Blogmas 2017: Overview

In case you weren’t around last year when I did Blogmas, I just wanted to pop in and explain how things are going to work in December. Last year was my first time to do Blogmas, and honestly, I’ve been waiting impatiently this entire year because I was so excited to do it again! Basically, each evening in December, I’ll be posting a rundown of what I did that day. You’ll get an inside look into the life of a freelance writer; you’ll hear lots of cute kid quotes from both my job at the nonprofit and our church Christmas musical; and you’ll get to come along on all the fun adventures that my friends and I are planning. Excited yet? I sure am!

For the first couple of days this year, I’ll probably be MIA–I’m going to be at the Blairsville Holiday Stop & Shop from dawn until dusk (or at least, it feels that way) December 1st and 2nd selling my book (and some bookmarks, and running a giveaway–free stuff!). If you’re in the area, you definitely need to stop by–it’s at the Blairsville Civic Center from 11-7 both days, there will be lots of wonderful vendors plus a Santa on Friday evening, and I bought 75 copies of my book that I really need to sell. *nervous laughter* Click on the hyperlink above to visit the Facebook page and find more details. If you’re looking for something to do while I’m gone, check out last year’s Blogmas (start here). You can also buy my book online by clicking here. Wish me luck at the festival and stay tuned for Blogmas–I’ll be back on Sunday the 3rd, and then things will be consistent around here for the rest of the month!

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What are you most looking forward to about the Christmas season?

November: Month in Review

The month started with a little bit (okay, well, a lot) of backsliding because the enemy knows I am free. I will cling to my freedom and not give in.

Beyond that, there was so much crazy exciting fun stuff this month. How did I cram it all in? I don’t even know. We had lots of drama practices, and I worked at my nonprofit only seven days because of Thanksgiving and because of my crazy life. I went to writing group; babysat three of my favorite littles at the park; and had a weekend alone with Joshua and Sophie that involved movies, Heath bar pan cookies, arts and crafts Christmas festivals, and eating out with friends after church. I helped my friend Brooke N with a fun project for her film class. My wonderful friend Emma came to stay for two nights, and Hannah came to stay for one night; we went to Brasstown Bald, played cards, ate cake, and went to church. I am so so thankful for them–Emma and Hannah are fantastic friends!!! We went to our old co-op’s cotillion. I planned Friendsgiving for half a dozen of my brother’s and my friends. We went to breakfast with friends we haven’t seen in a while, and then went on a family bike trip. I took three younger girls from church out for a day of pizza, feeding the ducks, and Dairy Queen. My friend Anna turned 17 and a few of us surprised her at Provino’s. I had a photoshoot with my friend Laura. My family went to TN for two days for Thanksgiving. My dad and I went to hear my cousin play (check out his CD) and visited with my aunt. All of this plus normal everyday stuff like haircuts, oil changes, and working in nursery made for a very full month.




This month I’m…

Reading: Under a Painted Sky, Stacey Lee (reread). Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling (reread). The War I Finally Won, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling (reread). Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff, Chip Gaines. Outcasts United, Warren St. John (reread). The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing, Zachary Petit. Courage to Soar, Simone Biles (reread). A Dream So Big, Steve Peifer (reread). 10 total.

Watching: Nim’s Island. Mary Poppins. The Voyage on the Dawn Treader. Ben Fankhauser on the Tyler Mount vlog, Kara Lindsay on Live at Five, old interviews of my favorite gymnasts, and other randoms. Describing Car Problems to the Mechanic Like by John Crist (my mom told me to tell the mechanic that my brakes sound like liquid bubbling in a mad scientist’s laboratory–“actually, no, tell them that it sounds like voices. Voices coming from your brakes”–and this was all I could think of). Julia Robertson’s 2016 Vlogmas. 

Listening to: Death was Arrested, North Point InsideOut. Daydream, Jillian Edwards. L’Chaim, Fiddler on the Roof. And a ton of Hamilton: Dear Theodosia. One Last Time. Take A Break. It’s Quiet Uptown. Wait For It.

Writing: My writing career really exploded this month–which was great, except I have low energy and many other commitments. The last two weeks of November were incredibly stressful as I was completely slammed with writing. I submitted fiction to 11 magazines/contests, one of which required writing something new; pitched article ideas to seven individual magazines; and applied to 21 freelance jobs. I wrote a ten-page fitness ebook for a client, and got to interview one of my favorite athletes (Morgan Hurd) to write a piece about homeschooling and sports that was due 24 hours post-interview (I love Morgan and am so excited that she will forever be my first official interview!). I was published several places: Dare to Hope; Next Generation Focus: Power to Dream; Candy Cane Christmas; and 4 tried and true tips for enjoying the season (co-written). Also, the organization that published my book is sponsoring a bestseller contest–read more here–and if you buy my book, you can get a great Christmas gift, help me win cool prizes, and donate to the illiteracy crisis!

Loving: Kate A., Modern Witnesses. Change by Olivia (summer of 1999). Getting Outside of Ourselves, Revised by Grace (Tizzie’s Tidbits). la reyna by Addy (down by the willows).

I blogged three times this month: Story Shares Bestseller Contest: How YOU Can Help!, Lessons Learned in Three Months of Tutoring Kids at a Nonprofit, and November: Goodness (Fruit of the Spirit project, Month #6)

Grateful for: Amazing fall leaves, finally. The Scripture Typer app that a friend recommended to me–I’ve learned so many Bible passages this month. The chance to dance Marie’s Wedding again (fave swing dance ever) and to do it with my two “brothers”–I was grinning ear to ear. A stranger made me a paper flower. Getting a TON of letters (like, 25 each day–more on this later) and opening them every night. Eating the most amazing meal at Ruby Tuesday on Thanksgiving night after a long, hungry day.


What fun things did you do in November? Stay tuned, because tomorrow Blogmas 2017 will begin!! 

November: Goodness (Fruit of the Spirit project, Month #6)

I’ll be honest: I didn’t really understand this one, and I wasn’t all too eager to study it. I was too busy reading Isaiah, playing with my new Scripture memory app (ScriptureTyper–it’s fantastic), and rereading Daring to Hope this month. But I finally made myself sit down and figure this out, and I have a few thoughts to share.


God wants the whole earth to be full of His goodness–of His truth, His righteousness, and His light. What God calls good does not change. Goodness means integrity, in some ways; it means choosing good over evil. In this case–as a fruit of the Spirit–goodness also means generously doing good to others. King Hezekiah was described as having goodness; 2 Chronicles 29 tells us that he was twenty-five when he began to rule, and that he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (v 2). Chapter 31 continues on to say that “Hezekiah did… what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple… he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.” (v 20-21) King Josiah is notable as well. Also young, he too “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 34:2).

There’s a Greek word, agathosune, that means “uprightness of heart and life, and goodness for the benefit of others.” When you show love to someone in a tangible way, that is an expression of goodness. This is something that we can’t do by ourselves–James 1:17 reminds us that every good gift comes from above. We don’t do it for ourselves, either (see Matthew 5:16–our good deeds are meant to glorify our Father).

What did you learn during the month of goodness? Next up is December: gentleness. (I’m a little too relieved that December is NOT self-control. Can you say pie? Peppermint bark? Christmas cookies?)

Lessons Learned in Three Months of Tutoring Kids at a Nonprofit

Three afternoons a week, I tutor kids at a local nonprofit. I do other small jobs for this nonprofit, too–mainly advertising type stuff–and it’s been really great to see the inside workings of everything, because one day soon I’d love to start a nonprofit that provides underprivileged kids with the opportunity to play softball at a low cost and hear about Jesus. I’ve learned a lot from working at this nonprofit, and today I’m here to share some of the things I’ve learned. I’ll spare you the boring details of grant writing and jump right into the cute kid stuff instead. For more information about the nonprofit, here’s an article that I recently wrote for a local publication–Next Generation Focus: Power to Dream.

Hispanic kids living in Georgia think that less than zero white people are capable of speaking Spanish.

I’ve read forms from school, spoken to parents, and clarified myself in Spanish, and every time it’s been a genuine pray-to-Jesus miracle. Third-grade A: “How did you know what my mom said?!” Fifth-grade L: “You want to read my handout? But–it’s in Spanish.” Our resident 6th grader, I, pulled off her headphones one day and exclaimed, “That was really good Spanish. Who said that?” Upon learning it was me, her mouth fell open, and she even went so far as to ask where I was born. Where does it look like I was born? Maybe my favorite was fourth-grade J: “What does ‘caution’ mean?” I told him it means “be careful,” and he stared at me blankly; I said “cuidado,” and his face LIT up. “You speak Spanish?! I speak Spanish at home, but at school, no one understands me!” It made him so happy that I spoke to him only in Spanish, whenever possible, for the rest of the day. He beamed every time.

Choose your words carefully.

“Hurry and pack up, your mom is about to be here,” I said without thinking. One little third-grader crossed her arms and said witheringly, “I live with my grandma. One parent is dead and I’m not going to see my other parent again because they’re in prison.” That was a mistake I only made once.

Maybe it feels like you’re not getting through to the hard kids. But you are.

The same little girl who schooled me on my assumption regarding her parents is cute and funny and smart, but one of the harder kids to handle. She moans and groans her way through homework and has a stubborn streak that regularly displays itself. But one day, as we wrote sentences on the whiteboard with intentional mistakes for the other person to fix, she wrote, “Ms. Hailey is soo nice and sweet.” In return, I wrote, “J is going to do big things in life.” Because I know she is.

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Alexander Graham Bell was homeschooled.

I found out this nugget of information while helping fifth-grade L research a school project. However, I didn’t announce it aloud, because that would’ve triggered yet another endlessly long conversation about what homeschooling was and how it worked and why wasn’t I in college again?

Remember all the little things.

“Guess what I was for Halloween,” said one little girl on a rainy November day. I gave her a funny look. “You were an angel. You told me on Tuesday.”

“Oh,” she said. “Yeah. I thought you would forget.”

Hidden talents abound.

One fifth-grader is reticent in person. She’s Malaysian, somber, and serious–I couldn’t tell you what her smile looks like. But her writing is brilliant. WOW. Her personality really shines through, and it’s vivacious and wonderful and hilarious! When I told her one day to write about her most embarrassing moment, she scrunched up her nose slightly and said, “Have to?” I said yes, and she grunted and set to work. So when I opened her journal later, I wasn’t expecting to see her personality leap off the page so vividly: “My tutor told me to tell my most embarrassing moment… I ain’t telling her! None of her business! Instead, I’ll tell you something embarrassing that happened to my cousin.” She always provides commentary on the journal prompt she’s been given; one day she was finishing up her entry from the previous day, and I wrote the date in the middle of her paper. Later I found an arrow pointing to the words, “That is NOT part of the story. I don’t know who wrote that without my permission.” She cracks me up.

I remember having the conversation below, but I had no idea it was being documented. Don’t forge to check out the cartoon at the bottom. “Others tell me to get in shape. A circle is a shape!” E is also a great artist who enjoys drawing unflattering pictures of her male classmates.


All kids are the same at heart.

One kid, J, is exactly the same as the kid I nannied for two years. Their personalities, mannerisms, the way they try to charm me into forgetting their homework, their loud exuberant laughs–all completely the same. The only difference is that J has a Spanish accent.

How to head off the key distractions.

Light switches. Going to the bathroom. Using the whiteboard. Going to get a drink of water. YouTube. Going to tell the boys in the next room to be quiet. Going to get headphones/pencils/paper/a computer charger/a different computer. Anything and everything is a distraction when you’re eight years old and being told to do extra math practice, but a few things crop up literally every single day, and by this time I can spot them from a mile away.

Kids are beautifully resilient.

I asked P to tell the story of his life as his journal prompt one day, and at first he flat-out refused. But finally the floodgates opened, and I was amazed. “My birthday is February 3rd, 2007. I was born in Burma and it was snowing. I had lots of friends there and we would have snowball fights. One time when I was three, I slipped because the world was icy.” His little accent was so thick that I could barely understand some words. “When I was six we moved here. We came here on an airplane, and it took like ten years to get to the USA. Life was normal until I had a baby sister. Then I had another baby sister.” Dramatic eye roll. “Then we moved to the house we live in now.” He paused, thinking back over his ten years of life. I prompted, “Do you miss your friends in Burma?”

“Yes. My old friends had the same language as me—I don’t know how to say their names in English.” P’s face grew downcast. But then he gave me his signature squinty-eyed smile and said, grinning from under the chair where he’d barricaded himself against the dreaded journal writing, “But I made new friends here.”

I think about P’s story often. Displaced from his home, dragged to a new country, still learning English–he’s doing the best he can.

I’m on the right track.

In summer 2015, three things happened–a friend of mine committed suicide, I had surgery for a torn ligament, and I coached softball since I couldn’t play. Those three events planted in me an important dream to found a nonprofit where kids could play softball/baseball and hear about Jesus. That dream faded a little with everything that’s happened in my life during the past year, but working at NGF has brought this vision back 100%. I think about it all the time now; I’m dying to begin. My dream is to create a place where any child–regardless of how much money they have, how much talent they have, whether they speak English, whatever–can play softball. I especially want to give underprivileged kids equal opportunities as the kids whose families can afford prestigious travel teams, because during my years playing rec and travel ball I noticed a huge disparity. I’d also love to help the kids in my program in school–similar to my local Cowboy Church’s homeschool, or to the Fugee Family’s accredited school for refugees. Next spring I will coach softball for the first time since fall 2015, and next fall I plan to begin work on my associate’s degree in something like exercise science or sports management. Then I can focus full-time on my dreams: namely, writing and this softball ministry. I am so so SO excited to see where they go.

Have you ever worked in a similar environment? What’s your favorite of the lessons I’ve learned? What dreams light up your eyes and heart?


Story Shares Bestseller Contest: How YOU Can Help!

Do you need to buy a Christmas gift for someone on your list? Do you want to help me win cool prizes? Do you want to donate to a good cause? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions–or even if you didn’t–then I’ve got good news for you. Keep reading, and I’ll explain!


This summer, an organization called Story Shares published my debut book, Hope is the Thing with Feathers, in addition to a handful of other books. Beginning today, Story Shares is sponsoring a bestseller contest for all of its print authors. The contest will run through December 30th, and since I’m one of those obnoxiously competitive people, I’m determined to win–but I need your help. It’s not just about me, though; you can benefit from this contest too, and I’m about to break down how.

1. You can get a fantastic Christmas gift for someone.

My book is an easy read historical fiction piece, and it’s geared towards ages 12+. Kids will love it, teenagers will love it, adults will love it. It’s perfect for practically anyone–history buffs, avid readers, and even those reluctant to pick up a book will all enjoy this story. While you’re grabbing copies for your friend group, entire extended family, and sundry acquaintances like the mailman and grocery store clerk, get a copy (or two) for yourself as well.

Graphic below: the overarching theme of Hope is the Thing with Feathers is that of Hope even through suffering and death. Hope is what Christmas is all about–so what could make a better gift?


2. You can help me win cool prizes.

I think we already talked about my intense competitiveness. I was raring to win this contest even before I knew what the prizes were. But now that I’ve seen them–y’all. PLEASE order copies of my book. You have no idea how much I am DYINGGGG to have a freaking movie trailer made of MY BOOK (which will only happen if I sell 250 copies, so… get on it).


3. Part of the proceeds from each book sold will help alleviate the nationwide literacy crisis.

Illiteracy is more of a problem than you might think. I’ve experienced it firsthand this fall at the nonprofit where I tutor, but seeing the graphics below from Story Shares–a nonprofit that does a great job getting high-interest stories into the hands of low-interest readers–really opened my eyes even more.




So, if you want to get a great Christmas gift, help me win, and help kids all over America learn to read–because I don’t know who wouldn’t–click RIGHT HERE to snag a few copies of my book and my everlasting gratitude. If you’re not 100% convinced yet, you can also click here to read a review of my book. I’ll be sharing more updates on this contest throughout December, so stay tuned. Also, please share this blog post on your social media channels and tell all your friends and family. I appreciate my faithful blog readers/supporters so much, and let’s spread the love!

One last note–if you’re local, I’ll be at the Blairsville Holiday Stop and Shop December 1st-2nd selling my book + some other fun merch. It would be a super fun way to grab your copies of my book, so come out and say hi!

October: Month in Review

In October some important relationships were patched up. I worked at my nonprofit three days each week, taught drama and kids’ class at church every other week, and Joshua finished his ball season. We went bowling and to the pumpkin farm with my grandpa; I held another Rooted Bible study. Dad and I visited some Civil War ruins. I babysat from three until one (A.M.–and believe me, as someone who typically can’t physically stay awake past 8, I paid for that later), and Mom and I visited Savannah for a weekend. I went to writing group (where we debated the finer points of Wizarding currency) and hung out at my youth pastor’s house a lot and saw one of my little girls play soccer; I went to Chick-fil-a and later Dairy Queen with the youth group. Cari and I had lunch at Panera, and I had a job interview of sorts, and Madeleine and I went out for brunch and shopping. We went to Chattanooga for the day to see my grandmother, and I went to a life group with another church. We had trunk or treat at our church and passed out candy at our house. Also, I got baptized, which was so exciting!! I hardly slowed down at all this month, so my health wasn’t great–lots of nerve pain and fatigue in my legs. Here’s the photo dump:

Keith’s caption: “Nailed it.” #insidejokes Seriously though, this was a beautiful and special way to officially mark how far I have come in finding freedom in Christ!


This month I’m…

Reading: Isaiah. Scythe, Neal Shusterman (reread). Wonder Woman: Warbringer, Leigh Bardugo. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling (reread). Edge, Roland Smith (reread). Elephant Run, Roland Smith (reread). The War that Saved my Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (reread). Harry Potter Page to Screen: The Complete Filmmaking Journey, Bob McCabe (weighed ten pounds but was completely fascinating). 7 total.

Writing: This month I pitched article ideas to nine magazines, applied for 47 freelance jobs, and completed one freelance job. I submitted fiction or creative nonfiction to 17 magazines/contests, 7 of which required writing something new. I had a flash fiction piece “The Piano” published over at the Magnolia Review; an article called “Six Hands-On Ways to Foster Empathy in Your Kids” published on Yellowbrick; a devotional published called Citizens of Heaven; I was interviewed briefly with Penstra; and I should be published soon with Making a Living Writing, Cumming Local, and Vitabella Magazine. I didn’t make as much money as I’d have liked this month from writing, but I had several clips published and gained experience writing pitches, both of which are really important right now.

Listening to: Newsies soundtrack. Hillsong Y&F. Fantastic Beasts soundtrack #15. Let There be Light album, Hillsong Worship. Let There be Light, Bryan and Katie Torwalt. Shores, Bryan and Katie Torwalt.

Watching: American Ninja Warrior. WAG (women’s artistic gymnastics) Worlds (Morgan Hurd is supposed to be a tiny junior, what happened?! SO happy for her). ShibSibs. Strictly Ballet season 2. Julia Robertson’s testimony videos. Dance Moms (hahaha I’ve been a closet fan for years and I am not ashamed. Ok, I take that back–yes, I am ashamed).

Loving: 12 Times the Newsies Knew All About Being a Writer by Chelsea (An Ordinary Pen). Hard vs. Bad…Thoughts From a Tough-Weekend Survivor by Nadine (Nadine Brandes). An open letter to a high school senior by Erin (Something Much Greater). 3 Tips for Reconciling Shattered Relationships by Anna (Northern Heart Alaska). The Beauty of Intentional Friendships by Katherine (Song Beyond Silence).

I blogged three times this month: Looking for Something?, Weekend Getaway: Savannah, and October: Kindness (Fruit of the Spirit project, Month #5)

Grateful for: Learning the fascinating stories of sweet and resilient refugee kids at work. Endless giggles from making a birthday card for a friend, and playing this to watch Sophie’s befuddlement. A friend saying super sweet things about me to her friend. Learning about grant writing. Writing a ton of letters and postcards. Coming home from work and taking a hot shower, then settling in for the night with candy corn and a book. Mom filling up my gas tank. Late night fast food, good news, big hugs. Cute dogs at the ballpark. Friends who come running to the bathroom to hug you after your baptism while you put your makeup back on (and to congratulate you for going all the way under… ah, the jokes). Old friendships strengthening, new ones beginning; freedom, restoration, redemption, and reconciliation.

What did you do in October? Tell me all about your month in the comments below!