Here's why celebrating Advent matters.

You're busy women. I'm a busy woman. So I'm going to spit some words out and I'm just going straight bullet points, is that fair? 

- The world knows something special is coming. That's what Santa Claus and twinkle lights and Starbucks Red Cups are all about. But we, the women of God, actually know what that thing is: Jesus. When we celebrate Advent + Christmas with intention, we show them what that special thing is and it's even more beautiful when we invite them into that with us! 

- Our culture, our country, our Christian church has taken a beating in the last few months. We could use some hope, celebration, and joy that binds our hearts together instead of fighting over the things that tear us apart. 

- Celebrating Advent Is a direct oppositional attack to a consumeristic obsession that typically dominates the weeks that are coming. Celebrating Advent says that we're celebrating the fact that Jesus has come and is coming back more than we're celebrating the things that we want to be coming to us. 

So here's my deal, y'all. I've been obsessed with helping women celebrate Advent for the last few years and this year is no exception. The only difference this year is that I'm deadset on helping women do it in a way that is actually life-giving, not time-sucking. I want to help women celebrate Advent with their eyes on Jesus, not on the projects they can complete and the goodness they can produce. 

This year, I've got friends and a business partner and we've got a whole new story to tell. This year we asked the Lord to help us declare "Let it Be" over each day of our Advent - instead of trying to push women to do more, be more, fix themselves, or somehow do Advent right. We've worked with a bunch of our online friends to write a really peace-filled devotional - 25 entries, that also happens to be really beautiful. And on top of that, our devotional correlates to the Advent Calendar we make each year. It's beautiful too and it's just an easy way to celebrate in your home without going overboard, spending a ton of money, or using hours and hours of your time to make crafts. 

It's been a huge blessing for our family to utilize the calendar for the last few years and it is our JOY to celebrate this year again. We'd so love for you to join us. This is the last week to get your Amen Advent products and last year we sold out, so please - please don't wait! 

If you want to hear more, we've got a few opportunities for you to join us this week! 

Let's dance, stand, and run.

You guys, I'm so excited (and sweaty) to share this first little snippet of news. 

I'm coming in hot with no official pictures or any kind of strategic plan, but I've been dying to tell you all a little more about Book #2 and I just got the green light this morning from my friends at Zondervan. I've been in the process of writing this book for a few months now, but I'm officially in THE THICK OF IT and it feels like it's time to spill the beans and share with the world so it doesn't feel so sneaky and secretive. 

I should start off with this: This is NOT the book I'd planned to write. Book #2 was always going to be something else, something a lot lighter and easier to write on. That book may still come or it may not, but in the beginning of the summer the Lord starting messing with my heart regarding a whole separate subject. What has followed has been a lot of sweaty obedience and that's still really where I'm at today: sweating, shaking hands, typing and crying and typing some more, praying and processing, trying to get this book out - one that doesn't feel light or fluffy or easy to talk about. 

If you get my No Filter newsletter, you might have gotten an email a few months ago with the title, "I Forgot About Holiness". In it I wrote about how I'd always known we don't receive grace because of our holiness or our good works, but I'd forgotten that grace was supposed to spur us on to holy living and loving. I started asking myself, "Have I traded holiness for grace? Have I forgotten that God empowers us to live set apart AND dancing in His grace at same time?". The conviction of that question was enough for me. I didn't feel like I need to lead anyone in it or write anything about it, but again - the Lord kept messing with me. 

When I first felt the tug to potentially write about this, I was journaling and writing these words, "I'm not the holiness girl. I'm the wild and free girl. I like pop culture and I love giving women GRACE and I don't have any right to be the one saying we need to remember that we stand on Holy Ground as women of God. I'd rather talk about MISSION - about running with God and getting stuff done." But I heard the Lord, my husband and friends, and finally my editors say back: It's the wild and free women, the ones who understand grace and freedom, that need to talk about holiness. Really ALL of us could use some talking about holiness, shouldn't we do it with grace and mission all mixed in the conversation? 

So that's what I'm doing. Writing this book, which is currently being called Dance, Stand, Run (but could change!), as a refresher on God's grace, a reminder about the holy ground we stand on as daughters of God, and a call to run on mission with Him. It's filled with honest and vulnerable stories, but it's also paired with study - some deep diving into God's Word so we can get His take on these issues. It's a call to be used by God to change the world without being changed by it in the process. It's a call that I'm trying to write and answer all at once, and wouldn't you know, that's taking a lot of GRACE. So - full circle, amen? 

And why am I sharing all this TODAY?

a) I'll take your prayers if you've got them. Truly, how many times can one person mention they're sweaty in one blog post? 
b) Today is exactly ONE YEAR to the date of the book's launch - it will come out October 24th 2017, so today feels sweet and symbolic. 
c) I'm truly in the thick of writing this book and this is my placeholder online to say - I'm going semi-dark until it's done. I'll be on instagram less, I'm not sending any newsletters in the meantime - the only spot I'm hopping on a good bit is my Facebook page where I've been asking questions to hear from real women as I write. I'd love if you'd join us over there so I can get your take on grace, holiness, and mission as I go.

I believe it's time that we stop "should"ing and shaming one another. I believe it's time we look to God for grace and look down at our feet to remember where He has purchased us to. I believe that when we grab His grace and stand our holy ground, we'll be compelled to run on mission. And I'm so ready to dance, stand, and run with all of you. 

Amen? Amen.  

Not a Caesar Salad, in Jesus' Name.

Has there ever been a time when your deepest, darkest, bottom-of-your-belly fears about yourself have been put on the table? I’m talking about the fears that are so troublesome it would feel terrifying to speak them outside your brain, for fear that someone might not immediately refute them.

It’s been five months since we released Wild and Free into the world, and I can tell you – by the grace of God, that process involved very little fear for me. I didn’t fear what my family would think of it. I didn’t feel fearful about people reading in depth parts of my story. I didn’t really worry about people not liking it, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea and I went in knowing that “being liked” isn’t the fruit you write a book for. But what I didn’t anticipate is that releasing the book would stir up some of the bottom-of-my-belly-fears and put them on the table for the world to see.

Here’s the thing: EVERYONE tells you not to read negative Amazon reviews. But I’ve never been great at taking advice. So before I go any further, I should say, I don’t think all negative Amazon reviewers are meaning to attack. I don’t think they set out to hurt any humans, I don’t think they’re awful people. I believe that they think they’re helping – giving everyone else a heads up, so they don’t have incorrect assumptions when buying something, and I can see how that seems helpful.  if you’re a negative Amazon reviewer – I ain’t mad at you. But maybe I can offer a different perspective?

Out of thousands and thousands of women who bought Wild and Free, there are less then ten negative amazon reviews and a few of them are kind of silly. A few are innocuous, and a few left me in the fetal position because they took my bottom-of-my-belly fears and made them into a catchy phrase, that is so catchy it stuck with well, me. They implanted in my head and heart, and sat on top of my soul – until I was too scared to move or try again.

“A Caesar Salad When You Wanted a Prime Rib: Delicious but Still Unsatisfying” I don’t know, guys. I don’t know. I don’t know how to describe to you how much that fear has lived just beneath the surface of my life for so long other than just to say it has. I really think that fear lives under the surface of the ministry of every person who REALLY CARES about wanting to help people ever.  And what’s more: We’re scared your opinion won’t be about the work we’ve done – but about US. That we are somehow found wanting. That we are somehow not meaty enough. That we are lacking substance.

I sat all summer with that phrase rolling around in my brain. When I sat down to write: I’m a caesar salad. When I shared with friends over coffee: I’m a caesar salad. When I talked to my kids about God, I’m a caesar salad. When I got quiet in the shower, went on a run, prepared to speak to churches: I’ve been found out. I’m just a caesar salad. I gave that book all I had, and it wasn’t enough. What I thought was deep and shifting, was “delicious, but unsatisfying”. To be honest, I’d much rather be satisfying – not delicious, amen? I think it sounds a lot better to have a message that doesn’t go down easily, but ultimately really provides some nourishment.

I found myself wanting to hunt down that sweet gal who wrote the catchy salad quote. I wanted to tell her that I USED to be try to be a prime rib, that I spent most of my early twenties pouring over heavy theology books and throwing around phrases like dispensation and propitiation. I spent conversations weighing deep and heavy things, critiquing other believers and their theological stances, debating details of scripture till I was blue in the face and heavy of heart.  I wanted to convince her that if she REALLY knew me, if she heard me talk about being wild and free, if she saw the women I saw locked up, trapped and tidy, far from God when He is SO NEAR TO THEM – she’d know. Wild and Free isn’t a caesar salad message, and I’m not a caesar salad girl.

But instead of hunting her down, I asked the Lord: “Do you think I’m a ceasar salad? Do you think this is a caesar salad ministry I’ve got over here? Am I enough? Should I keep going? I’ve got to write this second book and I feel SO DUMB. I feel so dumb, so lightweight, so fearful that now only more people will know what that woman knows: I’m not a genius, I’m not a spiritual hero. I’m not Beth Moore or Jennie Allen or Elyse Fitzpatrick. Lord, why did you let me get into this mess if I’m only a caesar salad?

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.” 1 Corinthians 1, MSG

Over time, over reading the Word, talking with wise friends and my husband and sitting in prayer – I remembered the heart of God and heard this back from Him: So what if you’re a ceasar salad? What if I’ve made you to say simple truths over and over and over again, until the women of God hear them, believe them, and live them? Won’t it be enough of a job, of a ministry, to tell women over and over again that I love them, that I’ve chosen them, and that I’ve set them free? Won’t it be enough to remind them to pray, remind them to read the Word, remind them to serve one another and to get vulnerable and to repent and to not quit? Won’t it be enough to remind them that there is abundance waiting for them? Who says that the simple things of the gospel are not MEATY, NUTRITUOUS, and ETERNALLY SHIFTING? Who says you’re not called just because you’re not someone’s cup of tea? Who called you a ceasar salad? Not me.

So a few nights ago, I ate caesar salad with some trusted ladies that I love and we prayed and I may or may not have burned a few amazon reviews printed out on paper. Not because I hate the women who wrote the reviews or I think they’re evil – but because I needed to show the Lord that I believe what He says about me and my ministry more than I believe anyone else.

I needed a reminder that my call is to repeatedly tell MYSELF and the women of God the simple gospel. The simple gospel is enough, it’s life changing, and I know that I know that I know that I know it. I receive it, I give it, I live it, and I am being changed by it. And CHRIST, is my righteousness. Christ is my affirmation. Christ is my prize. Christ is my King. Not any review, not any opinion.

So I’m sharing this for two reasons today. #1) To say, I’m writing a new book. I’ve put it off for weeks because of fear and overwhelm and life, but I’m diving in this week. I’m scared, humbled, broken and scared some more. It feels very different than writing Wild and Free, but it feels like what the Lord wants. I’d love your prayers for wisdom and boldness, but also just for the women who will read it. The second I can share more about the title, etc – I will! But for now, it will be out in October 2017 and I’ve got a LOT of writing to do.

#2) I want to remind you that the simple truths God has spoken over you weigh more than a million opinions. He has called you GOOD – not because of who you are, but because of who He is. If you have faith in Christ, He has called you REDEEMED. He has called you WORTHY of love. He has called you JUSTIFIED from the sin of your past, present, and future. He has called you an AMBASSADOR. He has called you His. And that’s the best identity of all.

In Jesus’ name, Let it Be.

 
 

Counting that August Fruit.

I swear y'all, I don't THINK I'm a negative person. 

In general, I thing I live way more in the hopeful-space than I do in the negative one. But something I'm learning about myself is this: I'm generally more hopeful about the future and more critical of the past. I post-mortem everything. "How did that meeting go? That trip? That day?" There is something in my personality that is very comfortable with correction and self-correction, so I think it's easier for me to identify what went wrong (and what I want to change) and harder for me to say what went well. 

I see this the most in the passing of months. I'm usually very ready for a new day, new week, new month, new year. I feel the weight of what wasn't good and I want to shift it, have another shot. I'm HOPEFUL but not necessarily awesome at being grateful. 

So before I dig into the post-mortem of August, can I count the fruit for a second? Here's what God did in the last month: 

- He helped us get ALL FOUR KIDS settled in school! Even little Cannon Murray. Between the forms, the uniforms, the sleep adjusting, the new rhythms - this was a lot of work, but I'd say we're mostly transitioned into the 2016/2017 school year. 
- The Lord helped us start the very big transition from Naptime Diaries into Amen Paper Company! We had a big awesome photoshoot with Paige Knudsen, launched a website and our fall line AND created the production of our Advent calendar and devotional. What you can't see in these few sentences are hours upon hours upon hours of work, but "our sweat, His glory", like my friend Rach always says. 
- I feel like God gifted me with the sweetest 32nd birthday ever. A day of praying with friends, laughing and resting with family, so many surprises from friends close by and far away. And at dinner, Nick read a written out list of all God done over the last year and my heart just about burst. I didn't deserve any of that and yet He gives lavishly. 
- I felt the freedom to PAUSE on writing book #2, for just a few weeks, but still. It felt like one of the most emotionally healthy and spiritually healthy decisions I've made in a while. 
- Honestly, y'all. I cried like a baby through so much of August. Cried to my sister and mama, cried to my friends, cried through conflict and hard conversation. Cried when I was stressed, cried with just me and the Lord. Nick saw me cry. My kids saw me cry. I cried at church. But what a blessing it is to feel humbled and meek with the Lord. To feel like He alone is your comfort. Thanks God for tears that bring us to our knees. 
- I kicked off the fall speaking/traveling season in August and I have nothing but a big old THANK YOU GOD in my heart when I realize this is my job. I am 100% living 1 Corinthians 1:27: God using the weak and foolish things of this world (me), but I'm very grateful to get to point to Him with all my awkward foolishness. 
- Church has felt good and healthy this month and so has marriage. Nothing too crazy, just more baby steps of faithfulness and growth. And we didn't quit either. Which is HONESTLY a win, amen?

(monthly goals)
- Assemble a Wild and Free college team // DID NOT get this done, but we're closer than we were! I think I've mostly passed this off to the right people.
- Pick a devotional book to read with Glory (cause she's my sister now!) // SHOOT. I didn't do this! Any suggestions for a good devo book to read with an 8 year old?
- Set up my own Bible Study + Writing spot in our house // DID NOT DO, but the couch worked just fine for August
- Diving into writing Book #2 (due date is November 1st!)  // DID NOT DO, but! Did pause so I'm not technically "behind".
- Announce new Naptime Diaries partnership, business name, and launch Fall line!  // DID DO! WOOHOO AMEN PAPER COMPANY
- Set up a good after-school routine // DID DO! Turns out that the best afternoon routine for us to leave our house almost every single day. So that's what I'm trying to do. After school activities, errands, park, you name it. 
- Start taking my supplements again (These are the basic ones I take) // I'd say I'm 50%! I always remember my probiotic + thyroid meds. I hit the rest about every other day. 
- Make a friend love language list to love my people well // DID DO! Well, started at least. 

Here's the thing I love about setting goals. 
I love that not getting them all done isn't failing. You learn more about yourself, you learn if they were good goals to begin with. And if they're really worth it, you feel humbled + get to try again the next day, week, or month. And with that... 

- Brainstorm a list of healthy and delicious fall meals. I know I need a long list ready to go for the whole family, for me, etc. 
- Start using gratefulness journals with the kids. We got off track and I'm ready to start again!
- Hire + train a Creative Marketing Specialist for Amen Paper Company. This person will mostly be freeing me up so that I can focus on book writing and speaking and let Helen and Will do the day-to-day running of the business. 
-  Complete our Advent photoshoot (AHHHH! SPOILER ALERT, we're shooting at The Nester's house!) and launch presales for Advent calendar + devotional. 
- Do a "gentle cleanse". My goal for September: no alcohol, no refined sugar, no gluten, and only 3 cups of coffee per day. IT'S THE COFFEE THAT'S GONNA KILL ME. 
- Start with margin. I want to attempt planning my days, weeks, and month with rest and margin and health FIRST, so they don't get squeezed out and I don't end up sick like last fall. 
- Plan personal fall content + make a social media plan. What to blog about? When to send newsletters? Snapchat vs. Instagram stories? Facebook live? Whoosh. I need a plan. So grateful for Jensine, my ministry partner to help me do it wisely and worshipfully. 
- RESTART Writing Book #2. I'm not going to start till later in September, but I hope to start with a much clearer schedule and a clearer heart. I can't wait to tell you guys more about it! 
- Sync my calendar and Nick's. I think we're going to exclusively use Google Calendar App and then I'll be printing a little weekly calendar to put on the fridge where I can add kid's chores, meals, etc. 

My weekly and daily goals stayed mostly the same from August to September. I wouldn't say I mastered them in the slightest, but I got closer than not by being intentional. Here they are: 

Weekly Goals: 
- one weekly meeting with Nick
- some kind of date time (day or night) 
- workout 5 times per week
- have one introvert day with no meetings or hangouts while kids are in school
- take 24 hours off of work + social media each week
- send one newsletter and write one blog post

Daily Goals: 
- Talk to God. 
- Read the Word. 
- Do a handstand. 
- Kiss Nick. 
- Ask the kids about their hearts. 
- Get 7 hours sleep. 
- Drink a ton of water. 

And with that. I'm ready to head into September. What's on your heart? What's ahead of you? And what fruit did you count from August? 

Five Things God Did and Five Things I'm Asking For

It's the eve of my 32 birthday and y'all - real talk, I've been a weirdo the past few weeks. I've been a teary, tender, nostalgic mess. I'm a birthday GIRL. I love birthdays. My birthday, your birthday. I'm your awkward friend who asks you at the group dinner what it is you're hoping for in the coming year. I can barely stay asleep the night before my own birthday because I'm just EXPECTANT. Lord - what is this year going to be like? How are you going to shift things? 

But I wasn't feel that way this year. I was feeling tired, lonely, and sorry for myself. I told multiple people I just wanted to put on headphones the whole day of my birthday and be alone - which could not be further from my normal. Thankfully, my people are not letting that happen and they have a whole sweet day planned (AND MY GIRL BRITT JUST DROVE DOWN FROM INDIANA TO SURPRISE ME). 

So before I go to sleep, I want to kick the enemy in the teeth to fight those wimpy feelings (which are mostly gone anyhow). I want to count the fruit of what God has done in the last year and boldly say the things I'm asking Him to do in the coming one. 

Without further ado,
5 things I'm grateful God did this year:

1. This year I feel like God walked with me really sweetly through a season of doubt and grew me in it. I wrote a little about my Lent season here, but truly I feel like I'm rolling into 32 with a firm desire to know God more than I necessarily understand God. I used to want to be able to sit on top of all I knew about Him, to share it quickly, to be seen as someone who is wise or understands God. Now - I just want to be someone who seeks God, who loves Him, who sits in awe of Him. I've found that there's a really sweet and deep layer of faith found in the midst of doubt. 

2. I feel like God really has continued to heal and strengthen our marriage this year. This time last year I could perceive that we were on the road to a place of peace, but now I feel like we live there most of the time. Not to say that there won't be new battles or bumps in the road, but I am really grateful for how God has grown Nick and I to be partners in the last year. 

3. I've learned that I'm going to have to actively work to chill out and I'm the kind of person who needs to pursue pointless fun and fellowship. In the past years, I've worked on rest - but this isn't even about rest. It's about things having no purpose but glorifying God. It's about letting myself build things into the schedule that don't get me ahead, but help me abide. 

4. I feel like God is slowly chipping away my fear of pain. Physical pain, emotional pain, spiritual burdens. I'm feeling less scared to feel and let others feel. Meningitis last fall helped. :) 

5. God began a writing a really sweet comeback story with my health. I hear that phrase so often in my head when I'm exercising or making a salad or resting longer than I normally would. This is a comeback story. 

Also, it's worth noting that these were some heart things that came to me first. But goodness gracious, I'm so grateful for lots of other stuff He did. My daughter became my sister, our church plant grew, Wild and Free launched... but those were the emo-heart-things that stood out to me first. 

And, 5 things I'm asking God
for in the coming year:

1. I'm asking for some serious humbling and softening. There are a few little spots in my soul where I'm finding continual pride and selfishness. I'm grateful for His grace and hopeful for His gentleness. 

2. Awake. I've been throwing around this word a lot the last month with the Lord and yeah, I'm praying He helps me live awake. Awake to the needs of others, awake and aware of what He's doing, not numbing myself or trying to pacify my mind.

3. Show us our land. Again, another prayer that's been popping up for months. Really, it started last December for our family. Praying He shows us some spiritual and physical land. A home for our church, a more permanent home for our family here in Charleston, and some spiritual land - the ground He wants us to take here in our city. 

4. I'm praying that God would make me into a really great friend. Not for my glory, but for His. I want to start with being Nick's friend, then a caring mom/friend to our kids, then to those in our church and our neighbors, to our people. One of my August goals was to write down my people's love languages and as I've been doing it, I've seen how hard it often is for me to bend to those around me. But I want to! Lord, help me love them all well!

5. Gratefulness. I'm praying God brings a deep gratefulness to my soul for all He's done. I'm praying He helps me start my days with an overwhelming sense of ENOUGH in Him. I'm praying that we're able to continually break ties with STUFF and see success as His work all around us. 

And with that, I'm ready. 

Thanks God for all you did and all you're doing, you're infinitely better than cake. 
Have your way in 32.