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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 2014 Goal Setting

Today I turn 34 and something has struck my heart like lighting: Don’t wait.  At church this past weekend, one of our preachers told us about a memorial service he had just gone to. A 35 year-old killed was killed in a car accident last Tuesday morning. That wasn’t on the young man’s to-do list for the day or in his plans. He thought he had his whole life ahead of him. The heart of the sermon that followed: You might not have as much time as you think you have. Don’t keep what God has given you to yourself. This thought has permeated every inch of my heart, so here I am. I am fired up to not keep what God has given me to myself in this series, in the book I am furiously writing (my final manuscript is due in 30 days — pray for me!) or in any aspect of my life.

So, the biggest rule to this entire goal setting series is don’t wait.  If God puts something good on your heart to do, DO it.  Now.  Don’t wait till you have a perfect list of 2014 goals in front of you.  Do the good you know you ought to do.  Do it with gusto.  Do it knowing that you might not have as much time as you think!

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Prints of above available here in gold foil, on sale for $12 — originally $20.

Maybe this isn’t how you expected I would start this 2014 Goal Setting series, but I’m done waiting.  If we face the reality that our lives are not in our control — that we don’t get to decide how long we get to walk this earth — we actually learn to live our lives to the full.  Facing the reality of life — and eternal life — makes me feel bold and clear and direct. It makes me want to use every gift God has given me and stop fearing what other people think (<—- how many of you are in that boat right now with me?) or what comforts I might lose if I give more and live with much less. It makes me want to hug tighter and teach Grace love more profoundly quit a lot of things and stop wasting so much time. Anyone feeling this way too? Welcome. I’m celebrating 34 years today — and the fact that I still have the ability to reach you today through this computer — by kicking off what will, Lord willing, be a powerful start to 2014. Let’s do this.

Here’s the deal.  Making things happen requires action.  As we go through this series, either use the comment area here to leave your answers or write them somewhere. But, don’t just think them. Thinking them doesn’t count. Write them out and, if you want accountability, leave them boldly here in the comments. I want to cheer you on! Friends, help me out here and cheer each other on, too. You never know who you might inspire or whose life you might completely change with your words.

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Those of you with 2014 PowerSheets will be all set, although you may need more space to write a few of these extra steps — and there will be exclusive steps just for PowerSheets owners, too! If you haven’t ordered your set yet, you can still order in time for my live 2014 Goal Setting Webinar on January 15! Pre-orders start shipping January 9. But, let me make one thing very clear: you do not need PowerSheets to make things happen. They are just a great tool. They won’t do the work for you. If you just have a notebook to do this series, use that! If you have scrap paper, that’s great too : ) It’s not about the perfect stuff, it’s about how you USE what you have.

We’re going to take this day by day, in small powerful chunks, because there are no shortcuts to any place worth going. – Beverly Sills   For the entire series, I’ll be sharing my personal progress and goals as well.  And I have no idea what those goals will be yet.  No idea!  I know the heart of what they will be, but this is a series — a process — for a reason.  You can microwave some goals and have a pretty little 2014 list by Monday, or you can dig deeper and set goals that matter to you over the next week or so with me.  You can pray hard about them and really weigh whether or not they are the best use of your time.  You can set goals that are twenty levels below the surface, where the fiery good stuff lives.  Or you can just make resolutions that get forgotten and tossed aside come February 1.  So, steps 1-3 will happen today and we’ll continue on Monday with the rest. And, if you need an extra kick in the pants to make this happen, keep reading.  I have a little something for you at the end.

I’ve revamped and updated my Goal Setting series from last year based on what I learned in my own process and what I’ve seen work for thousands of others who joined me. I am very excited about doing this with you and so curious to see where it leads me personally, too.  Are you in this for a quick fix or for making LIFE happen?  Awesome!  Continue…

Before we start, a question: how are you?  No, really.  How ARE you today, friend?  Free-write (or “download” as I like to call it) for just a couple minutes.  Be honest with yourself.  You can burn your paper after if you want to, but be honest.  How are you??  If you need a place to start, write out three things that are challenging you in life today or lately and also write three things you are grateful for today.  It’s so important to start with where you are and get it out.  Your worries today can directly affect what you write next, so don’t shove them under the table.  Acknowledge them.  Write them.  Call your BFF and talk them out.  Whatever works best for you, but whatever you do, do it now.  Don’t wait.  When you are done with that, take a deep breath and let’s get started with Step One of 2014 Goal Setting.

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STEP ONE: Let’s take a look back at what worked in 2013. What are you grateful for in 2013?  What good things happened?  I know I’m starting with the hardest step. Most people don’t like taking the time to do this because it doesn’t seem like it will get you anywhere fast. Trust me here. It will. Why is this the most vital first step? It’s really easy to look back at an entire year and just see the yucky parts. Like when something happens to you at the end of a day and you automatically call it a “bad day,” regardless of what happened the other 23 hours. Anyone do that? [Raising my hand high!] Let’s focus on what went well first. Make your list right now. These positive things are there to guide you and you should CELEBRATE THEM! Celebrate what you want to see more of.  Gratitude changes everything and will show you just how far you’ve come… and it just might give you the energy and hope you need to press on full-force! Make your list of things you made happen and things you are grateful for.  You can list as many as you like!

One huge thing I am grateful for is that I started this Goal Setting series a year ago and tracked my progress throughout 2013 with my PowerSheets and here on the blog for accountability. You can read my goal updates (I posted my progress every three months… or when I could!) here: April, August, October. 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 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.  I will give my final 2013 Goal update and my list of great things that happened in 2013 next week.  Gotta use every day I have left to, Lord willing, take more action on those goals!

A few tips on how to make your list that have helped me:

1.  Take a look back at your 2013 calendar, blog posts (if you blog) or photos you posted on social media.  Those might give you a clue into some of the highlights you’ve forgotten.

2.  Talk to your significant other or BFF about your year and ask them to reflect some of the highlights back to you.  They may remember some that you have forgotten!  This is also a really great inspiring way to celebrate the good things of 2013 this weekend.  Make it your dinner conversation tonight : )  And remember, this isn’t all about you – ask others to tell you their highlights, too!  Goodness is contagious!

3.  Thank people.  As you reflect on the good things this past year, say thank you to those who were a part of that.  I’m starting today, too, with some texts, emails, phone calls and physical letters and a lot of praise to God.  Gracie is doing her happy dance, too : )

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STEP TWO: What didn’t work? Honesty time! And before you do this step, remember not to beat yourself up here. You are brilliant and 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?

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STEP THREE: 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 Step 3.  Make a Pinterest board of images that will inspire a brilliant year. Title your board “Making Things Happen in 2014″ so we can search for each other’s boards! Now, one word of caution.  I rarely use Pinterest because it can be the black hole of distraction and discontentment.  Pin wisely, friends.  Pick stuff that lights your hearts on fire and move on!  Here’s my board from last year and here is the one I’m starting today for 2014.  I am alone with Gracie today, so there will not be much pining happening!  Just reading books, running around and singing silly songs : )

OK, that’s it for today and that’s plenty to work on! Take your time with this and remember: PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION.  This is not about writing the perfect list with a perfect pen or making the most beautiful Pinterest board… it’s just about honesty. To make things happen, you have to start with where you are. This is a process that will have a big payoff, but you have to commit to working through it. Be still and let your year’s vision slowly cook, like a pan of homemade hot baked cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven. They wouldn’t be so flaky and yummy cooked in the microwave, would they? Just a big pile of mushy dough. I’m not going to hand you your 2014 goals. We’re going to do this right and get there together. Sound good? Awesome! Get to it!

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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 (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.  You can win multiple times and you can increase your chances of winning by:

- Pinning this post or any in the series
- Instagramming – or “gramming” ? I suddenly feel old. Ha!
- Facebooking (is that a word??)
- Tweeting
- Blogging or in any way sharing this post/series
- For all entires, link back here to www.LaraCasey.com/blog and use the #2014GoalSetting 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 : )

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

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The January 2014 issue of Southern Living just arrived in the mail…

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…with 24 pages of our content, starting with an editor’s letter from Lindsay Bierman and yours truly.

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Having this on my coffee table right now is so surreal, mostly because it all happened so fast (read my previous post for details). Lindsay’s words about our company and our hearts are so glowing that I can’t quite wrap my brain around it. I suppose that is what God does, though. He sometimes does things that are so completely out of your realm of understanding that they must be from Him. I didn’t make this happen. The six of us Southern Weddings ladies didn’t make this happen. He did. And I hope it brings Him great joy!

Not a subscriber to Southern Living, but want to see the special section? You can download it here (link at top right)!

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Well, the title of this post is something I never thought I would type.  First, y’all know my story with the SouthernWeddings.com domain.  Today we launched our new brand and site on that very web address!  We are happy as pups with two tails!

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There is more exciting news, though — the second part of that title above.  Pour yourself a tall glass of sweet tea (or hot tea, depending on where you are right now!) and let me tell you a fun story…

Back in early May, I got an email from a gentleman at Time, Inc.  I didn’t know who he was at first as I skimmed the email.  I thought it was a Time press release or just normal correspondence.  But, as I read, my heart started to pound.  The email was from someone at Southern Living (owned by Time, Inc.).  I think at this point, I squealed and started reading the email out loud to the whole office.  Then I got to this sentence…

We would like to meet you.

I just sat there speechless, not knowing why or what or any details.  I didn’t know if this was a good thing or a really bad thing, whether this was an initial step in squashing us or not.  And then I thought, “Wait, maybe they don’t know we aren’t based in New York.”

I wrote him back to clarify.

He said he and the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher would be flying to meet me in three weeks.  They knew.  Whoa.

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Enter mild to medium panic mixed with massive excitement from the entire SW team.  We still had no idea why they wanted to meet us, we just knew they wanted to meet us.  And they were flying here.  To Chapel Hill.  I just couldn’t get this fact to fully sink in.  And then there was the golden question…

What in the world were we going to serve them to eat?!

You see, my mom and grandma and pretty much every woman close to the SW family has read Southern Living since they were tots.  Each recipe and garden how-to has been knit into the fabric of who we are today.  No matter the outcome of this mysterious meeting, simply having these gentlemen over for breakfast was a life event.  Something to clean your windowsills for (which I did).

Not fully up to snuff with my biscuit-making skills, we begged our dear friend Chef Bedford, of the Fearrington House, to come cook a Southern breakfast of breakfasts for us.  He happily obliged and prepared a feast of pastries, fresh smoothies, Southern delicacies and the best Eggs Benedict we have ever had.  More on the Eggs Benedict in a moment.  With Chef Bedford before our guests arrived…

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Ron, Greg and Lindsay, I hope this gives you a good laugh when you read this, but we practiced greeting y’all.  Kristin knocked on the door and, like practicing a first date “hello” in a mirror, Emily and I rehearsed shaking hands and taking coats.  This was Southern royalty stepping into my living room!

I have butterflies even typing this, remembering that day.  We all coordinated outfits.  I think I cleaned the house eight times.  It was pouring rain when their red rental car pulled up.  Lindsay had gotten stuck in Birmingham with the weather, but Ron King and Greg Schumann dashed to my front door and we may have opened it even before they could even knock!

Dressed in their finest business attire, our greetings went off as rehearsed!  Phew!  And then, the moment came.  The “why” that we were all wondering about was revealed as Greg, in his wonderful, warm voice said, “We love what you are doing and we want to be a part of it.”

OK, y’all.

Now I’m crying at my desk.

Because, you see, I wasn’t expecting any of this.  It was like a surprise proposal.  With the most lovely words that followed.  Lovely and sincere and just perfect.  I started this magazine on my little 13 inch PC six years ago and to have my dad proud of me was more than enough.  But, now, to have Southern Living loving us, too… well… I just don’t have words.  After Greg’s glowing speech to us, I think I mumbled something like, “Wow, thank you. Would you like to sit down and have a smoothie?”  It was all I could muster.

The meeting that followed is forever etched in our hearts.  Ron and Greg mirrored back to us all we have worked so hard for: our mission to inspire couples to create a meaningful beginning to married life, our heart we have for the magical place we call home and our passion for creating timeless content that helps brides celebrate what matters most to them.  They saw all of this.  And they wanted to help us get more people to see it, too.  Our mission comes to life in this brand new film we created with Twenty-One Films — enjoy!

Aside from a hilarious moment when Ron, trying to cut into the Eggs Benedict on his lap, spilled yellow egg yolk all over his pants, the meeting was wonderful.  We still joke with Ron about the egg incident today and have promised him never to serve it again at future meetings.

Speaking of future meetings, remember that time Emily Thomas and I flew to Birmingham and didn’t tell y’all why?  Here I am below at the entrance to the Southern Progress Corporation building, home to Southern Living, Coastal Living and several others.

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The building itself is a marvel and a Southern gem.  We were greeted by Ron and the amazing “Mrs. Nellah.”  Nellah is like the SL mama, right-hand-gal to Lindsay and wearer of many hats.  She had the first copy of Southern Living in her hands to show us and proceeded to give us the grand tour.

Friends, Emily and I were like two kids in a photo-studio-magazine-paradise-filled candy shop!  We visited the famed SL Test Kitchens (where they were prepping the Thanksgiving issue), the prop room (oh my!), and video studio where they were filming a segment for the holidays.  It was just incredible.  Warm greetings met us everywhere and we truly felt like we were at home.  The warmth was just like our office, only on a much bigger scale.

We met Lindsay for the first time in a classic boardroom, like you see in movies when people have really big important meetings.  Only, this room was a little different, as there were individual picnic trays with beautiful sandwiches and flowers waiting for us when we arrived.  We picnicked in the board room as we talked with their editorial team about how we work, our vision and our heart for this work.  They shared the same.  We felt like kindred spirits.

Dinner that evening at Bottega with Lindsay, Ron and Greg was magical.  Admittedly, I still felt nervous, dining with gents who know great food and business.  I still felt like the teenager tagging along with her parents on a fancy dinner.  But, they were so gracious and insisted we indulge in dessert, too — Chilton County peach ice cream.

After a lovely “getting-to-know-you” day, the following day was set as our “business” day.  It was time to talk about what this potential partnership — or whatever it was — would look like.  I’m not sure how to explain this day, except to say it was something I’ve never experienced.  There were lots of logistics and terms I’d never heard and phone calls and so many people we met with.  It was all business.  No concrete plans were made, so we decided to go home to talk all of the options over with everyone and meet virtually again soon.

After more prayer than anything I’ve ever prayed about in business and many more emails and advice given and phone calls and meetings, I’m so grateful to let you know what all of this produced.  It’s actually quite simple and feels just like a comfy sweater.

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We are simply sharing content.  We have no formal ties to SL and nothing is changing on our end except sharing what we already do with more people : )  We are still just six ladies here in my house (see our recent office tour here!), making a magazine and running a small shop and shipping orders from my garage.  For all of this, I am so grateful.

The details on SL + SW:

Today, we posted our first blog post on the Daily South. Going forward, you’ll see us post there a few times a month.  Have y’all read the Grumpy Gardener’s column on the Daily South?  He is hilarious, and has helped me so much with my garden!

We have a special weddings page on the SL site here with lots of goodies.

We also have a joint Pinterest board where you can find even more great Southern wedding content.

Now, the most exciting part of this partnership: three times in 2014, we are providing 18 pages of Southern Weddings content for a special weddings section in Southern Living – so exciting!  We’ve already sent our first one to print.  We couldn’t say anything at the time, but we were designing TWO magazines at once this season.  This was me trying to learn the SL style guide and do layout for our section in October…

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You won’t be able to find the insert on newsstands, but it will go out with their January issue to about 400,000 subscribers who have been earmarked as being in the marrying (or mother of the bride!) stage of life.  If you aren’t a subscriber, there will still be a way to view it digitally.  Details coming soon!

And that’s it! : )  We haven’t been bought by them, and have no plans to do that.  We are still producing our own gorgeous magazine once a year.  We aren’t changing a thing.  We just have new friends who believe in us, and want to help us spread the word about the beautiful, meaningful celebrations that are happening here in our neck of the woods.  For us, that is the most exciting part of all of this — we consider it a huge opportunity (and honor!) to spread our heart for strong marriages and meaningful weddings farther and faster.  THAT is something to celebrate!

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So you can get a glimpse of why I am so grateful for the SL family, here are the words from Lindsay himself on what he loves most about weddings:

“I’m a hopeless romantic—I get choked up over the sacred exchange of vows every time.”

Oh my soul, I am so grateful for your heart, Lindsay Bierman. To the entire SL family, we’re so grateful to have you as a part of ours now : )

Friends, we invite you to celebrate with us today. We’re giving away a gold foil “South” print in our first post on the Daily South and would love for you to help us spread the word about all of this great news! HOORAY!!!

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Believe it or not, I am an introvert. A classic INFP by definition. I crave solitude and small intimate dinner parties to big celebrations. But, there is something that comes alive in me when I have the opportunity to teach and share my story and the mission of our company. I love transformation and have always been fascinated by it. I love seeing people step into their fears toward great pursuits. I love helping people find the heartbeat of why they do what they do. I love seeing people change and grow and use all the gifts God has given them. I love seeing people do the extraordinary. Watching Shaun White soar through the half-pipe in the Winter X Games is just as exciting to me as seeing a small business owner step into a life that really means something. I just love it.

So, I was thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to speak at many events this year, including Engage!13 (blogged here), the ISES NC event (this screen was crazy!), the March Making Things Happen Conference, the Influence Conference (blogged here), Pursuit 31 (blog post coming!), the October Making Things Happen Conference (post coming soon!), the AmericasMart VOWS event (I spoke at the Home and Gift Mart earlier this year) and at the Magazine Association of the Southeast‘s GAMA Awards. These last two events happened to be on the same day in Atlanta, so I brought our newest editor, Lisa, with me for a whirlwind day in the peach state!  Special thanks to Amy Arrington Photography for capturing all the fun.

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We started our day at the AmericasMart campus in the heart of downtown Atlanta. It was breathtaking. White carpet everywhere, gorgeous blooms and the most beautiful stage backdrop I have ever laid eyes on.

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I felt like a kid in a candy store!

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The VOWS Event is a huge bridal market, showcasing the best in new wedding dresses, bridesmaid collections and mother-of-the bride collections.

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There were floors and floors of pretty gowns and Lisa and I wanted to try them all on!

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Y’all, how about this stage!?

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And, aren’t these handmade paper flowers just incredible?! You can find more about the artist, Balushka, and her amazing creations here.

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I was so grateful to LulaKate for this lovely dress.  It was actually sent to us for this shoot but since I’m doing the Contentment Challenge and not buying anything new for myself, I borrowed it from our prop closet!

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The AmericasMart team is as warm as fresh biscuits and I have become close with their event director, Amanda, over the last year. (She has a great little Etsy shop here, by the way!) Below with Amanda and her amazing team.

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It was a fantastic morning and I was so grateful to meet many new friends!  More photos below.



Then, after a quick change and a quick lunch, we headed over to The Estate in Buckhead for the MAGS event.

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I was very nervous to speak at this event with so many magazine industry greats there including the Creative Director from Southern Living, Bob Perino.  I felt like the small fish keynoting this thing!

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But, everyone was so welcoming and made me feel right at home.  MAGS president, Tova, was so kind and Lisa Baron gave me an introduction that made me realize who I was in the room with. She was a journalist and knew everything about me.  She had done her homework and truly understood my heart.  Somehow, it surprised me that someone actually read what I wrote and could see me clearly.  It made me cry.

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Being there with these passionate writers and editors and publishers and printers, I saw just how much I am like them.  I tend to live in my own small world where we do everything from my home and feel like we are the only ones sometimes with this much passion, but I realized that day that I was one of many.  It felt so good to know I was in great company with people who wanted to tell great stories for the greater good.

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More photos from our afternoon at The Estate…


After a successful day, Lisa and I headed to the airport to catch our flight and celebrated with some Pinkberry in Terminal B!

I am taking very limited speaking engagements for 2014, so if you are interested in having me join you at your event, please see the details here and let Kristin know ASAP.  I’m so grateful for such a wonderful 2013 speaking season and for all of the new friends I met in my travels!

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

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

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

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The big morning stretch!

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

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

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A few updates since my last check-in!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— MY 2013 Goals —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo 4 copyMy little punkin’ picking out pumpkins.

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

CLEAR-OCTOBER-LARA-CASEY

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

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

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

clear-lara-casey

My CLEAR LIST:

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

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

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

Lara-Casey-Newsletter-Clear-October-3

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

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

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

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

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

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Join me.

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

photo 4Daddy picked out this outfit : )  

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

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

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

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

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We called in reinforcements : )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, I did nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugh.

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

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

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

And she graciously said “no.” Again.

And again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best fitting sweater with the softest monogrammed seersucker tag…

The symphony playing our song…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View More: http://annakphotography.pass.us/laracasey

GOAL SETTING + MAKING THINGS HAPPEN

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

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

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Today is Awesome Confetti notepads available here.

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

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

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

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