Category: Personal

How to overcome insecurity _ Lara Casey

Ever feel like everyone has it all together but you? I do. Lately this thought has been swirling in my head. But, here’s how I am evicting that lie out of my life, and how you can too:

1. Name it as a lie. Everyone else “having it together” is not true. I was just texting with a group of friends about our businesses, mothering, and hearts having various challenges right now. I wish I could add all of you to that text group so you could see that we are ALL in this together. Consider this post my group text to you : ) No one has it all together. They just don’t. That is freeing. And even if they did, it doesn’t mean they are more valuable than you and your unique assignment on this earth.

2. What does “having it together” mean anyway? Define the lie and the truth. The lie: I have to have the perfect plan and perfect results or I’m a failure. False. The truth: To me, having it “together” means I don’t have to do it all. It means trusting in God, doing my best to love well, and making little by little progress forward on the things that matter, even if I mess up along the way–at least I’m on the way there!

3. Consider that you are exactly where you are supposed to be, mess and all. When I really think about it, I wouldn’t trade my challenges right now because they are teaching me valuable lessons. They are refining me. They are making me closer to God and to Ari and to my family and friends and my team. If I had no struggles, I would stay the same. And I know that’s not what God wants of me. This is my season of sitting in the tension. A season of change.

You don’t have to have it all together to have value, and you are not alone.

Fruitful Summer 2016

So, with that, I’m excited to announce that Fruitful Summer is on! Last summer, thousands of you joined me from Tulsa to Tokyo to learn how to cultivate community, embrace awkward, and make meaningful relationships happen–no perfection required. Five weeks of practical and simple tips, printables, worksheets, and lots of surprises. Sign up for free at FruitfulSummer.com! Let’s do summer together!

Lara Casey - Make it happen - westmeetssouth

Photo above by WestMeetsSouth. Love seeing the Make it Happen book in there!

More thoughts on my original Instagram post here.

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How do you start over?

Whether you are starting fresh on a goal, a project, a new city, your health, or with a relationship, starting over is hard, isn’t it? It’s not easy at first, but it can be an unexpected blessing.

Rejection can turn into rejoicing, and broken pieces can be made into something better. Much better. Here’s the story of why I have to start over on my book that I posted on Facebook last Friday, and a few tips for starting over below.

Three Tips for Starting Over:

1. First, let the dirt be dirt. Moving forward means letting go of something first. So, whatever it is that has caused you to start fresh, FEEL your feelings! Feel them and also know that feelings are real, but they do not define who we are. Feeling like a mess doesn’t mean you are one. I cried pretty much the whole weekend after I got the email from my editor. My tears were waves of grief about the time I had spent working on those words—time I could have spent working on different words, or with my little ones. I felt anger, disappointment, rejection, shock, and sadness. These emotions weren’t fun to experience, but they were needed. Little by little, the tears turned into trust and refreshment. Now, there are far deeper pains I could reference here that I’ve experienced in my life—pain that took much longer than a weekend to process (the pain of miscarriage, divorce, marriage hardships, etc.). One enemy of moving forward—a sure way to stay stuck—is to think your feelings don’t matter and should be stuffed away. Don’t compare your struggle to someone else’s, or label it “small.” Your struggle, whatever it may be, is real, and worth working through. Sometimes, moving through the “minor” struggles helps us build momentum to move forward through the big ones. Feel what you are feeling. Name it. Let it be what it is without trying to fix it. Let the dirt be dirt.

2. Step away. I don’t know about you, but when a challenge arises, I stew. I mull. I analyze. I get anxious. I want to fix it as soon as possible. Anyone else?? Stepping away to gain some perspective may seem like an inactive step, but it may be the best step you take. Mid-tears Ari told me to get in the car. He loaded up all the kids and we drove around the lake by our house. It was incredibly helpful. We prayed. We talked. In the thick of it, stepping outside for a breath of fresh air can be a turning point. It’s like planting a small common acorn that can grow into a strong oak when nestled in the mess of dirt.

3. Let grace speak louder that guilt. I realized in starting over that this book is about my weakness, not my strength. I don’t have to write powerful words, or have a stellar outline. I just need to let myself be weak and let those words hit the page. I don’t have to fix it all, do it all, or be it all. If God is in your fresh start, you can be sure He will do the heavy lifting. I trust that. If your fresh start feels impossible—too big for you to orchestrate–maybe it is too big for you. But we can always trust that where we can’t, He can. Let’s be weak, sisters. It’s so much easier than chasing perfect. Let’s let Him speak loud–over all the guilt and junk that’s trying to keep us from moving forward on to fresh new growing ground.

Are you starting over in something? What’s have you been wrestling with?

P.S. I’d love to hear from you here too!

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My garden is in a really weird stage. There are some things growing, and some seeds never sprouted at all. Some things got way too big, and some things are oddly small. There are many little green shoots that I’m not sure are weeds or actual plants yet.

It’s awkward.

Messy.

Unbalanced.

My life has felt the exact same lately.

Unbalanced.

Unsettled.

Un-figured-out.

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There’s this thing called the “middle ground” that I don’t love so much. The middle ground is filled with in-betweens, undone conclusions, waiting, and tension. I prefer clear-cut direction. Firm yes’s and no’s. Plans with specifics and titles. I prefer flourishing and full bloom.

I’ve been in the middle ground for the last year. I’ve had no idea what to do with work and balancing motherhood. 

I prayed and prayed and PRAYED for certainty. But, instead uncertainty grew.

A year ago, I was about to have a baby and wondered how I was going to be a mom to two. I went into it blindly, trusting we would just figure it out. I was a year behind in writing Cultivate, and the direction of the book changed as many times as our lives did. Going from one child to two was rough for us. Grace’s emotions exploded. We felt helpless as parents and sleepless with a newborn. Somehow I felt like it was all my fault that Grace was having intense emotions. I blamed my work and I felt like it was too late. I felt like I had messed her up for life. This caused me great anguish. Since I work from home, this was all happening in my house, where my team works under the same roof. There was no hiding the tantrums and the hard days.

I felt like a horrible mother.

A useless leader.

I felt like a burden to everyone.

And I was tired.

There was so much good in this season too, but my heart was unsettled. Something had to change.

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Then, right before Christmas, in the middle of our busiest business season with PowerSheets and the magazine, Ari and I found out we matched for our adoption. Our adoption story is coming in a separate post soon. We were excited and grateful and terrified. There was so much unknown. I struggled through writing, preparing for a baby we might not even bring home with us, nursing Josh night and day, and Grace continuing to feel big feelings.

And I heard God telling me to quit.

Step away, Lara. 

Be small.

Nurture these children for Me.

Live a quiet life.

Over and over I heard these urgings, and every time I’d ask, How?

What does that look like exactly, God? What do I quit? Do you mean quit my business? How in the world would that work? What about all we’re doing to help people? What about my team? How do I do this??

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I had no answers. Just more questions.

So, I quit the Internet for several months, taking a hiatus from social media and email. I needed to hear from God and nothing else. And there was a lot of “else” swirling in my head as I tried to sort through it all, and write a book at the same time. I struggled with comparison and feeling isolated as a leader. I am so supported by my team, and yet they also know I’ve struggled with feeling like I’m on the “business owner island” at times. There are no fruity drinks on this island, just bills to pay and decisions to make that affect other people. I struggled feeling like I had to keep it all together all the time.

I stepped away from connectivity to get some clarity. Taking a break from social media is always good for my soul. It helps me remember Whose voice I should be listening to.

But, this time I didn’t want to come back.

I kept thinking God was telling me to quit my business, and I relished the thought. I felt elated at the idea of being able to make up for all the time I felt I had lost with Grace to a growing business. I was doing good work, but too much of a good thing is still too much.

I felt weary. Tired of telling my story. Tired of my attention being pulled from my kids. I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore, even if I was encouraging people. These were my honest thoughts friends—thoughts from the thick of it. It’s not the fault of pixels on a screen that I felt this way, though. Despite my efforts to guard my it well, I have a sensitive sponge-like heart. It was easier to be offline.

But, God doesn’t call us to easy; He calls us to follow Him. I kept wrestling with these thoughts, and praying hard.

FullSizeRender_2Above: Josh this afternoon with Jess at her desk.

This fact remained and was important: our business is online. We make products that help people focus on what matters, in the mess, not despite it. We help people plant a garden right smack in the middle of the circus. I knew that was a good thing. A needed thing. With a business that lives on the internet, how in the world was I supposed to exist in that tension? How was I supposed to plant my own garden in the middle of the circus?

How was I supposed to balance the steadfast calm needed to shepherd my children’s hearts and love Ari and my community well, and the bombardment of the world I encountered when I tried to put encouragement or our products into the hands of people who might be changed by them?

How was I supposed to lead a business and a team of eight when I’ve been up all night feeding babies? How am I supposed to work on budgets and quarterly taxes when Grace really needs me to help her sort through her feelings… or show her how to draw a pterodactyl… or explain why ladybugs like to live on flowers. How do I schedule meetings when I’m pumping eight times a day and nursing every two hours to keep up with two babies? How does that all work, God??

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Then, our adoption happened in February. We stepped out on faith, saying yes to the unknown, which was beautiful and wonderful and intensely emotional. God broke us down to make us fully rely on Him, trusting Him in what felt completely uncertain.

And that’s the thing. God breaking me down over the last year was exactly what He wanted to happen. In the mess, many times, He is loving us more in what feels hard than in what feels easy.

I began making a lot of changes to spend more intentional time with our littles. I began to cultivate a new path, making little by little steps forward. The little by little started to add up. So much more to share in another post (and in my book). Consider this “Part 1.”

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I started a private blog the week of our adoption to share updates with our close friends and family, and to have a safe place to share all that we were experiencing. My team read my posts, so they knew. They knew the season we were in with our family. They knew how hard it had been emotionally. They knew the tension I felt between work and motherhood. They knew.

Two babies and two books in two years was too much. 

We had our annual Team Retreat earlier this month. I’m usually the encourager, but Marissa, Kristin, Emily, Nicole, Lisa, and our three new women, Amber, Jess, and Laura, spent the majority of the retreat pouring into me. This was unexpected, and I felt God speaking to me. They made it clear that whatever path I needed to take, they would be fully on-board. They asked me over and over how I felt, and helped me sort through my thoughts. I was weary and fearful of being in the thick of motherhood, and feeling like I had it to have it all together to lead a team of women well.

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They helped me see that I was stuck in the past, and that I didn’t have to be perfect. I just needed to be right where I was—mess and all. Friend, this is exactly why I’m sharing this with you, because maybe you are stuck too. I was stuck feeling like I couldn’t be the person I had become after such rapid life change. How would people understand? How could I tell this new story? I’m not an expert on motherhood, so how could I talk about it? How does that fit with all we are doing in our work?

I was stuck in expectations of what motherhood and business are supposed to look like.

Stuck thinking I had to keep my mouth shut about LOVING BEING A MOM because I didn’t feel perfect at it. I haven’t read all the parenting books, and I’ve made many mistakes, but you guys, I love these kids fiercely. Fiercely and joyfully.

It started to become clear.

After over a decade running a business by myself, I felt like it was somehow okay to let my team in more to the struggles I faced. They saw me in my mess and it was okay. They covered me in grace. They handed me a one-way ticket off the business owner island.

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Last Wednesday night, I cried again to Ari about it and he said something that surprised me, because for a long time he wanted me to let work go so I wasn’t stressed by it. He loves me, but he loves God more. He said “It’s not time to give up. God has given you this for a reason. I don’t think He wants you to waste it.” I countered to him that I also don’t think He wants me to waste moments with our kids. This is my struggle. I want it to be one or the other, wrapped up in a bow. But I got on my knees just now on the dining room floor and GOD MADE IT CLEAR. I’m typing that in all caps because I am so crazy grateful. Months and months of praying. Months of agonizing. Months of wanting to give up my business completely. God told me these words that I immediately wrote down in my PowerSheets:

Help other people wrestle with it and sit in the tension and not feel like they have to GIVE UP.

Sometimes, when we feel like we want to quit, it means something DOES need to change. In this season I don’t have a perfect plan or all the answers. But I know I’m not giving up (I want to insert a thousand !!!! here). This is a season of sitting in the tension of motherhood and ministry and leading and listening and business and babies. I will not “do it all,” I’ll simply do what God wants me to do every day. I’ll get my hands dirty, and the way I live this out may not look like the way the rest of the world does it. I’m excited for that.

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“She believed she could so she did” is lovely and instills confidence, but that doesn’t last. I know a deeper truth. She believed she couldn’t, so He did. If you are struggling with doing it all–if comparison is making you feel inadequate, I am with you. If you are struggling as a boss, wife, mama, you don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to fix it. There’s no shame for all those imperfections, sister. There’s just grace.

I cannot do it all, but I can do a few things well. And only with grace. Grace upon grace.

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I did need to quit my job. 

I needed to quit doing it the way I had always done it, telling the old story and not recognizing the new path I am on.

It was time to quit feeling like I had to have it all together to tell the story of motherhood in my life and work. I needed to own my new story.

It’s time to let you in, and tell you the new story too.

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All those urgings I kept hearing from God?

Step away, Lara. 

Be small. 

Nurture these children for Me. 

Live a quiet life.

Yes. Just yes.

Step away from the noise.

Step away from the “should’s.”

Step forward from the old story and into what’s happening in my life now.

Be small. Low to the ground with my children. On my knees. Hands in the dirt. Less concerned with how to do life—needing a one-or-the-other plan and title–and fully focused on why I’m doing life.

Nurture these children, because the greatest contribution I make to the kingdom of God may not be something I do, but someone I raise (wisdom from Andy Stanley).

Living a quiet life, because all the loud out there isn’t going to last.

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Do you know how this motherhood/work/internet tension works?

Imperfectly.

Awkwardly.

And yet, intentionally.

My garden is in an awkward stage, but it’s still a garden. And, even when I can’t see it or feel it, it’s growing. It doesn’t have to be in full bloom all the time for it to be meaningful. The tension of the middle ground is the path to blooming.

The garden just this morning with Grace, who is a much more fulfilled Grace now that I have let go of the old and stepped into the new. She’s learning to love her messes too : )

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Maybe you are wrestling with something similar. Sister, let me tell you something I didn’t know before sitting in this tension: there is no formula. There is no one “right” way to do motherhood and business, or one or the other.

You do what God tells you to do.

And you know what? It may not be what you do for all of your life. We were created for seasons, and seasons don’t last forever for a reason. They prepare us for what’s next. Stay open, fellow-sojourner. Stay open. I thought for SURE God was telling me to close the doors of our company, or sell it, and I’m so glad I stayed in the tension. I’m so grateful I didn’t give up. The tension—the wait and the wrestling and the mess and the endless prayers–was all for a reason. Maybe yours is too.

So, this post doesn’t have a bow tied on it here at the end, just a “…” 

I am still listening and keeping my hands open. But, I know what I’m not doing: letting the lies of mom guilt speak louder than the truth of grace. And the truth that our paths don’t have to look like everyone else’s. We can do this motherhood and work thing differently. We can do it together, and do just enough well.

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Join me this Friday live on my Facebook page at noon EST. I’m going to be talking about motherhood and work, my summer goals, what’s changing in our company soon (a lot), how we’re starting a new magazine about community, and I also believe it’s time to tell you how our company works. I want you to know our hearts and our daily story here in my home-office. What does it look like to work from home? How do we do what we do? What’s it like with three kids and lots of ladies in our house all day? How do we design and decide on our products? You’ll be seeing a lot more starting tomorrow on our Instagram and Snapchat (LaraCaseyShop).

Your turn. How are you feeling? What’s the tension you are wrestling with? Let’s talk about it, and give each-other a one-way ticket off the isolation island.

Love,

Lara the business owner who is also a great imperfect joyful mom!

P.S. If you need a new start this summer, join me Friday, and I’m giving you and your friends 40% off PowerSheets. Use code SUMMERGOALS here. Some people might say this is unwise to give this big discount, but I really don’t care. I just want you and all your friends to have them and, Lord willing, be changed by them. They are undated, six-month sets, so this is the ideal time to start fresh and finish the year well (our new designs come out in November). I am starting over with my goals this week too–a fresh new focus. Spread the word and feel free to share this code with your friends! Code ends one week from today, or until we sell out again.

P.P.S. I love you, friends. Sincerely. I know many of you have read this blog and followed my journey for years, and some of you have just stumbled on it today, and I want to tell you thank you for listening and sitting with me in this tension. I am grateful to do life with you.

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If I spend more than a couple sentences telling you how much I love our nanny, Rhiannon, I’ll soak my keyboard in tears. That post will come later! After two wonderful years with us, the Lord has called her into ministry. We are so excited for her in this new season ahead. She has cared for us with a love that could only come from a great God, and she will no doubt change the lives of many more in the years ahead.

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As you can see in these photographs, she’s pretty amazing. She works hard and loves God passionately! We trust that God will bring us another great fit for our family.

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We are seeking a full-time Nanny and House Manager, starting July 1. Please apply if you meet ALL of these requirements.

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Who you’ll care for:

Baby boy (Joshua)
Infant girl (Sarah)
Pre-schooler girl (Grace)
A handful of fishies and a bevy of houseplants : )

We’re looking for:

Joyful Caregiver
Hard Worker & Self Starter
Health-Oriented (non-smoker, etc.)

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We need someone who can commit to two years with us. Must be able to start training July 1st. If you are applying from out-of-state (our previous two nannies did this!), you must be able to relocate by July 1. We will gladly help you with finding great living arrangements. Our current nanny lives in an apartment that is two blocks away, and enjoys walking to work : )

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Must be extremely organized, energetic (three kids will keep you on your toes!), joyful (we love to be silly), and experienced in childcare. A background in early childhood education is a plus. College graduates only. In addition to caring for our three children, you would also be responsible for managing our household; laundry, grocery shopping, errands, etc. Must have own transportation, and a clean driving record.

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I run a business with multiple employees from home, so I am here all day as well, and only working a few hours a week in this season of life. We will spend a lot of time together, caring for these children alongside each other. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, with occasional date nights/Saturday hours (maybe 10 per year).

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/isaacsonfamilymarch2015

Our faith is a cornerstone in our home. We are seeking a nanny who can teach and reinforce Christian principles and lead by example. We are looking for someone who has very strong integrity, is calm under pressure, confident in thier faith, and is willing to develop a passion for shaping our children’s hearts alongside us.

Please pray about this position and only reply if you meet ALL of these requirements. We’ve had three wonderful nannies over the last five years, and know the qualifications fit our family well. We will be doing several Skype interviews with potential candidates.

Please APPLY HERE by April 29th. We will begin Skype interviews the first week of May. Please read through this post and the application thoroughly. Your attention to detail is part of the interview : ) We are praying for you as you apply!

P.S. If you know someone else who this would be a great fit for, please pass this post along. Thank you!

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There’s a whole lot of newness in the Isaacson house these days. We welcomed Sarah Celeste on February 26th (full post coming soon!), Joshua turned seven months, and, while we aren’t sleeping much, our hearts are full!

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Photo by Robyn Van Dyke

With Sarah’s arrival came a whole new “normal,” which means that this laptop hasn’t been opened in an entire month until now. I’m no super mom. There are two wonderful friends here watching the Isaacson littles. And let it be known that writing a book with two babies is not exactly easy. My editor graciously gave me another book deadline extension. I have till this Friday to finish (pray for me!). I am excited to get these words completed and in your hands next January when the book comes out.

Lara Casey Family

The ladies in my office have been working from home most days since Sarah arrived. Even scattered to their respective dwellings, they’ve created some remarkable things for our readers in the last couple weeks! I am in awe. It’s been a long while since I gave you an update on all the things that happen under this roof (besides babies) so here it is!

PowerSheets Community Site

We just launched the PowerSheets Community Site. I dreamed of this site for four years — ever since we started testing our first PowerSheets design. Community is the secret sauce to making what matters happen. Hard work is key, but friends to walk the journey with you will keep you doing the hard work—all the way to the finish line. Community means people who understand you. People who understand where you heart lies and what your purpose is. People who cheer you on when you’re feeling low, offer a sounding board for your big ideas, and who arrange playdates for your kids when you just need to take a shower. (Thank you to many of you who have done that for me in the last couple weeks!)

The PowerSheets community site is a place to cultivate meaningful relationships that help you make what matters happen. You can create a profile, share your goals with the community, encourage others in their goals, get in large online groups or small local teams, and create meet-ups to bring those relationships offline and in person.

Our Community Manager, Laura, is also on the site daily creating free downloads, helping you find community in your groups, and putting together PowerSheets tips and tricks for the blog. Oh my stars, I cannot wait for you to be a part of this with us!

How do you get access to the site? It’s free for PowerSheets users! All 2016 PowerSheets users are emailed an access code to the new community site. If you purchased PowerSheets and didn’t receive yours, email jess@laracaseyshop.com.

Clear the Clutter EBook

If you haven’t gotten your PowerSheets yet, or received yours in January but haven’t taken them out of the wrapper yet, know this: there is nothing magical about January 1. Remember, progress comes little by little. Intentional, meaningful goal setting can happen at any time, no matter how far “behind” you feel. The truth: you are not behind. You are exactly where you are supposed to be to take a leap forward!

Now through May, Nicole, Amber, Jess, and Laura are walking you through #FreshStartSpring. Many of you spent March working through the Clear the Clutter E-book to help you rid yourself of distractions so you can focus on what matters most to you — the important things you want to make happen. Just like we clear out our gardens in preparation for new seedlings and growth, take a moment to clear out the overgrown or lifeless things in the garden of your life. Friends, if there is something that is holding you back from living on purpose, download the Clear the Clutter E-book.

Lara Casey Garden
Photo by Robyn Van Dyke

Gracie and I just started planning our garden. More to come on this, but we hope to grow lots of herbs, flowers, veggies, and strawberry popcorn (this corn variety grows tiny, berry-colored ears!). We spent last week mapping out our garden beds and where everything would grow. Learning from past mistakes, we made sure to leave enough room for these tiny plants to grow into strong, tasty fruits and vegetables. The same is true of our goals. We must plan our goals based on how much room we have in our lives to grow them, and how much time we have to tend to them. In April, I’m excited that our team is walking you through goal planning and setting yourself up for success with the Starting the Seeds E-book. Just like garden planning, you’ll get the chance to map out your goals and how they’ll grow. Goals can flourish when you give them room to — I can’t wait to see what you cultivate!

To get the Starting the Seeds E-book directly in your inbox in April, sign up for my newsletter here.

Making Things Happen

We just wrapped up our most recent Making Things Happen conference, and it was such a life-giving time with old and new friends. So much about this conference has changed since it started eight years ago when I decided to hit “publish” on a blog post about how I made things happen. It’s been on our hearts to give the old Making Things Happen site a redesign so we can better share with all of our future attendees what MTH is really like — community-driven, full of honest work, joyful, peaceful, awe-inspiring. Next week, we are releasing our fall tickets for October 17-18 in Chapel Hill! Be the first to know when registration is open by signing up for the MTH Newsletter.

Write the Word Journal

This season of change has been good for our hearts. Going from two kids to three has been hard, but refining. When we go through a refining change, our hearts get refocused and strengthened. I have so much more to say about life with these littles, but my time is limited and that shower I mentioned earlier? I would like to take one of those today. : )

Southern Weddings Bow Tie Line

There has been lots of change in our office this year too. We’ve introduced two new team members, two new babies (June and Sarah), and we are seeing the fruit of having done our PowerSheets together in December. So much newness. Old prints, desk cards, and tees are coming out of our shops so that we can focus on the products that impact lives, like our Write the Word JournalsLife Handbooks, and Wedding Day Journals.

Southern Weddings Bow Ties
Photos by Anna Routh

The ladies have also been working hard on launching the Southern Weddings for High Cotton bow tie line! These bow ties look and feel like old Southern traditions — Easter Sunday, the Kentucky Derby, and spring weddings. I can’t wait to see some of our own gents wearing these to future Southern Weddings events. If you see Ari in one, give him extra encouragement as he’s not partial to bowties… yet ; )

Thanks again for all your prayers and encouragement in this new season. I’m still off social media, and working hard to get my book done in the next few days, but I hope to update you again soon. Happy spring, friends!

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Welcome to the final post in my fifth-annual Goal Setting Series! Each year, I am left in awe of the leaps of faith you take as we go through this process together, and this year tops them all! I am reading every single comment and am so excited for your year ahead. You are making meaningful powerful progress! You are on fire! If you are just joining, it’s never too late to begin and you aren’t “behind” one bit. Now is the best time to get started. Dig in!

2016 Goal Setting, Part 1: What Worked and Where to Start!
2016 Goal Setting, Part 2: What Didn’t Work + What I Learned
2016 Goal Setting, Part 3: Say Yes, Say No, Choose a Word
2016 Goal Setting, Part 4: Set Good Goals

Okay, let’s do some dreaming together! Imagine it: the end of 2016. The weather gets colder, December 2016 rolls around, and you start looking back at the year you’ve just lived. What would it take for you to look back and know that you lived on purpose instead of by accident?

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What will you wish you had started today? Fill in these blanks below (get your free printable here!):

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Knowing where you want to be at the end of 2016, what do you need to cultivate today? Literally today. However many hours or minutes are left as you read this (even if you are reading this in bed), how can you make one small decision in the right direction?

My friend Lysa says that every decision we make has an arrow attached to it, pointing us in one direction or another. Your decisions have the power to fly through all the distractions and fear and aim for a clear target, OR they can float around and miss the goal.

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I want my decision arrows aimed right at Jesus. So, today, I made some decisions and finished my 2016 PowerSheets Goal Setting process. The goals I’m about to share with you may seem simple, but they are boldest scariest goals I’ve ever written. They are coming from a place of restlessness, knowing I’m not using all of my potential yet, but also knowing that the impossible is possible. I have great hope in these goals. My goals are “simple” and that’s leaving lots of room for God to change everything on my path. And you know what? His plans have always been better than mine. I’m up for it.

I’m leaning into the mess and the unknown. I’m willing to let go and not be perfect. I’m willing to sit in the restlessness and un-rushed pace of the little by little to get to the end of this year knowing I lived on purpose. Making hard and powerful decisions with focused arrows attached to them will be worth it. The tending and watering and waiting and getting messy and growing pains will be worth it to get to the flourishing harvest at the end!

I’m all in.

Maybe you are feeling the same hesitation-scary-I’mALLin feeling with me right this second! Let’s choose a new way through the fear together. I’m choosing faith over my fear and I invite you to take the leap with me. Let’s cultivate the faith part, little by little, and the fear part will dry up. We’re not going to fertilize the fear this year, friend! Are you with me?

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Like I said in my first post, you can’t do it all and do it well. Here’s what’s on my mind right now: Two sick babes (one sleeping here on my lap!), 70,000 words to finish in 7 weeks, a family group to encourage, a team of women to lead, a new baby coming in 7 weeks on February 26th (!!!) and so much unknown in adoption and all that is ahead, a home study to renew (since we’ve been in the wait for over a year, it expired), a house to prepare for a new baby, maternity leave to prep for, a business that’s about to go through a major transition period with new employees to train (one flying here on Monday!) and two going on maternity leave (Emily and me), and well… a lot of emotions about all of this. I know I cannot do all the things in front of me well. I have to decide what to focus on and let go of the rest. I have to surrender and trust.

Can you see my white flag waving from where you are? Because it’s flying high. I surrender, and I’m making decisions today to flourish in this year ahead. At the end of 2016, I won’t regret these arrows I’m sending direct to the target!

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I’m saying YES to the mess and (here goes!) no to the internet for two months. I’ll check in every so often (likely just on Periscope once a week to update you on adoption and writing, so follow me there and turn on your notifications!), but I won’t be on social media or email or text messages (sorry in advance friends) much for these eight weeks while I focus on what’s needed inside the four walls of our home: drinking in the Word, praying out my soul and all these emotions, and pouring all He gives me into Ari, my children, preparing for our littlest girl, and these book pages. I’ll still be talking to you every day, you’ll just have to wait a few months to read my words to you : )

I said YES today to trusting that my team is equipped and ready for this season of Emily and I being out. They are incredible, capable, inspiring, magic-filled women. I am so grateful.

I’ve said YES to unrushing my life and stopping each day to look my children in the eyes to tell them how special they are to God and to me. YES to cultivating a flourishing faith in them too : )

I’m saying YES to building Ari up this year in his faith and loving him well. I’m saying yes to the year of monthly date nights that I gifted the ladies in my office, and committed to enjoying with Ari too!

There’s more, and this post is so “undone” but, our adoption case manager just called and it was another reminder to choosing purpose over perfect right now. My decision arrows are cutting through all the things to get to THE thing I need to do right now: write the words He has given me.

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A sneak peek. The book is called, Cultivate: A Grace-filled Guide to an Intentional Life. It’s a guide to embracing imperfect progress and making what matters happen, little by little. It’s a book about flourishing in life and goal gardening. I’ve never been so excited to write. I’m so ready!

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I just paused in writing this to go downstairs and hug Gracie. I found a package in the kitchen with this inside from my friend Erin: a 2016 calendar full of blooms and seed packets. Oh my soul! Y’all. I’m crying typing this. Erin, I love you friend! YES to filling the pages of this calendar with flourishing faith, family, and imperfect progress this year. Yes to planting meaningful seeds today that will grow and bloom with time and tending!

A little of Erin’s story: Years ago she left the hustle and bustle of city life to pursue a slower, simpler and more intentional lifestyle. She and her family dreamed of eating fresh vegetables from their garden, tending a flock of chickens and planting a small orchard. Shortly after they moved in, a generous neighbor brought his tractor over and tilled up a new plot of ground so that she could plant a garden. “Tucked among the many vegetables in that early garden was a double row of flowering sweet peas planted in honor of my great grandmother. Grammy had introduced me to gardening and flowers at a very young age. As a child, I was her “little flower girl” and she tasked me with making bouquets for her bedside table. While my creations were far from beautiful, she always cooed over them as if they were the most precious things on earth. Flowers were a source of great joy and connection between us. So, when the first flush of sweet peas bloomed in our new garden, it felt as if she were there with me. I shared much of the gardens bounty with friends, family and anyone who crossed my path. During that abundant season, word got out and someone ordered a jar of flowers for a friend. I’ll never forget that day as I nervously knocked on her door and awkwardly thrust the bouquet into her hands. Surprised, she buried her face in the flowers and tears immediately welled up in her eyes. She was instantly transported back to her own childhood summers, to a time of great happiness and to her own grandmother’s garden… right then and there I knew I had found my calling.”  Isn’t her story encouraging!? Erin inspires me to dig in, take the leap, and live on purpose!

With that, here are my 2016 Goals for this year of cultivating what matters and flourishing in faith:

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I came up with only two goals for 2016. If I can do these two things, I know that the rest of life will indeed flourish. (Can you guess that I changed my word for the year ahead? Yep! Flourish kept popping up as I wrote my goals and went through the end of this process!)

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Goal 1: Study the Word.

Why? To know the true God. This is the way to everything good—in marriage, business, health, friendships, motherhood, all of life. THIS is the way to lead and love well and to get to where I want to be when I’m 80.

The positive effect taking action on this goal may have on my life and others: I will transform.

How I will feel at the end of this year having made progress on this goal: ALIVE! I will not regret the time I took to do this!

Action ideas:

  • Pray about and decide on a study plan. I’m thinking I will study the Old Testament this year and the NT in 2017, but it may take longer to study through the OT.
  • Use a spiral bound notebook and open it on my desk with an open Bible and a pen ready.
  • Use Jen Wilkin’s method of studying scripture, as well as Jane’s.
  • Use my Write the Word journals daily.
  • Use a journaling Bible to get creative in the Word and be inspired by the Illustrated Faith community.
  • Have a bag ready with a pen and Bible inside to be able to take my studying on the go.
  • Set up my desk to be a place of studying the Word as my main focus – open Bible and materials.
  • Invite Gracie to join me and set up supplies (colorful paper, Bible, pens) for her too!- DONE! I made her a drawer in my desk with paper, pens, and a little Bible.
  • Write this sign to post on my desk: A year of sprouting under the soil, breaking free and letting go of my outer shell, and soaking up nutrients in order to bloom! – DONE!

How I will know I accomplished this goal: By the fruit of my life (But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – Gal 5:22-23) having chosen to study the Word more than I study the world.

Encouraging words: But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. – Psalm‬ ‭1:2-3‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, Lordteach me your decrees. – Psalm 119:10-12

How I will celebrate at the end of 2016: Anyone have ideas here? I am not sure! 

 

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Goal 2: Pray — in my “war room.” (Read this book or watch this movie!)

Why? To meet and be transformed and INFORMED by God.

The positive effect taking action on this goal may have on my life and others: I will live a peace-filled un-rushed life, and be able to make wise decisions.

How I will feel at the end of this year having made progress on this goal: Connected. Peaceful. Joyful. Taken care of. Whole!

Action ideas: 

  • Take everything off my office walls down. – DONE!
  • Ask God what to do next and what prayers to put on the walls. – DONE!
  • Write the prayers on colorful paper to put on the walls, and write prayers in my VMP Prayer Journal. – DONE!
  • Get on my knees here in my “war room” and talk to God! – DONE!
  • Write family prayers on the kitchen bulletin board.
  • Pray with Grace at night before bed. – DONE last night!
  • Continue to pray with Ari every morning before work and at meals and whenever we feel God tell us to! – DONE this morning!
  • What helps you to pray? I’d love to know! Ideas are welcome!

Side note: Grace is now sitting here with me and she wanted me to write these exact words to you: “Prayer is a good thing. It helps you to know God. God is in the clouds with Jesus. Mommy, I want to write God is so good. (singing now —>) God is so good. He’s so good to me! God answers prayers. Hallelujah! God is so good!”

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Amen, sweet girl!

How I will know I accomplished this goal: By the fruit of my life (But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – Gal 5:22-23) having chosen to pray and talk to God more than I seek approval or comfort from the world.

Encouraging words: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thess 5:16-18

How I will celebrate at the end of 2016: I will paint my answered prayers on Christmas Day on a big canvas for our living room with Grace. I already have the canvas. I’m teary-eyed thinking about this!

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I just let out a sign of relief. How these goals will play out over the next 12 months will be more specific as I do my monthly PowerSheets pages, but I am so grateful for this process and clarity! I know where I’m going. 

Also, here are my business goals from doing our company PowerSheets together:

    • Lead team WELL and cultivate a culture of WELL.
    • Write Cultivate in January and February and release well in December.
    • Start a movement of making a mess and embracing imperfect progress. Goal setting with open hands.
    • Prepare for and enjoy a joyful adoption maternity leave.
    • Hand off company finances and back-end business this year so I can transition to a part-time role, focusing on writing and big-picture creativity.
    • Lead teaching on new PowerSheets site to help people make meaningful life goals happen and embrace imperfect progress.
    • Create meaningful small collection of shop products.
    • Write and release Couples PowerSheets.
    • Create meaningful new 2017 PowerSheets.
    • Create meaningful Write The Word content throughout the year.
    • Meaningful speaking and teaching through MTH and online conferences.
    • Lead big picture team vision and mission-centered decisions.
    • End the year knowing we lived and created from filled wells, and experienced beautiful team unity doing the good work we were given to do.

Whether you came up with two goals or twenty, I hope you feel more focused on what matters most having done each step alongside me! I am excited to check in with you here on the blog throughout the year to see how you are doing and encourage you. Tell me in the comments: what are your 2016 goals?

Lastly, thank you! Thank you for joining me on this journey. I am still going to be reading every blog comment here and cheering you on. Taking this little by little has been worth it and I am praying you find the same is true for you. Choose to focus on progress—little by little progress—not perfection. Your seemingly small steps forward today will add up, and a year from now, you will be so grateful you started today! Get messy and make it happen, friend!

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Thank you, Lord, for this new year of life. Thank you for my little redheads and for loving us with blooms and bees and all the marvelous things you grew in 2015. My heart feels a little unkempt going into this new year. Help me to let go of control, fear, worry, comparison, and anything that will hold me back from the unique assignment you have for me. I ask you to multiply my trust and relationship with you like never before. Let this be the year that my faith flourishes, and the dry parched areas become blooming fields. Lord, maybe there is someone reading this that wants that too. Help my friend. Help us to let go of what’s behind, experiencing grace and healing in anything left unresolved. Help the soil of our hearts to become rich with You. Life-giving healing You. Help me to begin this new year with an open, repentant, ready heart. But most of all, help me to let go of the belief that I can do anything on my own in the year ahead. I flounder around without you. I lose my way. But, with you I am found. I am content. I trust. I do not fear. You made this little boy sleeping next to me, and he is a miracle. Our rainbow baby. You made her too. Our littlest girl. I’m so excited to meet her in 7ish weeks. Lord, you are so good to us. Life is going to radically change this year and I want to choose you. Over worry. Over anxiety. Over pride. Over unbelief. Over the world and all the things. Help me remember the story you’ve already written in my life – that the impossible is possible. You can change broken imperfect people like me. You are the author of life change. May I use my days and minutes ahead well for you. Passionately. Quietly. Joyfully. – But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Phil 3:13-14

Comment with your answers from each step as we go through this series and enter to win these goodies via the Rafflecopter box at the bottom. One person who comments with answers to every step in this series will win a bonus prize: A (spiral bound) One-Year PowerSheets Workbook. I’m determined to motive you to dig in with me on these powerful steps!

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

 

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

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

Updated! Winners below!

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WINNERS:
1. A set of 2016 PowerSheets with a Make It Happen binder and Colorful Tab StickersJenna Gilbreath
2. Five prints of your choice from the Lara Casey Shop: Ronda (comment from Jan 6), Angela of Eat Spin Run Repeat, Amanda Paige, Tanika (comment from Jan 5), Lynn Aronson
3. The Finishing School by Valerie Metrejean: Katie Wilkin
4. The Make it Happen audio bookLisa Gilbert
5. A Journaling Bible (NIV): Monica T Smith
6. Five Make it Happen JournalsSiena (comment from jan 7), Kathleen Sullivan, Megan Lewellyn, Charmaine (comment from Jan 8), Michelle Bills
7. Artist’s Loft Fundamentals Watercolor SetDeborah Hailey
8. Two tubs of Vega Protein and Greens + a Vega shaker cupHannah CrainEm Enockson
9. Ashley Brooke Too Legit water bottleKara-Anne
10. 10 2016 Simplified Planners (pineapple daily edition).  Sarah (comment from Jan 2), Katie of A Place to Dwell, Amanda C., Anna Campbell, Faythe (comment from Jan 1), Stephanie F (comment from Jan 1), Kristi (comment from Jan 1), Lauren D’OrazioMyra of The Marvelous Mess, Michelle Bills
11. What good shall I do this day? sign from Best Made Co: Beverly V
12. Five Make it Happen booksJoanna Hyatt, Courtney KirklandLauren D.Becky BrunnerCortney Jones
13. Jonathan Adler Grapefruit Candle: Janet K
14. The Write the Word Journal collectionKatie Mac
15. Val Marie Paper Prayer JournalBethany (comment from Jan 5)
16. Naptime Diaries print of your choiceCarrie Beth
17. In the Wait Study by Holly Holt: Lauren DeVries
18. Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin: Madeline (comment from Jan 1)
19. How to Study Scripture E-Book by Jane Johnson: Dana Hartness of Happy Little Lovelies
20. Make it Count 2016 Bible Journaling Kit from Illustrated Faith : Ashley Terry
21. Amazon Gift Card: Jessica P.
PowerSheets Workbook: Terri Cook!
Please email Stephanie – orders@laracaseyshop.com with your mailing address and she will get your goodies to you! : ) Congrats, everyone!

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P.S. The e-book of Make It Happen is on sale for 3.99 this week only! Get it here!

P.P.S. After starting this series, need more direction? Three places to start:

1. Grab a copy of my book, Make it Happen.

2. Pre-order your PowerSheets.

3. Join me in person for the Making Things Happen Conference in March. See you there!

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If you are just joining us for this series, welcome! It’s never too late to begin. February 1 could be your January 1 if you like, so feel free to dig in anytime!

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2016 Goal Setting, Part 1: What Worked and Where to Start!
2016 Goal Setting, Part 2: What Didn’t Work + What I Learned
2016 Goal Setting, Part 3: Say Yes, Say No, Choose a Word

Welcome to Part 4!

Maybe you have ideas about what your goals might be this year (or maybe not yet and that’s okay too!)–and you are already overwhelmed and anxious about HOW to make them happen. You want all of your goals to have been tackled yesterday. Because here we are at the start of the year and you have to do it all right away, right? False. I know the feeling though. Lean into that restlessness and let it unlock one of the greatest freedoms you’ll ever discover: the power of little by little.

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Photos in my garden by Emily March.  I told y’all my tomatoes were huge this year (this was even taken early in the growth season) and I love zinnias! : ) 

We’re about to plant some good seeds as we uncover goals that have meaning. And then we’re going to take action on them. Making good things come to life requires physical action. And another action. And another. Over time, goals that were once leaps of faith you took on a blog post here, turn into new lives! The process of cultivating—breaking the soil, planting, tending, and waiting for the harvest—is where life happens. It’s where change and growth happen. The journey to making it happen is where the good stuff lives. 

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I know you overachievers want to have done everything yesterday (me too), but I have also been reading every single comment on this series. Taking this step by step is helping many of you make remarkable discoveries! I’m so pumped by all the lightbulbs I see going off! You are starting to see clearly, and it’s happening little by little. Your goals may change half-way through the year, or you may make them happen faster than you think if you take it day by day by day. Little by little these beautiful zinnias in my garden grew this year from the tiniest seeds. Little by little babies grow. Can you imagine if you got pregnant and then the next day gave birth?? Oh my stars! You wouldn’t be ready. No time to prepare. No time to buy diapers or mull over a name or assemble the crib or celebrate. You would have missed the time of preparation and ripening that happens over nine-ish months.

It is the same with our goals. And friend, I’m preaching this to myself right now too: trust that your goals matter enough to make them happen well. They matter enough to take little steps forward every single day, and some big leaps long the way too. Your goals matter enough to tend to them like a garden.

I wish I could have you come to my garden this summer. When these zinnias are in full bloom, and the bees and butterflies and goldfinches are fluttering and buzzing about, it’s just magical. I can’t help but stop and remember that it all started with tiny seeds. I broke through the hard soil of winter, planted good seeds, watered and tended to them little by little. There was so much joy in the journey. The process was the real gift. It was worth the planning Grace and I did in the winter, restlessness and risks and leaps of faith we took in planting, the hot days of pruning and weeding, and all the bug bites and dirty white pants : )

It was worth getting messy.

Your good goals will be with it too.

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A year from now you will wish you had started today. – Karen Lamb

Welcome to your start. Like I told you from the start of this process, traditional goal setting does not work for me. Swiftly-made resolutions get forgotten and then they linger and make you feel guilty for forgetting them. Anyone else ever experience this? Well, hopefully at this point you feel more equipped than when you started this process to write some down good goals. Goals that mean something. Goals that are very clear and will help you live on purpose.

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Let’s get messy and start to pick out some good seeds to plant this year! You ready for this? It’s going to feel scary and SO GOOD when you take a leap of faith and just start writing what comes to mind. You can do it!

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Four Goal Setting Tips:

1. First, review everything again! Remember, this is goal uncovering. Uncover one more layer and get to the good stuff! Get the big picture crystal clear in your mind and heart before you write your goals. Read through everything you’ve done so far. Read every word. Re-write or add to things once more if you need to. I added to my lists and re-wrote things after going through this process because I got more clarity. Cross stuff out, revise things, add to your lists of what did and didn’t work (I added a ton to mine!). Add more to your YES and NO lists. Refine your 2016 Pinterest board. Take pins out that don’t fit well. Use extra paper if you need to. Get messy and dig a little deeper before moving to the final exciting step…

2. Yeah, yeah, yeah! You’ve made it! Make a list of the first goals that come to your mind for this year when right after you review everything you’ve written. Call them “Goal Ideas” for now to help you get them out! I suggest taking a big deep breath and putting on a favorite inspirational song as you start writing goals. These don’t have to be perfectly written — just write what first comes to mind.

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

Do a GOAL CHECK and ask these questions:

- Will this goal help me to cultivate what matters most?

- Where do I want to be when I’m 80 years old, and will this goal help me get there? 

- Does this goal also help other people?

- WHY do I want to make this goal happen? Am I desiring this goal for the right reasons, or am I striving for “perfect”—or whatever I’ve been chasing?

(If you are a believer, read this goal check from my friend Moriah here too!)

If the answer is NO to that first question, then it’s possible it’s not the best use of your precious time. Don’t run in circles with goals that don’t directly connect to what matters most. Get specific. Focus on what really matters to you in the big picture. Cross goals out that don’t 100% fit. Revise goals that are not clear. Be bold and take leaps of faith as you write.

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

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Photo above with our little peach tree by Nancy Ray.

Life is to short and too meaningful to coast through. The good you do today has the potential to change generations. You never know how long you have left here on this earth to love others and change them for the better in that love. That’s why setting good goals and having a clear focus is so important. Otherwise, you may spend your time lost in distractions. Lost in Instagram. Lost in the chase for perfect, or significance, or approval, or whatever it is that has been holding you back from really living. You may find yourself restless, knowing deep down that there’s more to this life. If that’s you right now, you are in the right place! I know that feeling well, and I don’t know about you, but I do not want to live my days by accident. I want to live on purpose, and use all the gifts I’ve been given to help others do the same! Join me.

Take a big breath in (really do it) and a big breath out. Think of where you want to be when you’re 80. What will be important to you then? Whatever it is, act like it today. Take some bold leaps of faith and write out goals that are outside of your comfort zone. Powerful goals don’t need Miracle Grow. Purpose-filled goals that are aimed at the big picture are 100% organic goodness. Soak them in sunshine, water them little by little, and get ready for a flourishing garden full of blooms–and a harvest to share!

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I’m going to share my 2016 goals in the next post. When you are ready, leave yours here in the comments on this post, or the final post coming Tuesday. If you aren’t sure of your goals yet (like me!), I want to hear from you. As you reviewed all you’ve written so far, what stands out to you? What themes are you seeing? Tell me in the comments and let’s encourage each other as our goals begin to take shape.

Comment with your answers from each step as we go through this series and enter to win these goodies via the Rafflecopter box at the bottom. One person who comments with answers to every step in this series will win a bonus prize: A (spiral bound) One-Year PowerSheets Workbook. I’m determined to motive you to dig in with me on these powerful steps.

lara-casey-goal-setting-giveaway-2016

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

 

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

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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J’s first bath : ) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On to physical recovery at home!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some advice for helping with all the feelings postpartum:

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

– Sleep when you can. Make that top priority.

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

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

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

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

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

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Tips on life with two:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I am writing this in the thick of it (so forgive any typos and incomplete thoughts!). I was finally able to finish writing this thanks to many nursing sessions and the WordPress app for iPhone. We are still in newborn survival mode, so not sleeping a whole lot, but it’s making us pray and rely on God more. He provides just what we need in His timing. Maternity leave may be a piece of cake for some, but for us it has been a mess at times. More to come in my next post about life with two littles and what’s been happening here lately (and about our upcoming adoption), but I just wanted to share that for any other mamas out there who may be feeling like they are the only ones who have experienced days where you get nothing done—even the simplest things—and it’s okay : ) Showering for more than three minutes is a big win around here! While I don’t have postpartum depression like I had with Grace (praise the Lord), adjusting to these sleepless days is something we take day by day. It’s wonderful and messy and hard and joyful and quiet and humbling all wrapped in one. But everyday I wake up and whether I got three hours of sleep or four, I am grateful for my children. Typing “children” is surreal still. I sincerely don’t deserve them. Little J is sweet, always hungry, always wants to see a smiling face near him, grunts like an old man, and laughs like a little boy. And he has a lot of hair : ) We are slowly adjusting and getting to know each other.

Okay, on to the birth. I wrote many of these birth day notes on my phone while we were still in the hospital so that I wouldn’t forget (highly recommend doing this as you will likely forget). I also tried to include as many details here as possible because it was very helpful for me to read other birth stories.

Joshua’s birth was far different than Grace’s, but they shared one thing in common: waiting.

I thought for sure he would come early or right on time. Grace came nine days after her due date, and I figured God would give me a different experience for having gone through that once already. Ha! I was wrong.

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I was so grateful for my Write the Word journal (sold out, but Volume 2 is coming in October) during those weeks. It kept me in the Word and praying.

We waited to get pregnant and weathered a miscarriage in between. You would think waiting on a past-due baby a seemingly short few days would be nothing compared to that. I can’t compare the two though. Both were for a reason. Both were refining and good in the end.

Being past due is a unique experience. Time slows to a crawl. Every feeling and symptom throws you into “maybe this is it” mode. You make no plans and don’t go anywhere because the baby could come any time. All the waiting gives you way too much time in your head, wondering what story God is writing, wondering at times if something is wrong, begging Him for a healthy baby, and hoping for this to be the day. The family members waiting with you are also feeling this. They get tired of sitting around the house. Tired of hearing about your contractions, although that’s their most frequent inquiry. They are tired of passing the time. You are just plain tired. After one week of being past-due, the questions from neighbors and friends start to wear you down. After two weeks, it makes you throw your hands up in the air and surrender to the freeing truth that God is in control and you have to let go. Letting go of control, I believe, is exactly where God wants us in order to bring new life.

God’s three answers to prayer:

Yes.

Not yet.

I have something better in mind.

There were better things hiding in the waiting.

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Every day, God revealed a reason for “not yet.” Little moments with Grace, conversations and dinners with my mom, prayers, closeness with the Lord, deeper closeness with Ari. Too many things to name.

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I was due Friday, July 31.

The following Monday, I went in for a non-stress test (NST). I was 4cm dilated. To try to help move things along, I had my membranes stripped and the doc assured me I would have a baby within 72 hours. Yet, nothing happened.

We waited some more. I went in for another NST at 41 weeks. Everything looked great, but since I’m over 35, and because of the risks of waiting too long, they wanted to schedule an induction. I had my membranes done again. A different doc assured me I would have a baby within 48 hours. Again, nothing happened. I just had a lot of cramps.

Another doc (at UNC you see the doc that is available that day and there are about 15 of them) recommended I come in to labor and delivery that night to get my water levels checked, and if things didn’t look good, she wanted to induce me that night. I went in, another NST, water levels were fine but she said they were reducing. Though she wanted me to stay, I chose to go home and wait some more.

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I had eaten jalapeños with every meal except breakfast. Ari and Grace had done approximately 80 puzzles. I had read countless articles on labor signs. I had done a ton of walking to try to get baby boy to come. I logged over twenty miles that week. I had no appetite. I had been having regular mild contractions for several days, but nothing that felt like active labor. I knew what active labor felt like from Grace, and this wasn’t it. I had strong Braxton Hicks contractions—some made me have to pause and breathe a little more intentionally–but nothing painful.

My official induction date crept closer and fear took hold of me. I did not want to be induced for many reasons. If you are a redhead, maybe you know what I’m about to say: every doc I’ve seen has told me that redheads bleed more and feel more pain. I’m not sure if there is an official study about this, but when ten docs (and labor nurses) echo the same words, you wonder if it’s true. From my experience with Grace’s birth, I believe it is. I didn’t want to get induced with Pitocin and potentially feel more pain because of it. More so, I wanted Joshua to come on his own, and I prayed harder than I’ve ever prayed.

But, the induction day came. I prayed so hard up to that point and all that morning. I cried a lot. Ari and I packed our bags though, and headed back to labor and delivery. One of the fellows came in and checked me before getting started. I was 5cm. I expressed to her how I felt about not wanting to be induced. She was great and told us it was fine to go home and wait, but that I absolutely could not go past 42 weeks. She did my membranes again (third time by then). That was Tuesday. We re-scheduled induction for that Thursday. Two more days to see if he would come on his own—I was elated and so grateful!

But… he stayed cozy in my belly.

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We woke up on August 13th and the weather was cool and crisp for once—a refreshing break from the opressive heat of summer. I went on a walk with Gracie and Grama Celia (who had already been waiting with us for three weeks by that point!) through the neighborhood and all around the park by our house.

We were set to go in at 9am for induction. I had cleaned every bit of the house by that point. I curled my hair (somehow this was soothing) and got dressed. I prayed with Grace, hugged her tight, hugged my mom and Rhiannon and off we went. I had prayed all night and prayed so much in the car on the way over for a miracle–that I wouldn’t have to be induced. I so wanted labor to start on its own in the Lord’s timing. Even though there were a mere ten minutes before we would arrive at the hospital, I fully believed that God could do anything. I knew He was listening to my prayers and had done greater things in my life before.

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9:15am. We took the car to the hospital valet and walked in. I had prepared a big basket of goodies for the docs and nurses. Rather than the expected basket of cookies or edibles, I decided to gift them with encouragement – prints, books, and gifts from the shop.

I sat down to register and there was nurse Tori, who helped deliver Grace! I smiled so big and felt God was with us. I smiled at her and she smiled back at me like she remembered me. Tori was working with another delivery, so Shannon took us to our labor room and we waited on the doc to come. While we waited, I had to get an IV placed. Shannon tried three times and couldn’t get it to thread. Ari joked with her about my sensitive vaso-vagal response (I passed out a few times before) and I laughed and told her, “Oh, I’ll be fine!” Then I looked down and saw my hand covered in blood, got lightheaded, had to lay down and lost hearing in both ears for a bit. After ten years together, my husband knows me well : )

Then! Guess who came in to try to get my IV working? Nurse Tori! It was wonderful. The Lord is so good. It was a gift to talk to her and feel the comfort of a familiar face in the room. We chatted about Grace’s birth which was so sweet. She quickly got my IV in, signed it, and wished us well. What a treat and gift of comfort from the Lord.

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10:00am. Ari made some patient calls (I think this was soothing for him!). We read some of You and Me Forever. I ate a turkey bacon and egg sandwich. I was super hungry all day and the docs said it was fine for me to eat, so I did!

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11:00am. Dr. Steube and a resident came in to talk to me about induction options. The resident examined me. I thought for sure I was going to be getting pitocin, but they said I was 5-6 cm and Dr. Steube enthusiastically said I should walk around for a couple hours and labor on my own. “I’m a midwife trapped in an OB’s body. I didn’t want to be induced with my kids either. Go! Walk around for a couple hours and let’s have a baby!” No pitocin! You guys. I cried. This was the last thing I expected. She said if I didn’t progress in a couple hours that we could just try breaking my water. Can you tell I was excited!? 

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12:00 pm. So, we walked. And sweet Nancy Ray showed up right about then and walked the halls with me too. What a gift it was to have her there. She had been such an incredible support to me during Grace’s birth (she literally held my left leg as Grace was making her way into the world!).

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My contractions (strong tightening but not painful still) were 5-8 min apart and then slowed to about 8-10. Ari and I walked the halls some more, and ran into our friend Amir in the hallway. Amir’s wife is a photographer here and he and Ari had met at one of my launch parties a couple years ago. Running into him was a huge answered prayer! Ari wanted to wait to circumcise Joshua till the 8th day, as it is written in the Bible, but this had proved a bit of a challenge. The only mohel in the area was in New York that week and we couldn’t find anyone else who would do it. But, God knew the plan. We chatted with Amir and he set the whole thing up at UNC. Amazing! Again, we felt God strongly with us.

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And then… now I’m getting teary writing this. My labor nurse. Eeva. She was from Finland and had a thick beautiful accent and a voice that made me feel calm and like she had everything under control. Everything. She talked about pickled herring with Ari (his favorite) as she whisked around the room getting things all ready and perfectly set as they monitored the little guy and my contractions again for 30 minutes. She told us about how in Finland, that midwives did everything from start to finish with births and doctors were only there for surgeries or complications, which rarely happened. She helped bring thousands of babies into the world. She was so experienced, and you can just feel when someone knows their stuff. It felt good to be in her care.

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My contractions were now back to 5 minutes apart and starting to be mildly painful. Something was happening!

2pm. But, after my two hours of walking and intermittent monitoring, the resident checked me again and said I hadn’t progressed. This was really surprising considering what I was starting to feel. So, they wanted to break my water to get things moving. I was scared of this. With Grace, my water broke in transition and it was a loud violent burst, not a slow trickle of water like you sometimes see in movies. It was rather traumatic honestly. And I feared not progressing even with my water broken. I feared Joshua not responding well. But, I had to put fear aside and have faith.

Nancy put on music–her own labor playlist on Spotify. It was instantly calming. We prayed. I was scared but ready. We FaceTimed with Grace, who was happily eating a snack with Grama Celia and baking oatmeal almond cookies (which I later devoured an entire bag of). I missed her so much.

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Anesthesiology came in while we waited on my water to be broken. I wanted to have a natural birth like I had with Grace, but Ari wanted me to at least listen to the anesthesiology options. A new thing at UNC is nitrous oxide (laughing gas). They give very low doses to take the edge off of during contractions. I knew I didn’t want an epidural, but I said it was fine for them to bring the nitrous tank in just in case. I didn’t plan to use it, but I trusted Ari and he felt I should have it there in case I changed my mind. Remember that thing about him knowing me well after ten years?

3:15pm. A special lady came in to break my water because she had the “longest hands,” according to the resident. She had brown sleek hair and beautiful posture, like a dancer. I expected immediate pain and a big gush, but it was nothing like that. I was a slow pour of tons and tons of warm water. So much water. I kept asking for more towels because it just kept going. There was much anticipation at that point, but nothing happened for about thirty minutes.

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3:45pm. Then the contractions started. Real contractions. I was SO grateful! I had craved them so much. I actually laughed and smiled as the contractions started. That’s what waiting does—it makes you want the pain and all the feelings. Up till the weeks of waiting, I was afraid of labor and didn’t want to experience it again. God had a plan. I couldn’t wait to meet our little guy! I craved finally holding him and I was ready to labor.

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4:15pm. And then, very shortly after, active labor began. It was all very fast.

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I remember not being able to get comfortable. Suddenly, I felt severe lower back pain, which I hadn’t experienced with Grace.

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I stood up and pressed all my weight into Ari. I began to get the shakes and more pain–couldn’t-talk-through-it kind of pain. Ari could tell this wasn’t normal to feel this much this fast and he offered me the nitrous. I didn’t want it but after he offered several more times I decided to try it. It helped a little but not enough to continue using it. The pain was just too intense at the point.

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The resident checked me again and said I was still 5cm. This blew my mind. How could I not be progressing but feeling all these things!? Eeva and Ari looked at each other perplexed too. That’s when I knew it was time to wave my white flag. If I was only 5cm dilated, and feeling all of this pain, there was NO WAY I was going to get to 10cm. No way. I couldn’t stop shaking. My teeth chattered as I asked for the anesthesiologist and then the major pain came on like a tidal wave. In 30 minutes I went from nothing to the worst pain I’ve every experienced.

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Contractions were now coming every two minutes and all in my lower back. I moaned and yelled for help and called upon the Lord and told Ari to make the anesthesiologist hurry many times. They finally came as my contractions were peaking. I was afraid of the epidural, but I just couldn’t do it anymore. Labor is humbling.

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5:00pm. In between one of the intense contractions, I asked Nancy to play Selah. This song. Every birth is different, but I encourage you to play meaningful music if you can. Hearing this song in the background, with all the pain, feeling helpless, and in hearing these lyrics, I was reminded of the bigger picture. No matter what I was feeling, the Lord was with us. It gave me peace. Our son was on his way. The pain wouldn’t last forever.

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I thought about Jesus dying for me. Taking on all my sin. Experiencing unfathomable pain for me–a sinner who completely didn’t deserve that kind of love. I kept thinking about “sharing in Christ’s sufferings.” What I was feeling was so small compared to what He experienced, and yet my pain was connecting me to Him. This gave me comfort.

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6:00pm. I was screaming at this point as they had me sit up and lean over the bed into Ari, holding as still as possible, to place the epidural. I felt two sets of hand working on my back and Eeva with a fetal monitor pressed into my stomach to be sure Joshua was okay. I kept asking if he was alright as Ari and Eeva were glued to the monitor. Ari doesn’t flinch under pressure, but I could tell they were slightly concerned.

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I begged the anesthesiologists to hurry. They didn’t tell me till they got the needle in that it would take another 10-15 minutes for it to begin working. I cried. It took about 8-10 more contractions for it to kick in, but something wasn’t right. I felt a little numb on my right side, but suddenly the pain was worse on my left side. I was weak by that point from shaking and shaking uncontrollably.

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I cried and told them it wasn’t working. It felt like a knife was in my left side. There were many people in the room at that point, trying to figure out how to help me. I couldn’t stop shaking.

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6:15pm. Until Nancy handed Ari scriptures to read me.

I had printed out several verses that my friend Val had given me for Grace’s birth. Ari calmly began reading the words, slowly and tenderly, close to my ear.

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

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And then…

I stopped shaking.

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Rest.

For a moment.

It was probably 15 seconds, but it felt like I was floating. Nancy prayed over me. Sweet relief.

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Nancy and Ari were so encouraging. Ari was steadfast in his calm. And Nancy kept telling me I was doing so well and coaching me: Relax your forehead. You can do this. Breathe through it. Ari and I hadn’t taken a birthing class before but I knew Nancy had done the Bradley classes. They were both so wonderful.

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Another contraction began to peak. Ari held my hand, let me press into his chest, and squeeze his hand tightly. I felt Joshua descend lower and the pain intensified even more.

6:30pm. The anesthesiologist brought in ice chips to test the pain. I was indeed still feeling everything on my left side. (Side note: For me, I felt my legs and could still move with the epidural. All it did was numb me a bit, not totally block feeling.) They were prepping to adjust my epidural to fix it, but instead it fell out. So, they were going to completely replace it…

Then I felt something warm just as they were about to place another epidural catheter. Eeva got this look in her eyes like something was up. (I didn’t know it at the time, but I was bleeding a lot.) She said “Hold on let me check her.” Everything got quiet. “Well, it’s time for you to push this baby out! You are fully dilated!” Oh my stars! What a turn of events. I was SO HAPPY and so grateful. I laughed and cheered and was overwhelmed with joy.

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6:45pm. I heartily agreed to push instead of waiting to get a new epidural placed, even though they said my current epidural would wear off soon and the pain was so intense. Eeva made a phone call and suddenly there were ten people pouring into the room all at once, turning machines on and getting into position.

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As my contractions continued, Ari kept telling me all the things they were doing to get ready for us to meet our baby. Table ready. Baby catching things ready! Baby warmer on! A sweet blonde resident appeared below me, ready to deliver him. I kept crying and laughing and saying “God is so good!” There had been no laughing in my last birth experience. This was such redemption.

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7:00pm. Eeva took charge and got very close to my ear. “Lara, I need you to listen to every word I say.” Okay! Anything you say. I felt confident with her there. It was time to push. Intense bearing down. I was motivated wanting to see him and working against the clock with my epidural. Five women surrounded me, coaching me on. I felt like I was trying to lift a car!

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Somewhat miraculously, just as they said they could see his head, all my pain left me.

Gone.

I couldn’t feel the contractions coming on so I listened to my body as much as I could, and waited for Eeva to tell me what to do.

I had a moment of pure emotion in between a contraction, realizing our lives were about to change. Grace wasn’t going to be my baby anymore. I told Ari in that moment that I missed Grace and couldn’t wait to see her and for her to meet her brother.

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They coached me and cheered me on. I could hear so much in their voices when to really keep going or not. I worked so hard, grabbed my legs and curled myself around him.

The delivery resident said, “Well he has lots of hair!” That was so exciting to hear! He was right there.

More pushing. And pushing. And silence and stillness between. Then there was one round that seemed to last forever and I got worried that things were slowing down. I rested for a moment and then another contraction came. I pushed again.

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Ari said something about our baby’s head being there and then he said, “They are getting the baby catching things out! I see him!”

7:17pm. One last push with all my might and he made his way into the world. And now I’m crying typing this.

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9 lbs, 3 oz, 21.5 inches long. 13 days after his expected due date, but right on time : )

He came out facing up to the stars, which explained the intense back labor.

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They put him on my chest and I was elated. I couldn’t stop laughing and crying and praising God! “It’s a person!” I cried. “God is so good!” He was so calm on my chest and barely cried. So relaxed and calm. I couldn’t stop crying happy tears.

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And then someone in the room said, “Look at all that red hair!” You guys. He was a redhead! That blew me away. I still can’t get over it! A redhead!

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I couldn’t get over the fact that he has red hair! That was the last thing I expected! : )

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Only Grace knew his name before he was born, and it was a joy to finally share it with our family and friends.

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Ari held the phone to my ear so I could say hello to his mom and dad : )

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The room ever so slowly got quiet as people left, and left us to skin to skin. It was magical.

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This man. He is a great daddy.

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I had a permasmile as they wheeled us to our room.

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This photo above melts my soul.

I heard the sweetest little voice as they opened the doors to the recovery wing: “Mommy!!!” Grace was beaming with excitement as she rushed to us to see her little brother. That is a moment I won’t forget.

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My mom and Grace greeted him with joy and we piled into our room for the first time as a family of four.

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And this really is just the beginning. The beginning of the best and hardest changes. The beginning of a new life. I have so much more to share next.

Till then, here is a peek at the little man today…

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6 weeks old, and a whopping 16.5lbs (I told you he likes to eat. This is a 6 month onesie!).

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I love him. And his daddy. And his sister. And all the friends who have prayed for us during this time. And the God who made them all.

Up next: The first days with a newborn, recovery, these first weeks, things I would do again, things I would do differently, and a whole lot more.

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

Birth day photographs by the truly incredible Nancy Ray.

 

 

 

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Our son was born today at 7:17pm after a miraculous day of answered prayers. And he’s a redhead! Be still my heart. 9 lbs, 4 oz, 21.5 inches long. I wrote this while we waited on him to arrive this last week, and I’m so grateful to finally share this story. More to come on the adventure of today in a couple weeks after we settle in with this little love.. 

 

Joshua Cecil Isaacson. This name. Oh, this name. With Grace, we knew very quickly what her name would be. Grace was the undeserved gift we had been given in our marriage. A fresh start. New hearts. A shared faith. I prayed, and that’s what God told me we should name her. It was as clear as can be.

But, this little one. His name has been a test of faith and surrender. Sometimes God wants to change us before He gives us answers to our prayers. Sometimes that change is the answer. And if God is in your heart change, it means that there is a story that points right back to Him. A really good story.

Through waiting and loss and waiting some more, we surrendered and rejoiced in a new path: adoption. And then… the day we finished our adoption paperwork, there were two pink lines. The timing was unmistakably God’s. And there was no doubt in our minds that we should keep going with our adoption. Read the whole story here. Right now, we are waiting to be matched with our littlest girl.

On February 7th this year, something else happened. Another unmistakable God story. Pause right now here and go read this. Don’t read any further till you do. Come right back to this spot when you’re done. I’ll be here : )

So there you have it. It was a big day. Big surrender and life change in the months that have followed.

Back to that weekend for a minute…

Ari and I stood up in church the next morning during a moving song that our friend Beverly sang, grasping each other’s hand, knowing without a doubt that we had been set free. We had let go of the past and moved forward. I can’t even describe that feeling with adequate words. There is no freedom on earth that compares to the freedom of knowing that you have nothing to hide. Nothing to feel shame about. Nothing. You are completely forgiven. His grace is truly amazing.

If you are reading this and have no idea what I mean, or feel frustrated not having felt His grace, or want it more than words–I rarely say this but–I know how you feel. For so long I thought, “Maybe I’m not good enough, or reading my Bible enough, or mature enough as a Christian. Maybe I’ve been too bad. Maybe I’ve messed up too much. Maybe God just isn’t listening.” I felt like I didn’t get it and I never would. Then I had Grace. And God showed me that faith and a relationship with Him are not about my ability to perform well; faith is about surrender. It’s not about me. It’s about Him. Knowing that He is God and I am not and that is a very good thing. He has the power to change hearts and bring what feels dead to life (our marriage for starters), not because we are awesome, but because He is. That is why it’s called the “Good News.” We don’t deserve His grace and He gives it to us anyway. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. - Ephesians 2:8

So, whatever it is that has been holding you back from surrendering to Him and laying your burdens down…

let.

it.

go.

Choose God. Set your foot on new ground, against all odds, as Joshua did. Step into the middle of the river and watch God make a way for you. He can.

Nothing on this earth is worth carrying a burden that is holding you back from your Maker. Nothing. For me, surrender is hard. The first chapter of my book starts with giving birth to Grace because that was the most challenging physical surrender I can remember. I had no control and had to fully rely on Him. Equal to that surrender has been surrendering my pride over these years, namely this year. Dying to myself. Times of humility and confession: “God I need you and I want you. But I know something isn’t right. Please help me turn away from all the junk that’s distracting me from what matters—from You.” I’ve prayed that many times and God always answers because He wants our hearts. All of our hearts.

Moving forward means first letting something go. What is that thing God is trying to get you to let go of? Start with prayer if this feels overwhelming or you don’t know where to start. Ask God what to do and then dive in, even and especially, if it feels hard. Surrender is worth it.

Back to February. Having laid it all at His feet, we both knew that Joshua was the name the Lord had given him. God is pretty big on names. Names carried meaning and stories of faith that helped others have faith too. If God changed someone’s heart, a new name came with that heart change many times (Saul to Paul). Ari and I felt strongly that this name of his would tell a story–His story–even if we didn’t fully understand it all yet.

But…

Insert nine months of “but!” I began agonizing over this name in the silliest ways and battled between total surrender to God and this: “Josh” sounded too young. His first name would end in a vowel and didn’t fit with the vowel that started “Isaacson.” It was a mouthful. I couldn’t think of any cute baby nicknames that went with Joshua. Joshy? J? We also loved the name and story of Daniel. So, would he be Joshua Daniel? JD? Or Daniel Joshua? DJ? You guys. The name game in my head was a mess. I spent months debating these things in my head and with Ari, and fighting God on it. You see, God wants meaningful stories to be told that point back to Him, and the enemy really doesn’t love that. At all.

  
Every time I went back to God and let go of all the name game mess, He said, “Trust me. This is my story.” And, friends, His plans have always been far better than mine. This wasn’t about choosing a baby name. It was about our hearts needing to change over the last nine months.

Letting go of our plans for His. Our comforts for others. Our fear for faith.

We told no one our thoughts through this process. We just prayed. We read scripture. The story of Joshua, Daniel, and others who trusted in the Lord. In retrospect, it was very good. It was just us and God. In it all, we were changed in a million little ways. We felt God saying, “Just keep listening…”

  

And then Kristin walked in my door. She showed up at my house all the way from Florida to surprise me during our team summer BBQ just a few weeks ago. In true Kristin fashion, she breezed in the door with a bouquet of balloons and a freshly-cooked batch of my favorite quinoa salad.

That night, we picked corn fresh from the garden, sampled just-pulled carrots, and chatted over dinner about everything from favorite summer memories to the best doughnuts in the area. And then we talked baby names.The ladies surprised me with a little shower and gave their name “guesses.”

Lisa: Jacob Cecil Isaacson

Emily: David Cecil Isaacson

These ladies know us well. They knew the name would be Biblical. They knew how much my grandpa, Cecil Austin, influenced my faith and love of gardening. It has been a year of cultivating meaningful relationships and spending lots of time getting our hands dirty in the mineral-drenched soil, just as Cecil loved to do. He loved what mattered: God first, his wife, and his vegetable garden. He didn’t care about accolades; He cared about eternity. The first paragraph of my book is about grandpa’s love for his wife, Celeste, who passed the day after we found out we were unexpectedly pregnant. It was also the same day we finished our adoption paperwork. God was undoubtedly in all of this.

And then Kristin: Joshua Cecil Isaacson

The moment Kristin said it, we knew. We didn’t have to speak about it. Ari and I tried to play it off and not look at each other when that name was spoken for the first time. His name. Dinner continued. Kristin was the last to leave. She insisted on helping me do dishes, which turned into deeper conversation about family and our hearts.

As we walked her to the door, Ari couldn’t help it. “Kristin. The name… you were right.”

Somehow it was all confirmed. We all had tears in our eyes. I had no words. Just awe.

But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15

This journey hasn’t been about a name or a baby, it has been about God. About who He is. About His power to do what feels impossible. About Him being God and good, even in times of waiting and grief. Waiting on the Lord taught us so much. We waited for His perfect timing for this child to come. We waited nine months for this name to be confirmed. We waited and trusted and failed along the way a lot, but we kept going. And in the wait we were refined. Changed. Readied for whatever He has ahead for us.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. I have clung to these words from Isaiah for two years, in times of doubt and fear, and have seen them come true over and over again. God can do far more than we ask or imagine.

I don’t know where this post finds you. I don’t know your heart today or what’s weighing on you. What I do know: If you are in a season of doubt or fear or feeling lost, trust what you can’t yet see. God is listening. Even when you can’t feel it. He is. He makes streams in the wasteland. He makes all things new.

  

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua‬ ‭1:7-9‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Welcome to the world, son. The Lord will be with you wherever you go.

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