Monday, December 18, 2017

Merry Christmas Break - 2017

Hey, friends! Every December, we take a short break to focus on our family for the holidays.

We pray you have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

We'll see y'all in 2018!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

There's Room at the Table

I am grateful to be surrounded by so many women who are on the same writing journey as me. Some are published. Others are not. Some have agents. Others do not. But we’re all in this together.

Having been on cloud nine for the last month with the piles of good news for my writing, I am more aware than ever how wonderful my support system is (friends and family included!).

When I was about to sign with Hartline Literary, I texted back and forth with three trusted authors who are ahead of me on this journey, asking super personal questions about their agent relationship that fortunately didn’t offend them.

My amazing critique partner has been Wonder Woman these last several weeks, from helping me prepare contest submissions to helping me with revisions to my proposal and manuscript. She is truly a gift from God, given to me at the most opportune time, and I’m thankful for our growing friendship.

Working on the short story with my ACFW friends, I’ve encountered writers who aren’t yet published and maybe aren’t yet represented. I’ve answered emails and given advice (which seems so surreal to me, given that I don’t feel all that wise in this area).

And in the midst of these last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about what an honor it is to support my fellow authors on this journey.

I’ve become friends with contest semi-finalists and finalists (both from Genesis and from First Impressions), with women who write in my same genre, who want a slot at the same publishing houses.

But it’s not a competition, and I’m grateful for the culture of ACFW that cultivates this attitude among authors.

It reminds me of a word the Lord gave me a long time ago—that I’m a daughter of inheritance, not a daughter of reward.

I don’t have to strive to earn favor from him. He’s already called me Favored One.

A kingdom mindset says there’s always room at the table for more—for all. So I don’t have to kick or shove my way to the top, fighting for my place. Instead, I can embrace all that He has for me and for others.

If you’re on this journey, too, let me know how I can support you.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Holiday Tips for your Marriage

The Christmas holidays are sometimes stressful for marriages, not only because in-laws and travel are added to the mix but also because budgets are usually stretched further, as we spend more money for gifts, especially if you have kids or large extended families.

We recommend three tips to ensure the holidays don’t stress your marriage:

1. Get on the same page. Communication is always essential in marriage, but especially at this time of year. First, talk through your travel plans in advance—and make sure you talk to your spouse before you commit to being at Grandma’s house on Christmas morning. Even if you always do the same thing, this year be intentional about ensuring that your Christmas plans are what you both want to do. In doing so, you give honor to each other. Second, communicate about your spending plan for gifts, which leads us to number two…

2. Make a budget. Finances are often cited in the top three reasons for divorce, and this time of year is no exception. I’ve said before that most marriages have a saver and a spender. Whatever role you usually play, be sure to talk to your spouse about your spending plan. Howell and I make a list of everyone we buy gifts for, and we budget an amount that we’ll try to spend on each person. It’s not always a perfect system, but it at least gives us an idea of what our account balance is going to look like at the end of the season.

3. Take a break. It’s okay to take a time out from family and events. Save time for each other. If you’re at the grandparent’s for the weekend, ask them for two hours so you and your spouse can have a movie date. Even if it’s just to escape for a grocery item or a sonic drink, take a break for some alone time with your spouse. Whatever your love languages are, don’t starve each other from much-needed deposits into your love banks just because you’re surrounded by family for days or weeks. You spouse is still a priority!

This season doesn’t have to be stressful for your marriage. After all, we’re celebrating the birth of our Savior. Emmanuel—God with us. What a privilege to know we’re never alone, and we’re never too far from His grace and love. When it feels like too much, when the stress is too high, and the checking balance too low, remember the reason for all we celebrate this year. Jesus came down—what a gift to us!

We hope you have a wonderful Christmas season with your family and loved ones!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Are You Signed Up?

On Friday, I'll send my December newsletter with subscribers--and share a BIG announcement about my writing journey. :)


If you're not signed up, there's still time! Simply click on my website link above and enter your email address in the box in the top left corner.

Thanks for sharing in my joy!

Monday, November 20, 2017

As if unto the Lord

When I’m writing on marriage, I often talk about the conscious effort that must be put into it to have a great marriage. They don’t just happen. I always call this the best work, and it’s rewarding because I put the effort in, but so does Laura.

For some reading this, though, it feels like your efforts aren’t paying off. You’re doing the right things, you’re really trying, but your spouse just isn’t responding or putting the same effort in. You’re loving, respecting, and honoring, and they aren’t. It can be frustrating, and you might even feel that it isn’t worth it after a while. Let me tell you, though, it is worth it because it’s the right thing to do. We serve a big God, and He does work miracles. Sometimes, His timing is just different than our timing.

Ephesians 5 instructs both spouses in how to love and respect one another. It doesn’t say to do this if your spouse does that. In this passage, Paul instructs husbands to love wives as Christ loved the church and wives to respect husbands. These are ways to live, whether we see a response or not. However, I believe if you give it long enough, you’ll see a response. It may be small at first, but God will do a work through you to change your spouse. It doesn’t happen quickly every time, but where there is basic goodwill, change can happen.

Don’t you want to live every area of life as He has called us to? We read our bibles, and we try to live by the principles it teaches. Marriage is an area, like any other, where we can see a huge impact in our lives and the lives of our closest loved one by living out the principles taught by the Word. Marriage, as unto the Lord.

I encourage you who are feeling down, those of you who are honoring and loving your spouse, but haven’t seen those things reciprocated: Hang in there. Keep doing what is right. Keep loving, keep respecting. You got married for a reason, and you can still have a great marriage. I pray that God does a work in your marriage today!


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Swinging Pendulum

Sometimes I feel like my life can be described in two modes—dieting or not dieting.

Do y’all know what I mean?

I’ll start a diet and count all the numbers and say No to all the yummy things, and then I’ll get down to a weight—maybe not my goal weight, but I start to feel good about myself, and those jeans aren’t so tight now, and so what would it hurt to throw in a cookie with my salad. I was healthy. I deserve a little treat, right?

And then BAM. Let the backsliding begin.

A little treat becomes a lot of treats. They’re oh so good. And my jeans still fit, so what’s the harm?

But before I know it, I’m back to that weight, the number that’s like my attention-getter, and I hunker down into serious mode, and everyone around me knows—okay, folks, it’s time to diet again.

No, sorry, I can’t eat your delicious dessert. I’m dieting.

Sorry, I’m not eating bread. Thanks.

And I tell myself, when I start to get back to that “Yeah, this is good” weight I will keep eating like this. It’ll be a lifestyle. Because I feel so much better when I eat the good-for-me food. And so of course, I’m going to stick with it this time.

But then we get invited for Mexican food. And yeah, I should order the taco salad, but man, there’s queso and those enchiladas…..

And voilà. The cycle repeats. It’s like Dr.Eggerichs’ crazy cycle but instead of love and respect, it’s salad or lasagna.

So, can I be vulnerable, friends? (Yeah, more vulnerable than just confessing what my nutritional cycle looks like on an annual basis. Ha!)

This journey with infertility feels a little like my diet cycle.

Although instead of ‘dieting’ or ‘not dieting,’ it sometimes feels like faith or fear.

I’m full of faith, completely believing that God has good things for us, that we’ve heard His Word on this, that I’m healed and whole and completely capable of bearing children.

And then there’s one little slip up. Like that cookie I eat with my salad.

Maybe I really thought I’d be pregnant one month, but I wasn’t. And instead of running to my good Father with my heart, I protect it. Just a little.

Then a small lie creeps in, a quiet voice that tells me it’s my fault. If I’d had more faith. If I’d done this or that (or not eaten all. the. bread.), then maybe we would’ve gotten pregnant this month.

And then that little lie blossoms into more fear, more doubt.

Before I know it, I’m not just protecting my heart, I’m full-blown hiding it, avoiding the topic, the prayers, the declarations of faith altogether.

But it’s harvest season again. This time of year does something to my heart. I told you last fall how inspired I felt by the neighboring farm, ripe with cotton to harvest.

Our farmers plant seeds, in faith, and expect to see the fruits. They hope for what they cannot see. But they believe—

That God provides.

That God is good.

That God creates and sustains all things.

So here I am—driving by bolls of white cotton every day—and I’m reminded of the faith that He deposited in me, of the promise He’s given me, over and over and over again.

“He makes the barren woman to be the joyful mother of children.”

Dr. Eggerichs talks about how the crazy cycle in marriage is not something we ever stay off of completely, even in the best of marriages (can you tell we’re leading this marriage life group, and I’ve got Love and Respect on the brain?). He says the goal is how quickly you can recognize that you’re ON the crazy cycle and get off it.

Maybe that’s the application here, too. It’s probably unrealistic to think that I’ll be full of faith all the time. Never doubting. Never struggling to believe. Never weary.

But when I get in that place, I’ve got recognize it and get off the cycle quicker.

How about you, my friends?

Maybe it’s not about fertility for you, but is there something you’re believing God for? Is there a dream He’s placed in your heart? Do you battle with fear and doubt?

Let’s recognize when we’re headed down the path of lies and speak truth to our hearts once again.

Monday, November 6, 2017

My Happily Ever After

From the time I was in junior high (and maybe earlier), my dad has taken my sister and me on daddy/daughter dates and later daddy/daughter weekends. He instilled in us at an early age to wait for the man whose heart followed God and who would adore us. He spoiled us on those weekends and told us that our future husbands should love us the same way.

Some people might think my dad set the bar too high or that he set us up for failure by putting unrealistic expectations in our heart. And I’m not saying that young wives and young women don’t sometimes have unrealistic expectations going into marriage. (I’ve blogged before about mine.)

But sometimes it hits me so hard when I look at Howell: This is my happily ever after.

Last night when I went to bed, Howell was warming my side. He does this regularly once the temperature drops. All winter, he’ll think of me when he gets in bed, and while I go through my routine of brushing my teeth and washing my face, he’ll be warming my spot.

The same guy who buys fresh flowers for the table. Who unloads the dishwasher. Who builds me fires and holds my hand while we watch T.V.

It’s not a fairy tale, y’all. It’s real life.

Sure, Howell and I argue sometimes. We disagree. Our feelings get hurt.

But he loves me as my dad prayed a man would. He spoils me, and not just with birthdays and anniversaries, but always. He listen to the Lord and obeys, even when it’s a hard choice.

If you’re single, my friends, I implore you as my dad once did: wait for the man whose heart follows God and who will adore you.

He is out there, and it’ll be worth the wait. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Recommended Reading

Y'all, I've been a reading fiend this last month. Maybe because ACFW made me want to now read all. the. books. Maybe because I'm so over what's on TV these days. Maybe--and best of all--because I'm learning how to create margin in my life with time for something besides work. (Hallelujah!)

The Bookshop on the Corner has the best book dedication I've seen--a dedication to her readers. She describes all the smart ways to read books these days, and my favorite: "Stolen book time." 

I used to believe I couldn't read because I didn't have time, but that's only because I thought I needed a full hour or so in my schedule to sit down and read. But Jenny's dedication inspired me and reminded me that I don't have to be such a planner about reading. Now I snag ten minutes here and fifteen minutes there, and y'all, I am loving it. 

So, enough from me. Here's what's on my recently read list: 

*Christian nonfiction

*Not Christian fiction

*Not Christian fiction

And my "currently reading" list because, ya know, I've got to finish the series (thanks, Laurie Tomlinson, for recommending the first book!): 

What about you, friends? What are you reading these days? 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Yes, Dear!

I often hear husbands say that the two most important words you can know to keep your wife happy are "Yes, Dear" or that the best phrases to learn are "Yes, Dear; I'm sorry; You're right; and It won't happen again." 

Among men, this is a joke, but it’s also taken seriously. I'm not saying that as men, you can never be wrong, but I am saying that we can't just say what our spouses want to hear to get out of an undesirable situation. I have several issues with this cultural paradigm that has arisen.

I'll be the first to admit that for years, I was very guilty of this. I'm what we like to call a natural pleaser. I don't like conflict in my relationships, and before I was truly transformed by the Holy Spirit, I would do or say just about anything to make Laura not upset with me anymore. What did this really yield? More heartache and rejection feelings on both sides, not to mention, it doubled the length of our arguments.

This attitude is really saying, "Yes, Dear, I'm lying to you by saying what you want to hear so I can go do what I think is best, no matter what you think." BE AN ADULT. Real relationships are defined by truth, and if this is your way of dealing with issues, then it isn't a real relationship. I know that sounds harsh, but when I compare the time in which I just told Laura what she wanted to hear and the time in which I've been truthful and really dealt with issues head-on, in a loving way, the two don't really even look close. 

What if, instead of just saying whatever you think will end this discussion the fastest, you have your spouse sit down with you and have a face-to-face discussion about the issue. Don't completely assume that you are right or wrong immediately. Listen to what she has to say about the problem; ask her how it makes her feel. Tell her what your true intention was and talk about how you think things may have gone better if one or both of you had approached the situation in a different manner. Now for the tough part, you may have to actually apologize and mean it if you are wrong. Usually though, in my experience, after we have figured out what the root cause was, one (or both) of us is sincere about apologizing for what happened.

I hope this insight helps you as much as it has helped me. 

Howell | @g2whubs

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Do you need a RECHARGE?

Last week we had a much-needed fall break on campus, and I was able to take a couple of vacation days to spend Thursday through Sunday with my family. We rented a house, and for the first time since I’ve been married (now going on nine years), we took a family trip together: my parents, siblings and spouses, and nephews.

We haven’t quite settled on a name for our now annual trip to Wimberley (we’re thinking reunion is over-used), but the tentative name is recharge (props to my sister for that ;)).

Y’all, my heart is full, and I certainly feel recharged.

I finished three fiction books.

I laughed until I cried on several occasions (literally, tears streaming down my face!).

I swam in 65-degree water with my three-year-old nephew because, well, he wanted to.

I started a short story.

And I got to spend real quality time with family.

Nothing makes me happier than some good ole quality time.

Perhaps my favorite memory is watching my nephew air guitar and sing during our impromptu worship jam while my brother-in-law made breakfast. (If I haven’t said so—you should buy the Pursue Worship album! It’s incredible!)

There’s a song on the Pursue album titled My Shepherd, and the chorus begins, “I won’t want for anything.”

Isn’t that God’s promise to us?

At this point in the semester, the craziness is cranking up. Piles of grading. Work events. Church events. And October is only the beginning—then it’s Thanksgiving, then Christmas.

“I won’t want for anything.”

Time. Energy. Provision. Grace. Strength. Patience.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, and I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He quiets my soul.”

Reciting that verse brings so much peace to my heart.

Friends—do you need to recharge at this moment? Do you need the Lord to take you beside still waters?

Whatever you’re facing today, this week, this month, He is enough. You’re not lacking anything you need in Him. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

R E S P E C T!

R E S P E C T!

Did you know that the iconic tune sung by Aretha Franklin was actually written and originally performed by a man (with slightly revised lyrics)?

You’ve maybe heard that a man’s greatest need is respect. In fact, I recently heard this stated so strongly that the person suggested a husband doesn’t need his wife’s love; he doesn’t need her to buy books or go to conferences to find out more tips for “how to love her husband.” What he needs is her respect.

If you’ve heard of Dr. Emerson Eggerich’s book Love and Respect, the above may be familiar to you. Howell and I are leading a marriage life group this fall that focuses on the curriculum from that text. Although I’m not new to Eggerich’s ideas, the importance of these truths seems more profound to me than ever.

I can remember the first time I encountered Ephesians 5:33 as a college student who was (though single at the time) thinking realistically about what it would mean to be a wife someday.

The Amplified version of that verse gives a tall order for wives: “…and the wife [must see to it] that she respects and delights in her husband [that she notices him and prefers him and treats him with loving concern, treasuring him, honoring him, and holding him dear].”

Sometimes the idea that women should respect their husbands feels abstract to me—and I think, how do I actually do that?

We know what love looks like, right? Love is patient, kind, longsuffering, etc.

But what does respect look like?

I think the Amplified version gives us a good idea: Respect means to delight, prefer, care about, treasure, honor, and hold dear.

Howell and I have a little board that we write notes to each other on. We’ve done this for years, but recently (with the Love and Respect curriculum in mind), I’ve thought more about the content of my notes.

In the past, I’ve always just focused on sharing how much I LOVE Howell and what he means to me. But Emerson said that men want to be recognized for what they DO as an extension of who they are.

So, a few weeks ago, I wrote a note that said something like “You’re an incredibly hard worker. I am amazed at your work ethic—always going in early and staying late. I’m so proud of you.”

Do you know that he thanked me for my note probably fifty times?

To recognize his WORK, to recognize his accomplishment—that meant everything to him.

I encourage you, wives, honor your husband by meeting his greatest need: tell him not just that you love him, but how much you respect him, especially for what he DOES to provide for, protect, and lead you and your family.

I promise you he will respond in love!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Best Memories from ACFW 2017

Remember when I told you my last ACFW experience would be hard to top? Well, folks, I stand corrected.

I love that my hubs is always willing to go with me. I NEEDED him this time for sure. 

Whoot Whoot!

And apparently the ACFW conference has become the place where my most embarrassing moments happen—but unlike the last experience, which just made me blush a little, I’m still recovering from this year’s moment. It’ll make a great story someday, but it’s too soon to laugh about it now.

Although nothing will ever compare to that first-timer’s experience, the star-struck gaze and fan-girl feelings of being among the GREATS of Christian fiction, this year’s conference took me to a deeper level, a level that I needed to become more serious about this goal of mine.

You might recall it all started when I dared to call myself a writer (also here and here).

This time, it’s something more. It’s not just about a dream. It’s not just about one book.

I feel like I’m finally stepping into the vision that I have for myself to truly become a professional author, a multi-published (and hopefully someday award-winning, best-selling, etc. etc. :)) author.

I’m more eager to fight for it than ever before, and it feels attainable in a way it never has.

Perhaps sitting in a session with Susan May Warren and learning that she’s written 50-something novels in a little over a decade or taking a continuing ed class with Cara Putman and finding out she’s a lawyer and a professor and a multi-published author inspired me greatly. I don’t have to choose one or the other—and that is quite freeing!

So, as promised, here are my top five memories from the 2017 ACFW Conference:

1. Spending a few days with my virtual friend and critique partner. Y’all, I can’t say how much this woman blesses me! She is a gift!

2. Hearing an agent tell me that he doesn’t just like my story idea—but that he loves it. Wow. What an encouragement!

3. Re-setting my heart and mind during worship. For whatever reason this year, my emotions were all over the map. I felt discouraged before I’d even pitched anything—but Friday morning’s worship time gave me a full reset, and I left charged up and full of grace.

4. Making connections with published authors (and friends!) who are ahead of me on this road. I am grateful for their wisdom and their willingness to help me succeed.

5. Getting a second chance with an agent after what was a truly embarrassing moment! Again—it’s too soon (I'll tell you someday, maybe), but man, God sure redeemed my mistake. What a good Father!

If you attended this year’s conference, what were some of your favorite moments?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Can you see the gold?: Finding Goodwill in your spouse

Guess what? Your spouse has goodwill toward you. This is a concept that I just can’t get off my mind lately. I see so many people getting frustrated and eventually despondent toward their spouse because of misunderstandings and misguided ideas that spring forth from them. This probably seems really basic to the newlywed, but may be revolutionary to someone who has been married a long time. Your spouse really does genuinely want the best for you.

Many times, we view what our spouse does through the lens of how we might handle a situation. The truth is, you married someone very different than yourself. Whether that is just because they are of the opposite gender or because they have a different personality type, YOU ARE DIFFERENT. You see things differently, you address issues differently, and you view your own actions differently.

So many times we say, “If they could only see this the way I do…” Truthfully, they may never see things the way you do, and that’s a good thing. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says "And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Multiple perspectives strengthen a team. This is one reason a cord of three strands is stronger. 

It’s easy, over time and as tension mounts from offenses, to forget that the person with whom you share your life actually does care about you. We get frustrated and offenses don’t get resolved because we can’t see the other person’s point of view. This compounds on itself, and the cycle continues for years, until one day, one of you just can’t see the point anymore. In reality, the entire time, both people probably have the same long-term goals for their marriage….love, happiness, and peace.

If you’re giving up or on your way there, know that this is NOT God’s will for your marriage. He created marriage to last forever, and he created us to be married for life. That person you fell in love with is still there. They haven’t changed as much as you think, and you haven’t changed as much as they think. It’s time to have a real reset conversation. Lay it all out there. It might be painful, but it’s worth it. Be real, be honest, but most importantly…listen. Listen for their goals and their goodwill. Let them hear your’s. Great marriages take work, but it’s never too late to start.

If we can help in any way, click on the "contact us" link at the top of the site. We'd love to chat with you.


Monday, September 18, 2017

ACFW Pre-Conference Mingle

On Thursday, I'll head to Grapevine for the Association of Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference. In addition to getting to see my brother and his wife, I'll also get to learn from the best in the industry, meet with editors and agents, and connect with other writers who are on this same journey. To say I'm ecstatic is an understatement. :)

Award-winning author and writing friend, Laurie Tomlinson is hosting another pre-conference mingle on her site. Below are my responses. If you're attending, be sure to post your answers on your own site and link back to her page here.


Name: Laura Brandenburg

Location: West Texas

What you write/tagline/trademark: I write feel-good Southern love stories of redemption, forgiveness, and faith.

Place in the book world: Unpublished author seeking representation.

On a scale of hugger to 10-foot-pole, please rate your personal space: Definitely a hugger!

Something VERY serious: How do you take your Starbucks? I usually get either a caramel latte or an Americano, breve with Splenda.

The unique talking points that will get you going for hours: Football, Gilmore Girls, grammar rules, and books by authors I love. (Kristen Heitzmann and Charles Martin are my absolute favs.)

Loved ones at home you’ll be missing: My hubs is coming with me (yay!), but we'll be leaving our surrogate kids behind: an 80-pound Weimaraner and a rescued Wheaten Terrier.

Conference goals we can pray for? Pray for opportunities to make new friends and establish good connections and for favor with agent/editor appointments.

Anything we can celebrate with you? The book I'm pitching won first place in the Ignite the Flame contest last year for the Inspirational Romance category, and it semi-finaled in the Genesis Contest this year.

One or two ways we can help you build your platform? You can connect with me on Twitter or Facebook and subscribe to my blog, Obeying the Call.  

I hope to see you in Grapevine! Remember to link back to Laurie's page if you're participating in the mingle. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Is Your Marriage Extraordinary?

Somewhere around year three of marriage, Howell and I determined that we didn’t want an average or an OK marriage. We wanted an extraordinary marriage. I’d say, after nine years, we’re still working toward what that means, but the truth is, I do think we have an extraordinary marriage because I think we’ve been intentional to sow into our relationship.

Both of us are even-tempered, and we both like most of the same things, so maybe have an advantage in that we genuinely could spend all our time doing stuff together.

But time has been a precious commodity these last twelve months, as we have faced serious transitions in our working lives. I changed position last fall, and the rest of the school year was quite a whirlwind. Howell accepted the position as Administrative Pastor at our local church in May, and his first five months have been equally as busy.

It’s always a challenge to learn a new position or to face a transition like a new job. But I think we’ve been extra challenged to have both changed positions in such a short time period.

Our chapel speaker this last week, Dr. Delvin Atchison, spoke about learning to rake leaves in windy conditions.

Isn’t that real life?

It’s always windy—especially out here in West Texas.

Despite what the last twelve months have looked like, Howell and I have stayed as close and as connected as usual, and I was thinking this week—how did we do that?

I've thought about four areas that I think are keys to an extraordinary marriage, keys that we try to practice: 

1. Communicate every day. This sounds simple, but I don’t mean talking every day, but actually communicating! Howell and I are both introverts—though I don’t think he’s nearly as introverted as me. So you might think that talking isn’t our thing. But we’re both intentional to connect every day, to ask about our days, to share the top stories, to share emotions that we’ve felt. Some days, we’re coming and going, but other days, we’ve got more time. Whether it’s short or long, whether it’s after work or right before bed,  try to find time to talk.

2. Have sex often. We’ve said before how important we think this is (see here and here, for example). In fact, I’ve even made the statement that most marriages fail when a healthy sex life fails to exist. Sex is the highest, most intimate form of communication you can have with your partner. If this is an area that’s a struggle for you, read a good sex book (we recommend this one), talk to your spouse, or talk to a counselor. The question of “how often” might depend on your season of life, but we’d recommend no less than once or twice a week. The most important answer to “how often” is a goal or desire that’s agreeable to both of you.

3. Set aside a date night. Whether it’s a night out or a night in, try to guard your time together for one evening every week. If you have kids, I promise this is the best thing you can do for them and for your marriage. Get a babysitter. Find a fellow friend with kids and swap date nights. Beg grandparents. Whatever you’ve got to do—find time to be alone. And then protect and enjoy that time together!

4. Forgive easily and permanently. When you're both in a season of windy weather, you're going to step on each other’s toes sometimes. But if you don't communicate through those conflicts, you'll create a disconnect that grows with time. You'll stop having sex. You'll make excuses to avoid date night. And the daily communication will break down. It's essential—the most essential key, in fact—that you learn to forgive easily and permanently. Don't drag it out, and don't drag it back up. Ask God to reset your heart to place of honor for your spouse, to a place that protects and cherishes your marriage.

Howell and I are not perfect, and we don’t always get it right. But I think it’s important that we try—that we’re always intentional. Our prayer is that your marriage would move from ordinary to extraordinary today! 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Check List or Forgiveness?

Laura and I were talking with some other couples about how we argue and what our fleshly tendencies are when we do, so I thought I would share an insight that I’ve discovered about myself that might help someone else.

When something goes wrong, or I upset her, I tend to want to fix it immediately. I think that there are certain personality types that just want to fix problems quickly. Let’s be efficient people!! At least that’s my natural tendency. When it comes to matters of the heart, though, the fastest way is not always the most efficient way. Think of it like this. If something is really important, like your spouse’s feelings, you should take the time to make it right. All good things take time, especially marriage.

Early on in our marriage, I asked Laura. “What words or phrases would be most effective to help us solve our differences?” This might sound like a great question to ask, and it is. She obliged with some things that really minister to her in times of distress, which was wonderful. Excellent communication, right? It surely was. We were on the right track…but, application makes all the difference.

I jumped on those phrases like a bicyclist at the Tour de France. That is to say, way too fast. I applied the words and phrases that she gave the first chance I had, and they fell completely flat. All that great communication down the drain?! Well, almost. What I didn’t realize is that these great words are moot without hearing Laura out first. She needed a chance to tell me how she felt, and then we needed time to let those words soak in.

She just needed a little time to process, and I just needed to back off a bit. Recently, the Lord brought all this back to me when I was watching our dogs. 

Rizzoli, our Weimaraner, is much bigger than our Wheaton mix, Charlie, and thus has much bigger feet, which stomp around like Godzilla in Tokyo most of the time. This means that she steps on his tail a lot. When she does, he gets upset and barks and whines. She obviously feels terrible and stays about two centimeters from his face until he feels better, whether he likes it or not—and, in fact, he hates that too. She is really just making a bad situation worse by doing that, just like I was.

What really changed all this for the good, though, was finding the root cause. Through some prayer and self-reflection, He revealed to me that I needed to have our problems solved and find reconciliation so quickly because I was putting my security in whether Laura was okay with me instead of putting my security in Him. Simply put, I was putting more pressure on our marriage than God intended. When my security is in Him, our marriage functions much better. I’m free to ask Laura how she feels or what issues are happening and not feel an urgency to pressure her to forgive. She is then free to feel my sincerity, rather than my insecurity. In turn, we resolve issues much faster and are healthier in general together. What an amazing God we serve!!


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Freedom Paradox

Have y’all heard the new Meredith Andrews’ song, Spirit of the Living God? It’s my new jam right now. I recently heard a little interview blurb on K-LOVE where she talks about the verse that inspired the song: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

She said that the meaning of the expression is actually “Where the Spirit of the Lord is Lord, there is freedom.”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.  
The word for Lord there is kúrios, which means master. Think of this in contrast to the word doúlos, which is the word Paul uses at the beginning of so many of his letters. It’s usually translated as Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ (see, e.g., Philippians 1:1), but the more literal translation is like a slave or bondservant.

Consider James 1:1: James calls himself a doúlos of kúrios—a slave of his master.

Freedom comes when we submit to the Lord as Master. At first, that seems contradictory, paradoxical even. 

And to consider ourselves as slaves feels very un-American, right? And yet, what 2 Corinthians 3:17 suggests is that if the Spirit of the Lord is Lord, there is freedom.

I know in my life, when I try to do something on my own or out of my own strength, not only am I miserable (and usually unsuccessful) but also I become entangled in bondage. Fear or pride takes over, and I begin working from a position for acceptance rather than from a position of acceptance.

It never goes well.

Submitting my heart to my Master does not come naturally. I must be intentional.

But when I submit my heart to the Lord, when I place my plans, my vision, my opinions at His feet, I’m actually released in a supernatural way to walk in the fullness of Christ, filled with grace and power.

I’m a little slow sometimes, so I’m still learning what this means, but I know I want to walk in freedom, and therefore, I must let the Lord be Lord at all times.

How about you, friends? Let’s walk in freedom by submitting ourselves to the Lord as Master!

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Words You're Probably Avoiding

Finances. Budgets. Bills. These are words most couples dread, right?

Usually Howell is the one to blog about money (this one is my fav), but it’s been on my heart this week, so I wanted to share a few principles we follow that I believe bring peace to this area in our marriage.

1. Tithe. If you’re on the fence about tithing, I can promise you it’s worth it to be obedient to the Lord. When we follow His word and do as He asks, abundant blessing follows. Our first couple years of marriage, our combined income was below the poverty level of a single-income household, and yet, we followed this principal of giving 10% of our income to the Lord (i.e. to our church home)—and we never went without. God has always provided everything we need.

We’ve always had the mindset that everything we own is God’s, and from the very beginning, we’d ask him, what do you want us to do with your money? Pay bills, of course. Provide for ourselves. But what else?

We both come from families who are “givers.” What does that mean? It usually means the family tithes—but in our case, we also watched our parents give generous gifts, sometimes to support monthly ministries, sometimes to give one-time gifts to the church for a project, sometimes to give extravagantly to those in need.

My dad used to tell me, even as a young girl, “You can’t out-give God.” How incredibly true! That first year of marriage, on our little income, we not only tithed, but we prayerfully considered giving to specific ministries every month. At first, we couldn’t give much, but as we were diligent to give away the little that we had, God quickly and immeasurably provided a blessing in return. With every raise we’ve ever had, our question has always been—Okay, God? How much and where to?

2. Save. Since I’ve already ball-parked our early income for you, I’ll go ahead and share that we saved enough for a down payment to buy a house within one year of being married on an income that certainly felt teeny-tiny. Want to know how? We save 10% of our income each month. 10%--that’s all. Give 10, Save 10.

We’ve been supernaturally rewarded by being stewards of our money in this way. We’ve been married 9 years, and we’ve paid off roughly $90,000 in debt. Today our only debt is our house, which will be paid for in 13 years or less.  I don’t say that to brag—in fact, I felt humbled when I started totaling it all up in preparation for this post. But because I know it’s possible to tackle what might even feel impossible, I want to encourage you: it can be done!

3. Mutually submit. We get paid twice a month, and we immediately tithe and save 10%. We do it on the gross income (though we don’t think there’s anything wrong doing it the other way), so we’re a little more stretched. What’s left after that is the money we live on and the money we give away.

Howell’s emphasized budgeting, and we live by his cute little spreadsheet (love ya, babe :)), so we know when it’s all spent on bills or giving, this is what we’ve got left to spend (gas, food, entertainment, etc.).

So what do I mean by mutually submit? Every couple has a spender and saver—and sometimes to more or less varying degrees. Whether you’re one or the other, remember that every financial choice you make affects your spouse. You’re communicating love and respect by how you spend your money (or by what you withhold in spending).

If your spouse has asked you not to purchase something or to be conscious of the “leftover” money this month, then honoring that amount is the way you honor him or her.

And I believe the Lord blesses us, not only when we honor each other with our spending but when we honor Him with our money as well.

I know money isn’t everyone’s favorite subject, but I hope you’ll be encouraged this week. If your bills feel too high, if your savings feels too low—begin to ask the Lord how He wants you to steward your money (and then be obedient! :)).

His word is true. Psalm 23 begins, “The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not lack.”

Believe that, my friends. He will always provide for you!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

When the Rain Comes...

We had several days of rain last week, often at random intervals of the day. I found myself carrying my umbrella at all times—even when it wasn’t raining. I’d carry it to work in the morning, and then again to my car for lunch, and then back to work after lunch, and back to my car at the end of the day.

Sometimes I’d get to work and need it for the quick walk inside—or I’d need it for the walk from the office to my car. 

But most of the time, I was carrying an umbrella without a drop of moisture coming down.

I felt a little silly about it, but I kept thinking I didn’t want to get caught in a downpour without the coverage. That’s happened to me on multiple occasions. Better to be prepared than not, right? 

Our spiritual life can be like that.

It’s not always raining. Sometimes there’s no warning for an impending downpour. But don’t you want to be ready when it comes?

Psalm 119 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible because it’s shares the writer’s love for God’s word—knowing, obeying, hiding, seeking, declaring, and trusting in His word.

Some of my favorites:

11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.

49 Remember your word to your servant,
in which you have made me hope.
50 This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your promise gives me life.

92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have given me life.

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.

165 Great peace have those who love your law;
nothing can make them stumble.

That last verse—nothing can make them stumble—is so powerful. It reminds me of Psalm 112 where it says the righteous “is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.” Or the Proverbs 31 woman who “laughs at the days to come” (v. 25).

How does that happen? I believe it happens when we know who God. Bill Johnson says that fear is imagining the future without God in it. When I start to feel fearful, that always stops me, and I remind myself, there’s no future circumstance that He doesn’t already know about. And there’s nothing I’ll face that He can’t comfort.

Having God’s word in your heart is like carrying around an umbrella, even when it’s not raining.

When the rain does come, you’re ready. You’ll have great peace and hope because His truth is in you.

What are some of your favorite verses? How do you practice hiding God’s word in your heart?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Nine Quick Years

This week, we'll celebrate our ninth anniversary. Reflecting on this has brought me to think just how quickly nine years can fly by. We have traveled, enjoyed life, endured trials, and loved like I didn’t know was possible. 

Ours marriage has only gotten stronger over time, and we are thankful  we get to share what we’ve learned with you. Today, I want to focus on a few truths that I’ve discovered over the past nine years.

Go to the God’s Word for help.  I’ve probably read Ephesians 5 more times than I can count. Paul has so many excellent insights into marriage, and Jesus presents incredible wisdom on the subject too. Check out Ephesians 4 and 5, Matthew 19, and Mark 10.

Second, communicate expectations. Whether this is communicating your expectations of what the other person should do, or communicating what you’ll do or when you’ll be somewhere--do it. It can change your marriage. How many arguments have you been in because one or both of you had a different idea of how an event, time, or aspect of your marriage would play out? This is something that I’m still learning, but even so, it has changed our marriage for the better.

Sex is really important. In my opinion, Christian culture downplays the importance of sex as a reaction to today’s secular culture. While it is important that sex be kept within the context of marriage, it is an essential part of marriage. It can be a big part of what makes a marriage great or terrible. My advice here is to not avoid the subject with your spouse. This should be something that is talked about frequently. Don’t be afraid to pick up a Christian book about this or ask someone you trust. We have.

Lastly, don’t be stubborn. Your spouse will change you over time. It’s okay. Laura and I have grown more alike over the past few years, and we think that’s a good thing. There are things that I like about my life now that I wouldn’t have considered before living with her. People often hold on to their idiosyncrasies and little habits when they get married, as if that is what makes them who they are. Only God defines who you are, not the laundry on the floor or the thing your spouse does that drives you crazy.

I hope these little tidbits blessed you today. I pray that you have many, many years of wedded bliss. An extraordinary marriage is possible; you just have to believe and work at it.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"Let Us Strive to Find Rest"

I’ve been reading about rest in Hebrews 4, studying from different commentaries on this word and its meaning (which is layered). Although the writer seems to be talking about multiple meanings of rest, I’ve been mostly dwelling on this:

“So, then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9-10, ESV).

If God, who needs no rest, rested, how could we not follow his lead? So, I asked myself—what does rest mean to me? What does rest look like?

Sometimes it’s being curled up on the couch with a book or watching a movie or show with Howell or sitting on our front porch, watching the barn swallows. But my favorite happy place?


My dad purchased a few hundred acres of land shortly after I graduated from college about an hour away, and this place has become a little oasis for us. There’s always work to be done, something that needs to be maintained—like shredding roads, spraying mesquites or weeds, repairing fences, etc.—but then we play.

And after we play, we sit. On the porch. On the patio. On the back of a tailgate.

The stars are not veiled by city lights, and the only sounds are the crickets and the distant coyote call.

That sounds like “Sabbath rest” to me.

I’ve always loved Psalm 23—“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”

The Lord does it all; I need only follow and submit my heart to His. There’s no other effort.

I actually love the way the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest…” (4:11).

Let us work to rest? Let us make an effort to rest?

Seems paradoxical, but it reminds me of Jesus’s words to His disciples: the only work for you to do is believe (John 6:29).

When it’s that kind of effort toward rest, it’s an easy striving.

What about you, my friends? Are you taking time to rest? Do you have a happy place—where your heart finds peace, and your soul is restored?

It’s an effort we’re commanded to make. Let us strive to find rest this week. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Seeking Wise Counsel

Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.”

The Message Version of Proverbs 19:20-21 says, “Take good counsel and accept correction—that’s the way to live wisely and well.” 

Don’t we all want to be wise? Don’t we want to live well?

Listening to advice—namely, seeking wise counsel—is hard, but I’ve found that it’s essential in all areas of our life, especially in our marriages.

Howell and I were having dinner with three other couples a few months ago, all of whom had been married anywhere from ten to twenty years longer than we have. Somehow the topic of counseling came up, and every single one of us shared how counseling had positively impacted our marriages at one point or another.

I’ve been thinking about that since then. Some people might have a certain fear about counseling, especially marriage counseling. Maybe it feels like failure—and they want to keep holding on to the secret that their marriage is falling apart. Maybe it feels too personal—and they don’t want someone all up in their business.

Can I tell you the truth, dear friend?

It’s neither shameful nor scary.

Bringing your “stuff” into the light brings freedom and healing—and wise counsel becomes a balm to those broken places.

There’s something about an outside perspective that helps you see things in your marriage, in yourself, or in your spouse that you couldn’t have seen otherwise. And wise counselors have good tools to help us better understand each other.

Howell and I went through some intense counseling early on, and I genuinely believe it set us up for a solid foundation. We learned so much about ourselves—as much as we learned about each other.

In those first few years of marriage, when we would argue, I would want to leave—the room, the house. Always, I wanted an escape. And Howell would say, “But Mary Ann said we should…”

And for whatever reason, that worked. (FYI: Mary Ann was our counselor. J) It’s not that she had a certain power over us, but when he said that, it would remind me of my behavior, where the root of it came from, what it meant to me, what it communicated to Howell—and I would remember, I don’t want to be this way. I don’t want to be the person who leaves in an argument, who can’t settle a disagreement, who can’t listen to wisdom. And so I would stay, and I would talk, and I would listen.

We have the power within us to choose how we behave. I suppose the second step of counseling is application, right?

Wise counsel comes in many forms—not only the professional kind (though it is a worthy investment!). You can also surround yourself with wise counsel—your parents, your mentors, your friends. Always, the Bible instructs us and gives us tools for how to live.

Even now, Howell and I seek wise counsel when we make big decisions, especially financial ones. We have people in our lives who speak truth to us, and we heed their advice.

If you’re struggling today—especially if your marriage feels like it’s failing, I encourage you to seek wise counsel and heed good advice. May it bring healing and freedom and restoration to your relationship.

[This post originally appeared on the Harvest Christian Fellowship blog, Among Friends.] 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

When the Enemy Dive Bombs You

Tis the season for nests and baby birds. We love to sit and watch our Barn Swallows from the front porch. Every morning, the babies sing us a song from their nest.

In our backyard, the birds’ nests usually don’t have as much success. Although the massive pecan trees look protective, when the wind blows, they inevitably knock nests to the ground—a sight that always breaks my heart.

This year, one momma did good, and her nest is not budging, even with all the storms we’ve had this summer.

She’s also fiercely protective of that nest, and I suppose, rightly so.

Every time Rizzoli, our Weimaraner, goes outside, she dive bombs her the second she walk out the door. What cracks me up, though, is that Rizzo completely ignores this momma bird that is about three inches from breaking skin on her head with its beak.

Our girl prances through the backyard, smelling for pecans or rabbits—completely unaware of the fiery darts nearing her head.

The other day, as Howell and I were laughing at this scene that we’ve seen repeatedly for weeks now, the Lord reminded me of Ephesians 6, where it talks about standing firm, wearing armor, being prepared for the fiery darts of the enemy.

The enemy wants to mess with us all the time, and most of the time, we get rattled when we see his darts thrown at us.

The Lord gave me the scene with Rizzoli as the perfect picture of what mature Christians should do. We’re not bothered by the enemy. We know he’s not actually going to get us. He might swoop close and make loud noises to distract us, but he can’t really do anything—so we just go about our business.

She’s a picture of someone walking in the authority of God.

So, stand firm, my friends. Put on the whole armor because we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood. But be bold and courageous because we know the enemy is already defeated. He has no power whatsoever to harm us, even if he tries.

The only power he has is what we give him.

Take the tip from Rizzoli. Enjoy life, stay on mission, and prance around your territory like you own the place—because all authority under heaven and on earth has been given to us through Jesus.

We are victorious!