I receive emails all the time from women of all ages who want to write and speak but have no clue how to get started. While I’m happy to help women of any age, I have a special place in my heart for the 20-something woman who feels this tug and desire.
At the age of nineteen I sat down at my laptop, alone in my dorm room, and tapped out the following words thinking I was just writing a journal entry:
In a busy, noisy world, a little girl walks onto a dark stage and begins to perform. She wears her pink princess costume with pride.
Will you love me? her actions ask. Will you hold me; will you keep me close to your heart forever?
The pain in her eyes screams at you. And with graceful pirouettes across the stage, she beckons you to choose her, to set her apart from the other performers, and to call her beloved.
She has wounds buried so deeply beneath her costume that she has almost forgotten they are there. But the laughter of her audiences echoes through her mind as she thinks of all the times she has tried and failed.
All she has ever wanted is acceptance, but she has never found it—at least not for long…
She has been missing the Divine Dance because she has been too busy dancing for men and princes to notice the king.
When I finished that night I had no idea God was beginning the process of calling me to write and speak for His glory. Over the course of the next year He took me on a journey that led me (butterflies in my stomach and all) to a writer’s conference where I sat before editors and agents and tried to figure out if the dream God placed in my heart was just my imagination.
Turns out, it wasn’t. At the age of twenty, a real-life publisher offered me my very first book contract and God and I were off on an exciting adventure I could have never imagined. It’s been a whirlwind ever since.
In all of the conferences I‘ve been to since, one of my absolute favorites is the Proverbs 31 Ministries She Speaks Conference in Concord, NC. If you sense God beginning to tug on your heart and lead you in the direction of writing or speaking for Him, then you MUST attend this conference.
And, as a special treat, I want to let you know that the She Seeks division of Proverbs 31 is giving away a scholarship to one lucky 20-something woman who is willing to step out in faith and enter their contest. You can learn more about that here.
For those of you of any age who want to attend She Speaks you can head over to She Reads and read about they contest they are hosting here.
My story attests to the fact that God doesn’t look at us and see age. Instead, He looks for willingness, faithfulness and availability. Be willing to follow God down the path He is leading you on no matter how crazy it seems.
Several years ago, my husband and I vacationed in Puerto Rico.
While I loved relaxing on the beach and watching the sun glisten on the beautiful Atlantic Ocean, there is one part of our trip that stands out as more of a highlight. After a few days of being nothing more than beach bums, Michael and I decided to venture off the resort property and explore the city.
We shopped, we ate and most importantly we toured the El Morro Fort. A mighty fortress during the Spanish-American war, the place was now run down and old. But the fact you could see old cannons, stand inside of former dungeons and explore what were once secret passageways, appealed to my curious and exploratory nature.
The place was in ruins. A shadow of what it once was. It’s only real purpose now was to bring in revenue as a tourist attraction.
As I followed the cobblestone path through the fort I couldn’t help but wonder about the men who once inhabited it. No doubt, many gave their lives on the ground I was standing on. What were their hopes and dreams? Did the victory they were fighting for ever come? If they could see how things turned out today, would they have considered the fight (and the cost) worth it?
Sometimes life leaves us in ruins. Somewhere along the way things don’t work out quite like we planned and we find ourselves mere shadows of what we once hoped to be. Sin, regrets, lost opportunities and many other things all combine to make us feel as if we never became who we were really meant to be.
Recently, I was looking through old photos and I came across a few from my day at El Morro. My favorite is a shot of my husband and I wearing smiles stretched across our faces while the fort stands tall, and the ocean glistens, in the background.
The thing that strikes me about the photo is the brightness of my smile. We vacationed in Puerto Rico during a very difficult and dark season in my life. Yet, there I was standing atop a pile of ruins—somebody else’s dashed hopes and dreams—and I’m smiling.
It made me wonder if the art of learning to smile when we’re standing atop our own pile of ruins can be learned. Is it possible to know joy even when happiness is elusive? Can a person still find an uncommon sense of contentment in the shadows of what she once hoped life would be?
Looking back, I think that’s exactly what I was learning to do during the time that photo was taken. While walking through the ruins of El Morro I was also walking through the graveyard of some of my own dreams.
It was there that I learned what Asaph was talking about when he penned these words:
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God
is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
If today is part of a season of grieving for you, if your dreams are in shambles, know this: God will be your strength when you have no strength. Even when you have nothing else to cling to, He will prove to be enough.
Let the ruins in your life become a beautiful memorial to the victory God wants to give you today.
I grew up near a duck pond.
On Saturday afternoons my dad and I would scour the grass for any un-hatched (and unattended) eggs and collect them. We had a custom built incubator at home, and in my eight-year-old mind I saw visions of ducklings dancing around my bedroom as fluffy new pets.
Every time we came across eggs, my dream was reborn in my heart. I would carefully handle the eggs, gently place them in a shoebox and squeal with excitement the entire way home. As soon as my dad placed them in the incubator I would perch myself in a chair nearby as I stared at the eggs willing them to hatch right before my eyes.
The problem was, none of my eggs ever hatched. We even took a few eggs (and our incubator) to some sort of scientific duck hatching specialist to see what the problem was. He assessed that the eggs we came across could have been unfertilized or underdeveloped.
All I understood was that I wasn’t getting pet ducklings. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. Visiting the duck pond was never much fun after that.
For years I forgot all about my childhood visits to the duck pond, and my accompanying dream of owning ducks. But recently, as I was venting some frustrations in my journal I wrote these words without thinking:
Sometimes I feel like I’m staring at God like He’s an egg in an incubator and I’m waiting for Him to hatch…
To keep reading click over to She Seeks.
That’s my one word for 2011. As in:
The list could go on but you get the point. Some of you may think I’m letting myself off easy because a word like be doesn’t require me to actually do anything. That’s exactly the point. I’m a Type A personality—a doer by nature. All of my life I’ve struggled with my tendency to base my worth on what I do.
At the end of last year as I wrote in my journal and prayed about what 2011 would hold, I felt like the Lord showed me He wanted me to focus on who I am and not on what I do. The areas He wants me to be mindful of this year pertain more to who I am and less on what I can produce.
2011 will be about receiving and not about achieving. For me, it’s going to be a year of surrender. Laying it all down like this is probably one of the riskiest things I’ve ever done. I like to be in control and there’s nothing further from control than a posture of surrender. Control demands holding on tight, and in this season God is asking me to fully let go.
In the final week of last year God began to show me that there are seasons of reaping and seasons of sowing. This is a season of sowing. Far less glamorous, and often devoid of results, seasons of sowing are sometimes difficult and thankless but absolutely vital to yielding a healthy gain in the future.
If I fail to embrace the season of sowing not only will I miss the rich lessons it holds, but I will also reap very little in seasons to come. You cannot reap what you have not sown.
Ecclesiastes 3:2 says there is a time to plant and a time to harvest.
2011 is to be a planting year. May my roots grow deep in rich soil so one day I will yield a plentiful harvest.
Receiving not achieving.
Learning to just be.
What’s your one word for 2011?
I spent the last week of 2010 cleaning out my clutter.
There was a lot of journaling and praying and fervently flipping through Scripture to find certain verses.
At the end of it all I felt like my soul had finally exhaled after a year of holding my breath. The truth is I felt like I spent much of 2010 under water. No matter how hard I worked, or how focused I was, I constantly felt behind. It was like I was swimming in a race but I kept sinking despite my best efforts. Instead of getting ahead I could barely catch my breath.
By the time December got here I was exhausted. Usually I spend the last week of the year praying, planning and charting as I set my goals and resolutions for the year ahead. This year when I sat down for my annual date, I starred at the empty pages before me for what seemed like hours.
You see, 2011 isn’t just any year for me. I’m having a birthday in less than two weeks—a birthday that ends in a 9. It’s the last year for me to accomplish everything I wanted to achieve in the pivotal decade that has been my twenties. Crossing those last few things off my list would be feasible, but it would also be all consuming.
Internally I began to experience a tug of war.
Did I really want to exhaust myself in an attempt to achieve everything I set out to do when I was 20 or did I want to reexamine who I’ve become in the nine years since and see if different dreams and plans might be worth pursuing?
In a move that was somewhat surprising—even to me—I chose to let my list go. I mentally walked myself back in time and reacquainted myself with 20-year-old Shannon. She dreamed big. With a promising decade spread before her she cast her net wide. In nine years she was able to do almost everything she set out to do—and plenty of things she never imagined in her wildest dreams.
But the thing that struck me about her was how different she is from who I am now. I’ve lived a lot of life in that time and I’ve experienced devastating heartbreaks and thrilling victories that couldn’t have been foreseen at the threshold of my twenties. I’m still dreaming big and casting my net wide, but the things I want have changed.
Letting go of the initial blueprint I set for myself at the age of 20 isn’t failing. It’s growing.
I’m releasing old dreams so I can embrace new ones. My focus is now on being and not so much on doing. I’m more concerned with receiving God’s dreams for me than I am with telling Him about my dreams for 2011. For the first time in almost a decade I feel free.
I can’t think of a better way to start the New Year.
I’m over at She Seeks today vlogging about one way I keep Christ in the center of my thoughts at Christmas. Pop on over there and check it out. Make sure to leave me a comment so I know you stopped by
Like most of you, I’m busy taking care of last minute Christmas preparations today. Cooking, baking, cleaning–and enjoying the last few moments of this special season before it slips away.
My mind always drifts to Mary at Christmas. Perhaps it’s because I wrote a book about her once. But I’ve always been intrigued by the faith she demonstrated in Luke 1:38 when her response to Gabriel was “May it be according to me as you have said.”
If I were her, I honestly think my response would have been something like, “Wait. What?” Because I know her story so well I think I often overlook how absurd it must have sounded to her the first time. I neglect to wonder about what her friends and family must have thought. Were they angry? Ashamed? Was she shunned for her willingness to obey?
This year there is a great video circulating that really gets you thinking about what it might have been like to be Mary or Joseph during that first Christmas. Obviously, it’s not exactly accurate. There was no Facebook back then–and we don’t know how their friends responded.
But I love the questions this video raises. Do yourself a favor–especially if you know the Christmas story well. Stop and take four minutes to gain a fresh perspective. Once the video is over, pull out your Bible and read the biblical account in Matthew or Luke.
Before the final rush of Christmas gets here, stop and remember. Without Christ there is no Christmas.
(If you subscribe to this blog via RSS, you may need to click here to see the video.)
Some years, Christmas isn’t the festive celebration everyone around you seems to be enjoying. In 2005 my sweet grandfather was in the hospital barely clinging to life at Christmas and my family and I were cloaked in grief.
That year we took great comfort in the name for Jesus found in Isaiah 7:14—Immanuel. Jesus truly is God with us. No matter what you are facing this Christmas, He is God with you in the midst of your circumstances.
A friend recently sent me this short video about praising God in seasons where He gives and seasons where He takes away. Grab a tissue. The people featured in this video aren’t actors. They’re real people facing Christmas with either incredible joy or heart wrenching sorrow this year.
I promise, at about 3 minutes long, it’s worth a watch. (If you subscribe to this blog via RSS feed you may need to click here to see the video.)
No, really. I did. But it was sanctioned stealing. The legitimate kind. My pastor was present and everything.
I was at a Christmas party and we played the gift game where everyone draws a number.
Early in the game I eyed a beautiful, sand colored, wrought iron cross. I’ve been looking for such a cross to hang in my bedroom for several months now. But every cross I’ve seen has either been too dark or too expensive. This one was just perfect.
So I stole it. Since I was the second to steal it, the cross became frozen and I didn’t have to try and hide it from my friends with higher numbers. A lot of people were eyeing it, so I consider myself blessed to go home with it.
The interesting thing about it was the rules stated that nobody was allowed to buy something new to bring to the party. We all had to bring a gift we no longer had a use for that somebody else would like to receive.
My treasure was somebody else’s clutter. While I had the perfect spot for the cross, somebody else at that party no longer had a place for it. As far as I was concerned, this gift was worth far more than the typical Starbucks card or candle I would have won if we’d been playing with new items.
Driving home I started thinking about the concept of what happens when we give what we can. Many times we overlook opportunities to give and bless others because we don’t realize we’ve already been equipped with the very thing they need.
A few weeks ago I was having a pity party about the fact I didn’t sign any new book contracts this year. Despite my best efforts, nothing materialized. As I complained to the Lord about not being able to share my gift of words with people this year I sensed Him speak to me.
Give what you already have.
What I already had was too many copies of God Called a Girl sitting in a box in my garage. Somewhere along the line, I wound up with far more copies of that book than any of my other titles.
So, I took a box full to the weekly Bible study I teach and gave a copy to each woman as my Christmas gift to her. At first I felt a little silly about it because it’s a teen girl book and I teach grown women.
But I decided to give what I had. I was surprised as women came up to me in excitement that night asking if I would sign copies for their daughters, granddaughters, nieces and babysitters.
So many of them exclaimed, “This is the perfect gift I’ve been searching for!”
They felt much like I did driving home from the Christmas party Sunday night: blessed because somebody else gave what she had.
This Christmas you might not be able to give as much as you’d like to. Some of your gifts might be creative or homemade. You may even find yourself avoiding certain people just so you won’t have to exchange gifts with one more person you can’t afford to buy for.
May I suggest an alternative to the stress and strain that comes with overspending or under-giving this Christmas season? Give what you have.
Your time might be just what somebody else needs this year. Or you might possess a skill that would really bless somebody else. Like me (and the former owner of the wall cross) you might even have something laying around your house that you no longer have a use for that would be a real treasure to one of your friends.
No gift is too small if it comes from the heart. Give what you can this Christmas.
To somebody it might mean more than you could dare to think.
I don’t review products or books on my blog very often, but occasionally I come across something I can’t help but share. That’s exactly how I feel about these two books. Since Christmas is right around the corner I thought I’d mention them now so you can purchase a few copies as gifts or put one on your own wish list.
I purchased two copies of this book while I was at She Speaks this year—one for me and one for my fashion savvy friend Alicia. This book is the Christian woman’s pocket guide to all things fashion related. Shari starts by helping you identify your body type and color palette and then teaches you to embrace (and build) your own style from there. She covers everything from how to find a flattering pair of jeans and accessorize any outfit correctly to the right makeup colors and hairstyles for your skin tone and face shape.
A few weeks ago I started following her advice and I’ve received more compliments, felt more put together and have even learned to embrace parts of my body I used to hate.
On Thanksgiving all of my female relatives and I were pouring over these pages marveling at how simple some of the fixes were to fashion disasters we’d experienced.
My copy is all marked up and will be coming with me on my next trip to the mall.
This book is a fun tool for the junior fashionista on your shopping list. Aimed at girls 8-12, Sherry fills this book with fun tips on both inner and outer beauty.
Each chapter also includes a craft for girls to make—glitter nail polish, a jute belt, a headband, etc…
Filled with fun quizzes, this book will instill confidence in any girl who wants to feel beautiful. Sherry fills this book with great ways for girls to build their inner beauty so their outer beauty can shine.
I gave a copy to my 10-year-old niece and the first words out of her mouth as she flipped through it were, “Wow! I love stuff like this.
Filled with Bible verses and plenty of conversation starters, this would be a great book for moms and daughters (or big sisters and little sisters) to go through together.
**Both books emphasize the fact that true beauty comes from the inside out, but also teach girls and women how to be modest, fashionable and confident in who God made them. I highly recommend both books as Christmas gifts–or for yourself.