Last Friday I took a whirlwind trip to Atlanta and back in one day to share some thoughts on branding and making things happen at AmericasMart. It was my first time to “The Mart” and it was incredible.

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AmericasMart is one of the world’s largest permanent wholesale trade centers, spanning four buildings totaling seven million square feet.  It’s big y’all.  The Mart opened in 1957 and hosts several trade shows every year including Atlanta Apparel, Gift and Home Furnishings Market and the VOW Bridal Market (where I’ll be speaking again on Thursday, September 19, at 8am — come see me!). In short, it’s where stores go to find the best new products to sell.

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I was so nervous about flying to and from Atlanta all in one day, but God most definitely blessed this experience. I got through security in jiffy, sat next to a show cat on the flight there, had a great experience on the MARTA (my first time!) and got to The Mart an hour earlier than I thought. And then I started seeing my photo everywhere… which is totally completely super weird.

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I kept thinking people were looking at me funny wondering why my hair didn’t look as awesome as my photos.  My internal answer: I have toddler.  No time for hair-doing on Thursday night before I left.  Ha!

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I had prayed hard about this presentation.  Really hard.  I prayed that I would in some way be used by God to be a light.  It’s a very out-of-body experience for me to speak lately.  Meaning, I can’t believe this is my life.  My path.  My story.  I tell my story each time I speak — sometimes a short version and in Making Things Happen I tell the whole thing — and it always makes me feel awe.

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Awe because I’ve been changed and keep changing.  Awe because I am so flawed and God loves me and changes me anyway.  It’s so surreal to watch as God unfolds His plans — and boy do they unfold fast!  I have been singing this song in my head as I put this post together.  This is the same song that our whole church sang right after Ari was baptized a year and a half ago and it totally speaks my heart.

Some favorite snippets from the lyrics:

I’ve been changed, healed, freed, delivered.
I’ve found joy, peace, grace and favor.
Right now is the moment.
Today; Today is the day.
I’ve been changed.
I have waited for this moment to come
And I won’t let it pass me by…

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Like I mentioned in my last post, God is never done with me and just when I think the waters are calm, another tidal wave hits.  As I spoke in Atlanta on Friday afternoon, I was taken aback by how comfortable I felt in my own skin, how joy bubbles over at times where there used to be a dry wasteland, how passionate I am about connecting with others and helping them fulfill their greatest potential.  This is not the me I knew just a few years ago!

Reflecting on change as a way to catapult forward has been the theme around these parts lately.  I asked Emily to share some thoughts in our staff meeting this morning about her last four years with Southern Weddings and this is what she had to say:

The remarkable thing about the change is that it has all moved in a forward direction, as the mission becomes clearer, the roles become more clearly defined, and the content solidifies.  It’s not always easy — I, like most people, prefer to be comfortable rather than stretched, and it’s tempting to be satisfied “for good” every time we hit a milestone and the dust settles.  But, the incremental point just down the road has always proved to be worth reaching.  And when you get to the place where you can look back on four years, those incremental changes add up to a landscape that is truly astounding.

Change stretches us and sometimes stretching ourselves is what ignites the change.  Change doesn’t have to be a giant leap.  Even the tiniest changes add up to a completely new life — a brilliant horizon.

I am so grateful for change and our path and whatever is ahead.  My life is filled with ups and downs but more ups because I know who is in control and it’s not me.  I’ve learned that when I find out what pleases the Lord and do it, I start to see my path more clearly.  Find out what pleases Him.  Not what pleases everyone around you.  Whatever good is on your heart right this moment, don’t let that escape you.

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Above, doing a high kick to show off my teal heels as I talked about Tieks and how wonderful their client experience is. 

That’s all I have ever been able to do that has never ever failed me: Ask. Seek. Knock. My 3 tips for finding your path:  

1. Ask: Ask Him to guide you.  Talk to God.  Even if you’ve never talked to Him before ever in your life (yes, talking to “air” can be weird at first), He’s pretty much the best listener.  Ask for Him to show you what to do.  Praying and talking to Him in prayer is just like building any other relationship (except God never fails us like all humans can) so it takes time.  Give it time.  First dates can be awkward but a first date can turn into a beautiful marriage and a family after many soulful conversations.

2. Seek:  Read the Bible.  If that sounds overwhelming, just start somewhere small.  Reading Mark is a great quick way to get to know Jesus’s story.  You can also listen to the audio version, which I do a LOT (when I am walking in the morning with Grace, while I clean the house, in the car, etc).  I love the New Living Translation’s audio here.

3. Knock:  Do something.  Act on the good that God puts on your heart.  When you seek Him, he will open doors you never thought possible (and some you didn’t want Him to open), but there are amazing adventures that await you.

Adventures with God, I’m learning, usually mean that you have to give something up — OK, lots of things — so that He can fill you up to the brim with joy unspeakable.

I almost wrote that “it’s not something that can happen overnight” but that’s not correct.  Your life can change in the blink of an eye — literally — when you start choosing Him and seeking Him and saying YES to what matters and letting go of everything else.

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That means letting go of your own plans and finding out what good plans He wants you to step into.  It takes 9 parts total abandon and humility in realizing that your plans may not be the right plans and 1 part taking physical action to choose Him.  That’s not a theologically perfect formula, but that’s sure what it has felt like in my life.  And I think I’m just starting to scratch the surface myself…

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Sometimes — most of the time — God calls us to do radical, big, wonderful things with our lives for Him.  Do what He wants you to do and trust that His plans are way better than ours.  They really are.

After I finished speaking, I felt such immense gratitude and I wanted to pour that out on others.  I didn’t realize how much of a permasmile I had on my face until Anna sent me these photographs yesterday.  There were a lot of hugs (check out the slideshow below and the rest of the photographs) and I could have stayed for hours to talk to people about their hopes and dreams.  God is good.  This joy you see is not from me, it’s from Him.

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Lately I’ve been feeling a deeper awareness of my responsibility to be a light for Him and to let go of self (I have such a long way to go — more than I can explain in a blog post!) and in that crazy big heart challenge (read: tears and praying harder than ever for God to direct my steps and my words), God has been showing me that a deeper joy comes in change.  In stripping away the layers of our comfort for the sake of others.  In admitting that I am so flawed and in dire need of a guide, someone to tell me how to fly right and someone who has gone before me to show me how to serve others, because on my own I’m totally lost.  

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Thank you, Lord, for sending Jesus to show us the way.  He lived the way you want us to live — giving everything away.  Thank you Lord for joy and friends and the ability to share our lives together and learn from each other.

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I learned far more from the amazing people who joined me last Friday than I could ever teach them.  Namely, my friend Kelly.  We weren’t able to catch a great photo together, but the photo above of us hugging is plenty.  Kelly’s presence on Friday was the greatest gift.  She’s been fighting breast cancer and was as radiant as ever.  Kelly, you being there made my year.  You inspire me to no end.

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Ha!  I look like a total goof above.  And no I don’t drink coffee.  I am just grateful to not be living the life I once lived.  That’s why I always say, “God is good.”  I had 8 million doubts and questions and I made so many mistakes (and still do) but He grabbed me by my heart strings and hasn’t let go since.  And He promises that He never will.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Thank you to so many who blessed me with encouragement and your ears to listen last week.  It made a profound impression on my heart and I can’t wait to come back to Atlanta in the fall for more hugs!

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Enormous thanks to the AmericasMart team and to Amanda (above) who found me on social media somehow.  I am so grateful for this experience!

GIVEAWAY: The Instax Mini winner never claimed the prize (I wait 30 days and if it’s not claimed I give it away to someone else!), so I’m giving it away again! Simply leave a comment here telling me what you’re grateful for and how you’ve been changed in the last few years – big or small.  I’ll pick a random winner on August 1!

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Photos by my new lovely friend Anna.

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I had a very vivid dream last night that I was skydiving. But, it was like skydiving + pretty Olympic-style diving mixed together. There were about 30 other people learning to dive with me, all in perfect unison, and I kept jumping way farther out than everyone and I was all sorts of off. I was the only one who couldn’t seem match the flock. We were practicing in a big foam pit and the teacher kept telling me to point my toes and try again.

The most vivid part of my dream was that I wasn’t embarrassed or frustrated by my lack of perfection, despite the perfect synchronization of everyone else in the room. I got up and joyfully — gratefully — happily tried again. I was humbled and grateful to be taught to fly right.

There’s no secret decoding needed for this dream. I have been humbled as of late. Except in real life it has been hard and I’ve cried and I’ve been hurt and seen my ego rear its ugly head. My heart has been challenged and God has been not-so-gently showing me that He wants more of me. A lot more. And I haven’t written about it yet because I don’t have everything figured out. I’m still learning how to dive. But, my fear is turning into flight as I let go and let God show me how. He is changing me. Again.

Pride = about me. Humility = about Him.

God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6 NIV)

Five years ago I was lost and scared and also thought I had it all together. Through so many challenges that seem to come in tidal waves in my life — Ari and I healing our marriage through great humility and acceptance of our faults (and therefore deep forgiveness of each other’s faults), giving birth to Grace, wading through the waters of Postpartum Depression, trying to figure out what my new identity is as a mama, family sickness, and so many other things – I’ve watched God ignite change in me that I never expected. And He is not done and hopefully never will be. I am still very much on the prideful end of the spectrum than I am on the humble end. That’s the humbling part of this. I have most definitely not “arrived.”

I never see these tidal waves coming and then suddenly they wash “me” away. The shore of my heart is left cleaner and fresh and sparkling and ready. But, the tides keep changing and waves keep crashing and slowly but surely, the shells that are carried from the deep blue get smooth and turn to sand. Amazing how the cycles of nature reflect God’s work in our own lives. God, your creation is so beautiful. Thank you for the ocean and these waves in my life. Just when I think you’re done with me, I start to smell that intoxicating salt air again.

lara casey water

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:3-11 NIV)

It’s the “He emptied Himself” part of this text above that gets me. He emptied himself. He made himself the lowest. He gave up everything. He gave His life. He could have just come to earth and made Himself king on a throne, but He humbled Himself to show us how to live. He is not just sitting in a cloud-carried palace in the sky; He knows our pain and that the very hardest thing for us to do as humans is to die to self. So, He did it for us to show us the way.

And so I’ve been asking myself lately, “How do I LIVE this? How do I dive into the life God wants me to live and pour myself out for others like He wants me to? How do I fly right? How can I die to self every day??”

Head >> Heart >> Hands. Our thoughts direct our hearts which direct our actions. With my head and heart in all sorts of new territory lately, I’ve found myself diving into uncharted territory. I’m still in the middle of this tidal wave pouring into my heart, so bear with me here. I’m thinking this wave will keep pouring for a while. And I’m starting to welcome it. When we seek God and ask Him to show us His way, there will always be more waves to wash the shore clean again and, each time a new wave crashes or water laps against the shore, the topography changes, the coast is nourished and new treasures are brought from the sea.

In reading Jen Hatmaker’s Interrupted and her most recent book 7 (which Ari just finished also) and praying and reading the Bible, our lives have most definitely been interrupted in many ways.

I’ve been thinking so much about my own excess. Excess of resources, comfort, food, clothes, and just stuff. I feel like I’ve been letting go of stuff constantly since the tidal wave of Grace’s arrival, but I also keep accumulating more stuff. Bit by bit, God is showing me His heart in this and changing me. We’re working on changing our lifestyle and drastically re-structuring our budget, giving, household and the way we look at our resources.

We planted a garden and have been going to the farmer’s market, stopped using paper towels and I’ve been doing hours and hours of research on everything from organic farming to green living to tomato staking. And we have a long long long — I repeat, LONG — way to go. And here is a lot more to this that what I’m writing — this is just a peek into where my heart is.

But, let me be very clear about these new convictions in my heart. It’s not about following a set of rules that will lead to holiness. It’s about my personal relationship with God and what He wants us specifically to do. Your excess and giving and change may be completely different than mine. It’s not about following rules; it’s about acting from the heart. It’s not about being better than someone else; it’s about being the best version of ourselves.

lara casey garden
Photo by Faith Teasley

The goal: pour ourselves out for others like He did for us. When we have excess it means we’re taking resources away from someone else who needs them. Our excess is showing us how much we have to give.

We’ve started praying and talking more about adoption these last two weeks. We don’t know what God wants of us – whether adopting ourselves, supporting others in adoption, being foster parents, teaching and mentoring orphans… we’re not sure. But, I know it’s something. I’ve found myself up late at night many nights praying for children who have no homes, reading adoption profiles of disabled and older children and waking up in tears. My spirit grieves for the children and I think of these words:

But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.

Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46 NLT)

My motivation is not about eternal punishment, but my love of the Lord. If you’ve gotten this far in this post, I know what talking about my “love for the Lord” may sound like. These kinds of words and phrases used to turn me off and still do when I don’t feel the heart behind them. So to make this a little more real, let me explain:

Say you opened your mail one day to find a bill for $100,000. It’s not a mistake. You spent it all on things to make you “happy.” You can’t pay it and you keep spending, trying to fill a void that cannot be filled. The police knock on your door and say you have to pay now or be taken to jail forever. Stripped from your life, no time to say goodbye to anyone, you are taken to prison. Forever.

A day in prison turns into a week which turns into a month then a year. A very dark year. You worry about your family. You cry all day every day. You feel like you could wither from devastation and the knowledge that this is your life for the rest of your days. You feel hopeless and angry and like there is no way out.

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Photo by Faith Teasley of the Elberta peaches in our garden.

And then suddenly your door is opened and you are let go. You are truly free. Someone has paid your bill. And brought your whole family to you and given you a beautiful second chance. Your jail record is completely erased, no guilt or shame follows you home as you are welcomed back with open loving arms. You are free indeed.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)

Guys, that’s how I felt. I spent all of my heart on things that didn’t matter. I didn’t even realize it until my world started to crumble. Then, God — through pain and challenges and many dark days — came and changed everything. Every single thing. He set me free.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Cor 5:14-15)

His love compels me.

SO, that is why I love the Lord with all I am. He literally saved me from a life that was going nowhere fast. And so the deepest desire of my heart is to show everyone – my mailman, the wonderful women I work with, Grace and Ari, my neighbors, my clients, strangers who comment on my Instagram posts, the old man who walks around the lake at the same time we do every morning, the UPS guy… EVERYONE I can possible come in contact with that God is real and good (even and sometimes especially in challenges) and I could not possibly have orchestrated this change in my heart myself.

I did not make this happen. He did.

I love Him so much for how He has changed my family. So much I can’t even begin to describe it and I want to love Him back with my life. With my actions and the fruit of my work. I’m sitting here at my desk feeling my blood run through my veins just as fast as this tidal wave has crashed in on me and I just want to jump through my screen and pray with you (yes, you) as you read this for whatever is holding you back from diving in too. The water is warm and crystal blue. (By the way, if there is something I can pray for you for please leave a comment here and I’ll do it.)

I hesitated to write this post, knowing it would not be perfectly wrapped up in a pretty bow. So far, you’ve gone skydiving with me, endured a tidal wave and gone to jail : ) How’s that for a Wednesday!? My hope, however, is to simply share with you that He can change everything and make you new. Welcome the tidal waves. Welcome the teacher’s instruction to help you soar. Welcome the new even though change is hard. I’ll leave you with these words that say it all:

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(2 Corinthains 5:17)

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I love the South! I grew up on Chilton County peaches, hot boiled peanuts and Grampa Cecil singing hymns while he tended his tomato plants. My mom raised chickens from the time I was in 4th grade and trips to the feed store were a highlight of my young years. To this day, the smell of corn feed and the sweet sound of baby chicks makes my heart as happy as a pup with two tails! If only our homeowners association was as fond of poultry as I am, I’d have a giant roost packed with bantams and Rhode Island Reds. It’s no secret around these parts that I love my fine feathered friends — as evidenced by the small collection of chicken paraphernalia in my office — so I decided to honored them with a quick and easy summer recipe!

lara casey watermelon

It’s so easy and delicious (and cheap). Simply slice a small seedless watermelon into 1-inch slices. Press your favorite cookie cutters into the melon slices. Drizzle with lime juice and fresh mint, place on a bed of local blues, chill for 20 minutes in the fridge (or as long as you need to get the rest of your summer meal together) and enjoy! We used local melon and blues and mint from our garden. Gracie loved these and kept saying, “Piggie! Chickie! Yummy, mama!”

Happy summer, y’all!

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