactly accurate. It validated the beliefs I’d already formed and pushed ...

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Do you really understand grace? I don’t. But oh, how much beauty there is in the sliver of comprehension that I can wrap my head around. I recently read The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, and it transformed my faith. Well, maybe that’s not exactly accurate. It validated the beliefs I’d already formed and pushed me even farther in that direction.

I think grace is one of those words we throw around in the church and don’t really think about.

It’s often defined as unmerited favor, but even that us misleading. It’s true that it’s not dependent on us; our merits don’t qualify us for it.

But it’s also true that in the very act of offering so much to us, God makes us worthy.

We’re not qualified, but God loves us enough to give us absolutely everything we need for all of eternity: His love. His forgiveness. His mercy. His compassion. His transforming power.

Grace means that God loves us no matter what. He calls to us, woos us, pursues us, transforms us.

It means that there is nothing else we could do that would make God love us more than He already does.

It also means there is nothing we could ever do that will make Him love us less. There is no way to stop Him from loving us. There is no way to earn more—He’s already offered it all. Every last bit of it. It’s all held out to us, His Almighty arm fully extended.

He doesn’t love me more after that really powerful quiet time I have than He did before I sat down to spend time with Him. That floors me.

No matter what we do, His love remains the steady, life-giving force that defines us.

When we make derogatory comments and participate in ugly political debates, He loves us.
When we crumple on the couch, surrounded by tissues and consumed by tears, He loves us.
When anger consumes and lust ignites.
when our brains work for our benefit and when they turn against us.
When white-hot jealousy and righteous indignation bloom, even then, God loves us thoroughly and completely.

When grief topples and faith wobbles
and addiction beckons
and overspending prevails
and children rebel
and bodies die too soon
and terrorists destroy
and marriages combust.

Even when hope is but a teensy spark, an ember about to extinguish itself,
how wide and long and high and deep is the love God has for us.

God’s love remains when families crumble
and teenagers fumble
and consequences loom
and purpose is thwarted and bank accounts dwindle and temptations seduce and wounds break wide open and despair devastates and malignancies lurk and darkness holds our secrets and when light reveals them.

And you know what else? His love consumes and changes and colors our lives when things are okay, too. When we’re bored but steady, when we’re lonely but not alone, when we’re serving the least of these with fervor and compassion, when we’re leaning on Him for strength and sheltered in the wings of His love.

When we’re standing at the mountaintops rejoicing, and when we’re kneeling at an altar, and when we’re studying the words He’s spoken and when we rest quietly in His presence.
When we’re at the extremes, and when we linger in the middle.
When we frequent places we don’t belong and behave in ways that aren’t like us at all.
And when we behave in ways that are too much like us, and we wonder if we’ll ever be able to change.

When we wonder how we could ever stand before God with our heads held high, and when we fall on our faces in fear and trembling and awe.

When we’re unforgiving and stubborn
When we’re gracious and yielding
When we believe we deserve what God offers, and when we understand the fundamental nature of our flaws and inadequacies and failings.
When we write Him love letters, and when our words fail.
When we feel Him, and when we do not.
When we love Him back, and when we push Him away.

Even then, especially then, God’s love prevails.

That is the sheer beauty, the mind-blowing simplicity, the overwhelming gratitude and unbelievable truth of God’s freely-given grace.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. ~Ephesians 3:14-19, NIV

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