Sunday, September 29, 2013

{Giveaway} More Grace Unplugged

"Grace Unplugged" opens in some theaters this coming weekend. To celebrate this faith-based movie on the big screen, I have another giveaway for you! It's kind of like the one from earlier this month, but this one includes music!

Here's what you need to know about "Grace Unplugged" :: Sometimes, chasing your dreams leads you right to where you belong! Having just turned 18, Grace Trey aspires to more than just singing at her church where her father, a former pop star, is the worship leader.

With the help of Mossy, her dad's former manager, Grace records a cover version of her dad's old Top-10 hit, runs off to Los Angeles, and begins to taste the kind of stardom she's always dreamed about. Yet with each rung of the ladder she climbs, Grace feels more and more pressure to compromise her values, further straining her relationship with her parents. Will everything she experiences lead her to reject her faith… or rediscover it?

The cast includes A.J. Michalka, James Denton, Kevin Pollak and Michael Welch.

{Click here to see if the movie opens in your town on Friday!}

So ... I guess you want to know what you could win, huh? The movie-inspired prize pack includes:

  • "Grace Unplugged" soundtrack CD with songs by TobyMac, A.J. Michalka, Chris Tomlin and Shawn McDonald
  • "Grace Unplugged," the novel by Melody Carlson
  • "Own It," a book by Michael & Hayley DiMarco featured in the movie
  • An exclusive "Grace Unplugged" guitar pick
{You can read more about the two books in the post from my earlier giveaway.}

This giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian residents who have a physical address to which the prize could be shipped. {No P.O. Box addresses, please.}

To enter, just leave a comment about why this is a movie you'd like to see. I'll randomly choose a winner on Saturday. UPDATED: Congratulations to Becky! This "Grace Unplugged" package is coming your way! 

"Grace Unplugged" via PartnersHub is providing these promotional materials to the winner of the giveaway. I haven't actually seen the movie, but I'd like to watch it sometime. Unfortunately, it isn't opening in my town this weekend. 

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Six Things I Learned in September

I sound like a broken record, but I can't believe September is over. It doesn't quite feel like fall here, but it's getting closer. The season change is in the air ... and I believe it's been causing me to cough all week. Ah, Kentucky, your seasons have a way of messing with our heads, literally. It's been a good month. A fast month. And now we're entering the slope to the end of the year. Yeah, shhh, I know. I won't talk about how I've been Christmas shopping online. 

1. Mexico is relaxing, especially when I'm with my husband at an all-inclusive resort for five days. And for me relaxing involves reading fiction. I managed to finish three books: "Trapped" by Irene Hannon, "Six Years" by Harlan Coben and "In the Name of Honor" by Richard North Patterson. We did talk, eat and explore too. And perhaps I'll get around the writing a Mexico post soon.

2. Hand-written letters are a lost but still much appreciated art form. And, really, so are phone calls from local friends just to chat. But, goodness, when they happen they are sweet.

3. I don't have as much free time as I anticipated having once the school year got rolling. We're six weeks in. And I know God is spurring me toward a new balance. I've read so many things that echo what's been going on in my mind.

{Like this by S.D. Smith :: "Pick only a few things. Do those with all your heart. Dream small. Jesus didn’t seek out crowds. He poured into 12 men. Those men, by the Spirit, shook the world. It’s still shaking. Our lives, poured into a few worthwhile people and projects, will ripple out in a million unseen consequences. We need imagination to see it."}

4. Lots of people like coffee. Lots of people like pumpkin. I'm not in either club. But, hey, give me some candy corn and honey crisp apples and we'll call it fall, y'all.

5. Even though I feel burned on the adoption trail, I find myself grasping to hope fairly easily yet I try to balance that with not getting my hopes up. Yeah, I have no idea what that means either.

6. It's OK to read books slowly and put them down to pick up another book, knowing you'll be back. Right now I'm somewhere in the pages of "What Happens When Women Say Yes to God" by Lysa TerKeurst, "Mended" by Angie Smith and "The Applause of Heaven" by Max Lucado.

How's September been for you?

I'm linking up with Emily Freeman's Chatting at the Sky and other bloggers who are looking back on their Septembers. Here are my past installments: June. July. August

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{Giveaway} Rufus and Ryan Go To Church!

The kids were excited when this new book came in the mail. And, yes, my momma heart rejoiced that they were excited about a new book. There was a time I wasn't sure Ben would care about reading books, as he went through a phase of destroying a few and forcing us to keep any that weren't board books out of his reach. Of course, there is my first-born girl who reads to herself {out loud!} every night before bed and often throughout the day!

And, yes, I adore these moments when they sit close on the couch and read a book together. Well, Cate does the reading and Ben soaks it all in.

In "Rufus and Ryan Go to Church!," 4-year-old Ryan explains to his stuffed monkey, Rufus, what is happening as they attend church on Sunday morning. He lets Rufus know when it’s time to sing and to pray and to be quiet.

Author Kathleen Bostrom brings a delightfully light touch to the text as she provides an introduction to an experience that most children are exposed to long before they understand why. And children everywhere will relate to the idea of explaining their surroundings to their favorite companions as they go about their daily activities.

I asked the kids what they thought about the story when they got finished. Cate launched into examples of how Ryan's church is different than ours. My favorite: "The kids there don't have classes during church, but they do get a snack afterward." Right. And that's true. She also said her favorite part was when everybody was singing.

So, Ben, what was your favorite part? "The monkey." See, all boy, I tell you.

Of course, then he studied the back of the book and then asked, "Can we get this other one?" Now, that's a request that'll be hard to turn down.

This is a new series to us. But we're always excited to try out new books. A new series of books for preschoolers, these stories feature Ryan, an energetic little boy, and his stuffed monkey Rufus. Basic Christian and church concepts serve as the foundation of the series, with an additional focus on character traits and development. The text is presented in young Ryan’s voice as he teaches Rufus about the concepts he is learning himself. Each story is about 150 words, using age-appropriate vocabulary and themes.

In addition to "Rufus and Ryan Go To Church!," the series includes "Rufus and Ryan Say Their Prayers." {Yes, Ben already knows this!} These books published by Ideal Books would make great gifts for anyone who works with kids as well as holiday gifts for children. Oh, and, well, it'll be a great gift to one of you who will win a copy next week! 

Now, a giveaway! Just leave a blog comment telling me what you and your child's favorite book is right now, and you'll be entered to win. You've got until next Friday, Oct. 4 to enter. I'll pick a winner randomly next weekend. Congratulations, Kristin! This book will be coming your way. I hope your little ones enjoy it!

About the Author :: Kathleen Long Bostrom is a published children’s author in both the Christian and trade markets. She has a Master’s in Christian Education and a Doctorate of Ministry in Preaching, and she has worked in children’s ministry for many years. Kathy and her husband, Greg, have three grown children and live in Illinois.

About the Illustrator :: Rebecca Thornburgh began illustrating children’s books full-time in 1996 and today has almost 100 books to her name. Rebecca’s vibrant watercolors have been showcased in previous Ideals titles, including the new edition of The Story of Christmas. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and two daughters.

I was given a copy of "Rufus and Ryan Go To Church!" by FlyBy Promotions to review, but these pictures and sentiments really belong to me and my kids. Thanks to FlyBy Promotions for the additional copy for one of you! 

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

(Out of the Blue} Real mail matters

My friend Sarah and I text nearly every day. We can stay connected by swapping stories and updates via text because her voice comes through so clearly that way. And it's not like our combined five kids 6 and younger would let us talk on the phone for any length of time.

Of course, she lives just 1.6 miles away so we do lunch or meet at the park regularly. We go to the same church and usually eat lunch afterward. But during the week, she has her 3 kids -- almost 4 years and younger -- in tow while I bring Ben to the mix. Her oldest and my youngest are just 24 days apart so they only know life with each other.

And we like it that way.

Sarah is a sympathetic friend who remembers details of any story I share and then follows up with genuine interest as these stories develop. She asks questions. She encourages. And she is one of the least judgmental people I know. {And she has great knowledge of and love for children's books. She started a lovely blog where she reviews books you'll want to get in your kids' hands.}

Earlier this month, I was sorting through mostly junk mail when I saw a piece of "real mail" addressed to me in familiar handwriting. I noticed Sarah's address in top left corner and opened the envelope to find a multi-page, handwritten letter.

These words she took the time to compose matter to me. She matters to me. This community we're in together matters. And while some of our friendship is predictable in such a welcoming way, this old-fashioned letter was such a sweet, out-of-the-blue surprise. It was tangible love showed right there in my mailbox.

In fact, this letter and some other recent gestures have me thinking about ways to be a good friend, whether you're local or long distance. So much so I have posts on those topics brewing for the next few weeks. Stay tuned! 

I'm linking up with Kristen Strong, who reminds me to notice the moments, especially the Out of the Blue ones. 

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

{Three Word Wednesday} Find Your Balance

El Dorado Royale in Riviera Maya, Mexico. Sept. 2013.

I feel like I'm the most uncoordinated person in the gym. I know I'm the least flexible. Chances are I sweat the most too.

But I try to keep up and follow along.

The exercise instructor says, "Find your balance first," as she starts to stand on her left leg with 5 pound weights in each hand. Then she raises her arms up in front of her and then spreads them out to each side.

I find my balance and copy her.

My arms are tired. My legs feel wobbly. But my head is filled with a reminder that applies to so many aspects of life beyond the gym: Find your balance first.

Find your balance at home.

Find your balance in the community.

Find your balance with your husband and kids.

Find your balance with your friends.

Find your balance with your dreams.

Find your balance whenever you are.

My husband and I returned earlier this week from five days in Mexico. We talked about how I hold on too tightly too life sometimes. I told him I knew God was calling me to find my balance. Just because something is good doesn't mean we are called to be part of it. God is leading me to let go of some things I like because they're distracting me from what I am to love. 

But truth is sometimes finding your balance is hard. Sometimes it means making hard decisions and having hard conversations. Sometimes it means doing things different than you've always done them before. Sometimes finding your balance means freeing your calendar or opening your home or reaching out beyond your comfort zone. Just thinking about it makes my legs wobble sometimes.

But God doesn't wobble.

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." {1 Peter 5:7}

Jesus says: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." {John 16:33}

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." {Matthew 6:33}

And be sure to stretch afterward. Reach high. Reach far. With your arms wide open. It may hurt at first, but it'll be worth it. This finding your balance and keeping it while waving your arms with weights in hand can be quite the endeavor. Good thing we don't have to go at it alone.

Linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee for #TellHisStory, Beth Stiff for Three Word Wednesday and Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria party. 

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

{Compassion} Walk by faith

Photo courtesy Compassion International.
Walk by faith.

A pair of rain boots, sparkly pink flats, two pairs of tennis shoes and some grown-up sandals sit beside our door right now. It usually frustrates me that people can't put their shoes away in their closets. One day I counted seven pairs of my 6-year-old girl's shoes sitting there. And I once again nagged her to carry them upstairs.

Then I see this picture from Compassion International.

Those are probably that girl's only shoes.

She doesn't have dress shoes, school shoes and tennis shoes to choose from each morning. There aren't flip flops for summer and boots for winter. And, really, she probably doesn't know what shoe size she wears because she'll take whatever somebody gives her, even if they're already worn down.

She'll wear them until there are holes in the soles.

She'll hope a new pair will come. Just like she hopes other basic needs are met as she trusts God to provide day after day, just like he says he will. We do after all walk by faith and not by sight.

Shoes protect.

Shoes guard.

Shoes cushion.

Shoes support.

My daughter certainly considers shoes to be accessories. Sure, we get many as hand-me-downs from my niece or from a yard sale down the street. But I don't stay up late wondering if my girl's toes will be protected from the dirt and sun. I know the soles of her feet are guarded and her steps are cushioned. Each step she takes is supported.

Next time I see the pile of shoes that people kick off the moment they walk inside our house, where there are relatively clean floors, I want to remember that not every girl and boy like my two have this protection so readily available.

It's not just the soles of the kids in Ecuador and Guatemala {and wherever else} that need protecting. It's their souls too. Yes, shoes protect and guard and cushion, but they also give hope. There is hope these shoes will fit long enough to another pair arrives from someone who cares. There is hope their dreams will make a difference for their communities burdened by poverty. There is hope the next generation of girls will have a choice of what shoes to wear each morning.

Join Me for Blog MonthWhen you sponsor a child, you give them hope and sometimes new shoes for just $38 a month.

Our girl in Guatemala and our boy in Ecuador have both written to tell us what they've purchased with birthday money we sent. Shoes have made the list. And I'm grateful I can give hope to their souls while protecting their soles.

September is Compassion International's Blog Month, which aims to find sponsors for 3,160 children. So far at least 1,583 have sponsors. This is the second post I've written as part of this Compassion Bloggers campaign. Here is the first, complete with some of my own childhood pictures. 

I'm also linking up with Beth's Three Word Wednesday, where she encourages with her transparency today.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

{Behind the Scenes} Something Beautiful

Truth is: I don't usually like pictures of myself. And, really, the sillier they are, the less likely I am to like them. But, you know, I really like this picture of Holly and I. So, I thought I'd tell you about the picture and about us.

I met Holly just before I walked out of the newsroom for the last time because she was my replacement. Not long after claiming my desk as hers, she emailed me with a question. We emailed a little and then decided to meet at Quiznos. I came with a 4-month-old girl that day and Holly came with openness and willingness. We befriended each other that day. Yes, I answered some questions about reporting in this small town of ours, but that was only the foundation for a friendship that had so much more in store for me.

Holly has since moved from Murray to New Mexico and back and then to Texas {... and back, I think.} You know, keeping up with her current location is kind of hard because she's like a gypsy, but I've never had a problem keeping up with her. We email, text, write, chat on Gmail, sometimes call, Facebook and make plans. Anyway, she lives in Texas now, but she wanted to celebrate her 30th birthday at Kentucky Lake, which really is like home to her.

So we gathered at the lake and celebrated Holly. But, really, we all ended up celebrating friendship and real life, where people's lives cross paths and we become better people through it all. There was a love fest and counters full of delicious food. We laughed and some cried and so many stories were told.

One of my favorite things about Holly is she's only ever known me as a mom but that hasn't stopped her from seeing beyond that one role in this one season of mothering little ones. She sees me. She doesn't have kids and isn't married, yet she's encouraged me as a mom, as a wife, as a writer, and as a Christian.

We've connected over writing, traveling, becoming more, processing life, and seeking truth. A little bit of everything all rolled up in one friendship. This past weekend she gave me {I know, seriously, it was her birthday party!} a quilt she made from scraps from other quilts. Really, it's so appropriate for us. It's comfortable and a hod podge of different pieces coming together to make something beautiful. 

I walked out of a newsroom six years ago, ready to tackle this motherhood journey. And, yes, there were diaper changes and sippy cups and a new schedule that worked itself around naptimes. But there also was this beautiful friendship that has blessed my everyday life, even across the miles.

And, you know, I like myself better in pictures when she's in them with me because even when we aren't framed by the camera lens I know she sees me.

I'm linking up with Crystal Stine's Behind the Scenes, where we're encouraged to come out from behind the photos and tell the whole story, imperfections and all. 

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Becoming an outsider

"Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. ... In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

... So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit."

I have two favorite words in that message: Outsiders and becoming. Probably not the two most important words you'd choose, but they remind me of what God has done to me and for me.

I used to be an outsider. Before I followed Christ, I was on the outside of God's kingdom.

But then I let Christ in my life.

I nailed some sins to a wooden cross at a retreat that changed my life, symbolic of what Jesus did for us. I was a new person that day, even though in the days, weeks, months and even years following I was tempted by my old ways. I wanted to be selfish, with my time especially. I figured I had it all under control, playing God with my life and those I love most. My timeline seemed perfect and I tried to fit God in a box on my calendar.

But, still, I was a new creation who God has always managed to hang on to, no matter how hard I tried to rest in what used to be. I was no longer an outsider to God's kingdom, even on the days I had to be drawn back in by the One who really is in control of my time, relationships, and days.

For me, this walk with God that began 17 years ago really has been about becoming. Yes, I can pinpoint when I decided to follow Christ. But God didn't perfect me that night. He saved me. He rescued me. And I started allowing my love and devotion to God factor into my decisions.

I've walked some roads with God since, each one shaping me and perfecting me. We're still not to the ultimate destination, but I'm becoming more like God intends me to be. I'm finding that more and more of my decisions are affected by the Christ who carried all my sins to the cross with him and the God who continues to pour down grace.

This morning so many decisions and conflicts and situations and circumstances and relationships came to mind as I thought about these verses from Ephesians I'm studying this week in our HelloMornings group. I realizing what began as a journey on the outside of God's kingdom into his presence has been about becoming an outsider to this world. Becoming reminds me salvation can come in an instant but maturing in Christ is a process.

Lately, I've felt like I've had to bear down and protect my family from philosophies and practices and habits that don't line up with God's word. I've vented frustrations of what people do and say to my husband. I tell my daughter about how what we chose to isn't always the same as what her friends choose to do. I've poured out a broken heart to friends who will listen. I wonder how I can raise generous children in an indulgent, entitled society.

Of course I have these struggles. Of course I know friends who are hunkering down and protecting their families. Of course there is a tension between this world and the one for which we're longing. We were once outsiders to God's kingdom, but now we're outsiders to this world. Life is about becoming that way. Because this is where God dwells. 

I'm linking up with Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria party, Jennifer Dukes Lee's tribe of storyellers for #TellHisStory, and the HelloMornings blog. 

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Six years here.

From the newsroom to the front porch.

Six years ago, I filed a story about a MSU Board of Regents meeting and then walked out of the Murray Ledger & Times newsroom for the last time. Months of thinking and praying and talking and dreaming and figuring were put into a decision that turned out to be one of the best of my life.

I always saw myself as a working mom. I liked seeing my byline and feeling the rush of adrenaline as election results were tallied or news stories broke before my eyes.

But I know myself, and I'm an all-or-nothing gal. Being a newspaper reporter and a momma was going to pull me in too many different directions. And I knew God was giving me a choice.

{I'd like to say here, everybody's life is different. Responsibilities and circumstances vary. This was just my life in 2007 with a newborn adopted daughter in my arms and an entrepreneur husband who supported me then and continues to now in every way imaginable.}

I chose to give up a job I loved for a new season I knew nothing about.

And here I am. Six years later. So thankful I did the hard, right thing. I'm better for it. My girl is better for it. God surprised me with a couple friends who came directly because of my decision to quit working and several others who came into my life more indirectly. God surprised me with new dreams and desires. There's still adrenaline and I still want to be all in.

Today isn't the first time I've written about this decision to leave that newsroom. It was a big deal for me, people. So, here, take a look at some past posts ...

What's in a name? {Sept. 14, 2007} :: "I'm going to replace my pen and notebook with toys that rattle and squeak, bottles, naptime and smiles that melt my heart. She’s only 4 months old, but she’s changed me. I’m fully embracing my new identity as "Cate’s mom," starting officially after I finish writing about the Board of Regents later today. There is much in a name. But there is more to be said about purpose."

One year at home {Sept. 14, 2008} :: "So, here's the truth, 365 days later: There has not been one day I wished I still worked at the Murray Ledger & Times. Seriously, not once have I wondered if I made the right decision."

Becoming momma {Sept. 14, 2011} :: "Motherhood is hard. This is harder than any of the 88 city council meetings or two murder trials I covered. This is more challenging than asking U.S. senators and university presidents questions about controversies. But motherhood is rewarding. It's more thrilling to listen to my son learn to tell stories in broken, incomplete stories than it was to write a breaking news story. It's more precious to hear my daughter talk about Jesus than to hear about our public hospital's budget. And my job here is far from over. My kids are little. They have a lot of growing up to do. And I'll get to have a front row seat that doesn't require any media credential."

Five years down this road ... {Sept. 14, 2012} :: "I came home feeling like a burden had been lifted because I wasn't being stretched between what I assumed my life would be and what my life had become. ... Quitting my job was certainly a new leg of the journey, and I couldn't really see too far in front of me. But looking in my rear-view mirror, I'd go around that curve again, especially knowing my life is absolutely nothing like I planned and I wouldn't have it any other way. And, you know, for being a stay-at-home mom, I don't even stay home that much."

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

That One Day

I remember a dozen years ago walking into The Associated Press newsroom room in which I worked and not being able to take my eyes off the three TVs showing three different network news programs delivering one message I never thought possible: Our country was under attack. The first intentional plane crash came while I was driving to work and the second as I walked in the office building.

I remember scrolling through the D.C., New York and general new wires on my computer. I read sad story after sad story followed by the stories of bravery before talking to some people in Louisville about how these terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 affected their lives. Four months out of college, that one day seemed like some unnecessary greeting to the real world, where news truly changed us.

"I went to mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption as one of my contributions to our local stories yesterday. I had never been in there. It was magnificent. That seems like such a silly word, but it was truly glorious. I understand why God gets excited to make His presence known in man-made buildings like that. The priest's words were few, but powerful. It's good to know there are leaders like that in every community reaching out to people, opening buildings to be a refuge from evil."
{My words from Sept. 12, 2001}

That one day made us think. It made us watch and see differently. The one day was unlike any other and shaped plenty of the rest.

I remember Greg sending me an email while working in the law school library in Lexington about how this all was unbelievable. I savored the communication from this one.

I remember listening to Alan Jackson's "Where Were You" like there wasn't another song available. I couldn't get enough. Somehow this song summed it up for me.

I remember knowing our country would never be the same, in both heroic ways and frightening ways. Sept. 11 is a date that carries so much meaning. I know people who have since had babies born on that day. So much life was taken that day 12 years ago, but so much life has come since.

I'm not the same because of that one day. We are not the same. Perhaps we're even stronger and braver.

When those planes destroyed our sense of security, I barely had thoughts of getting married, much less raising kids. I knew I was living far away from where the news actually happened but close enough to feel like I experienced it first hand. Yet I have no idea what the best words are for my 6-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy as they grow up in a world that has managed to recover from Sept. 11, 2001, but in a world that will never forget {and should never forget} that one day.

But God reminds me our lives are about more than that one day or anything other one day. It's a journey we're on and a process we're in. Yes, that one day is important. And there are other important one days.

God tells me to remember where we were and how we got here. He wants me to remember how he's rescued my heart over and over again. He wants me to remember he's the maker of my days, every single one of them.

Yes, I'll probably tell my kids more about where I was when those terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. I'll teach them to be cautious but brave and free. I'll tell this about that one day and many other days that make up our history.

But I'll also tell them that we have a future and a hope because on another one day Jesus died with all our sins on a cross. And on another one day that is still to come, he's coming back because he's prepared a place for us that doesn't have terrorist and attacks and fears. And that one day is the one for which we're remember and living.

I'm linking up this post with Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria Party, Jennifer Dukes Lee and other storytellers at #TellHisStory and with Beth Stiff for Three Word Wednesday. Want more stories? Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Follow 152 Insights at Bloglovin'. Subscribe to receive "Insights in Your Inbox."

Monday, September 9, 2013

{Giveaway} Inspired by "Grace Unplugged"

Two books, one movie, and some good music. Throw in a faith-building story. Yes, please. That's what "Grace Unplugged" looks to be about. It opens in theaters Oct. 4.

{Check here to see if the movie is coming to your town.} I can't give you the movie or even tickets to it, but I can give one of you a copy of the book based on the movie and another book that's part of the movie's story. Stay tuned for details about that later in this blog post.

But first a little more about the story.

About "Grace Unplugged" :: It's a book by Melody Carlson based on the motion picture of the same name that stars A.J. Michalka {Super 8} and Kevin Pollack {A Few Good Men} and includes performances by award-winning musicians Chris Tomlin and Jamie Grace.

Grace Trey is an 18-year-old singer as passionate about her Christian faith as she is her phenomenal, God-given musical talent. Both traits come from her father, one-hit-wonder Johnny Trey who found Jesus after losing his chart success two decades ago. When Grace encounters her own music break of a lifetime, the sudden dive into the "real world" puts her deeper beliefs to the test. Pop superstardom is just within reach but appears to require some spiritual compromise. Will Grace reject her faith, or will she own it?

Thing is, I remember being 18. I can't carry a tune or play an instrument, but I was determined to be an adult as far away from my childhood home as possible. For me, that meant four hours away on the other end of the state. That's as far as I got, physically. But, spiritually, I started sorting out what faith meant in my daily life.

College was a chance for me to become an independent person, meshing where I had come from with where I believe God wanted me. Life is a process. But so many fundamental things happened those four years. It's like that for Grace in the book. She's chasing a dream ... and her faith.

About "Own It" :: This book is featured in the movie version of "Grace Unplugged" and challenges readers by asking what it means to really own faith rather than follow blindly in the footsteps of friends or parents. Best-selling authors Hayley and Michael DiMarco help readers understand what to do when faith meets real world challenges. Without solid beliefs, poor choices are likely to follow. You must take the time to really know who you are, who you are becoming, and who God made you to be.

Hayley DiMarco is the best-selling author of more than 30 books including "Dateable," "Marriable," "Mean Girls," and "The Woman of Mystery." She has been a featured speaker at Women of Faith, Precept National Women's Conference and MOPS International and has consulted on the creation and enhancement of some of the largest stadium events for teens and young women in North America. Her husband, Michael, is a skillled communicator and teacher who has authored more than a dozen bestselling books including the 2010 Christian Book of the Year for Youth "B4UD8 (Before You Date)." They have one daughter and live in Nashville, Tenn.

Perhaps my favorite quote from "Own It":

"Faith signals a change, not only in your eternal destination, but in your heart, your mind, and yes, even in your personality. When you own your faith, those things that used to control you lose their power. The stuff that used to scare you is uneventful. Faith -- true faith -- changes you from the inside out. ... A new creation is a changed creation." {page 89}

Through stories, quotes, scriptures, and personal testimony, the DiMarcos challenge readers to devote themselves to developing personal journeys to God. Faking it, borrowing it, renting it and pretending to have it don't work when it comes to faith. Only faith in God will lead to truth. And that truth leads to transformation, a new life just like 2 Corinthians 5:17 talks about.

And one of you can win a copy of each book! Just use the Rafflecopter below to earn multiple entries by commenting and liking/tweeting/following in other ways. The giveaway is open through Sunday, Sept. 15 to U.S. and Canadian residents. A winner will be chose randomly to receive a copy of "Grace Unplugged" and "Own It."

a Rafflecopter giveaway

UPDATED: Congratulations, Laura! You won the books! They'll be headed your way in the mail soon.

I received these books for free from FlyBy Promotions in exchange for this review on my blog, but I only recommend products I actually support. I'm disclosing this because the Federal Trade Commission likes it that way. 

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Saturday, September 7, 2013

{Compassion} Lighten up, little girl.

I have no idea why I stared at my 5th birthday cake at Chuck E. Cheese with such disgust. Maybe it was because, yes, again, my name was spelled wrong. Maybe I didn't like the crowd of friends and family embarrassing me with the traditional "Happy Birthday." Either one is certainly possible. I still don't like to be the center of a "Happy Birthday" rendition!

It's taken me a long time since my 5th birthday {that would have been May 1984, folks!} to realize that life isn't perfect. People don't react like I think they will. Sometimes I say too much and other times I don't say enough. Some days are harder than I expect and others surprise me with how lovely they are.

Join Me for Blog MonthHealth and financial woes creep into lives. Disagreements arise, sometimes forcing hard decisions. Each family is different. Motherhood doesn't come with a manual. And marriage is hard work that has proven worth it, even just 11 years in.

Life isn't perfect. But it doesn't need to be. In perfection, we wouldn't need each other. In trying to figure out, we make friends and have revelations. We're spurred on toward the next moment that will change our hearts and create our legacy.

We're blessed in imperfection and are given more opportunities than we ever can notice to be a blessing.

September is Compassion International's Blog Month, which aims to find sponsors for 3,160 children whose lives are far from perfect. Better than any birthday party, just $38 a month can change their lives and take away some of their burdens.

These children may have frowns because their lives are harder than I can ever imagine. But I've seen pictures of smiles. There is hope there, friends. There where frowns seem to be expected, smiles are possible. In Guatemala and Uganda. In Peru and Ecuador. Across the globe. And in our futures right here. It all makes a cake with a misspelled name and a fictional mouse not seem so bad.

And here I am, 29 years later, left wanting to scream back to my 5-year-old self: Lighten up, little girl. There is a big world beyond you. Most people mean well, even some days are hard. Not everything will always be right, but there is joy here in this moment, even if you are required to wear a silly hat. Just ask God to show you. And be sure to help a friend along the way.

I believe in Compassion International. Our family sponsors two children and serves as a correspondence sponsor to a third. If you're looking for a way to make a lasting difference, Compassion International is one way. 

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

God is here.

We've been to the mountaintop
We've seen the glory of our God
He is here in the valley low
He's here I feel it in my bones
Our God here and now
We are the body of our God
{From "Mountaintop" by The City Harmonic}

God is here. Right here. Wherever you are. The Creator of it all didn't just walk away from his masterpiece. Oh no, he's perfecting it. Moment by moment. Life is a process.

When the house is quiet and thoughts come freely, he is there.

When one kid walks and talks so loudly first thing in the morning it's a miracle the other kid isn't woken, he is there.

When the phone rings with noise that a rental house toilet is overflowing, he is there.

When friends text and email and ask how you are, he is there.

When lunch is eaten on the go, he is there.

When the kids run and phone rings and questions come and dinner isn't ready, he is there and all the time in the world is actually his.

When the quiet returns, he is still there.

When the next steps are hard to find, he is there, gradually lighting the way.

When sitting finally comes among all the hustle, he is there, ready to carry the burden.

When the peace doesn't make sense, he is there because he's the only one who gives that kind of peace.

When conflict brews outside, he is there, inside with you.

When a friend is recovering from surgery, another is working so much you are struggling to connect and another is overcoming a miscarriage, he is there, hoping to soothe their souls too.

When two friends are trying to talk but a boy neither knows is interrupting with "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," he is there, speaking over the momentary chaos.

When you're hungry or tired or unsure what you should do, he is there, feeding your soul.

He is there in the songs. He is there in the decisions. He is there in the schedules and the commitments and the obligations. He is there with your husband and your kids and your friends. 

We build our temples
We build our walls
But they can't hold Him in
We are the temple of our God
But we can't hold Him in
{From "Mountaintop" by The City Harmonic}

God is here. 

Right here. Right there.

Wherever I am. Wherever you are.

I'm linking up with Beth's Three Word Wednesday as well as Jennifer Dukes Lee and other storytellers for #TellHisStory. I then happened upon Winsome Wednesday, so I shared there too. 
Affiliate links included in case you want to own that song because, honestly, it's been on repeat here today. 

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

{Behind the Scenes} The Tailgate, anyway

It may have been a humid 94 degrees in Nashville on Saturday, but we tailgated anyway. My husband was particularly excited to ring in the new football season watching one of our teams. {And, for the record, it wasn't the hottest opening to football season we've experienced.}

Doesn't my boy look like he's meant to tailgate? And, really, he was. Even though he had no idea what tailgating meant going into the afternoon. He's good at the social part. And was totally interested in the charcoal grilling part. But, truthfully, he doesn't like to stay in one space, so he was all over our small staked out area surrounded by other friendly UK fans.

Doesn't she look cute? She picked out that skirt because she said it was the only UK blue thing she had to wear. She and I may have talked about how hot and sweaty we were, but we had a good time anyway.

Yes, another picture of him sitting. But, really, I think you understand that wasn't the case for the couple hours we tailgated and the three-plus hours we were in our stadium seats. But, hey, he's cute. And look at how prepared he is? A chair strapped to his back, a Capri Sun, and some bubbles.

Speaking of being cute, a college-aged girl told Ben about five times in 2 seconds as we were walking to our seats how cute he was. He grinned and nodded. And I realized that we're in trouble. We may be raising a heartbreaker, even if he doesn't mean it.

On the heels of a hard week in our house, we enjoyed the chance to get away for the second weekend in a row to watch a team we like play. I explained roughing the passer to my girl when UK was penalized for supposedly doing just that and she said, "It's football. He's supposed to be rough." We discussed how the UK band played some of the same pep songs the Murray State band we hear more often likes to play. I gave her a crash course on how football is scored. And she discussed the cheerleaders outfits.

Yes, we were hot and sweaty. Yes, Ben felt a little confined. Yes, watching sports of any kind with kids prompts lots of questions. Yes, our team lost. But we had fun anyway.

crystalstine.meI'm linking up these pictures from our weekend with Crystal Stine's Behind the Scenes, where there is encouragement to tell the real story behind a photo. And, yes, I'm obviously including more than one photo with this story. 

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Monday, September 2, 2013

A heart-shaped cake and sprinkles of joy

Nearly 23 years of friendship piled onto my porch swing and memories flooded my heart. Growing up next-door neighbors, Katie and I used to sit on our childhood front porches dreaming of the day we could drive away from our seemingly boring lives. Now we dream of when we can drive across the state to see each other to escape our chaotic routines.

She's like home to me. Wherever we are, we pick up where we left off. We interrupt each other's stories with updates that lead us to many tangents that usually find their way back to where we started. We laugh at jokes nobody else would think are funny.

And we grin at each other across all the noise when our three boys and one girl play. Seeing our kids be friends is one of the sweetest parts of a life-long friendship. 

We had sent Katie's boys a birthday present in the mail recently because Simon just turned 3 and Charley is getting ready to turn 5. {And, just a side note, Charley doesn't like cheese, therefore he calls it all stinky cheese, so I had to get him this when I saw "stinky cheese" in the title. And, really, who doesn't like cheese?!}

Cate, my 6-year-old girl who remembers everything, suggested making Charley and Simon a cake. So we did. She chose the heart-shaped pan. She and Ben chose the aqua blue icing with fish-shaped sprinkles. And we baked the cake one afternoon and then decorated it before school the next morning.

And it was then, while I was spreading blue icing onto a heart-shaped cake, that I forgot the frustrations of the week, laid down the emotions that had been distracting me, let go once again of thinking I could control our next steps, and let my heart be filled with joy.

Joy comes from friends who know you better than anyone but love you anyway. Joy comes when you're raising the next generation to know friendship. Joy comes when your girl wants to make a couple of boys a cake. Joy comes when the conversation that has been happening since October 1990 continues into college and married life and motherhood. 

While my husband was snapping many pictures trying to get all four kids to look and even smile, he finally said, "Silly faces!" and everyone but Simon participated. And then Greg said, "These last ones are good ones." They're the good ones because they're the real ones, where joy overflows from a heart-shaped cake, ongoing conversations, lots of boy energy, and history piled on a porch swing. 

{Edited 9.3.13: I'm going to link this with Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria party. She's asking people to reflect on their summers and while this doesn't directly do that, it actually does. What I learned this summer is to be more present and continue my journey to embrace imperfection. Life is lived in the moments, and this is a reflection on some moments this past week as summer temperatures still soaked our bodies in sweat and filled our hearts with joy.

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