Grace Days

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It’s a beautiful thing to look at the calendar and in the midst of all the appointments, meetings, and to-dos, see a tiny stretch of time where absolutely nothing is scheduled and nothing is expected. That’s what my calendar looks like for this coming week, thanks to the holiday, and I could not be more grateful. It’s been a wild month, and this girl (and her hubby) need some serious down time. Anyone else with me?

In this household, we’re referring to the four-day weekend ahead as ‘grace days,’ as we will bask in the grace of quality time spent at home and receive the grace of rest, relaxation, and peace that this ‘time out’ affords. Rarely do we get an opportunity to just be at home with nothing in particular planned, so that’s why this year, we’re being intentional in simply being present and making the most of the ‘whitespace’ God has provided, in whatever ways seem most appropriate for our mental health and overall well-being.

So what do ‘grace days’ look like? Well, for us, it looks like home-cooked meals, inviting friends and family over to chill out and celebrate the season; drinking coffee (or hot cocoa, in my hubby’s case) and setting up the Christmas tree the morning after Thanksgiving; hanging out in our pjs and reading a book or watching a movie; taking time to do the things we love, whether it’s writing, chopping wood, working out, or even just enjoying a nap in the middle of the day. It basically looks like doing whatever we feel we need to do in order to get the fuel and rest our souls are desperately craving by allowing ourselves permission to let go of the ‘have tos’ and grab on to the ‘get tos.’ It’s essentially self-care at it’s finest.

For a girl who lives every day by a pretty rigid schedule, with specific goals and daily tasks to accomplish, this opportunity to just ‘be’ is a welcome change of pace. While lists and goals are wonderful things, sometimes they can add a great deal of undue pressure and stress, and for someone like me who tends to run more anxious and high-strung than others, we must constantly remind ourselves that grace is ours for the taking – that it requires nothing of us, except a heart surrendered to its reception. And I, personally, am realizing that I need to give and receive more grace in the course of my days, weeks, months, and life altogether. Doing and going, hustling and bustling take the wind right out of my sails, and also negatively impact others around me, if I don’t balance these required activities with rest and time to do the things that make my spirit soar. I’m learning that it’s the time spent doing nothing in particular that are often the most life-giving times for me.

So, after three days of work and Thanksgiving meal preparations, I am thoroughly looking forward to embracing four days of grace and enjoying whatever God puts in our hearts to do with the time off He has given us. I hope and pray to feel inspired, refreshed, and renewed following this break and to move into the Christmas season in joy and peace.

Wishing all of you the same, friends, along with many blessings, much grace, and a very Happy Thanksgiving, indeed!

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In Her Words: Stephanie May Wilson

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Hey there! A big thanks to Hannah for having me here today!

My name is Stephanie May Wilson and I’m a writer, dreamer, and celebrator writing over at StephanieMayWilson.com. I’m originally from Denver, lived in Georgia for the last few years, and just moved to Nashville with my brand new husband!

I’m a writer by day, and by night, which feels like the most unbelievable thing to say (or type) out loud. I write my own blog, just released my first eBook called The Lipstick Gospel, and write freelance articles for several pastors, churches, and organizations as well.

I started my blog because of an experience I had just after college.

The year after I graduated, I had the privilege of working as an intern at my college ministry. My main responsibility was leading a “small” group of 27 sorority girls (totally not a small group at all). I loved my year with those girls. I loved getting to sit over steaming mugs of coffee with them and talk about life, working through the hardest parts together.

Because of that year, I started thinking about the difficult times in our lives like a dark tunnel. We don’t know where we’re going, or even if we’re going to make it, and it feels like heaven to break out into the sunshine on the other side.

But after that year, I began to wonder if there wasn’t something better than just making it through. Instead, I wanted to grab a sweater and a sandwich (or anything comforting or helpful), and go back into the tunnel to help the next girl through.

This is what we do for each other when we tell each other our stories—we are entering back into the tunnel and giving the next girl a hand. This is why I started my blog. This is what StephanieMayWilson.com is all about.

My new eBook, The Lipstick Gospel, is the story of how a drunk sorority girl found God in heartbreak, the Sistine Chapel, and the perfect cappuccino. It’s my favorite story because, well, it’s my story. And because my life changed 100% in that season. I’d love to share it with you! You can download it for free right here!

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The thing that fires me up most are women. I have such a heart for women of all ages, and I think that heart began developing as I led that small group after college.

We go through so much as women. There are struggles, and obstacles, and experiences that are uniquely our own, and that’s what I want to work to help. I think that so often we go through our life as our own worst critics. We tear ourselves apart, reminding ourselves at every turn how we’re not enough, and how we fall short. But I’m lobbying for us to befriend ourselves, falling in love with ourselves, and being our own biggest fans instead of critics.

If I had my way, every woman in the whole world would know how beautiful she is. She’d know how much she’s worth, and would believe it in every corner of herself. Women would be powerful and strong, using their God-given gifts to change the world in a way only they can do. They’d be restful instead of striving, joyful instead of stressed, and full instead of scraping at the bottom.

And the best way I see for women to become the people they were meant to be is if we do it together. Life is isolating. It’s so easy to feel alone in the things we’re going through, and that’s why I created my blog.

To me, my blog isn’t a blog. It’s a dinner table we can all gather around to talk about life—the best parts and the hardest parts. It’s a place where we can be honest, and unvarnished—taking down our masks and our pretenses to just be us. We can come without shoes, and without a clue about what to do, and can not only help each other, but receive the freeing gift of knowing we’re not in it alone.

I want to see women set free of the things that hold them back, and to become who they were always meant to be, and I want to do it together!

To me, ‘living the good life’ means living slowly. It means getting things done, and being a responsible human, working hard, and chasing your dreams. But it means living slowly enough to notice life as it’s happening.

You can tell a lot about how I’m living by the way I eat. If I’m grabbing food to go, wolfing it down in the car, barely tasting it, you’ll know I’m not living my version of the good life. The good life to me is taking the time to sit down and savor each bite, to be present in each conversation, noticing how each moment smells, tastes, and feels, instead of rushing right through and onto the next thing.

It’s not easy, and life doesn’t help us live this way. In fact, it does the opposite. But if we live intentionally, and if we practice living this way, I think we can do it.

In the aftermath of my book releasing, this is what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to slow down again, noticing and savoring every bite.

Stephanie3

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Connect more with Stephanie on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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

 

The Season of Thanks

If there’s one thing I love about November, it’s this: Thanksgiving.

Nowadays, we jump right from Halloween into Christmas. Sure, we gather with loved ones for a Thanksgiving meal and football, and most of us enjoy a long weekend off work as part of the holiday, but do we really make time for this day set apart to focus on the people and things we’re most grateful for in life? Or do we rush through it all and get caught up in the hustle and bustle, mess and stress of the season’s activities?

I’m asking myself this question too.

As much I love the Christmas season, and am known to get all of my holiday shopping done by the end of November, the past few years I have been making a concentrated effort to focus on those things in life that I am thankful for in the weeks and days leading up to Thanksgiving. There is so much that comes at me (all of us, for that matter) in a day. We live under constant pressure, demands, deadlines, bad news, and countless challenges, whether it’s in our homes, workplaces, relationships, etc. It’s easy to get bogged down and burned out from all the things that threaten to steal our joy.

But there exists a key to combating this: PRACTICING GRATITUDE.

Ann Voskamp says …

Give Thanks

Expressing our gratitude and offering our thanks doesn’t necessarily mean that life gets easier, but it does change our perspective for the better. When we are able to see the good in the midst of the bad, the grace in the midst of the struggle, the light in the midst of the dark, joy and peace enter our hearts and provide us assurance that we have purpose and all that we’re going though contributes to the greater story that is our life. When we take a ‘time out’ at the end of the day and allow ourselves to think of even just one thing we can be grateful for, we accomplish a small victory. Increase this to finding three things a day to be thankful for, and experience even more victory.

In 2013, I challenged myself to count 1,000 gifts. At the end of every day, I wrote down three things I was grateful for in a journal. Some days were easier than others, but I stuck with it, and ended up counting well over 1,000 gifts in the course of a year. Being intentional in practicing gratitude showed me that no matter what came my way, I could always find something to be thankful for. A sunrise. A sunset. A smile. A note. Food in the fridge. A roof over my head. Clothes on my back. The love of a good man. The love of a great and mighty God. Family. Friends. A job. A car. The list goes on and on.

So in this season of thanks, let’s be grateful. Let’s be surprised by what our exercise in expressing gratitude teaches us. And as this process changes us, let’s be people who spur others on to find the good, each and every day. We will never know the possibilities of doing so until we decide to start. So let’s make today, and the days leading up to Thanksgiving, an opportunity to be transformed through the lens of gratitude.

Blessings, friends!

Autumn Best

Good morning, friends! Today, I thought I’d have a change of pace and share some of my favorite things from the wonderful autumn season thus far …

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Upon getting back into the routine of being home on the weekends, I decided that my home office needed a little refreshment since I plan to be spending much more time in here in the months to come. I happened to find this beauty at one of my favorite hometown shops, Bungalow 47, and I couldn’t be more pleased with how it looks on my cranberry walls. I adore cows, and ‘Clara Bell’ (my name for this masterpiece), makes a GREAT addition to my sacred space!

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In addition to Clara Bell, I also framed this lovely print from the fabulous Lindsay Letters on the opposite wall in my home office. I picked this up at The Sashes Market, part of The Influence Conference, and it serves as a fun reminder of my time spent in Indianapolis, as well as to ‘live creatively’ in my days!

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My brother surprised us with a trip home from Colorado prior to starting his new position at Lockheed Martin. It was so nice to see him and catch up on life while he was here. I am hoping that we will have the chance to connect again over the holidays, and I am very much looking forward to a trip out there in the new year to visit with him and my nephew, not to mention a chance to soak up some of that incredible western sunshine!

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Of course, one of the absolute BEST parts of this season is the changing colors of the trees. Here in Michigan, we see a bold display of God’s glory in creation as the leaves pop with boldness and brightness, making the outdoors technicolor, especially following a rainstorm.  Taking a few moments to bask in the beauty of this season and in what He’s teaching us through times of change does the soul a tremendous amount of good.

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Spending time with our good friends has also been a wonderful treat in this season. Whether its spending time outside, watching football, getting together for lunch or dinner, or even just hanging out and doing nothing, we always manage to have a great time and share a good laugh or two. We’ve been blessed in friendship and look forward to time spent with the fabulous people in our lives in the months to come.

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Nothing beats watching a great football game on Saturday afternoons, and I am proud to say that my Michigan State University Spartans are having an excellent season thus far! Two weekends ago I had the pleasure of attending the MSU / U of M game and it was awesome to be in the stadium as we achieved victory over the Wolverines. Tonight I hope we continue our winning streak as we play against the Ohio State Buckeyes on our home turf. Go Green, Go White, Go State!

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Those who know me best, know my passion for books. For my birthday, I got a couple of gift cards to one of my favorite bookstores, and with them, I stocked up on a few good reads for the season. Books on creativity, rest, and influence … just the topics to get cozy with on chilly fall evenings!

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For me, autumn serves as a great opportunity to try out new creative projects. My hubby surprised me with an ESV Journaling Bible for my birthday, a great way to connect with God’s Word and express my artistic side at the same time. Of course, I couldn’t just leave the binding plain, so I went to Hobby Lobby and found the perfect items to create a fun cover! (It’s amazing what you can do with a little glue, fabric and washi tape!) I’m excited to try out this new way of engaging with God’s Word!

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Lastly, one of my most favorite parts of this season is the slowing down of life and the opportunity to enjoy quality time on the home-front with my hubby.  We’ve made a commitment to date each other more and be tourists in our town, partaking of some of the local events and visiting a few of our favorite places that we don’t get to enjoy much in the warmer months. I’m looking forward to moments spent around the table, next to the fire, and by the Christmas tree in the weeks to come.

What are some of your favorite things this time of year? What are you most enjoying this season?

I wish all of you a beautiful and blessed finish to autumn!

eBook Update: 6 Months Later

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Happy November, friends! It’s hard to believe that this new month is here and we’re fast approaching the holiday season. Time flies when we’re having fun!

Speaking of fun, I thought it would be a perfect time to share an eBook update now that my book has been on the market for six months (i.e. half of a year … Woah)!

I’ve heard from a number of you who have purchased and read my book, and  I so appreciate your kind feedback and support! Writing this book was a two year process and publishing it was truly a ‘bucket-list’ adventure. I really didn’t know what to expect when the book released,  but I have been amazed at how many people have told me that my story resonated with them and has made a positive difference in their lives. It is exactly this response that makes any big project worth all the time and effort it takes to make it happen.

The heart behind my book was sharing how the good, bad, beautiful, and messy moments of my life have shaped my faith. It’s my personal testimony that God is real and He really can do the impossible in our lives because of who He is: the Bread of Life, the Light of The World, the Gate, the Good Shepherd, the Resurrection and Life, the Way, Truth, and Life, and the True Vine. It is this belief and faith that is behind what I share here on this blog space, Instagram, Facebook, and of course, in my day-to-day interactions in-person, over the phone, and via email and texts. Essentially, this is what fuels my life and all that I have done and hope to do in the future.

If you haven’t yet read the book and/or you think someone you know might be interested in reading the book, you can find it on the following sites …

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Christian Book

WestBow Press

And if you have read the book and enjoyed it, feel free to share the link to this post or to the above retailers. This book may be the perfect thing to read as we head toward Christmas and put our focus on the real reason for the season.

Thanks for following along, friends!

Living the Good Life: Dream BIG

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In my life, I’ve always played it safe. Some of you may know what I’m talking about. I’ve always done things the way they are ‘supposed’ to be done.

Graduate high school.
Go to college.
Go to grad school.
Get married.
Start career.
Buy house.
Work, work, and more work.
Anyone else with me on this?

These are all good things, great things actually. I’m not saying I should not have done these things. But I am saying that my life has followed this incredibly regimented plan and process the past ten years, and in the past two years, in particular, I’ve realized that the ‘plan’ I’ve always had in mind has changed for me.

And, up until recently, I had been fighting this change.

As a planner who likes to know the destination and all the steps from here-to-there, this change has been difficult one to embrace because it’s non-traditional, raises eyebrows, and has people asking, “And how do you plan to do that?” Not easy. Not comfortable. And definitely not safe.

So, what is this change exactly?

In my last post recapping The Influence Conference, I talked about how ‘it’s time to build’ and that for me, ‘building’ means taking my writing and professional/educational skills to the next level. It means doing some hard work and holding myself accountable to making the dream God has placed in my heart a reality. And for the first time, I’m putting this dream out there in a very public way.

My BIG dream is to become a full-time blogger, consultant, and writer.

What started as a hobby and fun outlet for my gift with words has turned into a serious passion, the thing I want to do and think about doing on an everyday basis. It fires me up to get on here, prepare new content, and share my life and the stories of others in this space. And I love the connections I’ve made through this medium. It has been life-changing and given my life so much meaning and purpose.

I feel in the marrow of my bones, based on the experiences I’ve had and the gifts He’s blessed me with, that God has called me to help inspire others to ‘live the good life’ in whatever unique and wonderful way they have been called to do so.

As a Social Worker, I deal with individuals and organizations everyday who are in desperate need of the message and truth that there is more …

More to life than the status quo.
More to life than the hurts and pain of the past.
More to life than the generational history of poverty of resources and spirit.
More to life than cynicism and negativity.

Even within my own network of family and friends, or as I scroll through the news headlines on a daily basis, I see the need for the same message: There is more. There is goodness. There is hope. There is inspiration. There is opportunity. There is possibility. And I want my life to be a ministry of this message, pointing and spurring people on to grasp onto what is amazing and lovely and true and beautiful and LIVE THE GOOD LIFE they have been called to live, in this time and in their place.

This is where my heart is at and this is the heart of my blog.

Making this dream a reality will not happen overnight. I know it’s going to take intentionality and time. My next steps include taking a ‘Blog to Business’ class through The Influence Network, drafting a business plan, developing my own brand with the help of a professional business and marketing consultant, and connecting with other blogs, brands, and businesses to get my brand out there. I am also in the process of continuing to finish the requirements needed to get my LMSW. While I continue to work full-time in my current career, I will be wrapping up the necessary supervision and work hours to apply for full social work licensure in early spring.

I’m ready to get to work on these steps and begin the next phase of my career and life journey. It’s not what I ever envisioned for myself, but I love how God surprises us with these crazy ideas and as we follow His lead, grows them into something wonderful for His glory and Kingdom. I’ve seen Him do it before and I’ll know He’ll be faithful to do it again, and I can’t wait to see how it all turns out!

Dream BIG, friends, and have a great weekend!

career and passion

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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.