Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Does Your Button Say?

We're all guilty.

Of that quest for perfection, of the nag you feel each time you pass the laundry hamper. That inner chastising (or outer cursing) when dinner burns. Or the red pen that stabs your heart with each mark on the manuscript. (It's a DRAFT, for goodness sake!)

But this week, I was given the benefit of a little perspective when I slugged pre-coffee into my son's school to fulfill yet another (over)commitment. I was making buttons for the upcoming award ceremony. The students had written on, colored, and cut out a paper circle celebrating their accomplishments for the quarter, and I was sticking them in a button machine, turning them into a little award (and cringing each time they didn't come out perfectly straight).

Then I started reading the buttons:

  • "Made the musical!"
  • "Got a B on my math test!!!"
  • "Improved my reading speed!"

What?! No straight As or perfect attendance or error-free manuscripts? 

Nope. These elementary school kids (and this school) get it. They know that progress, true progress, isn't a flawless report card or a perfectly cooked meal. It's improvement over time. It's being your personal best. It's just sliding in the right direction on the spectrum of lifewhatever that may look like for you. 

And we don't celebrate it enough.

Well, that ends here. Right now, I want you to make your button. 

SERIOUSLY. RIGHT NOW.

  1. Get out a piece of paper. 
  2. Draw a circle.
  3. Write SOMETHING to celebrate. ("I drew a great circle.")
  4. Color it.
  5. Cut it out. 
  6. Hang it up. Or if you're really brave: pin it on your shirt.
  7. Let people ask about it, and explain. ("I'm awesome" will suffice.)
  8. Do it all again tomorrow.
There's nothing really wrong with striving for perfection. But don't let the quest drown you in guilt. Don't let the setbacks knock you down. Take time to celebrate each step forward. 

And hey, be sure to occasionally pin a button on someone else. Because, really, by the time we've reached perfection, it'll be too late to make our difference here on earth.

So tell me! What does your button say?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Today Is the Day the Impossible Happens

If you had asked me seven years ago, I would have said, "It's impossible!" that:


  • I would travel the Northeast in a van with Jack Hanna and some very pampered animals to help write his autobiography.
  • Through Jack, I would learn about Frederick, a teenage boy in Rwanda who chose death over harming complete strangers.
  • Frederick would live through the genocide, having his hands cut off, and a suicide attempt.
  • Frederick, all the way in Gisenyi, Rwanda, would meet Americans who would fly him here to get new "fingers."
  • Charlie Gibson would cover Frederick's story on Primetime.
  • Frederick and his business partner would find the means to build a gorgeous community center, preschool, and primary school to pull "people like me" out of the darkness of society.
  • The community center would revolutionize the way disabled people were treated in that corner of the world.
  • Frederick would embark on a bicycling campaign, through the steep hills of Rwanda and beyond, to show that "disability is not inability."
  • He would answer the phone.
  • He would trust me with his story.
But Luke 1:37 tells me that "nothing will be impossible with God." And I am seeing that truth in all of its glory today. 

Please, take a minute to get to know Frederick. If nothing else, his story will convert you to a believer in the impossible.



If you're in Middle Tennessee, you'll have two opportunities to meet Frederick in person and shake hands with the impossible: 


We'd love to see you there.

He also has an extensive tour scheduled in October throughout Southern California. Comment below for more info.

Friday, September 5, 2014

It's Addicting **Guest post from Laura L. Smith**

Today's post is from my dear friend and fearless writer, Laura Smith. Her fiction is raw, relevant, and real, tackling tough issues for teen and college-age girls. (I talk about why she writes what she writes here.) But more importantly, she is a wise counselor, an unconditional friend, a faithful cheerleader, and the sweetest soul. Get to know her; you'll be the better for it. OH, and as a bonus, if you comment below, you'll be entered to win a signed copy of It's Addicting for yourself or someone you love.


What are your little addictions?

Mine include:
  • Starbucks
  • Music
  • Nail polish (no chips please, different colors on toes and fingers)
  • Exercise (I don’t care with who, or what or when, but I crave it.)
  • My phone

Maybe yours are: 
  • Nachos
  • Getting all As
  • Your job
  • A sport/instrument/club/activity
  • Instagram
  • Your bestie
  • A TV show
  • A relationship
  •  Chocolate

Our lists could go on and on with the fun little interests, innocent cravings, and even important responsibilities and relationships we’re “addicted” to. But how do you know when a passion or interest becomes an “addiction”? When do these things that fill our minds and hours become modern-day idols?

When we over-desire them.

See, it’s not wanting them that’s the problem. God created coffee beans and cocoa beans and the guy you have a crush on (yup, husbands count too). He created your brain and your body and wants you to use them to glorify Him. 

But when our little addictions create tension with our family, our wallet, our values, our faith, when our innocent little craving becomes more important than God, when we OVER-DESIRE it, we’ve got a problem.

How so?

I often plot out my morning to include a stop by my local Starbucks. I love my coffee. I get excited every morning when the aromatic smell wafts towards my nose, when the bold, rich flavor hits my tongue. And this is okay. God wants us to have pleasure, to enjoy this world and this life. He gave me taste buds that are receptive to the flavor of an iced venti with mocha and nonfat milk. But when I skip my quiet time with Him in the morning to make sure I get a coffee, when I’m late getting my kids to school or I show up late to a meeting, because I “needed” a coffee, this is a problem.

Do you have a friend you adore? Someone who makes you laugh and truly gets you? It’s great to spend time with them, to text them throughout the day about funny things, things you’re stressed about, or to plan weekend adventures together. But when you lie to someone who’s close to you so that you can go somewhere with that friend or to cover up for that friend, there’s a problem.

See the pattern?

So how do we rein in our addictions? How do we keep our pleasant little everyday desires from becoming something we obsess over?

First, we can ask ourselves if we are seeking affirmation from these things we adore. Because we do sometimes, don’t we? We seek affirmation from the coolest nail art to the fastest time on the 10K to the most followers on Twitter. We do. 

But our entire identity, all of our affirmation, should come from Christ who created us.

That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
Gal 5:26MSG

Once we wrap our arms around this truth, we need to turn it over to Him in prayer.

When I have a morning where my Starbucks craving will stretch my wallet, make me late, or cause unnecessary stress, I can say, “Jesus, You are the only thing that truly satisfies me. Please let me drink You in this day, and feel You working in and through me. Let me taste Your goodness. Amen.” And then I can brew myself a cup in my Keurig and be thankful.

When your friend wants you to do something that compromises your values--whether that’s gossiping or drinking or blowing off an assignment--and you’re craving their acceptance, pray something like this, “Please Jesus, I long for companionship, for love. I know that You are my constant companion, that You love me always. Please remind me of that love. Please fill me up with it. Let me realize it is better and fuller and more satisfying than any earthly relationship.”

And then turn to the ultimate truth of your Bible (better yet, memorize a few verses) that will remind you of these things: that Jesus is enough, that in fact He’s everything we need. That we should crave Him, long for Him, seek Him and seek to please Him, and we will be valued and loved and treasured.

Here are some that help me:
  • For you formed my inward parts; 
you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:13-14 ESV) 
  • God not only loves you very much but also has put His hand on you for something special. (1 Thessalonians 1:4 MSG
  • It matters very little to me what you think of me, even less where I rank in popular opinion. I don’t even rank myself. Comparisons in these matters are pointless. (1 Corinthians 4:3 MSG)
  • For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 ESV)

But sometimes it's more helpful to see these principles in action. Kat, Claire, Hannah, and Palmer--the characters you'll meet in my new novel, It’s Addicting--encounter their own types of addictions, fun little things that seem innocent enough. And I hope that as you read about them, you'll learn, as they do, how to overcome your over-desires by putting some of these principles to work.  

How about you? What innocent cravings sometimes take over your life?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Little Game of Tag

A journal from my mom. So true.
A few weeks ago, my dear friend and fellow writer, Laura Smith, asked me to be a part of a game of tag—a writerly game of tag. (But wait!! It’ll be fun! Really!*)

Laura has authored six books (and counting!) that deal with real teen issues: divorce, date rape, eating disorders, death. She could write about anything, really--fiction with a deeply carved niche, a genre with a popular following--but instead she chooses this genre of Christian-rooted, college-age fiction that, much like the girls she writes about, struggles to find its place. Why? Because she knows that this is what she is called to write. And so she writes, regardless of what rejection letters or royalty reports say. It's just one of the many reasons I admire her so much. She lives the words of James 2:1 (a verse she shared with me when I needed it most): "My dear friends, don't let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith" (MSG). But maybe this post, from Laura herself, says it best. 

Laura was “it” last week, and she talked about what writers do in the summertime. (The secret’s out: we play!) And then she tagged me. So, here's my backyard, summertime sprint through some questions, before I tag a few other authors whom you'll definitely want to hear from.

Onyamark! Get set! GO!

What are you working on now?
Breathing. (Seriously.) This has been a whirlwind year--and we're only halfway through! I’ve finished writing and co-writing four books (Frederick, Fireproof Your Life for Teens, another teen book, and a Bible storybook), wrapped up four big editing projects, saw Frederick through to printing, wrote oodles of DVD copy, started a little writing and brainstorming with my amazing church, and lots of other odds and ends. 

And, now--ahh--I'm breathing. I'm soaking up some summer fun with my boys and letting my brain refuel for the scariest and funnest part of this job: dreaming up new ideas. I'm currently dipping into my ideas folder, pulling out my favorites that have been oh-so-patiently waiting, and shaping them into full-fledged proposals for my oh-so-patient agent to pitch. So, pray for me. Pray that I spend my time on what matters, in a way that would bring James 2:1 to life.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Ha! It's probably the simple fact that I don't stick to a genre! I've written everything from simple rhymes for toddlers to heartrending adult nonfiction from the other side of the world. I've been told that a "successful" author would stick to her genre, but I didn't listen. (See James 2:1. :) Which brings me to the next question . . . 

Why do you write what you do?
I write what I do because I'm moved to, inspired to, nagged to until I can no longer ignore the beautiful nagging. I write because I want everyone from toddlers to teens to adults to know the overwhelming love of God and the hope that it brings. I want every single person on the planet to see the beauty right here among us. I want to love on this big world. And I've found that, for me, right now, putting words on paper is the best way to do that.

How does your writing process work?
Process? There's a process?!

Sometimes I get an idea (more accurately, an idea is given to me), then there's a lot of watching the trees sway and listening to the birds chippering and feeling the wind as it moves across the water. And then, seemingly from out of nowhere, words form into sentences or lines, and a book is born.

But sometimes, as with my most recent project, Frederick, there's an overwhelmingly inspiring idea, research, one crazy meeting, research, a trip across the world, hearts broken and healed, hours and hours of international calls, research, countless emails, photos, and an infinity of BIC (butt-in-chair). And somehow, in the end, when everything seems crazy and chaotic and impossible, all of the leaves of paper float gently down into place, and--just like that--it is finished. (Well, okay, the writing part is finished. Now, on to the publicity!) 

The elusive writing process is different every. single. time. But every single time, it requires work. It requires practice. It requires learning something new and refueling the creative tank. It requires messing up and getting your feelings hurt. But you can never, ever allow your soul to grow timid or your skin to grow tough. Because when you do, you lose the very thing that makes you a writer: the bravery it takes to see and feel the world as it really is.


Next stop on the World Blog Book Tour?

The bad news: This is the last question. The good news? I'm just the opening act! 


Next week, these three writers will give you their take on the writing world: 


  • Alice Sullivan: A hilariously snarky writer friend and editor with a knack for notorious first (and last!) dates. Trust me. Get to know her. (And set her up with your friend, if only for the entertaining story that will result.) Catch her post here next week.

Did I answer your question? What else do you want to know? 

Tag, you're it!


              *Okay, maybe not as fun as running around barefoot in the backyard, but still fun. ;)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Little "I Love Yous"


With just a few days to our loveliest holiday, I wanted to share a few ways to say, "I love you." 

1. Free Valentines: These adorable I Love Yous from Tommy Nelson feature the dog and cat from An "I Love You" Prayer. Just click and print.

2. An "I Love You" Prayer is a red-foil, heart-shaped board book that holds sweet reminders of the many ways that God shows us His love. You can take a peek at it here. And it just so happens to be on sale right now--along with lots of other great I Love Yous

3. If your child is more into e-books, there's a sale on those too! You can snag it here for only $2.99. (That's $3 off the regular e-book price.) 

Valentine's Day is one of tangible I Love Yous--candy and cards and, of course, books! But we all know that the absolute best I Love Yous don't cost a thing: a big hug, a snuggly storytime, or simply saying, "I love you. I really do." 

Happy Valentine's Day to you all. You are loved more than you could ever know. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Learning to Listen

Oh, here is the secret of becoming much like God
by remaining long alone with God.
If you won't stay long with Him, 
you won't be much like Him.

R. A. Torrey "The Power of Prayer"
from January 22, The Listening Heart


On January 1, 2014, I declared my word for the year to be Listen. (It really wasn't that dramatic. I simply wrote it on paper . . . and on my heart.) Then as I was searching for a new devotional for the year, I "just happened" to see that my friend Judy Gordon Morrow had a new release called The Listening Heart

So I listened. I ordered the book immediately.

The book was on backorder at Christian Book, my first stop for Christian books (shameless plug*, but true), so I just received it yesterday. This morning, as I dug in, I was really blown away. 

I was amazed to learn that this book is purely organicmore than that, even. "Every word in this book was penned while on my knees in prayer," Judy tells us in the intro (read it here), and she's not joking.

She goes on to explain that this book was never intended to be a book; it is compiled from her daily prayer journalstwelve years worth condensed into onein which she wrote not only her prayer requests, but God's response to her.

Handwritten, on her knees, in the presence of God.

This is a book I want to read.

As she explains, 
In today's culture God has been so misconstrued, and He entrusts us with the privilege and joy of being His light and love, shining with the truth of who He isthe God who loves beyond measure, forgives beyond reason, and helps beyond imagining. 
This is a God I want to know better. And I can only hear Him when I listen.


You can read a sample of The Listening Heart here and buy it here.


*I'm an Affiliate with Christian Books, meaning that I get a teeny percent if you order a book through a link I post. Since they almost always have the lowest prices on the books I recommend, I call that a win-win. :)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Winners!

First of all, thank you, thank YOU, THANK YOU for your entries in the My Christmas List contest. You have inspired me, the judges, and my readers with your stories of helping others not only during the Christmas season, but all year long.

Another huge thanks to my panel of judges. We judges--two from B&H, author Laura L. Smith, my intern (also an Amy :), and of course, myself--all had different favorites, but in the end, we only had one $200 LifeWay gift card to give away. 

That gift card and an autographed copy of My Christmas List goes to [drumroll]:
Kevin Butler, for his submission, Keith, the Traveler. Kevin's entry was not only about reaching out to those in need, but it also helped us all to see "need" in a different light. Congratulations, Kevin! 

Coming in a close second and receiving a signed My Christmas List is Janice Pianki, who submitted Following the Call, an entry that tells how missions can work both ways, forever changing the hearts of all involved.

Third--and one of my favorites because I met this little guy's mommy--is Little Hands Make a Big Difference from Austin Richardson. His mommy had me crying right along with her after I spoke to Austin's school that day.

Mandy Mullinix also receives a signed copy of My Christmas List for honoring her son with an entry: Eagle Scout Inspires a Community. Aiden is such a positive role model for teenagers and a source of hope for the rest of us.

And one final signed copy of My Christmas List goes to Diane Stockard for A God-Sent Christmas Miracle. Although Diane's family had lost everything, she poured her heart into Christmas gifts for loved ones. Coincidentally, Diane received a miraculous Christmas surprise herself.

Thank you so much to these and every other submission for telling us what was on your Christmas lists this year. Together, you've inspired us all to think a little beyond ourselves when we pen our lists for Christmases to come.