Monday, January 28, 2013

I Love You Man!

Life is crazy. Time goes by way too fast. We need to slooowwwww dooowwwwnnnn and make each moment matter.

As true as those facts may be, we are still running, crazed and hurried, shuttling children, maintaining marriages, working jobs, feeding friendships, and we don’t always take the time to notice our blessings. If we stop to think about it, we can sometimes sense a fleeting gratefulness for those cherished cogs in our spinning wheels, but then the panic sets in and we have to rush off to the next "to-do." Cherished moment forgotten. Just because we are blessed doesn't always guarantee that we are blessed and aware. Today, I am making a promise to be more aware, and I’d like to invite you to join me.

I'll start with a note on friendship. Driving around yesterday, I found myself reflecting on some very important friendships that have blessed and enhanced my life immeasurably over the last several years. And then I wondered, am I to them, what they are to me? Do I share the love?

Many mornings, right after I drop off the kids, or when I’m off to run errands, or on my drive to work, I call one of my best girlfriends. We chat about things like a great find at Trader Joe’s (helllooo yummy vanilla wafers!), or a hilarious blog post that made us laugh so hard we couldn't see through the tears, or that our tween daughters are rolling their eyes like they invented the gesture, or that our third-graders want iPhones. We talk about husbands and kids, parents and in-laws, chores and projects, recipes and sales...all of life's mundane, as well as important details. No matter the time or topic, I need these friends and our invaluable exchanges.

If you watch Grey’s Anatomy, you’ll understand the reference: each of these ladies is “My Person.” That I have more than one makes me want to dance and shout "I-LOVE-YOU-MAN!" as I squeeze them tight. I. Feel. So. Blessed. I don’t think I was aware of the meaning of true friendship, and all of its benevolent facets, until I was in my thirties. And even now that I get it, I know I don't always take the time to reflect and appreciate the amazing, intelligent, inspiring, generous, loving, strong, beautiful women who have taught me the immense value of true friendship, and the even greater blessing of being someone's "Person."

True friendship is the reciprocity of care and consideration, trust and trustworthiness, loyalty and love. It’s being available to each other in times of need and in times of plenty, to share your worries, to share your triumphs, to share your neuroses (and we all have them...a true friend doesn’t judge you when you bring them out of the closet), to share votes of confidence, to share the things that humble you, to share the things that build you up, to share your heartbreaks and those things that warm your heart, and every little intimate, exciting, painful, tender, vulnerable, fulfilling and important moment in between.

So today, slooowwwww dooowwwwnnnn. Find some time to be reflective and aware of the friends who bless your life. Try to remember all the big and little ways that they have unconditionally and openly been available to you and then go out and be their "Person" too.

{J}

Friday, January 25, 2013

Throne of Grace; Making Much of Little

Jenn and I would love to introduce you to our guest blogger today, Molly, from Throne of Grace! We first introduced this fabulous website a few weeks ago (you can read about that here). Her blog is an inspiration and a perfect example of how using our talents can help spread joy in ways that we can't even imagine! Welcome Molly!

My name is Molly. I’m a blessed wife of nearly-twelve years, an exhausted mother of two darling toe-heads, and the founder of Throne of Grace. As a ministry-minded business, Throne of Grace seeks to equip others to live and leave a legacy of prayer. Along with a team of fantastic women much craftier than myself, I make and sell handmade sets of prayer books to help you pray through God’s Word, Bible verse memorization cards, prayer journals, and more. We also share a little space in the blogosphere on the Throne of Grace website HERE, where we share devotions, craft tutorials, recipes, and thoughts on marriage and parenting.

I first met Holly when she moved in across the street and we were both pregnant with our daughters. They were born 13 days apart! Soon after, we got to be a part of a neighborhood Bible study together and we shared in the challenges of adding a newborn to an already-busy family. At the time, Holly and Mike were also going through some big challenges with Mike’s job and I so admired the faithful way they navigated through those rough waters. It was such a blessing to watch them lean on the Lord through it all! That was five years ago and now I am excited to see how God is using Holly’s new blog as an avenue for sharing her faith and wisdom – and I’m honored she has asked me to guest-post today!

As a blogger myself, I’m always trying to determine the words God would have me share. So I love it when He hammers home the same message through multiple avenues. It leaves little room for doubt or confusion over His intended revelation!

This past week, God has been showing me over and over again how He specializes in making much of little. In fact, He is a Master of Multiplication!

The examples in Scripture are too numerous to count.

Do you remember the loaves and the fishes? In John 6, Jesus takes the lunch of a young boy – just 5 small barley loaves and 2 small fish – and uses it to feed more than five thousand…with 12 basketfuls of food left over!

By God’s power, Elisha was able to perform a similar miracle when he allowed the widow’s small amount of oil to fill jar after jar until there were no jars left! (2 Kings 4:1-7)

It’s not just our material goods that are subject to the Lord’s multiplication. Think about the Bible characters who gave their “little” and were used by God to do great things…

Moses, who was slow of speech, was chosen as God’s spokesperson to the Israelites. (Exodus 4:10-12)

David, a young shepherd, slays the giant. (1 Samuel 17)

Joseph went from rags to riches, from despised brother and imprisoned slave to 2nd in command over Egypt. (Genesis 37; Genesis 41:41-43)

Holly and I had the joy of seeing God’s math at work this past weekend as nearly 60 of us gathered to assemble Blessing Bags.

We stuffed extra-large Ziploc bags with fleece blankets, cozy socks, water bottles, toiletries, a Bible and Bible tract, non-perishable food items, and more – then sealed them with a lot of love! The Blessing Bags are designed to be kept in the trunk of our car, ready to hand out at a moment’s notice to anyone in need.

The story behind these bags is a classic example of God’s ability to make much of little. Blessing Bags began as a little idea that my family had as a way to keep our focus on the giving rather than the receiving during the Christmas season. We wanted a way to resist the ever-increasing temptations of Christmas-excess and keep Christ at the center of our holidays. So as a family, we began to consider some ideas to help us experience sacrificial giving and we settled on “Project Blessing Bags”.

Figuring that filling the bags would be more cost-efficient if we purchased the essentials in bulk, we decided to invite our friends and family to join us in the endeavor. Within hours of sending out our initial email we had more than 40 bags ordered and people asking to post information about the project on their Facebook pages and blogs. Within the first week, God had given us willing partners ready to distribute bags in low socio-economic areas of Orange County, skid row in Los Angeles, and even the hardest hit areas in Hurricane Sandy’s path of devastation! His plan was much bigger than ours!

Over the course of the month of December, more than 40 families pooled over $2,800 to fund the creation of 150 Blessing Bags, including the cash to ship 20 bags back east to Hurricane Sandy victims!

No one person funded this project.

Each contributed their “little” – for some that was money, for some, time, some donated supplies, and some will distribute. But, wow! Look how “much” God was able to do with each family’s offering!

As I said, God has spoken this message of faith – of believing He can make much of little – in many areas of my life lately. I’ve even been convicted in my prayer life!

I have a friend who has been battling an impossible situation for years. From a human standpoint, there seems to be no hope. Though I pray for her regularly, it has been easy for me to minimize the importance of my prayers. After all, I’m one person and how much can one person’s prayers do?

And then God reminded me of Abraham. In Genesis 18:16-33, the Lord makes a personal visit to Abraham to let him in on a little secret – He is about to enact His judgment upon the immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah. It just so happens that Abraham’s favorite nephew and his family are residents of Sodom. So Abraham makes a plea for mercy and asks the Lord to spare the righteous living among the ungodly. Through the exchange between “little” Abraham and the Almighty God, the Lord agrees to spare the city if ten righteous people can be found. In the end, though there were not even ten righteous in Sodom, God listened to the heart of Abraham and mercifully saved his nephew and family. God made much of one man’s prayer!

I’m definitely feeling a renewed sense of passion and commitment to interceding on behalf of my hurting friend!

Have you ever felt powerless or ineffective? Maybe you are even paralyzed from moving forward in an area of your life because you feel your “little” just isn’t enough? Be encouraged! God is in the business of making much of your little.

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength…But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1:25, 27-29 NIV)

If you have a good story of how God did some multiplication in your life, or if today’s post has offered the encouragement you need to move out in faith, we’d love to hear from you!

{Molly}

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What's your DREAM weekend getaway?

I'm so excited! Holly and I, with our good friend and writing group partner, Karen, are going away for a GIRLS' weekend! This is so fabulous in so many ways that I can hardly contain myself! It's been a LONG time since I have had a weekend away, and as much as I love my family, (I do, I do, I do!) sometimes it's nice to have a couple days to NOT be anyone's caretaker, to eat my food while it's still warm, to shower without anyone interrupting me, to dress only myself (in cozies all weekend...woohoo!) Can anyone out there relate?

Our adventure will take us to a condo in the desert where the air is clean and the vistas are boldly colored. The setting, fresh and invigorating, will inspire us by day and enchant us by night...it will be the perfect escape. You see, we are going away for a weekend of WRITING! Isn't that wonderful?!? Ok, I know it's not a shopping, dining, drinking, dancing, sun-bathing kind of girls' weekend, but it's exactly what we need.

Finding the time and space to get into our craft and make progress on our projects, isn't easy. But we are diligent and determined to keep at it until we are satisfied that our best work has been achieved, or until the words are all used up, which is, um, never! So we have work to do. Holly and I are working on our novels and Karen is working on her dissertation. (She's a professor of WRITING and she's really smart...you'll meet her someday soon...she's working on a blog of her own.) We plan to enjoy our favorite snacks, lounge in our comfiest sweats, write to our best playlists and indulge in all the creative inspiration we can muster. (And maybe fit in a yummy dinner out and a trip to the outlets.) It's going to be GREAT!

So tell me, if you could do something you love for a weekend with your girlfriends, what would it be?

{J}

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Those Young Moms

Stephanie (& Taylor!)

Hello! I’m Stephanie from the blog, Those Young Moms. I am currently a student at the University of Oregon, and mother to my almost two-year-old daughter, Taylor. I’m also a coffee-loving vegetarian with a sarcastic sense of humor, but I hold an even better title as Holly’s youngest sister. When Holly approached me to write a guest post for her new blog, I was thrilled! The blogging world is such an amazing tool to connect world-wide with people with similar situations, mindsets, and goals and I am especially excited that she’s joining in on the fun! I co-operate Those Young Moms with my best friend, Franki Arnold and we both feel that our blog has been one of the most important additions to our parenting lives.

The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” has always meant a lot to Franki and I. Both being young mothers, we were eager to read and know as much about pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering as we could before we gave birth to our girls. Mom blogs, online forums, and parenting sites proved to be an indispensable source of information for us as well as that extra support we needed during our transitional time into full-on motherhood. We bookmarked, shared, and copy-pasted our way into forming ideas about crafts, recipes, parenting skills, and general advice. The internet opened doors to a side of parenting that we wouldn’t have otherwise thought of. Not only did we use the internet for tips and tricks, but we used it to build a genuine lifelong friendship.

When we were younger, Franki and I went to the same high school. The strange part was that we were barely acquaintances — we knew of each other, were even on the cheerleading squad together, but we didn’t talk. Fast forward years later, Franki had moved back to Canada, I was living in Orange County, and somehow we became friends on Facebook. When I became unexpectedly pregnant in 2010, I was in need of support and the amount of friends I had that had gone through something similar, was slim to none. I turned to Facebook where I had seen Franki’s posts about her daughter (Franki became unexpectedly pregnant in 2007 at 21) and asked for resources and emotional guidance. Since then, we have grown to be close friends (the first time we met-up in person, I was a bridesmaid in her wedding!), and the bond is still strong as our girls are growing up. This is something I love about motherhood and parenthood. It brings people together over this common bond we have: sinking and swimming through raising our children.

As we were sifting through websites, resources, and blogs, we realized that many of them were not directed towards mothers in their early 20′s (especially young single mothers), so we wanted to start one that gives a twenty-something perspective. We’re young, but we have opinions. We have our own experiences; we just met our children a bit earlier than others. In addition, our constant bookmarking, copy/pasting, and sharing of tips we found over the web and in our own lives guided us to make a one-stop-shop for parenting help. Our blog contains recipes, lifestyle tips, products, DIY tips, craft ideas, personal stories, and a plethora of links to help in almost every situation. Personally, one of my main goals in creating the blog was to be a voice for other young single mothers; to show that we are capable, strong, and can achieve what we set to achieve. I wanted to share my budget-friendly ideas for toys, crafting, healthy and easy recipes, and engaging activities as well as share my personal story’s ups and downs. We are two young moms, on two different paths, taking motherhood one healthy-earthy-chic-and funny step at a time! Hope to you connect with you soon!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Three Little Birds...

I started a rumor. I really didn't mean to do it, but, nonetheless, it happened. And the worst part about it was the rumor was about ME. It wasn't even a good one like, "She's getting her book published!" or "Her hair always looks so healthy!" or "She's the most patient mom ever!" (OK...those are all things I would love to be true but I won't be caught starting those rumors...I believe in KARMA!)

Last week I received some disappointing news about my job: I have to change departments. It isn't the end of the world but it also isn't something I would've sought out for myself. I really like the team I'm currently with and the work I currently do. I was not looking to make a change. Change is hard.

Soooo, I was talking with my husband, processing all of my BIG feelings about the pending change, and I rashly spewed out some words that sounded like, "What if they don't like me and I get fired?!?!" Now, I don't really believe my personality and work habits will get me fired, but at that moment, I was feeling vulnerable and scared (because change is HARD), and I just wanted my husband to comfort me. Which he did...VERY WELL! He hugged me tightly and told me that I could quit my job and work on getting my book published! Oh yes he did, that amazing man o'mine! That was all I needed...for him to say, with true Marley optimism, "Don't worry, about a thing, cuz every little thing, is gonna be alright." And I truly believe it will be. (Having faith in my journey...read about that here.)

Back to my rumor. There are these little people living in my house. Sometimes I don't even realize they're hovering nearby during these important, emotional conversations with my husband, or when I'm chatting on the phone with a friend. Usually it's because these conversations happen when I'm juggling a stack of dirty dishes, or a hamper full of their laundry, or I'm moving from one room to the next cleaning up their messes. Sometimes I just don't see them trailing me, circling my feet, listening with their little ears. Apparently, my middle child was tailing me, (stealthily on the lookout for falling candy or money, I'm sure) when he heard me say a string of words that ended with "FIRED."

In the week that has passed since, not once has any little person in my house asked me about my job. No, "Hi mom, how was work today?" or "Mom, did you hire a lot of people today?" Not even a "Hey mom, are you going to get fired anytime soon? Just want to get my back pay of allowance before the well runs dry, know what I mean?" No. Not one child even alluded to the fact that I was changing things up at work. But they were talking...oh boy, were they talking.

Yesterday at pick up, a very good friend asked me, in a concerned tone, "Hey, how's everything going for you?" I explained that I would soon be changing departments at work and I was a bit worried about it because (have I said this already?) CHANGE IS HARD, and that's when the rumor was revealed. My poor boys had told her LAST WEEK, that I was going to get fired from my job. They were worried. Two things happened right at that moment: I laughed out loud, astounded at the ridiculous rumor they had started, and I cried silently, heartbroken that they were secretly carrying that burden, believing that their stable, happy world would soon change. (Change is especially hard for little people.)

After assuring her all was well and thanking her for encouraging them to fact-check (which they hadn't done yet), I gathered my children and headed back to the nest. First, I huddled them close and asked them some questions: yes, they thought I was going to be fired soon and yes, they knew that mom and dad would always take care of them, no matter what. Then I answered theirs: no, I was not going to be fired soon and yes, I would promptly pay them the allowance I owed them. I apologized for not being cautious with my words and worrying them, we had a lesson on exaggeration, and they promised to always ask questions before sharing our family stories. It was a good talk.

As they ran off to play outside, I was proud that my mistaken rumor turned into a good learning experience for all of us. My kids learned about open communication and I learned that as long as I try my hardest and do my best work at my most important job - being their mama - well, then every little thing is gonna be alright.

{J}

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Process of Waiting..er..Writing

I'm having trouble writing. It happens. I am a writer but I don't always feel gifted at my craft. At times the words cannot get written on the page fast enough and others, well, it's like having the words on the tip of your tongue for days, weeks, months and still they won't come. Frustration.

I started college as a journalism major. I loved it and then I liked it and then I hated it. Unfortunately I did not have good teachers or mentors to help me through that phase and I quickly became a psych major. I loved psychology and thought I could really DO something with a degree in which I could help others work their way through life. And I did. I do. I have met great teachers, studied with minds that blow me away and worked with people who are changing the world. It has been great. But my heart calls me to something else. I am a writer.

I am not yet a published author, though I certainly hope to be described as that one day. Between working, writing analytical reports, being a wife and a mother to my three busy children, my passion is not often my priority. I dream of having a little country cottage (preferably in the English countryside) where I can spend days and weeks at a time honing my craft and getting to know the characters inside my head as they come to life in the written word. Without interruption. What?

I am many, many years away from that, but for now, when the house is quiet and all those other voices that need my attention have been put to sleep for the night, the writer in me can sit and wait for the words to come. And wait.

Sometimes the wait is unbearable but I am rewarded when inspiration meets story line and something is born from that. It's a vulnerable place. A magical place. One that I can so easily get lost in. It makes my heart beat a little faster! Inspiration can be found in the oddest places, when you are least expecting it.

Several years ago, when my husband and I had bought our first home, I was cleaning the closets out, getting ready for our things to be unpacked, and I found a crumpled letter. It was written by a 14 year old girl to her friend who had committed suicide. It was a heartbreaking letter full of the sadness of a girl who didn't understand the cruelness of life. I knew almost immediately that I wanted to tell her story. Characters began to form in my head and I would jot down notes each time I thought of the letter and its author. That was 12 years ago. I have slowly, over this span of time, begun to put a story together. I want to do its author justice and convey the feelings to my readers (that I hope to have) that I felt were being shared from the heart. I hope one day that this story will be given a chance to make a difference. But I have to write it first.

I have begun to surround myself with women who love to write as much as I do. They are inspirational, encouraging and exciting to be around. They have an energy that I understand and want to be a part of. They are there to coax me through the frustration of not feeling worthy and affirm me at my weakest points. I need that. Especially when the words are not coming, and even sometimes when they are, and they appear to not be good enough. I am my harshest critic. I need that outside voice that says "This is really coming along, you are doing great work!" (pat, pat on my back). I have learned a truth about myself, that if I am not affirmed, I tend to crawl up into a ball with all of my doubts hugged tightly to my chest. I need someone, sometimes, to reach in and grab my hand and help me to stand up and loosen my grip. Then I can gain perspective, catch my breath, and wait again, this time with more conviction. These women do that for me and it is a much needed part of the process. This process where I am learning to be vulnerable, as I wait and re-write and scribble out and throw away and start over. Each new start is a baby step to that final product; a finished story. The End.

So, for now, I take baby steps, I relish in the short spurts of time I am allotted to pursue my passion, and I practice, here with you, my reader. For now, I humbly submit my thoughts and ideas to spark conversation and discussion... or not. For now, I write and I wait. {H}

Friday, January 11, 2013

Choose Joy

I'm Emmy, I'm 35, and I'm infertile.

Wait, let me back up.  I'm Emmy.  Holly and Jenn have been so sweet to allow me to invade their space for the day.  I own Much Ado About You {where I used to sell printed day planners, and now I just sell printables}, I occasionally blog {Confesstions of a Paper Freak}, and I incessantly Instagram {@itsjustemmy}.  I am married to my high school sweetheart and as of this year we have been together for more than half our lives.

Almost 11 years ago I got pregnant for the first time.  Nathan and I were so excited, and immediately started planning that child's future.  We were thinking of names... wondering if it would be a boy or a girl... hoping its due date of December 26th would not mean we were going to have a Christmas baby.

But just a few days later I started bleeding heavily, and knew in an instant that that baby was gone. 

We had only just begun trying to get pregnant, but I had so many friends experiencing infertility and I begged God to spare us from that roller coaster.

Our doctor told us that since we were so early in the pregnancy I would not need a D & C, and that technically I could get pregnant as soon as my next cycle.

Which I did.

That pregnancy was such a relief, and I vividly remember thanking God that I was never going to have to walk that long and painful road of infertility.


A year after Beau was born we decided to start trying for a second baby.  We wanted four, so we thought we'd better get going!

God had different plans for our family. 

The next six years were spent going from one doctor's appointment to the next... from one surgery to the next... all in an effort to figure out why my young and seemingly healthy body was not working.

I have Endometriosis, a condition that basically destroys your body from the inside out.  During my final surgery my doctor made the painful decision to remove both of my non-functioning fallopian tubes, hoping it would increase the chance of my third and final IVF {invitro-fertilization} treatment being successful. 

The next month we had our final IVF procedure.  It failed.  We were done.

We were physically {well mostly me on that one}, emotionally, and financially spent.  The chance of a natural pregnancy was eliminated with the removal of my tubes.  I was officially STERILE.  It is still strange to say those words.  I am a woman that cannot do what I was created to do... bear children.  That is a very strange reality to be faced with.

I spent seven dark years in the thick of my infertility {I say "my" infertility because the issues were mine... with another woman my husband could have had more children... more salt in the wounds}.  For some of those years Nathan and I were not on the same page.  He didn't understand my desperation for a child when I already was a mom.  Those years I struggled with a deep loneliness that I had never known.  It is so hard to explain what infertility feels like to someone that has never experienced it, but the bottom line is... IT SUCKS.

However, God also used those seven years to challenge my character and bring me to a place of total trust and reliance on His plan for my life.  I came to a point where I had to say, "God, I love you and I trust you, and I know that {while very different from mine} Your plan is the best plan for my life.  So even if I never have another baby I will praise you and be thankful for whatever it is that you call me to do."

And I really was at peace.  Without tubes I no longer had to live in two week cycles, wondering if each late period was the one.  I had an incredible eight year old that was the joy of my life, a loving, supportive husband, a thriving business... life was good.

Now since I have already babbled on for quite some time {and probably lost most of you} I will leave this next part of the story short and sweet {if you would like to read the whole story, you can find it here}.  Through miraculous circumstances, in March of 2011 we brought home the most beautiful baby girl that looks nothing like us. 



And in the instant that I met her I understood every no that God had placed in my path. 

If you are in a season of not understanding the circumstances of your life, please be encouraged that someday you may understand and even appreciate the painful path that you are walking. 

Since experiencing infertility and adoption I have a heart for encouraging hurting women.  Several months ago I felt a calling on my life to do something to help other women that are experiencing similar trials, and the Choose Joy event was born. 


Choose Joy is a one-day conference in Southern California for women and couples that are experiencing infertility and/or desire to grow their families through adoption.  I have somehow convinced several other women from all over the country to come and be a part of this event.  We have speakers on topics such as "God's Heart for the Hurting; Waiting Hurts, Waiting Perfects", "Having a Heart of Hope: Overcoming the Hurt of Infertility", "The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly of International Adoption", and much, much more.  My desire is for this to be a day of connection and community, and for women to open their minds to the plan that God has for their family.     

The event will include a luncheon and a dessert, and at the end we will be raffling off a cash prize to help someone grow their family.

Tickets are on sale for $30 through the 25th of January.  {After that the price goes up to $40, so don't delay!}  Please visit the website for all the details on the location and schedule, bios on each speaker, and to register for the event. 

If you aren't experiencing infertility, statistics say that someone you know is.  Please pass this website on to your friends or family that could use some support. 

Thanks for reading my story.
XOXO,
Emmy


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Long-Lost Mermaid Sister...

I want to be a writer. Wait, scratch that. I want to be a published author. I make the distinction with a hindsight view of a journey that still stretches in front of me even while I reflect on how far I've come.

I've always wanted to be an author. My first poem that I wrote in the second grade, was widely distributed throughout my neighborhood, mostly because I made copies. BY HAND. I didn't send it via email, nor did I use a copy machine...I actually wrote out more than twenty copies. There were no fancy, computer-generated graphics, although I'm pretty sure there was a child's rendering of a flower-maybe a daisy-rose hybrid?-sketched up at the top. And I didn't seal it in an envelope to be stuck anonymously in each mailbox, sending a text message alerting to its placement in said mailboxes. I actually went door-to-door, having real conversations with whoever answered (usually of the adult-type) about my poem and why it was important for them to read. When I reflect on this first experiment in poetry, my first "project," it is evident that my love of writing blossomed at an early age. And it went far beyond the pen and page.

Since then, I haven't stopped. Writing has always been a natural creative outlet for me, even when it took on different shapes. During elementary school, I wrote short narratives about long-lost mermaid sisters, beautiful ocean or forest getaways, treasure-hunting and super powers, sometimes all wrapped up in one character...usually me, or my long-lost mermaid sister. In middle school and high school, my practice shifted to note-swapping with my best friend Ally. We wrote mostly about boys, and the girls that chased those boys. It was lots of expository writing of drama and conflict and resolution. In college, my Philosophy degree allowed me to expand into new realms as historical analyses of the ancient enlightened became my next pursuit.

When I met my husband, I reverted back to the writing I loved: poetry, short stories and reflections on LOVE. I wrote letters to my babies before they were born, and even more to them since. This has been my journey.

Just over a year ago, I joined a writing group with some amazing and inspirational women who, like me, found a calling in telling stories. With their help, and a group of characters that wouldn't get out of my head until I put them on the page, I wrote my first novel: a women's fiction piece that incorporates a shooting, a ghost and a love story. (Compelling, don't you think?) I didn't start with a synopsis or a plot line or a character chart...I started with a feeling and a dream. Six months later, I printed the first draft of my book, all 378 pages of it! I spent the summer taking that manuscript everywhere with me. (It especially enjoyed our sunny beach days and our camping trip to Carpinteria.) I was reading, revising, adding, crossing-out....with a pen, the old-fashioned way. I couldn't get the story out of my mind and it took three months to go through one edit.

Meanwhile, I devoured every book that I could find, (reading makes my "writing-mode" so much more accessible), and I researched everything I found about how to get a book published. I wrote a synopsis and a plot line and a character chart. I wrote and re-wrote my query letter. (For those who wonder, it's a letter that you need to get a literary agent whose job it is to get you published, if you're going the traditional route, which is my goal. But that's another story.) It's all been very exciting, but it's been very scary too. On more than one occasion, I have lost hope, because really? Does this book suck?!? It's hard to know...I'm too close. Oh yeah, and apparently, it is SUPER hard to get that literary agent, let alone get published. It only happens for about one percent of my fellow dreamers...the lucky and talented ones. (Still don't know if I'm either.)

Then at church on Sunday, Father Reynold talked about the Epiphany and how the three wise men didn't completely understand where they were going when they began their journey to a birthday party for Jesus. They didn't know exactly where their path would lead, or what their future would bring. But what they did have was faith...faith in their journey.

"Hellloooo God! I hear you!" That message was a reminder to me, and can be to you, regardless of your religious persuasion, that we don't have to know exactly what the outcome of our pursuits will be for them to be worthy of pursuing. We won't always find the result we expect. In fact, it's more likely that our hindsight view will uncover an altogether, twisty-turny, full of surprises, different path that lead to where we were traveling. And I bet that path will be better, more interesting, full-of-lessons and enlightenment, than the path we originally charted for ourselves.

I'm where I should be, following my dream, not just to write a book, I did that, but to refine that work, hope for an agent, pray for a publisher, and aim to reach people with my story. If this book doesn't fulfill that dream, and I really don't know if it will, I will keep writing. Because that is my passion...this is my journey, even if I have to go door-to-door, or post-to-post, following my dream...my beacon in the night.

So dream...dream BIG! Abandon your fear of the unknown, chart a path but leave time for oh-so-fun side trips, dare to suck, and have faith in your journey. People out there: listen for the doorbell...

We are on our way!

{J}

Monday, January 7, 2013

Spread a Little JOY

Happy Monday everyone! Or happy first day back to school after Christmas break! I'm actually not that happy about it. I know for some, getting the kids back in school is a stress reliever, but for me it is stressful to get back in the routine of getting up early, getting homework done, and getting everyone to bed on time...only to start again. This break I have been especially mindful of hugging my kids a little tighter and cuddling on the couch a little longer. So today marks the end of our lazy pajama days and I'm a little sad.

This weekend I got to thinking about how to make January something to look forward to instead of dread. So it isn't just about getting back on a schedule, trying to keep resolutions and make it to the gym (or not eat milk duds). How do I make the feeling of Christmas last through January and beyond? You know, that feeling you get when the lights are still up on the tree and you've watched all your loved ones open special gifts picked out just for them. Joy. I want to drag Joy with me into this new year! I already shared how I need to work on my spiritual growth. I think one of the best ways to do that is by giving back. Serving in some way, big or small. I think a perfect way to keep Joy in your heart all year long is by spreading it around!

My oldest son's Lion's Heart group (a community service organization) met this weekend and talked about ways they could serve. It just so happens that one of the boys in the group is a younger brother to a young man that attended Sandy Hook Elementary when he was in Kindergarten (years ago). He and his family have been collecting donations to send back to Newtown so friends of theirs from Sandy Hook can use the money for the best good. One of the ideas brought up in the meeting was to help him collect donations for Newtown and show them, in that small way, that we are with them, sharing in their grief, and wanting to show support. A simple idea that will hopefully bless those whose suffering surpasses my understanding.

A friend of mine Molly, (you can see Molly's blog and learn more about her fabulous prayer journals here) has come up with a wonderful idea called "Blessing Bags". She and her family took much of their winter break to collect donations and items to fill large plastic bags. The bags will be filled with blankets, non-perishable food items, water bottles, and Bibles. The idea is to have them in the back of your car so that if you see someone in need, you have something to hand them that will immediately help. You can find out more information about Project Blessing Bags here. Simple. Spreading Joy.

Another friend of mine Emmy, is using her time and talents to give Joy to those who have struggled with infertility. She has planned an event that is SURE to spread Joy to many women and families that are wondering what little miracles 2013 will bring! She has used her experiences to reach out to others and give back. Another simple idea that will bless so many. You will be hearing more from her when she does a guest post on Friday!

What about you? We would love to hear all the ways that you plan to give back or things you have done in the past that kept the Joy flowing all year long! Leave your message to us in the comments section! We can't wait to get some more good ideas.

As for me, I'll be helping all these causes and giving my time to do whatever I can. It's not a lot, but it's a start and that's the first step. As for today, I'll kiss my kids when they get home, make a snack before homework starts, and ease into our "back to school" routine. Keeping it simple and spreading a little Joy, that's what it's all about. {H}

Friday, January 4, 2013

Confession...

Hi all, Jenn here. It's my turn for confession. Like Holly, I am struggling with "consumption" issues of my own. But what's perched on my pedestal is an oh so popular and oh so delicious beverage...I am addicted to Diet Coke! There, I’ve said it. It feels good to get that off my chest, although many of you already know this about me. I LOVE the sweet, bubbly, slightly caffeinated beverage way too much! And I know it's not good for me, and I've tried to stop, but I've never been successful for long.

For the last two years, I have spent 40 days, sometime in the spring, denying myself of Diet Coke in the name of religion. Yes...I have to admit that the D.C. is what I have given up for Lent...TWICE...and this is what that looks like:

For roughly two weeks before Lent, I'm cranky, because I know what’s coming. During those same two weeks, I try to find some other destructive habit or profound outreach effort that would be a better use of my 40-day sacrifice. But truth be told, Diet Coke really is the one destructive habit without which I must turn to God for strength, (not to mention a healthy dose of perspective, because really?!?! It’s just DIET COKE!!!) It is my one true, spring-in-my-step, vice.

Then Ash Wednesday hits, seemingly earlier every year, I might add, and it’s on. Me against the D.C., friends. And watch out…once Thursday afternoon comes around, I am a different person.

By the weekend, my family wants to denounce our religion for the chance to have their relatively normal, accommodating, fun-loving, mom back. Every request they make is met with a teeth-clenching glare. I am just NOT nice. And I know my reaction is unreasonable, but in my efforts to suppress it, I turn into a crazy lady. And my poor husband. He really can't seem to do anything right! EVERYTHING he does makes me wonder why I have to live with this man who is so clearly out of touch and unsympathetic with my plight! If I didn't have so many little ears milling around (and they are EVERYWHERE), I would give him a piece of my mind! You see, when I give up Diet Coke, I turn into a terrible person!

But the hysteria doesn't last for long. Within about two weeks, I'm more practiced in my sacrifice and I can cope again. First comes the apology - MINE - then comes the forgiveness - THEIRS - and we find normalcy again. I usually focus on some other project for the remaining few weeks and the distraction is GREAT. Only a few more weeks to go and I'm free! I'm not talking about free from my addiction, no. Once I fulfill my Lenten obligation, I'm free to go back to my "dealer" and start using again. That's what it feels like, anyway.

I believe my problem is twofold. Diet Coke is full of chemicals that my body does not recognize and those chemicals have a physical hold on me. Those same chemicals will have a negative impact if I continue to feed my habit for the next ten, twenty, even thirty or more years. And although there are other, chemical-free alternatives that I could choose, I typically don't. I'm not a coffee drinker and I’m an inclement-weather tea drinker, at best,

Diet Coke has an even greater emotional hold on me. I must have it every day! When I take my three shiny quarters to the vending machine at work, I'm giddy. On the days I don't work, my car finds a reason to drive through a D.C. establishment by midday so I can get my fix. (I don't keep it in the house...tooooo dangerous.) Diet Coke, in my hot little hands, with its infusion of pleasure, when I want it, makes me happy. Leading a busy life, with a family who has immediate needs, with a job (albeit part-time) that requires immediate attention, with a book draft that requires immediate editing, I have very few things that are in MY immediate and absolute control. And one of those sweet indulgences that I get, when I want it, is my Diet Coke.

As much as my intake of Diet Coke is a problem, the issue at the heart of my compulsion, is the imbalance in my life that has me grasping for some small semblance of control. It's the avoidance of those annoying to-do's, the overabundance of tasks I've committed to, it's the Super-Mom, Super-Wife, Super-Worker, Super-Writer, Super-Woman standard that I've adopted as my measuring stick, that has lead to my unhealthy need. And that, my friends, is what I need to fix.

Stay tuned...

{J}

Thursday, January 3, 2013

My Sugar Pedestal

One of my biggest comforts is sugar. This is my inherent problem. I love it. I can't get enough. It is my drug. The first step of addiction recovery is to admit there is a problem. Anyone who sees me in a bikini can see I have a problem. But, when I have clothes on, I'm good at covering it up. I've had to be. My body is not looking the way I want and it brings up feelings of shame and defeat. Fooling others by hiding my rolls and bulges has taken practice and energy and frankly I'm worn out from it. My dirty little secret is that I sneak sugar. Candy, ice cream, cookies, they all make me feel better. When I'm stressed, feeling down, or just need something to look forward to I turn to sugar. I eat it {a lot of it}when I'm alone and no one can see. The problem with dirty little secrets is that they are like dirty laundry; one day they are aired out for all to see and then one becomes ACCOUNTABLE.

Accountability is "to accept responsibility and disclose results in a transparent manner." It's the opposite of trying to fool people. I know the only one that I have been fooling is myself. Granted, sugar addiction doesn't have the devastating physical effects of alcohol or cocaine but the mentality is the same and that is what I need to change. I'm too smart for that and I know God has bigger and better plans for me. I can't be ready to do what He wants if my focus is on the cinnamon roll I want to have for breakfast. So where is my motivation? Being accountable is motivating, but if I isolate myself and tell everyone that it's all "fine," who am I being accountable too? Wanting to fit into my jeans without needing Spanx to hold everything in has not been enough to keep me from putting Milk Duds in my popcorn. Ugh.

I came across a book recently that has inspired me to let go of this burden and start this journey. For those of you that don't know her, Lysa Terkurst is the president of Proverbs 31 Ministries. She is also the author of "Made to Crave", the book that is helping me change my life.

Let me back up for a minute and give you a little more information about me. Along with my realization that I needed to make changes in my weight and health, I have also realized that I have put God and my spiritual growth on the "back burner." Does this sound familiar to anyone? I was raised to believe in God but it wasn't until I had my first child that I was taught about following Jesus. It forever changed me. I had some very dark years (I will share some of that another time) but Jesus taught me about GRACE and that saved me. Literally. So who am I to put HIM on the back burner?

At this point you may be wondering what Jesus and losing weight have in common? After all, Jesus is supposed to be more concerned with what's in my heart than how many rolls I have hanging over my jeans, right? Well it's true He is. BUT he's also very concerned with what I am desiring. Earlier I shared that one of my deepest desires is sugar. Jesus wants my deepest desire to be Him. He wants me to turn to Him when I'm stressed or feeling down. I have put sugar on a pedestal and become obsessed with its effects. I turned it into an idol. Now, as I put my Lord and Savior back into His rightful place on that pedestal, and do the work I need to in order to keep Him there, my journey begins.

Now back to Lysa for a second. Her blog is great, her devotionals are funny and inspiring, and this book (the first I have read of hers) has given me the direction and pointed out the source of motivation that I have been searching for. For the next several weeks, I will share with you what I have learned from her and how it is truly helping me make the significant changes I need to. It's motivation, accountability and grace all rolled into one! I can't think of a better way to start off 2013. Can you?

{H}

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

In The Beginning

Hello friends! Holly here...so glad you're here today! Happy New Year~! I had lots of plans of how I wanted to introduce myself. Stories to tell so you would have an idea about how I think and what I'm all about. Hopefully it would be interesting enough for you to come back and read more. BUT I've scrapped that plan. It would take too long to get to the nitty gritty of where I am in life right now and what I really want to share with you. It's a new year and change is in the air!

My first change? I feel FAT and I'm sick of it. I'm not obese, and I'm not healthy, I'm somewhere in the middle. Healthy is where I want to be. It's been a gradual, slow change over the last few years. Until now, this minute. Now, I stand looking in a mirror and obsess over every roll and undefined muscle. I'm late (or MORE late) everywhere because I have to try on 10 things before I finally choose something (black) and I hope that it will hide my muffin top when I sit down. I'm at my breaking point.

I am not meant to live like this! None of us are. While I sit and obsess over clothes and "covering-up", life is passing me by. I feel it. I look around and see my baby girl who is already 5. My oldest sounds like my husband. I call his voicemail that he recorded when he was 10 so I can remember what his sweet little voice used to sound like. My middle son will be taller than me in the blink of an eye. They are my precious moments and I can't let even ONE more moment pass by, being too self-absorbed with the ring around my middle to notice. I feel like I don't have energy anymore...I'm not FUN anymore. Can anyone relate to this?

Part of my problem is that I have been looking for the solution within myself. If ONLY I had enough willpower!

Well, willpower isn't the answer. In order to really make my moments matter when it comes to tackling this goal of weight loss and health, I need significant motivation to make significant changes. I think I have found my answer. Something that will work for me and help me create habits that will create lasting change. I'm very excited (and a little scared) to share my journey with you. I'll warn you up front, it WILL have UGLY moments. I am very emotionally tied to food in a bad way. Those ties are binding me and I'm suffocating. It's time once and for all to break free. It all begins tomorrow...Are you with me?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

New Year's Resolutions. I love them and I hate them! Can you relate?

As in years past, I open 2013 with a new List of resolutions. May I recommend to you that this is a good time to sit down and evaluate those resolutions that you made in the midnight hour under a shroud of hope and optimism, (or maybe champagne), and see how well they fit. Are they worth the work? Are they too easy? Are they balanced just so? Will the result be a new and improved you?

In my evaluation, I have found that there are many types of resolutions. The trick to figuring out what will work for you is to find the perfect blend of worth and work. And let me tell you right now, this is going to look very different to all of us so no judging. No one person's List is any better or worse than yours.

Worthy resolutions are the ones that make us better people. We pledge to invite peace and love into our relationships. We commit to sending thank-you notes or returning phone calls, on time. We promise to stay in touch with the people with which we share a special bond, even if the day-to-day "busy" keeps our calendars unmanageably full. We vow to use a calendar - properly, like writing things down and checking it. We plan to eat better, exercise more, stress less, take on what we can manage and do it all better. No pressure, right? Not exactly, but these efforts are all worth the reward.

Then we have the work. This is the actual resolving of the resolutions, the method, the madness, the making-it-happen. And this is where resolutions typically falter. If your List is too much work, you won't succeed. If your goals are too lofty, they will remain out of reach. If your resolutions are not planned out, they will be forgotten. If you don't resolve to do the work, well, plainly, it won't get done. That will leave you feeling crappy, maybe even a bit resentful, toward your List.

So, here's my suggestion. When you are taking a look at your List, and to do this, you need to actually write that list down somewhere, the first step is to make sure you put some of the easy resolutions right up at the top. It's critically important to the life and longevity of your List to put something achievable at the very top. It's very motivational. Then, take a moment to think about the work required to make each one of these resolutions a reality. This is your plan.

For example, I want to lose 7 pounds. (OK...I know it's not a lot of weight. If I got a good old stomach bug, I could cut that number in half easily, but it's one of my goals...no judging!) The work required to lose that 7 pounds will include eating less of the sweets and exercising more, working up a real sweat and everything. (Boo!) But even if the work sounds like no fun, my goal is a worthy one that has three pairs of too-snug skinny jeans to wear after all that work. (And I threw in a pair of cute black boots to really incentivize me.) For me, that resolution combines worth and work so it's achievable! I'm keeping that one. I'll let you know how it goes.

Once you have your balanced, well-planned, manageable List, a couple of the easies right at the top, start working. And don't ignore the ones that will be a little harder to achieve...you have a plan, remember? Engage your support group (AKA family and friends) to help you stay on track. If there is a resolution you need extra encouragement to stay the course, invite one of your people to help you along that journey. They can check in with you, you can call them when you're struggling, and who knows, they may also need some reinforcement to achieve a goal or two. This is where the work meets the worth.

In 2013, my List is long. It makes me cranky and hopeful at the same time. My List is imperfect as will be my journey to fulfill it, but I'm looking forward to the challenge and the rewards that await. (I will attempt to keep my complaining to a minimum.)

And if you need some reassurance while striving for your goals, we will be here for you. Happy New Year!

{J}