O' Christmas Tree

Pierce and I went to Little Five Points tonight and finally found ourselves a lovely little Christmas tree.

We bought a nice fake one our first year of marriage, but having a new house and all really makes us feel like we should fully embrace the things we love about this holiday. I mean, we have a fireplace now and everything, and it only seems right. 

We are pretty excited about her. The decorating festivities will begin tomorrow night!

an open letter to some of my favorite women

Dear friends; my lovely, sweet friends,

A couple of things have happened to me- to my heart- in recent weeks, and I want to share them with you. Not just because we're in a small group together, but because I love you. I cherish the intimacy we share together and I want to be transparent. 

You see, when I decided to become a leader I wasn't aware that it would be this difficult...or this rewarding. I kept thinking of it as more of a logistical role- organizing this and that- and while that's certainly true, it's hardly the most important piece of the puzzle.

I've struggled with what has felt like failure to bring everyone together each week. But let me say right now that this letter isn't about setting more expectations for us to reach or creating obligations for us to meet. It's about love. And how love does.

I'm not talking about our book (but it is pretty great, isn't it?). I'm talking about the truth behind how Christ has called us to love one another: in action, in hot pursuit of the loveliness He's designed for us in community, and in the freedom that comes from knowing our needs will be met when we can't meet them ourselves.

At first, I was feeling discouraged each week when I arrived to study and realize we were short two, three, or even four people. I fought with myself about how to hold people accountable in a gentle way. I'm kind of a control freak. Even as a creative person, I need to have order. But that isn't always how God works. He likes to throw a wrench in our expectations and remind us that we need Him, and only Him, to accomplish His work. And, friends, this group- these beautiful, new friendships- are His work. But before I recognized the reality behind my own attempts to play God, I asked myself this question: how does one talk about commitment and participation in a way that doesn't sound like a high school guidance counselor? I know how I feel when others try to tell me what I should be doing, and it's not pretty. But the more I spoke to some of you, the more I realized how afraid we often are to share the truth that's hiding deep within our hearts. Even when we've already shared some of our most painful experiences, we still feel the urge to run. Not because we don't want to have community, but because, instinctively, we want to protect ourselves from what we fear could hurt us more deeply: Intimacy. Letting people in. Digging into old wounds.

How often have people said there is no judgment, only to turn their backs on you and prove your fears right? How often have you dedicated yourself fully to something, only to realize that it was draining you more than fulfilling any need? I can think of a few times in my life. And I bet you can, too.

If I haven't said this aloud, let me say it here: this group is a place for you to feel safe. I'm not interested in setting expectations for people to meet. I'm not interested in seeing only what's pretty. I'm interested in the broken hearts, the joys, the bad hair days, the runny mascara, the hugs, and the laughter. I'm interested in the messy. 

I'm interested in you.

Last night, I was met with some truths that opened up a new reality for me. I thought about each of you. I thought about your stories, and your struggles- whether personal or professional, old or new- and thanked God for walking ahead of you that night at Grouplink- or however you came to join- and directing you my way. 

Let me say, first, that I am not an "everything happens for a reason" person. That's too passive for me (I have control issues, remember?). I believe God allows us to make our own choices and He continues, every day, to encourage us to follow Him. Sometimes we do. And sometimes we don't. Sometimes we miss out on what He has planned. And sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of a group filled with women who reflect our own desires, our own needs, back at us. 

You see, I don't believe everything happens for a reason. But I do believe God speaks. And I believe with everything I am that we listened when He said, "You see that group over there? That's where I want you." And when I thought about each of us last night, stuck in traffic all over the city, holed up in our cars miles away from each other, a silly grin covered my face. 

Our messiness, our inconsistencies, our flaws and bruises, are not weaknesses. They are simply tools for God to shape us into the kind of women only we can make each other.

So I ask that you forgive my need for control and understand I only push because I see the beauty in what He's made. I only ask because I so desperately seek what you've already brought into my life: unconditional acceptance and inexplicable comfort. I only bother because I want my love to do, not just speak. 

That's true love...the love that does. And it's yours. I love you.

on reading, writing, and wrestling with words

I don't know if you're a writer or an artist of any sort. I hope you are because it's a wonderful thing to find beauty in the inexplicable. Science, to me, is a kind of art too since it stems from the mysterious mind of our Creator. But that's another conversation for another time. 

The difficult thing for me as a writer is I often stumble into a phrase or description that I simply cannot pull myself away from, either because it's so incredibly striking or because I don't like it but I'm not sure what I don't like about it. This is especially true when it comes to my own work. I'll stare at a sentence for half an hour, trying to rearrange it in my head. It will be grammatically correct. But I'll debate its worth anyway. I'll think, "There's nothing technically wrong with this sentence, but it sucks anyway." I'd like to think this means I'm a good writer, but mostly I believe it means I'm a complete and total waste because I wrote a sentence that doesn't change the tilt of the world's axis.

I can be pretty hard on myself, and the comparison game is one I play often.

When I left the Atlanta Writer's Conference, I was on a high that nothing short of an international disaster  could have ruined. And when I think about those two days, I relive those blissful emotions. But then age-old doubts creep in because, for any person, once you've reached one milestone the next step is always another milestone. 

I got an idea and started writing.

I finished my manuscript.

I edited (and edited and edited) my manuscript. 

I signed up for the conference.

I paid my fees.

I sent in my materials.

I practiced my pitch and edited the book some more.

I met with agents.

I received the most fantastic news of my life.

I sent in my manuscript to the requesting agent (and found mistakes after I sent it in...gah!).

And now...I wait. Hoping she'll love something about it enough to make her choose me. 

Me, of all people.

There's always something else to do. Something else to wait for. And the problem with accolades is that you never want to do worse than the best you've done before. The lovely agent who requested my work compared the voice in my novel to that of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, which was a #1 NYT Bestseller (and is, indeed, a powerhouse novel...I bought it after the conference because I wanted to know exactly what she was comparing me to).  I have her letter to me framed next to my desk. I look at it and smile every time I walk into our office. It helps me remember what I can do. It gives me courage and confidence to keep writing. I remember telling my mother that part of the reason why I was so excited about the conference was because it was an affirmation. When I say affirmation, I'm not just talking about worldly affirmation. I'm talking about the fire God lit in my heart for the life-altering power of words.

Hearing my sample pages being compared to John Green was more than receiving a simple compliment. It was as if I was pursuing the ministry God had called me to, and that moment was real joy for me. I heard Him say, "Yes! I'm so proud of you. Keep going. This is how I'm going to use you for My glory."

Which is why I want to do well. I don't want to have fame and fortune. I used to want those things when I was young and modeling and trying out for commercials and singing and doing anything I could to get attention. Now the idea of being well-known scares the bejesus out of me.

I don't want to be known. I want my work to be known. For how it changes hearts. For how it leaves someone breathless. For how it shifts from person to person and makes people reconsider what they thought they knew.

I want my God to be known. 

I think I'm mostly afraid of what not being known, and not succeeding at being an author, will do for my ministry. I'm not sure I know how to do anything else except write anymore. There are a million other interests I have that I could pursue. I mean, have you seen my Pinterest boards? But the one thing I love and excel at is writing. God made me that way. I don't want it to go to waste. I don't want to regret what I didn't do for Him.

So, here I sit, knowing that my novel is in the hands of a person who could completely transform my future. I'm praying that she sees the work I've done, despite the book's flaws, and believes in what I'm trying to say enough to take a risk on me. 

But I'm also believing in what I know about my God. I know He has called each of us to a specific purpose, and this is mine. I can't be afraid of failure any more. If I'm pursuing His glory in the avenue He's laid out for me, I will never fail.

up in the box

On Saturday night, the Hubs and I went to another Hawks game. We got to sit up in the Falcons box suite (Thank you Arthur Blank!) with a few of his co-workers and enjoy comfy, cozy seats. You know how we love our Atlanta teams (Fair-weather fans, take note! We don't like you.) and since we're both huge sports lovers, it's always fun for us to get out and cheer obnoxiously together. It's really romantic. 

But in all honesty, we usually reserve being obnoxious for Falcons games and Georgia Southern games; then we let it all hang out. Pierce is never sexier than when he's screaming incredibly snarky comments at refs/opposing teams/UGA fans/UGA players/UGA anything. If it wasn't so frowned upon, I'd probably jump his bones in the bleachers right then. You're welcome that I don't.


Sometimes I wonder about the effectiveness of prayer.

Really, how does it work?

I believe in its power. I've seen it. I know how it can surprise you and make you feel elated and ashamed all at once; elated because you realize God works in prayer...and ashamed because you weren't sure you really believed. But I always find myself asking God questions about His will versus ours; why He allows some things to happen and not others; and how, if He doesn't interfere with our free will, does  prayer actually change anything?

I think it works to help open our eyes to what He might be doing. It opens our ears to what He might be saying. I know there have been moments where my prayers have shifted course entirely because I was in a place to hear from God. So how do our prayers shift the course of other people's hearts? How does prayer heal? Does God suddenly decide to change His mind and allow a body to be healed just because we asked for it? He knew we were going to ask for it to begin with...was He just waiting for the question? Did He have it planned all along? 

And what about those times when He chooses not to heal? Is it because we fail to ask? Or is it because He is choosing to reveal His glory in another way?

Every time I think I know the answer to these questions, I find out I really don't know anything at all. Sometimes I marvel at how God can be so big and mysterious. And other times I get angry because I just want to understand Him. I don't know how to deal with my doubts.

The only thing I know is this: He is Good. And He is Good all the time.

That seems like it should be enough. Sometimes it is. But most of the time I end up in a very circuitous argument with myself (and God) about why He gave us free will if prayer changes His mind. But prayer only stems from our free will to do so; therefore, I suppose I actually know two things:

God is Good all the time. And we are not. So, naturally, there is going to be some conflict.

We pray because we can. Because we know God works on our behalf and He cares about what matters to us. At least that's why I pray. I want my heart to match His, and there's enough faith in my heart (though I don't want "enough" to be enough) to trust that our sufferings here are nothing in comparison to the beauty and grandeur of what He has planned for us.

But it feels pretty damn real right now.

I just want to feel His goodness so deeply that even if things turn out to be ugly or painful or even downright devastating, I can find peace in Him. I want to know His heart so well that nothing could turn me away from Him. I want to believe without hesitation that God allows for us to suffer not because He desires it but because it shapes us into the kind of people who have compassion, who recognize the suffering of others and care enough to do something about it, who know that just because bad things happen it does not mean we serve a bad God. We simple live in a world where our flaws and His perfection cannot exist without bumping up against each other every once in awhile. 

He is still sovereign. 

And there is beauty from the ashes.

"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! For I have overcome the world."- John 16:33

be rich

Every year, our church launches a campaign around the holidays called Be Rich. And it's not what you might think.

It's not about getting money. It's not about accumulating wealth. It's about 1 Timothy 6:18, which commands us "to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share."

Be Rich is about doing more, serving more, and giving more. It's about recognizing how much we could transform the face of Christianity if people recognized us by our willingness to sacrifice and serve rather than by what we believe. After all, as our pastor Andy Stanley likes to say, Jesus didn't tell His followers "By this all men will know that you are My disciples: because of how you protest" or "By this all men will know that you're My disciples: because of what you stand against." 

No. All men will know we are His disciples because of this: how we love one another. 

More and more, I'm discovering that change only comes from love that isn't self-serving or boastful. And wouldn't it be wonderful if people saw us and said, "I know Who they love! They are followers of Jesus. They will welcome me. And I know they care about my eternity because they care about my NOW."

Let's Be Rich today. And everyday.

happy thanksgiving

What a wonderful day!

Pierce and I have spent all week preparing to host Thanksgiving in our home for the very first time, and I have to say it went off without a hitch (except for when I accidentally mixed up my salt and sugar containers when making the batter for my mini peach cobblers...at least I discovered my error before I served them...yuck!). 

We ate lots of gorgeous food and played Scattergories (Pierce won) and we laughed a whole bunch. 

I love my family. I love that I belong to the Nunnerys now, too. And they were so sweet, so complimentary. When they left, Pierce and I looked at each other and high-fived. It was worth all the work to have everyone over and to serve them as much as we could here in our home together.

We have more to be thankful for than I can even say.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

we call her slutty kitty

It's true. Sometimes we do, in fact, call our cat "Slutty Kitty". Or "Kitten Whore". Because...well...just look at the picture. 

She gets into things she shouldn't and ends up in places that only cause drama for the rest of us.

P.S. Those names are only intended for my cat. I would never use those terms for, say, a fellow human being (Unless said fellow human being was trying to hook up with Pierce or something. Then those rules would go flying out the window). All in good fun, people. All in good fun.

a bike ride in the city

Last Friday afternoon, I went on a little bike ride around the city.

It was a gorgeous fall day.

I ate at a little french bistro.

I even made my way to the local library and got a library card. I don't think I've had one of those in about fifteen years. I'm all about bringing back the childhood memories. 

I love this town.

a thankful list

Pierce and I are hosting Thanksgiving at our house this year and my Pinterest board is practically exploding with ideas. I'm so excited to have the Nunnerys over to celebrate! My mother, my Dad's momma, and my mother-in-law have always made us feel so comfy and cozy during the holidays, so I figured it was our turn, what with a new house and all. I have a lot to be thankful for, so I wanted to share my list with you. Here goes:

1) Finally getting to use the fine china my Nannie bought us for our wedding. 
2) A warm house that feels like home.
3) Our health and sense of adventure, even for the little things.
4) Family.
4) My silly, sweet husband, who makes me laugh all the time.
5) Sweet tea.
6) The smell of evergreens in the the chilly, winter wind.
7) Bonfires and laughter.
8) My favorite Christmas movies, like The Holiday, It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and The Nutcracker Prince.
9) Our small groups and their hearts for service.
10) Our church and its unwavering, indelible love for Jesus.
11) Always having the basic necessities, like food, shelter, and paid bills. And then having the added bonus of being able to enjoy and give a bit more.
12) Stories and words.
13) Hand-written letters.
14) Change.
15) Hope and long-awaited emails.
16) Memories.
17) Tradition.
18) The Civil Wars, Regina Spektor, and Brooke Fraser.
19) The Georgia Southern Eagles and our favorite place on earth, Georgia Southern University.
20)  My blogging community!
21) The quilt my Nannie made for my college graduation.
22) And, last but most certainly not least, the agape love and unaccountable grace of my Savior.

What are you thankful for this season?

and now she's sixteen

In just a few hours, my little sister will be sixteen years old.

I'll never forget the day she was born. I didn't realize who she was and what she was going to be. Looking at her tiny, red face and her dark hair, I wasn't sure that I'd ever be able to understand why she'd come into our lives most unexpectedly.

But I know now.

Kati, my sweet, baby sister, I love you. Did you know that you're my best friend? That when you laugh, I feel the same joy rising up in me? That your story has changed my life and transformed my heart into something worth loving? 

Because you are...it does...and it has.

Happy sweet sixteenth, Kati Bug. 

Thanks for being the best of all of us.


Book Excerpt from Marie Astor's To Catch a Bad Guy, Plus a Giveaway!

Happy happy Friday, y'all!

Today, I've got a special treat for you guys with an excerpt from Marie Astor's newest release, To Catch a Bad Guy. This should help get your holiday reading started early! Because let's be honest: we'd all rather be reading a good book than fighting the crazies out shopping on Black Friday, right? Right?! Don't tell me I'm the only one...

Here's a peek at To Catch a Bad Guy to help change your mind:

Remembering her appointment with Tom Wyman, Janet checked her watch. It was ten thirty a.m., and she was due to see Tom at eleven. Janet grabbed her handbag and headed for the ladies’ room. Yes, it was silly, but she wanted to touch up her makeup for Tom. Not that she was interested in him in any way: he was a colleague, but that did not mean that she would not enjoy Tom’s attention.

Janet examined her reflection in the ladies’ room mirror. Today she had opted for a less conservative outfit of a navy pencil skirt and silk blouse with a bow-tie detail. The 1980s inspired combination was very much in style at the moment. Janet had to admit that she was pleased with what she saw: the skirt ended just at the knee, exposing her favorite part of her legs - her calves, which were elongated by her three-inch heels: the pointy-toed black patent Mary Janes were not the most comfortable option in her closet, but they were by far the most flattering. The blue-green pattern of the blouse brought out her green eyes, and the bow-tie detail accentuated the slightly lower than average neckline, while her neatly put up chestnut hair provided the necessary counterweight to make her outfit office-appropriate. She looked like a sexy librarian, minus the glasses, and if Janet knew anything about men, she was certain that Tom Wyman would be intrigued. She quickly reapplied her lipstick and dusted a light coat of powder over her face. She did not need any blush since her cheeks were already pink with anticipation.

At a quarter to eleven, Janet was back at her desk. For reasons beyond the powers of her common sense, her heart was palpitating with expectation. Her reaction was absurd, and she was the first to admit it. Instead of primping in the ladies’ room, she should be reading up on SPV creation – the topic of her upcoming meeting with Tom. But right now her mind had the rationale and the clarity of that of an oversexed teenager, and she was powerless to control it. Yet again Lisa had prevailed – thanks to her meddling, a business meeting had acquired romantic connotations, fraught with nerve-wracking anticipations of a date, which Janet very well knew her meeting with Tom was not. Yet she could not help acting as though it were… But then it was dishonest to lay the blame entirely on Lisa, for Janet knew full well the underlying cause of her flustered state – after being backstabbed and dumped by her boyfriend of almost five years, her confidence was not what it used to be, and say what she might about keeping her relationship with Tom Wyman purely professional, she could not deny that the attention of this handsome and successful man would be a welcome poultice for her bruised ego.

Sound like something you'd be interested in? Check out Marie's official website to learn more about this fabulous author or head over to Amazon to pick up your own copy. Be sure to stop by Marie's Facebook or Twitter to say hello!

  **Everyone who leaves a comment on Marie’s tour page will be entered in the giveaway! Anyone who purchases their copy of To Catch a Bad Guy before November 19 and sends their receipt to Samantha (at) ChickLitPlus (dot) com, will get five bonus entries! Three individual winners will receive a piece of jewelry shown above, and one bonus winner will receive a $10 Amazon gift card! Please note this is open to US residents only.**

my week off (or my so-called iPhone life)

From top to bottom, left to right:
1. A night out with my Kenya girls. Miss them SO much!
2. Lady, loving on our new chair.
3. The most adorable love seat from World Market, now playing host to butts in our living room.
4. This way, I get to pretend like I'm still in Kenya with those sweet little faces.
5. Peach cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream from The Chocolate Bar. In a cast iron skillet. It doesn't get much more legit than that.
6. Homemade breakfast and tea in our new house. Also, that mantle...I mean, really? Can't get enough of it.
7. All dressed up for a date night with Pierce.
8. It's true. I do like big books and I cannot lie.
9. I'm a Georgia voter! Too bad my man had no chance of winning (No, not Romney. Johnson!).
10. Dinner at an unpronounce-able Korean restaurant. It was fantastic.
11. Baby's breath in our kitchen window.