Welcome to 2016 Goal Setting! Anyone else get the heebee-jeebees hearing the words “goal setting?” Then, you are in the right place, my friend. We’re doing this differently. We’re sifting through all the noise and distractions, and we’re doing goal uncovering. We’re taking our time. We’re taking big leaps. We’re making what matters happen, little by little. If you are just joining us, you aren’t late to the party — there is nothing magical about January 1! Here are Part 1 and Part 2, for your reading pleasure. Enjoy and have fun working through each step!

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A little recap:

STEP ONE: What have you been chasing? And how has that been making you feel?
STEP TWO: How are you? Evaluate your garden.
STEP THREE: What worked in 2016? And what lessons did you learn?
STEP FOUR: If you stopped chasing “perfect”—or whatever you’ve been chasing that is wearing you out— how would your life change? What does your perfectly imperfect “Messy 2016″ look like?
STEP FIVE: What hasn’t been working in 2015?
STEP SIX: Who helped you cultivate what matters in 2015? Who inspired you to live on purpose?

Now, onto Part 3! We have lots of fun things to cover today.

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STEP 7: Read over all of your progress so far! This is important! Circle or mark things that stand out to you as you read through. Rewrite things. Add to what you’ve written. Refine and get messy here! Dig through what you’ve written so far and see if you can find any themes.

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STEP 8: Write your list of what you are saying YES to in 2016 and what you are saying NO to. With everything you have written down thus far in mind, what are you going to need to say YES to more often in order to live on purpose in 2015, and what are you saying NO to? Think big picture here, and write down the things you are afraid to dive into, too. There is great potential hiding in your fear. Post your lists here in the comments to inspire others and keep yourself accountable. Remember: saying NO to one thing means you are saying YES to something better!

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

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STEP 9: Pick a core word for 2015. What one word most resonates with you for the year ahead? What word pulls together all that you want to make happen? Think hard about this.

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I shared mine yesterday on Periscope : ) Catch the replay here…

Research words that resonate with you. Pray on it. Then, write your word here in the comments (and give a virtual high five to those who might have the same word as you — we are bound to have some shared words!). Then, write that word in prominent places so you are reminded of your focus this year. Put it on a post it in your car. Put it on a post it literally inside of your fridge (I have a post-it in my fridge!). Make it your computer desktop. Write it anywhere and everywhere to remind you of where you are going!

Okay, I’ll be back later today for Part 4 for anyone who wants to take this weekend to dig in!

Need an extra kick in the pants? Welcome to the Ultimate New Year’s Giveaway! There are lots of prizes and fun ways to enter. Most of all, though, I hope you comment with your answers from each step as we go through this series. One person who comments with answers to every step in this series will win a bonus prize: A (spiral bound) One-Year PowerSheets Workbook. Yep! I have two left in the office, and one of you is getting one! I’m determined to motive you to dig in with me on these powerful steps : )

lara-casey-goal-setting-giveaway-2016

1. A set of 2016 PowerSheets with a Make It Happen binder and colorful tab stickers
2. Five prints of your choice from the Lara Casey Shop
3. The Finishing School by Valerie Metrejean
4. The Make it Happen audio book, recorded by yours truly!
5. A Journaling Bible (NIV)
6. Five Make it Happen journals
7. Artist’s Loft Fundamentals Watercolor Set
8. Two tubs of Vega Protein and Greens + a Vega shaker cup. Bonus: sign up for a free Vega account to get $15, and I’ll get $15 too!
9. Ashley Brooke Too Legit water bottle
10. ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?! 10 2016 Simplified Planners (pineapple daily edition). Yes, TEN of them! Lots of chances to win!
11. What good shall I do this day? sign from Best Made Co
12. Five Make it Happen books
13. Jonathan Adler Grapefruit Candlelara-casey-new-year-fresh-faith-giveaway

 

– (Not pictured, but so fun!) $25 Amazon gift card for books. Some suggestions: AnythingRestlessEditThe Best YesEditA Confident HeartThe Fringe Hours, or anything on Nancy Ray’s Book Club list.

14. The Write the Word journal collection – volume 1, 2, and 3!
15. Val Marie Paper Prayer Journal
16. Naptime Diaries print of your choice
17. In the Wait study by Holly Holt
18. Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin
19. How to Study Scripture E-Book by Jane Johnson
20. Make it Count 2016 Bible journaling kit from Illustrated Faith

Enter below and be sure to leave your answers to each step as you go through the series with me!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway ends January 13th. Winners will be announced on January 15th here on the blog. Shipping some of these items can get costly, so hard goods are for US entrants only. Lots of digital prize options though for my international friends! If you don’t claim your prize within 48 hours, another winner will be selected, so mark your planners and stay posted! : ) Also, this post contains some Amazon affiliates links. No extra cost to you, but it helps us raise funds for Love One Another Project!

206 Show Comments

She thought that being popular would bring contentment. She never felt like she was enough. She believed the success equation was: work 24/7 + more work. She chased bigger and faster and more more more. Her marriage began to crumble. Yet, she believed she couldn’t slow down. If she missed a minute on social media, she might miss something. She didn’t think she was doing anything wrong, just what she had to do to keep up. She chased an elusive standard of perfection and she MISSED HER LIFE. She was me. I chased my tail until it all began to crash and burn. If you have been feeling restless lately, so badly wanting things to change, but believing that it’s impossible, I know one thing for sure: there is a way out. It didn’t happen overnight or without buckets of painful decisions and facing my mess in the mirror and then… having it ALL covered in grace.

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Hi, friends! Welcome back to Part 2 of 2015 Goal Setting. If you are new, be sure to read Part 1 here to get started. Today we are going to step into the imperfect to cultivate what matters together. Ready?

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STEP FOUR: If you stopped chasing “perfect”—or whatever you’ve been chasing that is wearing you out— how would your life change? What does your perfectly imperfect “Messy 2016″ look like? And… what if you stepped into this year armed with buckets of grace?

Grace upon grace.

As my friend Emily says, “I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perection.” What would that look and feel like for you? Would it be scary at first? Freeing? Both?

My Messy 2016 is about letting go of control. It will look like more listening because I won’t be so rushed–and I won’t be rushing everyone else. (A tip: Write “will” instead of “would” as you share your answers. This will help you commit to making it happen!) I will be able to hear and see more of the blessings right in front of me. Like right now. Ari and I have been up since 3am with two sick littles, which is why this post is so late getting up. But we are choosing to rejoice in the mess anyway! They may have thrown up all over the bed (and us), but they are still loving each other right now.

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My Messy 2016 looks like a family of six because I count our expectant mama as part of our forever family too. Having a child with a different skin color than us may bring questions from strangers and friends… but so many opportunities to share the gospel and His love story in this little one’s life. We are so grateful! My Messy 2016 looks like passionately loving my husband and encouraging him in his faith. It looks like praying a lot. On my knees. In the kitchen. In my office. In the car and the shower and on the floor of my closet. (Watch this movie, by the way. It changed our marriage and faith in the span of an hour. And use code MOVIE75OFF for 75% off your rental from now till Monday!) My Messy 2016 looks like stepping away from a growing business more to sow love into my family. It looks like homeschool prep, playing outside, nursing two littles round the clock, not sleeping a whole lot, giving a whole lot more, saying no, and letting go of the need to have a plan all the time. It looks like simple faith and being small (I love my friend Val’s post today.) It looks like less stuff so I have less to clean up in our house. It looks unrushed and undistracted and gloriously full of life.

“Because a messy house is better than a messy heart. And my heart was messy. Mucked up with distractions and misplaced priorities. I retreated to the back porch to be with Jesus. I let the breeze touch my skin. Let His Word fill up the rooms in my mind. Prayer pierced through my preoccupation with self and soon praise poured from my lips. And the miraculous thing? Time expanded. There was time to do the one thing needed and time to do most of the rest. And in the end, the undone stuff didn’t matter. There’s nothing wrong with a clean house—shiny sinks and sparkling toilets can speak love and hospitality when prepared unto God. But if I’m choosing between the state of my home and the state of my heart, I know the better choice.” These words from the Naptime Diaries Make Room devotional by Becky Keife have been ringing in my heart since early December.

My Messy 2016 is about giving up my PRIDE. So much pride. I like to fix things and keep things in order because I fear not being enough–or that things will fall apart. And when it comes down to it, that means I’m not trusting God. Wow, it’s freeing to do this goal uncovering work with you! The simple act of writing my honest thoughts helps me to see clearly, and I hope it does for you too. When I grasp the reins of control tightly, I edge out intentional, messy, purpose-filled, awe-filled living.

Beautiful bouquet of pink and white peonies

Do you know how you grow big fluffy beautiful peonies in your yard? You break through the soil, place the bulb in the ground with some nutrients, get your hands dirty as you cover it up, and besides watering in the hot months, you let go. You wait. You trust that God will provide sun and water and that the earthworms will aerate the soil.

You take a leap of faith. And you let God do His thing.

You trust that when the plant loses its greenery in winter, it will bloom again at just the right time. After winter always comes spring. I can’t force a peony to bloom in the winter when it’s dormant. The bulb needs to rest and transform and store up energy for spring. And when that bulb finally sprouts again and the booms unfurl, you get to drink in the ruffled petals and marvel at what making a mess and trusting can do!

Where do you need to let go in life and trust? What does your Messy 2016 look like? What if you coupled breaking new ground to plant good seeds AND letting go? Because, we can’t do it all and we don’t have to. We just have to plant good seeds, tend them well, and trust—as hard as it is! But, trying with all your soul, might, and strength to trust is worth it. It’s worth that moment when you surrender the reins and watch God cover your entire life in grace upon grace.

There is that popular phrase, “She believed she could, so she did.” I know a deeper truth. A freeing truth.

She believed she couldn’t, so He did.

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Cultivating what matters means letting go, surrendering, trusting when everything feels impossible, and knowing that you don’t have to make it all happen. God wants to do extraordinary things through our surrendered hearts and hands.

Where you can’t, He can.

Grace upon grace.

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My Write the Word journal above : ) 

Now, on to the next step! Every garden I’ve ever tended has had weeds. It’s not that I’ve planted them—they simply come compliments of the dirt. Appearing in different shapes and sizes, they will choke out what’s supposed to be growing if left unattended. So it’s important to address them. In the same way, to make things happen we must deal with the resident issues.

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STEP FIVE: What hasn’t been working in 2015? What hindered you from living on purpose? What areas of your life need to be tended, watered, or soaked in sunshine? Don’t just write or say, “Everything.” Get specific and list your greatest challenges—the places that feel overgrown with impossible weeds right now. I know you want to make this your most purposeful year yet, so don’t let negative self-talk paralyze you as you make this list. Write the facts and move forward. Each thing you write down is a potential area of your life you could surrender to make completely new.

A page from my PowerSheets:

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Three highlights for me:

Comparison. I used to get very discouraged when I looked at other wedding magazines. I didn’t have their budgets or their stylists or their prop houses. When reading other people’s blogs, I would get depressed by comparing my writing, organizing, or business acumen to theirs. I would see happy couples, and though my marriage was improving greatly at the time, I resented all the mess my husband and I had to wade through. Other people were reading large portions of the Bible while I had a hard time reading two paragraphs of an e-mail without getting distracted. Other people were better, faster, smarter, and more successful, and their lives seemed perfect. Ugh! I wanted to be like them. Well, until God shed some light on this for me—a giant million-watt spotlight. Comparison is coveting. And I can see why God felt that strongly about it and forbade it in the Ten Commandments. Comparison makes me ungrateful, which is ignoring God’s gifts to me. When I want what everyone else has, I am blinded to the blessings right in front of me. Comparison isn’t only the thief of joy; it’s the thief of everything. If you are comparing your business, work, kids, marriage, finances, spiritual maturity, smarts, or __ [insert whatever it is for you]__ to those of any other human being on this earth, you will continue to chase your tail, and you will miss your life. I chased “big” and “more, more, more” and “the best” and “more followers” and—you get the picture—for way too long. Until all those things I had worked so hard to build by comparing myself to others started to crumble. Living on purpose turns comparison and coveting into compassion and cheering on. When you are living on purpose, it doesn’t matter what someone else’s journey looks like. All that matters is that you are going to the same place for eternity. You want to help other people get there. So why not be happy for people when they find success or joy or when something comes easier to them than it does to you? If God is glorified, the success is yours, too, my friend. We are all in this together.

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Worry. Worrying is like praying for what you don’t want. Seriously, God taught me a thing or two about this in 2015. “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” Luke 12:25. When you look back at the things you worried about this year, did the worry help you, or anyone around you? Me either.

Waiting for so long to deal with unresolved feelings or hard things. When you realize how broken you’ve been, and how much grace has lavished on your imperfections, you start to overflow with a desire to give that same grace to others. If I have been forgiven of so much junk, how could I hold forgiveness from another human being? In my maternity leave with Joshua, I did a lot of praying and read a lot of scripture in the sleepless nights. In all my reading and praying, I felt a strong pull to reach out to those I didn’t have the closest relationships with, and to reach out to new friends too! It was incredibly fruitful. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Eph 4:32

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Once you have your list of what didn’t work in 2015, name three lessons you learned and an idea for what to do about it. For example, if you found yourself lost in worry a lot, perhaps the lesson is to cultivate trust more, little by little, and have a list of encouraging scriptures handy—on your desk, on your bathroom mirror, or by your bed—for times you feel worry coming on.

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

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STEP SIX: Who helped you cultivate what matters in 2015? Looking back at your list of what worked in 2015, and all that you’ve written so far in this series, who helped you to live on purpose this year? Who encouraged or inspired you? Download your own free printable and make your list here!

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I don’t have a printer here at my parents house, so I had to type on mine. This is just one page of many for me!

Write the names of those you are grateful for and WHY. And then… do something about it. Thank them for the specific things they helped you with or inspired in you! Some examples from my list:

Gina. Gina and I have been friends for six years and I count her as my most prayerful friend. She has prayed fervently for my marriage, health, focus, family, adoption, and every aspect of my life! In that, I’ve been blessed by her genuine prayers, but also by her example as a prayerful faithful friend. She is also one of the only people who can get a genuine smile out of Ari on camera : )

Rhiannon. She loves our family generously and has become one of my closest friends. We pray, laugh, love, wipe runny noses, and change lots of diapers together. And we make each other tea on the many days that we just can’t do it all. Rhiannon, I praise Him for you every day!

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Marcia and Talia. These two wise women are in our church family group, and have become dear friends and mentors to me. What’s unique about these women is that they fiercely pursue my faith. What does that mean? When Ari and I have a challenge in our marriage and I ask them to pray, they pray… and they call, they come over, they don’t let me get away with “I’m fine.”

Jess Connolly. Jess is a wise woman and has encouraged my faith greatly this year. I love reading her truthful words each day, and I am grateful to have her as a friend. Sometimes I wish I could show up at her door just to give her a bear hug and say, “Thank you for speaking truth today.”

Nicole. She wants to know the real answer when she asks how I’m doing each morning. She is a really good listener, and even though I have overloaded her with my big crazy ideas more than once this year, she has continued to pour out grace and joy. I’ve learned from her calm, positive, innovative, giving, and passionate spirit this year. I am so grateful to do my days with you, N!

I loved hearing all the things many of you did to encourage someone else in Part 1! I’d love to hear from you here too. How are you saying thank you to the people who have helped you to cultivate what matters?

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OPTIONAL* BONUS STEP: Get visual! Let’s call this “2016 garden planning!” As a creative, visual person, imagery really lights my heart on fire more than anything. Great photographs and colors can make my heart sing and help me clarify my vision. If you are like me, you will really love this step. Make a Pinterest board of images that will inspire a purposeful year. What do you want to grow? Title your board “Make it Happen in 2016″ so we can search for each other’s boards! Now, one word of caution. I rarely use Pinterest (like, twice a year) because it can be the black hole of distraction and discontentment. The goal isn’t to have a Pinterest-worthy year, so pick images that have deep heart, not just pretty things. Here’s my board from last 2013 and from 2014 and 2015. I’ll be pinning images for 2016 here.

*I made this step optional for a reason! If Pinterest distracts you too much, skip this step! There are no rules here. Do whatever will help you to make what matters happen.

Okay, I’ll be back on Friday for Part 3. Friday’s post will be a single powerful step, and I can’t wait!

Need an extra kick in the pants? Welcome to the Ultimate New Year’s Giveaway! There are lots of prizes and fun ways to enter. Most of all, though, I hope you comment with your answers from each step as we go through this series. One person who comments with answers to every step in this series will win a bonus prize: A (spiral bound) One-Year PowerSheets Workbook. Yep! I have two left in the office, and one of you is getting one! I’m determined to motive you to dig in with me on these powerful steps : )

lara-casey-goal-setting-giveaway-2016

1. A set of 2016 PowerSheets with a Make It Happen binder and colorful tab stickers
2. Five prints of your choice from the Lara Casey Shop
3. The Finishing School by Valerie Metrejean
4. The Make it Happen audio book, recorded by yours truly!
5. A Journaling Bible (NIV)
6. Five Make it Happen journals
7. Artist’s Loft Fundamentals Watercolor Set
8. Two tubs of Vega Protein and Greens + a Vega shaker cup. Bonus: sign up for a free Vega account to get $15, and I’ll get $15 too!
9. Ashley Brooke Too Legit water bottle
10. ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?! 10 2016 Simplified Planners (pineapple daily edition). Yes, TEN of them! Lots of chances to win!
11. What good shall I do this day? sign from Best Made Co
12. Five Make it Happen books
13. Jonathan Adler Grapefruit Candlelara-casey-new-year-fresh-faith-giveaway

 

– (Not pictured, but so fun!) $25 Amazon gift card for books. Some suggestions: AnythingRestlessThe Best YesA Confident HeartThe Fringe Hours, or anything on Nancy Ray’s Book Club list.

14. The Write the Word journal collection – volume 1, 2, and 3!
15. Val Marie Paper Prayer Journal
16. Naptime Diaries print of your choice
17. In the Wait study by Holly Holt
18. Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin
19. How to Study Scripture E-Book by Jane Johnson
20. Make it Count 2016 Bible journaling kit from Illustrated Faith

Enter below and be sure to leave your answers to each step as you go through the series with me!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway ends January 13th. Winners will be announced on January 15th here on the blog. Shipping some of these items can get costly, so hard goods are for US entrants only. Lots of digital prize options though for my international friends! If you don’t claim your prize within 48 hours, another winner will be selected, so mark your planners and stay posted! : ) Also, this post contains some Amazon affiliates links. No extra cost to you, but it helps us raise funds for Love One Another Project!

Ready for part 3? Here you go!

196 Show Comments

GoalSetting2016

Hi and welcome to the fifth annual Make It Happen Goal Setting series! This year is going to be a little different. And we are on the way to see my parents in Florida for the week as I type this, so forgive any typos!

First though, some news : )

After two years of praying, we have been chosen for our adoption. Lord willing, we will be welcoming our littlest girl in late February or early March (due March 6th). We are feeling all the feelings: excited, scared, nervous, and in awe of God’s plans. We are still in shock and don’t totally know how to feel yet, but every time Ari and I look at each other with the look of, How in the world are we going to take care of two babies and a busy Grace!?, we remind each other that it’s not about us. Never in a million years would we have envisioned adopting, or even having kids together, when we first met ten years ago. God had far better plans than us. He will equip us–and part of that might be breaking us along the way in order to build us back up again. Where we can’t, He can. Thank you to the countless friends who have been praying through our journey. We ask for your continued prayers as we prepare our hearts and home, prayers for our expectant mother, and for the little one growing inside of her. Thank you in advance for praying alongside us!

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

I lack a worthy transition here, but it still feels right in step. I’ve declared 2016, The Year of Getting Messy — embracing imperfect grace-filled progress. Why? Every time I have found myself chasing “perfect,” I’ve felt anxiety creep up. When I fear not being enough, I strive and try to control things, and it gets me nowhere. The chase for perfect—trying to rise to an unattainable standard—has been known to wake me up at 3am. It makes me a distracted mom, wife, and friend, because my head is somewhere else. I lose patience. I rush around trying to do it all. Everyone around me feels rushed too. I start to expect bad things to happen because life feels cattywompus and out of my control. I lose hours and days of my life to worry. I don’t use my days well. I wind up exhausted. When I find myself chasing perfect, I forget this truth: my worth doesn’t depend on someone else’s approval, or my own abilities, or an anything you can see with your eyes. Are you with me?

Chasing Perfect from Twenty-One Films on Vimeo.

You can’t simultaneously do it all and do life well

Let that sprout in your heart for a minute. You cannot do it all and do life well.

But you can choose to cultivate what matters. And that means letting go and making a mess at times.

Gardening without getting your hands dirty is like trying to run with your running shoes sitting pretty in your closet. I’ve tried this, stepping out into the tomato vines in white pants, thinking I’ll just pick a few fire-red fruits, prune a couple rogue vines, and walk away dirt-less. Doesn’t happen. No matter how hard I try. And you know what? I end up missing the JOY of what the garden calls me to: being fully present right where I am. Hands, heart, mind, feet — all of me present and grateful. Content in the mess. There is freedom in the imperfect, friend. I can’t hold my iPhone and plant seeds at the same time. Watering my zinnias doesn’t happen if I’ve got my head somewhere else. I end up watering the car or the pavement, wasting life-giving nutrients. Keeping my pants clean isn’t possible when pruning ‘matoes (as we call them). Have you seen the jungle of our yellow pear vines? They were over twenty feet tall this year! The garden begs for my full attention, and when I give it, the garden grows.

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Planting seeds is risky. It’s putting our whole trust in something bigger than us. It’s letting go. I know that, to plant these seeds, I first have to stop and break through the ground. I have to get my hands dirty in the soil — and that takes two undistracted hands.

Getting messy—embracing imperfect progress and taking physical steps forward even though it’s risky and scary and unknown—that’s where the good stuff happens.

And that’s where we are starting this year. Together, we’re going to break through the hard ground of winter to plant good seeds. We’re going to step into the imperfect and have some fun! This is Grace-Filled Goal Setting, with open hands. Let’s invite in the mess and unearth the good stuff. Ready to choose purpose over perfect? Me too!

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Here’s what you can expect in this series: I’m going to walk through a small sampling of the steps from my book and the PowerSheets, and some extras we’ve never done before! 

If you are using the PowerSheets: Everything you need is in there! You’ll see some steps from the PowerSheets here in my blog series, but you have lots of extra steps too : ) UPDATED: If you missed out on the SOLD OUT PowerSheets, we just opened pre-orders for our next shipment! Get yours here.

If you are reading my book: It was written for this season of goal setting. Get messy and write all over your paperback copy. This book was designed to be an action book, not just a reading book. Section Four is the Action Guide that walks through faith-based goal setting steps. You can order a copy here in paperback, e-book, Kindle, or audiobook. If you are blogging your Make it Happen journey, you can get lots of free downloadable graphics to use here.

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Speaking of downloads, I asked my publisher if I could give you a free download of the first part of my book to encourage you in your goals this year, and they said yes! Thank you, team Thomas Nelson! Download it HERE. Enjoy : )

If you are using both the Make It Happen book + PowerSheets together: I designed them to work together. This is the best combo. When you get to Section Four of the book, work through the PowerSheets along with that section. Up to you, though! You can do this however you like.

Do you need either of these to have an intentional year? No, but my prayer is that these tools help you. If you do this blog series and only have scrap paper handy to write your answers, that’s great too : ) It’s not about the perfect stuff, it’s about how you USE what you have.

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Take action. This is the key to this series. As we go through each step together, use the comment area here to leave your answers or write them in your PowerSheets or a journal. But, don’t just think them. Thinking them doesn’t count. Write them out and, if you want accountability, leave them boldly here in the comments. I want to cheer you on, and this year I’m going to leave some of my answers in the comments too! Friends, help me out here and cheer each other on, too. You never know who how your words might change someone! And if you need an extra kick in the pants to make it happen, I have a giveaway at the end that might encourage you : )

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STEP ONE: What have you been chasing? Do you feel like you are “chasing perfect” in some ways—attempting to measure up to an impossible standard? Write or type here what you have been chasing, and how that has been making you feel. Maybe you’ve been chasing success, significance, or approval. Maybe you’ve been trying to keep up, survive, or just get through. Whatever you’ve been chasing, name it boldly and know that you are not alone. To name your chase is to destroy it.

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STEP TWO: How are you? Vulnerability is where change begins. In order to leap into the new, we first must know where we are leaping from. The golden question: How are you? Allow yourself to be vulnerable and write or say the things that feel sticky. Your worries today can directly affect what you write next, so don’t shove them under the table. Acknowledge them. Reply in the comments, or on paper right now.

And don’t get stuck in the negative soil. Have grace with yourself and think about what you’re grateful for in each category along with the challenges! Include thoughts about what is good in each area, too! For instance, as for my feelings about money: I have become more skilled at managing money, but I’ve been challenged by contentment and emotional spending.

Here are some prompts to help you (and a free printable here!):

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Be still with your feelings—whatever they may be—without trying to change them or push them away immediately. Let’s get to know the ground you’ll be planting in. Maybe it needs some new soil or fresh nutrients. Whatever it is, evaluate where you are first in order to know how to leap to what’s next!

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STEP THREE: What worked in 2015? Now let’s take a look back at the last year. What grew well and produced fruit in your life? What are you grateful for from the last twelve months? What good things happened? I know this can be a challenging step for many. We don’t like counting our blessings because it may feel self-indulgent or like it won’t get us anywhere fast, or perhaps you are thinking that there were no good things that happened! It’s easy to look back at an entire year and see only the yucky parts, like when something happens to you at the end of the day and you automatically call it a bad day, regardless of what happened the other twenty-three hours.

Let’s do a little digging! A few tips to unearth the good stuff:

1. Talk to your significant other or a close friend about your year and ask him or her to reflect some of the highlights back to you. He or she may remember some that you have forgotten! This is also a wonderful way to celebrate the good things of the past year with others. Make it your dinner conversation tonight. (I made some free Celebration Meal printables for you in cool colors here or warm colors here!)

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

3. As you reflect on the good things this past year, say thank you to those people who were a part of them. Whether through texts, e-mails, phone calls, or physical letters, make gratitude happen! If you want a special gratitude letter to send to the people you love, print one out here.

Here is my own list from my PowerSheets, and a few extras I uncovered going through my calendar and talking to Ari : )

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– This was my first year with a new name, and I am so grateful to be Mrs. Isaacson!
– I began the year pregnant with Joshua and we became active in our adoption process.
– I can’t believe it’s been a year since I released Make it Happen. I wasn’t prepared for the post-book PR push, but I learned a lot and am grateful for it.
– We decided to partner with Love One Another Project. We love you, Carol and Brian!
The Office Reno happened!
– In January, we began interviewing for a new team member. More on how that turned out at the end of this list, because it took up till last Friday!
– Ari and I did an eight-week Marriage Dynamics class through our church, and it was awesome.
– We released a new shop website and brand in February!
IF local was life-changing.
– Our local community of friends was incredible this year. So many new relationships cultivated through our family group, “Tuesday” group, mamas group (I love you Alison, Kayte, Emily, Andrea, Bryce, Lauren, Natalie, Janel, Marie, and Andrea!), Ladies Bible Bunch and lots more.
– The garden. I don’t have words. I planned to do more flowers this year, knowing I wouldn’t be able to prune tomatoes and care for as many veggies with a new baby this year. It was glorious. The bees and butterflies and goldfinches were magical!
– The Making Things Happen Conference. I can’t even call it a conference anymore. It’s an experience, and this year—both in the spring and fall—it was life-changing.
– We led our annual Passover dinner together, which has been such a joy the last few years. I love seeing Ari teach and I double love how much Grace loves Passover!
– I did a Skype call with Anne Austin and her girl scout troupe. It was my favorite “speaking” I’ve done all year. Anne, you are a gift and I hope Grace grows up to be as joy-filled and focused on the Lord as you are!
– Blogging my goals and PowerSheets progress definitely worked. It kept me accountable! Goal progress: March, April, May, June, July, August.
– This was a milestone year for me with Southern Weddings. There was no way around this, but I had a baby right as our busiest season with magazine prep began. I’ve done layout for each issue and image selection every year… except this one. I had to let go, trust, and I prayed for my team. God listened and they created what I think is our best issue yet! I hadn’t even seen a proof until the week before we went to press. Nicole knocked it out of the park with design, Emily and Lisa created some of the most meaningful content I’ve ever seen or read, and Marissa and Kristin brought the issue to life with our best sponsor pages ever. It’s just so good and I am so grateful!
– In the summer, I got a call from Lysa TerKeurst that changed everything. She brought her team over to my house and we learned and shared and a friendship sprouted. Lysa is someone I greatly admire for her business acumen and deep love for God. That first meeting with her team changed the way we do business, and it encouraged me to keep going with my writing. Thank you, Lysa!
– Our second-annual Team Retreat was powerful
– I could write an entire blog post about this, but Lisa’s wedding was a highlight of my year.
– And then Em told us she was pregnant during a staff meeting. I am pretty sure I threw my phone across the room (accidentally!) in joy! She is going to be such a great mom.
– We took a family trip to Jamaica and I read Interrupted. Both of these things changed us. See here.
– In the way back from Jamaica, God had a little surprise. Right as we got through US customs, I heard, “Lara!!!” Low and behold, there was Renee Swope. This was such a God thing. I had just told Ari that I wished I had a mentor and someone to encourage me in my writing. He brought me Renee. We have become dear friends and she has most definitely encouraged me. I love you friend!
– Fruitful Summer! It. Was. Awesome. I enjoyed creating and living this summer series about relationships so much. You can download the entire 100+ page magazine after signing up for my newsletter in the sidebar of this blog : )
– Nicole and I spent countless hours redesigning, testing, and dreaming about the 2016 PowerSheets. This was the first year we incorporated color, offered a bound version, offered full year versions, added stickers, and I rewrote and changed literally every page to make it even more fun and meaningful. We had no idea we would sell out so fast. We couldn’t order more in time for the new year, so if you missed out this year, do this series and grab a copy of my book. And be sure to sign up for my monthly newsletter so you are the first to know when the 2017 PowerSheets are available in the fall! UPDATED: If you missed out on the SOLD OUT PowerSheets, we just opened pre-orders for our next shipment! Get yours here.
– I spoke at the Influence Network’s Creative Women’s Summit. This was humbling. I was nervous to speak alongside Lysa and Jess who are seasoned and gifted speakers. I sat on a stool on stage with my notes and Joshua in my belly and did my best, but I left feeling like speaking just wasn’t my thing. I felt doubt and lack and I had to let go and sit in those feelings of inadequacy. I was reminded once again of Moses. Moses is my homeboy. He felt inadequate and told God he couldn’t speak to Pharaoh. I feel you Moses! But, God helped him and history changed because of it. God used an imperfect man to lead an entire people to freedom. I’m no Moses, but we serve the same God who makes the impossible possible. That speaking experience reminded me that it’s not about my ability; it’s about His power.
– I really enjoyed the consulting and coaching I did this year. I got to know some incredible women, and saw their businesses and lives soar!
– Come summer, we were still deep in the interview process. We had gone through over 300 resumes and done over 30 interviews by that point. But, we still hadn’t found the right match. So we started over and reposted the job description with new details! I prayed and prayed and prayed some more that God would bring the right person to us. His answer was completely unexpected! More in a bit…
– Blueberry picking in, Grace’s love of swimming, being out in the garden, hosting house church in July, new friends, time with friends on my couch talking about life and praying together, and summer BBQ’s including a memorable team dinner – all worked. I love summer in Chapel Hill!
– I haven’t shared this yet, but it’s worth noting. TLC was interested in doing a TV show about our little office. The production company was lovely and kind and it seemed like a wonderful and meaningful fit, but we decided to say no and stay small. I am grateful for that decision. Our lives and lifestyles might have changed in a way that would alter the sweetness of our company culture, and we didn’t want that to happen. : )
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– After years of this season being bananas in my house with boxes and people helping us pack orders, something had to change. Last Christmas, my parents came to visit and we couldn’t get to the dining room table for all the boxes. We spent months searching for a solution that would still allow us to have a personal connection with our customers. We found a great fulfillment team right down the road! The shop moved out of my house and we can still bring handwritten notes to them to include in orders when needed. There are still links to work out, but I am so grateful to not have constant shipping madness here!
– I had Joshua : ) That worked. He is wonderful. Read his name story here, birth story here, and thoughts on life after baby here.
– I had to stop eating soy, dairy, and eggs for his sensitive little body, which has been a pretty challenging life change at times. I basically eat chicken for four of my 6-8 little meals a day (I’ve long been a frequent eater!). But, it has made me eat a lot more whole foods and I discovered Vega. I. Love. Vega.
– I read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and got rid of 1/3 of our stuff and most of the clothes in my closet!
– I prayed and prayed about what to do with Grace’s preschool this year. We didn’t have a great experience last year, so it was a risk to keep going and try a new class and new teachers. I prayed for months and God gave me His answer at the very last minute, two weeks before school started. And Gracie loves her new class AND we looooooove her new teachers. They are stellar! Yay God and yay for preschool!
– We celebrated a wonderful issue launch, new product launch, and a powerful MTH all in the span of two weeks.
– I’m excited to share this one. After almost a year of praying and 500+ resumes and leaps of faith and endless hours of conversation as a team, we invited two lovely women to join our team last week, and they have accepted! More to come on these dynamic women (two familiar faces to some of you!) and this whole process in the weeks to come. I’m bursting at the seams with praise for God! It is a pretty crazy and unmistakably God story how this all happened!
– Letting friends into our home and hearts worked. Last night we had our friends Jonathan and Talia over for my birthday. We talked about our kids and marriages and how we can all be better in the new year. It was so life-giving. I am grateful for new friends and vulnerable conversation. Thank you, Lord!

Good things ahead (bonus if you want to include this!):
– After writing this series to you, I’m literally shutting off my email for two months to write book 2. I’m excited and know these two months will be worth it!
– Our new team coming together after this year of prayer and waiting on His perfect plan to unfold. The good we will be able to do for others (like you!) excites me.
– Our adoption. I anticipate some of you will have questions about how you can help us. Pray! We ask that instead of any physical gifts that you pray for us and encourage us in the Word. That is the best gift we could get. Specifically, the prayers I listed in the beginning of this post, and pray for my intense time of writing ahead. My deadline for my manuscript is March 1, but we may have a new baby before then, so I have a lot ahead of me. Pray that my inbox stays empty and my heart stays full of Him as I write. I will have to ignore most text messages too and that will be hard for me as I love connecting with others. Please pray for my focus. Pray for Ari and Grace as we all prepare our hearts and our home for this little girl. Pray that each step would glorify Him. Thank you for these gifts!
– Ari and I will celebrate 10 years of marriage shortly after welcoming this little girl into our lives. We had planned to have a big celebration, but we are putting it on hold now. We will likely have a newborn!
– This year ahead, I’ll be releasing my second book, couples PowerSheets (yay!), and praying about homeschooling Grace for kindergarten in 2017.
– And God could change ALL of this! But, as I’ve learned, His plans are always better than mine!

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I’ll be sharing more on Periscope today!

Once you have your list of what worked, name three lessons you learned from what worked. For example, in my life there were many times last year that great things happened when I let go of control—whether getting on my knees (literally) to surrender in prayer to God, letting someone else lead, or letting myself make a mess. The lesson for me was a big one: let go. Surrender. Humble yourself. That’s where change begins.

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Your turn! Write your own list of good things. What are you most grateful for from 2015? Write it in your PowerSheets if you have reached that section, or write it in a journal. Either way, I encourage you to share some of your 2015 gratitude in the comments to encourage others! And remember this: There is no room for comparison in making what matters happen. Whether you had one good thing happen or twenty, celebrate the good stuff and let’s help each other do the same. Let’s turn comparison into compassion and cheering on : )

OK, that’s it for today and that’s plenty to work on. I’ll be back Wednesday with more! Take your time with this and remember PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION. This is not about writing the perfect list with a perfect pen. It’s just about honesty about where you are so you can get to what’s next. This is a process that will have a big payoff, but you have to commit to working through it. Be still and let your 2016 goals bake, like a pan of homemade hot cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven. They wouldn’t be so flaky and yummy zapped quickly in the microwave, would they? They’d end up a big pile of mushy dough. I’m not going to hand you your 2016 goals; we’re going to do this right and bake them well together. Sound good? Awesome! Get to it!

Need an extra kick in the pants? How about this for motivation? Welcome to the Ultimate New Year’s Giveaway! There are lots of prizes and fun ways to enter. Most of all, though, I hope you comment with your answers from each step as we go through this series. I can’t wait to read your answers, and share mine with you too! One person who comments with answers to every step in this series will win a bonus prize: A (spiral bound) One-Year PowerSheets Workbook. Yep! I have two left in the office, and one of you is getting one! I’m determined to motive you to dig in with me on these powerful steps : )

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1. A set of 2016 PowerSheets with a Make It Happen binder and colorful tab stickers
2. Five prints of your choice from the Lara Casey Shop
3. The Finishing School by Valerie Metrejean
4. The Make it Happen audio book, recorded by yours truly!
5. A Journaling Bible (NIV)
6. Five Make it Happen journals
7. Artist’s Loft Fundamentals Watercolor Set
8. Two tubs of Vega Protein and Greens + a Vega shaker cup. Bonus: sign up for a free Vega account to get $15, and I’ll get $15 too!
9. Ashley Brooke Too Legit water bottle
10. ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?! 10 2016 Simplified Planners (pineapple daily edition). Yes, TEN of them! Lots of chances to win!
11. What good shall I do this day? sign from Best Made Co
12. Five Make it Happen books
13. Jonathan Adler Grapefruit Candlelara-casey-new-year-fresh-faith-giveaway

 

– (Not pictured, but so fun!) $25 Amazon gift card for books. Some suggestions: AnythingRestlessThe Best YesA Confident HeartThe Fringe Hours, or anything on Nancy Ray’s Book Club list.

14. The Write the Word journal collection – volume 1, 2, and 3!
15. Val Marie Paper Prayer Journal
16. Naptime Diaries print of your choice
17. In the Wait study by Holly Holt
18. Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin
19. How to Study Scripture E-Book by Jane Johnson
20. Make it Count 2016 Bible journaling kit from Illustrated Faith

Why am I doing this? I know God put me here on this earth for many reasons, and He has made it clear that one of those reasons it to motivate people to take action on what matters most. I want you — yes YOU — to make what matters happen in your life. So, help me spread the word and let’s get all our friends in on this for accountability! Making things happen is always better when shared. Here’s to a meaningful, purpose-filled 2016 — I am cheering you on friends!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

There are 41 prizes, which means 41 chances to win! Your odds are good : ) Giveaway ends January 13th. Winners will be announced on January 15th here on the blog. Shipping some of these items can get costly, so hard goods are for US entrants only. Lots of digital prize options though for my international friends! If you don’t claim your prize within 48 hours, another winner will be selected, so mark your planners and stay posted! : ) Also, this post contains some Amazon affiliates links. No extra cost to you, but it helps us raise funds for Love One Another Project!

Ready for the next post? Go to Part 2 here.

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I’ve never done a gift guide before. Why? I’ve struggled with contentment and I didn’t want to add to someone else’s struggle too. So, rather than do just a gift guide and simply tell you about all the things, welcome to my first-ever Mama’s Gift Guide GIVEAWAY! I asked each of these companies if they would donate something for me to give away, and they all said YES. How amazing is that?!

Now, before you read on and envision these products in your own life, here’s a thought to make this even more fun: What if you won these for someone else? Maybe you have a mama friend who could really use some encouragement during the holidays, or a single mom in your neighborhood who has her hands full. Maybe it’s the waitress at your favorite restaurant or a new mom who is trying to figure this motherhood thing out. We are blessed to be a blessing, so consider entering this giveaway to do just that! I’m excited : )

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Thank you to Laura Kashner for making this giveaway graphic for you to share!

These are all products I love and use often. I either purchased these myself or was gifted them by friends. This is not a sponsored post—these are genuine recommendations. I love these companies, and want to tell you about them… and bless a bunch of people with great products!

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/laranovember2015Photo by my amazing friend, and fellow mama, Gina Zeidler.

Here we go! The Top Ten Gifts for Moms, in no particular order:

1. I created The Life Handbook as an easy and beautiful way to collect all of your favorite stories and life advice to share with a loved one. I love gifting these to friends for birthdays, graduation, anniversaries, weddings, and for new babies! The Life Handbook contains 150 pages of prompts to tell your best stories, memories and advice. And it’s just plain beautiful. Gold foil on almost every page. Hard cover. Custom illustrations. Inspiring quotes throughout. I love writing in mine to Grace and Joshua!

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2. I exclusively pumped with Grace, so nursing Joshua has been new for me. The 16 Minute Club, a breastfeeding subscription box created for nursing mamas, came to my doorstep with a collection of well-curated items—and helpful info! I got the Prenatal box that included tips on how much my baby should eat, a nursing cover, onesie, nursing cookie, and lots of surprises. The founder, Wendy, knows her stuff! Win the box of your choice.

3. I get asked about my Native Wilds bamboo Nest (nursing cover/scarf/all the things!) every single time I wear it. I have the peach one shown above and this one that Susanna, a friend of mine, gifted me. These are so soft and I love the built-in pouch so I can fold it up and stuff it in my bag on the go! Win the nest of your choice!

4. I was skeptical about the 4moms mamaRoo infant seat. It looks a little space-ship-like at first glance, doesn’t it? Well, this space ship takes Joshua to Planet Happy! If there’s one thing we use the most on this list, it’s this seat. I wish they made one for adults : ) This was a great baby gift from my brother and sister-in-law. It takes up very little space, and we often move it from room to room. If we are having dinner, it is easily movable to the dining room. If I need to cook dinner, it comes to the kitchen. The little guy loves it, and thanks to 4moms, you get the chance to win one (a $269 value)!

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/laranovember2015

5. Oh, Vega! I can’t say enough about this company and this protein. Since having to cut out dairy, soy, and eggs for breastfeeding, thoughts of eating chicken 24/7 plagued me. Vega to the rescue! Y’all this stuff is good. I mix it with my oatmeal every morning, and eat it several times a day. Even Ari likes it and he doesn’t love a lot of “healthy green things.” You get to win two tubs of Protein and Greens + a Vega shaker cup. Bonus: sign up for a free Vega account to get $15, and I’ll get $15 too! Thank you in advance for making my Vega dreams come true : ) And in my dream world, we would have this salad bar and blender bike thing in our office too! This was breakfast this morning with J, G, and our dino friends…

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6. I’ve tried a lot of baby carriers and, with my diastatis recti (ab separation from pregnancy), my lower back can get pretty sore after carrying around this almost-20-pound little redhead. My neighbor, Tori, let me borrow one of her Beco carriers and I instantly fell in love, and so did Joshua. Huge thanks to Beco for giving one winner a new Beco Gemini Carrier! Your little one can be worn safely from 7-35 lbs with no newborn insert and in 4 different positions – facing out on your front and facing in on your front, hip or back.

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7. This cover! My Covered Goods four-in-one cover most definitely gets used in all four ways on a weekly, sometimes daily basis! I used it to nurse J at our launch party a couple weeks ago (see below) because I had to basically get undressed. Wearing non-nursing clothes can be really rough when you are out and don’t have a private spot to feed. This cover also gets used all the time as a car seat cover when we are out and he is asleep—like at church or the grocery store. It keeps germ-laden hands away and he stays cozy and warm: win win!  Speaking of winning, you get to enter to win one of these beautiful covers. Also, shop today and use code laracasey5 for $5 off your order!

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8. I love my Simplified Planner and my Emily Ley Baby Book! Love love love! We use our Simplified Planner in the kitchen for all of our family to-do’s and schedule. It’s just what the name implies: simple. I love how easy it is to see things at a glance. I love how colorful it is. I love my friend Emily and her heart for helping women. I love it all! And this baby book. Friends, I had so much fun putting this together for Joshua! It’s beautiful, simple, and colorful, three of my favorite qualities! Can you tell I love these two prizes? Win a pineapple Simplified Planner or a Emily Ley Baby Book! Eeeeee!!

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9. The Pregnancy Prayer Journals from Val Marie Paper are a great gift for expectant mamas! All of Val’s prayer journals are so well designed for intentional prayer time. This journal is divided up into trimesters, and then months with space to prayer for your worries, baby’s developments, future, your symptoms, and dad. There is space for answered prayers and a Scripture verse and even goals. I can’t recommend these enough!

10. The Naptime Diary is a 12-week devotional for moms. Each week has a scripture, a devotional to read through, a place to count the fruit of what God’s doing in your life and write what you need, a page to write truth to remember and truth to speak, a page to cast vision and dream, and a page to talk it out with the Lord. My friend, Jess, who created this diary, is a mom of four! Use it at nap time or at the park, right before you go to bed or throughout the day when you can grab a few minutes. It’s small enough to tuck in your purse and filled with prompts that help you celebrate the little moments and get through the messy!

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/laranovember2015

Bonus prize! I’m a pretty simple dresser. I am not too into fashion, but I love function! I love comfort and I dislike staring at my closet, feeling like I have no idea what to wear. So, I did a huge overhaul this year and got my closet down to less than half of it’s original contents! Sound daunting? The No Brainer Wardrobe Workshop is for you! You guys. My friend Hayley has helped countless women spend less money and find freedom in what they wear. So, the bonus prize, whether you are a mama or not, is a seat at this digital workshop!

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ENTER TO WIN! Okay! That’s a lot of goodness, no? Huge thanks again to all of these amazing companies for making helpful and meaningful products — and for gifting them to a few lucky winners. Enter to win below (lots of ways to enter and I’m serious about that last one!) and please share this with friends. Let’s have some fun with this and bless a whole lot of mamas in the process.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway ends December 15th. Winners will be announced on December 17th (Ari’s birthday!) on my Instagram page. Shipping some of these items can get costly, so this is for US entrants only. Thank you for understanding! One winner per item will be selected, so there are many chances to win. If you don’t claim your prize within 48 hours, another winner will be selected, so mark your planners and stay posted! : )

UPDATED: Congrats to the winners!

Life Handbook: Demetri Eastman
16 Minute Club: Jennifer Jones
Native Wilds Nest cover: Quinn Ryan Smith
MamaRoo Seat: Sarah Alves
Vega: Shannon Smith
Beco Carrier: Tanya Mills
Covered Goods cover: Kristen Ostow
Planner or Baby Book: Katie N
VMP Prayer Journal: Mary Kate Battles
Naptime Diary: Michelle Bills
No Brainer Wardrobe: Jessica Driscoll

Ladies, please email Stephanie — orders @ laracaseyshop.com — with the mailing address and name you would like to have your prize sent to and we’ll get them in the mail!

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Before I share anything ahead, know this: I am so grateful! I am going to share some of the challenges of the postpartum period, but I know these are so small in the big picture. I praise God for my family, and at the same time, the weeks after baby were (and still are) challenging. I know the same is true for many women! We are so grateful for our families, and yet feel like we can’t talk about the hard times. Let’s not feel isolated and alone. Let’s see God at work, even in the messy stuff, and not feel like we have to keep the hard things bottled inside. So, as you read my experiences, know that I recognize that these are light and momentary troubles. The Lord is good. Okay, onto the mess!

A timeline: The first four weeks after Joshua’s birth were rough, as they are for most women. I was in survival mode. Between the lack of sleep and my body and hormones, it felt… well, the only word I can think of is “yuk.” Very descriptive, right? ; ) Weeks five and six were equally messy, but my body started to heal and hormones began to figure out where they belonged. Weeks seven and eight, while I had some complications (more on that in a minute), I began to come out of the woods. Today, at week nine, while sleep hasn’t changed much (I’m feeding J 3-5 times a night), I don’t feel the “yuk,” and for that I am grateful! In this post you’ll find more on recovery from the “yuk,” life with my two little redheads, postpartum emotions, the time I thought I ran over a bunny (get ready for this one—Ari said I had to share), maternity leave blunders, and a few helpful tips! Even if you aren’t expecting, I hope this post encourages you. We’re going to go in chronological order, but feel free to jump to any section that interests you.

I wrote this during several quick nap breaks, so forgive typos and short sentences!

Marriage matters most: One quick thought before we move on to life after baby! It is wise to prepare for birth through classes and great books, but the number one thing that will prepare you well–besides a close relationship and trust in the Lord–is a close relationship with your husband. Spending intentional time together, having fun, sharing your deepest heart longings, and praying together about you birth experience (so helpful) before baby comes is the best advice I can give you. When labor begins and your expected “birth plan” goes out the window, what you will have left is your trust in the Lord and the strength of your marriage bond. Do whatever it takes to love your husband and cultivate that connection. This will also help postpartum in the sleepless nights ahead! Pray together a lot, even when you’re so tired that you feel like you can’t make complete sentences (happened a lot here!).

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Recovery in the Hospital: Our time in the hospital after J was born was better than our experience with Grace because we knew to expect several things: little sleep, lots of night time interruptions from hospital staff, and all kinds of humility-inducing experiences for mama. (One word: padsicles.) I knew this time that my body would feel broken and weak. I knew nursing would wear me out for the first days. And I knew it wouldn’t be that way forever, though. Some tips below.

– What I didn’t expect: being SO hungry! I could have eaten the entire buffet at Whole Foods. The morning after J’s birth, my mom brought me a huge sandwich. Ate that. Ate oatmeal. Cookies. More cookies. Tons of water. Another sandwich. I. Was. Hungry! I had the workout of my life pushing a baby out, but wow. Ladies, if you get that hungry too after birth, don’t fear. Just eat! Your body needs good fuel, so listen to it.

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J’s first bath : ) 

– Bring comfortable but “normal” clothes to the hospital! I brought a shirt from Walk in Love and some comfortable cotton pants from Walmart. With Grace, I brought clothes I could have tossed had they gotten soiled, but this time it was so helpful for me to wear clothes that made me feel good postpartum. I certainly wouldn’t bring anything you wouldn’t be okay with getting dirty, but bring clothes that make you feel good. Oh, and you’ll still be in maternity clothes for several weeks. I still don’t fit into regular pants yet at 9 weeks postpartum and I’m okay with that!

– Bring snacks! Refer back to the previous point about being so hungry : ) On that note, your tastebuds may completely change postpartum. Mine have with both kids. I craved very specific things before birth, and then after I wanted totally different things.

– I brought my own pillows and a giant beach towel. Hospitals have small towels and hospitals are cold, so bring a big towel. Be sure your pillows are in a case other than white so the hospital doesn’t mistake them for theirs.

– Don’t commit to visitors in the hospital until after baby comes as you may not be up for it! We had Grace, my mom, Rhiannon, and a couple friends stop by. That was plenty.

– Bring a sleep mask and ear plugs. For real. Just do it. Nap when you can in the hospital.

Postpartum recovery in a hospital is different for everyone, but we knew from previous experience that we wanted to be discharged as soon as possible. All those nighttime nurse visits and hospital personnel and lactation consultants and a photographer selling newborn sessions and various non-medical things can leave you weary. So, we prayed that God would let us just stay one night and then go home. He answered. We did all the things—testing and more testing, blood samples, birth certificate–and went home after 24 hours. This was taken right when we arrived home from the hospital. I was so happy to be home!

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Maternity leave: I naively thought I wouldn’t need much maternity leave. I don’t know what made me think this! I think I even said to Emily at one point that I might just take a few days. !?!???  Apparently, it’s easy to forget how hard the early days are with a baby. The week after J was born, I came to my senses and knew I would need as much as possible. We changed the work schedule here (our office is the second story of our house) so the ladies were here minimally in the first weeks, and I changed my email auto reply. I followed Nancy’s example and decided to not answer business email for the entirety of my 12 week leave. It gets deleted unless it’s from my team or something urgent. I’m on maternity leave until November and then on “book leave” after that to write book 2, which is due February 1. And then… on maternity leave again for our adoption that will, Lord willing, happen shortly after. So, my inbox won’t be getting a lot of attention for the next 6-8 months!

Social media: Along with this, I intentionally decided to delete the social media apps on my phone. It’s too easy to scroll through mindlessly when you are exhausted, and all that scrolling somehow leaves you more unsettled, so I have chosen to read a book or pray instead. This is good for me and my family, so it hasn’t been hard to do. Selfishly, I want to delete my accounts altogether. But, I feel that the Lord has purposed them for something. I don’t know exactly what yet. I’m still praying on it all.

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On to physical recovery at home!

Sleep: First, (and please don’t tune this advice out because you have heard it before) sleep when the baby sleeps. Get help from friends to watch your older child if you have one. Ask someone else to load the dishwasher. Be humble and ask for help so you can sleep. Now, this advice is coming from someone who did none of these things the first time around. And if you remember what my doc said to me about my postpartum depression with Grace, it rhymes with sheep. This was hard for me to do this time but I knew it would affect everything else. So, I would let grandma or a friend or Rhiannon take Grace out somewhere and I attempted to nap. I’m not a very skilled napper but earplugs, a sleep mask, letting J nap right next to me, and a lot of prayer helped. Even if I didn’t actually fall asleep (happened often), laying down to let my body rest for a few minutes was good. Do whatever you can to rest when baby rests during the day.

Diastasis NOT rectified: This time around, I have diastasis recti (abdominal separation). This is caused by the stretching of my abs during pregnancy and also likely because I did zero abdominal exercises for the last four years before I had J. The former personal trainer in me is hanging her head low on that one. So, I still look pregnant. I am currently wearing an abdominal binder and waiting to see if this heals.

Uterine pain: I had a lot of uterine pain postpartum and regularly took Motrin. A mama friend here warned me about the second baby uterine pain before I had J, and she was right! It felt like painful cramps. This lasted for about 4 weeks and then tapered off completely at 6 weeks.

Night sweats: The worst recovery symptom of all for me (which I also had with Grace) was night sweats. Oh, night sweats! This started at 4 days postpartum and lasted for three full weeks. It. Was. Awful. I slept on towels and had to change my pillowcase every day. I would wake up in the middle of the night most nights and have to change my clothes. But, it did go away. To my friends going through menopause, I want to hug you!

IMG_1681In my nursing chair above, where I spend about six hours a day : ) 

Breastfeeding: I had a hard time feeding Grace in the early days. Nursing was painful. So painful I would cry every time. With Grace, I switched to pumping exclusively when she was about two weeks old. The Medela Symphony and I were BFF’s (Breastfeeding Friends for what felt like Forever) for 15 months. Grace took to bottles easy, which helped in a busy year with work. She took to the paci easily, which helped calm her. Every child is different, though. Joshua doesn’t like bottles or pacis. He won’t take them at all. He just likes mama. And, I’m okay with that right now. I read a great book called The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding that helped take the pressure of of nursing and gave confidence to nurse exclusively. (Great book to read before baby too. Highly recommend! I wish I had read it before Grace.) Now, is exclusively nursing convenient for me? Yes and no. I do not miss the pump one bit, but exclusively nursing means I am with J all the time, and feeding when he is hungry. But, I believe this is exactly where God wants me right now. Grounded at home. In my nursing chair. Reading my Bible and some great books I’ve been learning from lately (more on that in a sec) praying a lot. I believe God has put me in a new season.

Nursing has had two challenges of note so far that I thought I’d share some thoughts on: protein intolerance and mastitis.

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Dairy-free, soy-free, egg-free, I’m hun-gry!: First, protein intolerance, also known as blood in J’s diapers because of something in my milk that he can’t digest well. After weeks of wondering why he had an awful rash on his face and wasn’t sleeping well—and then discovering the blood—the doc asked if I ate dairy. Yep. Lots of dairy. I’ve eaten the same breakfast for the last 15 years. For real. With the exception of maybe five mornings, I’ve had Jay Robb chocolate whey protein powder and oatmeal. Well, turns out that dairy is the #1 protein that babies can have trouble digesting. So, I cut out dairy. His rash went away, but the blood didn’t stop, so she asked if I ate soy.  Yep. Love my Luna Bars. But, I had to give up soy too. So, now I am on a soy-free, dairy-free, egg-free (just in case!) diet and so far we have seen great improvement in him. It’s not the easiest diet to follow as there is soy and dairy and eggs hiding in tons of foods, but I’m making it work. If you have recipes, please share. This diet of just chicken and the occasional bite of fish gets old after a while!

Mastitis: This and the night sweats. I’ve had it three times in two months. It starts as tenderness in one breast and then suddenly I have a fever for 48 hours and can’t get out of bed. I have it right now, actually, but thanks to immediately taking antibiotics, I have passed the fever stage. My mom had it a lot while nursing me and my brother, and I already know I inherited her dense chest tissue and fibroids… an easy way to get a clogged milk duct and infection. I don’t have a whole lot to say about mastitis except it’s humbling and I am grateful for prayerful friends.

What I love about nursing: Being close to J all the time. Knowing that the Lord has me in this place for a reason. And I’ve been spending time praying and reading. Read: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It was, indeed, life-changing. We donated a garage full of stuff and the book changed my perspective. However, it’s wise to read it with a strong faith filter. Some of the book is not Biblical, so check your Bible as you read! Currently reading (and loving): FerVent, What Happens When Women Walk in Faith, and Women of the Word. The latter is excellent!

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Postpartum depression: I had the baby blues on the expected days: day three and day seven postpartum. I cried a lot and felt very low on those days. There have been a lot of tears on tired days, and there have been lots of tired days. But, I did not experience the same postpartum depression feelings that I had with Grace. There were times I felt angry about life being such a mess and exhausted beyond words, but I was still able to see God at work. It has been refining. Like metal being shaped and refined in a fire to be used for something good. And it is good. I know that full well. This postpartum period has been a time of being humbled and surrendering.

IMG_2038Napping on daddy. Ah, the life of a newborn. 

Some advice for helping with all the feelings postpartum:

– If you feel hopeless, talk to God right away, and call your doctor. (Postpartum depression is very different than the baby blues.)

– Sleep when you can. Make that top priority.

– Get some exercise when your doc says it’s okay. I would just walk up and down my stairs a couple times at first, or walk around my culdesac. It wasn’t much but it made me feel better.

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– Eat healthy food. You will need good fuel. I made the mistake of having jelly beans around late at night. Don’t do that. Sugar will slow you down. Stock your fridge with tons of fruit. I’ve also been drinking a lot of yummy herbal tea.

– Talk to friends. I am so grateful for the friends who have let me talk about not sleeping and kept my perspective on the right place: being grateful anyway.

– Take it easy. We have had to stop outings at night. This has been hard, as we love getting dinner with friends and spending time with church family. But, right now, for this short season, we try to be home by 7:30 at the latest. Otherwise, meltdowns ensue and we are all more tired because of it.

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Life with two: Grace’s transition was a lot harder than we expected. She loved having a little brother, but it was hard to have her normal life routines shaken up. She was used to having lots of sweet quality time with me in the mornings to talk and play, and now I had to feed the baby and was a zombie. This was hard for both of us. The first couple weeks I was very sad about it. I mourned the loss of that sweet time and could tell Grace did too. But, we have found new ways to get time together. One thing we did it move some of her favorite toys into the living room so I could engage with her in conversation while she played and I nursed. That has been a huge help.

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Tips on life with two:

– Get help with the older sibling, whether from grandma, friends, or professional childcare if you are able. Even a couple hours can make a world of difference and you will all be happier for it. Both my mom and Ari’s mom came to visit on weekends and that was huge to have a few days where someone else (who wasn’t sleep-deprived) was loving on Grace so that Ari and I could get a couple minutes together.

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– Keep the older sibling busy in the early weeks. Grace happened to start preschool a few weeks after J was born and that was a lifesaver! She felt like she had her own thing and looked forward to time out of the house. It has been so good. I am still planning to homeschool her in the near future, but for now we love her new teachers and classmates and what she’s learning. Can you tell she was excited about her first day of school above? And can you tell we all love our Walk in Love shirts!? : )
– Let the older sibling have individual quality time with everyone in the house, including the baby.
– Some great advice from my friend Emily Hansel: help the older sibling voice their feelings of frustration. I tell Grace often that sometimes being a big sister is hard and that’s okay. I was a big sis once too and it was hard at times, but then it got fun!

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– See that beautiful smiling lady above? This gal. I praise Him for her! She doesn’t just help me with Grace and Joshua, but she has become one of my closest friends. We pray together, laugh together, nurture together, and she even helped me create the Write the Word journals! Growing closer with Rhiannon during these nine weeks has been a blessing. I am no super mom. It takes a lot to run our household with an office of women inside of it too, so I need this gal. Right now, Rhiannon takes care of shuffling Grace around to preschool and various activities during the week, and I’m with Joshua full time and with Grace too in the afternoons. I’m not totally sure how I’m going to write a book with a baby in my arms all day, but I’m putting that in the Lord’s hands!

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I love this picture Rhiannon took of Grace more than words!

That time I thought I ran over a bunny: So, this was not funny at the time it happened. There is an adorable little bunny that has visited our garden all summer and fall. He’s so cute. One night, Ari and I were in separate cars because he went to get his mom from the airport and I had to bring G + J to meet them for dinner. Joshua does not like the car, so on the way home, he wailed the entire time. I have a hard time focusing when he is upset, so I was trying my best to drive carefully and not have a meltdown myself. I prayed and God said, “Don’t be anxious, Lara.” I didn’t listen, and pulled into my driveway faster than usual. I saw my bunny friend dart in front of the car. Thump. I instantly started crying. I didn’t care what the neighbors thought of me and my son wailing together. I felt awful. Ari pulled up into the driveway just as I got out of my car with J. I didn’t want to see the bunny so I ran inside. I cried and cried. This was four weeks postpartum and I sat there a mess of emotions.

The next morming, I didn’t even want to look out the living room window. “Ari, you go. Go see if it’s there.” Bless his soul, he walked outside and returned to inform me that there was no sign of the bunny. He must have been hurt and limped off into the bushes.

Three days later, we pulled in from being at church and, low and behold, out hops my little bunny friend–happy as can be, injury-free! It was a clear message from the Lord: do not worry, Lara. No matter what. Do not be anxious for anything. I cried again in relief and praised Him!

Why do I tell you this story? Because that’s what God has been teaching me. In the sleepless nights and fevers and times I didn’t think I could do another day on two hours of sleep, He whispers: Do not worry, for I am with you. Do not worry, for I have better plans than yours. Do not worry about your momentary troubles. They are so very small. Eternity is where I want your focus. Do not worry, little one. I have you in my arms always. I am in this.

I have so much more to share that God is doing in my heart, but I want to live it before I talk about it.

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Up next: Baby things we have appreciated, and more on my next book and our adoption. I’m currently typing this last paragraph with one hand and it’s time to go feed the little guy again! Hi, friends!

Your turn! Have any dairy/soy/egg free recipes to share? Have you felt similar things postpartum? Any advice on writing a book with a baby in your arms? What has God been teaching you lately? I’d love to hear from you!

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In case you missed it: Sharing the news that we were unexpectedly expecting and choosing his name, Joshua’s birth story, and Nancy’s post and perspective on Joshua’s birth.

This post contains some Amazon affiliate links. Any proceeds will go to Love One Another Project!

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