Lent + 7 Resources to Draw You Closer to Jesus


    It’s so crazy how time seems to fly the older you get. One day, you feel like you have WEEKS until the next “big thing”. Fast forward for what feels like 10 seconds and it’s a few big events later. We just celebrated another round of birthdays in my family yesterday. Wednesday kicks off Valentine’s Day and Lent. That’s a crazy juxtaposition of holidays isn’t it?

    I already talked about Valentine’s Day last week, so let’s a take a look at Lent! For the past week or so, I feel like I’ve taken a deep dive into Lent looking at the origins of how this came to be a thing, what it is culturally now, and what it really is for those who are practicing it. I didn’t grow up in a church that I feel like placed a huge emphasis on Lent. I didn’t even know what is was until high school! At that point, I just thought it was something you did, but I had no idea what the deeper, heart of the meaning behind it was. Since then, I’ve learned a lot.

    What Lent Is

    Lent is a season in the church calendar that lasts from Ash Wednesday until Easter. It’s roughly 7 weeks long. During this time, Christians choose to abstain from something to refocus themselves on God and/or to more deeply understand the sacrifice that Jesus suffered on the cross. Sometimes, a person chooses a spiritual discipline to be added on in that season instead of giving something up for Lent. Neither option is better than the other. The entire season is meant to draw you into a more intimate relational experience with our Creator. It is to remind you that Jesus is better.

    What’s the purpose of giving something up? It’s in that act of self-denial that we can begin to identify with what a sacrifice it was for Jesus to die for our sins. For us, it may just look like an uneaten cookie, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s us saying that we can deny ourselves something good for something better – Jesus.

    Maybe you aren’t feeling that something is a distraction to you that’s hindering your relationship with God. That’s awesome! It’s also the reason some people end up adding a spiritual discipline on instead. They’d be using the 7 weeks to draw closer to God in a way that they normally wouldn’t – by keeping a journal, memorizing scripture, praying while driving instead of listening to music, etc.

    What Lent Isn’t

    It’s not a holiness competition. It’s not a time to rub it into someone’s face that you’ll be reading the entire Bible every 2 days and fasting anything but liquid for the full time. It’s a time to withdraw from the things that get in the way of us following Jesus daily. There’s so many distractions that insert themselves like a wall into our lives between us and God – social media, Netflix, spiritual laziness, sometimes even relationships. Other times, it may even be doing yet another thing at the church in His name rather than resting in Him. I know I’ve been guilty of that more than once!

    Here’s the thing, y’all. The church loves us some Lent. Why? It’s so fun to boast and say that we’ve been fasting sugar for 3 days and already lost 5 pounds. We love love love sounding holy. Honestly, I’d love to give up sugar and have those kind of results! It’s not about that at all. If you’re giving up actively sinning, something you don’t even participate in or something with the wrong motive at heart, it’s better to just not do it. Lent is not the Christian Diet Plan. It’s a dedicated season and invitation to pursue Jesus harder than ever before.

    Do I have to do Lent? It’s still feeling a little weird to me. Of course not! Some years, I don’t participate. That’s completely okay. Lent starts tomorrow and although, I’m doing a Lent study, I’m on the fence at what this season will look like. At the end of the day, it’s a season meant to draw you closer to Jesus in a way that you may not be during the other weeks of the year. That doesn’t mean that you have to do it. If you’re chugging along and don’t feel you need to step aside and for the next 7 weeks focus on giving something up or adding something on, don’t. This is your relationship with God. Do what’s best for it.

    Resources I LOVE For Lent (+ Really Any Time!)

    Sacred Holidays
    I absolutely love the Sacred Holidays Team and what they put out. The motto they have of Less Chaos, More Jesus just draws me in. I typically follow along on their instagram @sacredholidays with what is going on. This year, they’re studying the book of John in their He Is Alive study, but they’ve studied a ton of different things over the past few years. They focus specifically on holiday times – Advent and Lent to change the focus of our culture from consumerism and our busyness to resting in Jesus. They do have options for printed studies, but offer digital downloads as well. Part of the proceeds from each study, provides studies for women in prison.

    Annie Downs Podcast Episodes on Lent

    When I first started thinking about Lent, it was thanks in part to this podcast and Annie’s Rhythms series. Since then, I’ve listened to both of her podcasts with the She Reads Truth team which you can hear here and here several times each. They delve deeply into all the topics surrounding Lent and the beauty of what this season can be in your life. I think whether you’re doing Lent or not, they’re worth a listen to gain a better foundational understanding of this church season.

    Exodus with She Reads Truth (+ Men Read Truth + Kids Read Truth)

    If you listen to either of the That Sounds Fun podcasts above, you’ll probably get excited about what they’re doing. I know I did which is why I decided to join them doing Exodus this year. I’m pretty excited, because even though they do have printed options with their studies, you can receive them via email or just read online too. I like the ease of that honestly. I’m also really intrigued by going back into Exodus during this season. I feel like I’ve always focused on the gospels during Lent, and I’m excited about switching up my reading. Join with me to do the 2018 Lent Study, and let me know in the comments that we’ll be studying together!


    Journaling is something that I wish I was better at. I love having the record of things, but the act of writing it out for me gets hard. I love the idea of setting aside Lent to journal your prayers in full and write out the things you’re thankful for. There’s so many different kinds of journals to choose from. I am loving this one, because you can bet that I’m thanking God for coffee pretty much every day. This one is also so stinking cute! The company that makes the journals like the striped watercolor one to the left also make journals that are specific to bullet journaling. I think that could be a unique way to write down our prayers and goals and dedicate them to the Lord.

    Hearing the Word Read Aloud

    Do you have the Bible app? You’re practically halfway there to this one already. The Youversion Bible App has an option that you can have it read aloud to you. This is a game changer. I read the entire book of Hebrews last week while getting ready to leave my house. That’s insane. It reads until you tell it to stop, but it’s a great way to read and get an overall feel for a book that you’re studying more deeply. It’s also a great way to read on the go. (They even have a kids version of the app that’s super fun!)

    The Read Scripture App

    This is another Bible Reading App. Why? You’ve got the Bible app. Why do we need yet another one? This one is so cool! I love how it weaves scripture in with the Bible Project videos. It doesn’t have the plans, different translations, or audio that the other one does, but I love the fact that all of that isn’t there. It’s a simpler way to read, track your reading and engage with God’s words from your device. It does have it split into thematics so that you can delve into a book or delve into a topic like Holiness or Heaven and Earth.

    Christ-Centered Commentaries

    I put the John commentary here just in case the Sacred Holidays study piqued your interest. I’m currently using the Galatians one though, and I love it. This commentary points directly to Jesus and shows you where he is. That may be super easy in John, because it’s evident that Jesus is there. It gets a lot trickier in the Old Testament to see him as clearly, which is one reason I love them. They also go super in depth but are still pretty brief, which makes them way less intimidating than some commentaries! (They do have one on Exodus if you want to jump on the She Reads Truth study with me!)

    Happy Lent + Happy Drawing Closer to Jesus!

    12 Cheap Non-Cheesy Date Night Ideas

    So far, 2018 has been a bit weird over here for us. We’re struggling to find a rhythm that isn’t driving us into the ground. We’re both crashed on the couch right now and our dogs are on their 3rd or 4th nap of the day. It’s hard to believe that Valentine’s Day is a little over a week away. I have no idea what we’ll be doing. As we’re striving for a rhythm of of intentionality, rest and Sabbath and still being able to be true to our commitments and who Jesus has called us to be, date nights haven’t been top of the list on my mind.

    With the hustle and bustle, date nights seem to get lost in the mix under nights out with family and friends, grocery store trips and differing work schedules. Every now and then, I hit up the internet for some date ideas. It’s such a struggle though. The good date ideas are expensive. Most of the date night ideas are cheesy or just not simple to pull off for tired adults at the end of the week. Since we don’t have the money to throw down on expensive date nights every week, I’ve gathered a few of my favorite ones together here to help you jump start your ideas. We love easy date nights that can be pulled off no matter what schedule you’re having to work with. Here’s some cheap, non-cheesy date ideas we love!

    At Home Date Night Ideas

    Wine + Cheese Night at Home
    This sounds like it’d be crazy elaborate and expensive. It’s totally up to you on how crazy you’d want to get, so you could splurge for expensive wine and all artesian cheeses, but you don’t have to. We usually buy table wine and then get a few of the blocks of cheese in the main cheese section, a pre-made cracker kit – they’re cheaper at our local store and a perfect amount for just us two. Every now and then we may throw in an artesian cheese or two to just try different flavors and keep it interesting. You can also pair deli meats like salami and fruits like grapes or apples to make it more of a meal.

    Cook Something Together
    We don’t do this one super often, because Rick is 100% the chef in this house, while I am the baker. We do love checking out recipes and trying new ones. If it ends up being a keeper, Rick usually puts his chef spins on it later. If you’re looking for some fun new ones, try perusing through the food boards on my Pinterest to get you started. We have a few Favorite Recipes we just started.

    S’mores Night
    This is a relatively simple idea for a dessert date night. We have done it in our fire pit, our fireplace, and even with the burners on our stove. Mix it up! Get some fruit, some different chocolates and even some flavored marshmallows. If you haven’t tried a Reese’s on a s’more, I highly recommend getting a King-sized on your next s’more making night. It’s one of my favorite upgrades to the classic s’mores treat.

    Anywhere Date Night Ideas

    Couples Resources
    A few weeks ago, I talked about how I was trying to start my 2018 off well. Part of that included Rick and I sitting down and really talking through this Dream Guide together. We went out for dinner at a cute little local Vietnamese place and filled it out separately before discussing it. I loved hearing all our dreams and expectations for this year. There’s a ton of other resources that get you talking including this book we loved going through while dating and throughout our engagement, as well as various conversation starter cards like these.

    Read a Book Together
    This is one that we’ve been doing since last summer. It’s super easy. We take turns reading to each other. We’ll sit out in our back yard, read and discuss. We’ve also found that this is a great one to make a road trip seem more like a date. Some of our favorites that we’ve read and talked about together are: A Fierce Love and The Turquoise Table. We’re currently reading The Road Back to You.

    Coffee or Milk Tea + A Bookstore
    This is a pretty cheap date night for us, provided we don’t get sucked into buying books. It’s super simple too. We’ll eat something at home to save money and then go get to-go coffees or milk teas before wandering around a bookstore. Our cost is typically under $10 and our favorite book store to frequent on these dates is Half-Price Books. We have different interests and typically read different genres, so it’s interesting to see what the other picks up and what conversations spring forward as we walk around and peruse.

    Same Page
    This isn’t exactly the most romantic of ideas, so I’d skip it if you’re celebrating something big. This is a time when we literally sync our calendars. It’s definitely not the sexiest of date nights. I love it though, because we use it to intentionally discuss what’s coming up and how we can walk alongside our people in the next coming weeks or months. This mini date night helps us to not feel like we’re ships-passing-in-the-night, and it also helps us to not overcommit or over-schedule ourselves.

    Game Nights
    Did you know I absolutely love board games? Just kidding! If you’ve been around here, you know that I frequently talk about how much I love board games on the my What I’m Loving posts. It’s a simple low-tech way to connect in a competitive manner. Our current favorites that can all be played with just 2 people are Settlers of Catan, Skip-Bo, Bold, and Ticket to Ride, especially with the 1910 Expansion Pack. We’re also digging this lawn game and can’t wait for it to warm up so that we can play again. You can also play games at a tea house or a cafe like we do with our Coffee or Milk Tea + A Bookstore dates.

    Out of the House Date Night Ideas

    Yes, really! This is ironically one of my favorite date nights. It gets us completely out of our routine of dinner dates. We get to walk through and dream together. We peruse the dollar section, read funny greeting cards to each other, walk the aisles dreaming about the ‘somedays’ of home renovation and children, and of course get lost in the kids toy section, because Legos are so much cooler today than when we were kids. It’s a quirky date night, and it allows us to pick up a few things at the end if you need something at home.

    We have a beltway by our house that we love to go hike with our dogs. This is one of those that is so doable, especially depending on your time. It takes roughly 30 minutes to walk our beltway. That gives us 30 minutes to talk, listen to and discuss a podcast together, and generally catch up. It’s a break for us from ‘city life’ and we get to tire out our dogs at the same time. Real trails or simply a walk around a local park is super fun too.

    Local High School + College Events
    We recently went to a high school choir concert where a lot of favorite songs from our middle school and high school years were showcased. The students were really good, plus we enjoyed living the past a little through the music. Tickets to these events are pretty cheap, and it goes towards helping fund arts education for the schools. As art and music lovers, we love being able to support that. Check out local football games in the fall for a throwback Friday night lights feel. Also, there’s some good high school musicals, especially depending on where you live. Houston’s got some great ones!

    Mural Hopping
    This is best for a day date, but we’ve loved it. We had the best time doing this as part of our Austin vacation last year. It is super adaptable in any area that has a bunch of local artists that have painted murals. You drive around, discover new places and get to see some incredible artwork along the way. Don’t forget to take a selfie at every stop!

    What do you have planned for your next date night?

    If You Only Knew

    If you only knew the real me, you wouldn’t associate me. If you only knew what had happened in my past, you may forgive me, but you would not allow me in your life. These shameful statements that far too often ring true in our own minds. They aren’t true though. We’ve all been through something that we’re not that proud of, something we’d rather not share.

    I know I have those things in my life, in my story. A few of those close to me know them, but as for the whole world knowing them? I’m not there yet. I’m so thankful that there are women ahead of me forging that path for those of us who aren’t quite ready yet. Jamie Ivey is one of those women.

    The Girl Behind The Book + Why I Love Her

    Jamie Ivey is a podcaster who celebrates and champions other women well on her podcast, The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey. She showcases amazing women on her podcast as they both invite the listener into their conversation. It seriously lives up to its name as it feels like you’re sitting there in that conversation and can chime in at any moment. It’s hands-down my favorite podcast.

    One of the things that I really appreciate and love about Jamie, is her “we’re all in this together” approach to life and her willingness to share her heart, even the parts that may not be so pretty. That’s exactly what she’s done in her first book, If You Only Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free as she takes her readers along for a journey throughout her life. Jamie’s approachable, conversational style makes you feel like you’re sitting in a chair with coffee next to her or literally walking alongside her in her story. That comfy coffee shop chair is the perfect spot to curl up and hear her story.

    It takes a lot of vulnerability to share first. That’s what us 90’s kids call, ‘guts’ – and boy does Jamie have them! She shares some TOUGH stuff that she’s been through – struggles, trials, temptations. As Jamie’s most painful life moments unfold and she shares a lot of where shame has eaten at her and stolen her freedom, she unravels her story to shine a light on God in the midst of everything. She repeatedly states, Jesus is better. That’s because He is. The freedom He gives us is so much better than our sin and shame that we so readily hold onto.

    “Being vulnerable with someone says to them that you value them, that you welcome them into your life. All the parts. The good, the bad, and the ugly.” This is what she has done, and I am so thankful she has opened up her heart and her life to begin a revolution of vulnerability.

    Sharing My ‘If You Only Knew’ Story

    While reading, it was all too easy to see my own story in the midst of the pages. As Jamie struggled, failed, and succeeded, I could see my own story flashing around my mind. I wish I was in a place where I felt like I could be that brave. Currently though, I’m still learning how to forgive myself. I jumped at the chance to be on the launch team mainly, because I love Jamie. I don’t even really know if I knew what her book was about. If I did, I would have gladly given up my spot on the team.

    Like I said above, forgiveness is a tough topic for me. I’m not quite so sure I was ready to start reading about it and having to stare face to face with my own past. Honestly, staring at someone else’s story and forgiving them for their shortcomings along the way is so much easier than looking at my own failures and saying that I forgive myself for them. The beautiful thing that Jamie brings to this idea of forgiveness is that it’s not up to me. It never was.

    But if you’d turn your head to look at your story just a little bit differently, you’d see it’s actually the record of a faithful God, willing His unwilling child to return to Him, loving you through all your unloveliness. His pursuit of you is simply unavoidable. And His desire is to set you free by His power to forgive, to put you to great use for Him.”

    Jesus died on the cross for those sins already. God has long forgiven me and called me his precious daughter, fully knowing what I’ve done and will do in the future. The forgiveness may not be up to me, but I do need time to look closely at parts of my own story that are rising to the surface. Honestly, I’m still processing some of them like they happened yesterday even though they may have happened years before. And that is okay. We’re not all ready to thrust our own stories out into the whole world just yet.

    In time, I hope to share my own ‘if you only knew’ with the whole world. I hope you will too. In the meantime, start small. Share your story with someone close to you. Allow them to hold some of that pain and burden for you. “When we hide the mess we’ve been through, we also hide the redemption that God has lavishly poured on us. We can’t proclaim His grace until we expose our mess.” Expose your mess.

    Thank you, Jamie, for paving that way for myself and for others to both face our stories and find the freedom to tell our own stories. For anyone struggling with feelings of regret, shame and feeling unforgivable – even by God, Jamie’s story will have you saying “me too” and “yes, I am forgiven.” I know this, because it has done that for me.

    Jesus is better.
    You may realize that I’m posting on a Monday. I never do that, but it’s the last day to preorder Jamie’s book. I wanted to give y’all the opportunity to do that, and you can order it here. If you order today, go here to redeem a preorder code for a chance to win fun prizes from Jamie herself.


    2018 Reading List

    Last year, I made a reading list that was a bit too much to say the least. It was well-intentioned with some amazing books, but the scope of adding so many books to an initial list greatly hindered my reading. In light of that, I’ve created a 2018 Reading List with new parameters. I’ve chosen 10 areas of life that I want to grow in by reading something this year and picked just one book on that subject. It’s reading with an intentional twist.

    My hope is that these are not the only books that I’ll be reading this year but the ones that I want to ensure I focus on getting all the way through this year. I’ll be reading other things along the way that I’d love to share with you. Follow along with my reading with the hashtag #karlenreads on instagram.

    Intentional Reading on Prayer

    Discerning the Voice of God by Priscilla Shirer
    For months, I’ve been reflecting on prayer. You can read a little more about that here along with a challenge that I’m doing this year centered around prayer. Priscilla Shirer is a woman on fire for God and regularly speaks on prayer. It only seems right to turn to her to learn more about this subject. This book has come long recommended to me, and I’m excited to finally jump in – especially because I have a friend diving in with me.

     Intentional Reading on Sabbath

    Rhythms of Rest by Shelly Miller
    Sabbath is something that I’ve always wrestled with. In November, God really started working with me in this area again at a conference I attended. In the midst of the conference, I texted my Accountability Group about sabbath and the session I had just been sitting in. One of the girls, immediately responded with a photo of a page from this book. She later talked about it as one of the things she’s reading and loving at our next hang out. She has absolutely loved what she’s learning and from the bit she’s told me, this needs to be on anyone’s list who currently isn’t taking a sabbath or struggles with even the thought of taking a sabbath.

    Intentional Reading on Bible Study

    Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin
    I discovered Jen Wilkin last Fall when a friend of mine and I picked up one of her studies. We weren’t able to get far in it with other commitments that kept coming in our way of meeting, but it was evident that Jen has a knack for studying the Bible with an insight that I’ve never felt like I have had on my own. I was delighted to find this book where she writes how to study the Bible comprehensively with purpose, patience, perspective, process and prayer straight from scripture. I love the vast amount of resources we have to Bible Studies, but it won’t ever beat studying the scripture itself. I’m excited to dive in and see a new side to studying the word of God itself.

    Intentional Reading on Simplicity

    A Simplified Life by Emily Ley
    This girl has long been the source for me trying to intentionally simplify my life. I love her stance on clearing the clutter, embracing daily life and making rhythms that work for you. Her newest book walks you through 10 key areas of life to try to revolutionize that area to be intentional, simple and practical for your own life with examples from how she’s worked it into her own life. The journey to living a simple life is not an easy one, and I’m so thankful for the work of those who have gone before me in this area. Here’s to creating rhythms that work for me this year!

    Intentional Reading on Marriage

    You And Me Forever by Francis + Lisa Chan
    I got this book when Rick and I were dating. Honestly, I’ve never opened it. There was something about it that I guess didn’t jive with me immediately. I heard Francis and Lisa Chan talk about their marriage at a conference session I attended last fall. After listening to the way they talked about God and about their own marriage, it spiked my interest to look into reading this again. Since it’s a marriage book, Rick and I will be reading it together.

    Intentional Reading on Relationships

    Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
    Full disclosure, I’ve read half of this book and watched the videos. Why in the world would it wind up on my list? I want to actually read this and invest time in it. I have the workbook that goes along with it. I’m ready to explore it more, especially as it relates to my life and not just as something I read, resonated with and forgot about a few years ago, but as something I’ve read, resonated with and applied to my life.

    Intentional Reading on Photography

    The Ultimate Field Guide to Photography from National Geographic
    This is the only read that I’ve got a deadline on. I’ve got to return the book to its owner when she comes to visit in April. Y’all, sharing books across states is so hard! I’m excited for the deadline though because it will help me with the discipline I need to read this and read it quickly. I love the fact that this guide covers a bit of photography history along with practical tips to grow in my craft. One thing that I’m looking forward to is seeing how they recommend to organize photos in my continual quest to declutter and simplify my life.

    Intentional Reading on Blogging

    Blog, Inc by Joy Cho

    Joy Cho is a whimsical, colorful blogger. Her book graces a ton of ‘must-read blogging book’ lists, so it piqued my interest. The other thing is that it’s a blogger that I recognize. She’s got the cutest stuff featured at Target, plus her signature style is both fun and inviting. I wanted to get more intentional about blogging this year, so this seems like the perfect place to turn for a first read on blogging. Plus, it’s at my local library. Score!

    Intentional Reading on Speaking

    Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley

    If you haven’t listened to some of Andy Stanley’s sermons, you should go listen. He has an amazing way of communicating the gospel. I’ve read a good portion of this before, but I gave my book away in the middle of reading and never got back to it. I want to finish reading it and see how I can be communicating more effectively. From what I remember, the book was set up in a very unique way of going about the subject starting with a story and then breaking down communication tips.

    Intentional Reading on Youth Ministry

    Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry by Doug Fields

    Most people are surprised to find out that I haven’t read this book. I’ve read Doug Fields work in several different ways throughout the years, but I’ve never read this book. It’s a cult-favorite of youth ministers everywhere. I figured now is the time to pick it up and read through. From thumbing through it, it covers a multitude of subjects covering both the ministry as well as how to continue to lead well throughout your ministry.

    The Prayer That’s Going to Change My 2018 + How You Can Have One Too

    You know how some things just stay with you no matter how hard you try to shake them off? For me, that’s a single prayer that I read back in August. Honestly, I have no idea what the prayer said, but it’s very existence rocked me to my core.

    I read this prayer in Kill the Spider. Yes, that’s Carlos Whittaker’s book. Yes, I’ll eventually stop talking about it but I currently can’t because it’s revolutionizing so many things in my life. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I highly recommend you get this book and read it. Okay, back to the prayer….

    This prayer was insane. It’s about 10 pages long which isn’t even the craziest part to me. The Whittaker’s have intentionally crafted this prayer so specifically that it amazes me. What really got to me though is that they pray it every day. Every single day. The amount of intentionality behind the idea of praying a single, focused prayer every day made me start thinking about the intentionality of prayer in a way that I never had before.

    Anyone else struggle with prayer? I definitely do. It’s easy to pray a quick prayer in desperate times like when I’m hoping that my dog hasn’t relieved herself in the house while I’m out. When it’s something serious, it’s easy to talk to God. When everything is “good” or when I’m not feeling anxious or stressed out about something, I lack any words to really say to God.

    Since I’m not really sure what to talk about with God on those days, I tend to not take prayer as seriously as I should. It’s not that I don’t want to, I just don’t always know where to begin. Mulling over the intentionality of the Whittaker’s prayer, I started to think about what my life would look like if I did that. If I prayed to God the same exact thing every day, what would I say? On January 31, 2018, what would my life look like if I fully and intentionally gave Him my hopes and dreams for this year?

    Will you join me this year in praying intentionally?

    I created this Prayer Worksheet as I began processing through and writing my own prayer. I hope you find this Prayer Worksheet to be helpful as you begin to pray over your year.


    My 2018 Word of the Year + How I’m Starting My Year Well

    There’s something about January that brings a crispness in the air, and that’s not just because it’s cold and windy. There’s a desire to begin anew with a fresh start and a clean slate for the new year. This year, I want to start my year well. I want to have a picture-perfect Pinterest life. I’m sort of kidding about that picture-perfect Pinterest life with a healthy homemade diet, a perfectly decorated home and an incredibly healthy lifestyle where all of the sudden I’m able to run marathons. That’s not who I am though, and although it’s nice, it’s not what I want for 2018. I do want to invest in some key areas of my life over the course of the next year though.

    My 2018 Word of the Year

    Resolutions seem to die within a few days, so a few years ago, I stopped making resolutions. Instead, I decided that I’d jump on the Word of the Year bandwagon. I went back to the very beginning of last year and started sifting through posts, but I must have never told y’all my 2017 Word of the Year which is crazy as it completely drove everything I’ve done for the past year. What word would that have been? I chose the word ‘Intentional’. That word seeped into my life in ways that I couldn’t have imagined at this point last January. I’ve felt for the past few months that I’m not ready to give up on the word ‘Intentional’ just yet, but that I want to dig ‘Deeper’ into being intentional. This year, I’ve chosen to keep ‘Intentional’ and add ‘Deeper’.

    Intentional + Deeper
    I want to dig deeper into being intentional in my relationship with God, in my marriage, in my relationships, in my media intake, in decluttering and simplifying my life and in so many more ways. As much as I wanted to scrap ‘Intentional’ a few short months ago when things continued to be hard with that word, I’m so excited to see what is in store.

    Are you a Word of the Year person? Have you chosen a word yet? If so, which word did you choose?

    Resources I’m Using to Start My Year Well

    Part of being intentional and digging deeper into that, I’ve decided to start this year with several different things. It’s tough to be intentional without some sort of plan. I started last year that way, and it went okay. I feel like I learned a lot and became more intentional in certain ways. To start off this year, I feel like I need to start with stating some intentionality in different areas of my life before fully diving into the year. It’s a lot for just a day, so I’ll be taking the whole month of January to really look at this year and decide what I want from it at the end of next December. These are the tools I’m using to help start my year well.

    Making a Yearly Prayer

    I’ve been thinking about the idea of doing an intentional prayer for 2018 for some time now. A prayer that I can lift up to God as worship and thanksgiving and pour my heart out about my hopes, desires, fears for 2018 as well as my current failures and shortcomings. I’ll be sharing more about how I’m doing this with y’all next week.

    Media Clean Out

    I feel over-saturated with media lately, especially when it comes to options. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been deleting my list on Netflix list like crazy. I’ve been asking some key questions like: Would I watch this right now? Is this still on my list just because I feel like I need to watch it? Does this add value to my life? I’ve been clearing out so that I can gain some margin back without falling into the black hole of Netflix. Similarly, I’m cleaning up my Pinterest as I get rid of dead pins, pins that no longer match who I am or my hopes and desires and ones that I know I’ll never reference. I’m hoping to also extend this media clean out to my list of podcasts soon as well as who I follow on social media.

    No Hang Out January

    I’ve decided to not hang out with anyone on weekends in the month of January unless it’s already on my calendar. This leaves open days to evaluate the next year as well as work on some much needed unpacking and organizing around our home. This idea may be the hardest one to stick with when fun stuff comes up, but I think come February I’ll be really thankful for the intentional month of rest and work on our home.

    Creating an Intentional Reading List

    You may remember my 2017 Reading List. Boy, was that an overreaching and unattainable list for someone who hasn’t read in the past couple of years. Out of the 29 books, I read 12 of them. In reality, those numbers are not as bad as they seem, especially since I read books that were off list like Christine Caine’s Undaunted and Carlos Whittaker’s Kill The Spider. I want to go about next year’s Reading List differently though. I’m still deciding on a few reads, although there may be some kept from last year’s list. Stay tuned to see what’s going on my 2018 Reading List and how I’ve decided to choose the books on it. I’ll share my final list in just a few weeks.

    Starting a Devotional with Some Friends

    All of my Accountability Group has acquired Annie Downs’ 100 Days to Bravery: Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self over Christmas this year, so we are diving in together. I love this intentional piece for two reasons. First, I get to do a devotional written by a writer that I absolutely love. Second, I get to do it with three friends who have been walking alongside me for the past year – a group that was brought together in part thanks to words I read of Annie Downs’ years ago that spurred some major life changes and ultimately led me to doing life with these girls.

    Starting a Prayer Journal

    Prayer is something I’ve always wanted to have more self-discipline in, especially when it comes to written prayer requests and praises that I can look back on. A sweet friend got me this prayer journal when I was expressing to her how much I desired to get intentional in this area of my life. Somehow, it always gets pushed away though. When my friend surprised me with The Weekly Prayer Project: A Challenge to Journal, Pray, Reflect, and Connect With God by Scarlet Hiltibidal, she not only surprised me with a gift of one but she got herself one and another friend so that we can have some accountability along the journey. I love how simple this prayer journal is set up as an entry to prayer journaling.

    Emily Ley’s 30 Day Simplicity Challenge

    I love this 30 Day Challenge to jump start decluttering, organizing and cleaning out your home. Emily Ley posts the challenge on her instagram each day ranging from coming up with an easy meal list for stressful weeks to taking a trash bag around your home and liberally chunking things like receipts and other paper build up. Rick and I did this challenge last year. Honestly, it’s probably something I’ll do a few times this year as we unpack and settle into our new home.

    Jennie Allen’s Dream Guide

    This is something new that a friend sent me the other day that I’ve already fallen in love with. It’s Jennie Allen’s 2018 Dream Guide which covers intentionality and goals in 4 areas of your life: spiritual, relational, personal and work. We’re using the Dream Guide for this week’s date night as we work through and discuss our goals, hopes and dreams for this upcoming year.

    What are you doing to kick off the new year with a fresh start?

    15 Books I’m Excited About This Winter (The 2017-2018 Edition) + What God Is Teaching Me About Rest & A Family Update

    Coming in December 2017 + Ready for Preorder (Or Just Released!)

    December 5Little Leaders: Bold Women in History by Vashti Harrsion
    This is technically a children’s book, but it’s so valuable for adults to read as well. It’s pages are filled with 40 true stories of amazing, courageous black women throughout history. There’s some that you’ll recognize their names and accomplishments easily like Sojourner Truth. The book also highlights some lesser-known women as well as their accomplishments.

    December 5Hello Mornings: How to Build a Grace-Filled, Life-Giving Morning Routine by Kat Lee
    A couple of months ago, I listened to a podcast with Kat Lee, and I’ve been a bit intrigued by her ever since. I love her idea of being prepared to wake up for your life instead of just waking up to your life. In her book, Kat Lee discusses the ways that you can build a morning routine and habit that will help you read your Bible, plan adequately and work out. This is a book that I need to read!

    December 8Hand Lettering 201: Intermediate Lettering and Design Basics by Chalkfulloflove
    This is a follow up to Hand Lettering 101. I’ve looked at gorgeous lettering for years wishing that my penmanship could even come close – now it can! I can’t wait to get my hands on these books and practice until I can swirl the letters as gorgeous as a true hand letterer.

    December 12Tasty Latest and Greatest: Everything You Want to Cook Right Now (An Official Tasty Cookbook) by Tasty
    Do you know a college gal!? Here’s a great book to send them back to college with or for a high school senior in preparation for that new life stage. My Facebook feed is filled with Tasty’s little videos with instructions that make not only any recipe easy, but accessible to the cooking-inadequate among us. This is a great tool to grab off your shelf without having to look through hundreds of videos to find what’s for dinner.

    December 26Why You Eat What You Eat: The Science Behind Our Relationship With Food by Rachel Herz PhD
    This is not a normal read for me but something about it launched out at me, and I’ve added it to my list. Rachel studies our relationships to food and other variables like our incessant need to binge watch Netflix shows with pizza in hand, how grocery stores sneak attack things into our carts and why atmosphere matters for our meals.

    Coming in January 2018 + Ready for Preorder

    January 9Stronger than the Struggle: Uncomplicating Your Spiritual Battle by Havilah Cunnington
    “Discern whether we’re dealing with battles within ourselves, resistance from God, or genuine fights with the Devil.” These are the words that leapt out at me on the back of the book. After reading Kill the Spider by Carlos Whittaker earlier this Fall, I’ve had a hunger to study and read more on spiritual warfare. This Biblical study on discerning battles is something I am completely on board with reading about.

    January 9Finding Selah: The Simple Practice of Peace When You Need It Most by Kristen Kill
    Since I’m taking the next few weeks off for rest, it only seems fitting that I’d include on here a book on learning to pause. I love that Kristen walks us through the Psalms and especially those pauses as she invites us to pause and look around us at the moments in our own lives that mirror the Psalms.

    January 16 Love Undocumented: Risking Trust in a Fearful World by Sarah Quezada
    I found Sarah Quezada’s blog awhile back and fell in love. She dances across cultures and between the English and Spanish languages which is totally and completely my heart. In her book, she walks us through the immigration system and discusses what that system needs to look like for Christians and “strangers”. This is one that I can’t wait to read. I’d strongly encourage that while you wait for this one to come out, that you go read Sarah’s blog.

    January 23The Dream of You: Let Go of Broken Identities and Live the Life You Were Made For by Jo Saxton
    Jo is a no-nonsene kind of gal and extremely funny which makes me so excited for her newest release. In her newest book, she delves deeply into a Biblical-view of living for your dreams in spite of what the naysayers say. She shows the Biblical identity of who God has called us to be in relation to our dreams and what that can mean for our future.

    January 30If You Only Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free by Jamie Ivey
    Oh my goodness. I am honored to be a part of the Launch Team for this book! Jamie Ivey is one of my favorites, so I’ve been so excited she is releasing a book for pretty much ever now. I’m a little over half-way through, and I can say that you need to throw this in your Amazon cart today. It’s raw, funny, engaging and so quintessentially Jamie that it feels like you’re sitting with her on The Happy Hour as she tells you all about her life – struggles, joys and the in between.

    Jamie is currently (12.12.17) having a giveaway for any orders placed on her book today. Preorder for Giveaway date is 12.12.17 and runs from 10am-10pm CST. After that the giveaway is closed. 

    Coming in February 2018 + Ready for Preorder

    February 6Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing The Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant To Be by Rachel Hollis
    Anyone up for a BFF slumber party!? That is exactly how I feel about this book as Rachel dishes on her own insecurities, how she’s struggled through them and her obsession about Matt Damon. With each chapter highlighting a different insecurity, it’s easy to crawl into a chapter and see yourself come to light in Rachel’s story.

    February 6The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers
    This story of a successful artist and his new personal assistant weaves together mystery and romance in a way that only a wordsmith like Francine Rivers knows how. I can’t wait for this to be in my hands so that I can dive in and discover for myself what mysterious pasts these two have and how they intertwine in the fate of their relationship.

    February 13Barefoot Revolution: Biblical Spirituality for Finding God by Paul Marshall
    This practical guide to creating doable and realistic rhythms in your spiritual life is exactly what I need right now. Maybe you do too? Looking at church history, the Bible and the present, Paul helps to provide not only the background necessity of having spiritual rhythms and where to find God in the midst of everyday but how to enact those kind of rhythms in your own life.

    February 20Courageous Women of the Bible: Leaving Behind Fear and Insecurity for a Life of Confidence and Freedom by LaTan Roland Murphy
    I typically shy away from books that highlight different women in the Bible and how God used them for His kingdom. There’s something about this one that I haven’t been able to shake from my mind. LaTan delves into each woman’s story as she discovers who they were living in their insecurities and fears and who God called them to be as they stepped out in bravery.

    February 20Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World by A.J. Swoboda
    God’s been teaching me about Sabbath rest lately. I’m still in the beginning stages of what that looks like so Subversive Sabbath caught my eye. While a lot of the books on sabbath tend to focus on individual sabbath rest, the thing that intrigues me in this one is that it focuses on both individual sabbath as well as social justice. What does it look like for the world when you rest?

    What God Is Teaching Me About Rest + A Family Update

    Right before Thanksgiving, I went to a conference where God kept laying rest both on my heart and directly in front of me. At the urging of a friend, I decided to try resting during the conference itself. Although, everything about stepping away and looking for rest in the middle of a conference goes against my very nature, I decided to extend myself grace and try it. I slept through an early morning session. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was way harder than I’d care to admit. The next session I went to was with Mark Yaconelli where he talked about…. rest. No joke. During his message he said this, “Remember that taking a sabbath is important. It’s a commandment just like don’t kill someone. Those commands are both equal and need to be followed!” Whoa. How often do we think about that? Like, never!?

    I texted my own accountability group that same quote. I received a text back from one of the girls who was reading a book on Sabbath. In it, this question is posed, “We embrace intentions for work, academics, relationships, finances, recreation, and faith, but what about intentions for rest?” This continual assurance that rest and Sabbath is so important, gave me the permission I needed to intentionally rest. I later stepped away for lunch with a friend and a heart-to-heart with another friend. (Don’t worry – I did attend like 90% of the sessions and have the copious notes to prove it!) Those small moments of rest greatly added up for me to be able to truly gain wisdom from the speakers and seminars I sat in. More than that, it allowed me to have arms wide open to truly connect with God.

    The Christmas season is a season of preparation for our Savior to be born – a season to focus on Him. Although it’s filled with holiday mayhem and all the hustle and bustle one could possibly pack in, it is a great opportunity to step back and focus on the things that really matter. For us, it’s our faith, our family and our friends. Right now, our family is hurting after an incredibly hard weekend with one of our dogs. What started with one seizure on Friday night ended up in a weekend filled with vet visits and an overnight stay at the local animal hospital. All is better now. Our dog, Oakley, has been put on some seizure medication and is doing fantastically, although there’s a lot of adjustments ahead as she gets used to the medication and how it affects her body. Rick and I are doing okay. Scout is nervous for her sister but over the moon thrilled that Oakley’s back at home with us. Before this happened, I was already thinking about stepping back and practicing rest as best as I can over the next few weeks. After this past weekend, that desire has solidified, and I’ll be taking a break until after the new year. 

    I pray as things naturally ebb and flow with the Christmas break, you would allow your hours to be used to connect with Christ and the rest of your loved ones. I pray that you would intentionally rest and invest in yourself what you know your body, mind, spirit and soul needs – not just reading God’s word and praying, but diving into great conversations around the dinner table, reading and taking bubble baths, opting for a nap, or zoning out while watching a football game. Extend the same grace that I’ve extended to myself in this season to yourself.

    I’m sorry this is so long, but I wanted to get the December books in your hand before January! I wanted to let you know about me taking time to intentionally pour into my family, my people and this Christmas season. My prayer and longing for you is that you will  extend the grace and need to rest to yourself, your family and your people during this season.

    From my family to yours, Merry Christmas + Happy New Year! I’ll see you in January, friends!