Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What Do You Expect?

I've been ruminating over this concept quite a bit the last few months. And while I am by no means an expert on expectations, I hope my thinking (read: obsessing) will help you think (and not obsess) through your own expectations.

My friend Mary and I are often reminding ourselves of this: lower your expectations! Not in a negative, lazy way, but in a "life does not go as you planned" sort of way. You know, like after a long day at our homeschool group, thinking I'm going to cook a meal that takes one hour to prep, another hour to make, and 37 steps, timed just right. Nope, not going to happen. I'm far better off if I lower those expectations a bit and find contentment in ordering a Papa Murphy's Pizza.

This isn't to say there aren't times to raise the bar. When we read history lessons or the bible to our kids, we have the highest of expectations for them to listen well and hold a conversation with us about what was interesting, what they didn't like, or what questions they might have. A very admirable woman I know, who is greatly humble and insanely brave, says we should set the bar high for our children and then give them high grace. Expect our children to achieve great things, but allow them to fail without condemnation.

What I really mean by all of this is expectations can be tricky. You want to expect wonderful things, to really hope God will do something amazing each day, but at the same time, we have to expect that many of our days will not go according to plan. This means we need to be most honest, and most earnest when looking at our expectations, our plans, and our hopes. Being real about your disappointments and seeing your day as God sees it is a humble yet lovely way to begin to find peace in days gone wrong. They are still days worth living. I'll give you an example.

Maybe you've been waiting for an update on my time at SheSpeaks? Lucky you, you'll get a concise (don't mistake concise for short) version along with photos, and you'll even get to learn from my own experience about days gone wrong. Honestly, it wasn't that big of a deal, but on day two I was frustrated beyond words, beyond tears, beyond any prayer I could muster.

Travel day was ideal, pretty much perfect. I started reading this amazing book, got to see my lovely roommates for the first time in a year, and had amazing conversation long into the night. My friend Jennifer opened her soul and her pain to me with such grace and willingness... when she writes her book, you HAVE to read it.

The entire day was filled with the Holy Spirit moving, great insights I needed to hear, wonderful fellowship, and lots of catching up with people I met from last year. 

Amy Seiffert and I met last year and connected really well. I always love what she has to share!

I started getting ready for bed when the power went out. For real, the power in the hotel and a ten mile radius was out for most of the night. Thankfully our hotel had fabulous generators that kept hallways lit and one elevator running until the power came back on around 4am. I know it was about that time, because I had already been up half the night. 

This is the second time I've experienced what I believe to be extreme anxiety in my body that my heart and mind could not overcome. I prayed, I worshipped, I cried, I went to the bathroom, I couldn't lay down, but I was dying to rest. My stomach was in knots and I felt sick beyond belief. In my mind I was not nervous for the second day and felt a real peace that God was doing His work. My first publisher appointment had gone wonderfully and I was thrilled for my sessions lined up on day two. But for some reason, God has allowed my body to do this crazy thing where I don't sleep, feel like I'm dying of stomach pains and nausea, and have major responsibilities I absolutely need to deal with early the next day. It's pretty much as awesome as it sounds. 

Somehow, I was able to get up, get mostly ready, and head to the first morning session. I missed a lot of it, but I was determined to not let these opportunities pass me by. I was emotional, weak, nauseous, and did my best not to cry whenever someone asked if I was okay. Apparently, sleeping only three hours and feeling sick most of the night takes its toll on your face. I felt so lousy tears just kept spilling with every conversation, and I have no idea how I made it through the day. Friends were so gracious, so helpful, and I even had strangers come and pray for me. Truly, the best place to be sick is with other Christian women. 

I forgot to take many pictures that second day, but there were still so many highlights and wonderful things that happened; I cannot explain it all. Being in Nicki Koziarz' session and having a meaningful conversation with her might have been my favorite part of the day. Listening to Liz Curtis Higgs speak was the most entertaining, beautiful way to cap off the weekend. And getting to meet another mom who does Classical Conversations with her kiddos was the icing on the cake that took me two hours to eat (because I talk so much, in case you were wondering). 

Liz Curtis Higgs on the final night and my new friend, and fellow CC mom, Aimee Smith.

I have been blessed by this opportunity, and if you are feeling the push to make your writing or speaking endeavors a priority, I would not hesitate to tell you to get your rear here next year! The friendships, the prayer, the learning, and the personal guidance are unlike anything I've ever been involved in. Also, from all these pictures I realize I have really terrible posture. Yikes! 

So again, what does this have to do with expectations? I went to SheSpeaks planning to learn, hoping to have great publisher appointments, and expecting to get advice. I hoped to connect with old friends and make new, and maybe get to talk with some women further along the road than me. And while half of my time there was under totally different circumstances than I planned, God still provided for me all the things I hoped to encounter. 

We have to let go of our precise expectations and look for the greater work God is doing in us. Instead of hoping for particular circumstances, let's set our hope upon God moving in our lives and sanctifying us through any means necessary. Are we willing to endure what He deems good for us? Are we willing to let go of our expectations for a "good life" or a "perfect day" and enjoy what we can, while learning from anything that falls under the "less than pleasant" category? 

I definitely struggle with this in my day-to-day life at home with my kids, but when I experience the goodness that comes from moving forward in hardship, I am more dedicated to moving forward through the monotony at home. And that is when I finally begin to value the interruptions that seem random, or needless during my day. I expect detours because I expect God to work. And He shows up every day, whether I notice or not. I don't know about you, but I want to notice as much of God as possible.

So what will you expect? And what will you notice? I am thankful God continues to move in and around me, despite my unwillingness and grumpy attitude. I hope you see God working in your life and can value the circumstances that lead you to Him, pleasant or not. I know it's a challenge, but I also know it is worth every ounce of effort you are willing to give. May we see Him in it all!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Leaving On a Jet Plane.

It's that time of year again! Time for me to hop on a plane, endure a LONG flight, and be blessed beyond what I can imagine. Seriously, it's that great.

SheSpeaks is a Christian women's Writing and Speaking conference, and the team at Proverbs 31 Ministries really goes all out on our behalf. Meals are amazing, the setting is gorgeous, and content is motivating, bible-based, and ever-so-practical. There are loads of books for sale, even more lovely women who have the same burning passion to share God's compelling truth with others, and an enormous amount of great conversation.

Last year I met handfuls of women I loved, and thankfully, I have kept in touch with many of them! It's been incredibly fruitful to be connected with these Christian Writers and Speakers. They bless me through their persistence, their failings, their advice, and their friendship. You know who you are ladies :)

This year, I decided to take the Writer's Track and meet with a couple publishers. I have been working half-heartedly on several book ideas, and I figured having a set appointment with a professional would gently force me to get going on them. It worked, that's for sure! So Friday evening and Saturday evening I get to meet with two different leading women in the publishing industry. I feel well prepared, but I also know this is simply dipping my toes into this world. I cannot wait to glean from them, hear their opinion of my ideas, and make even more progress with my writing and sharing.

In most settings like this, it's rare for someone to walk away with a book deal solidified. Instead, many walk away with contacts in the industry and a plan for refining, pitching your idea again later, and the only real promise you may get is for LOTS of work ahead. But honestly, I am up for that! I am here to learn, not to land a book deal. I am flying across the country to fellowship and grow, not for the sake of my own name or career, but for God's glory, for His plan. And while all these things will hopefully culminate to my book coming to life someday, what I really want is to be used by God so that others know Him better. This is the phrase I am going to repeat to myself over and over when I get nervous, when I over-analyze my outfits, and as I do my makeup. All the surface stuff, all the "results" from my time, are in God's worthy, capable hands, and I can most definitely trust Him to do something wonderful, no matter what it looks like to me.

If you don't follow me on Instagram yet, I want to give you a heads up: I started a more formal account that will pertain to just my writing, blogging, and speaking. There will be weekly encouragement, and at least monthly giveaways! Right now, I am giving away the book Uninvited by Lysa Terkeurst. Go find me @joellenlarmstrong and enter right away. The drawing is tomorrow - yay!

I hope this week is life-giving for you, no matter where your responsibilities take you. I can't wait to share more with you this year, and be sure to come back next week for an update on my time at SheSpeaks. Here are just a couple pics from last year - such good memories!

Flying solo! Also, PDX carpet rules.

I was SO nervous. My only coping mechanisms were deep breaths, prayers, and selfies.

It was awesome to sit up front and listen to Lysa share tips to getting your best idea for a book out of your soul and onto paper.

They had such a lovely set-up for getting photos taken!

All the ladies from the Suite 314 Speaking Group.

And last, but not least, both ladies names Sarah May were in one of my first sessions... sitting one row apart. God is so funny like that. They are both wonderful! 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Seeing Beauty, Loving Truth.

I used to find it funny when a topic or idea kept coming up over and over again in my life. I would take notice, laugh, and then move on with regular life. Lately, it seems to happen so frequently, I'm no longer surprised by it. Rather, I revel in the goodness of these "coincidences", recognizing that God is planting seeds in my heart and mind. After a few seeds have sprouted, I think about them often, talk about them with my family and friends, and usually, I share my thoughts with you. I hope they cause you to love God more and look for the ways He is speaking to you every day.

Beauty surrounds us. A lovely face or vibrant personality of someone I meet, the saturated color of a blooming dahlia, or the sounds of a little creek alongside a jogging path: I find beauty around me in more ways than I can count every day. In the fruit I wash and serve my kids for lunch. In the words carefully strung together in the books and articles I read. In the music I listen to and the movies I watch; most recently in the movie Wonder Woman.

Gal Gadot (the actress who plays Wonder Woman) is an incredibly gorgeous woman, am I right? Her beautiful bronze skin, her strong body, and her flowing locks are outmatched only by her character's fierce determination to do what is right. Her desire to give peace to the weary, injured, and helpless only magnifies the natural beauty of her earthly body. Goodness, love, and compassion exude from her character and adds to the loveliness of her created being. This is what God intends for us as well.

"Beauty is the radiance of the true and the good, and it is what attracts us to both." 

Stratford Caldecott

We love beauty because it reveals truth, and we love truth because is it beautiful. Never have I seen this come alive more than I have in the last few weeks. I've known that seeing beauty and savoring loveliness has its place in our lives, but today I have a new determination to make this important in my life. Not simply in making my home beautiful, or trying to whip my body into the ideal shape (whatever that is), but by focusing my attention on what is true and what is lovely, knowing it will reveal God no matter what specific endeavor I am currently pursuing.

I might as well add this overused, possibly considered "cliché" verse in here, because I cannot help pointing out how rooted in truth and vitally important it really is.

"Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable - if there is an excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise - think about these things."

Philippians 4:8

When we set our thoughts upon the truth, we will see beauty. When we choose to focus on beautiful, honorable, excellent things, it will lead us to truth.

"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork."

Psalm 19:1

When we see truth, when we see something amazing, when we see something worthy of honor, may we remember where it came from and where it points. It all belongs to God, and it can all lead us to Him. Yes, even Wonder Woman can declare the wonders of the Lord. Your baby, your garden, your hand-stitched blanket, and your young daughter's scribble; all point to God's loveliness and goodness. A poem exalting truth, a movie exalting honor, and a sunset proclaiming excellence: it all belongs to Him, and He can make anything beautiful.

May the goodness of your day lead you to praising the Lord, convince you of truth, and renew a willingness in your heart to live a life submitted to His good work in your life. It will be beautiful, and it will be worth the effort.