Category: Inspiration

First of all, if you are just joining us, welcome!  While we might be ten days into the new year, it’s never ever too late to begin something new, let something go, or get focused on what matters. #2014GoalSetting can happen anytime. We’re not setting fleeting resolutions for the year, we’re setting good life goals here. Good goals give you freedom and focus.

The 2014 Goal Setting steps so far so you can get started:

Part 1: Let’s Do This!
Part 2: Get Fired Up.
Part 3: Your 2014 Vision
Part 4: Get Radical
Part 5: Set Good Goals

Lara Casey 2014 Goal Setting

In my reading this morning, my 2014 goals — or goal — hit me.  Here is what I read:

Peter speaking to a large crowd: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. …  Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”  When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

And this is what lights my heart on fire…

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:32-47 NIV)

If you’ve been reading my blog the last couple years, you know that this section of scripture has always been like fire in my heart.  That life of giving and in community and living with just what they needed (and many times less than that) was their response to knowing Him.  They heard.  They believed.  Without hesitation, they acted.  Their lifestyle drastically changed because of knowing Him.

You see, we (me included) like to change external things in order to change the internal things.  External changes can definitely ignite the internal at times.  A new hair cut or clean house can make us feel fresh and new.  Moving furniture around and getting new office supplies can give us a boost. But, there are deeper layers.  He can peel back all of your layers and make them new.  Belief changes our hearts and causes us to ACT on what matters.  It causes a bigger shift than new office supplies can ever ignite.

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For me, I feel that God has put it on my heart to make this the “Year of Clear.”  To see God’s heart clearly and my heart clearly — no matter how messy sometimes — and to keep aligning my heart with His.  My 2014 Vision is to love my neighbor as myself by sharing the clear truth that has changed and continues to change me. My 2014 Vision is to couple boldness with tenderness, knowing I am weak and that I can’t do anything good without Him, and to speak the truth in love to others. I want to use all of the gifts He has given me and give them all away.  To borrow a powerful phrase from my friends Jessi and Hayley, my 2014 Vision is to be “wild and free” for Him in spreading the Gospel and living in His joy.  My 2014 Vision is to see through His lenses and do something — everything — about it.  I am praying for heart change and the fruit of that heart change to multiply love and point directly to Him.

I am so grateful that I intentionally set goals last year.  My 2014 goals are not new, per se, but they are further refined and CLEAR.  This process has been so powerful for me!  Before you dive into setting your own goals, be sure to go through all of the previous posts and steps. Make sure your goals are centered on what matters and that you has a strong WHY with each goal. For the sake of space, I didn’t wrote my WHY for you in every box below, but I wrote them for myself. My 2014 Goals:

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This is just a start for me and I will refine these as I pray on them.  Remember that this is a process and you should be changing and updating your goals along the way. Just to keep you (and me!) accountable, do this… put these dates as reminders on your calendars as check-in points: April 10, July 10, and October 10.  I put them on my calendar too and I will check back in here to let you know how my goals are progressing and I will want to hear about yours. All of your comments in this series have been so inspiring! There is SO much greatness waiting for you in this new year! Be sure to comment here with your 2014 Goals, too! Share them and you will be more accountable and likely inspire someone else. Don’t be a lurker anymore, friends. Jump in : )

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If you need an extra kick in the pants to make this happen, I’m going to be giving away a $20 gift code to my shop and goodies from other shops I love on EVERY POST in this series to one lucky commenter per post.  You can win multiple times and you can increase your chances of winning by:

- Pinning this post or any in the series
- Instagramming
- Facebooking
- Tweeting
- Blogging or in any way sharing this post/series
- For all entires, link back here to www.LaraCasey.com/blog and use the #2014GoalSettinghashtag. You are welcome to use graphics from my posts!
- Lastly, leave a comment saying you did any of the above.  You can enter as many times as you like on all posts!  I’m going to choose some extra winners along the way, too, for some special surprises : )

A peek at some of the prizes in this series….

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Winners for all posts will be selected on January 31, so you have plenty of time to spread the word and make it happen! 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 : )  YAHOO!!!

So, tell me!  What are your 2014 Goals?

P.S. So, you have your goals and you are asking, NOW WHAT? How do you tackle them? Where do you start? That post is up next, but you are far more capable than you think. My next post in a nutshell: begin anywhere. Tiny bold steps forward build momentum to make things happen! Get to it!

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I don’t write about and study goal setting because I’m naturally good at it. I need accountability and some serious pants-kicking to make things happen. I remember so clearly standing on a beach in Maui with Natalie Norton years ago, telling her I just “don’t set goals.” She challenged me, waves crashing at our feet, to set some goals that mattered. “Just try it,” she urged. “God wants us to set goals that help Him shine!” Ever since, that has been on my heart. I lived for so long thinking that we should just sit back and let God make our lives happen. While there is truth to that, God calls us clearly in His word to take action for Him and for the gospel. The Bible is an action book, not a casual read. Jesus had goals. He had a single goal and a core purpose and all of his actions centered on fulfilling that purpose. While we are not Him, we are made in His image and called to walk with Him. So, that’s what I want to try to do. I want to model after the man who laid His life down for others and gave it all and didn’t care about material things and loved people so passionately. I will never come close to having a heart like His here on this earth, but I thing the pursuit of that will be worth all of my failures and shortcomings. Setting goals is good. We need direction and a path to what matters. It’s when we start setting goals that don’t include Him that things get a little (here comes my favorite Southern word!) cattywampus.

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21)

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So, last year, I decided things were going to be different. I started my first Goal Setting series to lay out a process that was more thoughtful than what I had done in the past. From there, I developed the PowerSheets and this whole process changed my life. With my PowerSheets, I started to be more mindful of taking action on my core purpose. I realized that I had to give myself a structure or I’d fall into my old habits and forget my goals. So, I pasted my PowerSheets Tending List to the front of my binder each month and kept it out on my desk so I saw it every single day. I prayed on my goals. I even posted my 2013 goals on my new about page for accountability. As I expected, my goals changed through the year. They got clearer. This is why the PowerSheets were only created for a 6 month timeframe. There’s no magic to 356 days. We should always be re-evaluating our goals, not just at the start of a new calendar year. I posted my progress every three months (or when I could!) here: AprilAugustOctober. I am so exceedingly grateful that I wrote things down throughout the year. This was new for me and completely changed things.  It gave me so much more to celebrate because I didn’t forget good things or let negative things overshadow them. This helped me to have the energy and confidence to keep going when things got hard. It helped me see so much more of God’s goodness that was there all along. 2013, by the grace of God, was a really incredible year. And not because everything went well. It was a great year because I learned more about God’s heart through challenges and mistakes and triumphs and failures. I learned more about where He wants my attention and energy.  Here are what my 2013 Goals were:

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My update for these 2013 goals is simple: God made it happen.  I made significant strides on all of these goals because of His guidance and grace. I still have a long way to go in many of these areas, but I am in awe of how He worked in my life this year.  While I didn’t finish reading the Bible completely by December 31, reading it daily this year is honestly where I found the most clear direction to make these things happen.  What I learned from all of this:  His plans never fail.  Ever.  They just don’t.  Times I pursued things for my ego or lost sight of His purpose for my life, I failed.  When I did things for the bigger picture — to build others up in love for Him — He blessed those things.  Now, when I say “blessed them” I mean He gave me clear guidance and sometimes that guidance was hard.  Sometimes it meant I had to fail at something in order to move forward on His path. But, it was all for a great reason. I also learned that tending to goals little by little is where real lasting and continual progress comes from.   I think “little by little” was my key phrase for 2013 and it still is.  My Tending List in the PowerSheets was instrumental in keeping me on track.  Little by little seeds turn into trees.  Little by little babies grow.  Little by little — and sometimes in an instant — He makes all things new.

OK, I have 20-something days to finish my book manuscript, so I would definitely appreciate your prayers.  My 2014 Goals are up next, but I need a few more days to think on them and get into this manuscript.  Till then, post your own 2014 Goals on my last post or feel free to wait till I post mine later this week! I am praying that you all have a remarkable start to 2014 and that you keep your eye on the goal!  We can do this, friends!

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So, how many of you have ideas about your goals and you are already overwhelmed or anxious about HOW to make them happen? You want all of your goals to have been tackled yesterday. This series is an exercise in patience and doing things little by little to produce real lasting results. If you are feeling overwhelmed, we’re about to dive into some clear waters as we set goals that have meaning. Goals that are rooted in what matters. Goals you WANT to conquer, even if it takes time. Because, you know what? The journey to making those things happen is where the good stuff lives. Your goals may change half-way through the year or you may make them happen faster than you think if you take it day by day by day. This is about progress, not perfection. As my friend Emily says, “The joy is in the journey.” I know you overachievers want to have done everything yesterday, but I have also been reading every single comment on this series. Those of you who are taking this step by step are making remarkable discoveries! I’m so pumped by all the lightbulbs I see going off! Little by little, babies grow. Can you imagine if we got pregnant and the next day have birth to toddlers?? We wouldn’t be ready and we would have missed so much sweetness. It is the same with our goals. They matter enough to make them happen well.

If you are just stumbling on this blog, welcome!  It’s never too late to begin! Previous posts:

Part 1: Let’s Do This!
Part 2: Get Fired Up.
Part 3: Your 2014 Vision
Part 4: Get Radical

First up, my answers from Part 4:

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My LEGACY: The idea of legacy, setting Grace up on a solid path, and using all the gifts God has given me to be a light for Him to others has been on my heart for many months. I wrote this post about creating a “Life List” and encourage you to make one for yourself. You can download a free Life List printable here.

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I am breaking my legacy seeds up into two categories:

For Grace (and our future children, Lord willing):

- Inspired by my friend Jeremy Cowart, I started an email account for Grace when she was born that I send happy mail to every so often.  When she is older, I will give her the password so she can read years of love letters and good things : )
- I have been working hard on our family photo albums and finally ordered her first year album from Artifact Uprising.  Investing in having photographs taken of our family and having them printed is priceless to me.  I’m so grateful for the gift of photographs!
- I created the Life Handbook and can’t wait to fill this out for Grace with Ari.  I also plan to give one to my parents to fill out for Grace, too : )
- I want what I write on this blog to be a legacy for Grace, knowing that some day she may read all of this.  Hi beautiful girl : )
- The things in our home. I want her to know we had a love for life and people, not things.  I have been working on this constantly, but this is the year of CLEAR so I’ll be getting rid of much more stuff in our home when I get back from traveling.  A story that hasn’t left my heart is this story of Meredith’s mom giving away the chairs in her living room.  I want to live knowing my things aren’t mine.  We are blessed to be a blessing to others.
- My book.
- The way I interact with strangers, the way I love Ari, how we use our money (working with Will Ray has been a life-changer this year!),  cultivating joy away from screens – gardening, playing, reading; how we pray together daily as a family, singing to her, teaching her — all of these things are seeds I am planting daily to show her His love. “Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do but someone you raise.” – Andy Stanley

Others:

What I write, say, do; my book; the way I interact with others in person and one-on-one; the products I create for people to have in their homes; how I share my story and faith;  Southern Weddings; the way we deal with conflict; leading my staff well with integrity; serving; giving; teaching students and our interns; teaching through my blog and webinars and speaking; and sending encouragement to others.  I can’t wait to hear all of your ideas, too!

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My RADICAL: writing my book is the only thing on my mind right now. I have a long way to go in a very short time. But, God is able. Truly.  My radical is making this book happen without fear of what others think or how I might be criticized.

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My 2014 song: Oceans by Hillsong United.  These lyrics!

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

Alright! Welcome to the final steps in this series!

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STEP 13: Review. This is important. Get the big picture of everything you’ve written so far in your mind and heart before you write your goals. Read through everything you’ve done so far. Read every word. Look at your 2014 vision statement again and re-write it if you need to. I added to my lists and re-wrote things after going through this process because I got more clarity. Cross stuff out, revise things or add to them. Add to your lists of what did and didn’t work (I added a ton to mine!). Add more to your YES and NO lists. Refine your 2014 Pinterest board. Take pins out that don’t fit with your Vision. You know you can take photos yourself and put them in your boards, right? Take pics of things that mean something to you and put them in your board. Refine everything and get CLEAR before moving to the final exciting step…

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STEP 14:  Yeah, yeah, yeah! You’ve made it! Like I told you from the start of this process, traditional goal setting does not work for me. Goals get forgotten and then they linger and make you feel guilty for forgetting them. Anyone else ever experience this? Well, hopefully at this point you are chomping at the bit to write some real goals down! Goals that mean something. Goals that you can’t wait to conquer. Goals that are very clear and will help you live a better life. So, let’s do it!

There are four rules to this:

1. Review! Read through all of your progress again so you have all of it fresh in your mind.  Don’t set goals before you do that step above!

2. Make a list of the first goals that come to your mind for this year when right after you review everything you’ve written.  I suggest taking a big deep breath, putting on your 2014 song and seeing that 2014 Vision as clearly as you can before writing.

3. Then, check your goals to make sure they are really good goals. It’s so easy to make goals that sound good or goals that other people have that you think you should have, too, just to keep up. Don’t do that. The idea here is for you to SIMPLIFY your life, not to give yourself a new to-do list of random things that sound good. Be very specific and careful about what you decide to spend your time on this year.

Do a GOAL CHECK and ask these questions:

- Will this goal help my 2014 Vision?

- Does this goal also help other people?

- WHY would I spend my time on this goal?

If the answer is NO to that first question, then it’s possible it’s not the best use of your precious time. Don’t run in circles with goals that don’t DIRECTLY connect to what matters most. Get specific. Focus on what really matters to you in the big picture. See your 2014 vision and write down goals that strategically help you build that vision.  Cross goals out that don’t 100% fit.  Revise goals that are not clear.  Be BOLD.

4. This is the most important key to goal setting. Write down your WHY with every goal. When I was a personal trainer in New York for many years, most clients would come to me with a number and say, “I want to lose 10 pounds.” I would ask them, “WHY 10 pounds?” Usually, when we got down to it, it was just an arbitrary number, or a weight they were in college. There was no real heart connection to the goal of losing 10 pounds. But, when we dug deeper into WHY they became out of shape in the first place and what they wanted most in life, a picture of true fitness started to emerge. Instead of, “I want to lose 10 pounds because that’s what I weighed in college” (not very motivating and more self-defeating), we worked on goals like, “I want to be healthy and strong so that I can live long enough to walk my daughter down the aisle. I want to live a long, happy life so I can be a better husband and show my kids how to be joyful and healthy, too.” That works. That is motivating. SO, get real with WHY you want these things to happen and connect them to something that really matters to you. It will help you ACT on your goals instead of toss them aside.

I’m going to share my final 2013 goal update Monday and my 2014 goals on Tuesday, so take the weekend, if needed, to really get clear and dig deep about your own 2014 goals.  When you are ready, leave them here in the comments on this post or the final post on Tuesday!

Dream big, friends! Your playing small does not serve the world.

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Let your light shine, friends. Don’t wait. You never know how long you have left here on this earth to love others and change them for the better in that love.  It’s a powerful domino effect.  The good you do today changes generations.  That’s why setting good goals and having a clear focus is so important.  Life is to short and too powerful to coast through.  Take your time writing down your goals. Pray on them, talk them out with people you trust.  I cannot wait to hear yours!  HOORAY!!!  Happy weekend, friends!

PRIZES FOR THIS POST: See Post 1 for details on how to enter. Winners will be announced January 31, so you have lots of time to spread the word and make these posts happen. OK, these are some of my favorite prizes from shops I love!  Randomly-chosen commenters on this post will get either a $20 gift code to my shop, a Walk in Love T-Shirt, a print of your choice from Naptime Diaries, a set of prayer journals from Val Marie Paper, the headband of your choice from She Does Justice, or a Make It Happen coffee spoon from my friend Jessica!  Yeah!!!

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HAPPY 2014!!!  Welcome to a brand new year, friends.  If you are just joining us, you are in the right place : )  It’s never too late to start this process and spread the word to your friends to have them join you, too.  Here are the previous posts:

Part 1: Let’s Do This!
Part 2: Get Fired Up.
Part 3: Your 2014 Vision

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Photo of my Make It Happen desk card by my friend Mary Boyden.

My answers from Part 3, starting with my 2014 Vision:

Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses? Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:36-40 NIV)

My 2014 vision. OK. I’m going to walk you through my honest thoughts today as I uncover this. Honestly, my brain feels so full lately with traveling and giving my whole attention and love to family and trying to write my book and being a mama and a wife and a business owner. Those things don’t go on Christmas vacation. So, I am taking it day by day to love The Lord with all of me and through all of this.  Your instinct as you read this night be to say, “Well, Lara, take a break! Relax!”  You see, though, God doesn’t tell us to seek pleasure or a life where we just coast.  He sometimes calls us in seasons of our lives to rise up and let Him work profoundly in us to accomplish far more than we can on our own.  I’m in one of those seasons and I am praying for Him to use me. In these seasons, and always, He tells us to work hard and let Him fill us with a kind of rest that a vacation just can’t accomplish. It’s 20 levels deeper. If you read Proverbs 31, you see a woman who works hard for what matters, rising at dawn and using all she has for her family and others. And then she rests in Him. But, lately I’ve been falling into the trap of self-doubt during some of that rest time. My brain has been spinning a bit, thinking that I cannot write a great book or be a great mom or have as good of a year in business as last year. But. But! Then I remember the greatest lesson I learned from 2013: His plans are far bigger than mine.  He is bigger than me and what I can do on my own. He is in control. My job is to simply trust and obey.

(and I just took a deep breath)

Trust and obey. (Anyone love that old hymn as much as I do?) I typed this out because I don’t want you to think any of this just naturally happens. I struggle and, when I stop to have a literal “come to Jesus” moment with myself, all becomes well.  It is well with my soul. That’s what God’s peace does. My physical circumstances haven’t magically changed. But He changes my heart and that, in turn, helps me change my vision from cloudy to clear in an instant.  This is why I have to stay in the Word and focused on Him, because it is so easy to forget the truth.

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So, my 2014 Vision is to be clear. To see God’s heart clearly and my heart clearly — no matter how messy sometimes — and to keep aligning my heart with His. My 2014 Vision is to love my neighbor as myself by sharing the clear truth that has changed and continues to change me. My 2014 Vision is to couple boldness with tenderness, knowing I am weak and that I can’t do anything good without Him, and to speak the truth in love to others. I want to use all of the gifts He has given me and give them all away.

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To borrow a powerful phrase from my friends Jessi and Hayley, my 2014 Vision is to be “wild and free” for Him in spreading the Gospel and living in His joy.  My 2014 Vision is to see through His lenses and do something — everything — about it.

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Having defined that, now here is what is NOT in my 2014 Vision and what I’m saying NO to in 2014:

  • Self-doubt.  I’m redefining that today after what God just taught me.  I should doubt my own abilities on my own, but I can have FULL confidence in His power and plan, whatever that may be.
  • Eating junk.  With the last part of 2014 being so busy, I went to sugary foods — ice cream, candy, too many Luna bars when I was on the go — to fill what needed to be filled with good fuel.  Ari and I started a modified Daniel fast today for January.  For Him it’s “no meats, sweets or alcoholic treats (which are rare for him anyway).”  For me, it’s no simple sugars (ice cream, candy), bread or large portions when I am stressed.  We are doing this fast so that, each time we crave one of those things, we look to God instead for nourishment.  It’s a way of being more spiritually mindful in taking care of the lives God has given us.
  • Comparison.  I will be writing a lot about this in my book, but comparison isn’t just the thief of joy, it’s the thief of everything.  When I compare other wedding magazines or blogs to ours, I get so far off track thinking about their numbers compared to ours and I completely forget the enormous fundamental difference that sets us apart – championing strong marriages above all else.  You can read our whole mission statement here.  I fall into comparison in so many areas, but I will work hard in 2014 to say NO to that and see what He sees.
  • Email.  I get too much of it.  Not junk, but legitimate email.  It’s hard because, every time I write a blog post or put something out into the world, I get emails.  Really lovely wonderful emails that I am so grateful for from really lovely people.  But, sometimes, they add up when I have a lot to reply to and that takes away from my time with my family.  This is such a challenge for me because I want to reply to everything and I do. So, perhaps I can say NO to feeling compelled to always give long replies.  But, friends…. just for the next month… I am kindly asking you to not email me.   I cringe even typing that because I don’t like saying no, but I have to finish writing this book! : )
  • STUFF.  This is a huge one.  I’m still going on the Contentment Challenge, but I have a long way to go.  This quote from the book Margin that Nancy Ray posted sums it up perfectly:

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  • More: days that are filled with too many projects, getting angry instead of praying first, days where I don’t take time to study the Bible well, worrying about things I can’t control.  I will keep adding to this list as I think of things and I encourage you to do the same with your lists.

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Number one: knowing that I am made new in Him.

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Finishing reading the Bible (I didn’t end up completing my goal to finish by today, but I am still pressing on!), working out hard so I can be a healthy mom for Grace, more music in our lives this year, intentionally teaching Grace good things, cooking more (more on that in a bit below), and opening my heart to the possibility of having another child.  There is more, but I will keep adding to this as we go!  Done is better than perfect right now.  I want to spent time with my parents this afternoon and pick lemons from my mamas trees with Grace : )

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My word for 2014 is CLEAR.  I keep saying that to myself as I have gone through this process.  Clear about my purpose, clearly using my gifts to serve others, clearly giving love to others… and free from distraction and the stuff that doesn’t align with His purpose for me.

Alright, welcome to Part 4! Cue the dance party — you’ve made it to the final steps of Goal Setting for 2014 before we actually set some solid goals!

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STEP 10: Plant Seeds. Create Legacy.

My mom gave me the most special gift last night. She gave me decades of family memories, holidays and celebrations, her heart — her greatest passions and the unique gifts God gave her to share — in cook book form.  My mom is a trained French chef and most of her happiest times have been in the kitchen and around the dinner table with us.  She spent days and days putting together two giant binders of her recipes, kitchen tips and favorite family memories for me. Now, I can relive these memories with her in my own kitchen and pass them on to Grace.  I’m crying typing this.  That’s how big this gift is to my heart.  This is her living legacy.

One of the greatest motivators I have is currently doing her farm puzzle at my feet : )  I told her I am writing things that I hope will help people.  She smiled and went back to her puzzle, happy that I am writing to you.  When Ari leaves for work in the morning, we tell her where he is going: to help people feel better.  She loves knowing that is what he does.  We know Grace understands. And telling her this makes us accountable.  It makes both of us want to use all of our time wisely and to the full to genuinely help others.  I know that she watches my every move and hears more than my words – she hears the heart behind them.  She mirrors me all day long, showing me in human form how important it is for me to plant good seeds and LIVE the way we want her to live.  Now, this is also the thing that can paralyze me and make me completely lose confidence the most.  Creating a living legacy for Grace in all I do is a lot of pressure, but it’s a good pressure. Writing to you here on this blog, I am aware that she may read it some day, too.  That makes me want to write boldly and clearly, with tenderness.  It makes me want to leave a legacy that leads her to the heart of what matters.  It makes me want to plant good seeds in really good soil.  It’s what made me create this book…

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A couple months ago, God put it firmly on my heart to leave Grace a legacy of love and wise guidance.  So, I created A Handbook for Life for her and for all mamas and anyone who wants to leave your best advice, wisdom, family memories, reasons you love them and so much more.  Ari and I can’t wait to fill this book out for Grace.  This was one of my favorite things to create ever.  Read all the details here and pre-order now for delivery before Valentine’s Day.

What little seeds can you plant in others?  What legacy can you pass on to those you love now?  What can you teach to others?  What traditions can you pass to them? What gifts of love can you sow?  Sometimes, the tiniest seeds produce the most amazing things.  The mustard seed is one of the smallest of seeds, but grows into one of the largest of trees.   For example, your seed might be starting a small savings account for a child or grandchild.  It might be teaching someone something that will help them — like volunteering for the Boys and Girls Club or teaching at your church or just writing a blog post to share your knowledge about something.  It might be writing a love letter to plant a seed of encouragement in someone else’s life.  It might be creating something — using your art and creative talents — to multiply love in the heart of another or to inspire many.  It might be starting an email account for your little one that you send love letters to daily and, when they are older, you will give them the password to let them read years of love.  I have done that for the last two years and love sending Grace special emails!  Make a list of “seeds” you can plant now — perhaps in the next few weeks — or the living legacy you want to pass to others. Leave your ideas here in the comments.  I’ll share more of my list tomorrow.

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STEP 11:  Do something radical this year.  For those of you in my generation, this doesn’t mean Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure kind of radical.  I mean the kind of radical that changes everything for the better.  That thing that has been set deep in your heart.  That thing that scares you.  That thing that feels impossible right now.  That thing that you know would help you and everyone around you.

Radical literally means very new and different from what is traditional or ordinary.   ‘If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. ‘ - Tony Robbins   Do something different this year, something that feels bigger than you. Imagine the possibilities if you do! You get to define what your radical means to you.  Maybe it’s big like finally getting out of debt or starting a personal budget or getting healthy.  Maybe it’s finally going on that mission trip or writing that email or starting that business.  Maybe it’s saying “no” to something or simply and profoundly choosing to be more still this year.  Before you get completely overwhelmed (I know I just dove into deep waters here with you!), here this: start small.  The core principle behind what I’ve taught at the Making Things Happen workshop for the last 5+ years is this: begin anywhere.  Little by little, make it happen.  Your task here for Step 11 is to define your very first tiny small little itty bitty action step towards making that thing happen.

If your “radical” is getting out of debt, your very first step might be as small as going to the local library and checking out a copy of Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover.  Yes, most libraries have new awesome books like that.  Or get a copy from a friend.  Or read Emily’s personal finance posts!  Or sign up for a free Mint.com account to start an online budget.

If your “radical” is strengthening your marriage, maybe your first tiny action step might be leaving your husband a simple love note in his car tonight so he gets it tomorrow on the way to work.  Just an “I love you. I appreciate you.”  Maybe your first step is to give him or her a hug just because, even if he or she left the dirty dishes in the sink again or said that thing that made you upset.  Maybe your first step is to simply listen and genuinely ask, “How are you?” even if they don’t ask the same in return.  Maybe your first step is to pray for them.  Prayer is an action step.  Perhaps one of the very best ones.

If your “radical” is learning to be content, maybe your first tiny step is to read this post.

If your “radical” is getting healthy, your very first tiny action step might be to open a trash bag and step into your kitchen.  If there is stuff in there that isn’t on your Making Things Happen Train with you (imagine all the good stuff cheering you on!), donate it to the food pantry, recycle its container and/or toss it.  I’m giving you these steps as examples — debt and finances, marriage, health — because I once took these exact same steps myself.  After college, in the thick of depression, I gained 50lbs in 6 months.  It was a long road to learn to fill my soul and body with what it really needed.  And it didn’t happen overnight or without struggle or failure or buckets of tears.  But, little by little by little, it did happen.  I eventually became a personal trainer to try to help others learn to do the same.  I trained hundreds of men and women and learned more about fear and self-doubt than I ever anticipated.   I am so grateful for my journey and how it has translated into the work I do now.

So, what is your “radical”?  Define it.  Write it in black and white and let it marinate in your big beautiful heart.  And then DO something about it.  Something very small.  Sometimes — most of the time — the hardest part is starting.  The rest of the pieces can come later.  Define your radical now.  Share it here and let’s support and pray for each other.  I will share mine tomorrow, too.

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Step 12: OK, 10 and 11 were admittedly challenging, though likely the most fruitful.  So, here’s an easy one.  Choose a song for this year! A song that lights your heart on fire and makes you feel alive and connected to what you want most.   Music has the ability to connect us to what matters most in an instant.   Music can lift us out of a slump fast.  Music can fill our should with goodness on days that nothing else seems to get to our hearts. This is most definitely my song for this year.  Share your song for 2014 here in the comments, too!

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Remember, if you need an extra kick in the pants to make this happen, I’m going to be giving away a $20 gift code to my shop (there are some crazy amazing new Making Things Happen and inspiring goodies coming to the shop soon!) and goodies from other shops I love on EVERY POST in this series to one lucky commenter per post.

PRIZES FOR THIS POST: Read Part 1 for all the ways you can win! Randomly chosen commenters on this post will get either a $20 gift card to my shop or one of these new Life Handbooks.  YAY!

Yeah!!!  Happy NEW Year!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be still today and listen.

Be still and just ask.

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

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

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

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

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Print above from my shop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3 tips for getting organized and getting things done:

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

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

Here is a screenshot of my Things list for today…

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

More on how I stay organized…

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

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and my recurring to-do’s…

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

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

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

 

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

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

Psalm 46:10

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I love you, sweet pea.  Sweet dreams : )

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Big thanks to The Everygirl for sharing the Southern Weddings story and more from Nicole and me today.  I thought I’d give y’all a closer look at our day-to-day and let you hear more about our office from all the Southern Weddings ladies!

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So, welcome to our office, friends!  Little-known fact: I have worked from home since day one!  The whole second floor of our house is Southern Weddings HQ.

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We all love it so much!  It’s cozy and so peaceful up here.  The natural light is beautiful and we can walk right down to the kitchen to have lunch or grab fresh biscuits out of the oven.  All photos by Faith Teasley unless otherwise noted.

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Working from home has it’s challenges too, though.  I have to make sure my kitchen is always clean and my fridge has enough room for four other lunches every day : )  When Grace is having a rough day, it’s hard to separate business from life.  You can hear her cry through the house, which pulls on my heart strings when I’m on a call or in a meeting.  I have to resist going to see her too much (i.e. 20 times a day) to avoid lots of separation-anxiety meltdowns. I’ve had to learn to make my visits with her consistently timed so she doesn’t have to say “bye bye” to me multiple times a day.  But, getting to see her during my work day is truly the biggest gift or working from home. I am SO grateful and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

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OK, on to the tour! Because we have had eight trillion people ask, I will get our most frequently asked FAQ out of the way!  Our monogrammed office chairs were my own creation using this chair from Amazon.com + vinyl decals from Dixieland Monogram.  We love them!  Now, onto Nicole’s corner of the office.

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It’s my favorite corner of the office – happy and bright, just like Ms. Yang!  Our Oh Happy Day and Let’s DO This prints can be found here.

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Can you tell what Nicole’s favorite color is?

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And her favorite snack?  I actually bought her five boxes of these when she renewed her contract with us.  I even wrote “Gobstoppers” and “ability to add goats to any Southern Weddings editorial” into her contract!  True story.

A little more about Nicole!

How long I’ve been at SW: Three and a half years-ish. Looking back on the past three years is crazy — so much has changed and time has really flown by.
How I got my job: In college, I went to hear Lara speak at a campus group event and was convinced that I needed to intern with her. I applied and got the position and they stayed with SW for another year as we continued to grow like kudzu. After graduation, I was finally offered the position I’ve always dreamed of!
What I do: I create most of the visuals associated with Southern Weddings, including blog graphics, shop and brand collateral, magazine layout (which Lara and I do together) and marketing materials. I act as the visual brand ambassador, helping boost our value and recognition.

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What I love most about working at Southern Weddings: There’s a little bit of everything involved. One day, you could be doing manual labor, the next day you could be picking which dress you want to wear to the launch party. Though we have many of the same tasks day in and day out, we’re always trying something new and because we’re a small office, every part of the Southern Weddings machine is tended to by us. We package the magazines ourselves, we craft our own props for photo shoots, we call our hosting provider if the site goes down. Some of these things aren’t remotely glamorous or fun, but they give us a pride and ownership in what we do.
How we work together as a team: We are truly a team effort and the best part is that we all like, respect and enjoy working with each other! We all have responsibilities that we’re solely in charge of, but we don’t make big decisions without consulting each other, which gives us all a great well-rounded view of the processes behind SW. While we can have our hands in many different projects, I think we’re all very good at playing up each other’s strengths. I always let Emily and Lisa write the text for graphics or collateral I’m working on, even if I could do it myself, because they’re amazing with words. And Emily and Lara, although they know the Adobe Creative Suite, always leave big graphic tasks to me.

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What I love about our office: There’s inspiration everywhere! We all have big bulletin boards that we hang our favorite paper pieces and photos on, our favorite images from all volumes of the magazine are on our wall, there’s a whole closet of cute prints from the SW and LC shop and we’re constantly getting mail from amazing and creative vendors. I love that we’ve taken the time to find comfy office chairs, to paint the walls, and to make our individual spaces our own.

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Something you might not know: Even though we’re all six feet away from each other, we send each other dozens of emails a day. It’s not because we don’t want to talk to each other, but because sometimes it’s more efficient. If it’s not urgent, it allows the other person to get to the task on their time so we’re not interrupting each other’s work flow and it keeps everything in one place if the task has different components or files.

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We have unofficial “pairs” here in the office.  Kristin and Marissa are our remote gals and handle the advertising together.  They also share a deep love for the South and if something stops moving, they monogram it.  Photograph below by Landon Jacob.  How beautiful are these ladies!?  Their hearts are solid gold.

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Emily and Lisa (wo)man the blog, all written editorial and one of them cries at least once a day (mainly Lisa) over a beautiful love story or wedding video.  What can I say?  We love love!

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And then there’s Nicole and me.  We do the layout for the magazine together, design new shop products, gush over farm animals and I steal her Gobstoppers.  We make a great team!

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Next, onto my little corner…

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So, I have my own office downstairs and I stopped using it last year.  Can you believe Grace was ever this little!? Photo below by Nancy Ray.

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While we were making V5 (Volume 5 of Southern Weddings), I would come upstairs constantly and never wanted to leave.  So, I stayed and set up camp in the little desk by the door.  It’s plenty of space for me and we are transitioning my old office into a guest room!

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On my bulletin board right now (it gets changed out a lot) are desk card prints from my shop, scripture cards, a photo of Grace and I and a little piece of paper that says, “Nothing measured, nothing managed.”

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This has been my reminder all year to stay diligent about managing finances wisely and, even when it’s hard, to stay focused on improving our weaknesses.  This has proven so fruitful.

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A great desk must have a great stapler (a gift from my sister-in-law) and great reading material.  The Farm Anatomy book is amazing!

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A verse that encourages me to seek what matters most sits next to me every day.  Today is Awesome and Make It Happen notepads from my shop.

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I also have this (from our financial coach, Will Ray) taped to the wall right in front of me to stay focused on managing the resources God has given us for good things.

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Perhaps the most gratifying part of writing this post is sharing the next two images with you.  This is our core mission statement that is taped in about five places in this little space to remind us of WHY we do what we do.

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This is also taped on the wall right as you walk out of the office: our 2013 Goals.  I’m so grateful to say that we are in the process of completing all of these as I type this!  Our new site launches next week and we’ve had a truly blessed year.  Always being reminded of our WHY and our goals has been so valuable.

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Having our office mascot, Henrietta, present at all times has also been valuable : )  Henrietta was a Christmas present to me from the SW ladies last year.  We all love her!

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Now, let’s step into Emily Thomas‘ corner of SW HQ.  I say that Nicole is the Yang to my yin (hehe), and Emily is definitely the yin to my yang.  She does far more than she described in there allotted “few sentences” below.  She is one of the reasons I know God is good.  He brought EAT (by the way, if you haven’t noticed, we all go by our monograms around here!) to North Carolina 4.5 years ago!

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How long I’ve been at SW: I have been at SW for 4.5 years.

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How I got my job: Lara and I connected over a lovely journal through my personal blog.  I then wore her down until she hired me post-graduation :)  You can read the whole story here.

We use the #PowerSheets here in the office to make projects happen.  Emily’s Tending List is peeking out below.

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What I love about our office: I love the color of the walls and the angles in the ceiling — it feels cozy but also airy, kind of like a manicured tree house.

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What I do: I conceptualize, plan, and execute editorials for our print edition.  I also field all submissions and determine the content and schedule for the blog and print editions.  I also am lucky enough to work on many of SW’s special projects.

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What I love most about working at Southern Weddings: I love that I love what I do!  I feel so much ownership in our company and our mission, and it’s exciting to see the fruits of our work in the hearts of our readers and partners every day.

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How we work together as a team: Though we all work very independently (setting our own schedules, priorities, etc.) we are in constant communication about projects and decisions.  Our responsibilities are also very elastic, and they overlap — on any given week, I am almost surely working on a different project with each of the other ladies.
Something you might not know: I famously eat lunch around 3pm every day.  I tend to eat dinner around 9pm, so it works for me! :)

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Lisa is the newest member of our team and we are so happy to have her!  Her heart is as big as her home state of Texas!  She also happens to be my neighbor and literally walks a block and a half to work every day.

How long I’ve been at SW:  Four months.
How I got my job:   I knew I wanted to work at Southern Weddings for most of college, so in 2010, I started my own wedding blog as a portfolio of my wedding knowledge and writing ability. At the beginning of my last semester of college, I reached out to Emily to tell her more about myself and ask her what else I could do that would make me the best possible candidate for SW, should an opportunity arise. Less than a month later, a position opened up that they thought I could be a great fit for. I interviewed for a few months, was offered the job three days after graduation, and moved to Chapel Hill from Texas a month later!

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What I do:  My time is split between working as an editor and the shop manager. As an editor, I write and edit for both the blog and magazine, help coordinate and execute editorial shoots, and communicate with PR companies. As shop manager, I process orders from the Southern Weddings and Lara Casey shops, communicate with customers, and monitor how the products perform.

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A peek at some of our shop goodies, our chicken collection (which has grown quite a bit since this photo was taken!) and our growing jam collection above!  

What I love most about working at Southern Weddings:   I love the opportunity to serve our sweet readers through sharing meaningful inspiration and encouraging them to focus on what matters in their wedding planning. I also love being part of such an amazing team, helping to make editorial magic happen, and getting to write every day.

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How we work together as a team:  We work together in a very collaborative way–a typical real wedding blog post may consist of Emily placing images, me editing the interview, Marissa writing the introduction and comments, and Nicole putting together the gallery. Because we work together closely on so many aspects of our work, we all really respect one another’s strengths and talents, and look for opportunities to help each other do our best work.

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Something you might not know:  We are hardly ever all in the same place–in the four months I’ve been here, I have only seen Marissa in person once! Also, Emily rarely eats lunch before 3 p.m., and when Nicole and I are the only ones in the office, we play the “Country Barbecue” Pandora station all day. :)

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What I love about our office: I love our monogrammed office chairs. They’re comfy and cute, of course, but since they roll, they also allow us to rearrange our chairs easily, in order to squeeze in front of the desktop for our weekly Google Hangout meetings or work together on different projects. It’s funny how something as basic as office chairs contributes to the collaborative environment at SW, but it absolutely does!

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While she is currently working from Florida, we never quite know what state Marissa will be in next! Marissa has always held a special place in my heart and has encouraged me to do what matters and focus on God’s goodness so so so many times.  I am so grateful for you, MAK!  A little more from our traveling Southern belle…

How long I’ve been at SW: 3 years and 8 months
How I got my job: After reading a very inspiring blog post by Lara in 2009, I took a big leap and emailed her a very raw and personal email to her expressing my desire to work for Southern Weddings as the cover letter of my resume. After interviewing in the office, I was offered a very part time position working for Lara Casey Reps. Over the years, my position has transitioned and been refined to what I do now. 
What it’s like to work remotely with SW: While I’d love to be able to work in our beautiful office with my lovely coworkers, it’s such a blessing for me to be able to work remotely. Even though, Kristin and I are not there physically, we Google Hangout during our staff meetings, and many other times throughout the week creating “face-to-face” time for creative brainstorming. For me it’s just like being in Chapel Hill, I work regular business hours, just from a different place (and without biscuits breaks!). Most importantly we make it a priority to keep a strong connection with the team in the office to ensure we all stay focuses on the same mission and goals. 

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More from Marissa!

What I do: I work with local and nationals brands to help grow their businesses by creating custom marketing plans that connect them with their target audience, the darling Southern Weddings readers. I am also delighted to work editorially by writing Real Wedding intros and other fun features on the blog and in print that focus on our core mission. 
What I love most about working at Southern Weddings: Besides the amazing group of women I get to work with everyday, I love working for a company that values what matters most; family, love and marriage. 
Something you might not know: We LOVE Google Docs! It’s true, as a team we must have over 50 docs! it’s such a great way for us to all connect on big projects and keep everything organized and in one place.

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Last, but not least in any fashion, I introduce Kristin Winchester to you.  She is a treasure — and a really great baker, as you will read below!

How long I’ve been at SW: 1 year, 3 months, 26 days (or ~ sixteen sweet months)
What it’s like to work remotely with SW:  I am very grateful for technology and the ability to virtually ‘hangout’ with the SW gals whenever needed.  I am also lucky enough to get into the office every couple of months to re-charge my SW batteries.  While I can get envious of Friday Tea Service — I have learned that it is best to join in the fun so I pull put my tea (sweet or hot) on Friday afternoons and play along from the comfort of my home office!!

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How I got my job: It started with a bold proclamation to Lara, upon a happenstance meeting at an SW event in December of 2011, that I thought we should work together some day.  I had previously applied for an open SW position in the spring of 2011.  Another position opened up in 2012 and after applying, I followed up with a promise to make the office my world-famous chocolate chip cookies or Tar Heel pie.  I guess I won everyone over with the promise of sweet treats and my savvy excel skills.
What I do:  I get the joy of overseeing the Blue Ribbon Vendor Directory — helping to cultivate and maintain a list of the best & brightest vendors below the the Mason Dixon.  This means I get the chance to interact with and fall in love with some of the sweetest people in the South. I also tab a stab at blogging on the occasion along with helping Marissa out with the overall SW advertising goals and objectives.

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How we work together as a team: Three cheers for DropBox, Google Docs and Google Hangout.  We work really hard to use technology to our advantage to keep us connected, to stay on the same page and to produce the highest-quality work.  Our mission statement is the foundation of everything that we do which produces an incredibly cohesive  working environment.
What I love most about working at Southern Weddings: Is the food an acceptable answer :) ? The food is definitely a highlight but the thing I love most is the fact that I get to work with ladies that share a similar heart for marriage, a passion for what matters most and a drive to help brides cultivate a life (and wedding celebration) of love and joy.  Not kidding y’all — I work with the most talented ladies this side of the Mississippi.  Photo below by Landon Jacob on one of the few occasions we’ve all been in the same place this year!

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Oh my stars, now can you see why I didn’t want to stay in my office alone, away from these ladies every day!?  I am so grateful for each of you!  We are just six ladies, but we have more passion than a hen has feathers.  We are passionate about our mission and truly believe that small is the new big.

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A final peek into our world: approximately 70,000 lbs of magazines go to news stands and 15,000+ lbs go to the “Shipping Department” aka my garage : )

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This was last Friday after we unloaded the truck into said garage. I’ve had a car in here for all of six days this year. Ah, the life of a small-but-bursting-at-the-seams business owner. The Southern Weddings Postal Service will be in full action starting next week.

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Good gravy, that’s a lot of magazines!  You can get your copy of V6 here.  I can’t believe it launches in a WEEK.  Ahhhh!!!  I hope you enjoyed this little peek into our world.  There is so much more to our office and our hearts, though, so I hope y’all can come see us next week at our Launch Party.  See y’all there!

Have a question about our office or for one of these sweet ladies? Have a favorite part of this post? We’d love to hear from you below!

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Being grateful is work sometimes.  Really hard work.  I get so bogged down with email and to-dos and life moves so fast some days that I completely lose sight of the gifts right in front and inside and all around me. Let’s look at some of the gifts of this moment: I have fingers to type this.  Ten of them!  I have a nose to breathe clean air through.  I have a cup of water sitting next to me.  Clear, clean, disease-free water.  Water I didn’t have to well or purify myself.  I just turn on one of the many faucets in my house.  I have heat in my heater that I turn up and down with the push of a button.  I have a Bible I can read whenever I want without fear of persecution.  I have a phone that I can use to call anyone at any time and tell them I love them. I could go on.

I love this page from Grace’s little book of prayers.  It says, “Hands sure come in handy for finger paint and candy.  And for counting – fingers go to ten.  Thank you God for all of them! Amen.” 

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You see, gratitude isn’t something that happens to us when good things come.  It’s something we practice and cultivate and give.  ”Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more” (Melody Beattie).  It is so easy to look at the “little” things and think of them as small.  But really… they are miracles.  And the everyday miracles and gifts in our lives were meant to be shared, spread around and passed on.

In my own life, I’m just scratching the surface of beginning to understand just how much I have and how much need there is for us to share what we have with so many who do not have these “simple” things that are really not simple at all.

Sometimes gratitude comes unexpectedly, on the other side of challenges. I was in a car accident last week. I am physically fine, just emotionally shaken up.  Today, I am grateful for the simple yet very best gift of being alive. I will not take this day for granted.  Gratitude changes everything.  It changes the everyday into the extraordinary.  It changes the simple into the sublime.  It can change your heart from caving in to filled to the brim instantly.  Gratitude changed what was a scary experience this week into an enormous blessing.  I am praying that your challenges turn into unexpected wells of gratitude, too.

This month, I have a special challenge for you.  Let’s take action on thanks AND giving. Share what you are grateful for on social media this month and share stories of giving (maybe highlight a friend or small business who is doing great things for others!) using the hashtag #GratefulNovember.  Let’s help each other cultivate and celebrate the profound blessings all around, within and right in front of us!  You never know how your little seed of thanks — whether a text to a friend, a love letter, an open door, a small donation, a smile, or an unexpected long hug will completely change someone’s life.

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Feel free to steal the graphic above to start your #GratefulNovember off today on social media!

We are starting in our office today by writing what we’re grateful for on our chalkboard wall together!   My personal project is to write out 100 things I’m grateful for every week (maybe more!).  And not in a journal, but somewhere I can see them every day.  Since I’m doing the Contentment Challenge, I worked with what I already had.  I found a roll of tan wrapping paper, a silver paint pen and a few push pins and hung this up yesterday…

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We’ll be adding things we are grateful for to it each day so we can see them clearly and celebrate them.  Ari and I are also naming 10 things we are grateful for each night at dinner. The last three days of dong this have already been so good for us.  Such a simple thing but it has helped us to see God in everything around us and it has helped us appreciate each other more.  It has also helped me fall more in love with this little one.  I didn’t think I could love her more, but it’s happening.  Yesterday morning before church we took a walk in our PJ’s to crunch in the leaves…

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Ari and I are also and are focusing on giving more to others in various ways.  As I wrote about in my last post, we are all blessed to be a blessing.  I can’t wait to hear and see what creative things you all do to make thanks and giving happen.

Download this and many more iPhone, iPad and computer wallpapers here.

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Happy November, friends!  Make thanks AND giving happen today and always.  Let’s get started right now! What are YOU grateful for?  I’d love to know.  

P.S. Thank someone right now.  If you are reading this, you either have a phone or a computer!  Make the call, send that text or write that email.  You never know how it will change that person’s life.

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UPDATED: Abbie is the randomly-chosen winner! : )

I’ve felt this need to get my LIFE in order since Grace was born.  Having her made me feel this immediate need to take responsibility for the areas of my life where I felt I wasn’t so skilled and I felt like I finally had to do the things I had on my mental Life To-Do List.  This may sound strange, but I was ready to grow up.  The kind of growing up where you step into a new realm of contentment and understanding.  Adulthood 2.0.

For instance, my finances made me s-t-r-e-s-s-e-d out.  (I know I know!  If I would have even seen the word “finances” or “money” in a blog post, I would have cringed and left for greener pastures on someone else’s blog years ago.  Stay with me.  Good stuff ahead.)  I was so tired of feeling like I wasn’t good with numbers.  So, I spent a good portion of my maternity leave — between first diaper changes and many sleepless nights — getting my finances sorted out, categorizing hundreds of charges and entering them into Quickbooks Online Pro (what I use for business) and Mint.com (what we use for personal finance tracking).  After years of saying, “I’m just not good at numbers,”  I had to learn to re-write that thought. Read my post from yesterday.  For so so so long I would get so so so frustrated when having to deal with finances.  I didn’t even know where to start!

I had to play tricks on myself to turn working on my finances into something I genuinely looked forward to instead of dreading.  I would play great music.  I’d promise myself a reward after finishing a session of Quickbooks time.  Usually frozen yogurt.  I added that into my budget!  I’d light candles.  I would pray.  A lot.  I would literally give myself a gold star.  I was determined.  I was sick and tired of not feeling like the money I was working so hard for wasn’t being used in the very best ways possible.  I felt like, “I am a smart gal.  Why is this so hard?”  God was working deeply on my heart in all of this.

I wanted my time back.  Desperately.  I wanted to know how much I actually needed to work.  How much money did I really need to make our lives work?  How much could I give?  How many consulting sessions did I need to take?  How many hours a week did I need to be at my desk and still pay our bills, tithe and give generously?

I am so grateful to God to now say that I am confident in my ability to manage money wisely — with a lot of help and learning (our very own Emily Thomas writes excellent posts on personal finance here that I highly recommend reading!) and lots of growing still to go.

If you feel like you have no idea where to start, I offer you a simple task.  First, make a list.  Where do you feel like you need to be more skilled?  What are the larger tasks you’ve had on your heart?  Write them down.  Get these Life List things down in black and white so you can just face them.  That was the hardest part for me.  Admitting I needed to make some big changes and get my life in order.  So, I started a Life To-Do List – larger long-term tasks – and have been plugging along, very slowly checking things off the last two years.  Here is my list:

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My list is based on our own personal family goals, so your list may be completely different!  Choose what’s right for you and your family.  And please don’t for one second let my list overwhelm you.  My list two years ago just said “get our finances in order so tax time wasn’t a midnight mess on April 15th.”  That seemed like an impossible task at the time.  It was through tons of research and prayer over many months that this list has been added to, refined and worked on.

I had to break these things down into tiny action steps to make them happen.  How many of you have tasks on your general to-do lists that have been there for months (or years!)? Things like “get teeth cleaned” or “get oil changed” can stay on our lists forever and nag at us every day that they are not checked off.  In our minds we think that getting those not-so-fun tasks done will somehow take days, when in reality they take just moments to set up and not very much time to accomplish.  Action steps have to be:

1) Realistic.

2) Physical.

3) Small.

So, to go to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned, my first action steps would be to:

1) Open my computer and open Google.com

2) Google the name of the dentist and find the phone number

3) Pick up my phone, dial the number and call while I open my calendar

Making a dentist appointment takes me less than two minutes.  Yet, I put these “big tasks” off with excuses like, “I don’t have time!”  What we really don’t have time for are the things that are taking up our mental space every day.  Going to finally get my teeth cleaned — which really only took me two hours including driving time — and finally checking that off my list made me feel oddly FREE.  Like I had a whole new realm of mental space on my list to fill with something better.  It has been the same feeling, times 100, that I’ve felt in working on my Life List.  While those action steps above may seem completely elementary, sometimes it takes us breaking things down to the smallest steps for us to take action on things because we see how easy they can be.  And many times – most times – the hardest part is taking the first steps.

The hardest part of all of these things was taking the very first steps.  After that, things were in motion and there was no more room for fear or doubt or regret that we never took action.  

For Ari and me, each one of these Life List tasks started with prayer.  We asked God to guide us.  We looked in the Bible for wisdom about finances and giving and responsibility. We wanted to do this well and not fight in the midst of these hard tasks and tough conversations that would follow.

After praying, we divided up the tasks so we each felt like we had equal responsibilities that played into our strengths.  I took the book keeping for personal and business finances (I like computer programs more than Ari does) and he researched life insurance and retirement plans (he likes numbers and logistics).  I take care of the general house shopping and grocery shopping each week (and hunting for coupons!) and he takes care of writing our tithing check every week at church and keeping track of those payments.  Every Saturday, we talk about our personal budget and I update him on how we are doing.  At the end of each month, I email him the amount we have saved that month and he puts it into our emergency fund and a small portion toward his student loans.  We divide and conquer.

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Making this list happen has not been easy.  It has involved hours of research and hard conversations.  Life insurance and wills aren’t exactly the easiest thing to talk about.  But, I’m so glad we did talk about them.  Making this list happen has required us to step into personal fears about money and talk them out together.  It has taken some tough decisions.  It has crushed my ego 8 trillion times and made me pray a lot (and kick and scream in my heart!).   But, I learned what was important to Ari and I grew to love him more in these sticky sometimes-scary talks.  We both started to feel more like a team as we stepped into every challenge together.

But, let me just stop and say that reading this list I am very aware of how much we have. There are so many things that I have started to not take for granted anymore like health insurance and a house to even make payments on.  Having these things does not make us more blessed than others though.  It depends on your definition of blessed.  The Bible tells us that the first will be last and the last will be first.  Possessions and finances can keep us far from true contentment if they become more important than God.  Money is not the enemy; the love of money is.  ’For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.’ (1 Tim 6:10)  While I am doing the Contentment Challenge right now, I have come to see that is just surface stuff I am fasting from.  I am now craving a deeper level of sacrificial giving.  We are blessed to be a blessing to others.    I want to be a living thank you letter to God for all He has done in our lives.  Like I said above, I have so far to go.  So far.  But, I am grateful for this refining journey and how it has strengthened our marriage and our hearts.

OK, back to the Life List.  Ari and I met this week to go together and finally sign our wills and life insurance paperwork.  I wrote our wills using LegalZoom.com (with Ari’s input on end-of-life wishes of course!).  If you don’t have a will yet or haven’t considered one, here are two great posts to read from my friend and financial coach, Will Ray: why you need a will and how to get one.  It’s a strange thing, this life. It doesn’t last forever and, while taking an hour from work to go do this may seem like a morbid task to do… I feel grateful. Grateful that we did this for Grace. This year, one of the greatest seeds God has planted in my heart is this: do everything with great love. Do everything for someone else. Plant good seeds. I have so far to go – so very far – but every little step counts.

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Your little steps add up friends. Even the not-so-fun ones. One thought that kept me going through this list was thinking about how I would feel when we finally had things in order.  I knew I would feel peace.  I knew I would feel joy in being able to give more because I would know where that money was coming from instead of haphazardly making financial decisions.   ”For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?’  (Luke 14:28)

Make your Life To-Do List happen.  Little by little — perhaps over the span of years like me — you will get your Life List done and you will be so grateful that you did.  These tasks are not small or easy, but they have been worth it for us and the peace of mind we have for my family and Grace’s future.

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Make your own Life To-Do List with this FREE PRINTABLE and one commenter will win a copy of a book that was truly life-changing for Ari and me, The Total Money Makeover.  If I could give a copy of this book to everyone I know, I would.  If you already have this great book, you can win a copy for a friend!

So, tell me what’s on your Life To-Do List or what you have been considering/challenged by.  I’d love to hear from you!

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