Open Hands

Three years ago, I published All of This, a young adult novel. Before the book even came out – pretty much the day after I finished revising the story – I wrote a sequel. That was three years ago.

For three years, I’ve known what happens after that final sentence in All of This. For three years, I’ve had the answers to the biggest questions readers are left wondering about.

Three years ago, I began writing a story that challenged me more as a writer than any other manuscript I’d written. I delved deeper into the mind of my main character and wrote some storylines that freaked me out a little because I wondered if I’d be able to pull them off.

I’ve loved that new project for three years, and I had plans to have it in the hands of readers long before now.

But then I felt God nudging me to grad school, and I moved away from home for the first time.

I stepped onto campus as a full-time Masters student and quickly learned that’s a whole other level than earning a bachelor’s degree. I found a local church, began to serve there, and joined a small group. I picked up a couple part time jobs. I grew friendships. I wrote guests posts for my school’s women’s blog, I spoke about writing in a few classes, I traveled, and I did everyday life stuff like cooking and cleaning and learning to keep plants alive (still working on that last one).

But I never forgot about that writing project.

For a while, I tried to work on it here and there. After all, the story was told – it just needed some work to make it look like an actual book. But homework kept me up late into the night and classes got me up early each morning.

I was so frustrated. When I’m not writing, I don’t fully feel like myself. I really thought I was supposed to tell that story, and I prayed about it. But I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t make it happen.

Then a little while ago, I realized something: Maybe God was asking me to trust Him with my dreams. Maybe He wanted my full attention on studying ministry during my time in seminary. Maybe He wanted to grow me in other areas, allow me to live new experiences, teach me my identity isn’t found in my author title.

When I realized that, I did something difficult: I stepped away.

I still thought about the story I loved so much. Still jotted some notes down here and there. But I didn’t consistently spend time with the manuscript. And while that bothered me a lot, it also felt like relief.

See, I had to learn to live with open hands. I had to put the story – and my heart for writing – in my outstretched palms and hold it out to God. I had to say, “Even if I never get to share this story with readers. Even if my life takes me in a different direction. You know my heart and you designed me with this passion on purpose. So  I trust you.”

Even if…I trust You.

And that’s how I’m slowly learning to live. Not just with storytelling, but with all things.

I like to feel a sense of control. A lot. But there’s freedom in knowing it’s not up to you to hold it all together. And if your faith is in Christ, you have solid hope that He knows what He’s doing and He has His glory and your ultimate good in mind.

I had to learn to be okay with answering people’s questions with, “I honestly don’t know when the story will be finished. I’m focusing on school right now.”

Which felt weird to say because I wrote two manuscripts while I was a full-time college student – one of which became All of This. Letting go of the story also went against the writing advice we hear all the time: “Just keep writing. Write something every day. If if matters to you, you’ll make time for it.”

All of that can be really great advice. But when you’ve given your life to living God’s plan for you, the best advice is to trust. To give your dreams and plans and projects to Him and trust Him to use them however He wants.

Now that I’ve said all of that…I’ve graduated. I have my diploma in my apartment. I’m not spending my evenings with my nose in a commentary. I’m going to bed at a reasonable time (who even am I??).

And I’m writing again.

I’ve dusted off that sequel, and I’m diving into it as often as I can. I’ve learned some things over the past few years that I’m able to pour into the story to make it stronger. I have a renewed sense of purpose for it, more energy to rearrange scenes and fill in plot holes, and even more of a desire to get the story into the hands of readers.

I don’t know what’s next for this project. I don’t have any ideas about when it’ll be completely done or how it’ll be published or when you’ll read it.

But honestly? That doesn’t scare me as much now. Because I’ve recently been reminded of why I do what I do in the first place: To point to King Jesus in all things.

It’s all by His grace and for His glory.

Question: Have you ever set something aside for a season, even though you loved it? What did you learn from the experience?

IMG_5197The first printed copy of my latest manuscript – ready for some serious editing!

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4 Ways to Integrate Singles in the Local Church

Happy Tuesday, friends! Just stopping by to let you know I had an article posted on Intersect.org last week!

My friends and I have talked about singleness on the blog before, but I also enjoy talking about what that looks like in a local church setting. Click the image below if you want to check it out!
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The Fake Kid and My Real Sister

booknew-pagesI love discussing my teen novel, All of This, with readers. It’s fun to chat about the characters like they’re real people…because in my mind, they kinda are. I also love hearing what readers imagines happens next after they reach “The End.”

While I’ve had all kinds of conversations about Sadie, Truitt, Becca, and the rest of Pecan Creek’s residents, some questions come up more than others. Here’s one of them:

“Is Trissy based off your little sister?”

In case it’s been a while since you’ve read the book, or in case you haven’t read it yet (click here to grab a copy), remember that Tristan “Trissy” Elliot is Sadie’s eight-year-old cousin. She’s got bright orange/red, curly hair and a firecracker personality.

My little sister is also eight, and if we’re friends on any kind of social media, you know she’s creative, sassy, and very animated. She’s also super similar to Trissy in a ton of ways. That’s a totally valid question.

But the weird thing? Trissy isn’t based on Ellen.

Ellen was two when I started writing All of This, and she was five when it was published. So I had no idea at the time what the eight-year-old version of my baby sister would look like.

Even though it’s impossible, it seems like I imagined Trissy to be like my sister. But really, eight-year-old Trissy came first. And Ellen ended up a lot like her.

Here are some spoiler-free similarities they share:

  • Currently, they’re both eight years old.
  • Larger-than-life imaginations and personalities.
  • Daddy’s girls.
  • A strong sense of justice.
  • They like to stick their noses in conversations they shouldn’t be a part of because they like to know all there is to know.
  • Curious about everything.
  • Sharing a bed with either of them is setting yourself up for a kick in the face.
  • Unique, bold, and creative fashion sense.
  • Because of the people they’re around, they see themselves more as sixteen than eight.
  • A big love of Barbies. Do you even know how many Barbie stilettos I’ve found with my foot?!
  • Maternal instincts. They both look out for their people and their love language is doing things for others.
  • They both blush if they hear you say the words “cute” and “boy” in the same sentence. Which sort of makes you want to say it more…
  • Big, tender hearts. They hurt when others hurt, and they want to make things better.
  • Pink-themed bedrooms.
  • Distinctly Southern accents (they don’t have moms; they have mamas).
  • Coffee drinkers.
  • Cheesy sense of humor.
  • They’re both into hugging it out when there’s a disagreement.
  • Big vocabularies for kids their age.
  • Fiercely loyal.

There are a few more things I could add to this list, but I’ll stop there. Mainly because I forgot the rest of the list (I really need to start writing this stuff down when it comes to me).

But still, there are some uncanny similarities between these kids, even though one came from my imagination when the real one was still a toddler.

I remind Ellen all the time that she’s my best buddy, and I included little Ellen in the acknowledgments section of the book, saying how she’s the inspiration behind every kid character I write. Who would’ve thought she’d end up so similar to one of the most fun kid characters I’ve written?

I have a feeling they’d be BFFs in real life. The world wouldn’t be ready.

Have you ever read about a character and been amazed at the similarities between them and someone you know in real life? Or maybe you’ve read a character’s journey that’s super similar to your own? Isn’t it weird?

Trissy bopped her way over to me and the strappy pair of sandals I was admiring. “What? Need some help? I’m pretty good with clothes and stuff.” 

I glanced down at the mismatched socks she wore with her plaid shorts. “Uh-huh. Listen, you’re also a kid, and you’re supposed to stick by me, okay?”

She smashed herself to my side, wrapping her arm around my waist. “How’s this?”

-All of This

The Journey

Friends! Hello! How are you? It’s been a thousand years four months since we’ve hung out together on the blog.

Things have been a little wild in my corner of the world recently – mainly because I haven’t spent much time in my corner of the world. But also because something small happened a few Fridays ago:

I graduated from seminary with a Masters Degree in Ministry to Women.

 

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Photo credit: Alexa Mahan

Of course I’m joking when I say that was a small thing because it’s really huge. Not because of anything I did, but because of who God is. Because of His faithfulness and His plan. Because of His presence over the past three years of reading and research and exams and some very difficult days.

In April, I made a video walking through the past few years of seminary (a school that helps equip you to share the Good News of Jesus wherever God takes you). In it, I read excerpts from my journal. If you’ve been a blog reader for a while, you’ll know that’s a huge deal. Schaeffer doesn’t share her journal.

But I did because I wanted to encourage you to trust in the Lord with all of your heart. And I wanted to encourage myself to keep doing that, too.

When I made this video, I had no idea what was next for me. Graduation was a month away and I didn’t have a job lined up. I was set to move out of my tiny room with the cute little nook in the apartment I shared with two wonderful friends, but I didn’t know where I was going.

This video doesn’t tell you what happened next. But I’m glad I recorded this before I knew my next step because it’s honest. It’s my heart.

And I cry throughout it, so ignore that.

And while I’ll fill you in later on the details of the events only God could orchestrate, I’ll go ahead and tell you this: 30 minutes after I crossed the stage and received my degree, while I was still wearing the master’s robe with the funny sleeves (perfect for snack storage – keep that in mind), while I was standing outside of the chapel taking pictures with friends, family, and professors…I was offered a job. And now I’m living in the “what’s next” I was wondering about just a few weeks before.

In case you missed the video on Facebook, I’ll share it below.

Tell me: Are you in a season of waiting or wondering what’s next? Are you asking God for answers, but only seem to be getting static?

He’s listening, friends. Believe me, He’s listening. And He’s working behind the scenes even now.

Only One

When I was younger, I wanted to change the world. Make a difference. Do something big for God.

But from my preteen point of view, the odds were totally against me.

I lived in a small, Southern town.

Nobody really knew me.

Social anxiety was my closest (and, at times, it felt like my only) friend.

I was timid and awkward and stuck.

And also, I was homeschooled. Not going to include any commentary on that one.

If you’ve heard my story, you know God did some really cool things in my life and I no longer struggle with many of the issues that plagued me as a kid.

I’m still so far from perfect, but I also still have that burn to set the world on fire. I so badly desire for God to use my one little life for His great glory.

But sometimes, the odds still seem stacked against me. The enemy still likes to cause discouragement and, although I’m terrible at sports, I’m pretty good at catching the lies he throws at me.

Who am I really?

I’m too messed up to advance God’s Kingdom on earth.

Why would anyone even listen to me?

I’m nowhere near as good at speaking/writing/teaching/leading/encouraging/praying/__________ as _______________.

And on and on and on ad nauseam.

My blog stats don’t tell me exactly who is reading this post, but I’ll go out on a limb and guess you’ve entertained these thoughts before, too. You feel like there’s an ongoing wrestling match between your heart desiring to truly live for Jesus and your head telling you you’re not enough.

Well, sister (you may actually be a brother, but the majority of you are female, so we’ll roll with it), you’re not alone.

A few mornings ago, I sat in bed with a cup of coffee and my Bible. I’m working my way through a study by Beth Moore called The Quest: An Excursion Toward Intimacy with God.

I was reading about how God told Abraham and Sarah they would have a son. Abraham and Sarah both took their turn laughing at the impossibility of it. They were both older – way past the season of life where people have kids.

And yet, here comes Isaac, whose name actually means he laughs.

Laughter at the impossibility of a situation turns into laughter bubbling out of joy.

A little farther into the study, Beth says a quote I’ve put on repeat in my mind, like a song on Spotify that keeps hitting me like it’s the first time I’ve heard it:

“The improbable is no harder for God to accomplish than the probable” (The Quest p. 69).

Huh. I’ve reread that so many times, but I just had to go back and look at what I typed again.

It’s so true, but it’s also so easy to dismiss God’s power because something feels impossible.

Then the study pointed me to Isaiah 51. Here, God is comforting His people, encouraging them to continue to stay close to Him. In verse 2, He says,

“Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who gave birth to you. When I called him, he was only one; I blessed him and made him many.”

“When I called him, he was only one…”

 Only one…”

 I made him many.”  

Years earlier, God pointed Abraham’s gaze to the countless stars in the sky and told him he would have even more descendants than that. He told him this when he and Sarah were already too old to be parents.

But Isaac was born. And Isaac fathered Jacob, who became known as Israel. And Israel had 12 sons who spread out into tribes and became a nation. And on and on and on.

So what’s my point in this? I’m not talking about dreaming big or taking risks or doing big things for God. That’s a whole other topic for another day and a stronger cup of coffee.

My point is this, and I say it with so much love: Don’t you dare let the enemy convince you that God can’t use you. Don’t spend one more second believing it’s impossible for God to work in your life and show His glory to the world.

Don’t even give it a thought.

“The improbable is no harder for God to accomplish than the probable.”

Think about it: How much more of God’s glory is on display in Abraham’s story because God did the impossible? What if Abraham and Sarah had a few kids while they were in their mid-twenties, and those kids grew up to have kids and grandkids and great-grandkids and that’s how God created His people?

Yeah, it’d work, but we wouldn’t feel a sense of awe at God’s power every time we read the story.

The Maker of our hearts makes impossible things possible.

So offer your one, unique life – the one with God’s fingerprints all over it – to Him and say, “Please use my life for your glory.” It may not look like you think it should. It may not happen when or how you think it should. It may seem to take forever, and you may not even see how it’s all working together right now. But you can trust it’s happening.

Abraham was just one person when God called him.

But through his one, faithful life, God changed the world.

Back to Me

If we’re friends on any type of social media (except for Snapchat because my roommate and I are still bitter over how it ended our super-awesome streak last year so I’m rarely over there), then you’ve probably heard I spent 10 days in Israel recently. I haven’t blogged about it yet because I’ve got a few other trip-related things in the works, but I am in the process of sharing mini blog-type posts along with some pictures over on Instagram (click here to go to my profile).

Anyway, Israel is 7 hours in the future for me. For example, when the clock struck midnight and everyone rang in the New Year on the East coast, I was already at the breakfast table in Jerusalem. I texted my family and told them 2018 was pretty great so far, but it took them a few extra hours to see that for themselves.

That kind of time-jumping means you end up with a serious case of jet-lag after your trip. For several nights after I landed back in the states, I was wide-awake at 3:00am playing Panda Pop on my phone, and then up before dawn each morning.

On the bright side (no pun intended), I’ve seen a lot more sunrises than usual recently.

One morning after I returned home, I woke up before the sun again. Because the coffee pot wasn’t set to automatically come on for another hour, I decided to spend time doing something the busyness of life had kept me from doing recently: I decided to write for fun.

Not for an audience, not for a product I want to publish, just something in my journal. A poem. A written prayer from my pen to God’s eyes.

As I worked on the poem, I felt myself coming alive. And I didn’t even have that coffee yet.

I was reminded how writing is the thing that makes me feel most like me. The Creator wired me with this creativity as a way to worship and praise Him.

It’s so easy to get distracted by social media or texting or Netflix. It’s so easy to let time slip by and all we’ve done is stare at a screen. So this year, I want to change that in my life.

I don’t really do New Year’s Resolutions – I’m more of a Word of the Year person – but in 2018, I want to take more time to do something creative. Maybe that looks like a poem, maybe that’s digging out my painting supplies, or maybe that’s scribbling some dialogue I overheard to work into a story later.

The main thing is that it’ll be a way for me to worship my Creator in a creative way. Because when I’m making something out of what God has given me, I feel like I’m truly getting back to me.
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What about you? What makes you feel the most like who God created you to be? What excites you or makes you feel alive? How will you prioritize that in 2018?

With Us

A few nights ago, my mom and I settled onto the couch to watch The Nativity Story. It had been a few years since I’d seen it, so I decided we needed to see it again.

My seven-year-old sister saw the DVD case when I brought it downstairs. “Can I watch that?” she asked.

We’d planned to watch the movie after she went to bed (it’s easier to focus that way), so I told her I’d watch it again with her in the morning.

But then, as Mom and I watched the story unfold, I realized it might be a little much for a kid who plays with a Little People nativity set.

The movie pulls no punches. We see the Massacre of the Innocents – when Herod ordered his soldiers to kill every baby boy who could possibly be the Messiah. We also see bodies hanging on trees after being crucified. And we see childbirth pre-medicine.

So the next day I explained to Ellen that she might need to wait another year or two before watching the movie. Then I had a genius idea: I remembered a music video on YouTube that includes scenes from The Nativity. I gave her my phone and let her watch that.

A few minutes into the video, I remembered why I straight-up sob every time I watch it. Toward the end of the song, after the clips of Joseph and Mary and the newborn Jesus, and after the scene with the shepherds at the manger, it shows clips from The Passion. You know, the really realistic movie about Jesus’ crucifixion.

I quickly told Ellen what was about to happen and that she could stop the video, but she was already drawn into it.

I spared her a childbirth scene, but she saw a messy crucifixion instead. Go ahead and hand me the Big Sister of the Year Award.

Later that day, Ellen and I went out to the garage to look through the big freezer. Worried about her, I asked, “Are you okay? Did that video scare you?”

She thought about it for a minute, then shook her head. “It didn’t scare me,” she said softly, “I just didn’t realize it was all so serious.”

Abandoning the quest for the Pillsbury, I turned to her. “It was very serious. But it’s real. Jesus did all of that because He loves you, El.”

For the first time, she caught a glimpse of a manger scene that wasn’t cozy and warm.She saw Mary and Joseph as actual people, not little cherub-faced plastic figures. She saw a picture of a Savior not clothed in a white robe with a smiling face and children sitting on His lap, but stripped of His garments with a crown of thorns shoved onto his bleeding head. She saw the journey Mary and Joseph had to take and the life Jesus lived and the death He suffered because He loves us.

And while those scenes are just an interpretation of what it might have been like, they quite literally give flesh and blood to history.

They show us the reality that Jesus came to us as a human being, fully God yet fully man. And they remind us of how great the gift of Jesus really is.

Because without Jesus, mankind is separated from God.

When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God said,

“’You may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live…Look, stand near me on this rock. As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.” – Exodus 33:18-23

God also dwelled in a place called The Holy of Holies – the most sacred place – where ordinary men and women were not allowed to go. God spoke through angels and prophets, but not face-to-face with His people.

To see God’s face equaled death because no one in their imperfection could stand before a perfect God and live.

Until one night, when a young girl and her betrothed welcomed a baby boy into the world.

Until the baby’s mother snuggled him warmly in strips of cloth and cradled Him in her arms.

Until she kissed His soft head…
ran a finger over His round cheeks…
…and looked directly into the eyes of God.

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All at once, mankind could see God face-to-face. Experience His presence without hiding behind a rock or standing outside a temple curtain. Feel His nearness. Hear His voice.

Can you imagine? Bouncing the God of all creation on your shoulder to calm His tired cries? Counting the fingers that sculpted man from dust and made woman from man’s side?

Swaddling arms that would one day stretch out on a cross to rescue us?

It’s so easy to gloss over what it was like when God became a person. When the incarnation happened, it wasn’t squeaky clean and pretty. That’s what people were expecting.

Instead, A young virgin conceived. Her betrothed planned a divorce. The government ordered a census. A ruler murdered babies. The King of all kings and the Lord of all lords was born in the darkness and nestled in a feeding trough.

It’s the opposite of what we like to imagine, isn’t it? Completely upside-down.

But at the same time, there’s comfort in knowing that, whatever darkness we face, Emmanuel has been there. He’s felt our pain. He came to us as one of us so we could one day live with Him forever.

This Christmas, may you take time to step away from all of the wrapping paper and Christmas cookies and movies, and come close to Jesus, remembering how He came close to us.

May you reflect on the true story that changed the world. And may you let it touch your heart in a profound way, as you consider the reality of Christmas. The Savior stepped down into chaos and subjected Himself to a humble birth and a brutal death to be with us.

Because He loves us.

“All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
‘Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means, ‘God is with us.'”
– Matthew 1:22-23

Merry Christmas,
Anna