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“Hope’s Purpose” is available on Amazon today!

Life has been incredibly busy! I am so sorry I haven’t been keeping up with regular blog posts. But I wanted to make sure and publish a blog post that let everybody know that my book, “Hope’s Purpose”, is available on Amazon today! Any book purchased on Amazon today, August 23rd, will be matched and then donated to a nonprofit so they can share the story of hope with broken lives in need of the message of God’s love. Hope’s Purpose

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Behind the Scenes Part 2: Holman Pottery

I officially asked Greg Holmes to do the illustrations for my story book, “Hope’s Purpose,” so we spent a few weeks discussing what the human characters would look like, how he would draw a faceless inanimate object as a character with emotions, when and where this this story is set, and other details like that. One day he emailed me these fabulous pictures of the main character, a pot named Hope, in all different shapes and postures suggesting this may be a great way to bring her to life.

I literally started tearing up and was, like, “Yes!!!” I loved it. Finally, one Sunday morning we met in the lobby between services at church. Greg laid out the storyboards and talked through the ideas he had for the illustrations. Everything was, seriously, perfect. I know this is hard to believe, but each page and what he chose to highlight was exactly how I imagined it in my head.

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We agreed on the storyboards, and the next step was to set up a photo shoot so that Greg could take some good pictures to use as examples to draw from, the goal being consistency. And although we didn’t want the illustrations to be photo realistic, we didn’t want them to be cartoonish either. I reached out to Steve Sprinkle to see if we could go back to his studio, but he was extremely busy (which is a good problem to have) and his shop was pretty far away. Finding a time that worked with everyone’s schedule was proving to be impossible.

“That weekend Greg and I met at the studio, and as soon as we walked in the door, it was perfect!”

I got online and searched for “Potter studios in Collin County.” I found one in McKinney but could never get connected with the owner. After a little more searching, I found Holman Pottery on 18th Street near downtown Plano. It was in this great old house, and the pictures of things they had created were awesome. I sent them an email to explain what we were doing and asked if we could come check it out to possibly take some pictures. Within a day or two, I got a reply that we could definitely do that. Everything just fell into place. That weekend Greg and I met at the studio, and as soon as we walked in the door, it was perfect! We wanted to be able to set up some scenes from the story and needed a space that still had a rustic and homey feeling. The Holman’s studio definitely felt that way. Tony Holman was there to greet us, take us on a tour, and offered to help in any way they could.

One question we had was what it would take for him to commission our main character, Hope, so that Greg would be able to have her in his studio through the months it would take to create all of these illustrations. Greg and I had decided on a shape for her, but we were fruitless in our efforts to find one already made. Greg showed him a sketch of what we were looking for and he said “Oh, yeah, no problem.” We arranged to come back for our first of two photo shoots so that we could get an idea of lighting and angles. We also wanted to take photos of Tony creating our characters so Greg could use them as inspiration when drawing the Potter’s hands in the book.

We went back for our first photo shoot. My precious son, Johnny, was able to join us, and he got the royal treatment from Tony’s wife, Debbie. She showed him the turtle collection, and he even got to sit in the yellow throne while we watched Tony create my special pot. Greg was able to take lots of great pictures that really helped with the illustration process.

We still needed to get some scenes set up with the human characters. We needed to stage them in different scenes so, again, we could have consistency throughout the whole story. I called upon my dad, mom, and brother to model for these. It was so much fun to be able to do this with my family. It’s really neat for me to look at the illustrations now and see them in the pictures.

I could not be happier with our experience with Holman Pottery. Both Greg and I have purchased other pieces as gifts for loved ones from their shop located right there in the studio. If you are looking for a special gift for someone special or even just to spoil yourself, I would encourage you to check them out online at www.holmanpottery.com or in person at 914 18th St., Plano, TX 75074.

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Behind the Scenes Part 1: Conor Muldoon and Steve Sprinkle

The process of creating this book has been such a great experience. In the summer of 2016, I had just sent Greg Holmes the most current version of my story. Although he had experience with pottery from his years of art school, he recommended that I go to a pottery studio and meet with an actual potter. This way I could ask questions and get some feedback from a technical standpoint. He connected me with Conor Muldoon, a potter whom he had worked with on some other projects. I sent the story to Conor, and he was so kind to share some really great feedback. This was also the first time someone who didn’t know me or my personal life story had read it. That’s a little scary: to put yourself out there and ask for criticism on something so personal from someone who knows nothing about you. After reading that early version of “Hope’s Purpose,” he told me he even started to tear up a little bit.

“… I tried to let God gather the pieces of my own hope and put me back together.”

Conor was working closely with another potter here in the Dallas, Texas, area who had his own studio. His name was Steve Sprinkle. What a great name, right?! Conor thought it’d be great for me to come meet with Steve and let him show me around his studio and answer questions for me. We tried all summer to connect for a studio visit, but we just couldn’t get our schedules together. I had also been trying to find out what my next step was in sending this to a publisher. I had not yet asked Greg to be my illustrator and honestly thought my story was complete. I was wondering why doors weren’t opening, and it felt like I was running against the wind. Then, in late August of 2016, when my seemingly perfect little life turned upside down, the story got set aside while I tried to let God gather the pieces of my own hope and put me back together. 

Illustration from Hope's Purpose

A few months later, after God gave me the current ending to the story, I tried to get the story rewritten and started pursuing a forward motion with this book again. In January of 2017, I contacted Conor and Steve again, and we were able to quickly find a time for me to come visit the studio…

Conor was pretty busy that day, so we didn’t get to visit much in person; but being able to spend a couple hours with Steve was great. From the moment I met him, he was so kind. He gave me a tour of the studio and showed me a corporate order he was working on of what seemed like thousands of handmade coffee mugs. He was gracious enough to answer all my silly questions about everything from the process of creating a piece to what it would look like to try and repair. Surprise! There was a lot about time, patience, and not rushing things. This experience was so helpful in the continued shaping of my story. One thing I remember him saying to me is something to the effect of that I didn’t need to include a lot of technical details. Some things might not be reality from a technical standpoint, but also, in reality, pottery doesn’t talk. It’s a story, and you can leave plenty to the imagination. This was a great initial introduction to the world of pottery. 

I encourage you to check out Conor Muldoon’s creations at www.mudman-studios.com and take a look at more of Steve Sprinkle’s work by visiting Sprinkle Pottery Studio at www.stevesprinklepottery.com

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I Need Your Help (Book Announcement Part 2)

Let’s back up a little bit to 2013. It was around this time that I started to think about how I would want this story to be illustrated when I actually got around to writing it out. This was going to be a children’s book: a book that a parent or a grandparent could read as a bedtime story, a touching story for children, but also a story where an adult could find healing for themselves. I had a very specific illustration style in mind. I had done some fun artsy stuff here and there, but I knew there is no way I could put the images I had in my head onto paper. Then one weekend I was singing at our main church campus. I walked back into the green room and saw this incredible picture on the wall. It may have been there before, but this was the first time I really noticed it.

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I was alone in the room, and everything came to a screeching halt as I stared at this picture with tears in my eyes and I said to myself, “This is it! This is what I have in mind for my story.” This huge 6ft x 8ft image of a child standing in between what I thought was the arms of Jesus. At the time, I did not know that my friend and one of the pastors on staff at Chase Oaks Church, Greg Holmes, had created this picture. He had been leading a group for some of the people involved in the worship arts side of ministry at the church; so in 2014 when I got the story out in writing, I began reaching out to him every once in a while over the next couple years to get his opinion and feedback. He was so gracious to share some insight, words of encouragement, and even connecting me with a potter so I could get some technical details ironed out. But as I shelved the project because life took over, our conversation surrounding the book also took a break.

I stared at this picture with tears in my eyes and I said to myself, “This is it! This is what I have in mind for my story.”

At some point I found out that Greg was the one who had created the incredible picture in the green room, the one that captured my heart and moved me to tears. When I asked him about the green room picture, this is what he told me:

The image in the green room was one of two images that I created on stage during a Christmas series in December 2011. I can’t remember what the series was called, but it had kind of a “Jesus I never knew” emphasis. I wanted to create two images of Jesus that changed our perspective a bit. For the first image, I wanted to show Jesus as a child and emphasize his poverty and the fact that he was just a kid loved by his mother, just like scores of other children on the planet. Then, for the second image I wanted to portray Jesus as an adult and emphasize his Middle Eastern ethnicity and his joy.”

Yes, yes, and more yes! So in September of 2017, I was singing again at our main campus and Greg was hosting the services that weekend, so we had a chance to talk about the book again. I told him about some things I was doing to try to move the book project forward. Again he spoke into the situation with such wisdom and direction. I told him that I had been talking with some other people about illustrations, but that I couldn’t shake the green room picture, that this style was exactly what I have in my head and would he consider taking on this project. Greg is an amazing artist; but not having done a project like this before, he was a little hesitant at first about doing it. I really couldn’t imagine trusting the images that were so clear in my mind into the hands of anyone else. You know, how when you have a vivid dream and you wish there was a way to record it so others could experience the magic? This story was far too personal to settle for less that everything I imagined. Greg agreed to illustrate this project, and this continued the journey of turning my story into a book.

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In the days and weeks to come, I will share more details about this journey. I will be sharing with you the behind the scenes process and pictures from the past several months as this project has been coming together. I wanted to take a minute, though, to share my heart and ask for your help. When trying to decide how to publish this book, I kept going back and forth between self-publishing or trying to pitch this to a publisher. I asked around, and the overwhelming feedback I got from people who have gone before me is that if you go with a publisher, then you have to be willing to let go of your illustrator. I was not willing to do that. From the picture in the greenroom to the initial story boards to each and every time Greg has sent me an image to approve, I have been overwhelmed with the feeling that he is reading my mind. How could I ever let go of such a wonderful thing? The choice was made.

Self-publishing. Great. How do we fund this thing? I was again encouraged by others to do crowd-funding since people love to be a part of things like this and there is no way I could fully fund this myself. I have put some of my own money into this project, but this is bigger than I. I spent some time looking into crowd-funding sites but felt discouraged by details such as if I don’t raise the full amount I’m needing to raise in the time allotted, then I don’t get any of the money towards the project. Also, the idea of having to share a percentage of the gift given by the people who love me with a company and not having all the money donated going to fund the project was unsettling. After lots of thought, I have decided to just put it out there to my friends and family on social media. It’s a huge step of faith to do this. I have already had some friends and family reach out to help financially, and it’s been a huge blessing. Here are some incentives for helping fund this book project.

  • For a gift of any dollar amount, you will receive a 4×6 copy of my favorite illustration from the book.
  • For a gift of $200, you will receive a 4×6 copy of my favorite illustration from the book and you will receive a signed copy of “Hope’s Purpose” signed by the author, me.
  • I have decided to make 10 of the original illustrations available as part of the incentive to raise the money for this project. For a gift of $500 you will receive a beautifully framed original illustration signed by the artist, Greg Holmes. You will also receive a signed copy of “Hope’s Purpose” signed by the author, me.

A friend of mine told me that I should say, “Any gift over $1,000 would receive a date with the author,” but let’s not get carried away.

I have partnered with some great people to help me with this project, and I want to make sure they are able to be compensated for all their hard work. The purpose of my reaching out to my friends and family for help is to make sure this project that has been so personal to me is completed with excellence.

I am trying to raise a good sized amount of money in a short amount of time: $7,000 by June 15 to be exact. Since there are always little things that come up, this is a safe estimate. I can’t offer you a tax break or a better spot in Heaven, but any support would be greatly appreciated. If you are interested in supporting me in this project, please contact me by email at ArielTalitha@gmail.com. Use the subject “I want to help!” I will send you my information where you can send a gift. If you use Venmo, you can find me @ArielTalitha. You can also direct message me on Instagram and Facebook.

I am so excited for this next step in my journey! I know God has big things, and I want to be a part of them!

Book

I Wrote A Book! (Book Announcement Part 1)

I am so excited to be writing this blog post. It’s been a long time coming, and honestly, I’ve been putting it off because I wanted it to be perfect and have every single little thing in order first. Well, again, I have to remember that the best things in life will be missed if I’m waiting for perfection. So here it is: I wrote a book!

Okay. I know that a lot of you already know this because I’ve been talking about it for years. Literally years. Back in 2010 I had just moved home after my second marriage fell apart (a short version of my story can be read in the blog post “Hot Mess”). I was doing some reading and journaling one day when all of a sudden God put a story on my heart, I believe, as a way for me to put a picture to my Heavenly Father’s love for me and His hand in my life. At the same time, He spoke to my heart saying, “This is how I will provide for you.” I kind of dismissed that part of it and focused on the story. This story has evolved over the past 8 years because my story has evolved. I am grateful that God gave me this story and the journey of writing it as a way to work through the tragedy of broken dreams and discover the hope that can only be found in Him through His redemption. The book is called “Hope’s Purpose.” This is a story of a Potter who not only gives life to every piece of pottery He creates, but also gives them a choice of how they will be used. He creates each piece with a special purpose and asks that they trust Him, but ultimately it’s their choice.

This story follows a piece of pottery named Hope. We meet her as a lump of clay, shapeless and without form. We see the Potter take the time to mold her into a precious creation with her purpose in mind. She is asked to trust the Potter but is given a choice as to how her purpose will be fulfilled. We follow her through a series of highs and lows, optimism and broken dreams, to the point where, finally, she believes she will never have a chance to be functional again, let alone be what the Potter created her to be. The stage is set for the Potter’s hand of love, grace, and redemption to work in her beautiful little life. In the end we find out for whom and what she was created.

“…God gave it to me for a reason: not just for my own healing but to share with others so they could find healing from their hurts as well.”

For the first four years, this story was just in my mind. I hadn’t taken the time to get it out onto paper. I was still working through the narrative and truth in my life and story. I was also scared, not of failure but of success. You see. I had been experiencing the “magic” of this story in my own life. It had given me tangible pictures and words to work through my pain, knowing there was hope. At certain times God had led me to share this story verbally with individuals who were going though struggles. I saw that it gave them hope and direction back to their Creator. From the very beginning, I have believed in the power of this story and that God gave it to me for a reason: not just for my own healing but to share with others so they could find healing from their hurts as well.

Finally, in the summer of 2014, I put the most current version of the story on paper and thought it was done and ready to go. I knew it was an allegory of “my story,” and at that time the conclusion was that even though the little pot had made the wrong choice a couple times in who would take her home from the shop and how she was used, the Potter revealed in the end that He had the right person for her and His purpose for her was to help the man with a mission he was on. I was praying about what the next steps were. I had contacted a few people to get their take on the story and if they had any advice in how to move forward. Everything kind of seemed to be at a standstill, and I really didn’t have complete peace about the story being done. Maybe it needed more editing? maybe a different dialog? Earlier that year I had married the man I thought was my “Happily Ever After,” and in the Spring of 2015, I gave birth to my miracle baby. I had once again set the story aside to live the life that was right in front of me, and I thought when the time is right, I’d pick it back up and move forward. Little did I know that in the summer of 2016, my happy ending would shatter. God was not done with my story.

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January 25th, 2017, I was sitting in my third-floor apartment, my sweet little boy playing with his toys on the living room floor as I sat in my chair weeping. I was a single mom with little money and no idea what my future held. My heart was broken, and I was having a hard time seeing what God was doing. The details of my divorce were proving to be quite devastating; and even though I tried so hard to be strong and brave, I was losing momentum and hope. There have been a few times in my life that God has put it on my heart to give a certain amount of money to someone or towards something, maybe as a way to show my obedience or just to be a blessing. I also believe that sometimes it has been a way to plant a seed for my future financially, not like rubbing a magic lamp and making three wishes, though. I can’t really explain it other than to say that when I feel the Holy Spirit prompting me to do something, I need to listen and obey. So on this day I was really needing a certain amount of money. I was praying pretty specifically that God would provide it somehow. The immediate response I felt in my heart to my prayer was “Give $58 to the ‘Love Fund’ at church.” “WHAT?! I don’t think you heard me right. I need money. I have $60 in my account. How am I supposed to give $58!?” Again, I heard the same thing: “Give $58 to the ‘Love Fund’ at church.” I got my wallet out, went online, and gave the $58. I continued crying and prayed “Lord Jesus, I am trusting that you love me and are taking care of me, that you see what I don’t see. I will keep trusting you.” I picked up my precious baby boy and set him in his crib with some toys right outside my bathroom door so I could keep an eye on him while I showered and tried to regain my composure to move on to the next thing. I stood there as the water, mixed with tears, streamed down my face, and it was like a flash of lighting. All of a sudden, God gave me the ending to the story. It was literally like a flash of light in my head as everything fell into place. I began to cry tears of joy as I thanked God for His faithfulness. Over the years, every time I would feel financial pressure and go to God in prayer about it, I would hear Him say to my heart “Have you worked on your story?” I would kind of work on it a little but then put it away. That day, as soon as I got out of the shower, I ran to my computer and made the changes to the story that God had laid on my heart. Even though I didn’t have the amount of money I prayed for in my hand, I knew what He gave me that day was far more valuable.

To be continued…

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This Too Shall Pass

I feel like I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop,” I recently told my therapist in a counseling session. I started seeing her at the beginning of this year to help me through some anxiety I was dealing with while settling into what seems to be a new normal. The last two years have been a roller coaster. Who am I kidding? My whole life has been a roller coaster. As far back as I can remember, I can’t think of a time when things have been easy-going for any length of time, but the same can be said for being in a time of stress. This too shall pass, right? That’s life. That’s everyone’s life. The good and the bad don’t last forever. Of course, there are some long-term effects that come from the highs and lows. Eventually your deep and undying love of pizza and indulging every chance you get is met with you looking in the mirror and noticing that your face and everything else is rounder (this may or may not have happened to me recently). The breakdown of a special relationship and the heartbreaking pain that comes with that loss gets easier to deal with over time, so I’ve heard.

“This too shall pass, right? That’s life.

That’s everyone’s life.

The good and the bad don’t last forever.”

There is a season for everything. I think I tend to have more anxiety when things are going well because I just know that something is going to happen to ruin it all. I think the same can be said for not losing hope that things will get better. Hanging in there and pushing through. It’s always darkest before the dawn. That is kinda where I’ve been living lately. There have been some really great things happening. I got a promotion at work. Not only is God using this as a way to take care of my little family financially, but I don’t think I could be in a work role that is more perfectly suited for me. Johnny and I have been quite healthy lately. Even our allergies haven’t been terrible this year. We haven’t had to do a breathing treatment for Johnny in months and months. I’ve been able to sing at church a lot more this year. There isn’t much in life I love more than leading worship in singing. I even have the opportunity to go with my church at the end of April for a 10-day trip to Israel (OMG! That’s next week). All of this is in addition to getting ready to self-publish my book in the next couple months. Yep, my book. I’ll talk more about that in my next blog post, so stay tuned.

The point is that there are a lot of really good things happening right now, and I’m having to be really conscious about actually enjoying it and not just waiting for whatever is going to come along and ruin it. I am also having to be conscious about these things I just listed as being the highs that are helping to pull me out of the lows over the past couple of years. I can’t pretend that the dog days are over and that I’ve had my hard life so it’s roses from here on out. I think the biggest message for me right now is that I can’t get stuck in a present moment. I have to keep moving because life is moving. I can enjoy the highs and what they bring and then also lean into the lows as I’m passing through those.

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The other thing I am having to learn through this thing called life is that God is still good through all of it. He loves me when I’m in my healthiest best place and enjoying life. He also loves me when I’m face down across my bed, screaming as loud as I can and beating my fists into the mattress because I don’t know how I can handle another day. He not only loves me but He is there with me in those moments. For someone like me who questions everything and doubts myself and every decision I make, this is huge. I can count on Him to be my Comforter in my sadness, Help in a time of trouble, the Solid Rock on which I stand, my Rock and my Redeemer, the One who rejoices over me with singing, my Protector and Provider. I could go on and on. The point is that in a world and life that are so uncertain and unstable, my God is constant. His Word and character never change. That is the truth and I can hold on to it in every moment.

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There Is Always Hope

So after my last post “You Love Some. You Lose Some.” where I talked about being in a co-dependency group on Valentine’s Day, I got a few messages from people saying that they too struggle or have struggled with co-dependency. I wanted to share another story from the beginning of my journey.

It was about 8 years ago. I had just returned from getting fast food and was sitting in the parking lot of an extended-stay hotel where my second husband and I were living while we waited for our condo on the lake that we had just purchased to be ready for us to move into. I was dreading walking back into that hotel. This was an extremely abusive relationship in every way you can imagine. I sat in the car, heart racing, palms sweating, and knew I couldn’t take one more day. I had reached my breaking point. I picked up my cell phone and called my sister. You see, my husband had completely cut me off from my family for about 6 months, but I was willing to risk him seeing her number on the detailed phone bill because, depending on how this phone call went, I would either be back in my home town or dead, and it wouldn’t matter anyway because either way he couldn’t hurt me. I asked my sister if I could come and stay with her. I told her that things had gotten so bad that I couldn’t handle one more day. I didn’t tell her that if she said no I was going to take every pill in that hotel room, but she said yes – as long as I saw a counselor as soon as I got there. The next morning after he left for work, I packed my things, got in my car, and drove home.

“Look around, Ariel. You are in the same group. You are at the same end.”

After about a month of him “getting saved” and “getting his life right with God,” he convinced me to come back and work on our marriage. Things were great for about two weeks. We started going to Celebrate Recovery and Re-Engage together at a church here in Dallas, Texas. This is where I had my first “Ah- Ha” moment in recovery. I was sitting in a large group of women and as each one went around the circle and shared their story I sat there in shock and judgment of a lot of these women. “At least I’m not into…” I’m not proud of this by any means. As I heard one after another share about their experience with drugs, alcohol, pornography, prostitution, abortions, homosexuality, and other things I classified at the time as being worse than my issues, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart. “Look around, Ariel. You are in the same group. You are at the same end.” It hit me like a ton of bricks that the enemy, Satan, was so crafty that he would use whatever weakness he could to destroy someone’s life. It was in that moment that I knew I could never judge someone for where Satan had tried to get in and destroy their life. As I continued to go to CR and Re-Engage to try to be a healthier me and a better wife, I was learning how to set boundaries. Those boundaries were not being accepted very well, and my husband and I were worse off than before. God was actually being used against me. Instead of hearing things like, “You’re such a terrible wife because you don’t…” (PG version of what was actually said to me) like before, I was hearing things like “If you were a good godly wife then you would…” I was being asked what I was talking about in my meeting and then being restricted to what I was allowed to talk about.

A few months later on a hot summer night, he and I were at our condo doing some renovation work when a huge fight broke out between us. I seriously don’t know how one of our neighbors didn’t call the police on us. I yelled something at him and slammed the front door as I went out onto the porch to smoke a cigarette. I was bawling. I could barely see through the tears and barely talk through the sobbing. I looked up at the sky and saw two stars that were right at eye level, just like a child looking up into my daddy’s eyes. I stared at those stars as if they were the eyes of God himself. I raised my arms as if to grab the sides of His face. I didn’t care who heard me. I called out to my Heavenly Father, “Would You please just stop what You’re doing for a minute and look at me? Look at your child? Look at your daughter? Do you see what is happening? Is this the abundant life You always wanted for me? That you planned for me? Please Do Something!!!” I just stood there with my arms raised to heaven, sobbing. Again, I heard His loving voice speak to my heart. “No, this isn’t the life I had planned for you. But I’m not controlling. I made you smart and give you a choice.” I dried my eyes, took a couple weeks to get the rest of my affairs in order, and left. Over the next couple years, I found a new Celebrate Recovery group and a wonderful counselor, threw myself into church, read so many great books, listened to so many good sermons, and surrounded myself with Godly counsel. Things aren’t perfect. I have ups and downs: times when I give into my desires and my way of doing things, and times when I am walking so incredibly close with God I think my faith could never be shaken.

There is always hope

I tell you all of that to tell you this: THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE! Don’t believe the lie of the enemy that hope is lost or that you are beyond repair. Your Heavenly Father and Creator is always there ready and waiting for you. It doesn’t mean that life will be perfect and that you will never be hurt again. But if you allow Him to, He is waiting for the opportunity to pick up your broken pieces and repair your life.

If you are struggling or know someone who is struggling with anything – whether it seems so small that it doesn’t really matter or too big to deal with – please let me encourage you to talk to someone. If you have a good bible-believing church in your area, start there. Google search “Celebrate Recovery” and find a group in your area. If you don’t even know where to start, then message me and I’ll help you find someplace to get started.

If you get nothing else from this blog post, please know this:

You are precious in His sight and there is always hope.

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You Love Some. You Lose Some.

February 14, 2011 – I was sitting in a Co-Dependency specific group at Celebrate Recovery. Let me tell you, there are few more depressing places to be and conversations to be a part of than a Co-Dependency support group on Valentine’s Day.  I remember hearing story after story of heartbreak and how this was one of the hardest days of the year. I also took off my “woe is me” hat and threw it in the ring. There was a point where I sat back in my chair and chuckled because felt like I was watching an opening scene of a self-deprecating romantic comedy – where the main character has hit rock bottom, but by the end of the film she has met the love of her life and they live “Happily Ever After.” After two failed abusive marriages, that is at least the happy ending I had hoped for. Little did I know that my story of love and loss was far from over.  

 For some of us Valentine’s Day sparks excitement, and it should. Anticipation of a beautiful night out with the one we love or flowers showing up at work with a sentimental card. Maybe breakfast in bed or a cozy evening on the couch with a movie and wine. It’s a day to celebrate and show love. It’s a fun day where all seems right in the world. If you are lucky enough to have someone in your life whom you love and who loves you back, enjoy it!!! Enjoy all the excitement and hugs and kisses and sparkles and chocolate and hearts and just all of it!!!  

 For others of us who find today to be one of the worst or annoying days of the year like a big flashing neon sign pointing out the fact that we have not been so lucky in love, first, let me say, Don’t ruin it for everyone else. Be happy for those who are happy.  The Bible says that he who finds a wife finds a good thing and that we are to rejoice with those who rejoice. Second, I want to encourage you to not give up hope or shut yourself off to love. It’s easy to become bitter and closed off when we’ve been hurt by someone we loved. The desire to withdraw and not open up to potentially being let down again is a real thing. Believe me, I get it. There have been so many times in my 34 years where I’ve wanted to just say, “Forget this. I’m done!”  We cannot guarantee that we won’t be hurt in this life. We live in a fallen world where bad things happen. We also live in a beautiful world where wonderful things happen. I think back on all that I would have missed out on in life if I lived in a little corner where I believed no one would hurt me.  

 This Valentine’s Day let me encourage you to “Rejoice with those who rejoice” and then get out of your comfort zone a little. Reach out to someone. Consider saying “Yes!” if someone reaches out to you. Ask someone to coffee or look someone in the eye and say hello. They may say no or look away and pretend they didn’t hear you, but they might not. If anything, it may be the start of a beautiful friendship. You love some; you lose some. It’s life. It’s messy. It’s beautiful. Don’t miss it.  

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What A New Year!

Wow! What a start to 2018. January was nuts. LONGEST MONTH EVER. Both Johnny and I rang in the new year with what we think was the flu. Not fun by any means and took a couple weeks to get back to somewhat normal – mentally and physically. All the down time over the holiday season sure gave me plenty of time to think about my goals for the new year.

In 2017 my resolution was to “Act with confidence in areas of truth.” I had so many opportunities to do just that. It was definitely a year of growth. My faith and confidence were stretched in a lot of areas. I had to really trust God and push past a lot of fear. That led me to thinking about what I wanted to work on this year. Over the past couple of months things have kind of settled into some normalcy, and I’ve been coming off the adrenaline rush of so many things changing in such a short amount of time. To be perfectly honest, I’ve had a swell of emotions as I’m really feeling the weight of life. Not only have I found myself worrying about some things specific to me and Johnny, like our health and things like that, but I’ve also been stressed out about some things with my immediate family – just burdens that when added all together weigh pretty heavily on my mind and heart.

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve struggled with the back-and-forth of fear and faith. It all started when I was in kindergarten and we did our first fire drill at school. We watched a Donald Duck fire safety video, and as a five years old, the whole experience scared the crap out of me. From then on I was terrified that our house was going to burn down and I was going to lose everyone I loved. I would even pack a bag and put it by my bed at night in case there was a fire and we needed to get out of the house quickly. Over the years I have been scared of a lot of things: dogs, storms, bridges, being kidnapped, and even rust dust. [Okay. Let me explain “rust dust.” This last Christmas my dad was changing the batteries in an old toy, and the coils were all rusted. Johnny was watching him, and I immediately pulled him away from my dad and the toy because I was scared he was going to breath in the flakes of “rust dust.” My oh-so-sweet family teased me that no one else in the world is afraid of “rust dust.”]

I guess there is some benefit to always scanning for or being aware of danger. No kid ever hits their head on the corner of a table when I’m around, and I’m a fantastic planner and, for the most part, always prepared. Over the years I’ve made some great progress with my fears – trying to look for the truth, doing what I can, and trusting God. Oh, and not watching the news ‘cause I just can’t. I find a lot of security in being as prepared and aware as possible, but what about all the stuff I can’t control?

I mean, when there is a tornado, I’m glued to the TV and weather app. I’m aware of the severity and path of the storm, and I make sure my whole family is aware as well. I’m dressed in jeans, socks, athletic shoes, and hoodie because it’s cold after a tornado comes through. Pillows are in the tub, phone is charging, dog is in the travel kennel in the bathroom, and my baby is in a baby carrier. I do just about everything I can, but I still worry about all the stuff I can’t control or prepare for. It’s heavy. So what do you do when you reach that point where there is nothing more you can do? Nothing more to prepare? Nothing more to protect? You pray.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7 ESV 

At the beginning of the year, I decided to identify the major stress, the major burdens that weigh on my heart, and then pray for those things intentionally every day. What is it in each one of my family members’ lives do I wish I could fix for them – Health? Love? Happiness? A relationship with God? Protection? So I sat down and made a list. Then I decided that I needed to fast from something for the year. Last year I felt like God was putting it on my heart to take a break from coffee and alcohol. I literally said out loud, “Seriously? Are you trying to take away all my coping mechanisms?” Um… yeah. He is. I kept putting it off last year but decided to let those be the things I fast from this year with the intention of praying for the ones I love. No more relying on coffee to get me going in the morning or indulge in as an escape throughout the day. No more glass of wine in the evening or a beer when I go out with friends and just want to unwind. I’m not saying it’s forever, but at least for this year while I really try to discipline myself to take my thoughts captive and give things over to God, I need to give up something I want and like to prove to myself that I’m serious. I need to deny my flesh because there is something spiritual that is more important to me. This should be an interesting year!

I pray that everyone’s new year is off to a great start. I’d love to hear about what some of y’all’s resolutions are for 2018 and if you’ve already stopped sticking to them!

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“Fear Not!” – Merry Christmas

I look back to Christmas 2014, how I was pregnant with Johnny and my view of Mary in the Christmas story completely changed. There was a new-found respect for this expectant mother: all the excitement and fear she must have felt; the pain she must have gone through, the lack of luxuries we have nowadays. It’s really easy to see the beauty in the nativity scenes we set up this time of year – the pictures are painted so perfectly you can almost see the stars twinkling in the sky – or the little kids dressed up in old towels and robes for the church Christmas pageant. It is beautiful and precious.

But looking at each moment described in the gospels, there had to have been so much fear involved as well. I mean, I think each time an angel appeared to someone in this story, they had to start the conversation like, “Hey! It’s okay. It’s just me. An angel. Sent by God. Don’t even worry about it. I just gotta tell you something awesome real quick!” I imagine the fear that Mary must have had to work though when so much was working against her, the fear Joseph must have felt when he thought about all the explaining he was going to have to do. I imagine the sky lit up with angels as they appear to the shepherds. I’m sure it was beautiful, but I can’t help but think it was also a little terrifying and chaotic.

A few years later the wise men followed the star to find and worship the young king, Jesus. They were warned in a dream not to return to King Herod, so they took the risk of upsetting the king and took a different way back to their own country. Matthew 2:13 tells us that shortly after the wise men left, an angel appeared to Joseph and told him, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Joseph listened to the warning and they fled. I can only imagine the fear and Mary’s inner voice as she was hearing of the tragedy taking place in the land where her precious son was born, the news of friends who had lost their little ones at the hand of King Herod, wondering why all this was happening and how this could be God’s will. I imagine the fear and despair was overwhelming at times.

If I had no beautifully painted nativity scene or church Christmas pageant in my head and only looked at this whole story in both Matthew and Luke, I can’t help but see the fear and pain that must have been felt in the moment. But since we have the rest of the story, I can also see the importance of faith:

faith that God is good even when people are evil,

faith to trust when He tells you something,

faith to act on what He tells you to do,

faith to hope for the future,

faith to find the beauty in ugly circumstances,

faith to find the joy in hard and terrifying situations.

I know in my own life I struggle with this every single day. But I have to remember that like Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and wise men, I don’t see the rest of the story or the bigger picture like God does. I just have to keep listening to His word and warnings and follow what He has put on my heart to do and then trust fully that He is God.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Luke 2:10&11

Let me encourage your heart right now that if this time of year is particularly hard, you are not alone. I struggle with the push/pull of things not being the way I dreamed or imagined and enjoying the moment and being thankful for what I do have in my life – the biggest thing to be thankful for being the fact that I have a Heavenly Father who loves me. God sees you and knows your name. He knows your heart and your hurt. My prayer for you is that you will lean on Him as He wraps His arms around you this holiday season. 

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! ~ Love, Ariel and Johnny