Monday, November 21, 2016

inspired friend. inspired idea: a gratitude gathering

in a country which seems--especially of late--a whole lot more hostile than it does hospitable, what does it look like to be neighborly?

remember the sesame street song, "these are the people in my neighborhood?" written the year after i was born, i grew up watching it performed, episode after episode, and even owned a copy of the record which, throughout the 1970s, i probably played a few thousand times on my fancy, little record player. (so cutting edge, i know).

but in 2016 what does it mean to live in neighborhoods and to really know our neighbors?

and, even more so, what does it mean to be thankful for our neighbors?

in light of this week of thanksgiving and my november inspiring women series, i want to tell you about a little something that is happening in the neighborhood of peachtree corners. my dear friend, karen, is a part of it. and where she won't let me focus on her as inspiring (though, i assure you, she is) i will, instead, dedicate this post to focusing on her inspired idea!

last week, while speaking as part of a hospitality panel at a women's event at our church, i was asked to share my definition of hospitality. and because--like in almost everything--i steal the ideas of others, i shared the words of shauna niequist from her book, bread and wine: a love letter around the table. (a book, by the way, i highly recommend).

shauna defines hospitality as this, 
 "the heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. it's about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment." 
so here it is: last week, while i was preparing to talk about hospitality, my friend, karen, was actually preparing to do something about it in her house. she, in fact, was living out exactly the definition i had shared (i.e., stolen) from shauna.

karen's idea: to gather neighbors together and focus on gratitude.

karen would describe her street, sapelo trail, as pretty social: ladies-nights-out, halloween parties, progressive dinners, christmas cookie exchanges and even poker evenings. over the years, they've had some good fun and made some good connections.  about a year ago, a few of the women even began a bible study on their street. what's more, karen would also describe the street as pretty diverse: the women represent different races, religions and walks of life. truly a blending of people. for after all, what else is a neighborhood, but a beautiful blending of different people? 

and though these women have been growing in their connections with one another, recently, karen was prompted to plan an evening where they might become even more meaningfully connected. not just an event sipping sweet tea or wine on the porch (though that can be terrific, too), but an intentional time to share, dig deeper and to know each other even better as neighbors.

with her (inspired) idea in mind, karen invited the women of sapelo trail to her home for "a gratitude gathering." 

and on a sunday evening in november, many of these women came together to uncover gratefulness and blessing in each other as neighbors.

one year we planned a hoedown together!
again, i know karen doesn't want me to focus on her, but if i was going to focus on her for a quick
minute, i'd have to tell you she does this kind of thing really well. she's truly a hostess-with-the-mostess kind of gal. i don't mean grand and over-the-top in her entertaining, but gracious and incredibly topnotch in her thoughtfulness. she has a servant heart, a willing spirit and a tremendous talent for creatively, resourcefully and beautifully pulling details together. over the years, she and i have partnered on several events, and i can tell you first hand, God has gifted her well. 

karen is a decorator, a designer, a do-it-herself diva, yes! but mostly, she sees herself as a daughter of the Servant King, who, because of Him, is inspired to love and serve others well. when a woman takes her talents and mixes them with the tender things of Jesus, it's truly inspiring to see. that is my friend, karen.

and, whether she likes me to publicly declare this or not, she absolutely inspires me!

the evening's theme was "gratitude." karen shared her own journey toward gratefulness and how keeping a gratitude journal and recording her even most basic, simple blessings was a part of that rich journey. encouraged to do the same, each woman received a little journal to take home with them.

"gratitude for the seemingly insignificant --a seed--this plants the giant miracle." ~ ann voskamp

in addition to this conversation about gratitude, the women gathered around different tables in karen's home where she had prepared not only food, but also questions for fellowship at each table. questions which were designed to allow these women to know and understand each other even better.

the questions:

* what "little things" are you thankful for today?

* name one aspect about the way you were raised for which you are grateful?

* what is something or someone you are thankful for?

* share a time when you experienced something hard, yet it brought blessing.

let's face it, hosting an intentional evening like this takes time and energy and at least a morsel of courage. but when i asked karen about why she decided to pour herself into this kind of gathering she answered this
 "all women desire connection and want to feel significant.  my desire in hosting “a grateful gathering” was to provide a setting for meaningful conversation where these ladies would feel loved. i wanted us all to go a bit deeper in our conversations, but i wanted the evening to be comfortable, welcoming, and non-threatening."
to gather. to be grateful. to go a bit deeper. 
to be appreciated  ...

isn't that beautiful? inspired? inspiring?

what if we all opened our homes to gather our neighbors--including those who are different or think different or follow different religions/politics/or whatever--what if we were intentional in our gathering and purposeful in our gratitude. what if we gave thanks together and declared our tables a "safe zone," places of "warmth and nourishment?" what if we chose to be more hospitable than hostile?
i know my friend didn't want one shred of credit or any accolades for this gathering she hosted. she truly does serve others out of the most humble of hearts. but i did want to share karen's inspired idea with y'all. maybe it will, especially in this holiday season, ignite a spark in you to think about your home and your neighbors and your table a little differently.

this thanksgiving, my prayer for us all is that we would be willing to gather together in a spirit of gratitude and grace.

friends, i don't have the quick and easy answer to our country's crisis, but maybe spending less time listening to the nightly news and more time loving our neighbors could be at least a small step in the right direction of healing.

perhaps a sliver of hope is found when we are willing to give people not a piece of our mind, but a piece of our heart ... like karen and the women of sapelo trail. 

be inspired.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

real women. real inspiration -- meet rebecca stevenson

i've dedicated this month of november to celebrating the fabulous women around me. through one woman after another, God keeps revealing to me how He has divinely gifted and beautifully ordained us to influence and inspire others.

in my series kick-off post (november 1st) i encouraged y'all to look around and take note of the inspiring women in your life. are you doing that? and even more importantly, are you telling them? please do! they will be blessed, and believe it or not, friends, you will be blessed! seriously, sometimes it takes a little extra work to compliment or praise someone else, but when we authentically go there---we find joy! i liken it to the act of serving: maybe hard at times to get up and going, but somewhere in the middle of our serving we stop and think, "wow, this actually feels good. i might be blessing others, but truly, i am also being blessed!" does that make sense?

so, with that said. let's move on to my next introduction ----

please meet, my friend, rebecca stevenson!

i knew her when.

a couple of freshmen girls, we met at grove city college up in pennsylvania many (many) moons ago. rebecca and i moved in similar circles--sharing friends, interests and the same triple major. with both of us marrying before our senior year of college, we also shared the novelty of having our M.R.S. degree before our B.A. degree!

as you can tell from our college picture, we might have shared a penchant for big hair as well -- gotta love the late 80s!

rebecca stood out. not just for her big hair, but because she had this way about her: she kind of sparkled. oh so smart and sincere, but she encompassed an energy and enthusiasm which captivated those around her. that was rebecca. we haven't spent any time in the same place since those college years, but i have no doubt she still sparkles. it's evident even living in different states these past several decades. (thank you, facebook).

and it's absolutely no surprise this old college friend is now a published author. i believe it was in dr. stansberry's creative writing class when rebecca first shared something she had written. though i can't recall the exact topic, i do remember somewhere in the middle of her prose thinking, "hot dang, this girl can write!"

we are now middle-aged women, decades removed from those big-haired college girls sharing snatches of writing in dr. stansberry's class: wives and mothers; lunch-makers and laundry-doers. but when september 2016 arrived, rebecca brewster stevenson's first novel, healing maddie brees, hit the shelves and she added author next to her name.

and i'm so proud of her.

this summer she asked if i would read and preview her book ahead of time. can i just tell you how much fun it was to sit with a brand new novel written by a dear old friend? that's awesome stuff, people. and the best part: it reads beautifully. pouring over her novel on my back deck this summer i had the same feeling as listening to her read portions of her writing back in college -- hot dang, this girl can write!

the reviews have been enthusiastic. "Rebecca's writing has been called "exquisite" (Stephen Chbosky), "thought-provoking" (Barbara Claypole White), and "gorgeous" (Kirkus Reviews)."

barnes and noble offer this overview:
"A debut novel from a promising new voice in fiction, Healing Maddie Brees is the story of a marriage and the memories that pit themselves against it, of the uncanny power of the body in both disease and desire, and of whether true healing ever really happens.
Maddie Brees has been given bad news: She is seriously ill. But she also has an old friend, an ex-boyfriend who might be able to heal her. She was witness to Vincent Elander’s so-called miracles in the past. But that was a long time ago, a memory that she would rather stay buried."
whether you find it on the shelf of your local bookstore or order it off amazon, i'm going to encourage you to get your hands on this beautiful book which has been aptly described as, "A gorgeous meditation on broken bodies, fractured faith, and the soul-wrenching path to serenity." - Kirkus Reviews

recently, i had the chance to ask rebecca some questions about her book ...

1. tell us a bit about your new book and your main character, maddie brees.

Maddie is a thirty-something wife and mother who isn't quite in touch with herself. She doesn't realize this because she is deliberate in attending to her marriage, children, life; and she is honest regarding hardship, unwilling to pretend that life isn't difficult sometimes. But when it comes to her history, she has been dishonest--not just with herself, but with her husband, Frank. The novel is the story of a year in their marriage, when the couple is confronted by cancer. Because of Maddie's dishonesty with herself and Frank, what should have been a time of mutual support and new intimacy becomes a season of isolation, imbued with memories--for Maddie--of an old boyfriend who seemed to be able to heal people. Given that context, what loving spouse wouldn't want to seek out this ex-boyfriend for his desperately ill wife? But, for reasons both spoken and unspoken, Maddie doesn't want that contact. The novel's conflict arises here.

2. rebecca, of course the breast cancer diagnosis hits especially close to home with me, but i'm curious, with all the illnesses maddie could have, why did you choose breast cancer?

As with certain other cancers, breast cancer is both physical and sexual. It taps into who Maddie is as a mother, as a sexual partner--and these realities intersect, too, with what Maddie slowly recalls and, in a way, re-lives over the course of the book. In writing about the body and marriage, I was intrigued by the words of Jesus in Mark 10:8, in which he speaks of marriage as two becoming "one flesh." This is a profound idea, one that hints--I believe--at a truth our culture is blind to: that our bodies are far more significant than we realize; that what we do with our bodies matters on both the physical and spiritual planes. For this reason, I wanted to work with the idea of one member of a marriage union becoming ill, and I wanted that illness to have specific ties to that character's sexual (and physical and spiritual) identity. In addition, sadly, breast cancer is not an uncommon experience. I have friends who have fought and won battles with the disease and were willing to share their experience with me. To the best of my ability, I wanted to express an honest and believable fight that honored those who have been through it.

3. though not classified as a christian novel, you've thoughtfully woven elements of the gospel into maddie's story. please discuss.

Yes! And I alluded to this in my response above. In writing this book, reflecting on Christ's words about our bodies and His sacrifice--which was a devastation both spiritual and physical-- I couldn't escape focusing on the connection between our bodies and souls. While Maddie is decidedly suffering from cancer, she is also suffering from sin. It was a natural extension of her physical illness to the spiritual. Moreover, I remain fascinated by what we believe we "want" from God. As Christians, we believe Christ to be the Incarnate God, the Son sacrificed in payment for our sin. When confronted with suffering, we rightly ask to be delivered. We also know that, ultimately, the sacrifice of Christ satisfies every longing. This story of physical and spiritual need naturally lent itself to the power of the Gospel. Making those connections were the most difficult and rewarding aspects of writing this book.

I wanted very much to write a book that discussed these things while being accessible both to Christians and non-Christians. As with any like-minded group of people, Christians have terms that serve as short-hand for our shared experience. It was exciting--and essential--for me to write about Jesus in language that I hoped would invite outsiders in.

4. avid readers often identify with a character from a compelling story. so much so, they might even find it hard to shelve the book and move on. you've obviously been living close to maddie breed for some time--creating, developing and launching her. i'm curious about how you, as an author, now separate a bit and leave her?

Ha! What a great question! The truth is that I don't think I've left her at all. I often wake in the morning "worrying" about the outcome/future of the book just as I might (and do!) worry in a similar way about one of my children! But I think you more thoughtfully mean my connection with the character herself, and the truth is both that I am satisfied with where I left Maddie, and she will always, in a way, be "in process" for me. Despite the book's being *out there* now, I frequently pick it up and read select passages, almost as if I'm checking on her!

5. i think women - really all readers - would like to know a little bit about the writing process for you as a mom/wife/busy woman. how does that happen in the context of busy living?

For years, I did all my writing in stolen time. During the years I was homeschooling and in graduate school, I only wrote during the summers--and then it was after the kids went to bed or on occasional "writing days," when my husband took the kids off on an adventure for the day so I could write. Later, when teaching full-time, I took evenings once or twice a week at a local bookstore. But the best work came after I left teaching, in the one amazing year that my children were at school all day and I was at home. I had been working for six years at that point and wanted desperately to take care of things around the house, but instead I wrote almost all day, every day, often at the library. The the only way to get writing done, I've found, is to skip everything else and write. The dishes and dust, as we well know, will wait.

6. in addition, how has this publishing process impacted your family?

My family are enthusiastic supporters of me as writer. They have longed encouraged and supported me--and my husband has zealously championed me and my work. I'm incredibly grateful for him. The publishing process itself hasn't made a large impact: I've had to travel a time or two, but for the most part, it's been a quiet experience. I'm with an independent publisher, and they are incredible, but we lack the power of one of the big five publishing houses. My hope and prayer is that attention to this book will grow--and then we'll see how it impacts us.

7. what is next for you?

I'm at work on my next novel and also have a children's book underway. I'd like to continue this writing thing in the hope that my work asks important questions that help us to consider truths we might otherwise overlook. Perhaps the greatest compliment I've received thus far for Healing Maddie Brees came from a non-Christian reviewer who said the novel made her reconsider the church in new and good ways. In truth, just that one comment is more than enough. Christ's church is a beautiful, if flawed, body. If I can help open eyes to her beauty, then I am satisfied.

8. so friend, i know how to find you on facebook, but where can we find you on the internet?

I'd be delighted for visitors to my blog, "Small Hours," which can be found on my website:

rebecca, dear friend,  thank you for sharing your gifts with us --- and for inspiring!

Friday, November 4, 2016

real women. real inspiration -- meet alex and krista

as i explained in my last post, this month i'm dedicating my blog to some of the amazing gals God keeps sending my way. seriously, i'm like almost tripping over them --- these girls "who are getting it done and encouraging others while doing it!"

it's my birthday month and i'm hosting a party here on my blog this november and sharing some of these treasures with y'all.

so without further ado, it brings me great joy this afternoon to introduce to you two of my favorite gifts: krista and alex.

i met krista several years ago at a proverbs 31woman's conference in north -- or was it south? -- carolina. makes no matter, because krista has this amazing way about her which just draws people in wherever you are with her. it has something to do with the fact she very well might be the best lover-of-people and the best listener-to-people i've ever met. standing there in that conference center in (some) carolina, she simply asked me to tell her my story. and we ended up talking well into the night. yep, just like that.

alex and i connected when she and krista invited me to a retreat they hosted in idaho last fall -- the open door. i became smitten with this new friend immediately and a sisterhood was born! alex lives in colorado and i live in georgia, but recently we were able to spend time again when we teamed up in milwaukee, wisconsin to speak at the MOPS international convention.

you're tracking all of that, right? hello, skymiles.

anyway, this post isn't about our travels, but it is about where God is taking these two women with their talents and their teamwork.
in addition to having husbands and multiple children, my friends are both published authors and busy speakers who write and talk specifically to encourage women. you can tell just from the title of their books.

krista's book, reclaiming home: a family's guide for life, love and legacy, was released last fall and alex's most recent book, loving my actual life: an experiment in relishing what's right in front of me, was released this past spring.  if the books, full of powerful and practical ideas, offer great insight and encouragement. if you go above and click on the names, you'll be directed to these girls' websites. check them out. and friends, i want you to know these ladies are the real deal. i know them both well. i know their hearts. and i know the words in these books and the ones that come out of their mouths are 100% authentic. alex and krista are living it out, figuring it out, wrestling it out  ... just like you and me. they encourage not from a place of expertise, but from a place of experience and empathy.

one of my favorite things these two have done together is begin a sisterhood movement. last year, they invited 12 strangers to idaho for a retreat called "the open door." twelve diverse and pretty much unconnected women came together to learn more about what it means to come together as women. they repeated this rereat again this past fall with a brand new group of gals and they have plans to continue. it isn't easy work organizing, planning and implementing this kind of undertaking. i mean, seriously, i struggle making a grocery list for my family most weeks. but these two did this with such intentionality and thoughtfulness. as an attendee, i cannot tell you the details they added to bless us. they thought of everything.

so why would two women take on this kind of task to plan a retreat for others -- strangers, at that? what is this open door sisterhood thing all about?
here's what they had to say:

It's about encouraging one another to believe God. Believe who he says he is and what he promises. And then to encourage one another to live from that belief in our daily decisions. We like to say we are encouraging women to "be world changers for good right where you are." That means believing God can use all of us regardless of our circumstances. I also believe the sisterhood is about calling out where we see God working in each other. Sometimes it's difficult to see that when our life circumstances are pushing in on us from all sides. But a sister can often spot a talent, a tender spot in our heart, our growth in an area, when we are blinded by life swirling around us. It's this calling out that helps us see how God is moving. And finally we want women to walk through doors God opens. It starts with believing him, finding where he's working in our own life and being obedient to the next step.

and because writing books and hosting retreats isn't enough for this dynamic duo, they also decided to launch a podcast this year.  in fact, this month marks their 21st episode -- a milestone in the podcast world. you can listen at {the open-door sisterhood podcast}  the underlying theme? you guessed it --- encouragement. when i'm cleaning the house, folding laundry or driving around town, i turn on these podcasts and listen. oh my goodness, y'all, they are fantastic. please listen, you'll be blessed.

so, maybe you're like me and you're kind of wondering how a girl from colorado and a gal from idaho join forces, write books, throw retreats and host podcasts. like i said earlier, i can't seem to figure out the grocery list making these days. how is this even possible when most of us struggle to meet a friend for a cup of coffee? i asked them this question. here's alex's response:

I mostly try to keep up with Krista! Truly none of this would be happening were it not for her initiative. We try to split tasks, though we each have different gifts. We spend a lot of time on Voxer, texting on the phone and video conferencing. Technology allows us to plan and execute these things from our two kitchens. I am so thankful God placed us in this ear where we can collaborate from states away and still drive our kids to soccer practice.
My house is never clean and Krista doesn't sleep. We all have to give somewhere :). We still only have 24-hours in our day like everyone else, this is just where we spend our "extra."

retreat throwing, podcast hosting and book writing:  i asked these two whirlwinds to explain the connection in all of it. and they said this:

The retreat stemmed from our own writing/speaking life and a feeling that we needed a circle of women who were pursuing the same calling who could spur us on. And then the podcast spun out of our core values. We wanted to extend the same encouragement to women outside of the limited retreat circle (listen to episode 21, it gives a great overview for how all of this came about). For me writing is my strength. It is where I feel most comfortable, but also where I believe I'm most effective. So I need to stay focused on this area even though I'm easily distracted by the good things happening with the retreat and podcast. But the sisterhood spurs me on. As I talk to women, as we interview them on the podcast, I'm reminded of how I'm uniquely wired and it gives me the motivation I need to keep going.

pretty amazing stuff from a couple of pretty amazing women. but, what i love most about them is the humility and honesty they bring to everything they do. with all of these accomplishments under their belts, they continue to work from a place of total dependence on Jesus. that comes through in everything they do. they'd be quick to tell you, "it's not what we are doing, but what He is doing through us."

krista and alex, you inspire me!
i love you girls to pieces.  xo, jody

p.s. if you're still unsure as to why all this celebrating and encouraging stuff is necessary, i'd invite you to link back to a post i wrote a couple of months ago unpacking what often occurs between women. 
the post is called sisterhood: rejoicing or jealous?

next week, i'll be introducing you to an old friend ... stay tuned! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

my birthday party: real women. real inspiration.

i don't know if it's the rise and influence of social media or my personal season of middle age, but never have i been more aware of what other women are out there doing. i mean it -- never have i been so in tune with the activities and accomplishments of others: the cooking of the perfect pot roast, the capturing of the clever photo, the trophy of the triumphant son, the awarding of another honor.

i see.

last month i wrote a post [ rejoicing or jealous?] discussing how our -- okay, my -- human nature is sometimes quicker to move in the direction of jealousy than it is to truly rejoice in another's success. from the feedback, i guess i'm not the only one who struggles here. good grief, is it true? i'm not the only broken crayon in the box? what a relief!

but with that ugly elephant out of the way, recently, i have felt a strange, but incredibly strong, pull toward truly celebrating the amazing women around me.

i'm not sure the reason, but God continues to cross my path with incredible women. real women who really inspire: mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, friends. i just keep meeting them -- girls who are getting it done and, most importantly, encouraging others while doing it.

from that friend of mine who tenderly comes alongside young mamas to the nice checkout lady at home depot who joyfully rings up her customers --- these women keep popping up everywhere.

and i'm on to them. 

i have eyes and ears tuned to the success of these females finding their sweet spots. it happens, you know. when we stop thinking about ourselves and our own stuff, it is truly inspiring to take note of those around us who are using their gifts for God's glory.

so, i want to celebrate this. celebrate them.

and because november is my birthday month, i am hosting a little party here on my blog!

this month -- starting this week -- i'm kicking off a new series: real women. real inspiration. i'm planning to share with y'all some of these gifted girls who keep coming my way. trust me, i have a list, but i'm also open to suggestions, so feel free to send me the story of someone inspiring in your life.

that's what this birthday party is about: inspiration, collaboration and celebration.

consider yourself invited!

i'm serious, if you'd like to nominate someone inspiring, email me at i'd love to hear from you. i'd love to hear their story. whether you write to me or not, what i'd most like you to do is to go looking anyway. take time each day to see the people around you. go ahead and see if you can find someone who is doing something really well. i'm not talking about someone who is necessarily making a big splash -- maybe just a small ripple. but maybe that small ripple is impacting and encouraging others. just go looking. take the time to notice and take the time to rejoice in others.
maybe you can tag them or send them this post and tell them ... "this is YOU! this is what YOU are doing!" let them know they have inspired you. it's a beautiful thing.

friends, i know these female relationships can sometimes be challenging, but instead of competing or coveting, let's be women who take the time to encourage and be encouraged.

join me!

by the way, i'm not sure i have a totally concrete plan as to when i'll post these stories. i kicked around the idea of having "fabulous female fridays" or "wonderful women wednesdays," but, truth be told, that's really not how i operate -- all organized and official like that. (sorry).  so, just know they'll show up when they show up. much more my style.  =)