faith · Guest Posts · just write life · Margin Mom · writing

When Saying No Means Yes

Step on up to the front porch and welcome Kirsten from Sweet Tea & Saving Grace. We’re blog friends and heart sisters because y’all know you’ve heard me say this before — no is a word I need to use more often. Check out Kirsten’s site sometime this week. Her content and heart are sweeter than McDonald’s tea. I promise.

The alarm next to my head began to buzz at the usual 5:00 am, alerting my body and mind that it was time to begin yet another day – a day of a 3-hour round-trip commute to a job I hated, a quick dinner with the family, and working on my blog until I couldn’t hold my eyes open any longer. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

But this particular morning when that alarm began ringing, something felt different. Something felt off.

Rewind to about six months prior when a book found me. I didn’t go seeking this book, mind you. I was in a local bookstore looking for a new Bible study when I stumbled across “Anything” by Jennie Allen. I had recently read a blog post about her and suddenly she was showing up everywhere, including on this book shelf in this bookstore. Something compelled me to pick it up and read…and as I read, I was immediately convicted, and wanted more.

That afternoon, I read the book cover to cover, then re-read it several times over the following months.

Jennie tells the story of she and her husband and their willingness, albeit with noted apprehension, to give God “anything”…and to mean it. She talks about how reluctant we are to give God the big things, the really important things, the things that are already His but we refuse to relinquish complete control. And she tells of a prayer she & her husband prayed finally letting go and telling God, “Anything. Anything you want, it’s Yours.”

So I prayed. More times than I can count over those months that passed, I prayed, and repeatedly gave God my “Anything”.

Now, I’ve been a Christian my whole life, and yet here I was expecting the clouds to part and angels to sing every time I prayed that prayer. I knew better. I knew that God would take my “anything” whenever He wanted, not when I was ready to give it to Him.

Six months pass. I had all but stopped praying that prayer. I was 3 ½ years into building a blog that I hoped would turn into a business. I spent countless hours throwing every ounce of time, energy, and money into it and was oddly pleased when my only return was an increase in pageviews and Facebook fans. But I somehow felt I was finally at my peak.

I woke up on this ordinary morning with a heaviness on my chest. And I knew.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I knew God had come to collect my “anything”, and I knew what it was. Yet, I resisted. I argued. I went through the motions of my morning – shower, makeup, hair, outfit – all the while, arguing with God that I wasn’t ready to give up my blog, that I was finally seeing success, that if He would give me just six months, I’d walk away.

Suddenly, I was hit with such a force in my chest it felt as if I’d been punched hard, and it brought me to my knees. I couldn’t see my own reflection in the bathroom mirror anymore. Instead, my head was filled with visions. I saw my daughter, almost 12 years old, dealing with hormones she’d never experienced before, questioning everything, needing answers. And I was in my office working on my blog.

I saw my husband, alone on the couch, watching TV and eating dinner without me. I was in my office working on my blog.

I saw missed opportunities for quality time spent with friends, family… I saw my own health deteriorating because I didn’t make time to care for myself.

Finally, with tears streaming down my face and me in a crumpled heap on the bathroom floor, I surrendered.

Immediately, I felt relief. The weight in my chest vanished and I felt peace. My vision cleared, yet I continued to cry. I told God that yes, He could have “anything”. And I meant it.

After a while, I cleaned up my face and headed to work. As soon as I sat down in front of my computer, I typed out a blog post – what would be my last for more than six months. I told this entire story to my readers. I emailed people with whom I had made commitments and apologized, but told them I could no longer honor those commitments.

And I quit. Just like that.

Now for those of you who don’t blog, you might not see this as such a big sacrifice. But my blog had become my passion, my identity. And walking away was like tearing off a piece of me and abandoning it. I had spent 3 ½ years of my life nurturing this thing, building this thing… It was mine. It was me!

But it never was. It was His. And He took it back.

Over the six months that followed, I began to realize what I had been missing. My relationships with my husband and daughter improved dramatically, and I began to realize what it was about blogging that I was so passionate about to begin with.

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Kirsten, daughter Marley, and her mom

It wasn’t the pageviews, the Facebook followers, the “status”. It was the stories and the community. After a while, I began to ask God if I could start over with my blog, but do it His way. And in May of 2014, He said “yes”.

I rebranded to Sweet Tea & Saving Grace, but the name wasn’t the only thing that changed. My entire mindset has changed since then. I no longer chase numbers, and I will never allow myself to get lost in the to-do’s.

Since my return to blogging in May of 2014, God has blessed me and my family tremendously. I’ve created an entire business that allows me to work from home and teach other bloggers and creatives how to build their own brand of success with their own rules. It’s a dream come true.

I’m often asked how I “do it all” – handle being a wife and mom, run a business, manage two blogs, host events, speak at conferences, work with clients. And the short answer is, I don’t. Nobody does.

The longer answer goes more like this:

Before I ever picked up my proverbial blogging pen again in 2014, I made a list of my priorities. Every decision I have to make for my blog or business gets weighed against those priorities. When an opportunity arises, I ask myself if the opportunity will (a) benefit my business and help me grow, or challenge me professionally, or (b) if it will either benefit or take away from my priorities.

I’ve learned to take things off my plate when life gets too stressful or busy, and I do so without the guilt I used to feel. I always have dinner with my family at the dinner table. I go fishing with my husband on random Tuesday afternoons. I step away from work to go for a walk with my now 14-year old daughter who, remarkably, actually wants to spend time with me, so I soak it up.

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Fishing with husband, Mark, on a random afternoon

I work because we have to have an income, and I’m fortunate enough to have work that brings me joy. But at the end of my life, I won’t be thinking about all those blog posts I wrote, or the clients I helped. I’ll be reminiscing of all the experiences I had with the people I love most.

I’ve learned that saying “no” often means saying “yes”. We say “no” to things that don’t honor our priorities in order to say “yes” to the things that matter. We can’t do it all. Nobody can. Well, God can. He can do “anything”.


 

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Kirsten is the owner of Sweet Tea, LLC, which is home to all of her educational content, including blog posts, tutorials, webinars, ebooks, courses, 1:1 coaching, email services and a future membership site. She also blogs at Sweet Tea & Saving Grace, a Southern Christian lifestyle blog, where she shares her home, life and faith with anyone who wants to mingle on her front porch.


Kirsten lives in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband Mark, teenage daughter Marley, and their three dogs, Savannah, Dakota, and Daisy Mae. She thrives on sweet tea & sunshine, has finally learned to embrace her natural curl, and says “y’all” entirely too often.

Margin Mom · motherhood · writing

Why I Can’t Coupon,Wrangle Laundry, and Write a Book at the Same Time

This week alone my three-year-old dressed himself three times.

Each time we had to negotiate a change of shirt or shorts or underwear because he was dressing himself from the dirty laundry pile on the floor.

We ran out of milk, lunch meat, bread, peanut butter, and fruit all on the same day. I packed my kids cheese and crackers for lunch, fixed grits for breakfast, and promised them I’d try to go to the store. They’d been telling me for two days we were running out of food. (We have plenty of food. It’s just all in the freezer or requires prep more advanced than my six-year-old’s skills.)

I should also mention that the freezer is hidden behind the piles of clean clothes that haven’t migrated out of the laundry room yet.

I used all my brain power writing and editing yesterday morning so I gave up the idea of price matching and instead came home with the biggest jar of peanut butter I could find.

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I should also mention that at this moment Gus is eating powdered donuts for lunch.

People love to remind me I can’t do it all. Nope, I can’t.

People also ask me how the book is coming. Well, I’ll tell you. Pretty much everyday I hold my head in my hands and wonder how bad the reviews will be and why I can’t think of a phrase other than “tilted his head” to use in conversation.

I get a little sick to my stomach thinking about how I can never write as well as ________________ (insert name of whatever author I’m currently reading).

I wonder if the story is too idealistic, too flawed, too close to my home and heart. I wonder if my grandmother would be proud.

Then I start writing again and every now and then, I think, maybe it won’t be so bad. Looking forward to our annual Edisto trip helps. Planning interviews and excursions all in the name of research helps. Drinking iced coffee in the library while there’s a babysitter at home helps.

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Remembering that this the story God gave me–word by word, moment by moment, through the eyes of editors and friends and in the windows of my own heart–that definitely helps. My novel is about letting go, embracing grace, appreciating how every flaw in your past can make you who you are today.

Mine has certainly made me. And my present re-makes me every day.

So some things have to go. Like clean floors and big savings and making sure Gus matches. For now, it’s just enough that his clothes are clean.

just write life · motherhood · savor · writing

Because Hurry is No Posture for Anyone

Unless there’s an emergency. Hurry is allowed then.

I spent last week in the company of great writers at the Florida Christian Writers Conference (you can head over here if you want to know why I go to writers conferences).

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Our keynote speaker was Robert Benson who can talk eucharist and Yankee baseball in the same sentence. My only quandary after hearing him speak is which book to read first. I’m leaning toward Living Prayer because a review says Benson “makes the ordinary events of life seem mystical and the mystical seem ordinary.” Which is the consistent cry of my heart and probably why I was moved hearing this man speak about life and art and writing and Jesus.

“Hurry,” he chastised softly one morning, “is no posture for a writer.”


 

Everyday I get out of bed and stumble over to the preset coffee maker and pour a cup. I nestle into a corner of our couch and I study and pray and journal. Sometimes I blog or read or socialize with others awake in the dim light of dawn.

Then my kids wake up and rush, rush, rush and hurry, hurry, hurry become my mantra. Somewhere between the turning over of the clock from 6:29 to 6:30 my slow easy morning becomes a winded sprint and there’s yelling and fussing and so much stress.

Hurry is no posture for a mother either.

When I hurry–when I push and prod and pull my kids through our morning routine–I set a tone for the rest of our day. I wake them with the notion that we are already behind and we must rush to catch up.

What if instead I woke them with the notion that we have a whole day of discovering God’s goodness upon us? What if I saw the morning as a filter through which the rest of our moments, our comings and goings, sifted through? What if instead of posturing hurry, I postured slow?


 

Sometimes I let them sleep in until almost seven. I make pancakes or oatmeal and hot tea for little sore throats. I pack up my computer so it’s not taken out until my work day has resumed and I listen when they chatter and I smile when they laugh.

I promise not to yell.

We load the banged-up minivan and we run through the day on the short drive to school without actually having to run.

And the only difference between when we get to school on these days and when we get to school on others is me.

Me.

My actions didn’t change. Lunches still got packed. Shoes still got lost and then found. Breakfast dishes were left on the table and the cat might have been left in the house.

But my attitude said slow down. Savor. Sip. Stow away the goodness and the glory in the mess and the broken.

Hurry, my friends, is no posture for anyone.

Slow down. Look around. Catch your breath.

You’ll get there no matter the route you take. But the difference will be in the journey.

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Robert Benson with me on the last day of conference.
Books · ePantry · faith · family · just write life · reflections · resolutions

Personality Tests, Surrender, and Dear Mr. Knightley

Why, yes that is a new header and logo.

Thank you to my sweet friend Merideth who blesses me with her talent.

Lately, I’ve been learning a few things about myself. Back in the spring the Splickety staff used the test at 16Personalities to discuss how different–and alike–we all are. I’ve realized for awhile now (pretty much ever since I became a mom) that I walk a line between extravert and introvert and this examination of my personality was pretty spot on.

According to the test, I’m an ENFP-T (the Campaigner)–really? I don’t much feel like a campaigner, but I am these things:

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There might be emphasis on turbulent.

View More: http://candiceholcomb.pass.us/al-wedding
This is my family. All my sisters and our one brother. And Jasper, the golden retriever. Because when parents of 7 kids become empty nesters, they need a dog who’s treated like a child.

The analysis says people with my personality type “tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle where everything is connected… through a prism of emotion, compassion and mysticism, and are always looking for a deeper meaning.”

Well, that’s pretty true. I dug pomegranate arils out the other day for a salad and then wrote a story describing it that was about more than just pomegranates.

“ENFPs will bring an energy that oftentimes thrusts them into the spotlight, held up by their peers as a leader and a guru – but this isn’t always where independence-loving ENFPs want to be. Worse still if they find themselves beset by the administrative tasks and routine maintenance that can accompany a leadership position.”

Ha, I don’t see myself as a ‘guru’ at anything but sometimes I think others do. At least the people who don’t see me falling apart as a wife and mom on a regular basis are always asking for my advice and opinion and help, especially now that I’m a published and contracted writer. I type that and then figure I sound like a snob. Trust me, I know very little but I am always happy to share that little. I have to humble myself everyday, especially when I edit, and google questions like, “In fiction should numbers be written out?” (Yes, in dialogue especially.)

My favorite part of that description is the part about “administrative tasks”. Please keep those away from me. The paperwork, data, charts, analysis–that’s what I hated about teaching. Just let me read books and lead discussions, already. The decision making and final calling–what I wasn’t good at when I coordinated MOPS. Just let me connect with moms. The find a cute image, schedule posts, and dissect page views of platform building? Ugh, I write 500 words and wish that was enough.

It’s nice to be validated. To realize that there’s nothing wrong with me for not being good at/enjoying those tasks. I just enjoy other tasks more. And I struggle with these time consumers because while I didn’t always find my strengths to be exact in this study, the weaknesses… well, those were unfortunately true.

ENFP personalities tend to have poor practical skills, difficulty focusing, overthink everything, get stressed easily, are highly emotional, and fiercely independent.

Ouch.

But the beauty of having your weaknesses pointed out (and mine have been shown to me with this test and the loving words of some kind friends) is that when I’m aware these are my tendencies, I can make a conscious effort to recognize when I’m being a crazed, anxious, difficult person and step back to examine the why. Which is helping me do something I’ve never done before–say no and guard the time I need. Because while I might have tipped the scales toward extravert, I also know the introvert rises up everyday and needs a little time of withdrawal.

That’s why I get up early and sit in the dim light and drink my first cup of coffee without a three year old baby in my lap. Then I study.

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Obviously this was not an early morning. But it was wedding morning.

Ever wonder what a personality test would say about Jesus? It’s comforting to me when I realize He too was misunderstood by those closest to him. In Mark 4, he’s teaching so many parables and then takes his disciples alone and aside and explains the deeper meaning, yet, still when they cross the Sea of Galilee that night and the storm blows up and He rebukes the waves they ask—”Who is this man?”

They didn’t really know him, not yet.

I’m paging though My Utmost for His Highest for probably the fifth time and this line yesterday, “We can only be used by God after we allow Him to show us the deep, hidden areas of our own character.” It’s when we see our own shortcomings that we can surrender to grace. I’m not so good at that (ahem, independent is another word for likes-to-do-things-my-own-way). Chambers goes on to say it is our pride that holds us back from understanding Christ’s work in us.

But I want to understand. So I’ve lain down a list that’s between me and Jesus of those areas in which I don’t surrender. Maybe you have one too? And maybe instead of being consumed with how others perceive me–or how I perceive myself–I can become consumed with knowing and understanding God so He can work in me—conform me to His image.

And speaking of surrender, that’s a major theme in Katherine Reay’s Dear Mr. Knightley which I finished just the other day.

Loved Dear Mr. Knightley—talk about introspective. Sam’s journey from hidden to found is delicate and though she appears fragile, we discover she’s a steel magnolia (trapped in Chicago). I learned I don’t really know Austen, so I’m adding Emma to my list (might read with Madelynne) and definitely Jane Eyre for a Bronte fix. This story is told in letters, which is unique, and at first I wondered how we’d really get the tale, but then I got lost in the first person narration. My only complaint was that she had to come out of it at the end (for justifiable and necessary reasons) but I hated losing Sam’s voice at that moment. Took me a few pages to feel we were still in her head. Which, the writer in me knows, is the trick of third person deep POV. Harder than one would imagine. So get this one if you like a good romance (not steamy but slow and savory) and appreciate good literature. Yes, I realize I just made romance sound like pot roast. But that’s the kind of story this is—wholesome and filling.

Oh, and if you’re interested I’m venturing over to Goodreads, so you can find me there if you want to talk books.

One more thing!

You can get some these goodies for free this week over at ePantry. I love ePantry. They send me items that make my daughter say, “I like to clean with the good-smelling spray.” Win-win.

She’s talking about that Meyer’s Multi-purpose spray. Favorite cleaning product EVER. I use it on everything and worry about nothing.

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The sweethearts at ePantry (y’all they write me handwritten notes) will send you a free Mrs. Meyer’s cleaning kit with a $20 purchase. To make it super simple, they’ll suggest a basket for you based on your answers to four simple questions. You can add/delete as you want/need but this is the easiest, cheapest, funnest way to freshen your January house. Just go here to sign up or here if you’re an existing customer. They’ll take care of the rest.

For example:

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Enjoy! I know I do, especially when the kids are cleaning and I’m reading. Sure, sometimes that happens.

What are you reading? Learning? Studying?

Linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee and the #TellHisStory crew today.

 

Uncategorized

3.1 Things I’ve Learned from #31Days

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That’s my now 11 year old baby in the pumpkins her first Halloween. Time doesn’t fly, y’all. It sprints on ahead and dares you to keep up.

I truly love the #31days movement. Really, I do.

I just can’t do it.

I managed it (somehow!) in 2013. 31 posts in 31 days on one topic. I was proud of that effort. So maybe that’s why I just don’t have the heart for it here anymore. For one thing, this space for words competes with all my other spaces. Like the Splickety Publishing Group, where I get to edit really great stories and work with really great people. Or the short fiction world which has welcomed me so warmly already that I fear there’s a slew of rejection slips just waiting for my name. Or the hometown newspaper that puts my words in real ink and paper print every other Friday and makes me feel like a real writer every single time.

I love those places. Together with this place, they’ve helped me find my writer’s voice. And they’ve helped me define what I want my blog to be.

I want a writer’s space. An author’s page. A site with a little encouragement, a lot of thoughtfulness, and a dash of humor. This is my place to brand myself in a way that lets me still be myself–in whatever way I feel that day.

So what did I learn from #31days?

  1. I don’t have the capacity to post everyday. Writing is emotionally draining and this month alone I’ve written (and had edited) two short stories, two newspaper columns, and all these posts. There are status updates and tweets and all that Slack convo with my fellow Splicketeers. I’ve edited eleven flash pieces and articles, led my Word Weavers group, and drafted new versions of my info pages. I have to remind myself of all these things because I need to realize it’s okay for my blog to not be updated more than twice a week. And that’s about all I’ve got.
  2. I bore easily. I’ve always known this but it’s even more evident when I have to stick to one topic in my writing. This is probably also why I really like short stories. I get to write one theme, one way, and then move on to the next round of folks rattling around in my head.
  3. Sometimes I would rather watch When Calls the Heart or Friday Night Lights or Friends than write. And that’s ok. Writers are readers, that’s true. I’ve read voraciously my whole life. But you’ll be hard pressed to find a writer who doesn’t also appreciate a well-written television show or movie. This month my girls and I have fallen in love with the love story of Jack and Elizabeth, I’ve learned a few football terms from Coach Taylor and embraced my inner Tami Taylor with a pair of boots, and when I’ve needed a laugh, Central Perk has always been the place to be. The point is, when I indulge in the stories of someone else, I actually become a better writer.

and that .1? I really like reading other people’s posts. My favorite for this season of my life? Jessie Kirkland’s How to Snag an Agent. Real, timely advice for aspiring writers.

November crept in this morning. Here Sunday dawned drizzly gray, and a new challenge–the infamous National Novel Writing Month–buzzed through my social media feeds. I might be there, but I promise I’ll be back here with snippets of our days and in pursuit of my quest to Just Write Life.

31 Days: Fear

Because Failure Is What I Fear Most: 31 Days

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old. That’s when my parents put a copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie in my hands, and I thought, I could do this too.

Tell stories. String words together to form images and persons and tears. Send someone into a world so different, yet so the same as their own that they long to step into pages and walk alongside those who exist only in imagination.

I wrote stories and poems and songs and terrific, terrible works of childhood. At twelve I was probably more of a writer than I am even today. In childhood, there was no fear of admitting this dream, because every child has an outlandish dream to become something truly great.

Then the fear set in, rooted itself deep and tight in my soul and heart and mind.

You’ll never be good enough. Failing Other People

You’ll try and you’ll fail and no one will ever respect you. 

They will judge you and tear you to pieces and you will be ashamed.

So I found my safety net. Teaching became a natural path for this creative type who wanted security and maybe just a touch of success. I knew I could be really good in a classroom. I knew I had compassion and idealism and knowledge. I knew that the best teachers evoke change in their students because of the passion brought into the room everyday. I knew I could do this, I could build up my confidence, and then, maybe someday, I’d stop scribbling in the dark and bring some of my own works into the light.

I floundered around in college. Theater welcomed me in and let me be part of telling stories that truly came alive. I learned to research and listen and delve deeper into words on a page. I thought this would be it–I’d be a high school drama teacher who maybe, one day would also write a book. That would become a play.

That would share a story.

Then I found no fear in love and settled down with a steady man who would give me the moon and the stars if he could. Then we had four beautiful, boisterous children.

Then I realized fear had taken over my life.

Mid-thirties approached with the knowledge that I had never been published, never been exposed, never been called a writer in the way I wanted to be. Blogging wasn’t satisfying this deep longing of my soul.

Blogging was teaching me to find the voice that would tell the stories buried in my heart–stories that weren’t always mine, but someone else’s. Stories that would keep putting light and hope and redemption into this dark world of fear.

And I found to my surprise that failing other people is nothing compared to the discovery that I had failed myself. 

So I wrapped my fear and my hope in a pretty shirt from StitchFix, packaged it into a neat one page and a 500 word excerpt, and I sat down at the table across from an editor and a real, published, well-known author.

And she told me I shouldn’t be afraid of my gift. That I was a talented writer. That my voice was strong.

And in that moment, the crippling weight of fear lifted, and anticipation, that blessed hope that someday this will happen, took its place.

You can read a sample of my fiction over here and here on the Lightning Blog with Splickety Publishing. And if you sign up for email posts, you’ll know when my award-winning short story comes out in Southern Writers Magazine later this month (because I might shout that from the rooftops).

Tell me–what’s holding you back from your dreams? Because kids and laundry and life will always tug at me, but I tell myself over and over, At least I’m trying. Can I help you try in some way?