Hello, friends! I know it can be challenging to connect through pixels on a screen, but I am a real person typing this and you are a real person reading this : ) So, I’m asking you a question: How are you?

When someone asks that question — and wants to know the real answer, we have a choice. We can either brush it off as casual chit chat and say, “I’m fine,” or take a leap of faith and make an intentional connection. And here’s the key: when I answer someone honestly and tenderly, it gives the other person unspoken permission to do the same. It’s a gift of time and intentional connection. So, let’s do this. Where is your heart? What’s weighting on you today? Leave a response here. I’d love to pray for you and I hope others will join me in prayer and encouragement as well! Why am I asking? Because, in order to leap to what’s next, we first need to know where we are. Know the ground you are leaping from in order to know how to move forward well!

2015-04-05_0003These photos Gina took last weekend make my heart soar!

Okay, I’m a few days late writing this goal update, but progress, not perfection. I have found such freedom in that truth this past month! I hope you have too. If not, begin now. Let go of the guilt and the chase for perfect. Hold fast to the truth and to grace. There is so much joy and peace in knowing we are not in control, but God is. His plans are far better than mine!

My March goals went well through a lot of hard work and God making things happen where I couldn’t (which was pretty much everything on my list). Here is my March update and what’s ahead for April!

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What’s new: Contractions and a basketball under my shirt! Mini baby update: Braxton Hicks (happening as I type this) are revving up and I’m waddling into through the sixth month of pregnancy. I’ve found myself tired and lightheaded a lot, so I’ve been eating beef and spinach at almost every meal. We still have no names picked out, but we finally finished our Amazon registry. This little guy may not have a name, but he will have diapers : )  Other new things: We launched the Southern Wedding Project Life this month, Make It Happen Studio Calico card set, completed our eight-week Dynamic Marriage class (more on that in a minute), celebrated 9 years of marriage, had an inspiring afternoon hosting Lysa TerKeurst and team at my house, and God was so good in lots of events and Bible studies this month including the Making Things Happen Conference, Ladies Bible Bunch, IF Table, our Tuesday study group, and in our church family group that we have been leading for the last eight months. It was a March madness, indeed!

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What’s ahead: Writing a book. That’s the big one — putting up my do not disturb sign and sticking to it. I need your help there too friends. I would cherish your prayers as I say no in order to say YES. Also, PowerSheets and Southern Weddings Planners arrive today (praise the Lord — we had a shipping delay that tried to throw my patience out the window, but God reined me back in!), our second annual team retreat starts this Sunday night, we’re celebrating our birthday, my mom is coming to visit for five days next week to help plant our garden, we will move into our new office space this month, and we are hosting a big Passover Seder tonight with 40 friends.

IMG_6453Same shirt and place as last month; bigger belly : ) 

March PowerSheets Goals updates:

Every time I sit and make time to work through my PowerSheets, I am so grateful I did! I said the same thing last month because it always holds true. The hard work is worth it. A peek at my progress:

  • Begin writing a powerful God-glorifying book two. This didn’t happen, but I now feel more ready. I struggled a lot on March with comparison in writing and not feeling good enough. I also had and still have a lot going on that pulls for my attention around here, making it challenging to write. But! I am ready and can’t wait to dig in now.
  • Host a meaningful MTH Conference. YES! Triple yes! This was the most peace-filled, joyful MTH experience for me — my 45th time leading this workshop. It was just awesome. If you’ve been considering joining us, take the leap and come this November. Early-Bird registration is now open!
  • Finish reading The Best Yes. No. But, I still count this as a win. What I did read was life-changing! Also, getting to spend time with Lysa and team in March was one of the biggest highlights.
  • Diligently complete our Dynamic Marriage class. Yahoo!!! God is so good! This course changed our lives as individuals and the way we do life together! We are actively working on living out what we learned. It was so good. I highly recommend this course.
  • Prayerfully lean my schedule to commit wholeheartedly to writing book two. Yes, this is a daily battle to say “no,” but I’ve made great progress here in pulling back. If I don’t answer your texts or emails for about 12 weeks, this is why! It’s so hard to say no — especially to good things — but what I learned from Lysa’s book is that you have to say a BEST yes. For me, the best yes right now is writing this book!
  • Begin final adoption paperwork. Wow, this goal review now has me wanting to dance. We have officially completed every bit of adoption paperwork and it was a lot of work. Long hours. Lots of prayer. Seemingly endless paperwork. But, knowing the “why” behind all of it made it a joy. Our next step is to submit it all to our adoption consultant and pray about the timing God desires. Whatever He says, we’ll do!
  • Complete and prayerfully move into new office space. As I type this, the finishing touches are happening. I think I’ll be able to move in sometime late tomorrow or Thursday and I CAN’T WAIT. I’ve spent the last six weeks working from Grace’s room, the dining room table, the kitchen counter — wherever I could find space. I am so grateful for how hard our worker bees have worked. More updates and pics coming soon!
  • Celebrate eight years of marriage well. I’ll give a half-yes on this one. We did have a date night for our anniversary. And hilariously enough realized we’ve been married for nine years, not eight, thanks to filling out our adoption paperwork! But, that week we had overcommitted our schedules and felt weary. This was a wake-up call month for us in learning to say no to even time with friends so we can say yes to more rest and family time.
  • Write our plans for all future Bible studies and classes I’m teaching in the next weeks. Didn’t happen as planned, but I did pray for all of them more and each class/study has gone so well, by His grace and not by my own might!
  • GIVE – meet + pray for needs. Yes. I pray to continue this forever, but I am grateful to have been more prayerful in March.
  • Fitness and weights. I started doing weights again every other day. It was hard to stick to, but it happened. I put this on pause last week with MTH making my schedule a little wonky. So, hold me accountable here friends — I plan to get back on it tomorrow morning.

IMG_6454   I took this on my morning walk with Gracie today — the dogwoods are glorious right now!

My April PowerSheets Goals: 

Monthly goals:

  • Write the book. This is my main focus for April, May, and June. If I don’t reply to your emails or texts, it’s because I have to pour into these pages in order to make time for these babies that are coming into our lives soon. I don’t want to have the book still on my list when babies come!
  • Lead a truth-filled April Bible Bunch. Update: done! Last night was awesome.
  • Enjoy a joyful team retreat
  • Be a joyful light to my mom when she visits
  • Plant our veggie + flower gardens. Seeds and bulbs are here, we just need some fresh soil and to get to digging! You can follow the garden progress here.
  • Move into my new office with a “Heaven is my Home” focus — i.e. not focusing on stuff, but rather on doing God’s work in this new space and shepherding this space well.
  • Prepare well for our family vacation next month
  • Host and worship during a meaningful Passover
  • Cultivate fields of gratitude — praise Him!

IMG_6455This is where my PowerSheets have lived the last couple months and it has been working for me — in my closet! I also put a few sheets of scripture that I’m working on memorizing (James and Romans) and a verse that gets my heart prepared for the day.

Weekly/daily goals:

  • Prayerful marriage tending, using all we learned in Dynamic Marriage
  • Sing hymns to Grace/meaningful morning walks
  • Send Encouragement Postcards
  • Heaven is our Home actions — finances (we’re working to cut our family budget in half to save for our adoption) + choices (where we choose to use our resources of time and money and heart)
  • Prayer for team, contentment, friends, and others in their faith and marriages
  • Read some of The Best Yes myself and Shepherding a Child’s Heart with Ari
  • Fitness + weights
  • Rest – sleep and soul rest
  • Get outside — yay for great weather this month!
  • And the big one: Love God’s word.

Fresh links:

  • I shared the story of our marriage crumbling and God doing “the impossible” on the Unveiled Wife
  • Step inside my office and life in Cupcake Magazine’s spring issue
  • There are more, but I’m going with done is better than perfect here! I need to go eat lunch number three : )

Lastly, some encouragement: Where you can’t, God can. I’m holding onto that truth this month!

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  • Happy March, friends! Welcome to a new series I’m starting where I’ll update you on my goals and what’s new around here!

    What’s new: I’ve loved the first part of this year, taking my time setting good goals, growing in friendships (I’ll be teaching a Influence class on friendship this month), spreading our mission with the ladies I work alongside, and watching my book launch unfold. That last part has been surreal and yet peaceful. Many people ask me, “How’s the book doing?” I don’t know. I just pray it is encouraging others. I’ve been intentionally fixing my eyes and heart on what’s in front of me, namely these silly people below. This is normal Gracie behavior, as evidenced by Ari’s non-reaction : )

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    Ari and I have been taking an eight-week Dynamic Marriage class which is intense and so good. We’ve been leading several Bible studies together and trying to keep up with Gracie. How do three-year-old’s have so much energy!? 

    Also new around here: lots of sawdust! (Do you like our paper runway up there in the first pic?) I work from the second floor of our house, in one room, with five other ladies. We’ve been bursting at the seams for space in our little home office, so we’re deep into attic renovations. Till then, this is where the shop is operating from: the (future) nursery.

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    Speaking of the shop, we launched a brand new shop last week! This has been over a year in the making and we are tickled pink. I love our little packing assistant (see the Our Story page)…

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    What’s ahead: I’m starting to write book two this week and growing a human continues. We are also getting anxious about our adoption, but trying to be patient till the end of summer when we will begin the process in full swing. Waiting for something you want is hard, but ripening can happen in times of waiting. We are trusting in that. Also ahead this month is the Making Things Happen Conference, three shoots in Texas for Southern Weddings (I’m not going but the ladies are!), celebrating eight years of marriage (praise Him!), and hopefully getting out in the garden once the snow melts. I can’t wait! We started our seedlings this weekend : )

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    My March PowerSheets Goals: Every time I sit and make time to work through my PowerSheets (more coming this month — hooray!), I am so grateful I did! The hard work is worth it. A big highlight for me is this goal. More March Goals:

    • Begin writing a powerful God-glorifying book two
    • Host a meaningful MTH Conference
    • Finish reading The Best Yes
    • Diligently complete our Dynamic Marriage class
    • Prayerfully lean my schedule to commit wholeheartedly to writing book two
    • Begin final adoption paperwork
    • Complete and prayerfully move into new office space
    • Celebrate eight years of marriage well
    • Write our plans for all future Bible studies and classes I’m teaching in the next weeks
    • GIVE – meet + pray for needs
    • My weekly goals center around prayer, soaking in the Word, and learning from Godly women.

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    Fresh links:

    P.S. CONGRATS to all the Goal Setting Series winners!

    Happy March, friends! What are your goals? Trying anything new this month? 

    Show Comments (18)

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    I want you to know something about this photo. These women aren’t thinking about what they look like. They aren’t thinking about this being posted on the internet two days later or about who will see it. In the eight hours before this photograph was taken, the hearts of these women were changed and so was the source of their smiles. These radiant smiles above aren’t beaming from an emotional or spiritual “high” that will one day wear off — they are beaming from a new joy, my smile included. Real work was done. Walls were demolished. God moved.

    It’s not an easy thing to write about a day that changed you — a day I count as one of the most significant turning points in my life — but I am going try with the small words I have.

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    Twenty-five women gathered in my living room on Saturday for IF Local. We spent a day not experiencing an event or simply watching speakers, but experiencing God’s truth. The thing about Saturday is that the work had already done two-thousand years ago — we just started to believe it and act like it.

    I didn’t expect any of what happened in those eight hours.

    I didn’t even know most (90%) of these women just a few months ago.

    I didn’t think I would do what I did later that evening. At 8:30 that morning, I was carrying shame and guilt and broken pieces. As the day unfolded, I laid them down. All of them. More on that shortly.

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    With the help of some excellent teachers (Jennie Allen, Christine Caine, Jen Hatmaker, Bianca Olthoff, Esther Havens, Ann Voskamp, and more) we studied the story of the Israelites being afraid to enter the promised land, wandering in the dessert for forty years, and then finally trusting God and setting foot on that land — Numbers 13 + 14 and Joshua.

    This story quickly became our story. The Israelites were afraid to enter the promised land. They had been enslaved for generations and had finally been freed. They stood on the edge of the land of milk and honey — abundance. But, they felt the potential dangers ahead were too big. They were paralyzed by fear. They complained and wanted to go back to bondage rather than moving forward. They grumbled and didn’t trust God’s strength, so they wandered in the wilderness for forty years! Forty years. Freedom was too hard to hope for. Do you see where this became our story?

    This is us.

    God says go and we reply, “But, it’s too hard! We’re not strong enough!”

    In a way, we’re right. We aren’t strong enough. But, God is.

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    The walls and doubts and fears started to crumble as we were challenged with these questions:

    What is God calling you to believe?

    What holds you back from believing?

    How do we believe?

    What could happen if we believed?

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    We stand at the edge of freedom and, rather than dive in, we don’t.  The doubts cloud our vision of the promised land: Am I enough? Are we going to be safe? What is it going to cost?

    Encouragement from Jen Hatmaker:

    “We struggle with faith sometimes because God asks us to do hard impossible things that only He can do. Our limits blind us to God’s abilities.”

    “Real faith moves out of our heads and into our lives.”

    “We live out God’s kingdom to the same fullness as we believe in it.”

    “You do not have to have full confidence in yourself, just have it in God.”

    And perhaps the most powerful truth of the day that sunk into all of our hearts:

    “Don’t wait till you have full possession of knowledge before you take full possession of God.” Too often, we believe the lies that we aren’t good enough for God or His purposes because we don’t know enough, haven’t done enough, and we are too broken.  Does that ring true for you? It did for all of us too.

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    We read Joshua 1:1-9. The core of these verses: Be strong and courageous! Move forward.

    Christine Caine challenged us with this question: “What’s dead in your life that you are trying to hold onto? Sweetheart, if the horse is dead, dismount!”

    And this is where my words fail to fully express what happened in my heart as the following truth sunk in: “We are so unhealthily attached to the past. Move forward.” That. That was it for me.

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    I thought I got this grace thing but, I was still carrying around bricks in my heart. I felt like I deserved to carry the bricks so I kept them hidden. I didn’t even realize I was doing this, but that’s the thing about God’s word.

    ‘For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires’ (Hebrews 4:12 NLT).

    I didn’t know I was carrying this weight until reading God’s word exposed it for what it was: carrying lies.

    I had been painfully attached to the past. Chained by the shame of past mistakes, not being “perfect,” having what felt like too many broken pieces, and not understanding how God could love me in my mess.

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    But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”‘ (Ephesians 5:12-14 NIV).

    It was time to wake up! When the truth gets ahold of your heart, there is no turning back. Well, you could go in circles and wander in the wilderness for a while like the Israelites, but I didn’t want to waste any more of my life.

    Believing lies was holding me back from the promised land. Holding me back from doing what God put me on this earth to do. Holding me back from true heart intimacy in my marriage. Holding me back from being the mom God designed me to be. Holding me back from leading boldly. Holding me back from being fully alive.

    “I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid;do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:5-9 NIV).

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    The truth:

    Be strong and courageous, Lara. I am with you.

    Be strong and courageous, Lara. I created you for a reason.

    Be strong and courageous, sisters. I made you on purpose. You are enough and strong in me alone. Not in your knowledge of the Bible. Not in your job titles. Not in your bank accounts. Not in your good deeds. Not in your looks or your accomplishments or your past. Only in me.

    Be strong and courageous, sisters. The promised land is real and good. It’s yours for the taking. Not when you “have it all together.” In me, you have it now and forever.

    As Christine explained, “Courage comes from knowing God is with you. Faith comes from hearing the word of God. The call of God is inconvenient. It will interrupt your life. Get up and set your foot on the promised land. Begin to move. Set your foot on the land.”

    And so, with fear and trembling, I did.

    After the ladies had all gone, I sat with Ari and poured my heart out. Years of pain and unspoken shame and things I didn’t know I was still carrying poured our with my tears. I was ready to move forward and stop living with my past attached to me. Ari spoke truth to me and loved on me and forgave me for carrying this weight alone. In marriage, we are meant to be truly one. And so, in laying down all those bricks, we were.

    I was finally free. Not by anything I had done, but by what Christ had already done on the cross. I finally fully stepped in the water and the river parted.

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    These brave women stepped into the river too. Emails and texts and conversations have been flying since we all left Saturday night. Together, we’re going to keep stepping in to cross over to the promised land. Step by step. Little by little, and with big leaps of faith. Because our days here are short, but long enough to do something that matters — something that lasts longer than us. “We don’t have time to NOT have faith to move mountains.” – Esther Havens.

    We don’t have time to remain in chains.

    We don’t have time to wander in the desert any longer.

    The promised land is before you. Set your foot on the land.

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    Some encouragement that the women in our group wanted me to share with you:

    — “As Jen said, “Don’t wait to take full possession of knowledge of God to take possession of God.” I can’t stop thinking about that! I encourage other women to stop believing the lie that we become disciples of Christ only when we enter into complete and total knowledge of God. Don’t wait! He is ours, and we are His!”

    — “Before IF I had been struggling with believing I enough- I am blessed by words of each speaker. For anyone that didn’t come I would say come with and open heart and be prepared to see God change you. God did a lot of work in our hearts this weekend. God is real. You can make the change. You are enough. Keep going. Strong and faithful servants.”

    — “I’m so thankful that the Lord whispered to each of us to register for IF even if we had no idea what to expect! I really feel like a beautiful sisterhood was stitched together on Saturday and he brought every last one of us to that sisterhood. Let’s also praise God for the unapologetic truth of the speakers- that God does not call us to be comfortable and his ways are not easy…that we are going to battle together as sisters, but that WE ARE ENOUGH. We do have what it takes- YOU have what it takes to do that thing God is whispering you to do, even when you can’t see how it will play out. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other and take one step. then another. then another. Let’s say yes to letting His plans unfold in our lives!”

    — “The consistent message impressed upon my heart yesterday, was not to count on my own abilities but on the power of God.  It is absolutely true that in my flesh, I am not…but God IS.  I know and trust that God can do the impossible but I don’t trust myself.  I am paralyzed with fear that I will fail my God but you know what His love, His truth, His word says to me?  “I WILL NOT FAIL YOU”  God will not fail on His promises.  He has called us all to greatness in His name and He will NOT fail on that promise. It is up to me to trust and obey. God is good.”

    — “One thing I am taking with me today is that I am no longer going to be quiet. I want others to know Him. Like Jennie said, “What if God shows me a slideshow of what I missed?” That caught my attention big time!”

    One of the discussion questions (the discussion times were some of the most fruitful parts of the day for us!) was, “Who is a woman who has personally shaped your faith?” I shared the story of a morning many years ago when, in the mess of my old life, I found a note on my hotel pillow from Nancy Ray. She had written out a prayer and an encouraging scripture for me. Thinking back to who I was then, I’m not sure I personally would have believed that anything could help me turn from my selfish ways. I was so lost. I would have assumed, “She’s too far gone to be rescued.”

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    Nancy didn’t believe that. She believed in God’s abilities, not her own. God continued to use her to mold my faith in profound ways. I am so grateful! And here you go. Finally sharing a few bump pics from Saturday : ) She’s due with her first in May and I’m due with #2 in July.

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    When I was seven months pregnant with Grace, Nancy put her hands on my belly and prayed for Grace’s little life. Right at the end of the prayer, Grace gave Nancy’s hands a swift kick, as if to say, “Amen, Nancy!” Nancy’s presence in my life so beautifully illustrated what we learned on Saturday: it’s not about us, it’s about who God is.

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    We closed the day reading about Joshua and the Isrealites crossing the Jordan River. God tells them to step into the river and He promises to make a way. But, first they must step in, have faith, and trust in what seems impossible.

    So, they did.

    They stepped in.

    The waters parted.

    They crossed on dry ground in the middle of the once-rushing river.

    As Joshua and the Israelites did, we marked our day with river rocks as a symbol of God’s faithfulness. We, along with thousands of women all over the world who gathered for IF Local, wrote our next step of faith on these rocks.

    And, as for me, I stepped in and God parted the waters. I went back and wrote that note above to remember — February 7th, 2015 — FREEDOM!

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    “Thank you” is too small to offer to the IF team. Thank you for letting God use you! If you missed IF, you can pre-order the replay here. I just ordered it myself to re-watch.

    Thank you to the women who shared the day with me. I am so grateful for each of you! Be strong and courageous, sisters!

    Photographs by Nancy Ray.

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    I am writing this in awe! I just finished the last steps of my PowerSheets prep — reviewing everything I have written during this month of prayerful preparation and then writing my 2015 goals. This process was hard and so worth it. It took focus and checking my heart with God on every word I wrote on these pages. It took pushing myself outside my comfort zone to be bold in writing these goals — bold for a purpose that is bigger than me. It took hushing the hustle and killing the distractions (fear, insecurity, and seeking escape when I didn’t want to write the words that God had for me). It took time. It took putting my headphones on at my desk and playing some great music. Most of all, it took making a mess. Case in point….

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    A tip! I’m going to add this to the 2016 PowerSheets, but wanted to share it with you to hopefully help you today. As you review all you’ve written, go through and highlight, underline, mark, star, or circle the things that really jump out to you. This was so helpful for me to identify themes and meaningful points as I moved towards writing goals at the end. I also added to what I wrote as I went along. Make a mess!

    If you are just joining us for this series, it’s never too late to begin! February 1 is my January 1, so feel free to join me:

    2015 Goal Setting, Part 1: Good Things 

    2015 Goal Setting, Part 2: What Didn’t Work + What I Learned

    2015 Goal Setting, Part 3: Saying Yes, Saying No

    2015 Goal Setting, Part 4: Get Radical + Sing Loud

    2015 Goal Setting, Part 5: Set Good Goals

    When I got to writing my goals today, I felt surprisingly clear. It was hard work to commit to writing them down, but the things that are most fruitful in my life have come out of times of struggle. They’ve come out of hard work and stepping into the uncertain or uncomfortable. It’s in those times that I am given an opportunity to either control and restrict, or let go and let God. There is endless freedom in the latter! Finally writing these goals, after this month of working hard and doing this process more intentionally than I ever have, was an unexpected JOY. It left me here in awe — in praise! Below: where I am right now writing this to you. I love that sweet little daffodil from our floral class yesterday. I stopped about 16 times to smell it as I pushed through in writing my goals.

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    Choosing to make February 1 my January 1 was a great decision. I encourage you to take time to do this well, too. But, also be encouraged to work hard and push through. As I shared in the PowerSheets live broadcast this week, give yourself a deadline. I know we don’t like that “d” word, but digging in to purposeful goals and prayerful planning has the potential to change your life. I don’t say that lightly. I am sitting here today having done the work and I am fired up about helping you move forward, too! The hard work will be worth it.

    In the next post, I’ll be sharing how I plan to take action on these goals and some tips on action steps. For now, though, here are my 2015 Goals! I connected scripture to each and began each goal with an active verb, instead of “I want.”

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    I got the print above (that is now hanging on my wall) from this talented artist. I love it!

    1.  Seek (my 2015 word!) the Lord deeply above all else and before all else. Why? Because all other paths lead nowhere and because I need God to direct my steps or I get far off-track. Because I am innately selfish. Because I don’t have the answers, but He does. Because I want to do this life well and live on purpose. SO many reasons!

    Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always. 1 Chronicles 16:10-11

    2. Raise God-loving children who want to love and live praising Him! Why? Because Grace and these children are His and we want to honor and cherish those gifts. Because we want our children to know the freedom and joy we have in Him.

    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life…”  John 16:24

    Train a child up in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

    Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Duet 6:4-7

    3. Bring many to know the Lord’s heart and life-giving transforming truth. Why? Because God is life and I know what it feels like to live without Him. I am passionate about sharing His story and how He has changed us!

    I could choose so many scriptures for this, but will stick with Psalm 118.

    4. Use every part of my work for Him — internally as a leader and in all we do. Why? Because He didn’t give us this business and work just for fun, He gave it to use for a bigger purpose. Because our work or encouraging marriages matters. Because, though we are imperfect, God can use our surrendered hearts and hands. Because I don’t want to waste my life or talents. Because I only have one life on this earth to encourage others to what matters! Because we are blessed to be a blessing.

    And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col 3:17

    5. Live a marriage and family that deeply pleases Him. Why? Because when we are strong together, we are stronger for everyone around us. Because being strong together means first being close to the Lord. Because it’s God’s will that we would honor Him in our marriage and family. Because we love Him!

    A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Proverbs 31:10

    But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15

    6. Be a faithful humble leader, working heartily for the Lord in our family group, Bible Bunch, small groups, Bible studies, in our business, in leading Grace’s heart in our household — in all things! Why? Because these aren’t “responsibilities,” they are they are hearts. Because God has chosen these things for our life and we want to do them well to honor Him and encourage many!

    Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men. Col 3:23

    I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Eph 4:1-2

    Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:10-13

    7. Listen and learn from wiser sisters and be completely humble and gentle so that God can dig into my heart as I listen and learn. Why? So I grow closer to God. I need to keep learning and growing and practice a deep humility.

    Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray. Proverbs 10:17

    8. Encourage others in truth and in love. Why? Because that is the gift I believe God has given me. I feel hesitant in owning that, but I know that not acknowledging that gift is shrinking away from potential good.

    We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. Romans 12:6

    Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thess 5:11

    9. If it’s God’s will, write a book to encourage marriages — to break down barriers. Why? My why is pretty simple here and at the same time totally overwhelming and scary. Because God told me to. I feel insecure and not equipped, but God keeps bringing Moses to mind. Moses wasn’t equipped, but God gave him the words. I am putting my faith in that!

    My verse for in starting this process and seeking wisdom on what to write: If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5

    UPDATED: After much prayer, I’m writing about a totally different subject! So grateful for answered prayer and clarity about what I’m supposed to write. Can’t wait to share soon!

    10. Know that ALL we have is fully the Lord’s. May we give it all away for Him! Why? This has been on my heart for the last couple years and God keeps pulling me to more fully surrender. I am praying on this and ready.

    Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Cor 9:7

    And then… right as I finished writing these goals, this song came on. It’s completely my heart for this year. This is my song for 2015 : ) I need thee every hour, indeed!

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    Photo above from ZimZoomPhoto, from the Carolina Inn Bridal show last weekend.

    I don’t know what the Lord has ahead for us this year, but my prayer is that in seeking Him above all else, I will have my heart wide open to what comes. I want to listen. I want to trust. I want to go and do what He has for us.

    The giveaway for this post is a real good one. I haven’t done this in several years, but as encouragement for those who go through this process and complete all the steps in the series, you’ll be entered to win a seat to the Making Things Happen Conference for you or for a friend if you are already registered. YES! I am SO excited for whoever wins this! This giveaway is for a full ticket to the conference (An $1800 value), and does not include travel and accommodations. In order to be entered for this prize, I encourage you to go through all the steps and comment on each post. I’m extending all the giveaways on each post until February 16th to help you have time make some great progress! Remember, progress, not perfection : )

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    You can win multiple times throughout this series and you can increase your chances of winning by:

    – Commenting on this post to share your thoughts – my goal in these giveaways is to get you to make some progress on meaningful goal setting! : )
    — Pinning this post or any in the series
    – Instagramming any graphic with a link back here to this post or future posts
    – Sharing this series on Facebook or Twitter
    – Blogging or in any way sharing this post/series
    – For all entires, link back here to www.LaraCasey.com/blog and use the #2015GoalSetting hashtag. You are welcome to use graphics from my posts!
    – Lastly, leave a comment saying you did any of the above. You can enter as many times as you like on all posts!

    Lastly, thank you! Thank you for joining me on this journey. I am overjoyed by how this process has gone for me personally! Taking this little by little has been worth it and I am praying you find the same is true for you. Get messy and make it happen, friend! More to come on action steps soon in the next post…

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    Before we dig into Goal Setting, I have something encouraging to share. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to share a photograph of a plant with you (stay with me here!), and if you see me around this plant in person, I’m sure you would think I was a wee bit overjoyed about this little guy. BUT! Let me tell you why this is one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever laid eyes on. You see, six years ago, this plant was dead (or so I thought). Have you ever seen a shriveled up brown stemless orchid? Probably not, because it’s really hard to kill one of these things. But, if you’ve read my book or have known me for a while, you know that I was once really good at killing plants. That orchid I wrote about on page 143? Yep, that’s this little guy. He sat in our office bathroom for four years, only getting watered maybe once every other month, if that. There was no green in these leaves. Not a spot of life. In fact, I almost threw him away.

    But, God…

    Then, God got ahold of my heart. He showed me how addicted to instant gratification I had become in buying plants and things I had no intention of caring for. This wasn’t just about plants — this was how I treated my life. God began breaking me down to build me back up, new and changed. Over the last two years (!), I’ve watered, tended, fertilized, re-potted, pruned, and watched daily for any signs of life. If God could bring my marriage back to life, perhaps He could revive this neglected plant too. So, my friend, this little golden yellow and hot pink bloom is wildly exciting for me! God is real and faithful and this healthy very-alive thing reminds me multiple times a day that the impossible is possible. It’s such a beautiful symbol of how He has worked in me and our family. The impossible is possible. This is true for every part of your life too. God can take what appears lifeless and give it new life!

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    Also, in jest I mention trying out a Chia pet in my book if you want to give easy plant-growing a try. I strike that thought. We got Grace a Chia kitty as a potty training prize and it looks so awkward. It’s only barely sprouting on it’s belly. I can grow a garden, but Chia pets are not my forte ; )

    Okay, on to Goal Setting! If you are just joining us for this series, it’s never too late to begin! February 1 is my January 1, so feel free to join me:

    2015 Goal Setting, Part 1: Good Things 

    2015 Goal Setting, Part 2: What Didn’t Work + What I Learned

    2015 Goal Setting, Part 3: Saying Yes, Saying No

    2015 Goal Setting, Part 4: Get Radical + Sing Loud

    Welcome to Part 5. I am excited about this and double excited about the giveaways that accompany this particular post. But, first. My answers from Part 4:

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    I asked myself these questions: What is the big picture? If I were to live out my most purposeful year in 2015, what would that look like? Where do I want to be when I’m 80?

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    Here’s what I wrote in my PowerSheets:

    My most purposeful year yet would be a year of spending all of me and being hour-to-hour refilled ALL for and by God. It will, Lord willing, be a year of SEEKING Him out of love for Him — seeking His word — His truth,  It will be, Lord willing, a year of letting go of our comforts to give sacrificially to others, trusting that all of our true treasure and reward are in Heaven.

    Why? Because otherwise I’m wasting what God gave me and ignoring the leading of the Holy Spirit. I want to go and do.

    When I’m 80, I want to have raised God-loving children, brought many to know God’s true heart, been a wife of noble character, and have been changed by Him into the woman He desires me to be. I want my faith to be as strong as my friends Tijuana, Thom and Bek, and Carol and Brian. I want to have given all of me in praise for Him!

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    My radical is stepping into having two babies this year, one (Lord willing) through birth and one through adoption. I know that will require radical trust in God’s strength and letting go of my own life.

    Another radical for me will be writing my second book. I have to finish it before I give birth, so I feel a positive pressure to get moving and get the message of this book down on paper. More to come on that in the next post.

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    I have been searching high and low for a song that feels right, but I haven’t found just one. Last year my song was Oceans, because I felt so pulled to step into the deep I-must-give-all-my-trust-to-God waters of adoption. This year, I’m still seeking my song. A few that I love (worth clicking over and reading the lyrics) are:

    I Love To Tell the Story – This is my heart for this year — to keep telling His story.

    Victory in Jesus – We sang this at Bunny’s memorial service and I sing it almost every morning with Grace. It encourages me greatly! The victory has already been won.

    Hide Me – a favorite for years.

    I’ll report back when I find the one song that fits best.

    lara casey nothing is impossiblea little reminder above from me to you : ) 

    Here are your next steps!

    How many of you have ideas about your goals as we’ve gone through this series and you are already overwhelmed or anxious about HOW to make them happen? You want all of your goals to have been tackled yesterday. This series is an exercise in patience and doing things little by little to produce lasting results. If you are feeling overwhelmed, we’re about to dive into some clear waters as we set goals that have meaning. Because, you know what? The journey to making those things happen is where the good stuff lives. Your goals may change half-way through the year or you may make them happen faster than you think if you take it day by day by day. This is about progress, not perfection. I know you overachievers want to have done everything yesterday, but I have also been reading every single comment on this series. Taking this step by step is helping many of you make remarkable discoveries! I’m so pumped by all the lightbulbs I see going off! Little by little, babies grow. Can you imagine if we got pregnant and the next day have birth to toddlers?? We wouldn’t be ready and we would have missed so much sweetness. It is the same with our goals. They matter enough to make them happen well.

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    First off, review. This is important. Get the big picture crystal clear in your mind and heart before you write your goals. Read through everything you’ve done so far. Read every word. Re-write or add to things if you need to. I added to my lists and re-wrote things after going through this process because I got more clarity. Cross stuff out, revise things, add to your lists of what did and didn’t work (I added a ton to mine!). Add more to your YES and NO lists. Refine your 2015 Pinterest board. Take pins out that don’t fit well. Refine everything and get CLEAR before moving to the final exciting step…

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    Yeah, yeah, yeah! You’ve made it! Like I told you from the start of this process, traditional goal setting does not work for me. Swiftly-made resolutions get forgotten and then they linger and make you feel guilty for forgetting them. Anyone else ever experience this? Well, hopefully at this point you feel more equipped than when you started this process to write some down good goals. Goals that mean something. Goals that are very clear and will help you live on purpose. So, let’s do it!

    Four helpful tips:

    1. Review! Read through all of your progress again so you have all of it fresh in your mind.  Don’t set goals before you do that step above!

    2. Make a list of the first goals that come to your mind for this year when right after you review everything you’ve written. I suggest taking a big deep breath and putting on your 2015 song as you start writing goals. These don’t have to be perfectly written — just write what first comes to mind.

    3. Then, check your goals to make sure they are really good goals. It’s so easy to make goals that sound good or goals that other people have that you think you should have, too, just to keep up. Don’t do that. The idea here is for you to SIMPLIFY your life, not to give yourself a new to-do list of random things that sound good. Be very specific and careful about what you decide to spend your time on this year.

    Do a GOAL CHECK and ask these questions:

    - Will this goal help me live on purpose?

    - Does this goal also help other people?

    - WHY would I spend my time on this goal?

    If the answer is NO to that first question, then it’s possible it’s not the best use of your precious time. Don’t run in circles with goals that don’t directly connect to what matters most. Get specific. Focus on what really matters to you in the big picture. Cross goals out that don’t 100% fit. Revise goals that are not clear. Be bold and take leaps of faith as you write.

    4. This is the most important key to goal setting. Write down your WHY with every goal. When I was a personal trainer in New York for many years, most clients would come to me with a number and say, “I want to lose 10 pounds.” I would ask them, “WHY 10 pounds?” Usually, when we got down to it, it was just an arbitrary number, or a weight they were in college. There was no real heart connection to the goal of losing 10 pounds. But, when we dug deeper into why they became out of shape in the first place and what they wanted most in life, a picture of true fitness started to emerge. Instead of, “I want to lose 10 pounds because that’s what I weighed in college” (not very motivating and more self-defeating), we worked on goals like, “I want to be healthy and strong so that I can live long enough to walk my daughter down the aisle. I want to live a long, happy life so I can be a better husband and show my kids how to be joyful and healthy, too.” That works. That is motivating. SO, get real with WHY you want these things to happen and connect them to something that really matters to you. It will help you ACT on your goals instead of toss them aside.

    I’m going to share my final 2015 goals in the next post. When you are ready, leave yours here in the comments on this post or the final post coming soon!

    Some encouragement: the good you do today has the potential to change generations. You never know how long you have left here on this earth to love others and change them for the better in that love. That’s why setting good goals and having a clear focus is so important. Life is to short and too meaningful to coast through. Take your time writing down your goals. Pray on them and talk them out with people you trust. I cannot wait to hear yours and cheer you on! HOORAY!!!

    LARA-CASEY-2014-GOAL-SETTING-WIN

    The prizes for this post are possibly the best I could ever give to you. Financial stress is one of the biggest factors I have felt myself in the past and one of the biggest things I’ve seen holding many people back. I want you to know that, no matter how deep your debt or mistakes you’ve made in the past with money, it’s possible to change things. It really is. These prizes below are tools that have brought Ari and me priceless peace. My prayer is that the winners are as changed as we have been by them. Without further ado, today’s prizes are:

    1. A session with Will Ray, who has been a friend and mentor to me for several years. His financial coaching has helped us pay off more personal debt than we thought possible in a short time and Will has also changed the way I look at my business finances. I no longer feel overwhelmed by numbers. Wow, that is crazy to say! Will’s guidance equipped me to make smarter decisions.

    2. A copy of Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. If you’ve read my book, you know Dave’s classic book changed the game for us. A must-read.

    3. A full nine-lesson Financial Peace University online course. I wish I could gift this to everyone I know!

    2015-goal-setting-giveaway-laracasey-financial-peace-will-ray

    You can win multiple times throughout this post series and you can increase your chances of winning by:

    – Commenting on this post to share your thoughts
    — Pinning this post or any in the series
    – Instagramming any graphic with a link back here to this post or future posts
    – Sharing this series on Facebook or Twitter
    – Blogging or in any way sharing this post/series
    – For all entires, link back here to www.LaraCasey.com/blog and use the #2015GoalSetting hashtag. You are welcome to use graphics from my posts!
    – Lastly, leave a comment saying you did any of the above. You can enter as many times as you like on all posts! I’m going to choose some extra winners along the way, too, for some special surprises : )

    P.S. I shared some thoughts here on needing a fresh start. Do you need a fresh start? Already feeling off-track this year? This is for you.

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    P.P.S. We found out this week that we are having a boy : ) We are grateful and have begun to pray about names. I share this with such a different heart than I did with Grace, though. I know baby news isn’t the easiest for many and have felt that pain in my own small way. We know this child is His, not ours. May the sharing of this little life bring Him honor. I don’t know how exactly that will play out yet, but that is my prayer. I am tearing up typing this to you. I haven’t written to him before this very moment. Son, we love you. God loves you. May your life bring Him great joy.

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    Welcome back, friends! The last week has been unexpected in many ways. I blocked off time to write this post on Wednesday afternoon and, come 3pm, morning sickness knocked me out. I never know when the tiredness or nausea will hit, so it’s been humbling to let go of control. Although, with two littles joining us this year, this is a tiny foreshadowing of what will likely be a lot of letting go ahead. So, I am extra grateful for the gift of being able to write to you right now. Hi : )

    If you are just joining us, you aren’t too late to get started on 2015 Goal Setting! There is nothing magical about January 1st. In fact, I’ve deemed February 1st as my January 1st. Feel free to join me in taking this time to plan intentionally, little by little. My desk right now, working through my PowerSheets and the book together…

    lara casey goal setting desk

    Dig into these posts below and have fun! There are great giveaways with each post to give you a little extra motivation.

    2015 Goal Setting, Part 1: Good Things 

    2015 Goal Setting, Part 2: What Didn’t Work + What I Learned

    2015 Goal Setting, Part 3: Saying Yes, Saying No

    Welcome to Part 4. I am excited about this! But, first. My answers from Part 3:

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    These are not in order of importance, but this is the order they came to mind as I wrote, which told me a lot about where God is leading me. I’m saying NO to:

    Feeling stuck. If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you know I’ve been challenged by a lot of new “normals.” I like to be prepared in life, but I was not prepared for all that comes with launching a new book + having morning sickness knock me out most days + my regular workload and parenting. So, I’ve struggled a bit with feeling paralyzed by it all, which led to some in-action and in-decision. Ultimately, it led me to me knees to ask God for help. This has taught me that only He can get me unstuck and help me navigate new waters.

    STUFF. I wrote this in capital letters on purpose. My friend Joshua’s story, reading 7, being challenged by scripture, and the amount of time I spend organizing and cleaning throughout the year led me to see that the more I have, the more I have to manage. More stuff = more time. No matter how much I don’t buy or how much I seem to clear out, it still feels like too much as I grow more aware of the needs all around me. The more I have, the less someone else has. We are blessed to be a blessing and we can’t take any of our stuff to Heaven with us. For those who have read my book, you know this has been a continual process in my heart of letting go — not accumulating coupled with giving sacrificially. God’s not done with me yet here. I have a long way to go, but I’m ready to dig deeper.

    Focusing any energy on self-glorifying things. Caring about likes, comments, or people liking me. I want to make Jesus famous. NO to me, YES to Him.

    Believing that I can. God works all the good in me and I want to direct all the praise to Him.

    Believing the lie that God can’t. He can do anything. He is God.

    Wasted time. In feeling yucky lately, I’ve found myself tempted to distractions instead of going straight to the source of comfort, God alone.

    Judging myself. Self-reflection is good. Aligning our lives with God’s word and being convicted by that is very good. But, condemning myself is not good. Only God can define my worth, so I want to look to Him alone, especially when I feel like I’ve “failed” or fallen short.

    Comparison. I feel pretty resolute on this one, but felt the need to list it regardless, as it tries to creep up every now and then.

    I want to write this one in neon. I say no to believing the lie that God is done working on my character and on our marriage. There are times I fall into the trap of believing that lie and I know that’s not from God. Ari and I had a needed conversation last week about where we feel God wants our marriage to be and it reminded me of the impossible change He has and continues to make happen in our lives. My prayer is that God keeps bringing us closer to His heart as individuals so we can continue to be stronger as a couple, and therefore be prayerful God-loving parents and an example to others of God’s grace.

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    In light of all the things I’m saying NO to, here’s what landed on my YES list:

    SEEKING Him in everything (more on that in a minute)— not being lazy in running fiercely after the changes God has ahead.

    An abundance of open Bible time and pouring my heart out in prayer.

    Sowing into friendships and supporting others generously to share God’s unselfish love. In this category are a lot of dear friends that I want to love fiercely, including our brothers and sisters in our Family Group from church that Ari and I lead together. This is us below last night. It was so good to get back together after the holidays and all commit to this being a year of deep closeness as we walk through life together. I love these people.

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    Honoring all others above myself.

    Deeply challenging our finances to give it all away to build His kingdom. That’s a big one this year. Perhaps the one thing I feel God pulling me most to and the one thing that feels the biggest, scariest, and most exciting all at the same time.

    Gratitude. Praise. Times infinity.

    Saying yes to the Holy Spirit’s leading — whether in speaking the truth in love to someone, praying for a friend even when it feels awkward at first, sharing my faith with someone I’ve never met or someone I’ve known for years, and doing the things I know He wants me to do.

    Listening to the Word (I love the audio Bible’s on YouVersion — the NLT translation audio is great), worship music (I need more music in my life), and truth-filled sermons.

    Yes to believing that God has done greater things than help two flawed people raise three children! This is Grace today, talking to the baby, telling it what she wants to name it. Today it was “nacho.”

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    Yes to whatever you have for me, Lord.

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    My word hit me as I was reading this verse in Matthew one morning:

    But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:34 NIV).

    To give this a whole lot more context and meaning, read the verses that lead up to that. Just wow. Jesus teaches about giving to the needy, prayer, true treasure, and then He teaches about worry, telling us to seek God above all else and therefore… do not worry about tomorrow.

    All of the subjects in Matthew 6 have been on my heart lately. I’ve worried about how my life will change with our growing family. I’ve worried about how our marriage will change. I’ve wondered what it looks like to give sacrificially and to truly meet others needs in the way God desires. In that, I’ve been thinking about earthly “treasure” and true treasure and trying to do something about it. I’ve been needing God’s wisdom and desiring a closer relationship with Him. And then, He gave me the answers:

    Seek God. Do not worry.

    So, the word I feel God putting right in front of my face for this year is SEEK.

    Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. – 1 Chron 16:10-11

    But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. – Deuteronomy 4:29

    Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. – Psalm 9:10

    In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. – Psalm 10:4

    One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. – Psalm 27:4

    You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. – Psalm 61:3

    But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, “The Lord is great!” – Psalm 70:4

    I could go on — there are so many beautiful scriptures that point to seeking Him as the source of life.

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    Now, into the next steps! Take your time and feel free to share your answers below to encourage others too. There’s a great giveaway to encourage you to get your thoughts written out! Go back and review everything you’ve written so far, then answer the following questions: If you were to envision your most purposeful year yet, what would it look like? Where do you want to be when you’re 80? Answering these was life-altering for me this year! I’ll share my answers in the next post.

    2015-goal-setting-lara-casey-radical

    Do something radical this year.  For those of you in my generation, this doesn’t mean Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure kind of radical. I mean the kind of radical that changes everything for the better. That thing that has been set deep in your heart. That thing that scares you. That thing that feels impossible right now. That thing that you know would help you and everyone around you.

    Radical literally means very new and different from what is traditional or ordinary. ‘If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten‘ – Tony Robbins. Do something different this year, something that feels bigger than you. Imagine the possibilities if you do! You get to define what your radical means to you.  Maybe it’s big like finally getting out of debt or starting a personal budget or getting healthy. Maybe it’s finally going on that mission trip or writing that email or starting that business. Maybe it’s saying “no” to something or simply and profoundly choosing to be more still this year. Before you get completely overwhelmed (I know I just dove into deep waters here with you!), here this: start small. The core principle behind what I’ve taught at the Making Things Happen workshop for the last 6+ years is this: begin anywhere.  Little by little, make it happen. Your task here is to define your very first tiny small little itty bitty action step towards making that thing happen.

    So, what is your “radical”? Define it. Write it in black and white and let it marinate in your big beautiful heart. And then DO something about it. Something very small.  Sometimes — most of the time — the hardest part is starting. The rest of the pieces can come later. Define your radical now. Share it here and let’s support and pray for each other. I will share mine in the next post, too.

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    Okay, those last two steps were admittedly challenging, though likely the most fruitful. So, here’s an easy one. Choose a song for this year! A song that lights your heart on fire and makes you feel alive and connected to what you want most. Music has the ability to connect us to what matters most in an instant. Music can lift us out of a slump fast. Music can fill our should with goodness on days that nothing else seems to get to our hearts. Share your song for 2015 here, too! I’m still hunting for one and can’t wait to hear yours.

    lara casey shop office refresh

    The giveaway for this post is a good one. Win a $100 home or office refresh from the shop! You get your pick of anything that’s in stock!

    You can win multiple times throughout this post series and you can increase your chances of winning by:

    – Commenting on this post to share your thoughts
    — Pinning this post or any in the series
    – Instagramming any graphic with a link back here to this post or future posts
    – Sharing this series on Facebook or Twitter
    – Blogging or in any way sharing this post/series
    – For all entires, link back here to www.LaraCasey.com/blog and use the #2015GoalSetting hashtag. You are welcome to use graphics from my posts!
    – Lastly, leave a comment saying you did any of the above. You can enter as many times as you like on all posts! I’m going to choose some extra winners along the way, too, for some special surprises : )

    Speaking of special surprises, I’ll leave you with this below. (And I am doing a happy dance in my chair for being able to get through writing this post to you today!) I’m so grateful to my publisher for generously donating 500 copies of my book to the Influence Network’s next book club. Get your free copy and all the details here!

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    Go make what matters happen, friends. I am cheering you on!

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    Welcome back to 2015 Goal Setting! Anyone else get the heebee-jeebees hearing the words “goal setting?” Then, you are in the right place, my friend. We’re doing this differently. We’re taking our time. We’re taking big leaps. We’re making what matters happen, little by little. If you are just joining us, you aren’t late to the party — there is nothing magical about January 1! Here are Part 1 and Part 2, for your reading pleasure. Enjoy and have fun working through each step! Now, onto Part 3. We have lots of fun things to cover today.

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    First, you should know this: February 1 is my January 1. Who has time to set good goals in the rush of December? Okay, perhaps some do, but I am not one of them. January is my time (and our time as a team) for preparing well, intentionally, thoughtfully, and most of all — prayerfully. Yesterday, we did the PowerSheets prep as a company and it was awesome. We modified some questions to answer collectively, but it was just what we needed to kick off this year and a month of purposeful goal setting together. We are going to work through the goal setting action plan sheets at our staff meeting next week so we take our time doing this well. A peek from our meeting yesterday…

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    I’m working through the book action steps and my PowerSheets prep, as well as my inbox. I shared this on Instagram yesterday, but I was largely unprepared for a book launch. I’ve never done this before and had no idea what to expect. It has been a blessing and I am so grateful God has used the book to encourage others. My inbox has been a challenge, though. Email is just decisions that need to be made, so I’m in overdrive on decision-making over here : ) Yesterday, I had every intention to write this post, but I had to throw up my white flag and remember that the goal of this year, and every year, is progress and purpose, not perfection — letting God define my expectations. I am praying the same for you, friends! It’s so freeing to let go.

    Okay, let’s do this! First up, I hope you all have enjoyed doing some of the things that fire you up from the last post. Here is my list I wrote out below (just a few of the many things), and I’d love to hear yours too!

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    A few more to add:

    • Writing these posts and being real about where I need to grow — being humbled — fires me up.  I feel closest to God when I am humbled.
    • Our mission at Southern Weddings — and in all we do — fires me up beyond words. The ladies I work alongside also fire me up. They are the bees knees.
    • My editor, which is a seemingly-small term for what she really is in my life. She prayed for me and with me throughout my entire book process. She called me today just to encourage me and pray for me on the phone. She is on my list of top three women who inspire me to love Him wholeheartedly.
    • God’s power to change anything. He cam make the impossible happen.
    • Praying for others and watching God answer prayers in ways I never expected.
    • Doing pirouettes in my living room when no one is watching : )
    • A moment or conversation with Ari where I remember and feel our shared heart. That shared heart was born of a man who died on a cross so we could be free. So we could forgive each other. So we could be forgiven. So we could be completely washed in grace and made new and whole again. That heart is the greatest gift we’ve been given. It saved our marriage and changed who we are as people.
    • Grace’s joy. She sings constantly and will dance at the drop of a hat. I love that girl!
    • And a note on that last line in my hand-written list above. A friend emailed me after reading my book and asked how you know when you’ve made “it” happen. My answer, in short, is that “it” is choosing God. Every time I surrender, am humbled, and choose to act on God’s leading — no matter how hard — to me, that’s making what matters happen. And often I feel it. I feel a deep peace when I choose Him. It’s continual, not a one time event. We never arrive and then stop, we keep choosing Him. I hope that encourages someone else out there to know that chasing what the world says is success will lead you in circles, but choosing God will lead you to the very best places — to far more than we can ask or imagine. That fires me up!
    • There’s so much more, but I want to hear from you now! Leave your list in the comments so we can inspire each other. I love hearing what light people’s hearts on fire.

    Onward! Here’s where things get fun. You now know what did work over the last twelve months, what didn’t work and what fires you up. You learned some very valuable lessons in all of this. So, what are you saying NO to in the coming year and starting today? Make a list of all of the things that are holding you back (or could potentially hold you back) from making your purposeful year happen. Write your list of what you are saying NO to in 2014.

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    With everything you have written down thus far in mind (I suggest reading over all of your progress again), what are you going to need to say YES to more often in order to live on purpose in 2015? Write your list of what you are saying YES to in 2014. Think big picture here, and write down the things you are afraid to dive into, too. There is great potential hiding in your fear. I encourage you to post your YES List publicly here and/or share it with friends to help inspire others and to keep yourself accountable. I think you will all likely NOT be writing Facebook or more social media on this list. Just a guess.

    I’ll be sharing my NO and YES lists with you in the next post. Remember: saying NO to one thing means you are saying YES to something potentially better.

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    –> PowerSheets owners and book friends, just a reminder that the steps in this series won’t exactly match what you have, as you have more steps! I’m sharing pieces of the process in hopes they spark your own progress : )

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    BONUS STEP! Pick a core word for 2015. What one word really resonates with you for the year ahead? What word pulls together all that you want to make happen? Think hard about this. I’ll share mine in the next post. Research words that resonate with you. Pray on it. Then, write your word here in the comments (and give a virtual high five to those who might have the same word as you — we are bound to have some shared words!). Then, write that word in prominent places so you are reminded of your focus this year. Put it on a post it in your car. Put it on a post it literally inside of your fridge (I have a post-it in my fridge!). Make it your computer desktop. Write it anywhere and everywhere to remind you of where you are going!

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    PRIZES FOR THIS POST: Read Part 1 for all the ways you can win! Three randomly chosen commenters on this post (or those who share this series) will get a set of 2015 Encouragement Postcards from the shop! These have been super popular and that makes me grateful because it means a lot of encouragement is going around : )

     

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    P.S. Our Flash Sale is on — now till midnight! Use the code FRESHSTART2015 for 20% off all prints and desk cards + check out our “perfectly imperfect” sale : )

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    Hi, friends! Welcome back to Part 2 of 2015 Goal Setting. If you are new, be sure to read Part 1 here to get started. And friends, remember this truth: there is nothing magical about January 1. The best day to begin is TODAY.

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    In Part 1, we talked about what went well and what we were grateful for in 2014. I am so encouraged by the thoughts you shared on the last post and by the dozens of blog posts that have been written with such passion, honesty, and intentionality about the coming year. Y’all are in this with your whole hearts and that gets me fired up even more! Let’s keep going, shall we?

    What didn’t work in 2014? Honesty time! And before you do this step, remember not to beat yourself up here. I know you want to make this your best year yet. The past is behind you. The old has gone, the new has come! Just list some facts here. In business and life, what didn’t work well to help you live your best life this year and what needs improvement?

    For me, a lot didn’t work. I am human and I fail all the time. But! All of the challenges this year eventually pointed me back to what matters. They strengthened me. They refined me in big ways and made me more confident in my faith and purpose. The challenges showed me time and time again that I need God and that is a very good thing. Often, the challenges redirected me to a better path and a deeper trust in the only thing that never fails.

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    – Going through a miscarriage and trying to have a baby was challenging, but like I shared on Monday, it was completely for my good. Read the story here.
    – Many people think writing a book is glamorous. Maybe if you are writing about flowers or something light-hearted. Writing about your own failures for all to read is a different story. Writing the book was the hardest thing I did this year because it made me face myself and question where I was seeking my worth. I feared what others would think of my path. I feared never finishing my manuscript. I feared so very much. I faced my life’s mistakes as I wrote about them. I cried oceans of tears and mourned what felt like lost days chasing after the world’s idea of success instead of God’s. There was so much shame I didn’t realize I was still carrying. I felt totally inadequate as a writer. (I could write that last sentence about thirty times I felt it so much.) And you know what? It was for all my good. I felt about as tall as a grain of sand and it made me throw my whole reliance on the Lord for my strength and identity. I’m still on this journey, but in writing the book I felt like I exhaled bricks. It was like going through ten therapy sessions a day — speed therapy, if you will. I laid down the shame and baggage at His feet and found myself saying, Wherever you want me to go, Lord, I’ll go. Whatever you want me to write, help me put the pen to the paper. Less of me, all of You. I still feel a bit overwhelmed by the book being out in people’s hands. Most of me wants to close my eyes and slip away from the internet for a few weeks to let the book rush pass, but that is selfish and sheepish. Although, I like sheep : ) I told you I was going to write out my mess, and I hope it helps some of you not feel alone. I don’t write about fear because I have none. I write about it because I know it well and, by the grace of God, I am learning to understand it more so it doesn’t speak louder than my faith. Fears and all, I know for sure this book what God gave me to write, imperfect as it may be. Writing those pages was like going through the pains of labor and then feeling the joy of knowing you gave it your all and your whole heart is in it, but ultimately God is the creator of life and made it happen. He is so good.
    – I had a wake-up call a few months ago when I was introduced to what is now one of my favorite marriage resources, Unveiled Wife. Jennifer is now a friend and writes about the challenges of marriage and she also has been an advocate of paraben-free products because of the harmful effects they have on the female body. Search her site for “parabens” or google it and you may have the same wake-up call I did. Quite honestly, I freaked out. Every single product I had used my entire life — face lotion, bath soap, make-up, lip gloss, hand soap, cleaning products, and even some over-the-counter medicines — was full of harmful toxins. So, we got rid of everything and started over completely. It took me six months to finally find skincare products that didn’t make my face breakout, but I think it might have been more that my hormones were adjusting to paraben-free living. I am so grateful for this wake-up call and, even though it was costly to get all new products, it is worth it for the long-term health of our family. Here are some of the products I use now:

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    Clockwise from top left: Tarte concealer, Organic Bath Co. Stress Less Oil (more on this in a mount), One Love Organics Easy Does It Cleanser, Tarte Amazonian Clay blush, and Acure Sensitive Skin moisturizer. One of my favorites is this Stress Less oil from Organic Bath Co. The owner, Gianne, has become a friend and told me that she used the PowerSheets to help start her business — so encouraging! She’s generously offered a 20% discount to anyone who reads this post. Enter the code HOORAY at checkout. Enjoy!
    – Parenting. Parenting. Parenting! Grace is a blessing and she is, like many three-year-old’s, strong-willed. Parenting in 2014 was hard. There were days I felt totally defeated and had to throw up the white flag. But, like all I’ve written about thus far, it has so been for my good and it made Ari and I seek advice from older parents in our church, which was so helpful. The challenging days of parenthood ultimately made me more patient and a better listener. The trials of parenting have made me slow down more so I can help Grace understand her feelings and emotions as they come. Being a parent humbles you as you realize you have zero control sometimes. God is in control and my job is to be a living example of the new testament to Grace, showing her heaps of grace, consistency, honesty, humility, and prayerful trust in action. Being a parent has grown my faith. It has brought me to my knees and made me pray, because sometimes that’s all I can do! : )
    – I am very grateful for Will Ray and the sound financial guidance he has given me the last couple years. I highly recommend working with him for either your personal finances, business finances, or both. Will helped us become debt-free (besides our mortgage) last year, which was something I didn’t think would happen with Ari’s enormous student loans. But, Will helped us see that it was possible if we were willing to, as Dave Ramsey says, live like no one else so we can live like no one else. But, as much as I felt financially prepared this year, things happened. Unexpected business costs threw me for a loop, further solidifying the importance of the business Emergency Fund. From the tax mess I mentioned in this post to thousands of dollars lost on a website design that never came to fruition to unexpected product shipping costs, it was a big year for unexpected loss. There is nothing I could have done to change these things, so each situation brought me to my knees. My business is very important to me because of WHY we do what we do, so I am extra passionate about making sure we are financially sound to carry out the mission we have. But, the ultimately Lord is in control of that too and this year was a reminder that I have to trust Him with all of it.

    – I struggled with ugly feelings of comparison and worrying about competition, which has rarely every been a thing for me. But, it happened and it was not fun. And once again, this was so for my good. The Lord helped me turn comparison into true compassion and cheering on!

    – In general, what didn’t work was worry, stress, or anything less than the joy that I know I have no matter my circumstances. I worried too much and God always always always had a plan that was bigger than mine. I often think of Paul in prison writing these words:

    I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Phil 4:11-13 NIV)

    There were many more challenges, but this are the ones that stand out today. Can you sense a theme in all of my challenges this year? What I learned from all of this:

    I have no control.

    God does.

    Trust God.

    : )

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    What about you? What challenges did you face this year and what did you learn from them? Perhaps you are still in the thick of some challenges and have no idea yet what they are supposed to teach you. That’s okay! Wherever you are, let’s share the hard things and encourage each other in them. Leave your thoughts in the comments and help encourage others as well.

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    Next step! As a creative, visual person, imagery really lights my heart on fire more than anything. Great photographs and colors can make my heart sing and help me clarify my vision. If you are like me, you will really love this step. Make a Pinterest board of images that will inspire a purposeful year. Title your board “Making Things Happen in 2015″ so we can search for each other’s boards! Now, one word of caution. I rarely use Pinterest (like, twice a year) because it can be the black hole of distraction and discontentment. Pin wisely, friends. Pick images that light your heart on fire and move on! The goal isn’t to have  Pinterest-worthy year, so pick images that have deep heart, not just pretty things. Here’s my board from last 2013 and from 2014 and here is where I’ll be pinning images for 2015 over the next weeks as I let my goals marinate.

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    What fires you up? What are the things that light your soul on fire? Pretty simple, yet very profound: name them and then DO them. Do more of what fires you up. If dance parties, hugging your kids, laughing with your husband, and doing good things for others fires you up, DO those things today (and always, but start with just today).

    Download a free printable of the list above here.

    Physically do some of the things you want to see more of in your life and take action on them. Not all of them, just some of them. Do what you can. We all have at least five minutes every day, even if we don’t think we do, to make what matters happen. How much time have you already spent on social media today? How much time will you spend on it the rest of the day? Trade that time for doing something that fires you up, not for self-indugence, but to live on purpose and love well. I don’t think many of us can say that lurking on Facebook fires us up, can we?

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    See what happens when you physically start living on purpose, instead of by accident. Little by little, get connected to what matters most to you. Love on people. Write out your list and then DO something on that list. If you love the ocean, but don’t live near it, click here. Does the sound of rain make you feel alive? Here you go! If you love dance parties, pump up the jam! If you love hugs, give one. If you are fired up by creating, make something, even if it’s small, like a card for a friend. Take photographs just for the love of taking them. If you are fired up by the outdoors, close your computer or put down this iPhone and step outside. Just do it. Don’t wait to live.

    See how making the things on your list happen starts to shape your life — and most importantly — the lives of everyone around you. God gave us talents and gifts that are meant to be used to shine His glory brightly to the world — and He gave us sunsets and the roaring ocean likely to leave us in awe of His goodness. Note to self and everyone: It’s hard to do and see those things hiding behind a computer screen : )

    The Bible doesn’t tell us to “follow our passions” so we can be happy, but it definitely tells us to use our unique gifts to serve others. And there is a deeper joy found in that. A peace that passes all understanding. You were created for great things, my friend. You were created to shine brightly for Him. That is definitely something to have a dance party for! Share your list here. I will share mine soon too. Making life happen in 2015, here we come!

    More Monday. Get to writing and DOing, friends!

    PRIZES FOR THIS POST: Read Part 1 for all the ways you can win! Winners will get either a $50 gift card to my shop or an Emily Ley Homebase Binder set! I love the Homebase Binder to keep our household things organized and I keep my PowerSheets in it too. Thanks to Emily for this great giveaway!

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    Winners will ba announced January 31 so you have lots of time to spread the word about this series and make these posts happen. I’ll be back next week with more 2015 Goal Setting goodness. Happy meaningful, intentional, purpose-filled, fired-up weekend, friends!

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    Leave a comment with your thoughts: What were some of the challenges from 2014 and what did you learn from them? What fires you up? And leave a link to your Pinterest board so we can follow each other : )

    P.S. Need a new iPhone or desktop wallpaper, like the one above, for the new year? Check out my free downloads gallery here.

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    Hello, friends! It’s been quite a week announcing our growing family, shipping a crazy amount of orders out of my garage (I have the most tolerant neighbors!), and releasing my book. All great things that have brought an exploding phone and inbox, and a grateful heart for all God has done.

    Last night we completed our home walk-through for our adoption home study, handed over the final paperwork, and now we are home study ready! Typing that is surreal. I sat in the kitchen after the social worker left and felt very still. I couldn’t get any words out. I felt like I needed to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come. This avalanche of all the things in the last couple days left me emotionally overwhelmed. With our growing family comes fear of the unknown: will God take this baby home to be with Him too?  How will we raise two infants at once with a busy three-year old? How will this affect our business that means a great deal to me because of our mission? With the book release comes fear of those 240 pages not affecting anyone and fear of judgement from others for my imperfect path. A lot of fear and opportunity to draw closer to God in trusting Him more fully with all the things. I think of the father in Mark who says, “I believe; help my unbelief!

    As I sat in these feelings in the kitchen, a friend called. I screened her call, feeling hesitant and selfish. She left a message saying she really needed someone to pray with. Despite my own overwhelm, God kept urging me to call her back.

    It’s the times I step outside of my comfort zone and say YES to Him that life changes.

    I listened to her heart. I was reminded of God’s power to transform anyone and anything as I related parts of my own story to her. I prayed for her. She listened to my heart and prayed for me. Our exchange of time and prayer was the very best gift that I didn’t realize I needed. So often I try to control instead of trust God. I felt God saying: Be still, Lara. Be still and know that I am God and I am all that matters. I am all the things. I have all of this. Just keep saying YES to me. The best is yet to come.

    Jesus was often still and withdrew to pray before He made some of the most monumental decisions. In fact, He prayed all night: ‘One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles’ (Luke 6:12-13 NIV).

    So, that’s where I’m starting today with 2015 Goal Setting. With stillness. With prayer. While the rest of the world rushes to set goals by the stroke of midnight tonight, I offer you an alternative: be still. Let’s do this well, with intention.

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    We’re going to take this day by day, in small powerful chunks, because there are no shortcuts to any place worth going. – Beverly Sills   For the entire series, I’ll be sharing my personal progress and goals as well.  And I have no idea what those goals will be yet.  No idea!  I know the heart of what they will be, but this is a series — a process — for a reason.  You can microwave some goals and have a pretty list by January 1, or you can dig deeper and set goals that matter to you over the next week or so with me.  You can pray hard about them and really weigh whether or not they are the best use of your time.  You can set goals that are twenty levels below the surface, where the fiery good stuff lives, or you can just make resolutions that get forgotten and tossed aside come February 1. If you need an extra kick in the pants to make this happen, keep reading.  I have a little something for you at the end.

    I told you I was going to be open and walk through my mess with you and that this was going to be different than the last four years. Here goes!

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    A few things before we get started!

    Here’s what you can expect in this series: I’m going to walk through the steps in my book and the PowerSheets together, as they were designed to be used together. I’m going to blog pieces of my journey using both. I won’t be blogging every step as many of them are exclusive to the book and PowerSheets. So, if you are using either of these tools, or both, take your time coming back to these posts as you get to each step in the book or PowerSheets. These posts aren’t going anywhere, so take your time and come back when you’re ready. More notes below for book + PowerSheets friends!

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    If you are reading my book: it was written for this season of goal setting and taking big leaps of faith. There are lots of steps throughout the first three sections and exclusive book downloads. Do them. Use them. Write all over your paperback copy. This book was designed to be an action book, not just a reading book. Section Four of the book is the Make It Happen Action Guide that walks through faith-based goal setting steps. If you haven’t gotten a copy of the book, it’s not too late. Get yours here. Also, if you are blogging your Make it Happen journey, you can get lots of free downloadable graphics to use here. This is me below, working through the book steps myself!

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    If you are using the PowerSheets: Everything you need is in there! PowerSheets can be used by anyone in any life stage — mama, business owner, student, anyone. While you’ll see faith mentioned in my own PowerSheets examples, they can be used by anyone, any faith. And they will make you work, friends! Expect to dig deep. More info on the PowerSheets can be found here and you can check out the #PowerSheets hashtag on Instagram to follow others’ progress too : )

    If you are using both the Make It Happen book + PowerSheets together: I designed them to work together. This is the best combo. Important: start the book first and when you get to Section Four, work through the PowerSheets along with that section. I am pumped for many of you who are doing this now!

    Do you need either of these to have an intentional year? No, but my prayer is that these tools help you greatly if you do use them. If you just have a notebook to do these few steps I’ll be sharing, use that! If you have scrap paper, that’s great too : ) It’s not about the perfect stuff, it’s about how you USE what you have.

    Let’s do this!

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    First! Here’s the deal. Making things happen requires action. (Prayer is an action step, by the way. One of the very best ones.) As we go through this series, either use the comment area here to leave your answers or write them in your PowerSheets or a journal. But, don’t just think them. Thinking them doesn’t count. Write them out and, if you want accountability, leave them boldly here in the comments. I want to cheer you on! Friends, help me out here and cheer each other on, too. You never know who you might inspire or whose life you might completely change with your words.

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    An easy place to start in preparing for an intentional new year is to reflect on the good things in the last 12 months. Here were my 2014 goals:

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    God made so much more good happen than I expected. I am praising Him as I type this. He guided me on each one of these goals. I didn’t write both books I’m contracted for, but I did write one and that was plenty : )

    Writing this list below of the Good Things from 2014 was hard at first and then, as I went through these goals from January, my calendar, blog posts, Instagrams, and 2014 PowerSheets, I saw so much good that God did that I forgot about! It’s so easy to forget the good and only focus on the challenges, isn’t it? So, here is a little bit of the goodness this year brought. I am so grateful to have made this list — so much to celebrate that I didn’t remember till I sat down to be still and write.

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    The things that stand out to me most from 2014 are all about relationships. Closer sisterhood with the women from my church family group has been so sweet. We had a lot of fun together this year, welcomed new babies, had a women’s book club, enjoyed lots of meals and prayer time, and we even hosted Sunday service at our house in July when our church decided to help us understand what the closeness of the Acts church was like. It was awesome. I am so grateful for the brothers and sisters we get to do life with.

    One of those sisters, Tijuana, made a big impact on my life this year. In January, I was overwhelmed with my book writing and work. I was struggling with my packed schedule and feeling like I didn’t have time for friends or fellowship. Tijuana pursued my heart and didn’t give up. I remember so clearly one night when she said, “I know your schedule is packed, but we should pray together — even if it’s over the phone once a week.” I resisted. I got mad at God because I wanted to pray with her but couldn’t seem to find time between motherhood and work. God made me find time. I finally gave in and it changed my life. Every Monday night at 8pm for six months we prayed. I’m crying typing this. Tijuana showed me what faithful friendship is. No matter what was going on in her life, she dropped everything to get on the phone and talk to God with me.

    I am grateful for closer friendships and new friendships. I could write a whole post just about this and my heart is already pouring out in thanks to God. Good friends became great friends. People I didn’t know at the start of the year have now sat on my couch with me countless times to share life. Meals have been shared, tears, fears. God blew me away with friendships after years of prayer and feeling like I didn’t have a local community that “got me.” I don’t deserve the friends I have, but that is a picture of God’s grace and goodness — He loves us that much.

    If there is one word that captures 2014 for me it’s community. We felt God calling us to open our home and we hosted dozens of dinners, sometimes three or four times a week. Many of the friends who joined us at the table ended up in Instax pics on our fridge too : )

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    We had the joy of teaching Bible class for the 2-year-old’s for several months this year, took a very helpful marriage and parenting class at church, and were so grateful to be asked to lead our Family Group, which we also host in our home. When things got crazy in Bible Class, Ari broke out the bubbles!

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    I spoke at the Thomas Nelson Spring Sales Conference to present my book to retailers. It was an awesome experience to see a giant room full of retailers from Barnes and Noble, ChristianBook.com, Faith Gateway, and more, pray together about the books and stories they were being presented. Seeing so many honor God in prayer at a business event left me in awe.

    Ari and I celebrated seven years of marriage. If you know my story, that is all God! He is so good. I haven’t spoken about this much online because it has felt so sweet and personal to me, but this year I changed my name : ) Lara Casey Isaacson. I’m not changing it for business, but in my house, I am Mrs. Isaacson and that makes me so grateful. Nancy and Will Ray have been two of the most encouraging friends in our lives and sent me this beautiful gift. They had Ari hand-write my new name and had it made into a necklace. I love it!

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    I did a lot of consulting with small business owners this year. I’ve been doing consulting since 2009, but this year in particular I felt very clear about how God wanted me to lead others. Writing my book helped me to put words to many things I hadn’t been able to express in the past and this, in turn, helped others too.

    The garden. If you read my last post, you know this was my joy. The garden was a daily gift! I gave plants and crops away and met many through gardening. I started the Southern Garden Club and enjoyed garden tastings and talk with local friends. It was a joy!

    As of today, I’m still going on the Contentment Challenge, specifically with not shopping for clothes. I thought I would do this for three months, beginning in September 2013, but God has kept me going. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been revealing and good.

    I work with some remarkable women. That is a good thing itself. I am grateful to work alongside women who share the same passion for our mission as I do, sometimes more. This year, our business got smaller and bigger — smaller in the scope of what we do (I stopped doing Making Brands Happen in January) and as a result, bigger in our mission reach. In all of this, our team created beautiful and meaningful imagery and words for our seventh annual issue, V7, that highlighted meaningful beginnings to married life.

    Small is the new big. We considered and said no to office space for many reasons. The prescribed path for a growing business tends to be: start small, grow grow grow, get office space, grow more and get busier. After my miscarriage, I realized I didn’t want any part of that plan. I wanted to stay at home where I can bake biscuits for my team and go right downstairs to comfort Grace when she needs me. So, even though we are bursting at the seams in our small space, we decided to do more with less this year and it has been a blessing.

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    2014 brought many changes in our office culture as we began celebrating working anniversaries, enjoyed our first annual team retreat, and decided to make this a year of relationships, hosting many in-person reader and community events. Our whole team travelled a lot too (more than me): NSS, Bridal Market, Engage, workshops, education, shoots all over the South, oh my!

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    It was a big year for product design. Nicole and I spent many hours in front of the big iMac. Nicole is pretty awesome. Some of the many things she took from concept to reality this year in our office: all new 2015 PowerSheets, the new Southern Weddings Planner, new prints, new desk card sets, scripture cards, and many more products that we have yet to produce. They are meaningful and I can’t wait to use them myself. Details to come.

    Our former nanny, Meredith, got married and Rhiannon joined our family. These women mean so much to me! They will always be family.

    The Influence Conference with Ari was awesome. I love the Influence Network and the women who created it!

    The Making Things Happen Conference this fall was just so good and life-changing — my favorite yet. We made many additions to the format and it was a joy! By the way, today is the last day to register at the early-bird rate!

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    Grace turned 3 and started preschool, got her own bed, was so brave at swim lessons in the summer, and is just a fun kid. I love her : )

    A huge new thing this year was something unexpected and will likely be the subject of my second book. I started talking to a lot of women about marriage. I’ve had dozens of phone calls with women I’ve never met, sharing my story and praying with them. I’ve made dear friends that have encouraged me greatly as well. God is good. I never expected to be used in this way through my own imperfect path and brokenness, but God does remarkable things with our broken pieces when we give them to Him. If you are struggling in marriage, know that the impossible is possible with God. I wrote my book for this very reason, in hopes it will encourage many to believe in what seems impossible.

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    Bible Bunch (above). Oh, Bible Bunch! For years I have wanted to start a local Bible study for women to dig into Bible basics and to build community. I had no idea it would happen this year and in the way it did! My friends Carrie, Randi, and I decided to take a leap of faith and ask on Instagram if any local women would like to join us for a Bible study at my house. We had space for 15 people and over 50 replied. We now have almost 100 women in Bible Bunch! God is awesome. We meet once a month here in Chapel Hill. Leave a comment here if you’d like to join us and I’ll email you info! Our next meeting is Monday, January 5. Bible Bunch has brought more than just new friends, it has brought life-long soul friends. I am blown away by what God has and continues to do with Bible Bunch!

    Writing and releasing a book goes on both the Good Things list and my Challenges list. More to come on this in the next post, but I am so grateful for God faithfully making this happen. Here is the book trailer below and you can find more info on how to purchase here.

    I was also grateful to get to record my own audio book. It was two long days of hard work and so worth it. You can download it on Audible, iTunes, Amazon, and get the DVD’s at major retailers.

    The first-ever Faith Retreat was a beautiful end to 2014. I love these friends (below). We decided to stop and be still in a hurried season to get back to what’s most important: Him. We prayed, shared what God has taught us this year, laughed, and celebrated His goodness together. It was so sweet!

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    Up next, I’ll be sharing some of the many challenges that God used for my good and what I learned from both the good and the hard. For now though…

    Your turn! Write your own list of good things. What are you most grateful for from 2014? You can write it in your PowerSheets if you have reached that section or write it in a journal. Either way, I also encourage you to share some of your 2014 gratitude in the comments to encourage others too!

    And remember this: There is no room for comparison in making what matters happen. Whether you had one good thing happen or twenty, celebrate the good stuff and let’s help each other do the same. Let’s turn comparison into compassion and cheering on : )

    OK, that’s it for today and that’s plenty to work on. Be still, be prayerful, and celebrate the good stuff today! I’m going to take tomorrow away from the computer and soak myself in the Word before I do anything else, withdrawing to pray and listen before I act. I’ll be back Friday with more!

    Take your time with this and remember with your PowerSheets — or however you set and take action on goals this year: PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION.  This is not about writing the perfect list with a perfect pen… it’s just about honesty. To make things happen, you have to start with where you are. This is a process that will have a big payoff, but you have to commit to working through it. Be still and let your year’s vision slowly cook, like a pan of homemade hot baked cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven. They wouldn’t be so flaky and yummy cooked in the microwave, would they? Just a big pile of mushy dough. I’m not going to hand you your 2015 goals. We’re going to do this right and get there together. Sound good? Awesome! Get to it!

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    If you need an extra kick in the pants to make this happen, on every post there will be a big giveaway. Today’s is the new Make It Happen Collection Box: a Make it Happen T, gold foil notepad, calligraphy print, a set of PowerSheets for you or a friend, and our new signature sunrise stripe box with gold foil “Make it Happen” on the top. You can win multiple times and you can increase your chances of winning by:

    – Commenting on this post to share your thoughts
    — Pinning this post or any in the series
    – Instagramming any graphic with a link back here to this post or future posts
    – Sharing this series on Facebook or Twitter
    – Blogging or in any way sharing this post/series
    – For all entires, link back here to www.LaraCasey.com/blog and use the #2015GoalSetting hashtag. You are welcome to use graphics from my posts!
    – Lastly, leave a comment saying you did any of the above. You can enter as many times as you like on all posts! I’m going to choose some extra winners along the way, too, for some special surprises : )

    Why am I doing this? I know God put me here on this earth for many reasons, and He has made it clear that one of those reasons it to motivate people to take action on what matters most. I want you — yes YOU — to make what matters happen in your life. So, help me spread the word and let’s get all our friends in on this for accountability! Making things happen is always better when shared.

    Here’s to a meaningful, purpose-filled 2015 — I am cheering you on friends!

    P.S. I didn’t proofread this post because I have to get Gracie down for a nap, so forgive typos! My life motto still holds strong: done is better than perfect : )

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    I began 2014 overwhelmed about writing my book (which launches tomorrow — ah!!!). I struggled with oceans of self-doubt and often considered throwing in the towel. In January, I found out I was pregnant. I was excited but locked in my office writing, worrying about my manuscript deadline that had passed (and graciously been extended about four times by that point). In February, God took that baby home to be with Him. It was one of the hardest seasons. At the time of my miscarriage, I was in the middle of writing through some of the hardest parts of my life. That same week, I received a letter from the IRS stating I had been filing as the wrong entity type since 2010 and I had to re-do four years of business and personal tax returns thanks to an accountant’s major error years before. (Long story. God is good and praise Him it’s all over now.) Needless to say, that was a rough week. I didn’t understand why all of this was happening at once. Ari kept telling me to trust. This, like all the mess I was writing about, would be for my good. It’s hard to see when you’re in it. The winter seemed to last forever. But, ‘to everything there is a season, a time and purpose under heaven.’ I wrote in my book about how God did use that season for my good. He is faithful. I now look back and praise Him for the winter. After winter, always comes spring.

    Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 2.37.38 PMAbove: Writing. Writing. More writing. 

    Hundreds of bulbs I had planted in the fall broke through the seemingly-dead frozen ground, giving me hope for the seasons ahead. I felt God encouraging me to plant new seeds in my life and in this soil that seemed lifeless.

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    I grieved and healed through gardening. I planted hundreds of flowers and crops: twelve types of tomatoes, six varieties of peppers, 200 onions, zucchini, sweet corn, eggplant, carrots, radishes, basil, pineapple sage, stevia, okra, beans, peas, cucumbers, cabbage, kale, sweet potatoes, lots of bee attractors, wildflowers, sunflowers, dwarf zinnias (one of my garden favorites), and more.

    IMG_4748My handsome garden helper above, who built and filled my new veggie beds with rich soil.

    IMG_4734My littlest garden helper who filled us with laughs : )

    IMG_8329Harvesting above with Ari’s mom on one of her visits from California. Don’t mind Hootie the owl : ) He was there to keep the bunnies away from the soybeans, although he ended up coming inside to live with us because Gracie loves him so much.

    The year before, I had planted an Elberta peach and a fig tree. Both yielded ultra sweet harvests in the summer — best peaches I’ve ever had. To our tiny orchard we added some wildcards for fun: a grafted apple tree that produces four varieties in one tree, a “fruit cocktail” tree that has grafted branches of apricot, nectarine, and peach, and we added a potted navel orange, kumquat, and another Meyer lemon.

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    I went a little over-board. Watering and tending and pruning this tiny farm was a thing, but it was awesome. Each day was an adventure in the garden. New life all around me. I started this new Instagram account to capture the growth. Every day brought new surprises.

    During this season, God allowed me to connect with those who had weathered loss. I spoke with many women who had miscarried and I felt compelled to reach out and be a listening ear when a friend experienced loss. I felt that, in a tiny way, I could understand. If anything, I knew I could pray.

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    During this season, God also taught me that He is in control and that is a very good thing.

    So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow‘ (1 Corinthians 3:7 NIV).

    I can’t grow anything good without Him. Period. He wants me to plant good seeds in good soil, tend to them, prune, and generously share the harvest. But, I need His gifts of sun and water — I need His Son and the living water of His word — to make anything good happen. That is just plain truth in my life.

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    Ari and I prayerfully started trying to have a baby again. The months passed. I began to understand, in a very small way, some of what my two best friends, Emily and Gina, had gone through. And let me emphasize again in a small way. In the last couple years, I’ve become close with many girlfriends who are going through infertility or loss. Some journeys have been decades and some shorter, but all have carried with them tremendous heartache. If you are there right now, my prayers are with you as I type this. I don’t have the perfect words to offer, but I can offer prayer.

    After a year and a half of trying, Ari and I felt that maybe God did have a plan and having another biological child wasn’t it.

    Adoption has been a topic of conversation for several years. Last September (2013), I remember talking with Ari about it and him sharing his fears. “But,” He added, “if this is what God has for us I trust He will bring me peace.”

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    In the summer, we romped through the garden beds with Casey Chappell and her crew of 5 adopted littles. We pulled up radishes and plucked tomatoes right off the vine. Jack and Ezra loved the garden, and I loved picking figs, beans, herbs, and mint for them to sample.

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    I first became friends with Casey through Instagram. Nancy had posted about the Chappell’s visiting her in Raleigh, I clicked over to Casey’s account, and bam. My heart leapt out of my chest. Seeing her little loves and her passion for adoption, I knew I had to get to know this amazing woman. We became instant real-life friends. We sat on my back porch, ate hot dogs and sweet potato fries with the kids scurrying all around us, and we talked adoption. Ari’s heart started to crack open too.

    It all still felt so scary though. Like why are we always talking about adoption we are not cut out for this scary. And yet we kept reading this verse in James and many others and God kept putting families in our path who had adopted. God wasn’t subtle.

    We started the international adoption process, filling out a mountain of paperwork, gathering documents, and praying a lot. Our one step left was to get a letter of guardianship from another couple, stating that they would take care of our children if we were to pass away. No question, we were going to ask our friends Thom and Bek. Thom and Bek were our church family group leaders for a long while before they moved to Birmingham. They became two of our very best friends and faith mentors to us. Right before were were going to ask them, their daughter, Elizabeth Glory, went to be with the Lord shortly after she was born. It was heartbreaking. We couldn’t think of adding to our family while our dear friends were wading through such grief. Our whole hearts were with them.

    One of the many things I love about God is how He uses sorrow to change our hearts for His good purposes. In that time, our hearts did change. A friend sent me this video and a million little pieces started to point us to a new path. We saw the great need right in front of us and felt God pulling us to adopt domestically. So, we started over completely.

    We began to feel more urgency. There were so many children out there waiting to be loved and we felt that, with God’s help and grace, we could do that.

    Ari and I ran into Courtney at the Influence Conference and both felt God saying okay, this is it. Let’s do this. Ari and I continued to pray and, after a long phone call with Casey and Courtney, we said yes.

    I finished our new adoption paperwork on the eve of Thanksgiving. I thought about the cycle of life. My grandma Bunny was breathing her last breaths in the hospital with my mom, dad, brother and uncle by her side. I knew that night would likely be her last here on the earth. I don’t know if anyone else had ever felt this, but it’s in moments like that when I deeply feel God’s presence. I felt an all-consuming peace.

    I felt peace about Grandma’s 97 sweet years on this earth. What courage and zest for life she had. She lived and loved well. I felt peace about our little family and totally surrender. I felt grateful for the gift of adoption and totally at peace about not having more biological children. It was the peace that transcends all understanding. I felt grateful. In awe of Him.

    And then… I felt a little off.

    I looked at the calendar, looked at Grace, and I nervously loaded her in the car to go to the grocery store while we waited on Ari to come home from work.

    I thought for sure there was no way.

    And then there were two pink lines.

    I cried in disbelief on the bathroom rug with Grace and said, Gracie! There is a baby in there! God is crazy! She leaned over, pulled up my shirt, and looked as if she was going to blow a big raspberry on my belly. Her little lips got close to by belly button and with the biggest joy she squealed, “Hiiiii baby!”

    Ari arrived home moments later.
    Me: So I finished our adoption paperwork.
    Ari: Great.
    Me: And then this happened. I showed him the two pink lines.
    Ari: Oh. Okay.

    We were both in shock. We were in shock because this didn’t change our conviction about adopting in the least. We are still all in. And that’s all God. The peace that transcends all understanding. In our human hearts, there were (and still are) moments of complete panic and disbelief, but God…

    But, God…

    Those two words are true, not just in my life, but in yours too.

    But, God isn’t a God of logic, He is God. He can make the impossible possible.

    But, God didn’t want our marriage to fail years ago. He wanted our wholehearts. And He got them.

    But, God didn’t want my business to be used just for making a living. He wanted it to be used to hopefully help many to live on purpose.

    But, God had a different plan to grow our family than we expected. His plans are always far better than ours.

    But, God doesn’t need us or you to be perfect, He just needs your surrendered heart and hands.

    We know for sure that God is real. We also know for sure that we need Him. The year ahead will likely be crazy. We are, no doubt, going to fail a lot. But, God… can and has done greater things than help us raise three children — two infants in one year. If He brings you to it, He will see you through it. We trust Him.

    We are grateful and nervous and listening and also cautious with all of this. While this is where He has us right now, He has been known to throw us some curveballs. We don’t know what God has planned for this life in my belly or for for us with adoption. We know that He could take this baby home to be with Him too, if that’s His will. All we can do is pray and trust and do what He says as each day comes.

    Some things:

    I’m due next summer, around August 1st.

    God is so good and sweet in His timing. Grandma passed on Thanksgiving morning. After my mom told me she had gone to be with the Lord, I shared with her that there was a new life inside of me. Her tears of sorrow turned to joy.

    “Morning” sickness is all day every day for me, so if you have seen me in person in the last weeks and I’ve been a little off, this is why : )

    When I went in for my first ultrasound, the doc was very nice and excited for us. And then I handed her the medical clearance form that I needed for our home study. She looked at me like I was nuts for a second. Then, she expressed her excitement and told me about her sister adopting. She was awesome and is pumped for us.

    I ate a turkey sandwich for breakfast. If you know me, you know that means something is up.

    Grace is excited to be a big sister and we pray for the babies every day.

    Between a growing business, five literal-in-house employees, and a busy three year old, we are plum out of space. With adoption costs, moving is not in the cards, though. So, we are getting creative and may be finishing part of our attic to stretch our space a little.

    Needless to say, 2015 Goal Setting has been flipped on it’s head for me. I’m excited to dive in with you tomorrow with the first steps as I launch my book and walk with you in preparing for a crazy and purposeful new year. 2015 is going to be an adventure and I’m grateful to have you here to learn from your journey too! Goal Setting Part 1 is up tomorrow…

    For now, thank you. Many of you have prayed for our family and I can’t thank you enough. We are so grateful. His plans are always better than ours, no matter what they may be.

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    P.S. I don’t have all the answers about adoption. Far from it. I still have more questions than answers at this point. We are still so new to adoption and just trusting God with each step. So, if you are looking for a resource, I recommend reading Casey’s blog as a start. There are so many great resources out there. I am still learning and listening.

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