Influence Conference 2014: It’s Time To Build

A few weeks ago I traveled to Indianapolis to attend The Influence Conference for the very first time. There really is no easy way to sum it up, except to say that it was incredibly eye-opening and life-changing for me in many ways. It’s taken me awhile to write this post, simply because there was so much to process following the event itself. I have a small notebook full of notes from the sessions I attended, and I’ve been going back through it on an almost daily basis to keep every aspect of that special time at the forefront of my mind. And now I feel ready to re-cap the things I learned and heard God speak to me in my time away, so allow me to just dive in …

The theme of the conference was “It’s Time to Build;” the idea being that it’s time to let go of the ‘try-hard’ and ‘perfectionist’ life, embracing our God-given gifts and passions and putting them into action for His glory and Kingdom, in the here and now. Our mediums and platforms don’t matter. What matters is a heart that is seeking after God and going after the thing He has put in our heart to do. That’s it. And that, my friends, is a message my soul has been craving and needing to grasp for a very long time.

The conference was divided into two tracks – Strategy and Life. I chose to attend the Strategy track because of each session’s focus on practical tips to leverage my blog for God’s glory and my good, as I have sensed Him calling me to do more with this beloved space, both now and for the future. Here are some gems I picked up along the way …

“God loves to find people where they are. We know He uses all things for our good. He loves to equip us with His Spirit, to make His Good News known.”

- Hayley Morgan

“What makes failure a success is when we don’t lose enthusiasm or energy. … When we realize we are enough, we realize we have enough.”

- Whitney English

“The number of followers, ‘likes,’ and comments we get are not a true reflection of our influence – even in what we think is small, God can use in BIG ways. There is depth to be found and that is what is important.”

- Life Panel

“Start small. Dream BIG. … We can show Christ without even using our words. As we write about our loves and passions, our faith will show.”

- Jen Lula

“What is life-giving for you? That’s what you need to do. You can’t do it all.”

- Jess Connolly and Moriah Sunde

“God says, ‘Take this business, take your influence, take your passions and just use them for me.’ … God doesn’t want a better life from you, He wants a better life for you!”

- Jess Connolly

“Life is messy. God knows that. Let’s not fake it. Let’s be real.”

- Lisa Leonard

“What is your niche? Become an ‘expert’ in your niche. … Don’t let your blog be an empty place. Don’t let the work come back void. It’s takes a lot of time, so make it worth your time.”

- Strategy Panel

“No matter what I do in life, life is ministry. … Listen to the voice of God and do what matters. … Be bold. Be brave. Be wise.”

- Nancy Ray

One of my favorite, and most anticipated, parts of the conference was the The Influence Network Member’s Only session with Lara Casey. I’ve been following Lara’s blog and Instagram stream for the past year, and she is one inspiring woman with one heck of a powerful testimony. I appreciated hearing truth from such a successful business-person. Here are some things she shared that particularly resonated with me …

“God can change anything. God makes the ‘impossible’ possible. Two of the best words in Scripture: ‘But God.’ “

“Choose purpose over perfect.”

“Name your fears and what is distracting you. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things when they are surrendered.”

“Think of your mind as a ‘mental mason jar.’ What is your mental mason jar filled up with? How much space is left for truth, for life, and for God? What do you want to fill your mental mason jar?”

“What fires you up? Do more of what fires you up!”

In addition to the fabulous speakers and other conference perks, such as the Sashes Market, there was of course the connections made with other women who share my heart and passion for blogging, writing, and faith. Right off the bat, I met a few women who had traveled to Indy on their own vs. as part of a group, so we banded together as ‘the single ladies’ and spent a lot of time bonding over coffee, dining, and time spent in the city. Despite our differences in terms of where we live and what our lives have been like and are like currently, it was amazing to see just how much we had in common. The walls came down as we shared our hearts and spoke life to one another. These ladies fed my soul with their transparency, wisdom, and vulnerability. They encouraged me and inspired me and I am so grateful to have met them and plan to keep in touch with them moving forward.

So, the natural question following something pivotal like this is, “Now what?” And my answer is, “It’s Time to Build.”

In the coming weeks and months, I’m going to begin developing a plan of how to take my writing and professional/educational skills as a Social Worker to the next level. I don’t know what it all looks like – how these things all are supposed to come together – but I sense that there’s a point at which my current career intersects with my passions and faith, and that it is here where I will  find my calling, my purpose, and the thing God has made me for in this time and place. It’s time to dream and seek and explore and go deeper than I ever have before.  It’s time to take all that I learned at The Influence Conference and begin putting it into practice – not just being a hearer, but a do-er. Some hard work lies ahead of me, but I’m intentionally trusting God for the journey ahead. I know what He’s got in store will be better than anything I could ask for, think of, or imagine in my wildest dreams. He is great and the life He offers is good. So good.

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I can’t recommend The Influence Network enough. If you’re a woman with a heart for God and making your life mean something, I suggest checking it out and to seriously consider joining. You’ll have access to monthly classes, forums, and opportunities to connect with others online and in-person for just $10 / month. Learn more about it here.

Hello, 30!

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The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. First there was The Influence Conference in Indianapolis (which I promise to write more about soon as there is so much goodness from that weekend to share). Then there was celebrating my best friend’s 30th birthday over dinner and Spartan football in town last weekend, immediately followed by a trip to Chicago for work that comprised the earlier part of this past week. As of Friday, I officially turned 30, and enjoyed a beautiful autumn day at home. And as a perfect end to this busy streak, we hosted our 2nd Annual Fall Ball / my 30th Birthday Bash last night at the ranch. Good. Times.

Let’s just say that I have fully welcomed my thirtieth year on earth with a BIG embrace, complete with family and friends, travel and celebration. Is there anything better?!?

Over the past two weeks, I have been reminded of how precious and sweet the time I have here really is and of how incredibly blessed I am for the love, the joy, the people, and the opportunities God has put in my life thus far. In this 30th year, at the start of a brand new decade, I want to continue the celebration and LIVE it up and LOVE every minute of the journey.

As I begin this new chapter, I have no idea what the year(s) to come will bring my way. But for one of the first times in my life, I’m okay with the unknown. Because in reflecting on the last ten years, I realize that my life is way better than I ever imagined it would be. God has been up to some amazing things – changing, growing, and transforming me in ways that I never envisioned or thought possible – in both the good and bad times. Through these experiences, I’ve learned some important life lessons along the way that inspire me to start this phase of my life out differently than I have before – and that difference is intentionally inviting God into the new beginning, opening my hands up to Him, and surrendering all of the dreams, goals and visions in my heart, saying “do Your thing” because I know that what He has in store is going to blow my mind. In doing so, I know I’m doing the best and most important thing I can do to live the abundant, full, and GOOD LIFE He calls me to live.

So with that said, I say, “Hello and welcome, 30! Let’s ‘live the good life.’ Let’s fall in love with the every day. Let’s write a good story. Let’s spend time with family and friends, and welcome new ones to join us along the way. Let’s laugh and smile. Let’s show kindness and compassion. Let’s encourage and inspire. Let’s ‘be the light’ and serve others well. Let’s say ‘YES’ to where God leads and live with no regrets. Let’s do this thing.” The time is now.

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In Her Words: Emily Shaver

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HI! My name is Emily Shaver; I live in Dewitt, MI and have what other people would classify as a “super exciting” job. I work for Emergent Biosolutions, the only company in the world that manufactures the Anthrax vaccine. To me, it is what feels like hours spent in security that sometimes can take longer than airport TSA, spending lots of time staring at my computer screens (yes, screens plural), and knowing more about Microsoft Excel than I care to admit; but it’s not all bad, I get to watch airplanes take off and land all day out my office window :-) . I am not just defined by my marginally exciting job. I am a Christ-follower, sister, daughter, auntie, girlfriend, and friend, and I may or may not have a slight obsession with cleaning as well, but that’s for another day.

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Over the last couple years, one of my favorite things to do (I know, crazy that my marginally exciting job just doesn’t do it for me) is my little business that I have created with Thirty-One Gifts. I got involved with Thirty-One back in January of last year, simply because I loved the products and I wanted a discount. As I sit here now, I am a Director and have a team of 11 girls. This little business has opened my eyes to one of my true passions and that is, people. I have really become myself in my ability to mentor the girls under me, celebrate their successes and truly just love that we are women and we are empowered to do whatever makes us happy. I could care less about the money that I make from Thirty-One; to me, the most important piece is that I can help someone in need through a fundraiser, donate my commission to a charity or just simply give back. Sure the products are cute and functional, but the relationships that I have built along the way make the cuteness of the bag so minuscule.

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‘Living the good life’ to me has evolved over the past couple years. I was never one of those kids that were born knowing what they wanted to do when they grew up.  I didn’t dream about being a teacher, a nurse, or anything specific.  I envied those people who knew and pursued.  I spent lots of time, money and effort going to school for things that I thought would make others happy or pursuing things that “I knew I was good at.”  I sit here as an almost 30-year-old and it is safe to say that I still do not know what I want to be when I grow up, and until recently, I was ashamed to admit that.  I graduated from college with a degree in Criminal Justice and I have several associate degrees in various different things, but it feels like I don’t use any of it in my everyday life at Emergent.  I love my job, but it still doesn’t give me the feeling that I am doing what I was called to do, partly because I don’t feel like I know what that is.  For a long time, I struggled to wrap my brain around the question of, “why didn’t God give me direction?”

What I realized is that God was trying to get me to set aside the trials of daily life and look to Him for direction and guidance. I have wanted to do so many things that never panned out and I used to find myself looking to God with the question of, “why didn’t you make this happen?” but instead, I should have been looking for the door that God was opening in its place.  I may not have had the dream of being something specific when I grew up, but that doesn’t mean that God didn’t have direction for my life.

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Hannah (the writer of this blog) and I are close friends and oddly enough, we both turn 30 within a couple of weeks of each other this year. We have had many discussions on how to begin this new decade of life and I simply just want to enjoy every moment and ‘live the good life’ as much as possible.  Who cares if my carpet isn’t vacuumed several times a week, who cares if I had to work late every night one week, and who cares if plans that I made fell through, because it simply doesn’t matter, life is just too short to be anything but happy.

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This post appears as part of the In Her Words series. To learn more about In Her Words, click here.

The End of Twenty-Something

I am officially one week away from turning thirty years old. Thirty. Which means that this coming week will be the last stretch of time I spend as a ‘twenty-something.’ As of Friday, I will join the band of other ‘thirty-somethings,’ a completely different category of people marked with their own set of meanings and milestones, as well as a completely different age group in future running events. Woah.

For some, things like this aren’t a big deal. For others, its monumental. As a girl who absolutely ADORES birthdays and celebrations, and who regularly practices self-reflection and aims for growth, I fall into the category of folks who see this change as BIG, and exciting. I’m stoked for this fresh start and can’t wait to see what things God works out over the coming decade!

But before I jump ahead, I think it’s important in this last week, to look back over the last ten years as this span of time has been foundational in so many ways …

For starters, I would describe my twenties with the following words: accomplishment, adventure, challenge, determination, fun, successful, and work. Hard work.

Some highlights of the past ten years would include: Graduating from Michigan State University (i.e. Spartan Nation, the BEST school in the country, ahem) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Family Community Services, followed by a Master of Social Work degree. Meeting the man of my dreams, enjoying a long engagement, and becoming ‘Mr. and Mrs.’ Buying our first home together, our ‘dream home’ in the country. Working my way up the career ladder, first as an Advisor in the college setting, then as an Advocate/Therapist in the non-profit world, and now as a Director for a tri-county agency / international non-profit organization. Successfully losing all of the weight I managed to put on through college by rediscovering my love of running, a sport I had not participated in since the fall of my freshman year of high school, and working up enough courage to join a local running team and compete in various races throughout the state, including five half-marathons. Becoming an Auntie to two incredibly awesome kiddos, Jace Ryan and Addison Olivia. Being a part of a wonderful church family, leading women’s small groups and feeling ‘at home’ in the faith community. Finding joy and purpose in photography and writing; starting a blog, joining The Influence Network, and taking the leap to publish my first eBook. And all through this journey, meeting fabulous people, making the best of friends, and reconnecting with old ones – all who have in some way challenged me, encouraged me, inspired me, and grown me in amazing ways – through school, work, hobbies, and even social media.

My Twenties Collage

Some struggles of the past ten years would include: Unemployment as I was unexpectedly laid off from my first job out of grad school due to funding cuts, just three months after we bought our ‘dream home.’ (I may or may not have been a little angry and depressed during the six months I looked and looked for jobs during one of Michigan’s worst economic years to-date. Sigh.) The loss of close family members (some expected, others completely shocking), and the loss of a close friend, all of which came with grief, mourning, and heartache. Seeing loved ones go through their own struggles, wanting to help and make things better, but realizing you can only do so much. And the difficulties that come with change, whether it’s been moving into a new home, starting a new job, or  dealing with injury and the pain of losing something or someone you love. All a part of life, but never easy when you’re in the thick of it, sometimes even agonizing, truth-be-told.

As a person who loves exploring, travel, and vacations, I was blessed in the past decade to visit Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Kentucky, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. A couple of trips were for my husband’s or my own work, while most were to be with and visit family, and then to be together ‘just the two of us.’ We’ve also had a lot of fun being tourists in our own beautiful state of Pure Michigan, leaving much still yet to be seen and experienced.

I realize in looking back over all these events and excursions just how fortunate I am and how pivotal this past decade has been to my life as it has set the stage for where I’m going in the future. Through both positive and negative experiences, I have learned so much, grown so much, and changed so much. When I turned twenty years old, I had no idea what things would look like ’10 years from now’ – I had no idea I would be doing some of the things I’m doing now – and I’m starting my thirties off in much the same way, yet knowing now more than I did before about myself, thanks to these past ten years.

With that said, I’m going to fully revel in this last week of being a ‘twenty-something’ and cherish ALL THE THINGS this time of my life has brought me, the good stuff and the hard stuff. I’m going to live it up this week and get ready for my new beginning that will start on Friday as well as the big party we’re having to celebrate this ‘monumental event’ and the fall season next weekend.

To close, I just want to thank God for blessing me with the experience of living through my twenties and everything He has brought to pass in these years. I would not be who or where I am currently, or knowing where I hope to go next, without Him and His awesome power and presence in my life. I look forward to the next 10 years of the story He’s written for my life and the places we’ll journey together. Good times await!

In Her Words: Brooke DeBoer

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Hi! I’m Brooke; wife of Ryan, mama of two adorable boys, and founder of Shining Light Marketing. I’m a designer and an innovator with a passion for helping entrepreneurs make their dreams come true. I work almost full-time doing web design, visual identity, and branded environment design. When I’m home, I’m busily cuddling my boys, cooking fun and healthy meals, and reading inspiring books.

For me, Living the Good Life involves a fine balance of work and family.

I love being able be involved in a field I’m passionate about, and constantly learn and grow in that area. I love networking with other local leaders, and drawing inspiration from their experience. In my business, I’m able to come alongside other entrepreneurs and give them an incredible brand experience. I love working with unique and passionate individuals!

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That being said, I wouldn’t be complete without my wonderful family. I try to be intentional and present with my husband and my boys, and to make every moment I spend with them count. The opportunity Ryan and I have to invest in these two little lives is incredible. The laughter we share and lessons we learn along the way are priceless. Being a wife and a mother has completely changed my perspective on life in the best way possible.

I am passionate about working with both emerging and established entrepreneurs, and helping them work to innovate their web presence and overall brand experience. I focus on listening to my clients and working to blow away their expectations with something fresh and original!

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I thrive on inspiration from entrepreneurs and individuals I admire, and I’d love to be an inspiration as well. As I am growing my business and gaining a broader audience, I would really like to become someone who people look to. Not only for design and branding expertise, but also for a consistently positive and joyful perspective! I want to challenge people to live intentionally and holistically.

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This post appears as part of the In Her Words series. To learn more about In Her Words, click here.

In Her Words: Amy Hine

Amy1

Hi, my name is Amy, and an introduction to my life could appear very monotonous and repetitive to all the other 30-year-old women out there who get classified into three categories: single, married, married with kids. Well, I’m married with a little girl and another one the way, working full-time and trying to balance all that life throws at us. That’s typically why introductions don’t work when your true goal is to reach someone beyond the surface. With as busy and crazy as everyone’s life is, it’s really hard to dive in and see the full picture behind the flurry of faces that pass by every day. But either way, here you go:

Amy2

My husband, Brian and I, started on an adventure together about 8 years ago when we both decided to leave everything (and everyone) we knew in Michigan to test out some Southern weather – Atlanta, GA. We both quickly found jobs and settled into the “adult life” for the first time. Life never really settled down for us, since over the next year and a half we were planning our wedding, buying a house and debating Grad School. Shortly after we were married, I found out I was accepted in to an MBA program that would allow me to work during the day and go to school at night…about a month after I found out I was pregnant with our first child…unexpectedly. Walking into my orientation meeting and first week of classes 8 ½ months pregnant had to be one of the most terrifying reductions in self-conscience I’ve ever had for fear of judgment that I was not serious about my career or graduating. I quickly realized that with all of the encouragement I was receiving from classmates, co-workers, family and mostly my husband, I could accomplish anything (even on the bad days). Those three years seemed to pass quickly and slowly at the same time as our careers continued to grow and change and we learned the life of being parents. Some days it felt as if all I could do is hold my sleeping child and tear up as I spent my day working from 8am to 5pm and class from 6:30pm to 10pm while running all over the city and still finding time to do homework and maintain my relationships with friends and family. Maintaining any sense of sanity was key to surviving and since we were so busy it was small things that kept us all going. I would continue to train for half marathons, Brian and I would take cooking lessons at restaurants for date nights, we indulged in several local hiking and camping trips with our little girl, and welcomed in countless family and friends to visit on a regular schedule.

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As graduation came, we found our weekends and breaks were going to soon open up and we decided to finally plan our honeymoon…four years late. Traveling had always been a true passion of mine that I wanted to share with my best friend and husband. Relinquishing what you thought you knew to fully absorb yourself in another culture was the most liberating experience I’ve ever had. My goal in life has always been to see as much of the diverse life as possible on this earth. I want to not only be appreciative of the gifts I’ve received where I live, but surpass any naïve opinions and thoughts I may have solely based upon my limited experience in cultural diversity. I had limited travel to South America and Europe so our first trip was to indulge in food and wine (two very serious obsessions in the Hine household) of Italy. Our life in cooking and drinking wine along with art, culture and even cars (we had to visit the Ferrari Museum) was forever changed. For our next adventure, we decided we needed to break away from civilization and turned towards another desire of ours – hiking and nature. We, along with some friends, decided to let go our first-world conveniences (and problems), take only what fit in our backpacks and hike five days through the Andes to Machu Picchu.

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Throughout these adventures, whether it be through travel, hiking/running, cooking, fun activities as home with family and friends or careers, we’ve found that, as a family, as long as we keep each other as the focus and the overall goal, anything could be accomplished and we actually have fun doing it. We have learned over the years that even though we love to live some days in the fast lane (traveling internationally, going out to nice dinners with friends and pushing forward in our careers), some of our favorite memories have been a bottle of wine at home with a cooked meal by the fire playing board games. We know that no matter where you go, what you run through or what life demands from you, as long as you are with, truly with, the ones you love, every day is a blessing and an adventure in The Good Life.

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In the future I hope to continue to travel with my husband, take on other personal goals like running another marathon, continue expanding my mind in culture and food, and be the best mom, wife, friend, sister, daughter and person I can be to everyone that I meet. Deep down I’ve always had an issue with living in mediocrity; not because I want the most expensive house or car or a fancy title at work. But mostly because I wanted to make sure I was living life the way I wanted to and to the fullest, not just because that’s how I was told to live by the “cool” people, a magazine or Oprah. Instead of working to earn a paycheck, I want to find a job where I actually enjoy the people I work with and the work I do. Instead of having a house full of expensive items, I want it full of memories and little touches that would showcase what really matters to our family, like the hand-made bed frame my husband custom-built for me. Instead of going through life not considering anyone else’s point of view, I want to make sure my mind was always open to a new experience and perspective, whether I end up agreeing with it or not. Part of removing myself from “living in mediocrity” is setting goals and obtaining them through hard work and patience, but the other is all attitude. I am grateful for the life I’m living, partly for the blessings I’ve received and partly for the diligence and dedication that my husband and I have put in to make our life not only work, but thrive.

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This post appears as part of the In Her Words series. To learn more about In Her Words, click here.

Influence Conference 2014

Influence Conference

For those who have been following along with me here, you’ve heard me mention how excited I am to be attending The Influence Conference for the very first time. Well, following a week of work and appointments, I’ll be on my way next weekend to the big event and I couldn’t be more stoked as the final countdown to it begins!

Over the past few weeks, I have been preparing my heart, mind, and soul for what I believe is going to be a most amazing and refreshing opportunity to connect, grow, learn, and worship. I have heard from others via social media that this conference is a life-changing experience as it brings together women from all over the country whose desire is to honor and glorify God through their unique gifts, talents, and abilities. Friendships have been made, hearts have been transformed, dreams have been fulfilled, and blessings have overflowed from this weekend of drawing close to the heart of God and being in the midst of incredible people from all different walks of life. And I could not be more thrilled to be a part of it this year.

I joined The Influence Network at the beginning of this year after two years of regular blogging and working on what would become my first published eBook. I was aware of the network for a little over a year, as I learned about it through the #SheReadsTruth community as well as from other authors and bloggers I follow; but I finally committed to becoming a member as I felt God calling me to put more time, thought, and energy into this space and the creative gifts He’s given to me over the year to come. And I am so very glad I made this decision. As a member, I have access to monthly classes and forums that encourage my efforts and help me further develop in this arena, as well as opportunities to publicize my blog and my eBook, all of which have fostered bravery and confidence for me as I put myself out there as a fellow creative and writer. I appreciate that this is yet another community I am free to be a part of, a community where I am accepted for who I am and what God is calling me to do with my life. I am grateful for the network newsletters, magazine, and frequent updates on the blog, Facebook, and Instagram that remind me to “keep running the race” that God has called me to run (Hebrews 12:1).

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With all of that said, The Influence Network is not just about what we do on the Internet; it’s purpose is not about ego and self-promotion of what we’re all doing in our corners of the world. The purpose is much bigger than that. It’s about God and The Gospel and how as a body of believers, we are each doing our part to build up the body of Christ as we press into the passions He has placed in our heart, and point others to Him, and Him alone.  And that’s why I love being a part of this. My faith is a huge part of my life and I want the things I do and say and write to reflect how great the God I serve is and what He is capable of doing in the life of a person who places his/her faith in Him. I am so far from perfect – none of us within this community are – and so much of what I hear and read from those in this community is about the imperfect lives all of us live and how by God’s grace, He is transforming our lives into something beautiful, day-by-day. And rarely does it ever look like we envisioned. We are women who face real challenges, difficult decisions, and even complete and utter failure at times. Yet, we fix our eyes on Him and press on toward the goal and dream He has for us (Philippians 3:14), because we believe that even at and in our worst of circumstances, He will do things beyond our wildest dreams (Ephesians 3:20).

If you would have told me a few years ago that I would be blogging every week, or that I would have published a book before the age of 30, or that I would be an active part of an online community of creative women, I would have said, “Yeah, right.” No, seriously. I was the girl who was so focused on striving in school and then in my career as a social worker, and making sure everything in my marriage was ‘just so’ that I didn’t have, or rather, make time for things like this. I remember not wanting to have a Facebook account initially because it would be ‘one more thing to do and keep up on’ and I already had enough on my plate. I smile thinking about it now. I’ve changed so much in the past few years and my ideas of what I want for my future personally and professionally have transformed as well.

God has been showing me a different way of connecting and ministering through this medium of social media, still using my education and professional skills, as well as the special talents and gifts He’s given to me, to help others. I was so scared to publish my first blog post after the idea had been nagging at me for months, and even just recently, I felt anxiety as I shared my eBook with all of you. This process is one of vulnerability and intention and keeping myself in check, so to speak; making sure that I’m not glorifying myself, but the One who is making all things new and working all things out for the good of those who love Him. It can be scary, but it has also been incredibly rewarding and something that I look forward to doing on a regular basis. It’s a part of who I am, just like running and travel and family and friends, are a part of my life. I’m thankful for this opportunity and am so honored to attend the Influence Conference in just a few days to learn how I can develop even further in this area and deploy myself into positive change for our generation and the world altogether. It’s going to be AWESOME!

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I’ll be back on here in October, friends! Have a great end to the month!