I am going to try something new the next weeks: writing blog posts and not stressing over them being perfect.  DONE is better than perfect and, though I have a lot lot lot of writing to do in the next 12 weeks (more on that next), I also feel called to write a lot here.  I want to practice writing here most days and just getting the thoughts out of my head.  Done is better than perfect.  Because the good we know we ought to do and — the good we know we ought to share online — can stay in our heads or we can DO something about it. Done is far better than perfect.   So, here goes!  Photos in the post taken last week by my amazing friend, Gina.  I love you, G!  I don’t usually wear makeup often, so I wanted photos taken for Grace in the same way she would remember me every day : )

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013Sleepy gracie in our bed because she was making molars last week and up all night. And yes she sleeps sideways in our bed — very comfy for us. Ha!

I wrote a series on Goal Setting & Setting Yourself Up for Success at the start of this year because I got really tired of NOT making progress on the things that matter most.  In fact, I realized I didn’t know what truly mattered most to me.  I didn’t want to end another year with regret about things I could have accomplished if I had just taken tiny steps along the way to make them happen.  I got really tired of looking back and realizing how much time I wasted on worry and things that distracted me from my purpose.  I started this year with one main goal in mind and several that branch out from it: to know God more and walk in His ways.  I wanted to finally do the things I’ve always had on my heart to do.  I wanted to make LIFE happen. Turns out, a lot of you felt the same way.

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013

The big morning stretch!

I updated you with my first round of progress on April 10 and our second update was supposed to be on July 10th, but I posted on August 8th with this update.  And I am, once again, a couple weeks late to update you, but here I am.  Welcome to round three of my 2013 Goal Progress!

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013

If you are stumbling on my blog for the first time, or if you need to start fresh, below are the links to get you moving. It doesn’t matter that it’s almost November. It’s NEVER to late to do what matters and start LIVING. Today is the day — YOUR day to start making it happen, to get back on track, or to choose a new track entirely!

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013

A few updates since my last check-in!

– I spoke at 8 conferences in the last 12 weeks.  8!  And I loved every single one of them.  I would do this year all over again with speaking.  It was so gratifying.  Full recaps of my summer/fall speaking coming soon!

– We got SouthernWeddings.com!  Oh my stars, this feels so good.  Read the whole story here.

– We took a family vacation to Beaches.  More on that trip soon too.  It was so good and so needed.  We also visited the Grove Park Inn as a family and I took Grace to see my parents in Florida.

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013Morning hair is the best kind of hair : )

– My Grandma Bunny was diagnosed with mouth cancer and, at the age of 96, started radiation treatments 5.5 weeks ago.  She is not cured, but has responded well to them.  Her cancer has shrunk significantly, which is more than we could have asked for! Her final treatment is tomorrow.  Amen, hallelujah, thank you Lord!

– We did approximately 8 trillion photo shoots for the next issue of Southern Weddings

– I signed my book contract with Thomas Nelson and started writing yesterday.  More to come here.

– We completed our 6th print edition (“V6″) of Southern Weddings and sent it off to print last week.  We get the copies later this week!

– We hosted a life-changing second Making Things Happen Conference last week.  It was incredible.  Full recap coming soon!  Registration for the 2014 Conference is now OPEN and seats are already flying.

– I got to spend lots of face-to-face time with my friends, Emily Ley and Gina Zeidler as we travelled to speak at the Pursuit 31 Conference together and did the Making Things Happen Conference here together last week.  I am so blessed by them.

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013

In case you missed the GOAL SETTING + MAKING THINGS HAPPEN posts, it’s never too late to start now!

GOAL SETTING FOR 2013, Part 1
GOAL SETTING FOR 2013, Part 2
GOAL SETTING FOR 2013, Part 3
GOAL SETTING FOR 2013, Part 4
GOAL SETTING FOR 2013, Part 5
MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: CLEAR THE CLUTTER
MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: PREPARE FOR GREATNESS
MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: TAKE A BREAK!
MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: NAME YOUR FEAR
MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: CREATE BOUNDARIES
MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: ENCOURAGE OTHERS
MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: THE BIG LIST

If you started with me on your goal setting in January or even if you’re new here (welcome!), I’d love to hear about your progress, big or small. The goal is PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION. Honest updates will help you move forward. So, weigh in below. I hope to encourage you or pray for you. And you just might inspire someone else with your comment!

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013We always go in our PJ’s to visit the garden in the morning.  PJ’s and awesome gold boots for Gracie.

— MY 2013 Goals —

Goal 1: To know God more by learning about Him in the Bible and through prayer because knowing God means I will know what is right and good and He will direct my path. Everything good comes from that. God is my compass. I want to know everything I can possibly know about God so I can align my life with His will. I want to know God so I can change for the better for everyone in my life. I want to study the Bible and pray without ceasing. That means a lot of things, namely less time in my phone and on email and on extraneous projects and more focused time without distractions, reading. My goal in short: read and pray daily. Repeat.

// YES! I finished reading the Old Testament and am plugging along with the New Testament.  This has proven challenging because the NT is so packed with goodness that I keep wanting to take it in very slowly.  But, I hope to be finished with the Bible completely by December 31.  That will be something to celebrate!

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013Morning adventures usually continue with reading and exploring the house.

Goal 2: I want Ari and I to have a more thriving joyful marriage because that will help us be our best for each other and Grace and everyone in our lives. Because we are stronger as individuals when we are stronger as a couple. Last year was truly a year of transition and miracles and this year, I want to celebrate life more together. I want to make Ari feel special and help him be his best. I want to open my heart and let him in more. I know I have a self-protecting wall up most of the time. I want to learn more about what God wants for our marriage and I want to DO those things. I want to help other couples do those things, too. I want to lead by example, in our failures and triumphs.

//  If you want to know more about our story, read here and you can hear our whole story live on camera in the Amazing Life Together recordings.  In our marriage, we have been praying a lot together and separately about what God wants for our family – adoption, more children, where to plant the seeds of our resources and how He wants us to use our time.

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013And there are always tickle parties.  Always. 

Goal 3: I want to become more physically strong so I can be full of energy to do God’s work every day and give to others. I stopped weight training last year and that is the longest time I’ve been out of the gym. I want to be physically strong so I can live a long healthy active life and be able to teach Grace about God and how to live a good life through my actions. I want to fuel my body to do good things. I want to recognize when I am tempted to use food to control my emotions and choose God instead through prayer, reading, stepping outside to take a deep breath or just by being still and having a good cry if I need to.

// I have been a bit off-track with the weather change stress of having too much on my plate the last weeks.  I learned in this season that all we can do is do what is right in front of us.  We cannot predict tomorrow.  One day at a time : )  And so, I am trying to get my fitness focus back one day at a time too.  I still get up to exercise every day, but pushing myself to workout hard has been well… hard.  I am glad I’m doing this update for accountability and to remember WHY I want to be strong in the first place!

Goal 4: I want to stop breastfeeding, Lord willing, by Valentines day (I started weaning last week) and stay emotionally fit, despite the hormonal changes. I want to keep my energy up and give thanks, despite my current feelings (imagine if you didn’t have a period for two years and your hormones decided to start creating one… that’s where I am). I want to do whatever I can naturally to regulate my hormones so that I can be my best for my family, my staff and my friends. I also really want those 3+ hours a day back to do more for God every day. And, at the same time, I don’t want to lose the beautiful thing I have learned in all of this – that taking time to be still during the day is a very good thing.

// Check!  Read my update from April for the details on how I stopped.  Done and done.

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013At the neighborhood park with Daddy.

Goal 5: I want to be humble and learn a lot this year about a lot of things so I can do what I do well. I want to learn skills that will help me be a light for other’s to know God. I want to be a better more skilled designer so I can spend less time creating graphics and so I can create inspiring products that help people focus on what is good in life. I want to learn to be a better leader so I can build my team up and equip them to do the same for others. I want to learn how to cook special dishes that make my family feel special. I want to learn how to keep plants alive more than a few weeks. I want to continue my calligraphy training so that I can write beautiful letters to special friends. I want to learn how to be a better writer so I can communicate my thoughts in a more compelling authentic way. I want to learn how to do my job in a more direct, powerful, efficient way so I can make more of an impact on everyone I meet. I want to learn more about investing and finances so I can be a better steward of our money. I want to learn so I can give more.

// Design – Nicole has continued to teach me so much through all we’ve been doing with our print magazine. Leading – I’ve focused so much on our company mission in my speaking engagements, so leading from that core has been fairly easy.  I am so grateful for a team of women who are just as passionate about our core mission as I am!  Cooking – My garden has been one of my greatest joys the last months.  We’ve harvested hundreds of tomatoes and I’ve had so much fun tending the garden with Grace. Eating straight from our garden is so satisfying!  Plants – Yes, as you can see I love my garden!  I am sad it is close to the time when my annuals will fade away, but I will have fun during the winter planning for spring goodies.  We did plant kale and lettuce for fall though and it’s looking beautiful!  Calligraphy – I stopped my calligraphy training to focus on other priorities.   Writing – Well, I have a book to write now.  A whole separate post coming on this. There is a lot of writing in my future!  Job efficiency – Yes, we had a great meeting recently about profitability and how we use our time as a team.  I do feel very efficient with my time and priorities now as compared to the start of the year! Finances – This continues to be the biggest answered prayer in this category.  We now have a clear personal budget, a savings and investment plan (with many thanks to our dear friend and financial coach Will Ray!) and I hired a new accountant for our business who has been so helpful thus far.  Guys, I can’t tell you what a relief all of this is!  Being able to know where we can invest time and resources and where we need to scale back is a huge blessing.

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013

Goal 6: I want to learn how to be more efficient and reach more people with less time away from my family. I want to spend less time on the phone with clients and far less timing emailing. My goal is to find revenue streams this year that are more automated, yet help people in a profound personal way.

// Yes, our shop has done well and I’ve continued to fight for my boundaries to keep my time focused on what matters. Read more about how I set boundaries here. I’m done with consulting and branding work for the year so I can focus on getting my book done, so my time has been streamlined. I am in the process of planning my 2014 speaking calendar, too, and have only accepted one speaking engagement thus far.  Speaking gives me the opportunity to affect more people at once and therefore spend less time on the computer or in sessions.  I’m excited to be speaking at the Bliss and Bespoke retreat in Charleston in February.  If you are interested in having me come to your conference to speak, I’d love to hear from you as I’m blocking off my time for 2014 now.  You can read more info here!

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013Can you tell we are related?

Goal 7: I want to learn how to be a better mom. I currently don’t read anything on parenting. I fly by the seat of my pants. I want to learn from others who do it well and become a mother full of wisdom so that Grace can be her best under our care. I want to raise her to be giving and pure and to have a heart of grateful JOY. I want to help Grace have more play friends and be a living example of the Bible for her in our actions. I want to be much more patient and less controlling and let go of my life so I can live in hers.

// I don’t even know where to begin with this update.  I’ll just give you a little glimpse into my world with the sweetest little monkey on the earth.  Late last night as I tried to calm Grace to get her to sleep (poor thing has a bad cold right now), she suddenly starts praying:

(clasping her little hands together and squinting her eyes so she can still see) Thank you God for Daddy.  Thank you God for helping me.  Amen!

And then she proceeded to sing a mashup of Twinkle Twinkle and Old MacDonald. DJ Grace is the cutest.  Then, mid-song, she looks at me in dark room, by the light of the moon coming through the window and says, “I love you so much mama.”  Melt my soul.  It’s moments like that that make me forget the constant toddler tantrums and separation anxiety that we weather daily.  Each challenge is an opportunity to teach her to know God’s heart and — though I fail at it daily — teaching her that is one of my greatest joys.  Showing her compassion and how to love others and how to say “I’m sorry” and how to celebrate life all make my mama heart very full.  We’ve had a lot of adventures together lately and I love my time with her.  Even when she refuses to clean up her messes and hits me with lollipops (yes that happened today).

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013She loves when Ari lifts her up high to touch the trees!

Goal 8: I want to continue to build a remarkable business that is a catalyst for real LOVE. I want my clients to have better LIVES and I want our brides to have strong MARRIAGES. I want to be a centered sounding board and prayerfully guide my clients this year to their fullest potential. My goal is to always come back to our CORE and to keep refining it.

// YES YES and YES! This update continues to stay strong and I am so grateful.  It becomes clearer and clear to me by the day that, the more we focus on our core and refine it to align with God’s will, the more powerful our work is on all levels. Our core mission is to inspire brides to cultivate a life full of love – celebrating their families, the rich culture of the South and what matters most to them – and then to draw from that rich well to create a meaningful beginning to married life! Through our weekly staff meetings and all of the decisions we make, we come back to this core mission daily and it clarifies everything. We’ve had SO many great staff meetings lately centered on our core and taking action on that daily.  I am so grateful for Nicole, Emily, Marissa, Kristin and Lisa!

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013

Goal 9: To learn how to take better photographs for myself so that I can remember Grace as she is in these sweet moments. I am not really sure why for this goal. It feels like a very God-centered goal, but it’s something I can’t explain. I have this connection to great photographs… they somehow speak to my soul. They change me. I think a gift God gave me was to be able to see the vision of a photograph to create. I can see moments and the big picture and a vision. I don’t have the technical skills to match that to capture the moments I see, if that makes sense. I even bought a great camera last year. It hasn’t been used yet because I get really frustrated with technology and numbers and learning new skills that I have to read a manual for. I want to learn the technical skills of how to take the photographs that I see in my heart.

// I’ve learned a lot about light and processing lately just through observing others and studying.  But, for now, I’m leaving this to the pros!

Goal 10: I want to live with less, keep a new budget based on the historical data we have from 2012, and be more frugal this year because my money is not mine. It’s God’s and I want to do more with our money for Him. I want to not only give away things I don’t need, but give away things I love. Ari is really good at this. His favorite sweater was in our charity pile this weekend and, when I asked him about it, he said he said that it wasn’t really giving unless you were giving something you didn’t want to give away for the sake of someone else. I love that. I want to be more sacrificial in my giving.

// We can’t take our stuff to Heaven with us.  I have so much growing to do here, but I am so grateful for how God is changing our family in this realm.  I read Interrupted and it further convicted me that my heart needs to change more and more to be like Him.  So, I started the Contentment Challenge at the start of September.  Not shopping for things I don’t need hasn’t been hard.  At all.  It’s giving things away and living sacrificially that has been a huge challenge on my heart.  More to come here.

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013

Goal 11: I want to build other’s up in faith and give lots of tools this year for people to make that happen. I want to study the Bible with others in my home and online. Going back to goal 1, I want to know the Bible so I can share it with others. Showing people the new life that I have been given and the indescribable JOY and freedom and love and genuine purpose I have found in this new life… well, that is something I want to share. Big time. If you were to find the most beautiful island in the world, you would want to invite all your friends. That’s how I feel about being in a relationship with God. I want everyone to be able to feel this goodness. I want to equip people with basic tools to know God more.

// With my book manuscript due at the end of January, I’ve had to table the in-person Bible study.  I did, however, write to our women’s ministry leader to tell her I was interested in doing this so we are going to meet one afternoon to talk about it.  I so badly want more time to be able to learn and study more so I am better equipped to teach God’s word to others.  I have been so convicted by Bob Goff talking to us at Pursuit 31 about how we need to stop agreeing with Jesus and DO something about who He is.  I want to live that.  So much.  I want to have Bible doings instead of Bible studies.

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013

Goal 12: I want to finally WRITE MY BOOK. I already have most of the content written and just need to put it together. Nicole and I started talking about the printing and technical aspects of this before the end of the year, so it’s in the works. My goal is to release it before the end of 2013, if not sooner. I want it to be timeless and done well so it will help creatives make things happen year after year. I want it to be a legacy for Grace to learn from as well.

// I signed my contract with Thomas Nelson/Harper Collins last week.  I am pretty afraid to write this book, but slowly God is giving me clarity.  This update is not wrapped up in a pretty bow yet.  Check back with me in January : )  My manuscript is due January 31, 2014 and the book debuts in January 2015!

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013Gina made us say “banana pants” really loud!

Goal 13: I want to continue to paint and create products for small creative spaces that inspire people to live better lives. God is the ultimate creator and I believe He gave all of us creative talents that are meant to be USED. I want to use my creative gifts much more this year: design, painting and singing.

// We successfully launched the Lara Casey Shop in February and sales have been very consistent with little to no marketing.  The PowerSheets have been our most popular product besides the AMEN print (my favorite), and have sold out now six times.  My own PowerSheets have been an exercise in discipline and have challenged me to take action on my goals and never tarry.  Painting – I finally painted the giant 5 foot canvas in our living room!  YES!   Singing – I love singing with Gracie and that is plenty for me right now.

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013

Goal 14: An immediate goal I have is to finish my website. It’s been over a year in the making and it’s a monster. The coding is almost done, my shop is populated and I just have a lot of site content to populate now. I’m hoping we can launch it late this month!

// DONE! We launched and I still love this site more than all the Luna Bars and chickens in the world!  OK, maybe not more than chickens.

Goal 15: I want to foster my friendships is a purposeful, focused way because then I will build a stronger bond with my friends and we can do more good things for others together. I want to be more prayerful for my friends, even when they don’t know it. I want to do surprise things for them to make them feel special and build their faith and capacity to love.

//  One of my PowerSheets goals has continued to be to pray for my friends often.  Ari and I pray for friends at dinner as well.  I still long for “dear friends” (here locally) as the Bible describes them. More on my recent friendship thoughts here.

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013

Goals 16: I want to support new moms more. I had a really hard time after Grace was born and several friends sent me care packages that really made a difference. I started a new moms group and my goal is to have several care packages and cards ready to go for new mamas and expecting mama friends that I can send out right away. I want to support new moms locally, too.

// I have shifted my focus to praying for friends who are going through infertility and those who are pursuing adoption.  God just has both of those things on my heart lately.

Goal 17: I want to send more real mail to build stronger connections with others, because hopefully it will help people feel God’s love.

// I sent a big bunch of cards and letters out last week and am working on some new shop products for 2014 that will help all of us stay connected the old fashioned way : )

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013The best.

Goal 18: I want to do more random acts of kindness. As often as possible because these things can help people feel hope and know that God is good. A little kindness can change someone’s life for the better.

// I want to do more of this.  That is all.

Goal 19: I want to show my family God’s love through my actions so that they will know Him more and trust in Him. My family is going through a lot right now. They need a lot of love. My goal is to be sacrificial with my time and resources so I can support them and take care of them in their distress.

// Yes!  I was able to go visit them in September and it was so good to be home.  And, like I mentioned above, my Grandma Bunny was diagnosed with mouth cancer.  At the age of 96, she started radiation treatments 5.5 weeks ago.  She is not cured, but has responded well to them.  Her cancer has shrunk significantly, which is more than we could have asked for! Her final treatment is tomorrow.  Amen, hallelujah, thank you Lord!

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013

Goal 20: I want to be like Moses this year in the way he trusted and just DID what God said to do. He let God use him. I want to be open to change and trust that God always has the perfect plan. No matter what.

// I have had to step out on faith in so many arenas lately.  I keep saying that I don’t feel equipped and the truth is that I am not equipped.  But, He is.

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. - Phil 4:13

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/grace2013

So, what is it that you want to make happen? Comment below to tell me about your progress this year, what’s been a challenge for you, and what you look forward to ahead. We’ll check in again before the end of the year!  Wow, time is flying!  I want to hear from you this week so I can hopefully encourage you and so you can also encourage each other. Make it happen, friends. No more lurking. Making things happen means taking action. So, fill me in! Remember, this is about PROGRESS, not perfection.  It’s never too late to start. Start today.

P.S. CONGRATS to the winner of the 2014 PowerSheets set (or anything in my shop up to $35 if you already ordered the PowerSheets), Sarah Lackner!  Sarah, email me and we will get your goodies to you!

Show Comments (18)

  • Somewhere around November 15th, every year, suddenly I would have a panic attack thinking, “How is it almost THANKSGIVING!?  How is it almost CHRISTMAS!?  Where did the year go?  I have so much left to DO!”  Projects I hadn’t started, goals I hadn’t touched all year and friendships I hadn’t nurtured.

    photo 4 copyMy little punkin’ picking out pumpkins.

    Typically, October is the month we all start gearing up for the holidays, becoming more and more spread thin as the holiday rush approaches.  To fill this anxiety about all the stuff I had to do, I’d buy stuff.  Home decorations, cinnamon apple candles to make me feel like I was home, and food.  Comfort food.  There is nothing wrong with those things, but when the stuff of our lives starts to pile up faster than leaves at the end of November, it’s easy to get really overwhelmed and weighed down. Can anyone relate to this?  Can I get some virtual AMEN’s!? I don’t know about you, but I want this year to be different.  Radically different.  I want this year to be clear.

    CLEAR-OCTOBER-LARA-CASEY

    In these last couple months — #IntentionalAugust and #SavorSeptember — I’ve been able to practice doing that thing I am really bad at: being still.  I’ve studied these ideas of being truly intentional and savoring the blessings we have.  Thousands of you have joined right along with me and it has been a JOY and an inspiration to click on these little hashtags and open up a world of people who are truly living.

    photo 2 copyGracie gardening with me and eating tomatoes right off the vine.

    Clarity, clear, ready, open, sure of where I am, confident in the Lord’s purpose… that’s where I want to be this month and I am SO excited to learn from you all too as we dive into the clear waters of October! Read these definitions below carefully and let me know which ones resonate with you the most. The word “clear” holds so many meanings that surprised me and made me see just how much I need to clear, to free, to settle and to make light.

    clear-lara-casey

    My CLEAR LIST:

    – I want to be free from haze.  Haze that comes from spending too much time looking at screens and not enough time gazing into eyes.  I want to fill our days with good work, good healthy food, better exercise, great books, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, fall leaves crinkling underfoot (y’all should see Grace stomping on fall leaves – so funny!) and warm hugs.
    – I want to be bright and not darkened.  I want to be a light to others and that takes me letting the light in first.  I want to take big deep breaths in of the cool crisp October air and rejoice for the gift of being ALIVE!

    photo 3 copyLast Friday, right before speaking at the Influence Conference.

    – I want to be transparent in my marriage and open my heart more so we can find the most fulfilling quiet love together. Last night, Ari prayed for us before bed that we would continue to grow strong together.  It was a prayer that came from a silly argument, but the best prayers sometimes come from total surrender. “God, we don’t know how to make this better, but we fully trust that YOU do.”  I woke up so grateful for Ari’s prayers for us and so ready to keep doing the best, most fulfilling, work I’ve ever done – the work of marriage.
    – I want to be free from blemish… i.e. shame.  Guilt can sometimes motivate us to be out best selves and to apologize when we have hurt someone.  Shame, however, paralyzes us.  It’s self-punishment.  I want to let go of the shame I hold onto and fully accept the grace I’ve already been given.
    – I want to see a clear path to victory for Him.  Not for me.
    – I want to have a clear mind and a ready heart.
    – I want to be free from doubt and confusion; certain of where I am supposed to be.

    Lara-Casey-Newsletter-Clear-October-3

    – I want to make life light (worrying is like praying for what you don’t want), clear, and bright.  Continuing to get rid of stuff I don’t need and learning to be truly content.
    – I want to get rid of the distractions – comparison, unresolved conflict, fear — that hold me from really fully living and giving to others.
    – I want to settle loose ends… or just let them go.
    – I want to free others from tension and help them see life in a new bright way.  I just finished reading Shauna Niequist’s Bittersweet after hearing her speak last week and I am so motivated to make stronger friendships.  Her book is rich with stories of the beautiful community of friends she has and how those friendships are born from spending physical time together and giving to friends instead of waiting for them to give to you.  I want to give to friends and build a community that all works together to give right back out to others, multiplying love.

    photo 5One of my PowerSheets goals has been to read the Bible this year and I am so grateful to have finished the Old Testament last week!  On to the New!

    - I want to jump over obstacles.
    – I want to get through this magazine and speaking season well and with intention.  Next week, I’ll be speaking at Proverbs 31 Conference with Emily and Gina and at the end of this month we’re hosting the Making Things Happen Conference here.  I am so excited about both and ready for some face-to-face friendship time.

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    Lastly, and perhaps most importantly:  I want my heart, my home, my family, my work, my body, my everything to be a clear open space, ready for whatever God has planned.

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    Moldable.  Teachable.  Changeable.  Ready to say YES to what matters most.

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    Join me.

    Make your Clear List on your blog or Facebook or Instagram or ALL of them.  Get these words and declarations engrained in your mind and soul.  Be bold.  Be tender.  Be clear.  Share your post and tag it #ClearOctober on social media (or write your list in a comment here!) so we can all support each other and cheer each other on.  I would also personally love to pray for you.

    photo 4Daddy picked out this outfit : )  

    Before you make your Christmas list and the rush of the holiday’s takes you a way, make your Clear List.  Make LIFE happen this holiday season by setting yourself up for success.  The kind of success that changes not only your life, but possibly countless others.

    LET’S DO THIS, FRIENDS!  Three people who comment with their Clear Lists and/or tag #ClearOctober this month on social media will win a Ocean Blue Make It Happen Print. I’ll choose the winners randomly at the end of the month.  More valuable than a desk print though, is what I hope and pray each of us makes happen this month.  Time to get CLEAR.

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    With my recent travels and announcing some exciting news yesterday, I am a couple days behind on filling out my October PowerSheets.  But, I’m stopping now to get clear and focused on my goals this month.  Oh, my stars, these PowerSheets have changed my year and given me so much clarity.  As the cherry on top of this post, I’m happier than a hog in slop to announce that 2014 PowerSheet Pre-Orders are NOW OPEN!  HOORAY!!!!  We sold out six times this year and are putting some extra bells and whistles on the 2014 PowerSheets.  They will ship in few weeks so you have them in perfect time to prepare for 2014 greatness.

    I want you to make what matters happen, so I am also going to be doing a 2014 Goal Setting Webinar at the start of 2014.  Everyone who pre-orders (before we sell out) will have free access to this exclusive live webinar in January.  Details to come once you place your pre-order!

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    We called in reinforcements : )

    OK, we are closing on our print edition in 5 days, so I am bucking down to make a magazine happen. Here’s to a brilliant clear October and an intentional finish to 2013!  I can’t wait to read all of your #ClearOctober updates, friends!

    P.S. I typically don’t blog my newsletters, but there was an error in yesterday’s email so I’m posting the corrected text here for all to enjoy.  Be sure to sign up for next month’s newsletter here.

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    When I first started the Southern Weddings blog six years ago, SouthernWeddings.com wasn’t available.  So, I had to get creative.  I brainstormed and asked friends and finally put something out on Twitter to ask for help!

    southernweddings.com domain lara casey

     

    Drew B had come up with iloveswmag.com in a previous plea for fresh-squeezed creative juices and the votes were unanimous.  ILoveSWMag.com has been our home for the last 6 years.

    But, this domain continued to nag me, like a great sweater that didn’t fit exactly right.  Spelling out my email address to people on the phone was nothing short of a circus.  I LOVE.  S as in Sam. W as in Walter. M – A – G as in Makes A Girl crazy to have to repeat her online identity a dozen times.  And then there were the folks who thought our magazine was called “I Love SWAG.”  And the folks who still call us SWS (little known fact, we used to be Southern Wedding Style before a rather painful trademark battle). People were constantly confusing us with the current SouthernWeddings.com domain.  And, most of all, I would think about all the newly-engaged brides that weren’t finding us easily.  All of these beautiful love stories we were telling were getting to a lot of people, but maybe not to everyone who needed them.

    This sweater didn’t fit just right.  It was 100% organic cotton grown in Alabama and Georgia and North Carolina and Tennessee and Texas, but the tag kept itching the back of my neck.

    SW-13

    I could try to email the current SouthernWeddings.com owner and see if she would give it to me or sell it to me.  I could.  But, that would mean that there would be a possibility that she could say NO and all hope would be lost.

    So, I did nothing.

    I sat on it for over three years — three YEARS! — terrified to even send her an email for fear of rejection.

    When I give workshops, I talk a lot about fear, largely because I’ve had a lot of them.  Fear and I have spent holidays, summers and long vacations together.  We go way back.  In workshops, we would inevitably come to a point where were I would ask everyone to name their fears. I always participate and would name the larger more common things first: fear of working too hard and missing my life, fear of failing and letting everyone around me down, fear of losing Ari or Grace…

    And fear of writing the SouthernWeddings.com lady about buying her domain.

    Why was this so important to me that I felt paralyzed at the thought of not getting it?  It’s taken me six years to figure it out.

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    You see, there’s this thing that happens when God totally changes your life and then plants a big dream in your heart for His glory.  You start doing things and thinking things that are far bigger than you can fully understand at the moment.  You want to go to the ends of the earth to say THANK YOU LORD.  You just feel compelled.

    When my own marriage and my husband and my family and my heart started to be transformed by the love that never fails, I started to hear a song… a song that needed to be sung and played loudly with the right instruments.  You cannot play Claire De Lune, one of my favorite sweeping pieces of music, with just drums.  Well, I guess you could, but I don’t think the swelling of the last part of the song would move me to tears as much.  Great music does that.  It changes us.  It heals us.  It compels us.

    I realized I needed — NEEDED — the right instruments to play this song that God kept putting on my heart.  A song of stronger-than-oak marriages, love stories that span generations and creating a deeply meaningful beginning to married life.  This song that we hum and sing and strum daily is the song of lasting love.  And if it meant getting a domain name to help us sing this song in perfect harmony, I realized I needed to feel the fear, get over myself and just do it already.

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    So, I emailed Lisa Manning one October morning in 2011, just weeks before I had Grace, after texting five friends to ask them to pray for me, shaking as I typed the email and sweating as I hit send.

    And I waited.  And waited.  And she wrote me back and said “no.”  She wasn’t interested in selling the domain.  Period.

    Ugh.

    My heart dropped into my stomach and I just cried at my desk.  God, I don’t understand!  I have been praying so much about this and I feel like you WANT me to go after this, but she said NO??!??

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    Then, I had a baby.  Life was flipped on its head.  With all I had going on having a newborn and trying to figure out how to be a mom and run a business, it would have been easier to just let it go and move on.  But, God…  There are those two simple yet life-altering words again.  But, God did not want me to give up.  He does not want YOU to give up on that thing that seems bigger than you that you know is for His glory, no matter how crazy it sounds when you tell people about it.  He kept showing me that this domain was just the beginning.  A small but vital piece of a much bigger picture.

    So, months later, I sucked up my pride and wrote her again.

    And she graciously said “no.” Again.

    And again.

    And again.  And likely by this point she was probably considering blocking my email.

    Then, on January 18th of this year, at the urging of several dear friends, I sent her my final plea.   This time, I explained to her WHY I wanted the domain so badly.  I told her about how God had changed my heart and my marriage and about our mission to help couples love deeply, give abundantly and do what matters most in life.  I poured my heart out to her:

    Before you immediately trash this email, I will apologize in advance for the repeat inquiry.  I fully respect you wanting to keep your domain and wanted to just check again to see if there was a possibility of us purchasing it from you.  The reason I want to purchase this domain is far beyond anything to do with business or traffic or numbers.  Our mission for the company is to be a light in this industry and in homes across the world.  That may sound grand, but we have seen how our “Love Never Fails” mission has affected so many in the last year… bringing people back to the heart of marriage.   So, if there is anything I can do to increase that mission and help couples create a meaningful beginning to married life, I am very passionate about doing everything possible.  I believe God have us this platform to help people come back to what matters most in life – love, family and honoring both in their marriages.  So, apologies again for the repeat inquiry, but I hope you will at least consider my plea.

    Months passed with no reply.  I quietly prayed about it as winter turned to spring.  The flowers started to burst through the ground and the bees started buzzing again.  New life was everywhere, reminding me that God was very good and that all things are made new in time.  In His perfect timing.

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    April 29th, 2013, Lisa wrote me back, but this time, she said “yes.”  It was a “yes” that was accompanied by a large price tag, understandably, but it was a YES and worth every penny. YES!  YES!!  YES!!!

    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; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

    The verse doesn’t say, “Ask and it will be given to you immediately; seek and you will find tomorrow; knock and the door will be opened to you no matter what door it is. For everyone who asks receives everything they ask for; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

    I’ve had countless people tell me “no” for things and I don’t always get my way, even when being persistent.   In fact, most of the time I don’t get my way.  Sometimes we are told “no” for very good reasons.  No’s refine us.  No’s help us to see just how passionate we are.  No’s make us resilient. And, sometimes God says “yes” after years and years of waiting for something — whether that’s a husband or a baby or an idea or a move or a new job or a domain name — and you are so much better because of the waiting.  The “yes” becomes so very sweet.

    It’s in the waiting that life happens.  But, in order to even get to the waiting, we must ask first. Ask. Seek. Knock.

    This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:14-16)

    God says that if we ask for things that are in His will, not ours, He will hear us.  I know now that God wanted me to learn the right melody before He gave me the perfect instruments to play it.

    As I type this, I can hear Grace in the kitchen belting “Amazing Grace.”  Oh, sweet girl.  Amazing grace indeed.  It’s not about a domain or a magazine or blog traffic or business… it’s about Him.  It’s about being a light for Him and never stopping at NO to make that happen.  I once was lost, but now I’m found.  Was blind, but now I see.  And what I see is very good and I want to share it with the world.

    And the beautiful thing about this is I made a friend, a true soul sister, in Lisa Manning.  She has since encouraged me about parenting and family and marriage.  Her grace and willingness to give up something that was her own identity for so long makes my heart so grateful and has set a wildly powerful example for me.  As we made the final domain transfer a few weeks ago, she told me, “I received your email and cried for 2 hours.  Southern Weddings was my baby.  I birthed it, grew it to adulthood and now it is going off to college.  : )”  Thank you, Lisa.  Getting to know you these last years has taught me so much about fighting for God’s glory and about giving things up for the sake of something bigger.  Thank you thank you thank you.

    Friends, I don’t have all the answers here, but I do have my own path that God has paved. Some simple, but profound things I’ve learned from this:

    Ask. Seek. Knock.  Ask for what you want and God will mold your heart till what you want is the same as what He wants.  That is a beautiful profound thing and the power of prayer.  We commune with Him and learn from Him when we just simply spend time talking to Him.

    Knock some more.  If what you are after is for God’s glory, it’s always worth a little more knocking.  Don’t wake any babies up or bang down the door, but tenderly knock on the doors that matter.  Make it happen.

    His plans never fail.  Ever.  And sometimes things take a long time because God wants to change you in the journey.  Life happens in the waiting.

    And so, it is with great REJOICING that I announce our new home…

    The best fitting sweater with the softest monogrammed seersucker tag…

    The symphony playing our song…

    SouthernWeddings.com

    SW-93Amazing new photographs all by Landon Jacob.  I couldn’t wait till our next issue comes out to share them!

    Hop on over to SOUTHERNWEDDINGS.COM (I had to type it in all caps because it just feels sooooo good — like hot butter on a fresh biscuit) to win the very first copy of our new issue hot off the press when it arrives. We have a shiny new brand and website coming on 11.12.13 with our magazine launch, but for now, this new home is plenty exciting!  Oh my soul is singing!!!  Thank you to so many friends who have encouraged us on this journey!

    ask seek knock lara casey

    So, what’s the thing you’ve been afraid to ask for?  What are you learning in the waiting?  I’d love to hear from you…

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    Hello. I’ve started this post three times now and I keep erasing my words because I don’t know how to lightly transition into what I’m going to write. So, here goes.

    God has put it on my heart ALL YEAR LONG to give up spending money on things I don’t need.  I’ve done a fair job at cutting back on expenses and simplifying.  We even went papertowel-less a couple months ago.  But, you know what?  That was easy.  The thing I’ve been most afraid of is saying no to shopping for stuff.  Stuff that brings me temporary comfort.  Stuff that is disguised in “I need this” clothing.  Stuff that tries to take my attention away from what matters more.  Until now, I’ve felt my stuff and the needs behind why I buy that stuff were stronger than God’s ability to be sufficient for me. I am still scared out of my mind hesitant about doing this because the alternative to spending money on things I don’t need is seeing clearly that God is enough for all of my needs and letting go of control of my happiness.  Letting Him be my happy.  And that may take work or struggle or facing how very connected to my stuff I am.  Me + stuff = BFFL.  OK, it will most definitely take all of those things.  It will take me learning a new deeper lasting happy.

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    Gracie at my parents house last weekend, playing piano for the first time. : )

    A few months ago, my dear friend Nancy posted that she was doing a “Contentment Challenge” where she wasn’t buying anything new — clothes, accessories and stuff — for three months.  Read her post about MTH and how God placed this on her heart here.  Right around that time, I went to a conference with her where Jen Hatmaker, author of 7, was speaking.  I sort of laughed the idea of giving up spending in my heart.  Haha!  Yeah right.  That’s too hard, I thought.  I’m just too weak.

    And you know what?  I AM too weak.  And that’s exactly the point.  After months of praying and being challenged by scripture, I am seeing that God made us that way so we would rely on Him fully.  Paul’s words in Philippians have been ringing in my heart the last weeks:

    I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  (Phil 4:12-13)

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    Grace making buttermilk biscuits with my mom last weekend.

    I want God to be the only source of my strength — my true sustenence.  Not new clothes or a better bigger prettier faster ____ (whatever it is at the moment).  I want to rely on Him to make me feel whole and new again, not Target (sorry, old friend).  I want to live simply and give abundantly.  Like, actually DO it.  I want to have margin in my life to stop and get on my knees to pray rather than be surfing Amazon for lightning deals.  I want to be weak so He can be strong in me.

    But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Cor 12:9)

    But, before I tell you what I’m doing, let me preface it by saying this:  this is not about rules.  It’s about doing what God has been urging me to do.  If He puts it on my heart to buy something for a good reason, I will do just that.  Like Jesus healing people on the Sabbath, this is not about following guidelines just for the sake of guidelines.  God is bigger than rules.  It’s about fasting from something that I feel is keeping me from a deeper relationship and understanding of God’s heart.

    So, if you are not doing this challenge with me, I still love you a whole lot.  With sugar on top and extra sprinkles!  I won’t judge you for making your Christmas list and checking it twice.  I still have a shop and a business that people buy things from, but I pray each purchase inspires them to what matters or somehow points them to Him.  You could certainly argue that no one needs a wedding magazine or PowerSheets.  That is true.  But, I make them because God put in on my heart to inspire people to what matters in marriage and to help people set good goals that build His Kingdom.  For me personally, filling out my own PowerSheets this month is partly what brought me to write this post.  I got my head clear, took a good look at my goal progress this year, and — with just a few months left in the year — realized it was TIME.  Time to stop worrying about taking this Challenge and just do it.  So, remember that a close relationship with God is not about spending vs not spending or being a missionary vs being a designer.  It’s about the heart.  It’s about using what you have — or don’t have — to glorify Him.  If you do join me in this #ContentmentChallenge, remember the heart of why we fast from something in the first place – to glorify Him.  To draw close to Him.  To live with less so that He can be exactly what He is – more.

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    Painting for the very first time with my mama.  So many sweet firsts on our visit.

    The Guidelines (modified from Nancy’s just slightly):

    • Prepare your heart, organize your closet, and make any necessary purchases that you might need during these months or plan for them. (This is not a last minute shopping spree! This is one final trip to the store for items you will need, and the opportunity for you to say your goodbyes to Target.)  I’ve already made my list of things I will likely purchase and have prayed about all of these things: family photo albums from Artifact Uprising (my pictures are useless on my computer and need to live somewhere we can see and feel them), a Christmas tree (actually counts as a donation since we get it from Trosa), business needs (needs only), and I’m not counting Grace’s needs like the obvious — diapers, wipes, warm clothes for winter and her 2nd birthday is the week before Thanksgiving so I’ll probably get her some balloons.  The rest I may make.
    • I am fasting from buying new clothes, household items, accessories and general stuff.   There’s a lot in that category and for me, it’s mostly the occasional trip to Target that gets me in trouble.  Food, items for basic living and experiences (like going to visit the zoo with Grace) are not a part of this fast for me.
    • I’m also focusing on giving during this time.  I’m trying to give something away every day.  Whether something physical, a prayer or encouragement.  Just something that is given to someone else.
    • I am hoping to do this through the New Year.  Yes, that means Christmas is included.  After organizing our whole house this weekend,  I know we have more than enough craft supplies to make gifts for family.  Also, charitable donations don’t count, so I can still do my yearly holiday purchases from Heifer.org as gifts for people.

    UPDATED 12/3: After much prayer and God presenting many opportunities for us to fill needs for others, we have decided to give gifts that bless others and help them feel hope, not just donations. We’ve already started and it has been so gratifying!

    • Choose something to read during this time.  I recommend any of the following: Seven, Interrupted, and the Bible : )  (Feel free to leave additional recommendations in the comments!)  I’m trying to finish the Bible by the end of the year (in Amos right now) and also have Radical and Not a Fan to finish.
    • Gifts are okay!   Remember the heart of this.  It’s not about rules.  If someone gives you a new dress or piece of decor during that time, receive it graciously.  If you need to buy someone else a gift, by all means, do so.  The point is to learn more of ourselves and the Lord.
    • Necessities are okay!  If you lose your glasses, buy a new pair. Just don’t start justifying new purchases for items that you already have. (“I really NEED this bathing suit, even though there are 8 in my closet already.”)
    • Actively pursue something good that helps to replace your tendency to buy stuff as a source of comfort.  Something that points you back to what matters most.  For me, it may be prayer, singing hymns with Grace, reciting scripture out loud, slow dancing in the kitchen with Ari, painting,  gardening or taking a deep breath and thinking about Heaven, where we will have no stuff anyway.

    I would also recommend using this as a time to become a better steward of your finances.  I know, I know!  First I tell you I’m giving up shopping and now I’m talking about budgeting. (!!!)  Stick with me here… : )  Having a financial plan has helped me to get to this point because I have been learning that all I have is not mine.  We are just stewards of what God has given us and we are to use it wisely.  We are blessed to be a blessing.  For a general primer on money management, read The Total Money Makeover and our resident Creative Director, Emily’s, Marvelous Money posts. With the help of Nancy’s husband, Will, who is also our financial coach (I highly recommend him!), we’ve outlined a budget and we now have solid goals like working to aggressively pay off Ari’s student loan so we can get to things like saving for Grace’s college and helping my parents if they need support in their later years.  Will also gave me a list of scriptures about finance that I have tacked to my office wall so I am constantly reminded of where God wants my focus.    My mind and heart can get so off-track!

    financial compass lara casey

    OK.  I have to get back to work, but let me finish by saying this: (as my dear friend Emily says)  grace, not perfection.  I didn’t want to blog this because I am human and fallible and I will likely mess up somewhere.  But, what makes me oddly excited about even the thought of “messing up” is the hope that God will change me in this experience.  He already has in preparing for it.

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    In our garden together last week.  I love getting out with her and hunting for garden treasures. My tomato plants trees are out of control!

    I am excited to get to know Him more and to rejoice in Him more.  I am excited to simplify.  I am excited to learn to be more resourceful.  I am excited to savor what I do have more.  I am excited to learn a deeper gratitude in this.

    I’d love to hear from you if you are joining me in this.  I’ll be using Nancy’s #ContentmentChallenge hashtag to keep you updated on my progress and can’t wait to be encouraged by yours, too.  Here’s to living with less (even though in comparison to the rest of the world we are so rich regardless) and to learning to be content!

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    This month, I decided I needed a fresh start. I put on the train brakes and I declared August, “Intentional August.” Read all about Intentional August here (and be sure to sign up for my next newsletter that comes out on September 2).

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    We took a wonderful family vacation last week to Beaches in Jamaica. So grateful for that time with my little family.

    August has been good. Re-focusing has been needed. But, when you start to peel back layers to get to your heart, more layers appear. When you start clearing the clutter of life, the water starts to turn crystal blue and start to see there is so much to explore at the bottom. I am still not where I’d like to be. My plate is still full. A huge travel schedule looms ahead of me and I wonder, “How did I get here?” Emily, Gina, Natalie and I have a group text string every day to encourage each other and ask for prayer throughout the day. Yesterday, we were all in the same place – overwhelmed with “good” things. And it hit me - too much good is still too much.

    Welcome to my slightly scattered post. I am just writing this as the thoughts come because my heart feels like it’s going to overflow today. Thanks in advance for listening…

    As I’ve worked hard to be more intentional — to live on purpose — God is teaching me and showing me things and a lot of it is challenging. You see, we all keep going and going, building and growing, reaching for the “next” and the “best” and even “better.” And you know what? We see some dreams realized and then it’s off to seek more more and more. We are never content because our culture tells us to keep pushing for the next level. I do think we should press forward and make big things happen, but the RIGHT things. A thought to challenge your heart today: maybe what the world tells you is “great” is actually very small in the big picture. Maybe there is a better goal.

    I press on toward the goal
    This and many more downloads are available here.

    Maybe I am the only one who sees and feels this, but there has to come a point where you make a decision to say NO to something… even something good. It’s relatively easy to say no to things you don’t want, right? But, when lots of “good” things happen at once, things can get a little cray-zay in the decision-making department. It starts to get really hard to say no. Lots of “good” can knock on your door all at once and suddenly it’s completely and totally overwhelming. Like if all of your best friends showed up at your door at once and you only had 10 minutes to spend with all of them. You would be able to have little conversations with a few and maybe a hug or two, but 10 minutes of great conversation with ONE friend would have likely been so much sweeter and more meaningful.

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    Our sweet class coloring together : ) Can you spot Grace?

    Teaching Sunday School has been teaching me this lesson. We have between 10-15 two-year-olds each week. If I try to focus on the class as a whole, I leave feeling scattered and like I haven’t affected any of those little hearts. But, when I intentionally spend quality time with just a few sweet littles, I feel God working. I see eyes light up and the tiny conversations I have with them fill me to the brim with gratitude. We can change people’s lives when we slow down to focus on what’s right in front of us, one thing at a time.

    And, so… the word “savor” keeps coming to the front of my mind. Savor: to enjoy something completely. Life moves so fast. People pass through our days so quickly. And, as much as I try — and oh do I try — I cannot be everything for everyone. I try so hard because I want everyone I meet to feel valued and taken care of. I want people to feel God’s love and grace. And yet I fail time and time again. I cannot please everyone, but I’m learning that I can savor time with a few and make it very meaningful. The same goes for sunsets and summer fireflies, ice cream and a cool breeze. I could enjoy them all at once, but focusing on savoring just one is so much sweeter and fills my soul to overflowing… which pours right back onto others.

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    This is when I told her she was going to meet Elmo!

    My September calendar is jam-packed, as I’m sure many of yours are too. There is one week where I have three speaking engagements within 48 hours (!!!), two of them out-of-state. (Side note: I’d LOVE to meet many of you at the Influence Conference, Americasmart VOWS, the Magazine Association of the Southeast’s Gala, and at the local ISES NC meeting.) Oh, and this is magazine layout month. For those of you that may not know, Nicole and I do all the magazine layout for Southern Weddings : ) I could list more, but I am choosing to focus on how I can make the most of what I have in front of me and how I can be GRATEFUL for all of it. One of the things I’m so grateful for is the live webinar that Emily Ley and I are doing on September 12th. We’ll be talking about small-is-the-new-big business, authentic branding and LIFE – how we balance our time and (through many mistakes and challenges) how we’ve tried to make what matters happen over the years. Early-bird ends this Friday.

    I want to savor this next month, so I am deeming it #SavorSeptember. I want to savor the things that get trampled by my multitasking: the Word, prayer, Grace singing “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” in the shower, friendships that I don’t make enough time for, my amazing sweet husband, the feeling of fall rolling in, the smell of the tomato leaves in my garden and the roses by our fence that I haven’t stopped to smell in forever. I want to savor this life God has given me so I can reflect gratitude right back to Him and pour love out onto others.

    I want to be still and savor even the tiniest moments. Each moment is a gift. Each breath. And many times, God meets me there in the tiny moments. This post has been ringing in my heart all month.

    “But there are moments in between life’s obligations when we are in the presence of our loved ones that can be made sacred.”

    I love this and yet I and starting to long for more than moments.

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    Great Day Plate from Emily

    And so, I come to the biggest thing on my heart lately: Grace. I have prayed all year about homeschooling Grace when she gets to pre-school age. It’s been on my heart for so long. In order to do that, I would need the time. And in order to get the time, that means I need to start saying no — even to good things.

    And this is where I stop. I just don’t know how to do that. I don’t have a plan yet or any clue as to how a new balance of work + homeschooling (or even another baby or an adopted child in the future) might come to life, but I trust that God has a great plan. A very good one.

    He has made far bigger things happen in my life.

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    Grace on the beach last week. She didn’t want to let go of the balloons someone gave her, so we tied them to her sand toys : )

    In the spirit of Intentional August and “done is better than perfect,” I leave you with this simple thought to close this imperfect spur-of-the-moment post:

    When you give Him everything, you will lack nothing.

    Here’s to trying my best, thought I expect to fail a hundred times over, to savor what He has given me: the big business milestones, shower songs and little moments in between. Right after I hit “publish” on this post, I’m stopping to set myself up for success and get focused on what matters as I fill out my September PowerSheets. I hope you will join me for #SavorSeptember, friends. I look forward to being inspired by you.

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    Warning: mega post packed with goodness! Grab a tall glass of sweet tea and enjoy : )

    I wrote a series on Goal Setting & Setting Yourself Up for Success at the start of this year because I got really tired of NOT making progress on the things that matter most.  In fact, I realized I didn’t know what truly mattered most to me.  I didn’t want to end another year with regret about things I could have accomplished if I had just taken tiny steps along the way to make them happen.  I got really tired of looking back and realizing how much time I wasted on worry and things that distracted me from my purpose.  I started this year with one main goal in mind and several that branch out from it: to know God more and walk in His ways.  I wanted to finally do the things I’ve always had on my heart to do.  I wanted to make LIFE happen. Turns out, a lot of you felt the same way.

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    This graphic above and hundreds more are available as free downloads here!

    I updated you with my first round of progress on April 10 and our second update was supposed to be on July 10th.  I didn’t forget about it, but I have had a really hard time writing this post for some reason.  I started to write this update and suddenly felt stuck — like I had nothing to report on.  Then, over the last weeks, God has been breaking me down to see just how much change has happened in my heart since the start of this year.. and how much more growing I need to do.  If you read my newsletter this month, you know it’s been a crazy time!  I needed to put the train brakes on to slow down and realize that I have made a lot happen, through God’s amazing guidance, the last four months.

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    Photo by Faith Teasley.  Be sure to sign up for my next newsletter to see our full office tour on September 1!

    So much has happened since my last update!  A few highlights…

    – We hosted an amazing Making Things Happen Conference.  We’re so excited about the next one in October.
    – We bought our house — praise the Lord!  Well, the bank technically bought it, but we are paying the mortgage : )
    – I wrote a book 46-page proposal and it was accepted.  More on that later…
    – Ari interviewed for and started his new job.  He officially and Interventional Radiologist and Professor at UNC.  I’m so proud of him!
    – We said farewell to Susan and welcomed Meredith into our family. Meredith has been a dream come true and moved all the way from Norman, Oklahoma to be with us! Read her inspiring blog.
    – We interviewed and hired Lisa, who celebrates one month with us today!
    – Nicole celebrated 3+ years with us and renewed her contract (with some bribing – see here), Emily celebrated 4 years, Marissa celebrated 3+ years and Kristin celebrated her first wonderful year with us!
    – I spoke at Engage! and Americasmart.
    Emily and I worked with 22 incredible branding clients.
    – We launched lots of new shop products.
    – Ari and I took a week of “stay-cation” and had a great visit with his mom.  Our stay-cation included a trip to the Piggly Wiggly — definitely a highlight!
    – I read a book that changed my life.
    – I took 2 weeks completely off of social media.
    – Ari and I started teaching Sunday School.
    – We also shared the story of our marriage – the good and the challenging – live on camera.
    – We celebrated the one year anniversary of my dad’s baptism.  God is amazing!
    – We said farewell to some great friends.  We miss you Thom and Bek!
    – We launched the Southern Weddings and Lara Casey monthly newsletters.
    – I planted a garden and fell in love with gardening (and got stung by a poisonous caterpillar familywhat!?).
    – I had the biggest business meeting of my life.  More to come on that in a few months.
    – Gracie continues to make my heart so full every day.  That is definitely a highlight.
    – We celebrated five years of Southern Weddings with lots of favorites from the last wonderful years:  favorite editorials, real weddings, SW ladies, behind-the-scenes goodness, amazing photographs and our growth.  God is good!

    My motto as of late: nothing measured, nothing managed.  My bulletin board is below.  This phrase has stuck with me lately because I tend to operate in the opposite way — I naturally prefer to live impulsively and coast through life rather than having a solid plan.  When I have a plan and a goal, it means I have to commit to something and there is a chance I could fail, so my natural tendency has been to shy away from goals.  Anyone else ever feel this way?

    You know where this whole “Make it Happen” thing came from in the first place?  Because I had to say that phrase to myself constantly to get motivated. When I was in college, my course load was 56 credit hours per semester.  I had to kick my own tail to make things happen constantly.  I still do.  Over time, I’ve gone from being a coaster to a doer.  This is not “natural” for me.  If you’re in the same boat, welcome : )

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    I’ve come to see that you have to have clear goals and be able to measure your progress to keep moving forward.  I need accountability or things don’t happen.  Leave me to my own devices and I’ll get distracted.  That’s why I made the PowerSheets and have devoted a good portion of my life to learning how to make things happen and teaching others to do the same.  Life is too short to coast.

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    The basics of how to make things happen (read the goal setting posts below for much more!):

    1. In order to make progress on anything, you have to first be honest with yourself about where you are.  Face the reality of where you are — with a heaping dose of grace for yourself — and ask God what you need to do next.  Is what you’re doing right now to make your goals happen working?  If not, redirect and take action on a better plan.  Be honest and gentle with yourself.  Progress, not perfection.

    2. Next, dig deep to define what your goals/next action steps are. The difference between a dream and a goal is that a goal has a plan.  In order to set great goals — goals you will want to accomplish — you have to get specific and get to the core of WHY you want to make them happen.

    3. Then, DO something about your goals.  You must take physical action.  Physical action is different than thinking about things.  This isn’t rocket science, but making things happen takes hard work.  Your goals must be more important than your excuses.  Are they?

    4. And then, finally, you must measure your progress.  Whether you use my PowerSheets or you use a journal, use something.  Nothing measured, nothing managed.

    If you are stumbling on my blog for the first time, or if you need to start fresh, below are the links to get you moving. It doesn’t matter that it’s August. It’s NEVER to late to do what matters and start LIVING. Today is the day — YOUR day to start making it happen, to get back on track, or to choose a new track entirely!

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    GOAL SETTING + MAKING THINGS HAPPEN

    GOAL SETTING FOR 2013, Part 1
    GOAL SETTING FOR 2013, Part 2
    GOAL SETTING FOR 2013, Part 3
    GOAL SETTING FOR 2013, Part 4
    GOAL SETTING FOR 2013, Part 5
    MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: CLEAR THE CLUTTER
    MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: PREPARE FOR GREATNESS
    MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: TAKE A BREAK!
    MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: NAME YOUR FEAR
    MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: CREATE BOUNDARIES
    MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: ENCOURAGE OTHERS
    MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: THE BIG LIST

    If you started with me on your goal setting in January or even if you’re new here (welcome!), I’d love to hear about your progress, big or small. The goal is PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION. Honest updates will help you move forward. So, weigh in below. I hope to encourage you or pray for you. And you just might inspire someone else with your comment!

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    Today is Awesome Confetti notepads available here.

    GIVEAWAY:  As motivation for you, I’m giving away a set of PowerSheets (if you already have a set, you can give them to a friend who needs a boost or you can have anything in my shop up to $35!)!  So, comment on this post and fill me in on your goals and/or your progress so far this year! Why am I doing a giveaway to encourage you to comment?  Because when we write things out and put them in black and white, stuff happens.  You can keep your dreams to yourself or you can be accountable and DO something about them.  I want to help you be accountable!  We’ll check in again on your goal progress on October 10th and then at the end of the year. Mark your calendars.

    First, a couple big things I learned overall. As I wrote in January and in April, goals change! I’ve continued to update my goals using my PowerSheets to mirror the change I’ve felt in my heart the last few months.  It is so important to evaluate your goals and check your focus often.  The second big thing I’ve learned (I also said this in my April update and it has continued to hold true!) is that, the more prayerful I am in my decisions, the more radically God changes my path and takes me to places I never thought possible! His plans never fail. I am impulsive by nature, so this has been a huge change and an enormous blessing to practice prayerful decision-making.

    OK, let’s do this update, people!  (more…)

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    lara-banana-bread

    One of my PowerSheets Weekend Tending List goals has been to bake for one of the sweet ladies who just moved into the retirement community a few weeks ago.  Her name is Phyllis and she came out one morning when Gracie and I were walking to introduce herself.  She said she loves seeing us walk by every day.  “Having a little youth in the neighborhood is such an encouragement.”  She and her husband just moved here to Chapel Hill.  Can you imagine?  Moves are hard at any age, but a cross-country move has to be a little tougher for our silver-haired friends.

    To show her some Southern hospitality, I was planning to bake her a cake or my mom’s Southern Pound Cake, until I read how much butter was required.  Eeek!  I want these sweet friends across the way to live long healthy days, so I made my own Low-fat Banana Bread recipe and it is goooooood.  You’d never know this was healthy!

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    I am not a big baker at all, but this was so easy.  I just mashed up the bananas in a bowl and, much to my french-chef-mother’s likely chagrin, just threw all the other ingredients in and turned on the electric mixer!  Voila!

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    I made four mini loaves using cheap tin pans from Walmart, because two older love birds can’t plow through a big loaf like my family can (read: Grace loves this stuff!).  You can also use this recipe to make one big loaf or 2 medium loaves.  It comes out really moist, so you can bake a little longer if you want it more firm.  I prefer the gooey texture myself though!

    photo 3 copyI also added a pinch of cinnamon that I forgot to add to my recipe card.  I love these recipe cards from our shop so much!  I’m delivering one of these mini banana delights to Phyllis tomorrow morning and I’m so excited! photo 1

    I’d love to hear about your favorite healthy Southern recipes. What are your favorites? Leave me some links and info in the comments, friends.  Enjoy, y’all!

    P.S. My 2013 Goal Update is coming next!

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Some favorite snippets from the lyrics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Photos by my new lovely friend Anna.

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

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

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

    Pride = about me. Humility = about Him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    lara casey garden
    Photo by Faith Teasley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    EgLc5MmuKZKi5eCNWKG-PKILldfhViNmTj8bzBx-a7I,wpXp94li1Qn1xiSvLDnhJfRH-tYsyPGdy7MpZgMMbgk
    Photo by Faith Teasley of the Elberta peaches in our garden.

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

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

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

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

    His love compels me.

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

    I did not make this happen. He did.

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

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

    lara-casey-change-scripture

    (2 Corinthains 5:17)

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

    lara casey watermelon

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

    Happy summer, y’all!

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