Writing Reflections

This past weekend, I went to my first writers conference. The conference was held in St. Paul, MN, which is about 4 hours from Fargo. I arrived on Friday afternoon for the Saturday conference, then spent another night before returning home Sunday afternoon.

In order to attend the conference, however, I needed help with Lydia. Childcare is perhaps my biggest challenge as a single mom. Often, I have to make up my mind to do something, and then figure out how I am going to make it work with Lydia.

This is true for conferences, parties, appointments, concerts, certain church meetings, etc. Many times, I just decide the event is not worth the hassle of figuring out child care. But, if I do choose to attend, I trust the Lord to help me make it work.

This weekend, my family came to the rescue! They trekked several hours to meet us in the Twin Cities. Then, they took Lydia to explore the Cities while I was at the all-day conference. Lydia was glad to have grandparents, aunts, and uncles all to herself!

I was grateful for their help…Lydia was grateful to go to Mall of America!

At the conference, I saw several agents, acquisition editors, and publishers. I heard them speak at workshops and at a panel luncheon. I have followed some of them over the years, so it was a really cool experience to see them in the hallway, like any other person!

While I’m not currently ready to publish anything specific, the conference itself was a good confirmation that I am on the right track with meeting my goals. Thank You, Jesus!

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the conference was that I didn’t have to explain that I am a writer. You might be thinking, “Well duh, you were at a writers conference!” But it’s common for writers to deal with self-doubt.

In the past, seeing myself as a writer was a challenge. So, I prayerfully invested in a couple online programs and learned to see myself in a new way. Consistent blogging has been helpful, too. Just putting myself “out there” has boosted my confidence in writing.

I’ve come to see writing as a means to document my journey and reflections on life, what God is doing, and how I interact with others. Writing helps me learn more about myself and the world around me.

This past weekend, it was great to ask people what they are writing or answer questions about my own projects. Just having taking people take me at ‘face value’ was refreshing. Even if I didn’t have anything to “show” that day.

In the past, I might have gotten stuck or discouraged. But to my great relief, I was able to see just how much I’ve grown! Praise God!

Our Heavenly Father is the Author and Finisher of our faith. He knows how our stories end, because He sees the end from the beginning of time. In fact, our own stories are wrapped up in His larger story. So, we can trust Him as He leads us!

As we read His word, inspired by the Holy Spirit, God shows us who He is…and who we are, too. We just have to read it and embrace what He says.

The more time we spend with Jesus, the more we understand about ourselves. It’s a great investment of our time, and by His grace, He calls us like He sees us!

We are saved. We are forgiven. We are free. We are chosen. We are loved. We are redeemed. We have new purpose. We are called. We are empowered. We are His.

Perhaps you don’t enjoy writing… Maybe God wants you to do something different…like stay home with your kids, go back to school, volunteer, change your diet, forgive someone, or introduce yourself to a neighbor. It can be scary to put yourself “out there.” I know.

But ultimately, we have to make a choice to trust. Jesus is faithful and more than able to get us where we need to be. We just have to take the first step.

With His unfailing love and support, how can we fail? Let’s see ourselves like He does and cooperate with Him. We can’t go wrong! And who knows, maybe soon, you will be doing something you never thought was possible!

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God, thank You for putting Your dreams within our hearts. Thanks for walking with us along the way, giving us guidance. Help us see ourselves as You do. Help us be brave! In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Questions: Do you have a dream that seems impossible? How can you trust God and take the first step?

Tasks: Write down all the reasons your dream seems unachievable. Then, write a Bible verse next to each reason, such as Philippians 1:6 or Philippians 4:13. As you pray through each verse, redirect your focus on Jesus and trust Him to help you!

Dear Younger Me

This week, an online friend asked her other friends to give their best life advice in three words or less. She then asked her audience to write what advice they would share with their 16 year-old selves. (This is applicable when looking back at any age, really!)

I was inspired and wrote, “Find the good.” Then, I reposted her questions on my own page. I loved reading all the phrases! Afterward, another online friend shared it from there.

All week, I have been following each of the three posts for catchy little words of wisdom. It’s amazing what a little time and distance can do for our perspective. The things we thought mattered often don’t amount to much. Experience is a great teacher!

Some people answered with a humorous approach. I saw advice such as, “Chill out, lady. Don’t do that!! Go to sleep. Be Wonder Woman. Eat more cake.” Haha, yes!

Some people turned the focus back to God, writing, “God is good. Jesus loves you. Jesus is Lord! In Christ alone. Put Jesus first. Walk with Him. Trust in Him.” Praise God!

Some of the comments focused on character qualities, like, “Be thankful always. Be kind. Be more honest. Be the good. Be adventurous. Be flexible. Save your money.” I agree!

Some phrases were more inward-focused, almost like personal coaching. “Just breathe. You are enough. You are loved. You are beautiful. Let it go.” So good.

I also noted other words along similar lines. “Don’t settle. Trust your instincts. Follow your heart. Embrace the imperfections. No regrets. Never give up. Make it work. Life goes on. Take the chance. Don’t be late! Forgive, move on. Just be yourself.” Yes!

I had just a few phrases of my own, originally. But then I kept refining and adding to my list! I was trying to collect all my thoughts and capture all the others shared already. 🙂

Life is beautiful. Sure, life is tough…but it is quite beautiful when we pause and take it all in. Beauty surrounds us in nature and in each person we meet. Let’s take notice.

Find the good. Sometimes the negative parts of life are glaring back at us. But it takes a special set of eyes to find the good. See beyond the present moment. See the potential.

Do your best. Just show up. These two can go together. We can only do our best each day and trust God for the outcome. Part of doing our best is to show up and be present.

Set your mind. Whatever it takes. These two phrases also can go together. Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Some days, it’s a challenge to stay focused, but do whatever it takes.

God’s got this. I use this phrase often, especially when writing blog posts, apparently! Whatever the struggle, I know God can handle it. He will empower me to do what I need to do, and then He will do what only He can do. He’s more than able!

Regardless of any advice we might share, what God says about us is key. I love you. I forgive you. No matter what. You are free. You are mine. Come follow me. Receive new life. Do not fear. I am with you. Nothing is impossible. It is finished. You are secure. Peace, be still. 

I will be thinking about all these great words of wisdom for quite some time. It’s encouraging to hear what other people find helpful. We all have our own journey and it’s important to monitor what we are telling ourselves. Let’s be gracious with ourselves. 

When we look back and summarize our experiences, even in just a few short words, we realize how far we have come. Thank you, Jesus… Life is short. Live it well.

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Heavenly Father, thanks for loving us so much. Your words are full of grace; they bring LIFE to our hearts. Be with us, Lord. Give us wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it. Help us make good decisions, not choices we’ll regret. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Questions: What advice would you give to your younger self? What words of wisdom would you share with someone else? Which of these words (above) resonate with you?

Tasks: Share your advice (three words or less) here, or with someone who would benefit! Listen to the song, Dear Younger Me, by MercyMe.

 

Gardens: Growing in Grace

Do you have a garden? I was considering the pros and cons of a garden this year. Though, after buying trees last week, routine car maintenance, and a few other expenses coming up, I decided to re-evaluate next spring. I could probably still do a small container garden, but the planting season is nearly over now.

But if I had a garden, I would plant leafy greens (such as kale, spinach, or lettuce), peppers, onions, and green beans, for sure! I could also grow zucchini and use it in my spiralizer. I love fresh garden tomatoes, but I haven’t had the best of luck in recent years!

tomatoes

There are many different kinds of gardens (vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers). Besides several flower gardens, my parents re-purposed some old tractor tires to make a raised garden for tomatoes. They also have large pots of basil, rosemary, and oregano. Like a colorful oasis, it always feels like a retreat to go back and visit!

Perhaps it’s good for me to wait a year and see what size garden is practical to maintain! In the past, I had a CSA membership… and I always enjoy visiting our local farmers’ markets. Last year, the grass in my yard needed help. This year, I’ll focus on my new trees. Maybe I just enjoy playing in the dirt, but I love how gardening connects us back to the earth!

grapes

From Eden to Gethsemane, it seems God has a special way with gardens.

He plants us in just the right “soil” environment so that we can grow. For each of us, those circumstances are different. You may be going through an exciting time of growth, or a personal trial to refine you. Whether in a lush garden or a desolate desert, stay rooted in the Lord. Don’t give up hope! Drink in the water of His Word. He is faithful.

Jesus promises if we abide in Him, we will bear much fruit. Having fruitful lives is inevitable—if we remain close to Jesus (see John 15:1-17). We cannot bear fruit on our own.

Pruning isn’t fun, but take heart. It’s a good indicator that God is indeed working! In the process, the dead is removed and new life begins. Let Him do the work He needs to do in your life. He is the Master Gardener.

Galatians 5_22-23 with peaches

As evident in the verses above, the Holy Spirit plants seeds in our lives. Though if you look again, GRACE is not listed as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Why is that?

Could it be grace is like His warm sunshine? Like sunshine, His grace is always present. Even when we cannot see it or understand it. Spiritual fruit grows in the midst of God’s grace. Growth is not easy, but is always for our good. So, rest in Him with quiet trust.

By yielding to the Holy Spirit’s process and receiving God’s grace, we are changed from the inside out!

vegetables

If you think about it, we also plant seeds in the lives of those around us. As we work together, we help each other grow and cultivate good fruit. What a blessing!

 If we are growing in grace, people around us should notice. “I can see the joy on your face!” or “I appreciated your patience with me.” or “That was so kind of you to help me.”

Life is difficult at times—but God’s grace empowers us to live victoriously. Let’s offer His support to one another. And, hold on tight for some “miracle growth!”

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Father God, thanks for Your grace that brings growth in our lives. Holy Spirit, work in us with Your power that we may bear fruit. Help us when the growth process is challenging. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Questions: What are your favorite items to plant? Do you see increasing amounts of spiritual fruit in your life (Galatians 5:22-23)?

Let me know in the comments below!

Sharing Our Stories

Thanks so much for your prayers and encouragement around the three year anniversary of Dave’s death! My mom and aunt visited for a few days to celebrate Dave and comfort me.

I kept their visit as a surprise from Lydia, but the joke was on me. My sister also came…to surprise ME! We had a wonderful visit: shopping, eating yummy food, and sharing stories.

I love how each of our lives interconnect. I’m thankful we encourage and support each other through the ups and downs of Life. I also love a good cup of coffee. 🙂

I don’t need anything fancy! I’ll drink coffee at home with milk, most days. Even better, I enjoy coffee with a friend, sharing stories and experiences, learning from each other.

coffee

What’s more, I love how each of us can impact those around us with the stories of our personal lives. Never underestimate the power or significance of your story.

Whether you enjoy coffee or not, don’t be afraid to share your story with those around you. Even total strangers can benefit!

The night before my visitors arrived, my mom had an interesting conversation with the cashier at a certain store. She was picking up some snacks and a little trinket for Lydia.

“Oh you must be going on a trip!” said the cashier, an older woman.

My mom mentioned the reason for her trip, and told the cashier a little of my story. The lady grew quiet, and said, “My daughter is a younger widow, too. She doesn’t have small children now, but she is having a difficult time.” (Her husband died in a sudden accident.)

My mom is compassionate and understanding in these types of moments. Through the course of their conversation, Mom shared about my blog, and that God has taken such good care of us. We are not angry with God, and keep moving forward.

This prompted the cashier to say, “I don’t really know how to get ahold of God.” So, Mom explained the basic gospel message to her. They chatted a little more. Then, the lady wrote a few things down, and squeezed my mom’s hand as she left.

2 Corinthians 1_3-4

Isn’t God good?! He meets us right where we are, and longs to comfort us. After all, our personal life stories are just a small part of the greater one He is writing.

We overcome by the blood of the Lamb (Jesus!) and the word of our testimony (see Revelation 12:11). As we share our stories, we are healed. But it doesn’t stop there. It is not all about us. Our redemptive stories also bring God glory and bless others. Knowing this makes my pain more bearable!

We have the ability to affirm and speak God’s truth to one another! Once we have worked through our own mess, we become His messengers to others. When infused with His grace and wisdom, our words bring His power to set people free.

Please note: I am not suggesting to “spill your guts” or share other people’s secrets (gossip). If you need help processing your pain, please consider professional input.

latte with heart

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

Did you catch that? What was meant for evil—to hurt or stop us—God is working for good. Our pain does not go wasted. God collects each and every tear we cry. If we let Him, God will redeem our experiences and help someone else grow closer to Him, too.

Yes, grief and other emotions are normal. But we cannot stay there. Instead of dwelling on the loss, the anger, the negativity… Take it to Jesus. His love never fails. Let Him walk you through to Victory, and then share what He has done in your life with others.

At the end of you life, the only thing that will matter is your relationship with Jesus Christ, followed by how you treated other people. We can’t take our stuff with us!

Ultimately, the coffee won’t matter, but our stories will.

So speak up. Tell your story. See God heal your heart and touch the lives of others. Our stories (and lessons learned) can change lives—even to the point of eternity.

Isn’t that worth it?

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God of all comfort, thank You for healing our hearts. Give us courage to share the deep parts of our lives with others. Give us wisdom and grace as we encourage and learn from each other. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Questions: If you like coffee, how do you like it best? What part of your personal story (testimony) could be shared to encourage or comfort someone else?

 

Telephone Lines and Grace Connections

Do you remember the game, Telephone? I whisper a message to someone who tells it to the next person. And on it goes until the last person repeats the message. Generally, what happens is the message gets all mixed-up and comes out funny. Or rude!

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876. Telephones then became instrumental in connecting people via technology innovation. Do you think Mr. Bell envisioned all of our communication and technological advancements since then?

I wonder if we have really made all that much progress…

You see, our communication can still be shaky. I’ll speak only for myself—I don’t always say the right thing. I can lose my temper and say things I regret. Then I catch myself, apologize, and do better. But that’s no excuse for my poor behavior.

Ephesians 4:29 says, “ Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (my emphasis added).

Can you hear me now?

Telephone lines

People are like telephone poles, and grace is sent between the poles. Standing alone—not connected—they’re useless. Telephone poles need to be linked together, one after another, until the message gets transmitted.

What is the message we need to share? Good News! Pass it on!

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

If a telephone pole or line goes down, the connection is lost. So it is with the message of God’s grace. Our words have potential to disconnect the very people God wants to reach. Or, we can speak with loving grace—connect others to Jesus!

No, I’m not going to make you eat soap, nor will I provide a list of “appropriate” words. Instead, let us simply extend a line of grace and carry the loving message of Jesus Christ!

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Grace can come in many forms and kind deeds, but our words carry special weight (see Proverbs 18:21). We’ve probably all had something negative said to us or about us. That hurts, and the impact can be devastating. Often, those in close proximity can do the worse damage. Yet, the effect doesn’t remain localized. It influences the whole pathway.

The words we speak to ourselves are just as important as words spoken to each other.

Have you experienced the power of an encouraging word when you needed it the most? I’ve had several moments in the last few years where the path was unclear. It has been difficult at times to see progress or know if I need to make changes.

Over time, I’ve had the opportunity to share my story with new people at church. I also invite them to a class I facilitate, which helps volunteers get involved. Once, during a prolonged period of uncertainty, someone introduced me like this:

“This is Natalie. She does a great job in her role, and we are so thankful for her.”

It was not fancy or elaborate, but I was encouraged to know I was making a difference! Before that, I wasn’t even aware of the effect of my effort.

Even six months later, I remembered those empowering words. In fact, my whole outlook changed as I suddenly had more clarity in my vision and purpose.

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“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”   Proverbs 16:24

Let nothing interrupt the flow of grace in your life.

 Do not miss an opportunity to be an ENCOURAGER to someone else. Look for the inherent value in others. Use your words to speak Life with a well-timed word!