Our son was born today at 7:17pm after a miraculous day of answered prayers. And he’s a redhead! Be still my heart. 9 lbs, 4 oz, 21.5 inches long. I wrote this while we waited on him to arrive this last week, and I’m so grateful to finally share this story. More to come on the adventure of today in a couple weeks after we settle in with this little love.. 

 

Joshua Cecil Isaacson. This name. Oh, this name. With Grace, we knew very quickly what her name would be. Grace was the undeserved gift we had been given in our marriage. A fresh start. New hearts. A shared faith. I prayed, and that’s what God told me we should name her. It was as clear as can be.

But, this little one. His name has been a test of faith and surrender. Sometimes God wants to change us before He gives us answers to our prayers. Sometimes that change is the answer. And if God is in your heart change, it means that there is a story that points right back to Him. A really good story.

Through waiting and loss and waiting some more, we surrendered and rejoiced in a new path: adoption. And then… the day we finished our adoption paperwork, there were two pink lines. The timing was unmistakably God’s. And there was no doubt in our minds that we should keep going with our adoption. Read the whole story here. Right now, we are waiting to be matched with our littlest girl.

On February 7th this year, something else happened. Another unmistakable God story. Pause right now here and go read this. Don’t read any further till you do. Come right back to this spot when you’re done. I’ll be here : )

So there you have it. It was a big day. Big surrender and life change in the months that have followed.

Back to that weekend for a minute…

Ari and I stood up in church the next morning during a moving song that our friend Beverly sang, grasping each other’s hand, knowing without a doubt that we had been set free. We had let go of the past and moved forward. I can’t even describe that feeling with adequate words. There is no freedom on earth that compares to the freedom of knowing that you have nothing to hide. Nothing to feel shame about. Nothing. You are completely forgiven. His grace is truly amazing.

If you are reading this and have no idea what I mean, or feel frustrated not having felt His grace, or want it more than words–I rarely say this but–I know how you feel. For so long I thought, “Maybe I’m not good enough, or reading my Bible enough, or mature enough as a Christian. Maybe I’ve been too bad. Maybe I’ve messed up too much. Maybe God just isn’t listening.” I felt like I didn’t get it and I never would. Then I had Grace. And God showed me that faith and a relationship with Him are not about my ability to perform well; faith is about surrender. It’s not about me. It’s about Him. Knowing that He is God and I am not and that is a very good thing. He has the power to change hearts and bring what feels dead to life (our marriage for starters), not because we are awesome, but because He is. That is why it’s called the “Good News.” We don’t deserve His grace and He gives it to us anyway. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. - Ephesians 2:8

So, whatever it is that has been holding you back from surrendering to Him and laying your burdens down…

let.

it.

go.

Choose God. Set your foot on new ground, against all odds, as Joshua did. Step into the middle of the river and watch God make a way for you. He can.

Nothing on this earth is worth carrying a burden that is holding you back from your Maker. Nothing. For me, surrender is hard. The first chapter of my book starts with giving birth to Grace because that was the most challenging physical surrender I can remember. I had no control and had to fully rely on Him. Equal to that surrender has been surrendering my pride over these years, namely this year. Dying to myself. Times of humility and confession: “God I need you and I want you. But I know something isn’t right. Please help me turn away from all the junk that’s distracting me from what matters—from You.” I’ve prayed that many times and God always answers because He wants our hearts. All of our hearts.

Moving forward means first letting something go. What is that thing God is trying to get you to let go of? Start with prayer if this feels overwhelming or you don’t know where to start. Ask God what to do and then dive in, even and especially, if it feels hard. Surrender is worth it.

Back to February. Having laid it all at His feet, we both knew that Joshua was the name the Lord had given him. God is pretty big on names. Names carried meaning and stories of faith that helped others have faith too. If God changed someone’s heart, a new name came with that heart change many times (Saul to Paul). Ari and I felt strongly that this name of his would tell a story–His story–even if we didn’t fully understand it all yet.

But…

Insert nine months of “but!” I began agonizing over this name in the silliest ways and battled between total surrender to God and this: “Josh” sounded too young. His first name would end in a vowel and didn’t fit with the vowel that started “Isaacson.” It was a mouthful. I couldn’t think of any cute baby nicknames that went with Joshua. Joshy? J? We also loved the name and story of Daniel. So, would he be Joshua Daniel? JD? Or Daniel Joshua? DJ? You guys. The name game in my head was a mess. I spent months debating these things in my head and with Ari, and fighting God on it. You see, God wants meaningful stories to be told that point back to Him, and the enemy really doesn’t love that. At all.

  
Every time I went back to God and let go of all the name game mess, He said, “Trust me. This is my story.” And, friends, His plans have always been far better than mine. This wasn’t about choosing a baby name. It was about our hearts needing to change over the last nine months.

Letting go of our plans for His. Our comforts for others. Our fear for faith.

We told no one our thoughts through this process. We just prayed. We read scripture. The story of Joshua, Daniel, and others who trusted in the Lord. In retrospect, it was very good. It was just us and God. In it all, we were changed in a million little ways. We felt God saying, “Just keep listening…”

  

And then Kristin walked in my door. She showed up at my house all the way from Florida to surprise me during our team summer BBQ just a few weeks ago. In true Kristin fashion, she breezed in the door with a bouquet of balloons and a freshly-cooked batch of my favorite quinoa salad.

That night, we picked corn fresh from the garden, sampled just-pulled carrots, and chatted over dinner about everything from favorite summer memories to the best doughnuts in the area. And then we talked baby names.The ladies surprised me with a little shower and gave their name “guesses.”

Lisa: Jacob Cecil Isaacson

Emily: David Cecil Isaacson

These ladies know us well. They knew the name would be Biblical. They knew how much my grandpa, Cecil Austin, influenced my faith and love of gardening. It has been a year of cultivating meaningful relationships and spending lots of time getting our hands dirty in the mineral-drenched soil, just as Cecil loved to do. He loved what mattered: God first, his wife, and his vegetable garden. He didn’t care about accolades; He cared about eternity. The first paragraph of my book is about grandpa’s love for his wife, Celeste, who passed the day after we found out we were unexpectedly pregnant. It was also the same day we finished our adoption paperwork. God was undoubtedly in all of this.

And then Kristin: Joshua Cecil Isaacson

The moment Kristin said it, we knew. We didn’t have to speak about it. Ari and I tried to play it off and not look at each other when that name was spoken for the first time. His name. Dinner continued. Kristin was the last to leave. She insisted on helping me do dishes, which turned into deeper conversation about family and our hearts.

As we walked her to the door, Ari couldn’t help it. “Kristin. The name… you were right.”

Somehow it was all confirmed. We all had tears in our eyes. I had no words. Just awe.

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

This journey hasn’t been about a name or a baby, it has been about God. About who He is. About His power to do what feels impossible. About Him being God and good, even in times of waiting and grief. Waiting on the Lord taught us so much. We waited for His perfect timing for this child to come. We waited nine months for this name to be confirmed. We waited and trusted and failed along the way a lot, but we kept going. And in the wait we were refined. Changed. Readied for whatever He has ahead for us.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. I have clung to these words from Isaiah for two years, in times of doubt and fear, and have seen them come true over and over again. God can do far more than we ask or imagine.

I don’t know where this post finds you. I don’t know your heart today or what’s weighing on you. What I do know: If you are in a season of doubt or fear or feeling lost, trust what you can’t yet see. God is listening. Even when you can’t feel it. He is. He makes streams in the wasteland. He makes all things new.

  

“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 ‭1:7-9‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Welcome to the world, son. The Lord will be with you wherever you go.

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  • Hi! So, yes… I’m still pregnant. Twelve days past my due date. These twelve days, as short as that may sound in the big picture, have been some of the longest days. They have been challenging and yet good and prayer-packed. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to wait on a baby to come. You want to take note of labor symptoms and get excited and prepare well, yet you have to completely let go as each day passes. You can’t plan for anything and yet you have to keep going, because sitting and thinking about it too much is perhaps the worst thing to do in waiting. And I’ve done a lot of that. Lots of tears and fears and they have all brought me back to a deeper TRUST and surrender. I’ve been learning that this is not waiting time; it is living time. God created these days on purpose, for a reason, and each day has revealed so many beautiful reasons why He has said, “Not yet…”

    These photos were taken right before my due date by my sweet friend, Emily.

    Photo by Emily March Photography // www.emilymarchphotography.com

    God’s three answers to prayer:

    Yes.

    Not yet.

    And…

    I have something better in mind.

    Photo by Emily March Photography // www.emilymarchphotography.com

    What’s new: My mom has been here the last couple weeks, which has been a blessing. She and Grace have painted birdhouses, played restaurant, baked, gone swimming, puttered in the garden, and told more than a few funny kitty stories. This has been sweet time for them and us. Ari and I have had little windows of time to read together and have been loving You and Me Forever by Francis Chan. Highly recommend this book! This time has been a blessing for our marriage as we’ve supported each other in the many emotions that have come in waiting. With my mom here, we’ve been able to talk more and prepare for baby. That is such a gift. Also new: we released the Write The Word journals (so excited about them!), new desk cards, and revealed the 2016 PowerSheets options. Read all about them here.

    Photo by Emily March Photography // www.emilymarchphotography.com

    What’s ahead: Well, at some point in the next 72 hours, I will, Lord willing, have a baby. If he doesn’t come on his own by tomorrow morning at 8am, the docs want to induce me because my fluid is getting a little low. I am already 4cm though, so I pray he comes on his own before then! It’s all in the Lord’s hands.

    Photo by Emily March Photography // www.emilymarchphotography.com

    July PowerSheets Goals updates:

    • Soak in the Word – Yes! In this time of waiting I have definitely been soaking in the Word and it has sustained me and changed me. I am so grateful!
    • Transition to maternity leave – Yes! 
    • Love Ari and Grace well – Yes. Having this extra unexpected time with just the three of us has been a huge blessing. 
    • Pray, surrender, listen – I didn’t know how much I would have to do this when I first wrote these goals for July, but this has been the biggest one. I have leaned into this and found peace in the very hard moments of waiting and uncertainty.
    • Listen and lead well through an encouraging last Bible Bunch before baby – Yes, the July Bible Bunch was so wonderful!
    • Love our family group + friends well before baby – Yes, and I’ve gotten such sweet “extra” time to be with them before baby.
    • Release the Write the Word journal series - Yes! And I have been LOVING my own journal the last two weeks. I’m so grateful that y’all are as excited as I am about the Write The Word journals!
    • Pray about labor + post-partum – Well, this is an answered prayer. Before this time of waiting for baby, I was plain scared of labor. Now, I crave it. More than I can express. I can’t wait! God sure knows what He is doing in changing our hearts!

    Photo by Emily March Photography // www.emilymarchphotography.comI love this photo that Grace took with Emily’s camera! : ) 

    August PowerSheets Goals:

    • Have a baby : )
    • Glorify God in it all
    • Pray over and decide about Gracie’s school plan. I’ve been praying often about whether or not to keep Grace in pre-school for this fall or go ahead and move to homeschool. Still praying!

    Weekly goals:

    • Continue to encourage others and build them up spiritually, even when baby comes
    • “Praise Him in the sanctuary!” The artist who sings this song escapes me right now, but I love it. The goal: be with God and praise Him in all things!

    Daily goals:

    • Prayer—deep prayer
    • Write The Word
    • Read and soak in the Word
    • Love Grace and Ari well

    If you are in a season of waiting–for whatever it may be–I’m with you today and praying for you now. Maybe this challenging time or place is meant for your good. Maybe this season of waiting is really a season of preparation, getting you ready for something better. Something you never expected. : )

    “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” Psalm‬ ‭130:5‬

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    Ten days till my due date. Every night I get in bed and think, “This could be it.” I’ll be honest, these nine months have been a blur. I kept this at a slight distance from my heart. I didn’t want to go through loss again and I didn’t want to make those who might be grieving or longing feel sadness. This all felt different than before. More private. More sacred. More still. We didn’t decorate a new nursery. I didn’t read any books. But soon, Lord willing, there will be a little person laying on my chest.

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    When I had Grace, life was turned completely upside down and it changed everything. Our marriage. Our faith. We began to learn what surrender means. And now… all I know is we are about to be beautifully broken again. Anticipating that is so hard to put into words. Before Grace I thought about baby announcements and newborn pictures. Now all I can think about is the story God is writing.

    Photo by Emily March Photography // www.emilymarchphotography.com

    I have no idea what to expect, but I know for sure that God is real and He is in this. Finding out we were pregnant the day we finished our adoption paperwork was just one of the thousands of little clues along this path that have shown us there is a bigger picture.

    Photo by Emily March Photography // www.emilymarchphotography.com

    We don’t know what that is but we are willing and ready and so imperfect and we just feel so small. I don’t know if any of this makes sense, but that’s my heart lately. Expectant. Surrendered. (A little nervous to experience labor again.) And Grateful. Up next, Lord willing, I’ll be sharing his name when he arrives… whenever the Lord decides that it’s time : )

    I welcome your encouragement and any helpful scriptures as I move into this new season and get closer to labor. What has helped you?

    Last two photos by Emily March from our recent session in the garden.

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    My friend Rhi asked me yesterday when it finally sunk in that this was real. I told her that it still hasn’t sunk in, and I’m not sure it will till he’s here. I am nine months pregnant (something I have to repeat to myself often to wrap my head around it) and I don’t talk about our little guy much because I still remember the pain of loss and waiting and it makes me pause.

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    Some tell us we are crazy for saying yes to what’s ahead with two new babies around the same time, but we know without any spot of doubt that this is His plan. Sometimes His plans make no logical sense to the world, and that’s what faith is. Trusting in what we can’t yet see. That doesn’t mean I don’t have fear and moments when I forget to trust. I do. But I try to let my faith speak louder than my fear. I remember that the end of the story is already written and the best is yet to come.

    IMG_8968Mini golf this weekend and a very excited Gracie.

    What’s new: Throughout the Fruitful Summer series, we’ve been talking about cultivating what matters. And, so, I decided to start (semi) maternity leave now. Grace has had a challenging last couple of weeks and, after a hard weekend, God gave me this clarity: I can’t get these days back with her. To help her with this transition, I decided to stop working full time as of Monday. I still have meetings and projects to wrap up (2016 PowerSheets design, new product launch coming) in the next few days, but I’m putting my focus on her now. Spending the day with her yesterday and helping her through lots of emotions was so fruitful. I am grateful that the Lord has provided this time for me to love her well in prep for two more littles joining us soon.

    IMG_8932Ari and Grace reading while we waited on the doc to come in during my check-up last week.

    Baby prep: I cleaned out the nursery, finished our Amazon registry last week, and all the baby clothes are washed and ready. We have plenty of clothes from Grace since I bought her mostly neutral colors when she was born, and Emily sent us a big box from Brady and the twins — I am so grateful. I packed my hospital bag, printed out a tentative birth plan, and made a final list of other things to tackle in the next couple weeks. But, the biggest thing on the list is praying. I can plan all I want, but the Lord knows the plan and what we need most. Knowing that I went through postpartum depression after Grace, I’m also praying on that. You can read about my postpartum experience here, Grace’s birth here, and watch the announcement video here. It’s amazing to look back on these experiences and see how much God has changed in our lives since then! When Grace was born, we had very little community here. Ari had just started to come to church with me and our marriage was so different. I am so grateful for the brothers and sisters we have now who are all so supportive and excited for these babies — close dear friends!

    Names, etc: We have a short list of names for baby boy, but this pregnancy has felt private and sacred. Ari and I both feel that we’ll likely wait till we hold him to name him. With Grace, I prayed and God immediately said “Mercy or Grace” — the gifts we had been given in our marriage. With this little guy, it’s been an exercise in trusting Him and waiting on His timing. So, we will wait these few more days to see him and give him a name : )

    What’s ahead: Lord willing welcoming baby boy, being matched with our littlest girl, maternity leave, my parents coming into town soon, and a big update is that we’re moving our shop out of my house. It’s time. For all ten years I’ve owned my own business, the garage has always housed something other than a car: wedding planning supplies, floral vases, and right now about 20 pallets of shop products and magazines. With five employees in my house and two new babies on the way, the shop had to make a move. In the fall, I’ll be releasing the new 2016 PowerSheets options, speaking at the Influence Conference (with all the babies and Ari in tow!), leading the Making Things Happen Conference, and writing my second book about cultivating what matters. After the book is done in early 2016, I won’t go back to work full time. I’ll be part time for the future after that.

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    June PowerSheets Goals progress:

    • Write the words He has for me. After struggling with writing and much prayer, God gave me a new book to write. So, I took a risk and sent a brand new proposal to my editors. I am grateful to say they love it and my new deadline is after maternity leave – February 1. Still not a lot of time considering what we will have going on in our lives with two babies, but I praise Him for this new direction.
    • Cultivate fruitful relationships. YES! Fruitful Summer has been a joy to create and I hope you’ve enjoyed it too : ) If you missed it, you’ll find links at the bottom of this post.
    • Read the Word and do what it says. Trying to do this daily.
    • Deny myself and take up my cross. Again, always working on this.
    • Listen and lead well through an encouraging Bible Bunch. We will be studying through Interrupted this month and next. Yes, this was a wonderful gathering in June!

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    And now, my July PowerSheets Goals (assuming baby boy comes on time):

    • Soak in the Word
    • Transition to maternity leave – in progress
    • Love Ari and Grace well
    • Pray, surrender, listen
    • Listen and lead well through an encouraging last Bible Bunch before baby
    • Love our family group + friends well before baby
    • Release the Write the Word journal series - coming soon
    • Pray about labor + post-partum

    Weekly + daily goals: (lots of prayer again this month, as you can see above)

    IMG_8985Hosting friends this past weekend.

    This may be my last update before baby, friends. Thank you for walking this journey with me and for your prayers. I treasure them. Here’s to a meaningful July!

    P.S. In case you missed Fruitful Summer:

    P.P.S. Get on this below! Details here. Contest ends July 15th.

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    When life gives you lemons… invite your friends over for some porch sittin’, lemonade, and a do-over : ) Anyone else need one of those? And porch sittin’ is a real thing. We did it Sunday night with friends and it was so needed. We talked about everything from the Bible to favorite TV shows from our childhood (mine: Reading Rainbow and Fraggle Rock). Porch sittin’ and great conversation can cure a whole lot of things, including glitches in email sending. We had some technical hiccups getting our first-ever Fruitful Summer series out this week — and this series has my heart and soul in it — so I’m blogging Week One here for you! If you want to get in on the rest of this five-week series on cultivating meaningful friendships, click here to sign up before Wednesday, June 10. Don’t miss this. I am so excited!

    Okay… on to Fruitful Summer.

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    Confession: writing books is not something I love doing, but I am learning to love what happens in the process. Through the long hours at my desk, pressing into the tough soil of fear, comparison, and doubt — something is happening. As my heart is being refined in writing a book about cultivating what matters, my friendships are becoming more fruitful.

    But, you should know something: this is new for me. I haven’t always had close friendships. In fact, most of my life, I’ve had my foot in my mouth and felt too busy, too flawed, too introverted, too imperfect to have friends. Real friends—friends who love me in my mess and encourage me to live on purpose. I wanted close friendships so much, but it felt impossible.

    I have a surprise for you.

    Each season we’ll be going on an adventure together. #FruitfulSummer is all about cultivating meaningful relationships and doing life together.

    9159089e-ad18-41f6-8c0e-a96c26c9485eHow? Sign up for five simple weeks of learning how to cultivate meaningful connections.

    Here’s what to expect in the series — and a preview from Week One just for you:

    1) A short weekly note from me with quick encouragement and free printables for you and your friends. Here is a preview from Week 1: The Fruitful Summer Guide!

    Inside the Guide:

    • Beautiful printables
    • My top tips for making connections happen
    • Fruitful conversation starters
    • Insight from some of my closest friends
    • Free Fruitful Summer wallpapers for your iPhone or mobile device
    • A big shop discount code
    • Our top friendship gift picks for the summer
    • …and much more!

    2) A fresh video each week. Nothing fancy (all shot on my iPhone), just a whole lot of fun. Here’s Week One for your viewing pleasure! You may spot some familiar faces in here : )

    Fruitful Summer, Week One – Lara Casey and Friends from lara casey on Vimeo.

    3) More intentional relationships for you! We’re going to get practical and real in this series and I can’t wait to see what new things grow in your life as a result.

    Why #FruitfulSummer? Because learning that I didn’t have to be perfect to have close friends changed my life. My hope is that this series helps you discover the same!

    P.S. Share this post and don’t forget about the Summer Reading Giveaway too! Encourage your friends to join you for a #FruitfulSummer. Feel free to snag this caption and use any of the graphics in this post: “I’m getting ready for a #FruitfulSummer, cultivating meaningful relationships with @LaraCasey and friends — join us! tinyurl.com/fruitfulsummer

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    P.P.S. As if this wasn’t enough for one day, our Summer Clearance Sale is ON! Get 60% off prints, desk cards, T’s and more — no code needed — until everything sells out.

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    Hello, friend! How is it almost JUNE already!? I am having a baby next month (due July 31)! This is blowing my mind a bit, but I am feeling more and more ready thanks to an unexpectedly fruitful May. It was a challenging month and, in that refining, good things are starting to grow in our garden and in our lives.

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    Photos by my sweet friend, Robyn Van Dyke!

    What’s new: I have been intentionally away from the internet the last couple months to get my head and heart in the right place for writing. Instead of digesting Instagram and pixels, I’ve been reading more than I ever have in my life! In May, I read Interrupted, Kisses from Katie, Radical, and studied a lot of the Bible. I highly recommend each of these books. They have changed me! Up next on my reading list for June: When Helping Hurts, The Irresistible Revolution, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, and more Bible reading.

    What’s ahead: Lord willing, writing book two, running our business well, gardening with Grace, cultivating meaningful relationships, and growing a baby. Also, something fun is launching Monday, June 1. Don’t miss this. Sign up here to get all the details when it launches.

    garden-robynvandyke-5 copyCan you spot Hootie guarding our Big Max pumpkins?

    Onto my May goals update. Here is the link to my May goals and refreshed 2015 Goals. The Refresh was SO helpful!

    May PowerSheets Goals progress:

    • Write to help others move forward to God. Yes, I wrote the tiniest bit, but more than that, my heart has been getting refined and prepared. I believe this month will be full of words, Lord willing.
    • Complete the James Challenge (I’m writing out the book of James this month along with prayers related to each section — it has been awesome so far!) Yes, I completed this and LOVED it! I learned a great deal by slowly praying and writing through scripture. I plan to continue this in June with Romans 12. Writing the Word is awesome. More to come on this. Hint hint – new journals releasing in July!
    • Lead an encouraging Bible Bunch, studying Acts 1-9 this month. Yes, it was a great night learning about God together! I love these ladies.
    • Worship and please the Lord on our family vacation. Yes, this was the biggest highlight of May. Too much to say here, but this trip changed us. More here.
    • Help others move forward to God at the Creative Women’s Summit — glorify Him! I hope I pleased Him with what I shared. I was grateful to be a part of it!
    • Prayerfully introduce Write the Word in May or June. Coming this month.

    Little by little, focusing on progress not perfection, I did well on my weekly and daily goals as well. 

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    June PowerSheets Goals:

    • Write the words He has for me.
    • Cultivate fruitful relationships. Want to join me on this one? Be sure you are signed up for Monday’s launch!
    • Read the Word and do what it says.
    • Deny myself and take up my cross.
    • Listen and lead well through an encouraging Bible Bunch. We will be studying through Interrupted this month and next.

    Weekly goals: (lots of prayer!)

    • Pray for church family
    • Pray for friends
    • Pray for family
    • Pray for WORDS – truth
    • Pray for our children
    • Pray for marriage
    • Pray for team
    • Pray for Godly stewardship

    Daily goals:

    • Write the Word
    • Pray earnestly
    • Exercise hard
    • Clean green eating
    • Deny myself

    Fresh links:

    Here’s to a fruitful June!

    P.S. Surprise — a big summer reading giveaway! Share this post (feel free to use one of the graphic below), sign up for my monthly encouragement email, and be entered to win one of these books for you or a friend: The Best Yes (not pictured because it’s so good and I loaned my copy to a friend), Interrupted, Kisses from Katie, Prayers for the Dreamer and Doer, Unveiled Wife, Radical, The Fringe Hours, Let’s All Be Brave, Enough, The Power of Starting Something Stupid, Just Rise Up, or one of five copies of Make it Happen — great summer reading for friends to do together! Simply leave a comment here with the book you want to win (for you or a friend) and let me know that you signed up and shared. The more you share, the more entries you get. My hope is to get great books in your hands and encourage as many people as possible to join us for the good things coming Monday.

    Winners will be announced on the @LaraCaseyShop Instagram Friday, June 12!

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    Hi, friends! First of all, how are you? I prayed for each of you who left requests on my last post and am here to pray if you are reading this right now and have something on your heart. I believe that prayer can change things and that God is real and listening. I’ll ask for a couple prayers too, if that’s okay. We submitted our adoption paperwork and profile a couple weeks ago, so now we are waiting for the Lord’s timing to be matched. There are so many layers to adoption, so general prayer for the Lord to make His plans clear would be wonderful. Also, prayers for endurance and wisdom in my writing over the next eight weeks would also be appreciated, as I enter the third trimester. Thank you for praying!

    View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/isaacsonfamilymarch2015Photo by the amazing Gina Zeidler. This is how Grace feels about May! See more Gracie fun and my maternity pics here.

    What’s new: Our gardens are planted and I am so grateful. I started writing my next book, which is very slow and very hard, but the soil has been cracked. Seeds have been planted in the garden and for these pages. Now, to tend, cultivate, and watch God make things grow, little by little — and to keep saying YES to what He has for me. To help me stay focused, I’ve taken the last week off of social media and plan to continue for as long as the Lord wants me to. It has been refreshing and eye-opening.

    View More: http://katelynjames.pass.us/swteamshoot

    Our recent team retreat was so fruitful (photo above by my wonderful friend Katelyn James!), our house got a little crazy with PowerSheets orders, and my mom’s visit here was also a joy. We gardened with mom and Gracie had a blast sitting on the front porch with her in the rocking chairs, telling silly stories at night.

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    Also new… #TheOfficeReno is done! Full tour coming soon to Southern Weddings, but here are a few sneak peeks below from my sweet friend Robyn Van Dyke. I’ll be transparent in that I feel hesitant to share images of a “space” without telling you more of the heart behind it. It is just a space and I am grateful for it, but I also know that this world is not my home. More to come…

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    What’s ahead: Writing. Writing. Writing book two. Putting my everything into these pages for the Lord. Also, we are taking a little family vacation/babymoon next week. And then more writing. I’ll also be sharing some encouragement on creativity, competition, and comparison at the Creative Women’s Summit on May 14th, which is free for Influence members — join us.

    SW Office Reno-robynvandyke-69

    I’ll start my April goals update by sharing that it was a challenging month for me. I was physically tired and struggled a lot as I tried most of the month to write, but I didn’t crack through the soil till this past week. All in God’s timing, but it was a tough one. I struggled with fear, doubt, trust, and all things that ultimately led me to see that I needed to mature in my faith. The struggle led me to see places where I haven’t been truly loving God and have instead let the world get ahold of me. I am grateful for the refinement of this past month and pray it continues!

    My April PowerSheets Goals update:

    April 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! In progress, little by little.
    • Lead a truth-filled April Bible Bunch. Done. It was awesome.
    • Enjoy a joyful team retreat. Yes. This was so fruitful. It changed the way we plan to do everything in business and with the content we produce. You’ll see those changes roll out soon! I am grateful for the wise ladies I work alongside.
    • Be a joyful light to my mom when she visits. It was a great visit with lots of gardening time and good food. 
    • Plant our veggie + flower gardens. Done. This was a lot of work and so worth it.
    • 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. Yes, as I mentioned above, it’s done! I struggled along the way with material desires and prayed hard through it all. I am grateful for our new space and pray to continue to use it well to do His work.
    • Prepare well for our family vacation. Yes, all packed and ready to go.
    • Host and worship during a meaningful Passover. Yes, this was a wonderful experience and Ari did such a great job leading and teaching.
    • Cultivate fields of gratitude — praise Him! This I battled with a lot this month. Through the struggles, God taught me that gratitude in our circumstances is not what lasts. Gratitude for who He is lasts because He never changes. So, I have more of a focus on praising Him for who He is and that is a good thing.

    April Weekly/Daily Goals:

    • Prayerful marriage tending, using all we learned in Dynamic Marriage. This was challenging to transition from such a focused period of marriage learning to practicing it in the “real world.” We are working on it though!
    • Sing hymns to Grace/meaningful morning walks. Yes, did this and it was a joy.
    • Send Encouragement Postcards. Yes! I sent several and loved doing this.
    • “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). I put an alert on my calendar to go through our family budget and business finances each Friday morning and it has helped, but we have a lot of work to do here on the personal side to sacrifice more. A huge help this past week — I started reading Interrupted again (the new updated version) and it has ROCKED MY WORLD. Highly recommend this book.
    • Prayer for team, contentment, friends, and others in their faith and marriages. Yes.
    • Read some of The Best Yes myself and Shepherding a Child’s Heart with Ari. Didn’t happen. I am packing Interrupted and both of these books for our trip though.
    • Fitness + weights. I walked or did some cardio every morning, but weights didn’t happen. Most mornings I have felt tired from restless pregnancy sleep, so I’ve had little energy for lifting. I decided to make this easier with my May goals and aim for doing them once a week instead of every other day.
    • Rest – sleep and soul rest. By pregnancy default, I’ve gone to sleep earlier every night (i.e. – crashed around 9 with the lights still on!).
    • Get outside — yay for great weather this month! YES! Praise the Lord for the better weather!
    • And the big one: Love God’s word. Yes, especially the last couple weeks I have been loving my Bible study time in the morning before I open my laptop.

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    Okay, onto May and the PowerSheets Three-Month Refresh! The REFRESH! This was a new feature we added to the PowerSheets this year to help refresh goals once each quarter and it was sooooo helpful. WOW! All the exclamation points!!! : ) My goals got refined — simplified and changed — and I feel clear about where I’m supposed to focus for the next three months (and where I’m not). The PowerSheets Refresh is a winner. So, I thought it would be helpful to show you how my overall yearly goals changed after going through the Refresh.

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    Original 2015 Goals, written at the end of January and refreshed goals below:

    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)  Refreshed goal: Know the Lord deeply, above all else. Constant companionship with Him. Why? Because that’s the only way forward. All other paths lead nowhere. Matthew 7:13-14

    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. (Deut 6:4-7) Refreshed goal: Raise God-loving children who know and love God’s true heart. Why? Because “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17). These children are from Him — a gift from the Father. 

    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.  Refreshed goal: Bring other’s to know the Lord’s heart and that He is the way — His truth is the only way forward to Eternity — to true transforming love. “I am the way and the truth and the life…” John 16:24.

    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)  Refreshed goal: Use every part of my work to glorify Him and worship and love Him. Why? Because “every good and perfect gift is from above…” — every penny is His and to be used for His good work. Help me be wise and diligent in shepherding what you have given us, Lord! Colossians 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)  Refreshed goal: Submit to the Lord and to my husband because it pleases Him! Worship the Lord together in our marriage — in our decisions and conversations and prayers and activities and closeness. Why? Because it pleases the Lord and we are compelled because of His grace and how He has transformed our lives! “Honor one another above yourselves…” + 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)  Refreshed goal: Be a faithful humble LISTENER, working heartily in the Spirit in our family group, Bible Bunch, Tuesday study group, individual study, in the words I speak (James 3), in teaching Grace’s heart in our household, in all things. Why? Because God is alive in me and I should let it show! The goal: Matthew 28:16-20 + Romans 12:1-13.

    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)  Refreshed goal: (Here’s exactly what I wrote to myself and to God in my PowerSheets…) I’m stuck on this one. Lord, please give me a wise Godly sister to help disciple me. Titus 2:11-14.

    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)  Refreshed goal: (This was a BIG one for me in the refresh. I dug into what the Biblical meaning of “encourage” is and it changed me!) My study notes: Encourage – (Greek: parakaleo) to implore, helping to develop something in another, no fluffy “inspiration,” to call to one’s side, call for, summon, give support or advice in order to inspire continued action. “For I am not shamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16, “encourage and strengthen him…” Deut 3:28, “encouraged them to remain true to the Lord…” Acts 11:23. So, my goal is to encourage as the Lord desires — to strengthen others in faith!

    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)  Refreshed goal: Write a book about moving forward to God. And the scripture I keep repeating in my head a dozen times a day: James 1:5.

    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  Refreshed goal: (This one turned into a prayer.) Lord, help me here. I feel you deeply calling me away from worldly things. Thank you, Lord. Help me love you more — FAR MORE. The goal: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Also, “Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

    My new word for this quarter: Lord.

    On the heels of that great Refresh, here are my May Goals!

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    May PowerSheets Goals:

    • Write to help others move forward to God
    • Complete the James Challenge (I’m writing out the book of James this month along with prayers related to each section — it has been awesome so far!)
    • Lead an encouraging Bible Bunch. We will be studying Acts 1-9 this month. 
    • Worship and please the Lord on our family vacation
    • Help others move forward to God at the Creative Women’s Summit — glorify Him!
    • Prayerfully introduce Write the Word in May or June. Well, there you have it — I sort of introduced it right there : ) More to come, but this is a something I’ve been working on for over a year and it will be live in the shop in a couple months. I’ve never been more excited about a new … I don’t even know what to call it. Not just a product or a journal or a tool. It’s a way to get into, interact with, and love God’s word, even if you’ve never done it before. I pray it helps many women grow in faith — no matter what stage of faith you are in! more to come on Write the Word soon : )

    Weekly goals:

    • Marriage prayer + tending – study and pray with Ari
    • Teach Grace about God’s good heart
    • Deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus
    • Weights + stretching + pregnancy exercises
    • Pray for babies + cultivate PRAISE for Him!
    • Encourage team on “Growing Marriage” mission
    • Encourage others in faith + marriage
    • Pray for team
    • Pray for friends + family
    • Live by the Spirit, not by the flesh

    Daily goals:

    • Love the Word!
    • Worship Him outside
    • Work out – sweat!
    • Clean green eating
    • Worship music / generous prayer
    • Rest in Him / sleep

    Fresh links:

    • Nothing new, but I’ll share this one again in case you missed it and need some encouragement: I shared the story of our marriage crumbling and God doing “the impossible” on the Unveiled Wife

    Lastly, some encouragement that I’m carrying over from last month: Where you can’t, God can. I’m holding onto that truth this month too! He is able, friends. Here’s to a great May!

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    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? 

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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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