Category: Motherhood

Before we dig into Goal Setting, I have something encouraging to share. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to share a photograph of a plant with you (stay with me here!), and if you see me around this plant in person, I’m sure you would think I was a wee bit overjoyed about this little guy. BUT! Let me tell you why this is one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever laid eyes on. You see, six years ago, this plant was dead (or so I thought). Have you ever seen a shriveled up brown stemless orchid? Probably not, because it’s really hard to kill one of these things. But, if you’ve read my book or have known me for a while, you know that I was once really good at killing plants. That orchid I wrote about on page 143? Yep, that’s this little guy. He sat in our office bathroom for four years, only getting watered maybe once every other month, if that. There was no green in these leaves. Not a spot of life. In fact, I almost threw him away.

But, God…

Then, God got ahold of my heart. He showed me how addicted to instant gratification I had become in buying plants and things I had no intention of caring for. This wasn’t just about plants — this was how I treated my life. God began breaking me down to build me back up, new and changed. Over the last two years (!), I’ve watered, tended, fertilized, re-potted, pruned, and watched daily for any signs of life. If God could bring my marriage back to life, perhaps He could revive this neglected plant too. So, my friend, this little golden yellow and hot pink bloom is wildly exciting for me! God is real and faithful and this healthy very-alive thing reminds me multiple times a day that the impossible is possible. It’s such a beautiful symbol of how He has worked in me and our family. The impossible is possible. This is true for every part of your life too. God can take what appears lifeless and give it new life!

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Also, in jest I mention trying out a Chia pet in my book if you want to give easy plant-growing a try. I strike that thought. We got Grace a Chia kitty as a potty training prize and it looks so awkward. It’s only barely sprouting on it’s belly. I can grow a garden, but Chia pets are not my forte ; )

Okay, on to Goal Setting! If you are just joining us for this series, it’s never too late to begin! February 1 is my January 1, so feel free to join me:

2015 Goal Setting, Part 1: Good Things 

2015 Goal Setting, Part 2: What Didn’t Work + What I Learned

2015 Goal Setting, Part 3: Saying Yes, Saying No

2015 Goal Setting, Part 4: Get Radical + Sing Loud

Welcome to Part 5. I am excited about this and double excited about the giveaways that accompany this particular post. But, first. My answers from Part 4:

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I asked myself these questions: What is the big picture? If I were to live out my most purposeful year in 2015, what would that look like? Where do I want to be when I’m 80?

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Here’s what I wrote in my PowerSheets:

My most purposeful year yet would be a year of spending all of me and being hour-to-hour refilled ALL for and by God. It will, Lord willing, be a year of SEEKING Him out of love for Him — seeking His word — His truth,  It will be, Lord willing, a year of letting go of our comforts to give sacrificially to others, trusting that all of our true treasure and reward are in Heaven.

Why? Because otherwise I’m wasting what God gave me and ignoring the leading of the Holy Spirit. I want to go and do.

When I’m 80, I want to have raised God-loving children, brought many to know God’s true heart, been a wife of noble character, and have been changed by Him into the woman He desires me to be. I want my faith to be as strong as my friends Tijuana, Thom and Bek, and Carol and Brian. I want to have given all of me in praise for Him!

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My radical is stepping into having two babies this year, one (Lord willing) through birth and one through adoption. I know that will require radical trust in God’s strength and letting go of my own life.

Another radical for me will be writing my second book. I have to finish it before I give birth, so I feel a positive pressure to get moving and get the message of this book down on paper. More to come on that in the next post.

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I have been searching high and low for a song that feels right, but I haven’t found just one. Last year my song was Oceans, because I felt so pulled to step into the deep I-must-give-all-my-trust-to-God waters of adoption. This year, I’m still seeking my song. A few that I love (worth clicking over and reading the lyrics) are:

I Love To Tell the Story – This is my heart for this year — to keep telling His story.

Victory in Jesus – We sang this at Bunny’s memorial service and I sing it almost every morning with Grace. It encourages me greatly! The victory has already been won.

Hide Me – a favorite for years.

I’ll report back when I find the one song that fits best.

lara casey nothing is impossiblea little reminder above from me to you : ) 

Here are your next steps!

How many of you have ideas about your goals as we’ve gone through this series 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 lasting results. If you are feeling overwhelmed, we’re about to dive into some clear waters as we set goals that have meaning. 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. I know you overachievers want to have done everything yesterday, but I have also been reading every single comment on this series. Taking this step by step is helping many of you make 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.

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First off, review. This is important. Get the big picture crystal clear in your mind and heart before you write your goals. Read through everything you’ve done so far. Read every word. Re-write or add to things 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, 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 2015 Pinterest board. Take pins out that don’t fit well. Refine everything and get CLEAR before moving to the final exciting step…

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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. Swiftly-made resolutions 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 feel more equipped than when you started this process to write some down good goals. Goals that mean something. Goals that are very clear and will help you live on purpose. So, let’s do it!

Four helpful tips:

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 and putting on your 2015 song as you start writing goals. These don’t have to be perfectly written — just write what first comes to mind.

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 me live on purpose?

- 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. Cross goals out that don’t 100% fit. Revise goals that are not clear. Be bold and take leaps of faith as you write.

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 2015 goals in the next post. When you are ready, leave yours here in the comments on this post or the final post coming soon!

Some encouragement: the good you do today has the potential to change generations. You never know how long you have left here on this earth to love others and change them for the better in that love. That’s why setting good goals and having a clear focus is so important. Life is to short and too meaningful to coast through. Take your time writing down your goals. Pray on them and talk them out with people you trust. I cannot wait to hear yours and cheer you on! HOORAY!!!

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The prizes for this post are possibly the best I could ever give to you. Financial stress is one of the biggest factors I have felt myself in the past and one of the biggest things I’ve seen holding many people back. I want you to know that, no matter how deep your debt or mistakes you’ve made in the past with money, it’s possible to change things. It really is. These prizes below are tools that have brought Ari and me priceless peace. My prayer is that the winners are as changed as we have been by them. Without further ado, today’s prizes are:

1. A session with Will Ray, who has been a friend and mentor to me for several years. His financial coaching has helped us pay off more personal debt than we thought possible in a short time and Will has also changed the way I look at my business finances. I no longer feel overwhelmed by numbers. Wow, that is crazy to say! Will’s guidance equipped me to make smarter decisions.

2. A copy of Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. If you’ve read my book, you know Dave’s classic book changed the game for us. A must-read.

3. A full nine-lesson Financial Peace University online course. I wish I could gift this to everyone I know!

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You can win multiple times throughout this post series and you can increase your chances of winning by:

– Commenting on this post to share your thoughts
— Pinning this post or any in the series
– Instagramming any graphic with a link back here to this post or future posts
– Sharing this series on Facebook or Twitter
– Blogging or in any way sharing this post/series
– For all entires, link back here to www.LaraCasey.com/blog and use the #2015GoalSetting hashtag. You are welcome to use graphics from my posts!
– Lastly, leave a comment saying you did any of the above. You can enter as many times as you like on all posts! I’m going to choose some extra winners along the way, too, for some special surprises : )

P.S. I shared some thoughts here on needing a fresh start. Do you need a fresh start? Already feeling off-track this year? This is for you.

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P.P.S. We found out this week that we are having a boy : ) We are grateful and have begun to pray about names. I share this with such a different heart than I did with Grace, though. I know baby news isn’t the easiest for many and have felt that pain in my own small way. We know this child is His, not ours. May the sharing of this little life bring Him honor. I don’t know how exactly that will play out yet, but that is my prayer. I am tearing up typing this to you. I haven’t written to him before this very moment. Son, we love you. God loves you. May your life bring Him great joy.

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Welcome back to 2015 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 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! Now, onto Part 3. We have lots of fun things to cover today.

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First, you should know this: February 1 is my January 1. Who has time to set good goals in the rush of December? Okay, perhaps some do, but I am not one of them. January is my time (and our time as a team) for preparing well, intentionally, thoughtfully, and most of all — prayerfully. Yesterday, we did the PowerSheets prep as a company and it was awesome. We modified some questions to answer collectively, but it was just what we needed to kick off this year and a month of purposeful goal setting together. We are going to work through the goal setting action plan sheets at our staff meeting next week so we take our time doing this well. A peek from our meeting yesterday…

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I’m working through the book action steps and my PowerSheets prep, as well as my inbox. I shared this on Instagram yesterday, but I was largely unprepared for a book launch. I’ve never done this before and had no idea what to expect. It has been a blessing and I am so grateful God has used the book to encourage others. My inbox has been a challenge, though. Email is just decisions that need to be made, so I’m in overdrive on decision-making over here : ) Yesterday, I had every intention to write this post, but I had to throw up my white flag and remember that the goal of this year, and every year, is progress and purpose, not perfection — letting God define my expectations. I am praying the same for you, friends! It’s so freeing to let go.

Okay, let’s do this! First up, I hope you all have enjoyed doing some of the things that fire you up from the last post. Here is my list I wrote out below (just a few of the many things), and I’d love to hear yours too!

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A few more to add:

  • Writing these posts and being real about where I need to grow — being humbled — fires me up.  I feel closest to God when I am humbled.
  • Our mission at Southern Weddings — and in all we do — fires me up beyond words. The ladies I work alongside also fire me up. They are the bees knees.
  • My editor, which is a seemingly-small term for what she really is in my life. She prayed for me and with me throughout my entire book process. She called me today just to encourage me and pray for me on the phone. She is on my list of top three women who inspire me to love Him wholeheartedly.
  • God’s power to change anything. He cam make the impossible happen.
  • Praying for others and watching God answer prayers in ways I never expected.
  • Doing pirouettes in my living room when no one is watching : )
  • A moment or conversation with Ari where I remember and feel our shared heart. That shared heart was born of a man who died on a cross so we could be free. So we could forgive each other. So we could be forgiven. So we could be completely washed in grace and made new and whole again. That heart is the greatest gift we’ve been given. It saved our marriage and changed who we are as people.
  • Grace’s joy. She sings constantly and will dance at the drop of a hat. I love that girl!
  • And a note on that last line in my hand-written list above. A friend emailed me after reading my book and asked how you know when you’ve made “it” happen. My answer, in short, is that “it” is choosing God. Every time I surrender, am humbled, and choose to act on God’s leading — no matter how hard — to me, that’s making what matters happen. And often I feel it. I feel a deep peace when I choose Him. It’s continual, not a one time event. We never arrive and then stop, we keep choosing Him. I hope that encourages someone else out there to know that chasing what the world says is success will lead you in circles, but choosing God will lead you to the very best places — to far more than we can ask or imagine. That fires me up!
  • There’s so much more, but I want to hear from you now! Leave your list in the comments so we can inspire each other. I love hearing what light people’s hearts on fire.

Onward! Here’s where things get fun. You now know what did work over the last twelve months, what didn’t work and what fires you up. You learned some very valuable lessons in all of this. So, what are you saying NO to in the coming year and starting today? Make a list of all of the things that are holding you back (or could potentially hold you back) from making your purposeful year happen. Write your list of what you are saying NO to in 2014.

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With everything you have written down thus far in mind (I suggest reading over all of your progress again), what are you going to need to say YES to more often in order to live on purpose in 2015? Write your list of what you are saying YES to in 2014. Think big picture here, and write down the things you are afraid to dive into, too. There is great potential hiding in your fear. I encourage you to post your YES List publicly here and/or share it with friends to help inspire others and to keep yourself accountable. I think you will all likely NOT be writing Facebook or more social media on this list. Just a guess.

I’ll be sharing my NO and YES lists with you in the next post. Remember: saying NO to one thing means you are saying YES to something potentially 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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BONUS STEP! Pick a core word for 2015. What one word really resonates with you for the year ahead? What word pulls together all that you want to make happen? Think hard about this. I’ll share mine in the next post. 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!

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PRIZES FOR THIS POST: Read Part 1 for all the ways you can win! Three randomly chosen commenters on this post (or those who share this series) will get a set of 2015 Encouragement Postcards from the shop! These have been super popular and that makes me grateful because it means a lot of encouragement is going around : )

 

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P.S. Our Flash Sale is on — now till midnight! Use the code FRESHSTART2015 for 20% off all prints and desk cards + check out our “perfectly imperfect” sale : )

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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. And friends, remember this truth: there is nothing magical about January 1. The best day to begin is TODAY.

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In Part 1, we talked about what went well and what we were grateful for in 2014. I am so encouraged by the thoughts you shared on the last post and by the dozens of blog posts that have been written with such passion, honesty, and intentionality about the coming year. Y’all are in this with your whole hearts and that gets me fired up even more! Let’s keep going, shall we?

What didn’t work in 2014? Honesty time! And before you do this step, remember not to beat yourself up here. I know you want to make this your best year yet. The past is behind you. The old has gone, the new has come! Just list some facts here. In business and life, what didn’t work well to help you live your best life this year and what needs improvement?

For me, a lot didn’t work. I am human and I fail all the time. But! All of the challenges this year eventually pointed me back to what matters. They strengthened me. They refined me in big ways and made me more confident in my faith and purpose. The challenges showed me time and time again that I need God and that is a very good thing. Often, the challenges redirected me to a better path and a deeper trust in the only thing that never fails.

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– Going through a miscarriage and trying to have a baby was challenging, but like I shared on Monday, it was completely for my good. Read the story here.
– Many people think writing a book is glamorous. Maybe if you are writing about flowers or something light-hearted. Writing about your own failures for all to read is a different story. Writing the book was the hardest thing I did this year because it made me face myself and question where I was seeking my worth. I feared what others would think of my path. I feared never finishing my manuscript. I feared so very much. I faced my life’s mistakes as I wrote about them. I cried oceans of tears and mourned what felt like lost days chasing after the world’s idea of success instead of God’s. There was so much shame I didn’t realize I was still carrying. I felt totally inadequate as a writer. (I could write that last sentence about thirty times I felt it so much.) And you know what? It was for all my good. I felt about as tall as a grain of sand and it made me throw my whole reliance on the Lord for my strength and identity. I’m still on this journey, but in writing the book I felt like I exhaled bricks. It was like going through ten therapy sessions a day — speed therapy, if you will. I laid down the shame and baggage at His feet and found myself saying, Wherever you want me to go, Lord, I’ll go. Whatever you want me to write, help me put the pen to the paper. Less of me, all of You. I still feel a bit overwhelmed by the book being out in people’s hands. Most of me wants to close my eyes and slip away from the internet for a few weeks to let the book rush pass, but that is selfish and sheepish. Although, I like sheep : ) I told you I was going to write out my mess, and I hope it helps some of you not feel alone. I don’t write about fear because I have none. I write about it because I know it well and, by the grace of God, I am learning to understand it more so it doesn’t speak louder than my faith. Fears and all, I know for sure this book what God gave me to write, imperfect as it may be. Writing those pages was like going through the pains of labor and then feeling the joy of knowing you gave it your all and your whole heart is in it, but ultimately God is the creator of life and made it happen. He is so good.
– I had a wake-up call a few months ago when I was introduced to what is now one of my favorite marriage resources, Unveiled Wife. Jennifer is now a friend and writes about the challenges of marriage and she also has been an advocate of paraben-free products because of the harmful effects they have on the female body. Search her site for “parabens” or google it and you may have the same wake-up call I did. Quite honestly, I freaked out. Every single product I had used my entire life — face lotion, bath soap, make-up, lip gloss, hand soap, cleaning products, and even some over-the-counter medicines — was full of harmful toxins. So, we got rid of everything and started over completely. It took me six months to finally find skincare products that didn’t make my face breakout, but I think it might have been more that my hormones were adjusting to paraben-free living. I am so grateful for this wake-up call and, even though it was costly to get all new products, it is worth it for the long-term health of our family. Here are some of the products I use now:

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Clockwise from top left: Tarte concealer, Organic Bath Co. Stress Less Oil (more on this in a mount), One Love Organics Easy Does It Cleanser, Tarte Amazonian Clay blush, and Acure Sensitive Skin moisturizer. One of my favorites is this Stress Less oil from Organic Bath Co. The owner, Gianne, has become a friend and told me that she used the PowerSheets to help start her business — so encouraging! She’s generously offered a 20% discount to anyone who reads this post. Enter the code HOORAY at checkout. Enjoy!
– Parenting. Parenting. Parenting! Grace is a blessing and she is, like many three-year-old’s, strong-willed. Parenting in 2014 was hard. There were days I felt totally defeated and had to throw up the white flag. But, like all I’ve written about thus far, it has so been for my good and it made Ari and I seek advice from older parents in our church, which was so helpful. The challenging days of parenthood ultimately made me more patient and a better listener. The trials of parenting have made me slow down more so I can help Grace understand her feelings and emotions as they come. Being a parent humbles you as you realize you have zero control sometimes. God is in control and my job is to be a living example of the new testament to Grace, showing her heaps of grace, consistency, honesty, humility, and prayerful trust in action. Being a parent has grown my faith. It has brought me to my knees and made me pray, because sometimes that’s all I can do! : )
– I am very grateful for Will Ray and the sound financial guidance he has given me the last couple years. I highly recommend working with him for either your personal finances, business finances, or both. Will helped us become debt-free (besides our mortgage) last year, which was something I didn’t think would happen with Ari’s enormous student loans. But, Will helped us see that it was possible if we were willing to, as Dave Ramsey says, live like no one else so we can live like no one else. But, as much as I felt financially prepared this year, things happened. Unexpected business costs threw me for a loop, further solidifying the importance of the business Emergency Fund. From the tax mess I mentioned in this post to thousands of dollars lost on a website design that never came to fruition to unexpected product shipping costs, it was a big year for unexpected loss. There is nothing I could have done to change these things, so each situation brought me to my knees. My business is very important to me because of WHY we do what we do, so I am extra passionate about making sure we are financially sound to carry out the mission we have. But, the ultimately Lord is in control of that too and this year was a reminder that I have to trust Him with all of it.

– I struggled with ugly feelings of comparison and worrying about competition, which has rarely every been a thing for me. But, it happened and it was not fun. And once again, this was so for my good. The Lord helped me turn comparison into true compassion and cheering on!

– In general, what didn’t work was worry, stress, or anything less than the joy that I know I have no matter my circumstances. I worried too much and God always always always had a plan that was bigger than mine. I often think of Paul in prison writing these words:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Phil 4:11-13 NIV)

There were many more challenges, but this are the ones that stand out today. Can you sense a theme in all of my challenges this year? What I learned from all of this:

I have no control.

God does.

Trust God.

: )

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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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Next step! 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. Title your board “Making Things Happen in 2015″ 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. Pin wisely, friends. Pick images that light your heart on fire and move on! The goal isn’t to have  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 here is where I’ll be pinning images for 2015 over the next weeks as I let my goals marinate.

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What fires you up? What are the things that light your soul on fire? Pretty simple, yet very profound: name them and then DO them. Do more of what fires you up. If dance parties, hugging your kids, laughing with your husband, and doing good things for others fires you up, DO those things today (and always, but start with just today).

Download a free printable of the list above here.

Physically do some of the things you want to see more of in your life and take action on them. Not all of them, just some of them. Do what you can. We all have at least five minutes every day, even if we don’t think we do, to make what matters happen. How much time have you already spent on social media today? How much time will you spend on it the rest of the day? Trade that time for doing something that fires you up, not for self-indugence, but to live on purpose and love well. I don’t think many of us can say that lurking on Facebook fires us up, can we?

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See what happens when you physically start living on purpose, instead of by accident. Little by little, get connected to what matters most to you. Love on people. Write out your list and then DO something on that list. If you love the ocean, but don’t live near it, click here. Does the sound of rain make you feel alive? Here you go! If you love dance parties, pump up the jam! If you love hugs, give one. If you are fired up by creating, make something, even if it’s small, like a card for a friend. Take photographs just for the love of taking them. If you are fired up by the outdoors, close your computer or put down this iPhone and step outside. Just do it. Don’t wait to live.

See how making the things on your list happen starts to shape your life — and most importantly — the lives of everyone around you. God gave us talents and gifts that are meant to be used to shine His glory brightly to the world — and He gave us sunsets and the roaring ocean likely to leave us in awe of His goodness. Note to self and everyone: It’s hard to do and see those things hiding behind a computer screen : )

The Bible doesn’t tell us to “follow our passions” so we can be happy, but it definitely tells us to use our unique gifts to serve others. And there is a deeper joy found in that. A peace that passes all understanding. You were created for great things, my friend. You were created to shine brightly for Him. That is definitely something to have a dance party for! Share your list here. I will share mine soon too. Making life happen in 2015, here we come!

More Monday. Get to writing and DOing, friends!

PRIZES FOR THIS POST: Read Part 1 for all the ways you can win! Winners will get either a $50 gift card to my shop or an Emily Ley Homebase Binder set! I love the Homebase Binder to keep our household things organized and I keep my PowerSheets in it too. Thanks to Emily for this great giveaway!

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Winners will ba announced January 31 so you have lots of time to spread the word about this series and make these posts happen. I’ll be back next week with more 2015 Goal Setting goodness. Happy meaningful, intentional, purpose-filled, fired-up weekend, friends!

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Leave a comment with your thoughts: What were some of the challenges from 2014 and what did you learn from them? What fires you up? And leave a link to your Pinterest board so we can follow each other : )

P.S. Need a new iPhone or desktop wallpaper, like the one above, for the new year? Check out my free downloads gallery here.

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I began 2014 overwhelmed about writing my book (which launches tomorrow — ah!!!). I struggled with oceans of self-doubt and often considered throwing in the towel. In January, I found out I was pregnant. I was excited but locked in my office writing, worrying about my manuscript deadline that had passed (and graciously been extended about four times by that point). In February, God took that baby home to be with Him. It was one of the hardest seasons. At the time of my miscarriage, I was in the middle of writing through some of the hardest parts of my life. That same week, I received a letter from the IRS stating I had been filing as the wrong entity type since 2010 and I had to re-do four years of business and personal tax returns thanks to an accountant’s major error years before. (Long story. God is good and praise Him it’s all over now.) Needless to say, that was a rough week. I didn’t understand why all of this was happening at once. Ari kept telling me to trust. This, like all the mess I was writing about, would be for my good. It’s hard to see when you’re in it. The winter seemed to last forever. But, ‘to everything there is a season, a time and purpose under heaven.’ I wrote in my book about how God did use that season for my good. He is faithful. I now look back and praise Him for the winter. After winter, always comes spring.

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Hundreds of bulbs I had planted in the fall broke through the seemingly-dead frozen ground, giving me hope for the seasons ahead. I felt God encouraging me to plant new seeds in my life and in this soil that seemed lifeless.

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I grieved and healed through gardening. I planted hundreds of flowers and crops: twelve types of tomatoes, six varieties of peppers, 200 onions, zucchini, sweet corn, eggplant, carrots, radishes, basil, pineapple sage, stevia, okra, beans, peas, cucumbers, cabbage, kale, sweet potatoes, lots of bee attractors, wildflowers, sunflowers, dwarf zinnias (one of my garden favorites), and more.

IMG_4748My handsome garden helper above, who built and filled my new veggie beds with rich soil.

IMG_4734My littlest garden helper who filled us with laughs : )

IMG_8329Harvesting above with Ari’s mom on one of her visits from California. Don’t mind Hootie the owl : ) He was there to keep the bunnies away from the soybeans, although he ended up coming inside to live with us because Gracie loves him so much.

The year before, I had planted an Elberta peach and a fig tree. Both yielded ultra sweet harvests in the summer — best peaches I’ve ever had. To our tiny orchard we added some wildcards for fun: a grafted apple tree that produces four varieties in one tree, a “fruit cocktail” tree that has grafted branches of apricot, nectarine, and peach, and we added a potted navel orange, kumquat, and another Meyer lemon.

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I went a little over-board. Watering and tending and pruning this tiny farm was a thing, but it was awesome. Each day was an adventure in the garden. New life all around me. I started this new Instagram account to capture the growth. Every day brought new surprises.

During this season, God allowed me to connect with those who had weathered loss. I spoke with many women who had miscarried and I felt compelled to reach out and be a listening ear when a friend experienced loss. I felt that, in a tiny way, I could understand. If anything, I knew I could pray.

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During this season, God also taught me that He is in control and that is a very good thing.

So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow‘ (1 Corinthians 3:7 NIV).

I can’t grow anything good without Him. Period. He wants me to plant good seeds in good soil, tend to them, prune, and generously share the harvest. But, I need His gifts of sun and water — I need His Son and the living water of His word — to make anything good happen. That is just plain truth in my life.

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Ari and I prayerfully started trying to have a baby again. The months passed. I began to understand, in a very small way, some of what my two best friends, Emily and Gina, had gone through. And let me emphasize again in a small way. In the last couple years, I’ve become close with many girlfriends who are going through infertility or loss. Some journeys have been decades and some shorter, but all have carried with them tremendous heartache. If you are there right now, my prayers are with you as I type this. I don’t have the perfect words to offer, but I can offer prayer.

After a year and a half of trying, Ari and I felt that maybe God did have a plan and having another biological child wasn’t it.

Adoption has been a topic of conversation for several years. Last September (2013), I remember talking with Ari about it and him sharing his fears. “But,” He added, “if this is what God has for us I trust He will bring me peace.”

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In the summer, we romped through the garden beds with Casey Chappell and her crew of 5 adopted littles. We pulled up radishes and plucked tomatoes right off the vine. Jack and Ezra loved the garden, and I loved picking figs, beans, herbs, and mint for them to sample.

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I first became friends with Casey through Instagram. Nancy had posted about the Chappell’s visiting her in Raleigh, I clicked over to Casey’s account, and bam. My heart leapt out of my chest. Seeing her little loves and her passion for adoption, I knew I had to get to know this amazing woman. We became instant real-life friends. We sat on my back porch, ate hot dogs and sweet potato fries with the kids scurrying all around us, and we talked adoption. Ari’s heart started to crack open too.

It all still felt so scary though. Like why are we always talking about adoption we are not cut out for this scary. And yet we kept reading this verse in James and many others and God kept putting families in our path who had adopted. God wasn’t subtle.

We started the international adoption process, filling out a mountain of paperwork, gathering documents, and praying a lot. Our one step left was to get a letter of guardianship from another couple, stating that they would take care of our children if we were to pass away. No question, we were going to ask our friends Thom and Bek. Thom and Bek were our church family group leaders for a long while before they moved to Birmingham. They became two of our very best friends and faith mentors to us. Right before were were going to ask them, their daughter, Elizabeth Glory, went to be with the Lord shortly after she was born. It was heartbreaking. We couldn’t think of adding to our family while our dear friends were wading through such grief. Our whole hearts were with them.

One of the many things I love about God is how He uses sorrow to change our hearts for His good purposes. In that time, our hearts did change. A friend sent me this video and a million little pieces started to point us to a new path. We saw the great need right in front of us and felt God pulling us to adopt domestically. So, we started over completely.

We began to feel more urgency. There were so many children out there waiting to be loved and we felt that, with God’s help and grace, we could do that.

Ari and I ran into Courtney at the Influence Conference and both felt God saying okay, this is it. Let’s do this. Ari and I continued to pray and, after a long phone call with Casey and Courtney, we said yes.

I finished our new adoption paperwork on the eve of Thanksgiving. I thought about the cycle of life. My grandma Bunny was breathing her last breaths in the hospital with my mom, dad, brother and uncle by her side. I knew that night would likely be her last here on the earth. I don’t know if anyone else had ever felt this, but it’s in moments like that when I deeply feel God’s presence. I felt an all-consuming peace.

I felt peace about Grandma’s 97 sweet years on this earth. What courage and zest for life she had. She lived and loved well. I felt peace about our little family and totally surrender. I felt grateful for the gift of adoption and totally at peace about not having more biological children. It was the peace that transcends all understanding. I felt grateful. In awe of Him.

And then… I felt a little off.

I looked at the calendar, looked at Grace, and I nervously loaded her in the car to go to the grocery store while we waited on Ari to come home from work.

I thought for sure there was no way.

And then there were two pink lines.

I cried in disbelief on the bathroom rug with Grace and said, Gracie! There is a baby in there! God is crazy! She leaned over, pulled up my shirt, and looked as if she was going to blow a big raspberry on my belly. Her little lips got close to by belly button and with the biggest joy she squealed, “Hiiiii baby!”

Ari arrived home moments later.
Me: So I finished our adoption paperwork.
Ari: Great.
Me: And then this happened. I showed him the two pink lines.
Ari: Oh. Okay.

We were both in shock. We were in shock because this didn’t change our conviction about adopting in the least. We are still all in. And that’s all God. The peace that transcends all understanding. In our human hearts, there were (and still are) moments of complete panic and disbelief, but God…

But, God…

Those two words are true, not just in my life, but in yours too.

But, God isn’t a God of logic, He is God. He can make the impossible possible.

But, God didn’t want our marriage to fail years ago. He wanted our wholehearts. And He got them.

But, God didn’t want my business to be used just for making a living. He wanted it to be used to hopefully help many to live on purpose.

But, God had a different plan to grow our family than we expected. His plans are always far better than ours.

But, God doesn’t need us or you to be perfect, He just needs your surrendered heart and hands.

We know for sure that God is real. We also know for sure that we need Him. The year ahead will likely be crazy. We are, no doubt, going to fail a lot. But, God… can and has done greater things than help us raise three children — two infants in one year. If He brings you to it, He will see you through it. We trust Him.

We are grateful and nervous and listening and also cautious with all of this. While this is where He has us right now, He has been known to throw us some curveballs. We don’t know what God has planned for this life in my belly or for for us with adoption. We know that He could take this baby home to be with Him too, if that’s His will. All we can do is pray and trust and do what He says as each day comes.

Some things:

I’m due next summer, around August 1st.

God is so good and sweet in His timing. Grandma passed on Thanksgiving morning. After my mom told me she had gone to be with the Lord, I shared with her that there was a new life inside of me. Her tears of sorrow turned to joy.

“Morning” sickness is all day every day for me, so if you have seen me in person in the last weeks and I’ve been a little off, this is why : )

When I went in for my first ultrasound, the doc was very nice and excited for us. And then I handed her the medical clearance form that I needed for our home study. She looked at me like I was nuts for a second. Then, she expressed her excitement and told me about her sister adopting. She was awesome and is pumped for us.

I ate a turkey sandwich for breakfast. If you know me, you know that means something is up.

Grace is excited to be a big sister and we pray for the babies every day.

Between a growing business, five literal-in-house employees, and a busy three year old, we are plum out of space. With adoption costs, moving is not in the cards, though. So, we are getting creative and may be finishing part of our attic to stretch our space a little.

Needless to say, 2015 Goal Setting has been flipped on it’s head for me. I’m excited to dive in with you tomorrow with the first steps as I launch my book and walk with you in preparing for a crazy and purposeful new year. 2015 is going to be an adventure and I’m grateful to have you here to learn from your journey too! Goal Setting Part 1 is up tomorrow…

For now, thank you. Many of you have prayed for our family and I can’t thank you enough. We are so grateful. His plans are always better than ours, no matter what they may be.

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P.S. I don’t have all the answers about adoption. Far from it. I still have more questions than answers at this point. We are still so new to adoption and just trusting God with each step. So, if you are looking for a resource, I recommend reading Casey’s blog as a start. There are so many great resources out there. I am still learning and listening.

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Today, we give extra thanks. Grandma Bunny went to be with the Lord this morning. She was surrounded by family and singing. I am so grateful for her life. Today we celebrate God’s goodness in giving us this spunky, hilarious, loving, Southern lady. Her 97 years on this earth were joyful and adventurous! Thank you Gina for capturing this video four years ago! We laughed and cried watching it today, remembering her wit and passion.

I am still gathering my thoughts, but Grandma Bunny was the bees knees. The very first paragraph of my book is about she and my Grandpa Cecil. They made a profound impact on my life and most of all, on my faith. My fondest memories are of Bunny (her name is Celeste, but “Bunny” became a nickname forever ago) making up stories to tell me at bedtime, singing me songs about birds, saying funny Southern-isms, hooting and hollering like only she could, and charming the dew right off the honeysuckle. She loved meeting new people and she loved her beau. I hope she and Cecil are dancing together now in their Heavenly abode, as he used to call it. God is good. All the time.

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Photo above by Emily March.

This video from Inkspot Crow gets me every time! You can hear Bunny’s reaction to me telling her I was pregnant with Grace. What a great memory!

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

I miss you, Grandma! More than words.

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Hello, friend. I know. Where in the world has blogging gone these last months? Truth: sometimes we have to say no to one thing in order to say yes to something else. This year has taught me so much, but mostly, it’s taught me that face-to-face time matters. Relationships matter. Community right where you are matters. And so, I’ve been pouring every bit of energy and time I can into nurturing those things.

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My favorite moments — meaningful conversations, dinners with neighbors, sharing life’s challenges and joys with girlfriends over tea in my kitchen, teaching Sunday School with Ari, times of being silly with Grace and getting our hands dirty in the garden together — didn’t get photographed. Most of my favorite times this year didn’t make it to Instagram, but they happened and they have been so sweet.

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I said no to some things I love (like writing you here the last few months!) while I finished edits on my book over the summer, picked buckets and buckets of tomatoes and blueberries, and loved on this group of ladies. I’ve also said no to things that were distracting me from what matters. I’ve been doing Nancy Ray’s Contentment Challenge for over a year now (blog post coming soon on my experience not shopping for a year) in order to say YES to needed heart change. I said no to fear and comparison and so many things in order to say yes to investing in relationships. Yes to big risks. Yes to my marriage. Yes to less time cleaning my house and more time living in it. Yes to prayer. Yes to making a magazine that is about so much more than planning for just one day (V7 debuts in 3 weeks!). Yes to doing things that felt uncomfortable, but were so worth it. Living on purpose is worth saying no so you can say yes.

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What about you? What are you saying no to? What are you saying yes to? I encourage you to make a no/yes list today and see how it helps you focus on what matters. See if it helps you simplify your days and live on purpose. I am cheering you on!

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Some news: 2015 PowerSheets preorders are now open. After three years of using them myself, we took all that has helped us take big leaps and all that has helped you make what matters happen into this updated design. I can’t wait to use these in 2015! Do you need these to make what matters happen? No. The PowerSheets were created simply as a tool to help people like me who need help taking action on goals and staying focused on progress, not perfection. I pray these will help you do that too! Pre-order now for guaranteed Christmas delivery. And there’s something special my friend Emily Ley and I have cooked up for those who pre-order. See y’all in November!

Photographs of Grace and I picking wildflowers by my friend EmilyGrace couldn’t get enough of these flowers! And, I don’t usually talk about fashion, but I was gifted this dress from Shabby Apple, and I love it. Love the modest hemline and soft fabric. A treat to wear! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Lara (and Ari and Gracie!)

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

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

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

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

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Photo of Grace at 3 weeks old by Nancy Ray

Today, Grace is two.

Oh my heart.

Hello, tears.

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

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Gracie in her doctor’s outfit on Halloween!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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