What can a donkey teach you? Oh, just lots of stuff.
A couple of months ago, I accidentally interrupted my own my blogging routine without even so much as an "excuse me." I'm not sure where my manners went! (This is where a person might ask, "What, do you live in a barn or something?" To which I reply, "Actually....I DO.")
While I finished up a couple of book projects, there were some important things on my calendar, such as:
I was invited to speak at a retreat in New Hampshire...
....one with a donkey decor theme no less!
How CUTE is this?? I love all the daisies!
Most of women of The Orchard Fellowship Church in New Hampshire had read Flash the Donkey beforehand, which created a really awesome space for conversation. Plus they already "got" me, so they weren't too surprised by the offbeat way I tend to look at things.
I loved that we connected as we talked about finding God at work in our interruptions, and seeing His purposes in our everyday moments.
You see, I've come to believe that experiencing God is often as simple as pausing.
Pausing to breathe.
Pausing to give thanks.
Pausing to ask, "What do You have for me in this moment?"
Truthfully, I've felt a little frantic recently. I did not meet my book deadline on time. Gulp. I missed some appointments. I forgot things, some big things. I let some people down. I was playing catch-up a lot. I could not find the wherewithal to blog.
I forgot to pause.
But in the midst of all this, I've been thinking about the way God is WITH US. He is called Emmanuel, "God With Us," and His presence brings peace to our very real situations. Each person I encountered at the retreat and in my various activities was (and is) experiencing something real, maybe even impossibly hard. I'd be the last to say that God magically makes every hard thing go away. I'm old enough to know it doesn't always work that way.
But He is....with us.
And He redeems all things. He brings us through.
He holds us.
And, I think, He waits for us.
After my trip to New Hampshire I found myself in California, accompanying my husband to a conference. We stole an extra day to explore Yosemite National Park.
In such a wondrous place, it was easy to pause. It was easy to see His handiwork! It feels much more difficult to see His handiwork in our everyday life, amidst the dishes and deadlines.
But His work IS there, even when we don't see it.
The mountains reminded me that He is not in such a hurry to accomplish His purposes. His work takes time...and patience.
Each interruption, each struggle, each heartache and each joy....layer upon layer is heaped with His presence:
God with us.
And we can trust that He makes all things beautiful in His time.
On our way to the airport, we stole a half hour to walk along the beach. The beach was not on our itinerary. The beach was not in our window of time.
But the highway was so close to the beach, and it was so pretty outside, and I thought how sad it would be to be *this close* to the water and not put our toes in. I know, right?
I'm very glad we did. The sea felt spectacular!
I immediately began looking for a heart-shaped rock, my favorite thing to collect...as a memento of this whole busy spring.
I found the perfect stone, its edges made smooth by eons of waves and sand:
A pause in the journey gave me something to put in my pocket, and along with it, something to put in my heart:
Emmanuel – God is with us,
no matter how busy or distracted we may be.
Let's do a Small Thing together, remember those?
Today's Small Thing is to simply slow down...pause...give thanks. Let His grace fill your moment, and spill over into the rest of your day.
How will you pause? What do you give thanks for?
I can't believe it's been a couple of months since I last posted! I can hardly remember what I was doing in February. I did not mean to leave you hanging, but I sort of dropped everything to work on some stuff. It's that unitasking syndrome again. I can now actually ONLY do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking isn't even an option. You'll have to forgive me while I retrace my steps so I can figure out just where I am right now.
Some of you might already know about this, but I've been working on a children's book. Well, it's not "out" yet, but it IS done.
Flash the Donkey Makes New Friends will be out on October 1, and (amazingly) is already available for preorder on Amazon. I LOVED getting to write and illustrate this charming story! Here's the official description:
Children will fall in love with Flash the Donkey as they learn the value of true friendship and what it means to be a good friend to others.
Hee-haw! A stray donkey with a penchant for inventions is taken in by a mismatched collection of barnyard friends. Flash the Donkey Makes New Friends is the heartwarming story of a not-so-ordinary donkey who needs a special place to belong.Flash is the inquisitive type who loves to invent things and solve problems, but his curiosity sometimes gets him into trouble! With the help of his new-found friends―Jed the Goat, Carson the Pig, and Ruby the Chicken―Flash manages to turn problems into adventures and learns valuable lessons along the way.Inspired by Rachel Anne Ridge’s memoir Flash, named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Summer Books of 2015, kids will fall in love with this endearing donkey as they learn to appreciate the value of true friendship.
And although I loved it doing it, I literally had no brain cells left by the time I turned in my last illustration. Not one. Somehow all that drawing and coloring was waaaay harder than I thought it would be! I found myself living like an old crazy hunchback woman who never bathed or changed her clothes, up in the bell tower (ok it was my upstairs office), only coming down for food and to squint at the light every now and then while I finished it.
Other than that, it was a piece of cake (wink). I should probably tell you that it's geared for children ages 3-7, aaaand the adults who love them! The story makes me smile, and it's one I hope you'll enjoy, too.
Now, stepping back through my mental fog...
This past fall I quietly wrote a book called Made to Belong: A Six Week Journey to Discover Your Purpose. The final edits got done during my blog hiatus, and as I've re-read the words in this workbook, I've gotten really excited about it all over again!
This is something that is SO DEAR TO MY HEART, because I think all of us struggle to find "that thing" we were made to do.
Made to Belong is also available for preorder on Amazon, and I'll tell you more about it (and the Belong Tour) as we get closer to the August 1 publication date!
Phew. I started to add to this post all the other stuff that went down but then my hunchback tendency came back and I thought, hey why pack all of this "retracing my steps" into one single post? Give these poor people (and your spine) a rest.
Okay, next post will be about the other happenings during my (previously unannounced but now completed) blog break.
I'm off to take a shower and find some clean clothes.
I'VE MISSED YOU!!!! Thank you for waiting.
Today's post is a reprise from 2012, but everything about it is still true. Except that now we've had 33 Valentine's Days together. Enjoy:
I've tried to write about our love story at least a half a dozen times on this blog. And every time, I've ended up deleting the sappy mess of words and emotion that appears on the screen. There is just no way to cover a lifetime of crazy hard good long deep love in one post, except to say that we are still Valentines.
That guy. Tom asked me to marry him six weeks after our first date. Of course I said "yes" immediately. He always tells people, "I chased Rachel until she caught me," and it's almost true. I knew right from that first double-take that he was going to be the one. Six months from that first date, we were hitched. And what a ride it's been.
Today I'm sharing my two favorite photos of us.
The first (above) is from when we were engaged: Tom let himself into the UT Arlington stadium in the middle of the night, and armed with a flashlight and a design he'd drawn on grid paper, he spelled out "I love you Rachel" in the stands by flipping seats into a pattern. In the morning, he took me up in a small plane and flew me over it as he launched into a monologue entitled, "I Wish There Was Some Special Way I Could Tell You How Much I love You....Oh Look Down There!"
It was epic.
The photo actually appeared in the local paper. Tom landed the plane and we made our way over to the stadium to take pictures and a photojournalist, who'd seen the gigantic love note from the road, snapped it. What a memory.
Fast forward 29 years, three kids, two dogs, several cats, gerbils and parakeets, three businesses, some failures, some tough years and some incredibly awesome times.....and here we are.
This photo is from our daughter's wedding in November and I love it because it was such a special moment. We were in the middle of taking family pictures and it just seemed like time went into slow motion and everything was good and beautiful and sweet and perfect. I don't know, we were just a couple of kids who fell crazy in love and made this life with each other and suddenly there we were...our kids all grown up and finding their own way and somehow it was coming back to the two of us. I could almost picture every moment of our history - the toddlers, the middle school years, the piano lessons, the braces, the job losses, the health scares, the babies we lost and the graduations and now weddings. So much has happened and yet so much has stayed the same. We're still those crazy kids, we're still laughing at the same corny lines and still getting angry over the same petty things. I'm still messy and he's still a neat freak. We still think the other is hot.
And we're still Valentines.
In years past, we've made this day about the kids and making sure they felt loved. Sometimes we've even forgotten to celebrate it. But this year, we are feeling a little bit giddy again. Maybe it's that life is about to turn another corner and things will once again change when the last of our kids takes off for college. Or maybe it's just that we feel the depth of the life we've forged, and the experiences we've shared that have become our story.
There is no Small Thing today, except to celebrate the love in your life - whatever that looks like. In my experience, love is less about flowers and chocolates and more about changing diapers, paying bills and simply being there for the other person no matter what. Love is long and hard and crazy and good. It's awesome if you get a bouquet of flowers every now and then, but what's even awesomer is when you look across the table at the person you married and know you'd do it all over again. To know that you didn't get the "perfect" life together, you just got a shot at making the "best" life together. And that every day you get a new chance to make it work, to share the load, to dance in the kitchen and to hold hands on the couch. You get a new chance to love and forgive and overlook and celebrate.
You are making your own love story happen.
Have a Happy Valentine's Day! With much love,
When my daughters were preschoolers, they coined the phrase, "company girl," to describe how they kept each other company. It's stuck with me ever since.
"Will you be my Company Girl?" one girl would ask the other. It seemed like the question always came with an outstretched hand and a hopeful smile. Okay, sometimes it was more of a demand that came with some arm twisting: "BE MY COMPANY GIRL!" You know how sisters are. :)
Hand in hand, they would skip off to the back yard, or to a tea party in the living room, or for a snack in the kitchen. It didn't make any difference where they were, or what they were doing...they knew it would just be better as long as they were together.
I learned something valuable from those two darling redheads. I learned that friendship can be so much less complicated than I had imagined. Sometimes, simply being together is enough. Just having a "company girl" friendship makes everything sweeter, richer, and more enjoyable.
Recently, I've come to see how friendship is more than just sweet, it is like a secret superpower.
Friendship is one powerful force.
Girls, this is great news!
We are Wonder Women...and we didn't even know it!
I mean, if you could bottle that force and sell it, you'd make a fortune. I can't think of any pill that packs that kind of promise!
That's why I call friendship our superpower.
Now, some women are naturally good at making and keeping friends. Others of us need help brushing up on our friendship skills that have gotten a little rusty.
You'll get no judgment from me here.
Because, while we've focused on meeting the demands of work, kids, finding receipts, taking out the trash, and remembering to put the load of washed clothes into the dryer before mold sets in, we've let friendships take a back seat. It's hard to juggle everything, and hey, when your kid needs a model volcano for science class tomorrow, and by sad coincidence, you have no idea what to fix for dinner.....enjoying a cup of coffee with a friend can wait, for pete's sake.
I totally get that.
But maybe it's time to unleash your hidden superpower.
Now is a good moment to put the sparkle back into your girlfriend relationships, and experience the ripples of good that not only go out into the world, but come back to you in remarkable ways.
If you would like to rediscover your friendship superpower, I want to invite you to a very special event!
On Saturday, February 20, I'll be speaking at the luncheon at the Day for Women in Temple, TX.
Temple is between Waco and Austin - just a little drive from the Dallas area. There is a whole day planned with shopping, a fashion show, and of course, LUNCH. It's a perfect event to bring a Company Girl to. Day for Women Info
In the meantime, I challenge you to do something friendshippy–something you've been putting off–like writing a letter, or grabbing that cup of coffee, or making a phone call to a friend. A text or email will do, but maybe you can put your superpower to the test and come up with something amazing!
Don't think about yourself and how it will make you feel, but think of the person you're extending a hand to, and how it will make her feel.
Remember, a superpower is worthless when it's kept under wraps, so go out and wield it!
Be the friend you wish you had...and see what happens next.
* * * * * * *
What will you do that is friendshippy and superpowery? I'd love to hear your comments!
In the spirit of friendship, I'll give a free, signed copy of my book Flash to one lucky commenter today!
Yes. Yes, I believe it is possible to struggle well.
I mean, I know I've struggled poorly a lot, but as I reflect, there are the good kinds of struggles as well. You know, the kind where you say, "Oh, good, that struggle is over!"
Hey, you know what, I just noticed the earrings I'm wearing in this picture:
WHERE ARE THEY??? These earrings are my favorites, and I didn't even realize they'd gone missing! HOW LONG HAVE THEY BEEN GONE?
Now I want them back.
Okay, back to my subject. I'll try not to think about my earrings. The earrings that are my favorites. The ones I can't find.
On to my point: I want to introduce you to Emily Thomas, a friend of mine who I met through blogging. She is a talented artist, blogger, mom and podcaster, who loves to encourage moms in their journeys. She's honest, funny, and sweet, as you can tell from her About Page!
Emily asked me to be a guest on her podcast, Mom Struggling Well, and I loved getting to share a bit of my own story as a fellow struggler..who is just far enough ahead to be able to reassure others coming along behind that it's going to be all right.
I hope you'll listen to our conversation! Spoiler: you'll learn one unexpected way I show love to my husband. You can find our conversation right here:
Don't forget to subscribe to Emily's podcast on itunes or your favorite podcast platform!
January 2016 - LET'S DO THIS!
Like Calvin, I plan to continue winging it this year.
A few days ago, I actually sat down to jot a few goals for the year, but the problem with that is once you start, it begins to snowball.
It starts innocently enough, with one or two big goals, like say, "I will write a new book proposal by March 1" and then quickly you think, "if I'm going to do that, I'll need to get going at a decent time every morning, which means I need to go to bed earlier, which means I can't eat nachos at 10 pm. Which means I need to eat better, and of course be sure and drink 8 glasses of water and I'll have to lose five pounds of Christmas weight, plus train for a triathalon and finish my degree.
See where this is going?
Before you know it, I've mapped out this whole new lifestyle for myself, which I know I'll never be able to keep up with by Friday.
It's the same old me, biting off more than I can chew.
This is why I'm a fan of vague ideas and fuzzy goals for the new year.
Hey, it works for me.
One of my fuzzy goals is to "READ MORE." (Notice how it's not quantified?) I don't have a set number of books I'd like to complete, but I'm not worried about that.
I know I will accomplish my hazy target, because of one simple trick:
I will keep track of my finished books. Each time I complete a book, I'll make a list in my Evernote app, which I've recently resurrected.
You see, simply keeping track of my activity is a huge motivator.
And I have science to back me up. Studies show that students who simply chart their progress achieve far greater results than those who do not. You might also know about the famous "Jerry Seinfeld" productivity technique - "Don't Break the Chain." It's worth reading!
If you are struggling to set and keep goals, I urge you to stop and back away. Put your hands down at your sides, now move slowly away from the carnage of failure.
Thaaaat's it. Keep going.
Now. Don't beat yourself up.
You're going to be okay.
Hey, some of us who use "winging it" as their Standard Operating Procedure have some work-arounds for getting things done.
This is one you can use right away!
What will you keep track of today? Why not record the number of glasses of water you drink? Or write down if you exercised (or not)? Keep a tally of your spending, or jot down your daily word count on that novel. It doesn't matter what it is.
Don't set a goal, just write down what you're already doing. Tomorrow, do it again. Repeat.
So simple - YOU GOT THIS!! You'll be surprised at how effective this will be, and before long you'll be making real PROGRESS toward those vague goals that you never set in the first place.
Let me know....what will you keep track of?
Good gracious, Christmas is almost here.
And it's arriving just when I've come up for air, after trying (and failing) to meet my deadline for turning in final sketches for a children's book.
Question: Did you know that scanning in pencil drawings is nearly impossible?
Please don't even try it. You'll go over every single line on forty pages of drawings to make them darker, only to find that they still won't scan with any kind of quality.
You will waste an entire day, have hand cramps, and end up in tears.
You'll finally take individual photos of each drawing, move them into Photoshop, color correct, crop, then upload to your editor...two days late. But DONE!
Well, I recovered from that fiasco just in time to realize that I'd missed my goal of finishing Christmas shopping early.
You know, they say that the key to finishing something is to actually START it, soooo that's probably where I went wrong.
I never started Christmas shopping, early or otherwise.
Until yesterday. I started shopping yesterday. I made a stab at Walmart, lost my life force, and wound up at Red Robin, eating a chicken sandwich. Specifically the California Chicken Sandwich, topped with with quacamole, bacon and Provolone.
It was just what I needed to carry on. I'll try shopping again today.
Which brings me to the lonely cookies.
This was my first year to make Christmas cookies....all alone, with no kids around to help decorate them. (This story may be filed under "Empty Nest Probs.")
I decided to make a small batch, knowing from experience how the excitement of decorating cookies can fade to zero over the course of several dozen snowmen, Christmas trees, and stars.
The result? I was amazed at how neat and tidy the whole experience was! Making cookies alone meant no interruptions, no people licking their fingers and dipping them into frosting, no sprinkles being dumped on the floor, and no one arguing over the green frosting. Nobody tried to eat cookies when I wasn't looking. Nobody complained about how long it took.
In short, it got finished quickly and easily...aaaand not at all how Christmas cookie-making should go. I learned that it really should be messy, noisy and full of sprinkles on the floor. It really should be done as a group activity, preferably with little, messy, noisy people.
Making Christmas cookies is much, much better that way.
Speaking of better things, this year marks another first: our first artificial tree.
In keeping with our 32 year tradition, we went out to buy a real tree. But like shopping for gifts, shopping for trees is best done early in the season, when there actually ARE real trees to buy. We ended up with a lovely fake tree, and I must say, I do love not watering it. I love that the branches don't droop because I forgot to water it. I love that I'm not vacuuming pine needles because I forgot to water it. I love that it's not crispy because I forgot to water it.
I think we found a new tradition, especially since forgetting to water a tree is already my tradition.
Now, many of you have asked about Tonita, the single mom we helped this fall.
In October, you–my wonderful blog readers– raised $2500.00 for her, which got her into a little rental home, got her utilities up and running, and took care of the immediate needs she had! It has been fantastic to see furniture provided - from bedrooms to living room and kitchen - her kids get settled into school, and things really turn around. The children are just so excited about being in their first "homey-home," as one of them said.
I wish I could say, "The End–Happily Every After!" but Tonita had a health issue a few weeks ago that is causing problems. High blood pressure has prevented her from being able to work at her warehouse job. Although she has now received clearance from her doctor, her employer is not giving her any work hours. It's so frustrating! She desperately wants to pick back up and start working again! This may jeopardize all the progress we made, and we are very worried. The stress is, of course, not helping her blood pressure.
Tonita simply has no margin for missing almost a month of work.
If you could say a prayer for Tonita and her family, we would really appreciate it.
If you would like to help financially, I've left her GoFundMe page up, and have updated it with new information.
Note: the kids' Christmas gifts have been taken care of...now we just want to help her through this hiccup.
Thank you all so much for being part of Tonita's miracle! You are amazing.
Two weeks ago, I was invited to be on Daystar's Marcus and Joni show. I posted photos on Facebook and Twitter...and then sort of forgot that my dear BLOG READERS might want to see some highlights.
Sometimes, I wonder about my mental faculties. Well...
It was a THRILL to be on the show, and I'm sorry I held out on you.
You can find a link to the complete show here. My segment starts at about 15:30.
It was a good hair day, carefully planned as to when I shampooed (this was Day Two after washing) so as to have the least amount of pouf.
YOU HAVE TO THINK ABOUT THESE THINGS, PEOPLE!
The real star of the show was this guy, Flash. Seeing his adorable face on the book in Marcus's hands made me pinch myself. This is crazy, folks.
Next time I get my picture taken with famous people, I'll do the hand-on-my-hip-sorority pose so my large sweater poncho doesn't make me look extra wide.
That's a BIG note to self.
One of the most fun parts of the whole experience was that Flash and Henry watched, live, from the barn.
My dauntless husband Tom dragged the TV out there so they could see it.
Then Tom sent photos to the producer, who in turn put them up on the screen...so they even made the broadcast!
I'm talkin' about ya, Flashy!
Hey, now...that's a sharp lookin' donkey!
Flash, Marcus Lamb is discussing your life lessons! That's pretty cool!
Of course, now that it's all over, I think of all the things I should have said.
Oh, how I wish I'd mentioned the specific things I learned from Flash: facing my fears, letting go of the past, finding my passion, and making the most of each day, to name a few.
And I wish I'd said:
Flash taught me that slow and steady steps are the things that make pathways for grace.
It's in those daily small, methodical efforts that the real miracles take place.
Most times, it feels like plodding.
After all, showing up day after day, is hard.
But donkeys, and people like us, aren't afraid of hard things.
We just keep walking.
We just keep working.
We just keep serving, even when nobody sees.
And that's when we experience true grace.
Thank you, Flash.
And thank you, God, for still speaking through donkeys.
I had so many book orders last week, that I'm extending the sale through this week.
They make great gifts, and I hope you'll take advantage and order several for Christmas.
This is awesome: My largest single order to date is FOURTEEN books! That customer got all his Christmas shopping done in one fell swoop!
Anyone want to top it?? :)
"We can do no great things; only small things with great love."
I found this quote years ago, during a time when I felt particularly insignificant in the world. I was knee-deep in parenting, which took all of my personal resources and most all of my brain cells. I was tired. Or, as we say in Texas, "tard."
Back then, I could barely drag myself from the couch, where I crashed after a long work day, to the stove to try and make some kind of magic happen in a skillet for dinner.
I could not imagine having the energy to go out and change the world, when changing bed sheets on a somewhat regular basis seemed almost impossible. I was reduced to thinking in terms of small things - bite-sized tasks I could complete that would help make life feel good for my family. Despite my exhaustion, I still wanted them to feel loved and special. I just knew I couldn't pull off anything too grand.
Do a load of socks and underwear.
Make one batch of cookies.
Make my bed.
Wipe down bathroom counters.
Fluff the couch pillows.
Pick up shoes left in living room.
Pack a Christmas shoebox for a child in need.
Put some extra dollars in the offering plate on Sunday.
Make a meal for a new mama.
I did small things, because that's all I could manage.
And it felt so inconsequential, so insignificant.
One day, I came across the quote by Mother Teresa, and it was like a light bulb came on inside my head. I even created the canvas art piece (above) with the quote on it, so I could be reminded of it each day.
Small things....with great love.
Suddenly, all those little things I did each day felt important. I saw them in a new way. Each task, each act of service, each pound of hamburger fried, each pair of socks folded, each card sent to someone sick, each time I rocked babies in the church nursery...these all became acts of great love.
And love, I believe, changes the world.
There is a movie coming out, called The Letters. It's based on the life of Mother Teresa through the personal letters she wrote over the span of forty years.
I can't wait to see it, because Mother Teresa has been an inspiration to millions of people. I admit I have not known much about her story, other than that she served the poorest of the poor in India, and lived a life dedicated to loving the "least" by the world's standards. She is considered one of the world's greatest humanitarians of modern times.
The Letters is a movie I hope people will go see.
At a time when religion has become political, and when faith is rocked by cynicism, it might just be a good idea to be reminded of the power of small things done with great love.
Simply watching the movie clip has made me pause to think about ways I can serve others.
I still feel little. I still feel tired. I'm overwhelmed by the immensity of the world's suffering.
And yet, I'm inspired to keep thinking small. If each of us, millions of us, did whatever small things we could, perhaps we would see the immensity of God's redemptive love overtake the world.
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of The Letters (Film). The opinions and text are all mine.
Comments submitted may be displayed on other websites owned by the sponsoring brand.
Stop me, people.
I keep pinning gorgeous, lick-able paint colors on Pinterest.
I'm this close to pulling out rollers and paint trays and slathering every room with some new shade of deliciousness.
The only thing that's stopping me is one last shred of good sense, and the "oh, riiiight....we don't even have our Christmas tree up yet" thought that snaps me back to reality.
Blues, grays, whispered whites....I'm dying for something new to brighten up this place.
How about you? Have you ventured into new color territory?
Are you "so over" the saturated tones of the early 2000's?
Fallen in love with Fixer Upper style?
I'm ready to take down the tree I haven't put up yet, so I can throw down the drop cloth and get going.
Do you have a "go-to" paint color that works for you? Are you eager to try a specific shade? I'd love for you to share your ideas...because I'm this close to skipping Christmas and starting on January.