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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    lara casey nothing is impossiblePraying is a funny thing at first.  You may feel like you are having a conversation with the air or talking to yourself when you begin.  You may get nervous and have no idea what to say.  Know that He will help you.  In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (Romans 8:26 NIV) If you have never prayed in your life, welcome : )  If you’ve been praying for decades and you just feel lost, you’re in the right place, too.  If you feel like you just don’t know how to pray, I feel you sister.

    Here’s the thing: it takes two to tango.  You are not alone when you pray.  When you pray, you are entering into a conversation, not a one-sided monologue.  Prayer is literally communion with God.  Communion means sharing thoughts, emotions, feelings or something in common.  

    If you’ve never prayed before or your prayers have gotten stale over the years, talking to God can feel like an awkward first date.  You don’t know what to say, but you really want to impress your date and get to know them.  God is pretty much the best date ever.  It may take time and lots more dates, but there is something to be said for simply spending time with someone.  The more time you spend with them, whether you share many words or just a few, the closer you become just by being in each other’s presence.  Give God a chance.  Give Him your thoughts.  Let the relationship grow over time.  The very best things in life come with time.  Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James 4:8 NIV)

    God is literally the only person you can tell everything to who will love you no matter what.  When you tell Him your heart and your faults and your challenges, He will guide you in what to do next.  His “answers” to you may not be as loud as trumpets and they may not come right away, but they will come.  He hears our prayers that are aligned with His heart. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:3 NIV)

    Prayer changes things.  I say this because I have seen it change everything in my life a thousand times over.  Not by my own effort, but by His grace when I pray.  When I pray, I let it all go so He can show me what to do.  When I pray, sometimes His “answers” come in the form of good thoughts.  He brings thoughts to my mind of comforting verses or people I should help or friends I should reach out to.   When I pray, I don’t use “perfect” words, just truthful words.  I don’t say what sounds good; I say what’s there.  The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. (Psalm 145:18 NIV) When I pray, God helps me get out of my narrow focus on my own worries and He helps me see the bigger picture.  When I pray, He gives me peace.  You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3 ESV)

    The Bible talks a lot about prayer.  Meaningful prayer.  Truthful prayer.  Constant prayer:  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess 5:16-18 ESV)  Prayer coupled with thanksgiving: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6 NIV) 

    For me, the hardest thing about praying is putting the train brakes of my life on and being STILL to pray.  I am always so grateful when I do, though.

    Note to self and everyone ever:  Be still and know that He is God.

    Be still today and talk to Him.  Give Him all of your worries.  Tell Him everything.

    Be still today and listen.

    Be still and just ask.

    Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

    Be still and know that He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. When we listen to Him and follow Him and trust in Him, we will see Him blow our expectations completely. out. of. the. water.

    And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (1 John 5:14-16 ESV)

    Sometimes my own prayers are as simple as, “help me know what to say, Lord.  Please help me do the right thing.”  Sometimes my prayers are long conversations where I pour my heart out.  Sometimes I just say, “thank you.”  Sometimes I say my prayers out loud, sometimes I sing them, sometimes I write them (I love this little notebook from my friend Val and these prayer sheets we have in our kitchen), sometimes I get on my knees and sometimes I get so excited, I dance in the living room and just say, “thank you, Lord!”

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    Print above from my shop.

    What have you learned through prayer or been challenged by in praying?  What do you need prayer for that I can lift up for you?  Will you all help me pray for any requests below, too?  He is always listening.  He can make the impossible possible!

    P.S. We launched our magazine today : )  Read the whole story and see our new cover here!

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    With so much going on in my days between work and motherhood and life, I easily forget things if I don’t write them down or put my thoughts somewhere I can see them.  I’ve found a system for getting things organized and done efficiently and I thought I’d share a bit of it here with you today!  Photo below by Cyn Kain from our Everygirl feature this week.

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    Getting life organized takes stepping 20 steps backwards before you even start making lists.  Read my free e-book here to learn more about how to set boundaries, kill the mental and physical clutter and focus on clear priorities.  Next, do something about those priorities.  My system for staying organized is pretty simple.  It has to be.  I don’t have time to make my calendar look pretty every day.  I just use stuff.

    The most important thing I use to keep my things organized is… Things. : ) Things is a to-do app that syncs between my laptop and my iPhone via cloud server.  Throughout the day, I will think of tasks that need to get done and, if I’m not at my desk, I quickly add them to my Things “inbox” on my phone.  I organize my inbox later in the day.  More on that shortly.  My Things today:

    lara casey organized

    I’ve used Things for 5 years and don’t know what I’d do without it!   I bought it for about $20 back in the day and it is quite a bit more now, but in my opinion totally worth it. There are lots of free and inexpensive programs like it, too.  For example, Wunderlist is free for the non-pro version and Reminders is also great.  Emily is also launching her Simplified Planner app soon.  It doesn’t really matter what you use, as long as you use something and it works for you.

    For scheduling, I use iCal for both personal and work items.  My “Lara” calendar is my own personal schedule with time blocked off for writing, my Bible reading schedule, etc. My “Work” calendar is our office shared calendar.  I also have Emily Ley‘s calendar (and she has mine) so we can constantly be supporting each other with what’s going on in our lives.  Each lady in my office also has a personal calendar with doctor’s appointments and vacation days blocked out.  I have Ari’s calendar and separate calendar for Grace’s activities, too, that Meredith and I share and add to.  I keep everything turned off except my own personal and work calendars most of the time, though.

    lara casey ical

    I have several binders:  one for business financial documents and employee contracts, one for speaking engagement contract and details, one for my PowerSheets (I paste my Tending List to the front of it every month so I see it on my desk all the time and do something about it!), one for our adoption paperwork so far, and a first-generation Simplified Planner binder for special docs.  Emily Thomas gave me the blog schedule printable above and I have loved using it this month!  Emily Ley also has a great downloadable one here.  I am grateful that Em (Ley — I have a LOT of Emily’s in my life) is going to gift me one of her new Simplified Planners soon, so I may use that for personal goals and projects.  My PowerSheets Tending List taped to the front of my binder below so my daily, weekly and monthly goals are always in front of me…

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    3 tips for getting organized and getting things done:

    1. Not everything needs to be written down before you do it.  Sometimes you need to just do stuff. Lots of people say they get great satisfaction out of crossing something off of a list.  I totally get that and, at the same time, I think there is more satisfaction to be gained from actually doing things.  Sometimes I wake up with my mental to-do list and I just start doing it rather than planning it.  We do far too much planning sometimes and thinking about things and they never get done, right?

    2. Kill the “Big List“!  I only allow 5 things to be on my list each day or I get completely overwhelmed.  I used to keep my “Big List” out on my desk and I felt defeated at the end of the day, even if I crossed off 10 things.  Read more about the Big List here and how to conquer it.  Keep your daily lists small, realistic and actionable.

    Here is a screenshot of my Things list for today…

    lara casey cultured code organized things 2

    3. Making things “actionable” means writing your to-do’s in a way that helps you visualize yourself doing them clearly.  For instance, instead of writing “PowerSheets e-book” on my list, I changed it to read “design 2 chapters of PowerSheets e-book.”  That is do-able, realistic and specific.  Just having “PowerSheets e-book” is non-specific and overwhelming.  Re-write your to-do’s so that they are clear, actionable and you can just glance at them and have confidence that you can conquer that task!

    More on how I stay organized…

    First, to-do’s go into the Things Inbox when I’m on the go.  Later (usually at the end of the day so I get organized for the next day), I schedule all of them and re-write them to be clear and actionable.  I schedule to-do’s for specific days when I know I will be able to do them or have the resources available for them.  If I don’t have enough time for something one day, I schedule it for a day when I know I will.  Below you can see some of my scheduled to-do’s…

    lara casey things

    and my recurring to-do’s…

    lara casey cultured code organized things 3

    I use my “Notes” section for sermon notes and inspiring quotes.

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    That’s it!  A few binders, an app and a whole lot of ACTION.  Remember: done is better than perfect.

    OK, time to go do these things today!  How do you stay organized?  I’d love to learn from you, too!  Have a question?  Ask away!  Most importantly, though… go make things happen!

     

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    Two-thousand and thirteen sleeps.  Two-thousand and thirteen dreams.  One night sleep (or five small ones from the time you were born to 11 months — we were all very tired together!), two naps for a while and now just one.  About two-thirds of those, I got to rock you to sleep, close to my heart.  As close as I could get you.  That’s where you always want to be.  Close to my heart, I have sung you a thousand songs and prayed a thousand prayers.  I’ve listened to you breathe — one of the most miraculous sounds I’ve ever taken in with my ears.  Thank you, God, for ears to hear.  I’ve smelled your little head each day.  The perfume of you has changed from the magical sweet smell of a new baby — something totally unexplainable in words — to the still-sweet scent of the bubbly happy Gracie I know today.  As I’ve rocked you these last 714 days of your life, I have learned something new over time.  I am still learning this.  God brings us to that baby blue rocker to teach me to slow down and savor stillness.  But, this is a special stillness.  It’s not the absence of movement or of life.  It’s the absence of me.  God fills up the world and our hearts with Him.  And that, I am learning, is all we ever need.  Be still and know, sweet pea.  He is always here.

    Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!

    Psalm 46:10

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    I love you, sweet pea.  Sweet dreams : )

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