My Four-Letter Word for 2018 and How I Chose it

My word for 2017 was LOVE– a tiny word that packed a powerful punch. I wanted another short, meaningful word for 2018, but 2017 was nearly out the door, and I hadn’t chosen one.

On December 20, 2017, I wrote in my journal, “Lord, please lead me to the right word, or take away my desire to have one.”

Sometimes God speaks through circumstances and people around us. Over the next few days, I received gentle nudges, like sprinkles on sugar cookies~~

Memories resurfaced~

My sister gave me a unique Christmas present~

I began reading a book from my mother~

And my dear friend Denise died~~

I didn’t tie everything together until December 31st.

My word for 2018 probably started percolating in mid-December when I baked Christmas cookies with my granddaughter Rilynn.

Watching her draw squiggly lines with icing, I remembered being eight years old and how much I  loved my Easy-Bake Oven. Strange–to be all grown up, missing your Easy-Bake Oven. Then a lifetime of Christmases passed, and the joy of baking cookies got shelved.

In 2007, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Sometimes illness can lead to blessings.

After I was diagnosed, I taught myself how to cook again–even yummy gluten-free cookies.

For several Christmases, my daughters and I made them together~~

Such a simple thing, but I loved doing it.

Why does baking cooking make me so happy? 

“Cookies” can’t be my word for 2018.

You can’t grow closer to God from baking cookies.

One day in late December, I scrolled through the photos on my Instagram feed.

Lots of cookie pictures~

Why am I fascinated with baking cookies? What are You saying, Lord?

This Christmas, I made dozens of cookies and gave them away. Something I’d never done.

First to my family and close friends.

Then I gave a tin of white chocolate cranberry cookies to our pastor and his family.

I didn’t know if cookies counted as a real gift, but they do.

I got a huge surprise this Christmas. For the first time in my life, my sister gave me cooking supplies.

I felt eight years old again! 

And I began reading the book from my mother, Ann Voskamp’s, The Broken Way.

Warning: This is a life-changing book. It’s not the kind of book you can skim. I read it slowly, whispering the words, letting them soak into my soul.

Ann writes about being broken, and giving your heart away to others who are broken.

She mentions “choosing to be bread to all kinds of hungry.” 

Bread.

Bread is food.

So are cookies.

People are hungry for love. 

I read this sentence on page 89 over and over~~

“Why grow the list of what I want to have instead of the list of what I can give?”

What I can give…

That’s when my word for 2018 found me.

GIVE.

GIVE.

GIVE. 

What if I keep baking cookies and giving them away?

After Denise died, I made cookies for her friends and family. Actually, the cookies remade me.

“Lord, I’m pouring love into this batch of cookies. Will You pour Your love into Denise’s people today?”

I came home from the funeral with an empty tray and a full heart of love.

Then I prayed a new prayer. 

“Father, if You’ll show me people who need to be loved, I’ll give them cookies.”

When we give from our hearts, God fills us up with more love to share. click to tweet

“Give and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over…” Luke 6:38 KJV

Share your word, thoughts, and dreams for 2018 in the comments. 

Have you ever rediscovered a form of creativity that you loved as a child? Pretty awesome, isn’t it!

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love Is…

When I write about my husband, I ask him to read it before I hit publish. This time I didn’t.

I’m surprising him with a public love letter.

Dear Ricky, (I call him Ricky, but most people call him Rick)

Sunday night, after we picked out our Christmas tree and brought it home, I headed to my loft office to write while you wrested that prickly, sap-filled Frazier fir into place.

With my fingers on my laptop, I sensed a tapping on my heart and glanced through the banisters to watch you work. You were doing the same thing you’ve done for 39 years.

It sounds like a small thing, but this sight moved me.

So much love came over me, I wanted to get closer.

I tiptoed downstairs and sat in the red chair behind you.

I didn’t say anything. I sat there, watching and thinking. Praying a little bit.

I’d never thought much about Christmas tree lights until that flickering moment.

I remembered our first Christmas, 1978.

We came home with a tree that wouldn’t fit in out den–remember?

Then we drove back to the tree lot and exchanged it for a smaller one. I was afraid we’d lost our money, but you knew they’d do the right thing.

What about all those years when Jamie, Katie, and Thomas helped us decorate?

It never occurred to me that Christmases would change, and one day it would just be you and me.

Every year, you untangle the lights from last Christmas because I’m always in such a hurry to take down the decorations.

And every year you fix my mess.

I don’t know why this touched me so deeply…

Maybe because my word for 2017 is Love.

I didn’t know this as young wife and mother.

And I didn’t put the definition together until three days ago.

This is what Love means:

Love means doing whatever it takes to get the job done. 

Love is content to go unnoticed.

Love is kind–even when the Christmas lights are knotted up. (click to tweet)

Thank you, Ricky.

Happy 39th on December 9th.

I love you.

Julie

To my readers–

What does love mean to you?

Has your definition of love changed over the years? Share it with us!

 

 

Love and a Spotted Donkey

Saturday night, my husband and I were on our way to eat out when he pulled over on the side of the road.

“What are you doing?”

“Looking at the horses,” he said.

I’d passed these horses a thousand times, and I was hungry, but he didn’t put the car in drive, so I glanced at the scene unfolding in the pasture.

It was twilight~~

That magical time right before sunset when God peels back the curtain and reveals a touch of wonder.

The horses were stunning, the edge of the sun slipping over their strong shoulders.

I rolled down the window and became a part of their world.

The sweet scent of October grass filled the car.

In the far left corner of the field, a chocolate-brown donkey stood on the other side of the fence, grazing.

Two more tan donkeys joined her. A smaller animal stood between them.

It looked like a small horse with big, pointy ears.  Or maybe a goat.

“What’s the spotted thing?”

“It’s a donkey,” Rick said.

“A spotted donkey?”

“Yep.”

I had no idea there were spotted donkeys.

Captured by her beauty, I watched her for a few seconds before asking my next question. “Have we always had donkeys on our street?”

“Yep.”

“Even the spotted one?”

“Um-hmm.”

How have I missed this little donkey all these years?

I felt a warm sensation in my heart.

What is it, Lord? I’m listening…

I thought about how He’s the Good Shepherd–how He knows the condition of His flock. (from John 10:14-15 and Proverbs 27:23)

Lord, You don’t zip down the road of life, too busy to care about us.

You don’t glance at us from time to time when You have nothing better to do.

You’re in the field with us. 

And for sure, You’d never forget You have a spotted donkey.

Lord, You’re the Good Shepherd. You can’t possibly forget me! (click to tweet

Did you know about spotted donkeys?

How’s the Good Shepherd helping you today?

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Healing from Kneeling

For months I pretended not to notice, but last week there was no denying it.

As I vacuumed the den, the late afternoon sun poured through the windows, highlighting the scratches in our pine floors.

Our floors had been through hard times.

Life had beaten them up.

The next day at Home Depot, I found special markers called Rejuvenate. They came in different shades of brown, and the package said they repaired wood furniture and floors.

Why not give it a try?

Rejuvenate did a fine job covering the scratches, but something even more remarkable happened.

My soul was rejuvenated. 

I knelt down and began covering marks in the floor and thought about the scratches in my heart.

My life.

My journey.

My choices.

My history.

My mistakes.

The times I’d allowed fear to consume me.

Times I’d tried to please people rather than please God.

Times I’d run from Him.

All the time I’d wasting by comparing myself to others.

I wondered if there was a parallel between restoring my floors and restoring my heart.

Kneeling over my bedroom floor, I thought~

Lord, You’re only a breath away.

Nothing is hidden from You.

Everything is laid bare.

You know me.

You know my heart.

My story.

My past.

My future.

My weaknesses.

My strengths.

As I covered each mark in the floor, I considered the marks in my life and imagined Jesus kneeling with me. Side by side. 

He didn’t say, “Julie, pay attention! You missed a spot. Why didn’t you take care of your floors to start with? Are you ever going to learn? When are you going to get it right?” 

I felt no condemnation.

None.

Only Love.

He loves us. Oh, how He loves us. 

As I restored my worn floors, God restored the worn places in my heart. (click to tweet)

Lord, You are intimately acquainted with all my ways, and still, You love me. From Ps. 139:3 (click to tweet)

There’s something powerful about kneeling when we pray.

Have you experienced healing when kneeling?

What scratches has God restored in your life?

So much love,

Julie  

 

 

 

 

Love–The Remedy for Discouragement

I set two goals for the month of June:

1. Finish the rewrite on my novel.

2. Take a picture every day about my word for 2017,  Love. Share the pictures on Instagram. 

For 30 days I wondered, will I be able to find evidence of love today? Something picture-worthy? Where? How? When?

And every day I’d catch a glimpse of something and feel a little nudge inside my heart.

~Fresh peaches from Thompson Family Farms~

~Our hammock~

~Summertime petunias~

~The American flag and the last gardenia~~

~Thomas and Brittany’s wedding~(taken by Kylie Martin Photography)

~The rainbow on Father’s Day when the newlyweds invited us to their house for dinner~

~A blank page in my journal~

~Another porch party~

~On June 26th I finally finished my novel. I had it printed and snapped a picture of the box containing the 356 pages~

~I asked someone to edit it and kicked back in the hammock to celebrate~

Three days later, I read through the edit and discovered I have some more work to do.

I need to go deeper. 

One of my characters hasn’t completely opened her heart to me. 

Feeling discouraged, I dumped out the pages on my desk and had a good talk with myself. 

Why is this novel so important to me? Why am I writing it?

Then it dawned on me.  

I write for the same reason I took 30 pictures. 

Because of love. 

Love compels me. 

Love for my characters.  Love for my readers.  Love for God. 

I write because I love. And love is stronger than discouragement. Click to tweet.

The next morning I lit my candles, knelt beside my desk, and prayed a simple prayer. 

Lord, I need You. Will You pour Your love through me today? 

Are you feeling discouraged about something? Look for signs of love. And remember~~

Discouragement doesn’t come from God. Ever. He’s a God of hope. Always. click to tweet

Praise the Lord! He is good. God’s love never fails. Psalms 136:1 click to tweet

Each one of you means so much to me. Thank you for your friendship and for giving me grace with the blog. I’ll be back the first Wednesday in August.

So much love,

Julie

 

Decorating with Love

When I found out Robin, my BFF of 40 years, was spending the night, I was blown away with excitement. But I was also a tiny bit scared.

Robin is ROBIN from All Things Heart and HomeEvery inch of her home blooms with beauty and creativity. 

She’d be staying in our spare bedroom–the room I’d been ignoring it for years. It was full of wrapping paper and boxes, with my ironing board sitting in the middle of the floor.

No color theme. No inspiration. Total blah.

I wanted Robin to feel loved and welcomed, but decorating isn’t easy for me. 

The bedroom makeover began with a prayer and a pillow.

Lord, will You please help me? Will You show me what to do–step-by-step?

Later that day, I searched through the decorative pillows at Walmart. Nothing thrilled me~~

Until I spotted this one with a bicycle on it.

Something sweet stirred in my heart as if the Lord whispered,

Get the pillow, Julie. It belongs in Robin’s room. 

Okay. I have a pillow. What next? A bedspread? I want her to feel covered with Your Love. 

One aisle over, I found a white duvet–fluffy and carefree like clouds.

At Target, I fell in love with a five-dollar pink pillow.

Five dollars? 

Decorating isn’t about price tags. 

Back at home, I put the pillow in my grandmother’s rocking chair.

I noticed the long, dark area in front of the dormer window.

How can we bring love into this spot, Lord?

(This is the “after” picture below.)

I brought a table inside from the front porch and added a few of my favorite things.

This corner next to the bookshelf needs something. 

I added my cross lamp.

Light and Love~~

Maybe a rug would feel cozy. 

I found a pink, shag rug at Target and texted my sister a picture. She gave it a thumbs’ up and suggested I try it under the bottom of the bed.

Who knew?!

Then I texted Robin’s husband to see if he had any ideas.

“Peonies are her favorite flowers,” he said, “but they’re really hard to find.”

Lord, will You help me find peonies? 

I called my friend Laurel from Everett’s Florist in Monroe, GA. Peonies had just arrived! She arranged them in my grandmother’s antique vase.

I put the flowers on the bedside table and had a tiny spot for one more thing, but what? 

I thought about our 40 years of friendship~~

All the memories~~

Phone calls about raising toddlers, potty training, and then teenage drama~~

So much love~~

I found a picture of us at her fall party and had it printed in black and white. 

Guess what?

Robin fell in love with her room!

The morning after she spent the night, she brought her peonies to the breakfast table. 🙂 The flowers I’d prayed for (and even doubted I’d find) became our centerpiece. 

And then the sweetest thing happened~~

After our time together, Robin texted me this picture from her heart and home.

No words. Just the picture. 

Tears blurred my vision.

Everything was so beautiful. God helped me do the impossible. 

Together, we turned a junk room into a room full of love.

I didn’t even know where to start and He showed me how.

He led me every step of the way.

 I went upstairs to take another peek. 

Robin had made up the bed and raised the blinds.  With golden Light streaming in the window, a new truth settled in my soul. 

Live this way, Julie, God seemed to say–in My Love–always, with everything you do. 

Wow. Just wow.

When you don’t know what to do next, ask God to lead you with His Love. (click to tweet)

Do everything in Love, even decorating! (click to tweet) 

Do everything in love. 1st Corinthians 16:14 NIV (click t0 tweet)

Do you know the secret of decorating with love?

Is God helping you do something step-by-step? Please share! 

P.S. I have a prayer request.  My goal is to finish my novel rewrite during the month of June. It’s sort of like decorating the bedroom-I can’t do it without His help. Will you pray for me? 

I’m going to be putting my heart and soul into the novel, so I’m not going to blog again until Wednesday, July the 5th. 

I’m going to miss you, big time!

Thank you for praying. 

One more tidbit of info–I’m spending more time on Instagram than Facebook. I’m posting a pic every day in June about Love, my word for 2017. 🙂 Please join me~~

So much love,

Julie

 

 

What Does Love Have to do with a Fence?

I have so much to learn and relearn about LOVEmy word for 2017.

Monday, I hurried into Target with my list, but my mind wasn’t on shopping. I wanted to figure out what Real Love means.

I wanted to tuck Love into a box. Tie a bow on it.  Move on.

I stopped at the front of the store where they put seasonal things on sale and came home with three Valentine’s Day items that weren’t on my list:

Heart-shaped lights to go over the kitchen table–

A pack of Valentines.

A notepad decorated with conversation candy.

After I hung the lights, I lit three red candles in the kitchen.

But it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t satisfied.

Love is more than Valentine’s Day. It’s more than red hearts and white, lacy doilies.

What is Real Love? 

Does Real Love always mean giving, giving, giving and saying yes? 

Maybe it would help to define what Real Love isn’t. 

I usually think better in the woods, so I took the dogs for a walk. The trees were bare, and I noticed something.

The fence. 

It runs horizontally, and you can only see it in the winter. 

But it’s always there. 

I crunched my way through the dead leaves and stood beside it.

It’s just a fence. A useless fence. 

But for some reason, I was drawn to it.

The fence doesn’t even keep the dogs in the backyard. 

It marks our property line

What difference does the property line make? 

With the dogs standing quietly at my side, I stood there praying, thinking, wondering. 

The fence matters. 

The thought came softly, but it startled me.

I remembered a book I’d studied in a ladies’ small group, Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John TownsendWe even did the workbook. 🙂

Back in my office, I found my copy of Boundaries. 

Chapter One–What Does a Boundary Look Like?

In small group, we talked about how fences are physical boundaries, and how physical and emotional boundaries are necessary.

I skimmed my notes:

1. Boundaries (fences) define our personal property. Our space.

2. Boundaries show where one person ends and another person begins.

3. Boundaries protect us. They keep the good in and the bad out.

4. Boundaries aren’t selfish. They’re loving and kind.

We discussed the power of the word NO–

The importance of keeping emotional and geographical distance when appropriate.

How to back up our boundaries with consequences.

Whew…

Real love includes fences. 

Real love doesn’t always mean, YES. Of course. Let me do that for you. 

Real love isn’t about red and pink hearts. Sometimes it means loving yourself enough to say, “No.” Click to tweet.

Does this side of love stir your emotions?

It does mine. I’m reading Boundaries again. 

Love,

Julie

 

 

My Four-Letter Word for 2017

When the idea for my word first came to me in November, I shoved it aside. I didn’t think it would be much of a challenge. Nothing like my words from the past:

2016 DANCE 

2015 SIMPLE  

2014 ENOUGH

2013 FOLLOW 

2012 SURRENDER  

I thought I’d aced this particular word a long time ago. But it kept popping up. Everywhere. It’s behind my laptop on an ideas board I made back in August.

It’s on the cover of this Angels on Earth magazine on my desk.

I started reading a book on my Kindle by Sheila Walsh, The Longing in Me: How Everything You Crave Leads to the Heart of God. (Great book!)

The word is in the verse at the very beginning of the book, the command from God:

LOVE each other. John 15:17

I do love people. I’m not mean. 

I got a little nervous when I read the title of my BFF’s blog post, Love is Costly. Robin opens with this picture below and says,

“Love was costly for Jesus. Love was costly for God. Of course, love is costly for us too.”

(photo credit All Things Heart and Home.)

I felt an uncomfortable sensation churning inside. An uneasiness. 

God had a grip on my heart. I didn’t want to give in.

This was getting deep, and I wasn’t sure what LOVE might cost.

Taking the Christmas decorations down, I noticed the burlap ribbon on the tree in the kitchen. Leftover from Valentine’s Day. Covered with red hearts.

I’m not craftsy, but I wondered if I could use the ribbon on the front porch–where my Christmas decorations were.

For Valentine’s Day.

Not for LOVE. 

I wrapped it around a grapevine wreath and tied a bow at the bottom.

I brought my old pitcher outside–the one with hearts on it–still arguing with God about the word.

Okay. This looks nice, but it doesn’t mean I have to pick LOVE for my word.

I get it. 

We’re supposed to love people. 

And I do.

Then the word showed up at the bottom of my prayer journal.

Boom.

An arrow.

Straight to my heart.

The verse nailed me.

Love one another as I have loved you. 

AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.

I don’t do this very often, Lord. I don’t love people unconditionally. Sometimes it’s for show. Or for personal gain. Or because it’s expected.

But to love expecting nothing in return…

This scares me.

Because I don’t know how. 

And I can’t do it without You. 

With trembling fingers, I handed God my heart and said, “Will You teach me how to love others?” Click to tweet

I have no idea what’s next, and yes–I’m still a little bit afraid of my word.

Have you chosen a word for 2017? A theme? A goal? Are you a tiny bit scared too?

Love,

Julie (there’s my word again!)

 

 

 

 

 

What Does it Really Mean to Dance?

Before I opened my eyes Thursday morning, my husband said, “Happy anniversary.”

Five-thirty a.m., and I started laughing. A terrible time to laugh.

It wasn’t the kind of laughter you can stop. 

You know better. 

You tell yourself to behave and act like an adult. But you’ve lost control. 

“Happy anniversary,” I said, when I finally caught my breath.

“What’s so funny?”

“We’ve had a perfect marriage, haven’t we? Thirty-eight years of sheer bliss.”

(Leaving for our honeymoon, 12.9.78)

“Are you drunk?”

“Just think. We’ve never had an argument. No problems with our children. Always plenty of money in the bank. No sickness. No sadness. No family issues.”

“Yeah, right.”

All of the sudden, it wasn’t funny anymore.

We didn’t say anything for a minute. Probably both thinking the same thing.

During our 38 years together, we’d been up close and personal with mental illness, addiction, divorce, arrests, jail, prison, cancer, infertility, anorexia, homelessness…

Maybe you have a similar list.

I started the coffee. Fixed us a cup.

We went outside to the front porchand I thought about my word for 2016, DANCE.

Deep down, I hoped in 2016 I’d be dancing and celebrating certain things. Most of them haven’t happened. Not yet, anyway. 

I leaned back in my rocking chair. Sipped my coffee. “When you get married, you start out with all these wonderful plans–the way you think everything’s supposed to go.”

“Doesn’t work that way. We’re not in control.”

(We’re dancing at our daughter Katie’s first marriage in 2006.)

But something was nagging at me.

I couldn’t figure out how to fit the word DANCE into the puzzle of 2016, and the year was coming to a close.

“Do you think life is like a dance?” I said, thinking maybe I was getting a little closer.

He looked out into the morning, which was just beginning to wake up. “Yep. Life’s hard. Marriage is hard. Raising children is hard. You celebrate when you can.”

Then the magic happened. I connected the dots.

Truth came together in my heart.

I found what I was looking for–a way to tie our messy lives into dancing.

“You know what? Over the years, it’s the slow-dancing you remember,” I said. “The hard times. The times when you don’t know what to do. That’s what bonds people together. It’s not the fun, loud, happy times.”

“You’re right.”

“That’s the secret. That’s what brings us close to God. Hard times. Times when there’s no possible way you can make it without Him.”

He nodded. “Yep. You nailed it.”

When things gets tough, slow dance. Hang on to God with all your might. Lean into Him. Click to tweet. 

Keep your eyes on Him. 

Stay inside the shelter of His embrace. 

He won’t let you go. 

* When you can’t hear the music, remember, God wrote the song. Click to tweet

Three questions:

1. If you chose a word for 2016, how’s it going?

2. Are you slow dancing with God right now?

3. I’m curious. Do you have a list like mine?

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

The Dancing Queen Has an Aha Moment

Have you ever found the answer to a problem in a bizarre way? That happened to me this weekend. Saturday morning, I was stumped.

My problem just so happened to be about writing, but it could’ve been about anything.

Thinking too hard and drinking way too much coffee, I sat in my office staring at dozens of sticky notes. I couldn’t figure out how to fix the plot in my novel.

By 10 a.m., my brain already felt like this.

A knotted-up mess. 

Ever so gently, my word for 2016 came to me.

DANCE. Why don’t you dance?

Now? 

I can’t dance. 

I have to fix this problem.

Take a break. Dance. Let it go. 

I can’t. 

Work comes before play.

Always.

Those are the rules. 

Then four words came to me. Four one-syllable words.

Do you trust Me? 

Yes, of course but…

Then dance–the gentle thought brushed against my heart.

Don’t laugh, y’all, but I did.

I got out my chair, twirled around in my office (no one was home but me), and I boogied my way downstairs–

Like I was the room monitor, slacking off on my duty.

Then I did something really wild and crazy. I hopped into the car. Drove to the YMCA.

For 30 minutes, I played solitaire on the treadmill as though I had absolutely nothing better to do. 

I acted like a kid during recess and danced–mentally and physically. 

Guess what?

The best thing happened–

When I forgot about my problem, the answer came. I knew what to do! How crazy is that?

Back at home, I moved a few sticky notes around on my whiteboard and fixed my plotting issue. 

Sometimes trusting God means we let go, take a break, and dance. Click to Tweet

Is this an aha moment for you too? Or have you always known about the dancing secret? I bet you have! 🙂

P.S. If you have a minute, watch this video from 1978. “Dancing Queen” used to be my fave song back in the day.

If you can’t see the video, click here. It’s impossible to watch it without dancing!

Love,

Julie–the Dancing Queen