Lara Casey 2014 Goal Setting

Today I turn 34 and something has struck my heart like lighting: Don’t wait.  At church this past weekend, one of our preachers told us about a memorial service he had just gone to. A 35 year-old killed was killed in a car accident last Tuesday morning. That wasn’t on the young man’s to-do list for the day or in his plans. He thought he had his whole life ahead of him. The heart of the sermon that followed: You might not have as much time as you think you have. Don’t keep what God has given you to yourself. This thought has permeated every inch of my heart, so here I am. I am fired up to not keep what God has given me to myself in this series, in the book I am furiously writing (my final manuscript is due in 30 days — pray for me!) or in any aspect of my life.

So, the biggest rule to this entire goal setting series is don’t wait.  If God puts something good on your heart to do, DO it.  Now.  Don’t wait till you have a perfect list of 2014 goals in front of you.  Do the good you know you ought to do.  Do it with gusto.  Do it knowing that you might not have as much time as you think!

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Prints of above available here in gold foil, on sale for $12 — originally $20.

Maybe this isn’t how you expected I would start this 2014 Goal Setting series, but I’m done waiting.  If we face the reality that our lives are not in our control — that we don’t get to decide how long we get to walk this earth — we actually learn to live our lives to the full.  Facing the reality of life — and eternal life — makes me feel bold and clear and direct. It makes me want to use every gift God has given me and stop fearing what other people think (<—- how many of you are in that boat right now with me?) or what comforts I might lose if I give more and live with much less. It makes me want to hug tighter and teach Grace love more profoundly quit a lot of things and stop wasting so much time. Anyone feeling this way too? Welcome. I’m celebrating 34 years today — and the fact that I still have the ability to reach you today through this computer — by kicking off what will, Lord willing, be a powerful start to 2014. Let’s do this.

Here’s the deal.  Making things happen requires action.  As we go through this series, either use the comment area here to leave your answers or write them somewhere. 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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Those of you with 2014 PowerSheets will be all set, although you may need more space to write a few of these extra steps — and there will be exclusive steps just for PowerSheets owners, too! If you haven’t ordered your set yet, you can still order in time for my live 2014 Goal Setting Webinar on January 15! Pre-orders start shipping January 9. But, let me make one thing very clear: you do not need PowerSheets to make things happen. They are just a great tool. They won’t do the work for you. If you just have a notebook to do this series, 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.

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 little 2014 list by Monday, 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.  So, steps 1-3 will happen today and we’ll continue on Monday with the rest. And, 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’ve revamped and updated my Goal Setting series from last year based on what I learned in my own process and what I’ve seen work for thousands of others who joined me. I am very excited about doing this with you and so curious to see where it leads me personally, too.  Are you in this for a quick fix or for making LIFE happen?  Awesome!  Continue…

Before we start, a question: how are you?  No, really.  How ARE you today, friend?  Free-write (or “download” as I like to call it) for just a couple minutes.  Be honest with yourself.  You can burn your paper after if you want to, but be honest.  How are you??  If you need a place to start, write out three things that are challenging you in life today or lately and also write three things you are grateful for today.  It’s so important to start with where you are and get it out.  Your worries today can directly affect what you write next, so don’t shove them under the table.  Acknowledge them.  Write them.  Call your BFF and talk them out.  Whatever works best for you, but whatever you do, do it now.  Don’t wait.  When you are done with that, take a deep breath and let’s get started with Step One of 2014 Goal Setting.

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STEP ONE: Let’s take a look back at what worked in 2013. What are you grateful for in 2013?  What good things happened?  I know I’m starting with the hardest step. Most people don’t like taking the time to do this because it doesn’t seem like it will get you anywhere fast. Trust me here. It will. Why is this the most vital first step? It’s really easy to look back at an entire year and just see the yucky parts. Like when something happens to you at the end of a day and you automatically call it a “bad day,” regardless of what happened the other 23 hours. Anyone do that? [Raising my hand high!] Let’s focus on what went well first. Make your list right now. These positive things are there to guide you and you should CELEBRATE THEM! Celebrate what you want to see more of.  Gratitude changes everything and will show you just how far you’ve come… and it just might give you the energy and hope you need to press on full-force! Make your list of things you made happen and things you are grateful for.  You can list as many as you like!

One huge thing I am grateful for is that I started this Goal Setting series a year ago and tracked my progress throughout 2013 with my PowerSheets and here on the blog for accountability. You can read my goal updates (I posted my progress every three months… or when I could!) here: April, August, October. I am so exceedingly grateful that I wrote things down throughout the year. This was new for me and completely changed things.  It gave me so much more to celebrate because I didn’t forget things or let negative things overshadow them. This helped me to have the energy and confidence to keep going when things got hard. It helped me see so much more of God’s goodness that was there all along.  I will give my final 2013 Goal update and my list of great things that happened in 2013 next week.  Gotta use every day I have left to, Lord willing, take more action on those goals!

A few tips on how to make your list that have helped me:

1.  Take a look back at your 2013 calendar, blog posts (if you blog) or photos you posted on social media.  Those might give you a clue into some of the highlights you’ve forgotten.

2.  Talk to your significant other or BFF about your year and ask them to reflect some of the highlights back to you.  They may remember some that you have forgotten!  This is also a really great inspiring way to celebrate the good things of 2013 this weekend.  Make it your dinner conversation tonight : )  And remember, this isn’t all about you – ask others to tell you their highlights, too!  Goodness is contagious!

3.  Thank people.  As you reflect on the good things this past year, say thank you to those who were a part of that.  I’m starting today, too, with some texts, emails, phone calls and physical letters and a lot of praise to God.  Gracie is doing her happy dance, too : )

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STEP TWO: What didn’t work? Honesty time! And before you do this step, remember not to beat yourself up here. You are brilliant and 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?

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STEP THREE: 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 Step 3.  Make a Pinterest board of images that will inspire a brilliant year. Title your board “Making Things Happen in 2014″ so we can search for each other’s boards! Now, one word of caution.  I rarely use Pinterest because it can be the black hole of distraction and discontentment.  Pin wisely, friends.  Pick stuff that lights your hearts on fire and move on!  Here’s my board from last year and here is the one I’m starting today for 2014.  I am alone with Gracie today, so there will not be much pining happening!  Just reading books, running around and singing silly songs : )

OK, that’s it for today and that’s plenty to work on! Take your time with this and remember: PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION.  This is not about writing the perfect list with a perfect pen or making the most beautiful Pinterest board… 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 2014 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, I’m going to be giving away a $20 gift code to my shop (there are some crazy amazing new Making Things Happen and inspiring goodies coming to the shop soon!) and goodies from other shops I love on EVERY POST in this series to one lucky commenter per post.  You can win multiple times and you can increase your chances of winning by:

- Pinning this post or any in the series
- Instagramming – or “gramming” ? I suddenly feel old. Ha!
- Facebooking (is that a word??)
- Tweeting
- Blogging or in any way sharing this post/series
- For all entires, link back here to www.LaraCasey.com/blog and use the #2014GoalSetting 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 : )  ”See” y’all Monday!  YAHOO!!!

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  • lara-casey-whoever-takes-the-son-gets-it-all

    Years ago, there was a very wealthy man who, with his devoted young son, shared a passion for art collecting. Together they traveled around the world, adding only the finest art treasures to their collection. Priceless works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and many others adorned the walls of the family estate. The widowed, elder man looked on with satisfaction as his only child became an experienced art collector. The son’s trained eye and sharp business mind caused his father to beam with pride as they dealt with art collectors around the world.

    As winter approached, war engulfed the nation, and the young man left to serve his country. After only a few short weeks, his father received a telegram. His beloved son was missing in action. The art collector anxiously awaited more news, fearing he would never see his son again. Within days, his fears were confirmed. The young man had died while rushing a fellow soldier to a medic.

    Distraught and lonely, the old man faced the upcoming Christmas holidays with anguish and sadness. The joy of the season, a season that he and his son had so looked forward to, would visit his house no longer. On Christmas morning, a knock on the door awakened the depressed old man. As he walked to the door, the masterpieces of art on the walls only reminded him that his son was not coming home.

    As he opened the door, he was greeted by a soldier with a large package in his hand. He introduced himself to the man by saying, “I was a friend of your son. I was the one he was rescuing when he died. May I come in for a few moments? I have something to show you.” As the two began to talk, the soldier told of how the man’s son had told everyone of his, not to mention his father’s, love of fine art. “I’m an artist,” said the soldier, “and I want to give you this.” As the old man unwrapped the package, the paper gave way to reveal a portrait of the son.

    Though the world would never consider it the work of a genius, the painting featured the young man’s face in striking detail. Overcome with emotion, the man thanked the soldier, promising to hang the picture over the fireplace. A few hours later, after the soldier had departed, the old man set about his task.

    True to his word, the painting went well above the fireplace, pushing aside thousands of dollars of paintings. And then the man sat in his chair and spent Christmas gazing at the gift he had been given. During the days and weeks that followed, the man realized that even though his son was no longer with him, the boy’s life would live on because of those he had touched. He would soon learn that his son had rescued dozens of wounded soldiers before a bullet stilled his caring heart.

    As the stories of his son’s gallantry continued to reach him, fatherly pride and satisfaction began to ease the grief. The painting of his son soon became his most prized possession, far eclipsing any interest in the pieces for which museums around the world clamored. He told his neighbors it was the greatest gift he had ever received.

    The following spring, the old man became ill and passed away. The art world was in anticipation!

    Unmindful of the story of the man’s only son, but in his honor, those paintings would be sold at an auction. According to the will of the old man, all of the art works would be auctioned on Christmas day, the day he had received his greatest gift. The day soon arrived and art collectors from around the world gathered to bid on some of the world’s most spectacular paintings. Dreams would be fulfilled this day; greatness would be achieved as many claim “I have the greatest collection.” The auction began with a painting that was not on any museum’s list. It was the painting of the man’s son. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid. The room was silent.

    “Who will open the bidding with $100?” he asked. Minutes passed. No one spoke. From the back of the room came, “Who cares about that painting? It’s just a picture of his son. Let’s forget it and go on to the good stuff.”

    More voices echoed in agreement. “No, we have to sell this one first,” replied the auctioneer. “Now, who will take the son?” Finally, a friend of the old man spoke, “Will you take ten dollars for the painting? That’s all I have. I knew the boy, so I’d like to have it.”

    “I have ten dollars. Will anyone go higher?” called the auctioneer. After more silence, the auctioneer said, “Going once, going twice. Gone.” The gavel fell, cheers filled the room and someone exclaimed, “Now we can get on with it and we can bid on these treasures!”

    The auctioneer looked at the audience and announced the auction was over. Stunned disbelief quieted the room. Someone spoke up and asked, “What do you mean it’s over? We didn’t come here for a picture of some old guy’s son. What about all of these paintings? There are millions of dollars of art here! I demand that you explain what’s going on here!” The auctioneer replied, “It’s very simple. According to the will of the father, whoever takes the son…gets it all.”

    Puts things into perspective doesn’t it? Just as those art collectors discovered on that Christmas Day, the message is still the same: the love of a Father, a Father whose greatest joy came from His Son, who went away and gave His life rescuing others. And because of that Father’s love, whoever takes the Son, gets it all.

    - Unknown

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    The January 2014 issue of Southern Living just arrived in the mail…

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    …with 24 pages of our content, starting with an editor’s letter from Lindsay Bierman and yours truly.

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    Having this on my coffee table right now is so surreal, mostly because it all happened so fast (read my previous post for details). Lindsay’s words about our company and our hearts are so glowing that I can’t quite wrap my brain around it. I suppose that is what God does, though. He sometimes does things that are so completely out of your realm of understanding that they must be from Him. I didn’t make this happen. The six of us Southern Weddings ladies didn’t make this happen. He did. And I hope it brings Him great joy!

    Not a subscriber to Southern Living, but want to see the special section? You can download it here (link at top right)!

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    Well, the title of this post is something I never thought I would type.  First, y’all know my story with the SouthernWeddings.com domain.  Today we launched our new brand and site on that very web address!  We are happy as pups with two tails!

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    There is more exciting news, though — the second part of that title above.  Pour yourself a tall glass of sweet tea (or hot tea, depending on where you are right now!) and let me tell you a fun story…

    Back in early May, I got an email from a gentleman at Time, Inc.  I didn’t know who he was at first as I skimmed the email.  I thought it was a Time press release or just normal correspondence.  But, as I read, my heart started to pound.  The email was from someone at Southern Living (owned by Time, Inc.).  I think at this point, I squealed and started reading the email out loud to the whole office.  Then I got to this sentence…

    We would like to meet you.

    I just sat there speechless, not knowing why or what or any details.  I didn’t know if this was a good thing or a really bad thing, whether this was an initial step in squashing us or not.  And then I thought, “Wait, maybe they don’t know we aren’t based in New York.”

    I wrote him back to clarify.

    He said he and the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher would be flying to meet me in three weeks.  They knew.  Whoa.

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    Enter mild to medium panic mixed with massive excitement from the entire SW team.  We still had no idea why they wanted to meet us, we just knew they wanted to meet us.  And they were flying here.  To Chapel Hill.  I just couldn’t get this fact to fully sink in.  And then there was the golden question…

    What in the world were we going to serve them to eat?!

    You see, my mom and grandma and pretty much every woman close to the SW family has read Southern Living since they were tots.  Each recipe and garden how-to has been knit into the fabric of who we are today.  No matter the outcome of this mysterious meeting, simply having these gentlemen over for breakfast was a life event.  Something to clean your windowsills for (which I did).

    Not fully up to snuff with my biscuit-making skills, we begged our dear friend Chef Bedford, of the Fearrington House, to come cook a Southern breakfast of breakfasts for us.  He happily obliged and prepared a feast of pastries, fresh smoothies, Southern delicacies and the best Eggs Benedict we have ever had.  More on the Eggs Benedict in a moment.  With Chef Bedford before our guests arrived…

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    Ron, Greg and Lindsay, I hope this gives you a good laugh when you read this, but we practiced greeting y’all.  Kristin knocked on the door and, like practicing a first date “hello” in a mirror, Emily and I rehearsed shaking hands and taking coats.  This was Southern royalty stepping into my living room!

    I have butterflies even typing this, remembering that day.  We all coordinated outfits.  I think I cleaned the house eight times.  It was pouring rain when their red rental car pulled up.  Lindsay had gotten stuck in Birmingham with the weather, but Ron King and Greg Schumann dashed to my front door and we may have opened it even before they could even knock!

    Dressed in their finest business attire, our greetings went off as rehearsed!  Phew!  And then, the moment came.  The “why” that we were all wondering about was revealed as Greg, in his wonderful, warm voice said, “We love what you are doing and we want to be a part of it.”

    OK, y’all.

    Now I’m crying at my desk.

    Because, you see, I wasn’t expecting any of this.  It was like a surprise proposal.  With the most lovely words that followed.  Lovely and sincere and just perfect.  I started this magazine on my little 13 inch PC six years ago and to have my dad proud of me was more than enough.  But, now, to have Southern Living loving us, too… well… I just don’t have words.  After Greg’s glowing speech to us, I think I mumbled something like, “Wow, thank you. Would you like to sit down and have a smoothie?”  It was all I could muster.

    The meeting that followed is forever etched in our hearts.  Ron and Greg mirrored back to us all we have worked so hard for: our mission to inspire couples to create a meaningful beginning to married life, our heart we have for the magical place we call home and our passion for creating timeless content that helps brides celebrate what matters most to them.  They saw all of this.  And they wanted to help us get more people to see it, too.  Our mission comes to life in this brand new film we created with Twenty-One Films — enjoy!

    Aside from a hilarious moment when Ron, trying to cut into the Eggs Benedict on his lap, spilled yellow egg yolk all over his pants, the meeting was wonderful.  We still joke with Ron about the egg incident today and have promised him never to serve it again at future meetings.

    Speaking of future meetings, remember that time Emily Thomas and I flew to Birmingham and didn’t tell y’all why?  Here I am below at the entrance to the Southern Progress Corporation building, home to Southern Living, Coastal Living and several others.

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    The building itself is a marvel and a Southern gem.  We were greeted by Ron and the amazing “Mrs. Nellah.”  Nellah is like the SL mama, right-hand-gal to Lindsay and wearer of many hats.  She had the first copy of Southern Living in her hands to show us and proceeded to give us the grand tour.

    Friends, Emily and I were like two kids in a photo-studio-magazine-paradise-filled candy shop!  We visited the famed SL Test Kitchens (where they were prepping the Thanksgiving issue), the prop room (oh my!), and video studio where they were filming a segment for the holidays.  It was just incredible.  Warm greetings met us everywhere and we truly felt like we were at home.  The warmth was just like our office, only on a much bigger scale.

    We met Lindsay for the first time in a classic boardroom, like you see in movies when people have really big important meetings.  Only, this room was a little different, as there were individual picnic trays with beautiful sandwiches and flowers waiting for us when we arrived.  We picnicked in the board room as we talked with their editorial team about how we work, our vision and our heart for this work.  They shared the same.  We felt like kindred spirits.

    Dinner that evening at Bottega with Lindsay, Ron and Greg was magical.  Admittedly, I still felt nervous, dining with gents who know great food and business.  I still felt like the teenager tagging along with her parents on a fancy dinner.  But, they were so gracious and insisted we indulge in dessert, too — Chilton County peach ice cream.

    After a lovely “getting-to-know-you” day, the following day was set as our “business” day.  It was time to talk about what this potential partnership — or whatever it was — would look like.  I’m not sure how to explain this day, except to say it was something I’ve never experienced.  There were lots of logistics and terms I’d never heard and phone calls and so many people we met with.  It was all business.  No concrete plans were made, so we decided to go home to talk all of the options over with everyone and meet virtually again soon.

    After more prayer than anything I’ve ever prayed about in business and many more emails and advice given and phone calls and meetings, I’m so grateful to let you know what all of this produced.  It’s actually quite simple and feels just like a comfy sweater.

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    We are simply sharing content.  We have no formal ties to SL and nothing is changing on our end except sharing what we already do with more people : )  We are still just six ladies here in my house (see our recent office tour here!), making a magazine and running a small shop and shipping orders from my garage.  For all of this, I am so grateful.

    The details on SL + SW:

    Today, we posted our first blog post on the Daily South. Going forward, you’ll see us post there a few times a month.  Have y’all read the Grumpy Gardener’s column on the Daily South?  He is hilarious, and has helped me so much with my garden!

    We have a special weddings page on the SL site here with lots of goodies.

    We also have a joint Pinterest board where you can find even more great Southern wedding content.

    Now, the most exciting part of this partnership: three times in 2014, we are providing 18 pages of Southern Weddings content for a special weddings section in Southern Living – so exciting!  We’ve already sent our first one to print.  We couldn’t say anything at the time, but we were designing TWO magazines at once this season.  This was me trying to learn the SL style guide and do layout for our section in October…

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    You won’t be able to find the insert on newsstands, but it will go out with their January issue to about 400,000 subscribers who have been earmarked as being in the marrying (or mother of the bride!) stage of life.  If you aren’t a subscriber, there will still be a way to view it digitally.  Details coming soon!

    And that’s it! : )  We haven’t been bought by them, and have no plans to do that.  We are still producing our own gorgeous magazine once a year.  We aren’t changing a thing.  We just have new friends who believe in us, and want to help us spread the word about the beautiful, meaningful celebrations that are happening here in our neck of the woods.  For us, that is the most exciting part of all of this — we consider it a huge opportunity (and honor!) to spread our heart for strong marriages and meaningful weddings farther and faster.  THAT is something to celebrate!

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    So you can get a glimpse of why I am so grateful for the SL family, here are the words from Lindsay himself on what he loves most about weddings:

    “I’m a hopeless romantic—I get choked up over the sacred exchange of vows every time.”

    Oh my soul, I am so grateful for your heart, Lindsay Bierman. To the entire SL family, we’re so grateful to have you as a part of ours now : )

    Friends, we invite you to celebrate with us today. We’re giving away a gold foil “South” print in our first post on the Daily South and would love for you to help us spread the word about all of this great news! HOORAY!!!

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    Believe it or not, I am an introvert. A classic INFP by definition. I crave solitude and small intimate dinner parties to big celebrations. But, there is something that comes alive in me when I have the opportunity to teach and share my story and the mission of our company. I love transformation and have always been fascinated by it. I love seeing people step into their fears toward great pursuits. I love helping people find the heartbeat of why they do what they do. I love seeing people change and grow and use all the gifts God has given them. I love seeing people do the extraordinary. Watching Shaun White soar through the half-pipe in the Winter X Games is just as exciting to me as seeing a small business owner step into a life that really means something. I just love it.

    So, I was thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to speak at many events this year, including Engage!13 (blogged here), the ISES NC event (this screen was crazy!), the March Making Things Happen Conference, the Influence Conference (blogged here), Pursuit 31 (blog post coming!), the October Making Things Happen Conference (post coming soon!), the AmericasMart VOWS event (I spoke at the Home and Gift Mart earlier this year) and at the Magazine Association of the Southeast‘s GAMA Awards. These last two events happened to be on the same day in Atlanta, so I brought our newest editor, Lisa, with me for a whirlwind day in the peach state!  Special thanks to Amy Arrington Photography for capturing all the fun.

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    We started our day at the AmericasMart campus in the heart of downtown Atlanta. It was breathtaking. White carpet everywhere, gorgeous blooms and the most beautiful stage backdrop I have ever laid eyes on.

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    I felt like a kid in a candy store!

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    The VOWS Event is a huge bridal market, showcasing the best in new wedding dresses, bridesmaid collections and mother-of-the bride collections.

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    There were floors and floors of pretty gowns and Lisa and I wanted to try them all on!

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    Y’all, how about this stage!?

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    And, aren’t these handmade paper flowers just incredible?! You can find more about the artist, Balushka, and her amazing creations here.

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    I was so grateful to LulaKate for this lovely dress.  It was actually sent to us for this shoot but since I’m doing the Contentment Challenge and not buying anything new for myself, I borrowed it from our prop closet!

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    The AmericasMart team is as warm as fresh biscuits and I have become close with their event director, Amanda, over the last year. (She has a great little Etsy shop here, by the way!) Below with Amanda and her amazing team.

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    It was a fantastic morning and I was so grateful to meet many new friends!  More photos below.



    Then, after a quick change and a quick lunch, we headed over to The Estate in Buckhead for the MAGS event.

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    I was very nervous to speak at this event with so many magazine industry greats there including the Creative Director from Southern Living, Bob Perino.  I felt like the small fish keynoting this thing!

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    But, everyone was so welcoming and made me feel right at home.  MAGS president, Tova, was so kind and Lisa Baron gave me an introduction that made me realize who I was in the room with. She was a journalist and knew everything about me.  She had done her homework and truly understood my heart.  Somehow, it surprised me that someone actually read what I wrote and could see me clearly.  It made me cry.

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    Being there with these passionate writers and editors and publishers and printers, I saw just how much I am like them.  I tend to live in my own small world where we do everything from my home and feel like we are the only ones sometimes with this much passion, but I realized that day that I was one of many.  It felt so good to know I was in great company with people who wanted to tell great stories for the greater good.

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    More photos from our afternoon at The Estate…


    After a successful day, Lisa and I headed to the airport to catch our flight and celebrated with some Pinkberry in Terminal B!

    I am taking very limited speaking engagements for 2014, so if you are interested in having me join you at your event, please see the details here and let Kristin know ASAP.  I’m so grateful for such a wonderful 2013 speaking season and for all of the new friends I met in my travels!

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    For Grace’s birthday, I could think of no better way to celebrate her life — and so many dear friends who have meant the world to us these last years — than to celebrate… with cows!  You see, Grace loves animals.  Weekly, we visit our friends, the goats and chickens, to give them some animal crackers (ironic, I know).  We go see cows a few times a week (I live right down the road from a cow pasture!).  Couple this with my own love for chickens (my mom raised chickens since I was in fourth grade) and you have a little two-year old who loves all things farm!  So, Maple View Diary Farm was the obvious celebratory location : )

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    I worked with Grey Snail Press to design these adorable barnyard invitations.  (more…)

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    Sometimes — most of the time — the greatest gift you can give someone is to be present with them, carrying their burdens just through a listening ear.  Being right there in that moment with your friend or loved one (or a stranger in line with you at the grocery store who really needs someone to make them feel loved), listening not just with your ears, but with your heart, you subconsciously are letting them know that they are enough. The gift of someone’s presence feels better and has more of a lasting effect than anything you can wrap in paper.

    Being present helps us build stronger friendships and marriages, little by little. Stronger marriages take root and grow strong families…  and strong families – with all their ups and downs — have the potential to raise up strong children who have the potential to change the world and start the domino effect of present love again in their own families.

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    You make present love grow when you simply hug a little longer.  Nicole told me that one hug increases your life span, by 3 minutes, so go get your hug on!  Being present heals people.  I remember a day when I was having a hard time and Nicole was listening — not to what I was saying, but to my heart.  She said, “Do you need a hug, Lara?”  So many times we pass those love offers off and pretend that we are “just fine,” but I happily accepted.  That simple token of love and being present hasn’t left my memory. The seemingly little things matter, friends.

    When you turn off the chatter of life and stop to say “I love you” and mean it – even though he left dirty dishes in the sink again — that matters.  When you choose to put your phone down during dinner and really ask her how her day was, it matters.  When you stop to say hello to your neighbor that passes you every day on his walk, it matters.  When you do small things with great love and presence, it means something.   When you choose to fight busy and choose to be present, it changeseverything.  It changes generations.

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    Being present changed my own life.  When I stopped choosing my phone and social media over my marriage, world shifted.  When I listen to Grace instead of my email, her heart grows.  When I hear my mom and dad on the phone with my heart, not just my ears, I can hear their joy bubble over. When I stop to give my neighbors and strangers the gift of my time and ears, life happens.  Photo above by Faith Teasley.

    • Being present helps us hear life.  Slow down and really listen. You might see something wonderful.
    • Being present makes life richer.  It helps us to be content with what we have instead of pining for more. Being present helps us see the blessings right in front of us.
    • Being present helps us to be more efficient and focused.  When I am fully present in my work during working hours, I get more done and done well.  When I am fully present with my family during family time, my heart is renewed and I am a better mom and wife.  This is easier said than done with all we juggle in our lives, but the pursuit of being present is worth it.
    • Being present helps us to build trust in others.
    • Being present helps us see and hear needs in others and fill them.
    • Being present helps us change people’s lives.

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    Words from a great post by Shauna Niequist written above on this notepad as I was filling out my PowerSheets for December yesterday.

    This December, join me in giving this gift and learning to accept it, too!  Use the hashtag #PresentDecember to help inspire others to say “no” to the hustle and bustle of the holiday rush and say a giant “yes” to slowing down and giving this gift that cannot be wrapped.  Let’s listen for needs and fill them, friends.

    My prayer for you all is a holiday season full of letting your eyes and hearts drink in the blessings in front of you. Put your phone down. Close your computer. When something great happens, don’t say, “I wish I would have had my camera,” say, “I’m so grateful that just happened!”  Look people in the eyes and give them the gift that changes things.  Here’s to long conversations over family meals, strengthened relationships, and celebrating this beautiful season of hope!  Happiest holidays, friends!

    Love,

    Lara (and Ari and Gracie!)

    P.S. I’m still going on my Contentment Challenge (not buying anything new for myself till the new year) but after much prayer and God showing us many needs, we decided to change from just giving things we make and donations to also include gifts that bring people hope.  More about the Contentment Challenge here and a GREAT post on giving and gifting at Christmas here.

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    It’s a strange thing to read things I wrote just a couple years ago. Even a year ago. I feel like I’m reading someone else’s writing. Perhaps because… I truly am. That’s what grace has done to me. It has changed every fiber of my being a thousand times over in the last two years of being a mama. Reading through my pregnancy announcement, my chronicle of 9 months of pregnancy (which ended up being 10 months!), Grace’s birth announcement

    This video still makes me cry every single time I watch it. Right around 3:33 I can’t help but feel completely overwhelmed with emotion. Thank you to my friends at Inkspot Crow for creating this for us.

    …her birth story, weathering postpartum depression and then her first birthday post… well… friends, I’m speechless. So much has changed. Even with all this change though, I know He is just getting started with me. God is real and His amazing grace and this little Grace change my heart so fast every day that I sometimes don’t see the change until days like today when I stop to take a look back.

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    Photo of Grace at 3 weeks old by Nancy Ray

    Today, Grace is two.

    Oh my heart.

    Hello, tears.

    I’m welling up with an ocean of tears because I just can’t believe I am here — the mom of a two-year-old. How did this happen!?!? I can’t believe the time flew this fast. And I am in awe of how wonderful she is. This little human He formed in me. God is good. And so, today, we celebrate her life and His grace that has made all of this possible!

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    Gracie in her doctor’s outfit on Halloween!

    ‘But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.’ (Ephesians 2:4-10)

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    Just having a sweet conversation together the other day : ) I cherish these moments.

    Truth: I don’t deserve her. Her sweet auburn curls and her funny dance moves. I don’t deserve her hugs or this life at all. But, God’s love is that big. His love is so big that, no matter what we have done — no matter what — when we give our lives to Him, He takes the burden of our sins away and makes us new like a sweet new baby. He blesses us with “good” things and trials and challenges all to refine our hearts and make us more like Him. I am so grateful. I am at a loss for words large enough to describe my gratitude today, so I will just act them out instead.

    Today, I will rejoice and give thanks through dozens of hugs and kisses. I’ll sing happy birthday to her probably three dozen times, if not more. This weekend we’ll celebrate at a local dairy farm with friends and family. And I will look to the Heavens and smile, knowing that all of this is from above. Not by my own merit or power. Just Him. His grace is a gift and it has changed everything.

    Oh there’s so much more I could say, but I must go get those hugs and kisses now!

    Happiest birthday, sweet girl. I love you with all my heart!

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    I had a grand plan to blog all of the speaking engagements I did this year, in order. Well, although the Influence Conference falls somewhere in the middle, I must tell you about it today. Right this minute.

    Influence is on my heart today. You see, God has given each of us many ways to express our thoughts — blogs, paint brushes, cameras, music and so many more creative tools. The world tells us to use those things to make money and to be popular. To climb the ladder of the American dream that has been laid before us. Now, money is not a bad thing. It can be a powerful blessing when used well for others. We are blessed to be a blessing to others. God has truly given us these gifts to mirror His glory. For His good purposes.

    “What does that mean, exactly?” you ask.

    You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

    It’s that last part… so they will see your good deeds and praise HIM. Not us. We were created to be mirrors, bouncing the praise right back up to the One who truly deserves it. And there is no need to hide our light when it’s His light that is illuminating us. There is no need to hide period. (As an aside, this verse does not mean we should do all of our good deeds to be seen — I won’t veer off to explain that fully, but just had to note that!)

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    In our blogging and painting and photographing and music-making and wordsmith-ing, we are called to use our influence well so that the world will know the truth about where all of our goodness comes from. It’s not from us. We can’t possibly help or inspire people on our own in the same life-giving ways that only He can.

    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)

    Influence means the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something. I don’t take that lightly. Having an effect on people’s lives and marriages is a huge responsibility. One I fall short of all the time, but He humbles me and helps me grow when I lose my footing. Which is always.

    In speaking at the Influence Conference in September, I truly learned more in being there than I think I could ever give to others. Being in a room full of women who love God and are actively using their influence — no matter how big or seemingly small — for Him was truly awe-inspiring. You could feel the potential for greatness in that room. The kind of greatness that literally feeds the poor and comforts the weary. Not the kind that chases after blog comments and social rank. That’s the kind of influence I want in my life, friends. This is the kind of community that makes what matters happen.

    A few Instagram snaps from the conference…

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    Three big things I learned from Influence:

    1. You can have a business that makes what matters happen. You can have a business that literally feeds people, employs people who need it desperately and a business that takes the Good News to the nations. I met countless women who are doing just that. To name them all would take this entire blog post, but here is one to start with if you want some powerful inspiration. And another that I posted about on Instagram today : ) OK, one more! This one!

    2. Your influence matters, no matter how small you may think it is. If you have “only” ten followers on social media, think about all of those people in one room with you. That’s a lot of people. And those people have hearts. And needs. You can do a lot with what seems like a little. Numbers don’t matter – your influence and quality of relationships matter.

    3. Community changes things. I’ve known this for a couple years now in seeing the fruit of being a part of our church community. It’s not a matter of going to a church building often though; it’s truly about sharing your lives with others and living out the gospel. It’s about living the greatest commandment. I want to put this fact on a billboard: I cannot do as much on my own for God as I can in community with others who love Him and are seeking Him too. Influence grew that kind of community for me and I couldn’t be more grateful. I don’t just have new friends. This is family. Sisters connected by the one thing that matters. And friends, don’t for ONE second thing to yourself, “yeah but I am not worthy of that.” Or, “I don’t know how to be a friend like that.” I think those same thoughts all. the. time. and God has been showing me that they are not true. You are capable and worthy and you can have that community in your life. No matter what. I am praying for you right now if you are in that boat of feeling like you can’t. Ask. Seek. Knock.

    One of my favorite parts of the Bible ever, and the words I’ve been mulling in my heart all year, words that constantly challenge and encourage me to give more of myself to others:

    The Fellowship of the Believers

    They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 NIV)

    Community matters. Community changes things. Community requires your involvement and yet it gives back 100 fold. Community literally multiplies love and life.

    Thank you to the Influence community and to the women who created it – Jessi, Hayley, Ashley and so many more — for taking a leap of faith in inviting me to be a part of this conference and this group of beautiful souls. Thank you to so many dear friends and new friends I met there. Your genuine hugs and encouragement filled my soul to the brim. I had no idea what to expect at Influence and God changed my heart completely in those 48 hours. I can’t wait for next year!

    Friends, use your influence today. Whether you have 5 followers or 5000. Whether you think anyone is listening or not. You matter. Your art matters. Your life matters. You never know how you might change someone’s life for the better!

    P.S. Amazing timing! I just saw that they released the audio recordings from Influence as I was typing this. You can get mine right here!

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    Something hit me this weekend. A full life, with all it’s nuances and challenges and little moments, can never be put into the box that is the internet. Even with a thousand photographs and ten-thousand words, the fullness of life simply can’t be poured into the confines of this little web space. And it got me thinking about how it’s so easy to assume we know people based on what they blog or post on Instagram, but that is never the whole picture. Our lives are so much richer than what can be held in 140 characters or a WordPress page or a single photograph.

    And that is frustrating. Really really frustrating sometimes. As a creative, I am compelled to create because I want to mirror back to the world God’s goodness. I want to create with every fiber of my being. I try so hard. I try to share and create what I think will help. I try to share what I hope will inspire Grace one day to know and love Him. I try, but sometimes I get really tired trying to pour the ocean of life into a little cup. Most of my favorite moments don’t get photographed because I’m completely immersed in them. And sometimes life is just too big for words. I think that someday, in eternity, we won’t need to search for the perfect words anymore. The Word will be right in front of our eyes.

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    Grace has been going through a week of waking up at 3am. I don’t know what God’s purposes are in everything at all, but sometimes I suspect He wants me to be up all night so I hear Him. Because many days get so packed that I stop listening. He teaches me in these sleep-deprived days. He teaches me, as I look at her finally sound asleep, that He is good and His mercies are made new every morning and the most meaningful creating is a direct reflection of us truly living our lives and…

    that I need Him. I need Him because I get lost and He literally is the way.

    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 16:4)

    The last days, He keeps telling me to LIVE my life instead of trying to capture it. Like the most brilliant sunset — I could write about it or take a photograph or paint it but nothing quite feels like simply taking it in with my eyes. Some sunsets are so brilliant and make me feel God so clearly that my heart feels as if it may burst if I gaze too long. So many times I feel that about Grace too. Sometimes, the fullness of life just needs to be soaked up by our eyes and hearts. Our eyes are the windows to our souls (and to other’s souls), not our Instagram accounts. Babies soon turn into toddlers and our hairs eventually gray. This morning I even caught myself thinking, “Wow, “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes” is a workout!” Life is short. Be all there.

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    My prayer for you all is a week full of letting your eyes and hearts drink in the blessings in front of you. Put your phone down. Close your computer. (I was really set on blogging every day this month, but I’m changing my mind.) When something great happens, don’t say “I wish would have had my camera,” say, “I’m so grateful that just happened!”

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