A ladies-only invitation - in(RL) 2013

Anna was my Bible camp counselor the year before my senior year began. She wore a pink bandana and hugged and laughed and loved hard. Our cabin included myself, my two best friends, and a girl named Madeline, who had some special needs. I can't imagine that Anna signed up for her summer job expecting to help her campers with their basic hygeine needs -- but she did. The way Anna cared for Madeline that week showed me how to love like Jesus, without concern for my own comfort, without reserve. It was a tearful goodbye at the end of that week, and I still have the PowerPuff Girls puzzle piece Anna gave us, with a Bible verse inscribed on the back. I never expected to see Anna again.

Enter: (in)RL 2012. I started reading the (in)courage blog a few years ago, and was unreasonably excited when they announced their first "conference" last year. When I saw my friend Allison was hosting, I decided to sign up for our local event. As I scanned the profile pictures of the other ladies who had signed up, I saw a familiar face. I wrote in the comments - "I think Anna was my counselor at Bible camp!"

Going in to (in)RL 2012, I was incredibly nervous. I considered not attending, but decided to go anyway, praying, "God, just let me connect with at least one person." After walking in the door, Anna gave me a huge hug and we exclaimed over how amazing it was to see each other again. I assumed Anna and Allison would be busy with their hostess duties, and after quickly grabbing some food, walked toward someone else who appeared to be on her own. I'll admit -- it was awkward for awhile! But once the videos began and we settled in to our chairs, the laughter and tears bonded us together. We talked about our community, our churches, and our families. We exchanged Twitter handles and blog names. I left with a full heart.

And honestly? For me, the best part of (in)RL came after the event. It came when I started following the other ladies on Twitter and connected with them. It came when I brought Anna's family dinner after a surgery, and later started hanging out more often. It came when I heard about the invitation for (in)couragers, and just knew Anna and I would make an awesome team. And now, we encourage working moms together and our babies play together -- only God could orchestrate such a reunion!

I tell you all of this to say -- join us! (in)courage is hosting another (in)RL conference this April, and registration starts TODAY. Anna and I are excited to be hosting an event in the Twin Cities this year, and would love to have all of you Minnesota ladies come. Wherever you live there will be events that YOU can join (or, start your own - no matter the size). As the (in)RL trailer (below) says, "this is the conference that comes to you"!

This is a conference where you can be yourself. You can let your guard down. As Anna says in the trailer, "it's okay to not be fine". If you want to learn more about what community looks like, to connect with other ladies on a deeper level -- come.

Here are some details:
* Register starting today at www.inrl.us, then sign up for a meetup.
* It’s FREE!
* Everyone who registers today (1/14) gets a copy of the (in)courage 365 Daybrightener while supplies last (US residents only).
* Everyone gets a copy of (in)courage's first eBook: “Best of the Beach House 2012.”
* Think of it as a FREE girl’s weekend away that doesn’t require packing or plane tickets, where women can kick off any expectation of perfect, set aside their fears, their shyness, their worry that they’re not good enough, and find some of Jesus’ words of rest woven into every video.
* When: The (in)RL webcast kicks off on Friday, April 26 and (in)RL meetups follow on Saturday, April 27.
* What: Last year (in)courage explored the nitty gritty of community. This year they're taking a closer look at what it takes to stay rooted in community when sometimes just walking away would be so much easier and tons more convenient.


Baby steps to strength

Usually, being strong isn't about the marathon running. It's about taking the next step, willing your body to keep going even when it wants to quit, or doesn't even want to start. At first I was intimidated by my one word this year - Strong. But part of being strong is giving myself permission to not be a marathon-runner right away. It's admitting that I am weak and need the will to get going. It's knowing what "muscles" need strengthening, and taking the next step.

I'm feeling the burn in my soul this week after taking several baby steps. I'm tempted to backslide already, but honestly? The burn feels good.

Baby steps to strength this week:
1. Prayed so much more
2. Started meal planning on Say Mmm... (and followed the plan!)
3. Made a long-delayed appointment
4. Took down Christmas decorations
5. Cut back on social media time a bit
6. Committed to memorizing Romans 1, 8, and 12 this year!
7. Memorized Romans 1:1-2
8. Cut back on caffiene intake a bit
9. Limited my purchases while clothes-shopping

How are your goals for the year coming along? What baby steps are you taking?


On being Strong in 2013

Happy New Year, friends! I hope you all had a fantastic and meaningful Christmas. I took a little break from writing in December, and am truly happy to be back here to share my focus word for 2013. Have you heard about oneword365? I love this concept of choosing one word that describes who I want to be, and focusing on it for a whole year; my big-picture personality would much rather have a "focus" than a specific goal.

I chose a word in 2012, and needed it desperately -- Faith. Last year was probably the hardest one of my life, between learning to parent two active boys, dealing with chronic sinus infections, and struggling with stress. I was forced to lean on God each day because I felt like I had so little to give. Faith gave me eyes to see that the Lord was using my stress and pain to grow me and show His strength in my weakness. Faith led to taking some risks. In faith, I wrote about the hard things, trusting that God could use my story instead of worrying about what people would think of me. In faith, I applied to be an (in)courager for working moms, and was so blessed by the understanding and fellowship in our little group. Faith in God in the little things is changing me.

I struggled to find the right word for 2013. Freedom and passion came to my mind first, because I do want to cultivate those ideas in my life . But then I began to think and pray about what I really want for myself, what I'm really struggling with, and what I think God wants to grow in me. I thought of how weak I've felt, how beaten down my spirit has become, and decided to focus on being Strong in 2013.

"'My {God's} grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.' Once I {Paul} heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become." - 2 Cor. 12, MSG

Strong makes me slightly uncomfortable. It feels prideful, and not very feminine. But I'm not talking about being strong on my own. Like Paul, I need God to be strong in my weakness, appreciating the gift of God's grace. This strength is not about bulldozing people or being strongwilled. This strength is about acting in faith when God pulls my heart -- not backing down, not being afraid, not giving up. 

For me, Strong is going to be both spiritual and physical. My body is worn down and needs to recover from childbirth, stress, and illness. I want to feel strong and confident in my body, to be a good steward of the health God has given me. And honestly -- I want my abs back. ;)

Do you have a focus for 2013?

{Many thanks to Melanie of Only a Breath for designing my Strong button! What a blessing she is! I'll be linking up at her blog regularly for accountability throughout the year.}