Seven Things I Learned This Summer

  1. New Pencils Make Me Happy

I get sad about summer ending. I love the sunshine, and fall allergies send me inside sneezing. The thing that cheers me up more than a pumpkin-spiced whatever-is-now-spiced is a brand new pack of sharpened Ticonderoga pencils.

Anyone else? They are prettier than a bouquet of flowers, and they smell good too.

2. Jane Had Cute Clothes in the Jungle

I obsessed about Mr. Rogers all summer, and I blogged about seeing the documentary here. I also watched a documentary about Jane Goodall. It was a beautiful documentary, and I learned some interesting things about her life in the jungle. But most of all, I wanted to run out and buy kaki shorts and button-down dress shirts.


Someone remind me of this next summer. For now, it’s fall, and I’ll be wearing my Mister-Rogers-type cardigans and hoping some of his goodwill, kindness, and self-discipline rubs off on me as I wear it.

3. Codependency Happens

This is a little heavier topic, but it is the biggest lesson of the summer. (I’m an INFJ, so these lists are never going to be all superficial.) I thought codependency was something limited to situations involving addiction or domestic violence so when my therapist gently told me my thoughts toward someone in my life was my codependency, I felt like I’d fell off a truck. I lost all my bearings. Everything I knew about how I interact with people in my life had to be reexamined through this new lens I was handed. I googled codependency. This is what I saw.


When I looked at this list at the beginning of summer and got honest with myself, I said “yes” to ten of these questions, and I was in the extremely codependent category. I was sad for days. How could I be so flawed and unaware?

Number 14 is my life struggle. Number five was also a big one for me, because it is just so unhealthy. I would tell myself that if I just did the right thing, I was leading by example, and others would see and follow. I can choose to do what I think is right, but thinking that my actions would change others or having that motivation is codependency.

I may be codependent, but I’m also an overachiever. I got busy reading and listening to podcasts. The best thing I learned is the simplest little phrase you ever did hear, “I am me and you are you.”

Saying, “I am me and you are you” out loud does something in my brain. I can feel myself separating out from the entanglement with others in my mind.

Say it with me, “I am me and you are you.”

It’s so simple yet so good and true.

4. Church is a Codependency Hotbed and Real Relationships Need Equality

Most of my codependent thoughts were wrapped up in our church situation. Maybe it is because my husband and I have been heavily involved and employed by a church ministry for over twenty years, but I suspect other church members have these struggles even if that isn’t the case. I suspect that many of these codependent thoughts are embraced or even rewarded in church settings. After all, if you take better care of others than yourself you might be compared with Mother Teressa. And trying to change other people’s choices is how some people gauge how good your teaching is, and saying “no” is always hardest when it is the church asking.

I believe healthy people are needed to make up a healthy churches, and healthy churches strengthen believers. Spiritual growth thrives in healthy people and healthy churches. (This is what I’m learning in my Community Bible Study lessons about 1 Timothy.)

The lesson of “I am me and you are you” is really needed in church, and it can help church members thrive.

When I learned this phrase I also learned an important lesson about relationships. Real, true, healthy relationships need equality and mutuality, meaning one person cannot be dominate or more needed or a relationship doesn’t really exist. When church members are constantly on the giving end, the person receiving isn’t entering the relationship. A relationship must have giving and receiving or it never gets off the ground.

This is a picture of a real, healthy relationship, two equal circles that don’t overlap.


We are separate. We both have things to offer the relationship. We both are giving and receiving. Church outreach might start out on uneven ground, but the goal should be to eventually have a real, mutual, equal relationship with the person receiving help from a church outreach. That is easier said than done! If we don’t have that goal in mind, we’ll never even come close.

It was messy learning this lesson for myself. I’ve been put into the situation of giving in so many mission trips and church outreaches, and I’ve found true friendship with a few people that I’ve taken time to allow that uneven balance to shift to mutuality. It takes humbling yourself and receiving from others. The times I’ve accepted the hospitality of others have been a real blessing, and I have real regrets over times when I didn’t seek the shift because of pride or times I didn’t generously give my time with others to make room for the shift.

5. Formula For Giving Feedback on Someone’s Writing

Is there anything more sticky than trying to give good feedback? I learned this formula from writing coach Ann Kroeker — Ask and BAP.

Before giving feedback, ask the writer what they need to be addressed in their writing. What should you be reading and watching for? Then BAP.

B - Bless - Give encouragement for what was good in the writing.

A - Address - Answer specific questions about the writing. Did it have good flow? Was it a good concept? Did it make sense? Are they repeating themselves too much?

P - Press - Only when the writer asks for it do you press. If they want critical feedback to make the writing publishable, then you should give them every p & q for making the new draft as perfect as possible.

I feel empowered to offer this type of help to my writing friends after learning this.

6. If It Doesn’t Have Fruit, It’s Not best

I heard a sermon by a guest speaker named Marlin Vis. He pointed out something that I had never thought about, but I think I agree with him. He said, “God is not overly concerned with outcomes. I’m not saying He’s not concerned. He’s concerned with output. Here it is — the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity [goodness], faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things, and those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with their passions… and desires…. If you want to know if God’s will is being done in your life or in anybody you are watching, you look for these fruits. If you don’t see them, God’s will — no matter what the outcome is — that is not the result of God’s will. And where you see this, that’s God’s will being worked out in the world. Amen? Or not? It’s ok if you don’t agree, but think on these things.”

This is a lot to think about. It is hard to stay walking in the spirit, but God is concerned if I do and it is His will that I do walk in the spirit. This made me think about the life of Samson. He wasn’t concerned with output during his life and his outcome was pushing over those pillars. I have to believe God wanted better for Samson.

Am I more worried about outcome or how I walk through the situation? This idea makes me lock eyes with my sin nature. It is lurking there, and it is not pretty.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
— Galatians 5:16-26 ESV

7. Some Encouragement From Ruth Bell Graham

After facing my sin nature, I need some encouragement not to give up because walking in the spirit does not come naturally. I love this reminder of sanctification from Ruth Bell Graham’s grave marker.

End of construction — Thank you for your patience.
— Ruth Bell Graham

We are all a work in progress. We will not be completed until that day when we are face to face with Jesus!

I’m thankful for this godly woman’s vulnerability and honesty, even in death.

What about you? What have you learned this summer?

Emily P. Freeman is good to remind us to keep track.

Here’s a song for you just because.

Introducing Myself

I am off to a writers conference in just 10 short days.  I will be attending the Declare Conference in Dallas, Texas, and I'm introducing myself for a fun pre-conference blog link-up.


Whether you are a conference attendee or just reading my blog, I have now recruited you as a friend and you should know some things.

When did you feel called to be a digital evangelist, what’s your main medium (podcast / blogging / books / speaking / social media / etc.), and how long have you been doing it?

I fell in love with writing while blogging about a mission trip to Ethiopia in 2014.  I had been blogging about our adoption experience before that, but this was a whole new heart-tug to write about so much more.  I have written two eBooks, Faith Adventures and a new eBook I will be releasing this month titled Paper Tigers and Impressing God: How To Be a Doer Who is Free.  I have dabbled in the podcast world, and I have a new podcast on the horizon.


What is your life scripture?

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV


What are your passions?

Encouraging you to put hands & feet to your discipleship, so you can seek justice while you grow spiritually, is what delights my heart.  I'm passionate about the Great Commission, loving my husband, and loving my 3 (soon to be 4 through adoption) pretty great kids.


What is your favorite candy and / or food?

Dark chocolate, it's like normal chocolate at prescription strength.


Where is your happy place and what’s it like?

Standing in front of a stage, hearing live music. My brain is alive, and it is marvelous.


Are you working on any exciting projects that you can share about? If so, please share!

I have signed up for Write 31 Days, which begins October 1st, and I am using the challenge to launch a new project - a devotional podcast called DevoPod.


How can we pray for you as you prepare for this year’s conference?

Pray for my anxiety.  As an introvert/people pleaser, I get nervous!  Instead of being in my head, I want to be present and open to new opportunities and friendships that God will lead me towards.


Your turn!  What are you passionate about?  I'm dying to hear! Please comment & Let me know.

      A song for you as you go.

Day 13: Tiring Out

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

I could not have begun to learn how to quit fearing paper tigers without coming to the end of myself by tiring myself out.  I was like that annoying toy in the bottom of the toy box that makes noise every time something gets jostled.  I needed to run out of batteries.  This didn’t happen overnight, but over a series of events over three years.  Let me list them for you.

1st -- My first mission trip overseas.  I came home with such a passion to change the circumstances that I saw children living in.  I rallied friends and strangers to donate every cloth diaper I could get my hands on.

2nd -- My second mission trip overseas.  I was so excited to take supplies to the orphanages we had visited.  I began to realize that my efforts were such a drop in the bucket of meeting the children’s needs.  I began to realize that my efforts were good, but they weren’t world changing because the problems were so vast.

3rd -- I said yes to almost anything that advanced the gospel, no matter how difficult it might be to accomplish.  I was afraid I would miss something God had for me.  I was afraid that if I didn’t say yes, that no one else would say yes.

4th -- I picked “ardent” as my word for the year because I was so gung ho excited to work hard changing the world.

5th -- I was standing in the living room crying because I was so tired.  I felt like I was doing all the right things, and God was holding out on me.  I was serving Him, and the burden was so far from light.  It was the night before a women’s event, and I had worked so hard all week.  I had missed some sleep, and I knew I wouldn’t get sleep until the event was over.  There was a detail that had to be handled before I could go to bed, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.  Why wasn’t God looking out for me?  Why hadn’t He sent more help?  Why was the response less than I had expected?  Why are some things “successful” and other things just not?  Was this a spiritual attack and I was just too immature to see it?

6th -- I attended a women’s conference where we were encouraged to ask God what He wanted us to do for His Kingdom.  I had a dozen answers I could have written down, a dozen things I could lead, start, or volunteer to accomplish.  I listened and wept as the Holy Spirit told me the answer I was suppose to write down, “Just be you.  Just be the one person you are.  Stop trying to do it all.  Just be.”

7th -- I had a tough summer because of low vitamin d.  I was running on empty, and I had been for months and months.  I had to do some self care over the summer that resulted in a really great tan.  God showed me a passage in Galatians, and as I read it in The Message version, my eyes were opened to how deeply I was people pleasing and God impressing.  God began to shift my thinking and open my eyes to His truth.

8th -- My third mission trip overseas.  The lesson that what I can do on my own is so insignificant really finally was sinking in.  I could see that what we had done was only effective because Christ moved in spite of our efforts.  I began trying to verbalize what God was teaching me, but it was coming out all wrong.  The ideas I’m sharing in this blog series began to sprout on that trip.


That moment crying in my living room was just a piece of the story God was sewing in my life, teaching me this lesson, but I can so easily recall that feeling.  I felt completely alone in my pursuit to live out a calling for Him.  I felt like even God was not doing His part.  I wanted God to be proud of me, impressed by all that I was doing, and He was holding out on me.

This feeling, these questions are the heart of why I’m writing this series.  We’ve covered some ground on our topic; we are almost to the half way point of our 31 days.  Over the next few weeks that we have left, I hope to answer at least a few of these questions that we maybe have not answered yet.

Tiring out and coming to the end of myself was just the beginning.

What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a ‘law man’ so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
— Galatians 2:19-21 The Message

Click to return to series table of contents.


I've already shared this song once (or maybe even twice), but it it is the theme song of my journey here.  I love it so much.  This vid has lyrics, so there's that.

Day 4: People Pleasing

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Day Series

Day 2 I shared a story that illustrated how much I wanted to have my dad’s approval.  I wouldn’t be being honest with you if I didn’t share how that trying to gain approval stretches to almost every other person I’ve encountered in my life.

If fact, it might be easier to name off the small list of people that I haven’t tried to gain approval from than to tell you who I have.  

I want everyone to like me.  Period.

I think this might be why I love blogging so much.  I can be much more honest here in words than I could ever be face to face.  In person, I am always reading cues and trying to say the right thing.

There is this Bob Dylan song that says, “Half of the people can be part right all of the time, Some of the people can be all right part of the time, But all of the people can’t be all right all of the time, I think Abraham Lincoln said that.”

In my mind, remembering the song, I had changed the quote to say, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time,” and many people credit that quote to Abraham Lincoln as well.  As I searched the lyric, I realized I had it wrong in my head.

This isn’t how the song goes, but my obsession with people pleasing has warped my brain.

It gets tricker.  Abraham Lincoln never said either of those things.  He’s also been credited as saying, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time,” but according to a website called quote investigator, he didn’t say that one either.  A frenchman named Jacques Abbadie actually said it.

All of these quotes make my palms sweaty because I want everything to be right, all of us to agree, and everyone be pleased with me on every level.

I walk around in a constant state of, “Please don’t be mad at me.”

How can I not treat God the same way I treat everyone else?  How can I refrain from looking to the Heavens and thinking, “Please don’t be mad at me.  Please like me.”

I can give you the Sunday school answer that I know God loves me.  We could sing it in our sleep.

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

But I know my brain.  I know the ugly, selfish thoughts that scroll through on a whim.  I know the toxic thoughts that I stop, handle, hang onto, and ponder.


How could God like me if He knows me thoughts?

How could God love me if He has searched my heart?

How is God not mad at me?


So I go out of my way to be nice to everyone, even people who have treated me like garbage.  That is what we are to do, right?  Love your enemies, the golden rule, and such, they demand this nice behavior.

If I’m nice, they will like me.  My mom told me that.

Is it possible to be nice to God?  Is that a thing.  I think it is, and I think I have been doing it most of my life.  I have to get God to like me.  I have to make his nice list.

What does this accomplish?  Not only is this the basis of a shallow relationship with God, it negates what Christ did on the cross for me.  Thinking that I can just be nice and good is the opposite of repentance.  If you want to see if good works can impress God, just look at Cain’s offering to the Lord.  Genesis 4 says that Cain and his offering had no regard.  Cain had worked hard to grow that offering of fruit of the ground, but trying hard to please God only lead to bitterness and anger in Cain’s heart.

I could get all judgmental towards Cain, but I have done this.  I have tried to impress God with my good works, and then I have been bitter and angry when he didn’t pat me on the back and high five me.

Letting go of my people pleasing ways is tough.  I’m holding on with white knuckles, afraid to let go.  Letting go of my God pleasing ways is even harder.  Lord, give me the strength to do both.

What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a ‘law man’ so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not ‘mine,’ but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
— Galatians 2:19-20 The Message

Click to return to series table of contents.



Here's that song I was talking about, since I like to share a song with each blog post.  I like his sense of humor.

Just be one

Last weekend was the third annual IF:Gathering.  For the third year, I participated in an IF:Local.  I helped lead IF:Amarillo, inviting women from all over the panhandle to come together in unity.

Since I was leading, I was privy to information.  I knew about the domino ending.  I could guess what was coming.  I had already begun brainstorming about what my response could be.  (Why not be prepared.  I didn’t want to get caught off guard and not have anything to offer.  How “try hard” of me.)  We had dominos and sharpies.  I knew we would be expected to write a response on that domino.  I had a list of 3 or 4 things I could have written.

When it came to that moment in the program, I decided I really should try to approach it fresh, forget my preconceived ideas.  I bowed my head and prayed, and I asked God what He wanted me to write on that domino.

I was surprised by the Holy Spirit’s response:  “Quit trying to be a whole bag of dominos.  Just be one domino.  I love you.  Just be you.  Just be one domino.”

It was true.  I’m a busy, doer.  God knows that about me.  Absolutely He knows that.  He made me.  I don’t think He is worried about whether or not I am going to do anything for His Kingdom.

What God knows is that I will run my wheels off, work myself to exhaustion for His Kingdom.  I had done it in preparation for IF:Amarillo.  I would do it again at the drop of a hat.

I believe God wasn’t telling me to slow down, but He was reminding me that He loved me, not the work I was doing for Him.  He loved me, every ugly part and every good part.  His Kingdom will come without me lifting a finger.  That has been finished.  I won’t stop working wherever He gives me a chance, but I know I’m important to Him.  He loves me.

I will be my domino.  I will fall for His Kingdom, and other dominos will fall for His Kingdom.  It’s a beautiful thing.  We can make disciples and change the world.  We can do it, not because we are something special, but because we Love the Lord and we are willing to abide in Him and bear fruit.

What did this domino response mean for me going forward?  I didn’t want to presume anything about what the Holy Spirit had just told me:  Just be one domino.

In the next days, I decided to make a list of everything I am doing for the church and for Him, everything I’m doing in the ministry, big and small.

I took that list and prayed over each item.  Something Jennie Allen had pointed out during IF had sunk in: I don’t want to be working for God, I want to be working with God.  

As I prayed about each one, I heard a still small “yes” to each item.  Well, there was one that was unclear in my spirit.  I texted my husband, and I asked him to pray about that one.

He did, and he said he knew it was something I was suppose to be doing.

It all felt good.  I felt energized and ready to keep working for His Kingdom, alongside Him, knowing how much God loved me.

And then it felt like the dominos all fell down, in a bad way.

I got a series of emails that jumbled it all again.

I got an email from our adoption agency.  Ethiopian adoptions were in danger of big changes, changes that might make it impossible for our family to continue our adoption.

I got an email from the writing conference I had plans to attend, they are taking a year off this year.  No conference.

I got a letter in the mail letting me know my paperwork sent to the US government for our adoption was denied and would need to be resubmitted.  That probably meant $900 would need to paid again.

I was angry.  I was distraught.  I went through a roller coaster of emotions.

The devil did something tricky.  He’s good at that.  He twisted the Holy Spirit’s words to me.  That isn’t a new trick.  It is exactly what he did with Eve.

The devil stated telling me that “Just Be One Domino” really meant, “No thank you, Jennifer.  I don’t need your gifts.  I don’t need you to work alongside me.”

Two big things on my list were our adoption and writing.  Other things on my list were related to those two things.

I believed the lie.  Not for a long time, but long enough.  Long enough to bawl my eyes out, want to quit everything including church, ministry, and anything spiritual.

I don’t know why I realized it was a lie, but I did.  I began to think of Job.  He lost everything.  He didn’t just get an email threatening to take a few things away, but he actually lost everything.  I would be a horrible Job.  I would be a pretty good Job’s wife.  I would be right there with her, “Let’s just curse God and die.”

I don’t want that to be true about me.  I want to be a good Job.  The ugly truth is that I’m weak.  Emotionally, I’m ready to give up easily when things look uncertain.

Thankfully I have an amazing husband that talks sense into me.  Thankfully I have an amazing church family that is praying with me and for me about our adoption.

And writing?  I’m writing this, aren’t I?

Things are uncertain right now, but what the Holy Spirit told me in the quiet response time at IF is not uncertain.  He loves me.  He loves me, not what I can do for Him.  He loves the ugly, stubborn, “work until I hit a wall,” doer, independent, try-hard me.  

Now I also know that He loves the me that wants to give up and listens to the devil’s lies.  He loves me anyway.

Guess what?

He loves you too.



Now you know...

So much has happened these last few months in my writing world.  I wanted to make sure my blog readers haven't missed any of the happenings.

1.  My eBook is out on Amazon!

If you haven't purchased a copy yet, I'd love support from my blog readers.  Go get your copy today.  I've been told that it is worth the $2.99 price.  Thank you so much for encouraging me in this way.  Purchasing a copy of my book will help it be presented to new readers on Amazon through lists and recommendations based on purchases.  You can also purchase a copy and gift it to a friend!


2.  I have an author FaceBook page.

Go like it!

3.  I've begun contributing to the website The Gift of Second.

The Gift of Second is a website for people who have lost a loved one to suicide. It is a place for anyone suffering from this tremendous loss to find hope, encouragement, understanding, and community.

Contributing to their blog once a month is really an answer to prayer.  It is a way to minister to people all over the country, even all of the world, who have suffered a loss similar the loss of my little brother, Jeffrey.

If you know anyone who has lost someone to suicide, please let them know about The Gift of Second.  Brandy Lidbeck founded The Gift of Second.  She is a licensed therapist and survivor of suicide.  There are helpful videos and words on the site.

4.  I have a Good Reads Author page.

Me and my new book are on Good Reads.  Good reads is a really great site to keep track of your reading and find books to read.

If you use it to keep track of your reading, you can add it to your "want to read."

You can also go and give my book a rating or review.  If you've read my book, please go rate it.

And 5.  #sentprints is famous

My friend Kaylie was featured on the front page of our newspaper today.  Since I'm in the article, I'm famous too now.  Right?

Seriously, it's a beautifully written article about her business and its support of missions.

Now you're all caught up.  Have a wonderful weekend, and Merry Christmas!

Day 30: Conference



I knew God was pushing me to tell my story, and I was pretty sure that meant writing.

As I became sure that it was something God wanted me to do, I began to look for ways that I could immediately obey him.

And Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.’
— 1 Samuel 15:22 ESV

I began to write blog posts because the only way you can get better at writing is to practice writing.

My new friend Kaylie Hodges and I had met planning the IF:Local gathering in our city.  One day at a planning meeting she mentioned that she was going to a conference for writers in April.

“Maybe I should go to that,” I told my husband.  “It might help me figure out what I am suppose to be doing.”

I didn’t know Kaylie well at all.  I had never sent her a text before, but I sent one anyway.

My message said, “So what is the writing conference called?  I want to read more about it.”

She texted back, “It’s the Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference in Portland.”

And then later that night I got brave and texted, “Do you think it would be weird if I prayed about going?”

I felt very unsure of inviting myself along for an out of state trip with basically a stranger.  I get so nervous around people, especially people I don’t know.

She texted back, “No! I absolutely think you should!  I would love to have the company!”

As someone who battles social anxiety, I am so thankful that she was overly positive in her response.  I couldn’t read between the lines and think, “She really doesn’t want me to go.”

The best thing about having Kaylie as a friend is this, she’s got 5 kids.  All 5 of her kids are under the age of 6.  I know if she doesn’t text me back right away, it’s because she’s busy with her kids, not because she’s got some problem with me, which is where my head usually goes with it’s wacky thoughts.

As the conference got closer, I went into overachiever mode.  I read books by the speakers.  I tried to figure out what a book proposal was, and then I wrote not one but two of them.

I booked a meeting with a literary agent.

I knew it was a sacrifice for my family to send me to this conference, and I put a ton of pressure on myself to make the most of the experience.

The night before I was suppose to present my book proposals, I was a wreck.  All of the pressure I had put on myself turned me into a ball of nerves.  I didn’t sleep at all.

Before my meeting, there was a breakout session called, “How an insecure perfectionist became a writer.”  That topic was just what I needed to hear.  The speaker, Marc Schelske, shared his tips for overcoming perfectionism and insecurities.  As he spoke, he asked if anyone was presenting a book proposal that day.  I raised my hand.  He shared his experience doing the same thing the year before, and he encouraged me that I would survive the experience.

My meeting went much better than I could have imagined.  The agent I met with was soft-spoken, calming, mostly positive, and very informative.

I didn’t walk away with a book deal, but that meeting gave me some courage not to give up on writing or sharing my story.

That conference pushed my farther out of my comfort zone than I have ever been before, and I grew personally and spiritually.

It was also a lot of fun.  I had a blast getting to know Kaylie.  She has become a great friend, and we have had the joy of cheering each other on.

This past year has been full of small and large goals revolving around my writing and trying to get to the point where I can effectively share what God has placed on my heart.

This Write 31 Days Challenge has been a part of that journey, a journey to become a better storyteller and a journey to encourage people into a deeper faith.

I’m in the middle of this faith adventure, and it’s hard for me to sum up what it has been like or what I learned.  The thing I notice that is similar to all of the other faith adventures is that there is no road map.

God gives me an opportunity or direction and a beginning step.  I have had to step out and begin the journey with no idea where the journey may take me.  One step, no matter how small, is a an act of obedience.  That step usually leads me to the next step, and I have to step out again, all the while exercising my faith.

This is the way God works.  It is the way God worked in the old testament and the new.  It is the way God has led his followers, how He has led me, and it is how God will lead you, one step at a time.



I love music and share a song with each blog post.  I found this song to be crazily true about Portland.  Portland is now in my top 5 of favorite cities.  I can't wait to go back.

Exercises in originality

Last week I started this fun writing exercise I found out about on Twitter.  It’s called Five Minute Friday.  My husband asked me why I was doing it on Thursday night if it’s called Five Minute Friday.  I said, “I don’t know.  That’s just what everyone is doing.  It’s something I found on Twitter.  Don’t over think it.”

“Real” was the first writing prompt.  I wrote furiously while the timer ticked away on my phone.  I was so panicked that last minute, it might as well have been Four Minute Friday.

I read a few other FMF posts, and it was funny how many people had the same ideas about the word “real.”

This week’s prompt was “break.”  I tried to think of a story from my life that would go with my word.  That seemed to keep me calm and at least writing for that last minute.

Again I read through a few of the other FMF posts, and again I saw some of the same ideas and themes being repeated.

Then it hit me.  This is an exercise in not only fast writing but originality.  I flashed back to memories of a photography class I took at our community college several years ago.  

Each week we were given a photography assignment.  We would go out and take pictures of the prompt we were given and turn in our best three shots.  And each week the teacher would put up all of the shots on the screen and scroll through them, making comments and looking for teachable moments.

I was absolutely amazed at how unoriginal we were.  We were all somewhat creative people.  We were taking an art class for fun, we couldn’t be completely uncreative.  But everyone had such similar ideas every week.

After week two of everyone coming back with almost the same photograph, I made it my mission to bring something original in.  I began to care more about whether or not my photo looked like anyone else’s more than if my photo was “good.”

It was harder than it sounds.  Almost every week, I failed at being original.  No matter how hard I tried to come up with an idea that no one else had about our assignment, at least one person in the class would have an idea like mine.

Out of at least a dozen assignments, I think only one or two of them, I had an original photograph.

I was really proud of this photo because it looked different than the other "window" photos that the other students brought in.  I printed it and put it on my wall.  It isn't that great of a photo.  The sky is washed out, and the electrical line is distracting.  But it has some good things going for it.

I was really proud of this photo because it looked different than the other "window" photos that the other students brought in.  I printed it and put it on my wall.  It isn't that great of a photo.  The sky is washed out, and the electrical line is distracting.  But it has some good things going for it.

Here's another photo I remember taking in to class that was original.  It was for an assignment called "shadow."

Here's another photo I remember taking in to class that was original.  It was for an assignment called "shadow."

I was so disappointed to find out that I’m not as original as I thought I was.

We all have these human brains that think in patterns.  We live our life in patterns.  Sometimes very predictable patterns.  

And. It. Is. Boring.

I want to be creative.  I want to be different.  I bet you do to.  How do we do that?

Here’s some ideas I’ve had:

1.  Practice.  The original idea might be the 5th idea you have or the 1,000th.  If you stop at your first idea, I guarantee it’s not original.

2.  Engage in different types of art.  I get inspiration from other writers, but some of my very best inspiration comes from other sources of art - music, modern art sculptures, television shows, movies, and photography. 

Me in NYC with my favorite Modern Artist's Claes Oldenburg 60's sculpture  Floor Cake .

Me in NYC with my favorite Modern Artist's Claes Oldenburg 60's sculpture Floor Cake.

Music is the best.  I love it.  When I’m listening to something new, I can feel my brain working, analyzing the mood, lyrics, percussion, bass, melodies.  I’m listening to see if it goes where I expect or am I surprised by an unexpected note.  Is there a bridge I didn’t see coming?  I’m a total sucker for these artist tricks: handclaps, xylophones, or harmonicas.  Any of those gets instant love.  Try listening to music you’ve never heard before and really listen.  It’s fun.  NPR Music is a good spot.  They have First Listen where they share new albums for free and Tiny Desk Concerts where lesser known artist perform in their D.C. offices.

You can see from Baby Gaby's face that listening to new music gets your brain going.  Ernie was new stuff for him.  Ah the days.  He's so little and cute here.  My baby is getting too big.

You can see from Baby Gaby's face that listening to new music gets your brain going.  Ernie was new stuff for him.  Ah the days.  He's so little and cute here.  My baby is getting too big.

3.  Look at it from a different angle.  This works well in photography.  You change your angle, and you change your photograph.  This works in writing too.  You can work to change your point of view.  How do other people see this issue?

I’m still such a writing newbie.  I’m still figuring out ways to make my writing more creative.

What about you?  What inspires you?  What tips to you have to get your creative ideas flowing?

Here's a song I heard for the first time yesterday.  I love songs that tell a story.  I feel like I know this guy now.  And I'm super nostalgic about NES.  I got a Nintendo for my 13th birthday.

Five Minute Friday - REAL

This is my first Five Minute Friday.  I wrote this post in five minutes with just a one word prompt - REAL.

There is pressure to be real, to be genuine.  It is easier said than done.  Not because I don’t desire to be real, to share my true self with others, but because sometimes I’m not even sure what my real self is.

Tonight I took a personality quiz.  During every second of every question, I am questioning my own answers.  Is this really what I’m like, or is this what I think I’m like, or Is this what I wish I was like?

I want to be real, I want to be transparently self.  Because I’ve been convinced by others and my own convictions that it is important.  Important for friendship, community, and representing Christ to the world.

I don’t know if we will ever be able to be real in this fallen world, but I will continue to try.  I will continue to show my hand even when I don’t like the cards I’ve been dealt.  I will not resist the pressure to be real.

New website

Taking my writing more seriously has been exciting and scary at the same time.  I've woke up with panics over words like platform and book proposal.  Yuck.

It's funny how similar those two emotions are, fear and excitement.  Because for every fearful climb of the roller coaster, there is also the exuberant slide down.

So here's something fun that has come of this writing adventure I'm on, I've got a website.

James gave me some input here and there, but for the most part, I designed it myself using SquareSpace.  If you need to build a website, I would highly recommend it.  I even found a coupon, because I'm a coupon loving home school mom.

Please check out my new website, and give me some feedback.  I'd love to know if there is something I could add to make it better.

Also do me an even bigger favor and subscribe to my blog, and you will receive an email whenever I post something new.

Thank you, friends!

This song would be funny if it weren't so true.  He nailed it.  If you haven't noticed yet, I have an intense love for artsy, weird music.  

Uncomfortable questions

Today is James's last full day in South Sudan.  I'm so happy, so ecstatic to know I will have him home soon.  Towards the end of his mission trips, I always begin counting it down, not in days, but in how many more nights do I have to sleep without him here.  Today I only have two more Jamesless nights left.

I have two things bouncing around in my head right and I feel like they are smushing my precious brain membranes.  One thing is Africa, the things James has told me about his trip and remembering details of my trip to Ethiopia last summer.  The other thing is an essay I am writing.

I've agreed to do something that is exciting and a little bit scary.  I've registered to attend a Christian writer's conference in April.  I have butterflies even as I admit to you that I am going.  When I registered for the conference, there was a little box that said "essay contest" and I checked yes.  So now I feel like a student again working on an important class project.  I get even more butterflies just thinking about my little document sitting on my desktop.  I want it to be good.  I'm terrified to let that list of respectable authors who are the judges read something I've written.  But also, since I'm a type A first born, I want to win the contest.  But I also want to wipe off my sweaty hands, slide that document into my virtual trash can icon and just not do it.

My essay is about church unity, because that's an easy nut to crack, right?

So I have these Africa stories and church unity crashing around my little noggin and it's terrifying.

I just thought I'd share.  The end.  Goodbye.

Not really.  I'll elaborate.

Yesterday James and I talked a little about an awful thing that is still happening in South Sudan.  It is the practice of men taking more than one wife.  He has regularly encountered men on his trip that profess to be Christian that have multiple wives.

It is more than disconcerning.  Because this is how I think, I immediately try to put myself mentally in the place of one of those wives.  Heartbreak.  I imagine physically straining work of caring for my children with a detached segment of a husband.  Just plan heartbreak.

James had called me while I was at the grocery store.  Yesterday I was standing in the middle of the can soup isle wondering if I could raise an old fashioned Frankenstein-style mob, check our pitchforks because those don't fit in our carry-ons, and fill an airplane to fly over there and do something.

I pulled myself back to reality and asked James questions that I knew he couldn't answer.  "What do we do about that?"  "How can we make them know that is wrong?"  "What do those men do to fix it because they can't just pick a family to keep?"  "How do we teach the children not to grow up and do that?"

He feeds me a lot of I-don't-knows and reassures me that the director of the orphanage and school is doing his best to teach the boys not to hope for multiple wives or plan to marry more than one woman.

My mental list of thank yous to God for being born in the time and country I was born in grows increasingly longer.

How do I open a document and write about church unity after hearing about these injustices?

God, please put an end to these chains of sin that bind your people and stop these generational sins that hurt your women.  Amen.

With James in Africa, I've been thinking about my week in Ethiopia.  While I was there, I felt like everyone was segmented into three groups of people, Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and Protestant Christians.  In America, we are just heathens and Christians.  Why was it different there?  I don't think I met anyone who was just a good old fashioned heathen while I was there.  It felt precarious.

I immediately joined team Protestant Christian in my head.  It's obvious the Muslims were not on my team, but what about those Orthodox Christians?  I've never encountered them before.  This was a new question to me.  Where they on my team?

I'm still wrestling with this one.  It's not where my flesh wants to go, but I feel like the Holy Spirit is pushing me to team unity.  At least these questions are slightly easier than that multiple wives question.

I like everything neat, organized, boxed up, and clear.  Jimmy crickets.  Why can't everything about God be neat, organized, boxed up, and clear?

While I was in Ethiopia I listened to a few sermons by Matt Chandler at the Village church.  During a sermon titled "Eccentric and Faithful," Matt said something that I connected so so deeply that I grabbed my journal and wrote down a quote.  Here it is.

"Surely you had to know that the Word of God was going to meet you some place that made you uncomfortable.  If it didn't, it's not the Bible and He's not God.  He's the god of your imagination, the one who makes everything like you feel comfortable.  It's just not the God of the Bible.  Is this messy and dangerous? --- Like life itself." - Matt Chandler

I'm wrestling with my God.  I don't want an imaginary god.  I want the real, I Am God.  I want Him even if His work is messy.  Even if His work is dangerous.  Especially when He makes me feel uncomfortable.

Change never comes out of a place of comfort.  And change always needed in this world and in me as I strive to be more like Him.  He is not messy.  He is unchanging.

As much as I would like to think that I have all my thoughts, feelings, and other parts of my self neatly wrapped up and contained in the right places and boxes, the truth is I don't.  God isn't the mess.  I am.

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. 
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures."     James 1:2-18 ESV

Thanks for sticking with me even though my thoughts are about as clear as this song and the singing of Alec Ounsworth.

It's been how many years?

Last night I resolved myself to get up and start this blog.  I have been blogging about our Ethiopia Adoption on heswithus.blogspot.com since the beginning of that journey two years ago.  I've written that blog to have a documentation our adoption for sentimental value, to encourage other adoptive families, and for fundraising reasons.  International adoptions are not cheep.  I've started this blog so I could have a place where I could share my heart about all of my crazy life, not just our adoption.

Rolling out of bed this morning, I had the thought that last time I took writing seriously was when I was on the high school newspaper.  I've written things here and there: our adoption blog, a few articles for the Citychurch newsletter, journal entries, some team blogs for missions.  Nothing has been something that I couldn't have backed out of or done half-heatedly.  It's been spotty.

Back in high school, I loved journalism.  I loved the nervousness of deadlines, those weird wax pencils that you use to write on photographs,my liberal UT Austin teacher who was also my neighbor who taught us to read upside down anything on the desks of someone you are interviewing.  There were perks to being on the school newspaper.  I had a pass to leave campus at lunch (which I only abused exactly one time.  I was a goody goody.)  I got to see the teacher's lounge once.  It was like seeing behind the Wizard's curtain.  We heard the juicy school gossip.  One year we got to go to Austin for a weekend journalism conference.  Another year we went to Dallas, and we go to see an early screening of Dumb and Dumber.  They had us fill out comment cards.  I was a new Christian and super offended by the majority of the movie.  I wish I had my comment card, but I'm pretty sure I wrote something about cutting the fire-fart scene.  These days my sense of humor is much better, some days I wonder if I have too much of a sense of humor.  Journalism and newspaper staff was fun.  Why wouldn't a 16 year old love being a part of it.

While searching for colleges, I had an interview with a scholarship committee.  They asked me what my major would be.  I had chose accounting, but I told them I was considering minoring in journalism.  The committee basically told me why that was a bad idea and to strongly consider giving up the minor.  I took their advice.  I guess it is not surprising that a group of business professors would give me very practical advice.  As soon as I walked away from that meeting, I filed my school newspaper days away in the "that was fun, but it's over now" category of my brain.  I was going to learn about tax law.  Doesn't that seem like more fun.  Ha!

It's January, so I'm not unique in evaluating my goals and priorities this time of year.  I've been reflecting on what has God brought me through in the last two years, in the last five years, in the last twenty years (that school newspaper was twenty years ago.  Can that be right?)

Looking back at just the last year, I can't help but think a lot about the mission trip to Ethiopia.  It was a big moment for me.  It was my first international mission trip and a chance to get to know the country where our little boy would come from.  It was an experience that grew me in many ways.  I worked with a team of other Christians that I didn't even know.  God moved and used us in ways that we couldn't even dream of.

When I look at the highs and lows of that trip, there are some obvious lows and some obvious highs.  Some biggies are the time hugging on babies, international church, the transition home, the food.  But one highlight I realized looking back, was my opportunities to serve God though writing.  Our team wrote a collective blog.  We each were assigned a day or our trip to write about.  I was assigned our last day.  I looked forward all week to my turn to write with excitement and dread.  Our last day turned out to be an amazing one.  I wrote my blog post on my iPhone, in the middle of the night, in line at the Ethiopia airport.  As the words flew out of my little fingers onto my little phone, I had that excitement of deadline that I had back in high school.  It was fun.  I was giddy.  And I love what I wrote.  I loved sharing it.

The second writing opportunity was writing about one of the children on the waiting children's list.  The waiting children's list is a group of children that have all their paperwork together to be adopted, but no family in the adoption agency has requested to adopt a child that matches that child.  Most of the children have special needs or are older.  Each of our team members were assigned a child off the waiting children's list to meet and write about.  The hope was that after our team told their story, became a storyteller for them, someone would be moved to adopt them.  I was assigned a teenage girl with special needs who had been living in the same orphanage for half of her life.  Putting myself in the role of storyteller for that young girl affected me.  It was heavy, it was emotionally draining.  She was such a beautiful, sweet, smart girl in such a dark and clinical living situation.  She was so real to me.  I struggled with urges to throw out God's plan and just adopt her myself.  Almost 4 months after our trip, she still had not been matched with a family.  Then one day I got a FaceBook message.  This lovely woman was telling me that they were adopting her.  I could hardly believe my eyes.  And it was clear to me that this was God's plan.  It was a better home than I could have provided because she would already have siblings that had also been adopted from Ethiopia.  She was going to have a family.  My prayers had been answered.  My storytelling wasn't the whole reason that happened, by any means, but a was a piece of the story.  I had invested my heart in praying for her.  I had convinced others to invest their heart and pray for her.  It was rewarding.

Looking back at my year, I am surprised that these moments of writing were such a big part of my year.  I've thought of myself as a numbers girl (remember my accounting degree) or a minister or a mother.  Writing hasn't been something I take serious or have been intentional about.  But now I have this blog as an outlet, I'm going to be intentional about writing here this week.  My hope is that putting my words and heart here will allow God to speak to me about where he wants my writing to be used.

So here we go.