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I have a confession to make. It’s the sort of thing that a writer should never admit.

I’m a VERY picky reader.

When it comes to purchasing books, I rarely discriminate. At this very moment I have at least 20 fantastic books on my shelf that are still waiting to be opened. I love to buy books. I love the smell of them, the feel of them nestled in the crook of my arm as I walk into a coffee shop, and the way my little heart skips a beat every single time I walk through the doors of a Barnes & Noble.

But when it comes to actually reading books in their entirety, I do admit that my standards are…shall we say…a bit high? I’m not easily entertained. I can’t help it! I’m just not.

If a book doesn’t grab me within the first 3 chapters I rarely pick it back up. I realize that this makes me sound like an elitist snob, and no, the irony is not lost on me that as a humble and lowly writer myself, I may need to consider suggesting LOWER standards for consumption, but whatever. I don’t care. It’s the truth! And I’m only telling you so you understand that when I recommend a book, I really mean it.

So obviously I’m going to recommend a book now.

Are you ready? Read More…

Photo By Richelle Photography

Today I’m over at The Mudroom, sharing a personal glimpse into the real truth of (our) marriage. I’m only posting part of it here, but I hope you click the link and read the rest of it over at Mudroom, because I think the ending is important. I really bared my heart in this one and I hope that you find it useful.

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This morning I sat down with my coffee and some old photos with no other intention than to reminisce. Today marks 14 years of marriage for my husband and I, and to celebrate, I decided to take a little trip down memory lane. Because if there’s one game in life that I enjoy more than “Name that movie”, it’s “Remember When”.

Everyone close to me has grown accustomed to my random blurting of (completely out of context) sentences that begin with “Remember When…”

“Remember when we all snuck out of bible college to pull an all-nighter at Taryn’s house and Danny and John climbed through the window to scare us at midnight? Remember how we all panicked and thought we were going to die, but Amber B. was the only one smart enough to run out the front door?”

“Remember when you had giardia, and you were high on pain medicine and came into the library where I worked at 11pm in your sweatpants loudly demanding some kind of meat, preferably jerky?”

“Remember when we were dating long distance, and you’d call me every night at the same time, and you’d always be wearing that same noisy jacket that crinkled in the background? I still have that jacket.”

I could go on, but you get the picture. I like to relive the past. There is a whole compartment of my heart dedicated solely to nostalgia. Usually the memories I find myself returning to again and again are the happy moments, the funny moments, or the unbearably tender moments. But today was a little different. I found myself looking through old photos, scanning to find an echo of some of our more difficult moments.

Because, can I be honest? This last year was harder on us than we expected, and today I found myself simply needing to remember another time like this. A time when we overcame. A time when we burrowed down into the foxhole together until the storm passed. A time when we learned to tear down certain walls in order to strengthen our foundation.

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While we’ve always been a couple that generally gets along, we’ve certainly had our share of trying seasons before. (Side eye to you, colicky babies.) But if pressed for a reason, I’m not sure I could even tell you why this year was harder on us than most others.

Maybe it’s the fact that after 14 years, we’ve been married just long enough to actually have baggage. Old wounds that have been healed and forgotten can be pricked right back open again in an instant.

Maybe it’s all the new dreams sprouting in our hearts, and the fact that those dreams require a bravery and vulnerability that have left us both feeling fragile and exposed in our own ways.

Maybe it’s all the outside pressures of work, money, schedules, and ministry that press in and down on us at times, threatening to burst our happy, intimate little bubble.

Or maybe?

Maybe it’s just growing pains.

After all, growth means change, and change can be rather uncomfortable at times.

READ MORE HERE:

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Hi! How are you, even?

What’s new?

Summer is turning to Fall, school has started, and all kinds of things have been happening. There’s so much to discuss!

Come sit down. Let me pour you a cup of coffee (or wine, depending on what time of day you’re reading this) and let’s catch up, shall we?

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As you guys know, this summer there was a slightly different rhythm here on the blog than we were used to. I ran a series of guest posts from some other writers and you heard from me a little bit less than usual. I loved introducing you guys to new and different voices, and I was honored to share you, my dear, sweet, amazing readers, with my other writer friends as well.

I know, it all sounds rather polygamous, but I promise, it’s not like that. While the change of pace was fun, it mostly just confirmed how much I missed you all.

You guys are it for me, man.

I’m afraid you’re stuck with me for the long haul.  Do you want me to write you another DTR (Determine The Relationship) letter to prove it? Do you want me to call the local radio station and request Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U?”

Because I will. I love you like that.

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Even though you’ve heard from me a (tiny) bit less lately, just know that I’ve still been writing. Some of that writing is still stashed away- in brave new files on my computer, waiting for the exact right time and place to be shared. Saving up words instead of blurting them all out is strange, new territory for me. But it feels somehow important that I do, and I’m trying to listen to that. Read More…

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By the time you read this, some of you have already enjoyed weeks of your littles being back in school.

It’s okay. It’s fine. I am not jealous of you.

It’s something I’ve learned to deal with, living in our time zone over here in the Pacific Northwest. The views are stunning, the air is crisp and clear, the rivers are wild and mysterious. But living life on some kind of delayed loop from the rest of the world really bites sometimes.

It seems that %80 of humans get to experience most of life a solid 2-3 hours ahead of us Oregonians. When it comes time for anything really important, like election coverage, the Bachelor finale, or one of the precious few new Game of Thrones episodes, I’ve learned the hard way to STAY OFF THE INTERNET. Otherwise it all gets spoiled.

Also, don’t judge me for putting the election in the same category as junk TV. This is where we are in 2016.

Adding insult to injury, everyone and their Aunt Fay also gets to be on a school schedule that is roughly an entire semester ahead of us. Every single May I see pictures of my internet friends’ kids doing cannonballs into pools with Hasthag-FirstPoolDay while I am counting down the 17 lunches I still have to pack with Hasthag-DoUncrustablesCountAsLunch?

Every single August, when we are finally finding our summer groove, everyone else is posting pictures of their littles holding tiny chalkboards with their new grade written on it, or pictures of their own feet on a charming brick path next to the one maple leaf that has managed to dislocate itself from it’s home and fall to the ground, indicating that Fall has indeed arrived.

What’s the deal with that anyways? Everyone needs to calm down already with all this “Fall in August” talk. August is not Fall! August is definitively a SUMMER month. Can we please sort this out, because it seriously messes with my head and gives me a severe case of FOMO.

Just when I think that I am truly enjoying the days at home with my littles, and patting myself on the back for ‘counting my blessings’ and ‘soaking up the moments’, I see a picture of some first grader with a backpack on and I start sweating and rethinking my whole angle. Read More…

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Today I’m inviting you up onto my blog porch, pouring you a cup of hot coffee, and sitting down beside you to hear from one of my favorite people. When I say “favorite” I mean it in the sense that I have always admired her coolness from afar, not in the sense that we hang out all the time in real life- although I’m fairly certain we would if we still lived in the same city. I have known Bruk for well over 10 years, and watched her grow from a confident, self-assured teenager into an effortlessly cool, relentlessly authentic, stunning-from-the-inside-out, grown up lady. It seems that Bruk has always known exactly who she is, and as a fellow woman, I find that to be both refreshing and inspiring.

She does interesting things like make jewelry, write songs, and take pretty photographs, and she does brave things like live in Africa for a year. The words she wrote here are just one small part of her big story.

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“When she reaches for him, you reach for Me.”

Those words changed my perspective the teeniest bit.

You know… when you know that God has the best plan for you, but you don’t entirely believe it until He gives you a fresh look? Maybe you don’t know. In my mind I’m the only person that doesn’t always trust God, but go with me here. I’m about to get real open about some stuff that I just don’t like getting real open about.

I’m 28 and single. When I say 28, I actually mean 27 and turning 28 next week, which is weirdly freaking me out. And when I say single, I mean it in every sense of the word.

Always. Forever. Single.

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It’s recently been pointed out to me that being single isn’t really the thing I struggle with, so much as the fact that I’ve never had a relationship. While I almost think that’s true, it’s also sort of not.

I’m good at being single. That’s the thing that scares me a little bit. I live mostly on my own. I’m great with power tools. I support myself, move as I wish, travel as I wish, shop as I wish. When I have a date I’m not thinking “Oh man, I hope he likes me!”, I’m thinking, “Oh crap, what if he likes me?” and the self-sabotage sort of starts there. Read More…

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Well friends, summer is drawing to a close, but I still have a couple more guest posts lined up for your reading enjoyment. Today’s post is coming from Heather Bender, a fellow hope*writer, but more importantly, a fellow GIF-lover. It’s no secret that I would (and could) communicate solely with GIFs and still get along just fine in life. Which is saying a lot, considering I’m a writer. Heather is funny and open, and whether you’re a writer or not, you may relate with her quandary.

Enjoy!

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Amber and I met through Hope*Writers earlier this year, and we quickly found that we spoke the same bizarre twin-language of GIFs and pop culture references and the holy trinity of Poehler/Fey/Wiig and TALKING IN ALL CAPS about our various insecurities around writing. So, when Amber and I started messaging about guest-posting earlier this summer, I let myself have a zero-chill (© Amber Salhus) awkward fangirl moment:

Amber Salhus!
Is putting me on her guest post schedule!
Because she thinks I’m a “good fit” for her audience!!
OMG OMG OMG!

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OK, so fast forward to a few weeks later, when I had to actually prove it, and write.
Yeah. About that.

Thursday
I promised Amber that I’d have a post ready by Friday. Tomorrow.
Total word count: 0.

I am right this very minute stress-eating potato chip crumbs out of a paper cup and staring blankly at my laptop, desperately casting for a topic. Hint to future guest posters: Do not read the other guest posts in a misguided attempt to determine an original angle for your piece. You will only become more convinced that you have nothing interesting to add. That lack of self-confidence will crumble into despair once you realize you’ve eaten all the potato chip crumbs.

I’ve been thinking about this post for weeks, but not writing it. Because, you guys, I’ve also been busy procrastinating on other things! I have my own blog to ignore. I also have a mountain of laundry, a 10-month-old who has decided that not being held 24/7 is NOT HIS JAM, and something in the fridge that’s only getting furrier. Amber should probably get in line, because I’m busy being bad at life and writing. Read More…

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This week’s guest post is from my friend, Kris Camealy, and I’m thrilled to be hosting her words because they are honest and real. I hope that you, like me, see an echo of yourself in these paragraphs, and are encouraged.

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I sat down on the front stoop the other evening and watched a flock of Canadian geese fly overhead, while my kids scattered themselves down the street, making new friends with the neighbors. They’d been recruited for an impromptu soccer game happening up the street, in the common area between a couple of houses, an invitation unlike any we’ve ever had. This kind of living is completely new to us.

Before we moved here in March, for nearly twelve years, we lived on a noisy, unfriendly street that over the years, became more and more transient with the shifting tides of the economy. Our neighbors changed frequently as houses changed hands, suffered foreclosures, became rentals and so on. The neighbors who did remain we rarely saw, on account of a number of factors.

But it wasn’t all their fault. We could have made more of an effort.
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When my husband and I first moved to the old house, we had one toddler and one baby on the way. After walking through a number of nasty houses, we stumbled into a house that was clean, tidy, and move-in ready. We didn’t deliberate long before signing on the dotted line. We made our home there, and for a while, tolerated the openness of our large backyard. But as the boys grew into preschoolers, and we added yet another baby to the mix, the lack of fencing around the perimeter of our yard gave me pause. Our backyard became a regular cut-through for teens making their way to the bus stop, or to the main road. People regularly walked through our yard as if it were a public thoroughfare, and honestly? I hated this. The regular foot-traffic of strangers across our property made me feel unsafe, and caused me great angst when the children wanted to play in the yard. This, coupled with the fact that our home sat only one house into the neighborhood, off of a busy road, made me long for a fence to keep the kids in, and the wanderers out.

As soon as we were able, we had a 6 foot privacy fence installed all the way around the backyard. I would no longer have to deal with the neighbors dogs pooping where my kids played, or the teenagers behind our home traipsing past my living room window on their way to wherever. My kids could play freely without my worrying that they’d somehow make their way to the busy street out front. This was exactly what we wanted.

But now? I would no longer see my neighbors.

Before the fence, we’d greet each other while returning our trash cans to the backs of our homes, or while raking the yard or letting the dogs out. Before the fence, we could wave hello as they sat on their back deck, or grilled burgers across the lawn.

Before the fence, interaction with our neighbors happened naturally, without much effort, without any pretense.

The fence gave us exactly what we wanted. I still think we needed the fence for all of the reasons I mentioned, but at the same time, we lost something too. When we locked the door on that house for the last time, after 11 years in the only neighborhood my children had ever known, we didn’t say goodbye to anyone. We had no relationships there to grieve or miss. We’d been rooted there alone, and partly by our own doing.
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After nearly 12 years in what felt like a social dessert, we’ve miraculously landed here, on what is arguably the most social street in the state. Six months ago, I didn’t know places like this actually existed, outside of Hollywood sound stages and sitcoms. We are living in a place “where everybody knows your name”. For real. It’s crazy-amazing.

Almost no one has a fence.

Our current backyard is a wide open space that bleeds indistinguishable into our two neighbors yards. Our children play between the houses, and in the common area situated smack out my kitchen back door. On any given afternoon, half of the neighborhood can be seen wandering between each others homes, sitting in each others driveways, and wandering in and out of each other’s garages. Here, you can’t help but see each other.
I’ve thought a lot about fences since we settled here. I’ve thought a lot about the ways we build them in real life, and relationally. If I am honest, I liked living behind a fence. It made me feel safe. The 6-foot privacy fence erected behind my old house is not the first fence I’ve lived behind. Or hidden behind. It’s only in the last couple of years that God has revealed to me, what a master architect I have been at building fences.

Last year, God called me to launch GraceTable, a hospitality themed website where writers share stories of what it is to love their neighbors, to live in community and wrestle out what Jesus meant when He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. GraceTable is a virtual space, but through it God is teaching us what it means to make actual space for people. As we have been coming around to the idea of practicing intentional hospitality, it’s not lost on me that God planted us here, in a neighborhood free of fences. This is a place God is growing me, growing us, as a family. We are learning what it is to let others in, to let them walk on our grass, and discovering the beauty of fence-free living.

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Kris is passionate about bringing people to the table to be nourished by good words, good food and Jesus. Meet Kris at her blog, kriscamealy.com and on Instagram @kriscamealy. Kris is the author of the book, Holey, Wholly, Holy: A Lenten Journey Of Refinement and the founder of GraceTable.org, a community Table open to all who are hungry for more of Jesus.

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Last week I was over at Grace Table, sharing a rather personal and unflattering story of Hospitality Burnout. While they were the most gracious of hosts, I have to admit that it was difficult to write, because if I’m being completely honest, the fact that I’ve always been “the hospitable type” is something that I’ve secretly taken pride in. But life is funny, and it often has a way of bringing you down a notch. This is one of those tales. I’m only sharing a snippet here, but you can click over to Grace Table to read the whole piece.

This is for anyone who’s learned the hard way that part of true soul care sometimes involves putting yourself in a time-out.

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“Once I got married and had a home of my own, hospitality was a habit I carried with me. Husband and I are both very social and we love to spend time with our people. We love to open our doors and invite friends in; To sit around tables, living rooms, and porches, sharing all the small moments in life that really are big. Moments of laughter and food shared, of children running underfoot, and of kitchens full beyond capacity with friends chatting, chopping, and pouring drinks.

I found that hospitality came naturally to me and that I truly enjoyed it. I loved inviting people into my home. I loved planning and hosting dinner parties, play dates, coffee dates, and holiday extravaganzas.

Until suddenly I didn’t anymore.

Ironically enough, my hospitality burn-out came at precisely worst time. After 10 addresses in 14 years of marriage, we had just moved into our long awaited “Forever House”. We finally had all that space we’d wanted.

I expected to move in, make the house into a home, and fling my doors wide open.

I expected that I’d want to.

But life is unexpected (and so is God), and from the minute we took up residence at the Forever House, I found myself both constantly hosting guests and suddenly resenting it. I’d always talked a big game about hospitality and I’d always backed it up by practicing it in my real life. But suddenly it felt like God was calling my bluff.

I’d been happily hospitable when it was on my terms. But what about when it wasn’t so convenient? What about when I didn’t feel like it?

From the day we moved in we seemed to have a revolving door. There was a never-ending stream of people and pets; of phone calls saying “We’re coming for a visit! Can we stay?” And other phone calls saying “Bro, can I crash with you for a few months, until I figure out my next move?”

Every time we said yes, because these were all people that we love, care about, and enjoy spending time with. We said yes, because we’d always been the “hospitable type” and if I’m being completely honest, that was a part of myself that I’d secretly taken pride in.

But I found myself quietly becoming resentful of our revolving door.

I found myself dying a little bit on the inside each time I put on my hostess hat.

I craved time for our own little family to make memories in this new home with just us.

I longed for small, quiet moments without an audience.

I grew tired of constantly having to be “on”. I grew tired of constantly worrying whether the kids were pestering the current houseguest (they always were), or if we had enough snacks in the pantry, or if I’d ever have the freedom to walk around the kitchen without a bra on again.

There was never enough toilet paper or clean sheets, the coffee pot was always empty, and the toilet seat was always warm. It was all making me slightly claustrophobic…

READ MORE:

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You guys are in for a treat today. In fact, it’s kind of like a double treat, so, you’re welcome.

Not only do you get a hilarious peak into the creative process of real life editor, Cara Sexton (which made me feel a whole lot better about my own creative process, btw), but you also get a sneak peak into the making of Soul Bare: Stories of Redemption, which officially releases August 5th! That’s tomorrow!

You guys. This book is amazing. It’s a compilation of stories from so many of my favorite authors and each one is real, raw, personal and gutsy. Do yourself a favor: Order it. Go to your local bookstore and buy it. Borrow it if you have to. Just get your hands on it! Read it. Let these stories refresh your tired soul. Be blessed.

Okay, here is Cara’s post!

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I’ve always been fascinated by the creative process of other writers, and I also aspire to one day teach writing classes. Because of my unparalleled expertise in this area, when Amber asked me if I’d consider guest posting on her blog (ohmygosh, did you hear that?! Amber Salhus asked me to guest post on her blog EVERYBODY BE COOL), I figured you all could take a lesson from me on one of the important aspects of blogging/writing/being basically awesome in every way.

Here are 10 easy steps for writing a guest post for one of your favorite bloggers when the opportunity presents itself:

Step 1: Promise to deliver it on Sunday or Monday.

Step 2: On Tuesday, begin existential panic. Read More…

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In our 14 years of marriage, Husband and I have belonged to 10 different addresses.

TEN.

We have owned, rented, bought, sold, lost, renovated, and built from the ground up. We’ve lived in apartments, condos, big houses, and small houses. With each move we’ve taken away a surer sense of what’s important to us as a family, a greater understanding of our needs, and an ability to create a sense of “home” no matter the house. We’ve also picked up quite a few new skills along the way: everything from how to lay tile, to how to electrically wire an entire house, to how to take a space that feels small and make it feel “cozy” or a large space and make it feel “warm.”

We also learned how NOT to do these things.

But that’s a story for another day.

One thing that’s become clear over the years is that both Husband and I genuinely love the process of making a home. He loves learning new aspects of carpentry (and all the subsequent new tools they require), and I love the design end of it all. While some find building and renovating to be stressful, we actually kind of love it. Some of our favorite dates have been spent strolling through tile stores, or pouring over floor samples, or commiserating over window trim and molding.

I know.

Try not be jealous of our wild and crazy dating life. Read More…