In 2005, Allison starting blogging to track the ups and downs of living life as an artist.
Today, she blogs to share our Infinitely More adventures in music and ministry! 
Read, comment, share! 

Goal Setting Fridays - If Resolutions Aren't Goals, What Good Are They? 


Welcome to Goal Setting Fridays!

Why Friday?
So you can ruminate over the weekend & get a fresh start on Monday!

Please subscribe to receive all new posts!


Last week, we started this series with
The Power of the Gentle Start.



In last week’s post, I made this declamatory statement:


Resolutions aren’t Goals!


Every January 1st, we start claiming our New Year’s Resolutions:

I’m going to eat better!
I’m going to lose weight!
I’m going to write more!
I’m going to be happy!

And within a few weeks, or days, or even, let’s be honest, hours, we fall back to eating junk, packing on pounds, and ignoring our writing journal. And with that, the idea of being “happy” starts to feel very far away.

Why? Because we (unintentionally!) set ourselves up for failure!

We gave ourselves healthy, positive Resolutions, but as I stated already:

Resolutions aren’t Goals!

In this context, a Resolution is defined as “a firm decision to do or not to do something.

So, that sounds good, right? But think about the the word “Decision”:

A Decision happens in the moment, in the “now".
So how do you carry that Decision from the “now” into the longterm?
How do you find the strength to make that same Decision day after day?

It’s one thing to make that positive choice in the rush of New Year’s celebrations, but what happens in a few days when you’re tired, and hungry, and your old habits just seem so comfortable and safe?


Resolutions can be turned into Goals, and we’ll talk about that next week, but first let’s ask this:


If Resolutions aren’t Goals, what good are they?


On the surface, Resolutions are amazing! They speak to the great passion we all have to create a better life for ourselves.

But the moment we call them Resolutions, we fall back into the bad habits of January-past:

Make it - Break it - Feel bad - Give up until next New Year’s.


But, what if we could transform the way we think about Resolutions?

Instead of Resolutions, what if we called them our
New Year’s Aspirations?


Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “Aspiration” as “a strong desire to achieve something high or great.

Right away, we see a change. A Resolution was a “decision”, but an Aspiration is a “desire.”

Desires aren’t limited to a single action. Desires flow through us constantly, pushing us forward from moment to moment.

Read down a little bit in the dictionary, and you'll also find this interesting definition: “the act of breathing and especially of breathing in”.

Now, we all know this is a medical definition of the word, but think of it in our context:


Our Aspirations are literally driven by the act of breathing,
which is an act of life!


This month, I suggest you spend some time thinking about your New Year’s Aspirations!

At this stage, don’t think about how you’ll achieve them or whether or not they’re practical.

Just breathe - in and out - in and out.


First, write a list of all the areas in your life:

  • Family
  • Profession
  • Spirituality
  • Creativity
  • Volunteering
  • Community
  • Health
  • Education
  • Add your own areas that make sense to you!


If you’re like me, you’ll do this on a large sheet of paper with lots of coloured markers!
I have friends who do this on apps on their phone, or on a fresh Word Doc.
Find the way that works best for you.


After creating your list, start to dream big!

What are your Aspirations, your desires, for your family, your profession, your spirituality?
Write them out. Be specific, and be bold!
Don’t be afraid to write too many answers!
This is dreaming, brainstorming!
Write down all your ideas!


And when you think you’ve written enough, step away for a few hours or even a few days.
Take time to breathe in and breathe out.

Then, come back to your list, and add a few more.
Don’t take anything away at this stage.
Dare to dream a little bigger!
Add a few things that will stretch your comfort zone and really excite you.

Spend some time looking at your list, thinking about the things you’ve written, and if you’re like me, praying over those desires for your life.


Next week, we’ll talk about how to turn those Aspirations into Goals.


But for this week, just breathe and dream…


What are some of your New Year’s Aspirations?




Goal Setting Fridays - The Power of the Gentle Start 


HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Welcome to Goal Setting Fridays!

Why Fridays?
So you can ruminate over the weekend & get a fresh start on Monday!

Please subscribe to receive all new posts!

We're kicking off the New Year with:

The Power of the Gentle Start





Once, a lifetime ago, I belonged to a gym.

I joined in the summer and, over the months, I created a strong habit of visiting three times a week. Being self-employed, I could attend during the slower daytime hours. I enjoyed small classes, a quiet locker room, and my choice of machines.

That first week of January, I showed up for my usual Tuesday afternoon visit.

I was shocked at the transformation of my quiet neighbourhood gym! Bodies pressed upon bodies as classes were filled to capacity, line-ups wrapped around machines, and the locker room resembled a scene from Blake Edwards' “The Party”. 

I expressed my surprise to the staff, who rolled their eyes and said, “Give it a week.”

Experience had taught them well. 
By the following week, the place had started to settle down. 
By the end of the month, I had my quiet gym back to myself.

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” 
This quote - generally misattributed to Albert Einstein -
should be the official motto of New Year’s Resolutions! 

You know the story:
Year after year, people make resolutions to “drink less,” “eat better,” and “lose weight.”
And year after year, they set records for how quickly they break those exact resolutions.


First, we need to address the biggest problem:
Resolutions aren’t Goals!

(I could talk about this all day, so stay tuned next Friday for a post on how to turn Resolutions into Goals.)

But for now, let me address a second problem:
The Gangbuster Approach.


After the feasting and indulgence of the holiday season, people jump into their New Year’s Resolutions feet first and eyes closed. They throw out all the sweets, lock the liquor cabinet, and yes, sign up for a gym membership. 

For the next week, they are “The New Me!”

But just as quickly, it all starts to fall apart. That kind of instant and complete lifestyle change just isn’t sustainable.

This January, may I propose a different approach?


May I suggest
The Power of the Gentle Start?


The Gentle Start invites grace into our goal setting.
You need to stretch before you can run. 
You need to build your muscles and endurance before you can run your first marathon.
It’s the same thing for setting and achieving goals.

At the start of the pandemic, I decided to start walking.
It was a habit that could potentially fulfil several desires for increasing
my overall physical, mental, and emotional health.

I started with three 20-minute walks a week.

Now, for those of you who work out regularly, that probably seems like a really small commitment. But trust me, for me, it was a challenge! It took genuine focus to prioritize my walks and not let weather, tiredness, or really any excuse, keep me from taking that first step outside. And in the beginning, those 20-minutes felt like forever!!! What was my brain supposed to do with all that time??? 

So, I found my first solution - call Mom and Dad.
Soon, I was having my daily phone call with them during my walk.

After a few weeks, I decided to increase it to 22-minute walks.
A tiny increment, but it felt like progress.

Over the months, I increased both the length of the walk and the number of walks per week. 
I challenged myself to increase the amount of time spent in the “cardio zone” on my FitBit.
Mom gave me a new pair of sneakers that made me feel like I was bouncing along the sidewalks.

Now that the physical part was rocking,
I started to have fun with it:

I created fun games for myself, such as discovering the best bakery within walking distance of my house.
I learned which homes had the best gardens, and created routes to visit those throughout the summer.
I always allowed time at the start or end of the walk to have a driveway chat with any neighbour who might be on their front porch.
And on those particularly difficult days we've all had in the pandemic, my walks became Prayer Walks, lifting pleas for my family, our ministry, and our community.




By the end of 2020, I was walking 5-6 times a week, for a minimum of 35 minutes each time.
I was able to carry my habit successfully into 2021, and now, into the start of 2022.


My Gentle Start delivered huge results! 


With a small initial goal, and slow incremental changes, I’d created a sustainable habit that was meeting larger goals for my physical, mental, and emotional health.
Success! 


What are your big Dreams for 2022?


Maybe, instead of going headfirst into January, you could incorporate the Gentle Start.

Find a small place to begin.
Choose one tiny, achievable step to get the ball rolling.
And for now, just do that one thing.


Want to eat better?
Start with one vegetarian meal a week.

Want to write a book?
Start by writing 10 minutes, 3 times a week.

Want to record an album?
Set up one cowrite for this month.


Over time, you can increase what you’re doing. As a matter of fact, studies show that once you start taking tiny steps towards your goals, momentum will kick in and you’ll want to do more!

For now, just start.
Do something small.
Get your energy flowing in the right direction.
Invite a Gentle Start into your Goal Setting...

And before long, you’ll be on the path to succeeding in your New Year’s Resolutions!


What’s one thing you can do today to create a Gentle Start? 



Book Review: Prepare Him Room, by Susie Larson 



I love the "waiting" seasons.

In particular today, I'm thinking of Advent and Lent. 
These seasons are the perfect time to step away from busyness, make intentional choices, and remind ourselves that we're spiritual beings living an earthly world. 

With that in mind, you can guess how excited I was to be offered
an Advent devotional for review!

Prepare Him Room, by Susie Larson, is a 24 day devotional, designed to change our hearts in preparation for the birth of Christ.



First, we have to talk about design! This isn't a flimsy, pocket-sized devotional. The book itself is hardcover, with a gorgeous cover image, complete with raised text. The artwork and colours within the book are simple and beautiful. There's even a lovely ribbon to act as your daily bookmark. Everything about the design lends to a calm, inviting reading experience. 


And second, we have to talk about length! The industry standard for devotionals is 200-500 words per day, not including Scripture. Susie completely breaks the mold with this book! Each entry is 6-7 pages long. This is truly a devotional that invites you to stop and take time to reflect on the journey.


Each day's entry is inspired by a chapter of the Gospel of Luke, and includes additional related quotes and Scripture verses. At the end of each reading, we're offered a prayer and an action item to put the message into practice.


This is a book about letting go. In a season where we're told to do more, buy more, and get more, Susie is encouraging us into a season of less. Less stress, less pressure, less ego, less complaining, less overload. And in discovering less, we actually create more space in our hearts and minds for the things, and the One, who matters most. 




Prepare Him Room is a book you should buy twice - 
once for yourself, and once as a gift for someone else who could use a little "less" this season. 


Susie has lots of great resources on her site, including free email devotionals and blessings, 
as well as the cute tree ornaments shown in the photo above! 

www.SusieLarson.com




Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.




Book Review: The Nature of Small Birds, by Susie Finkbeiner 


Earlier this summer, other reviewers in our Nuts About Books 
review program started swooning over The Nature of Small Birds
As soon as I got a chance, I requested a copy for myself, and I'm so glad I did!


In 1975, over three thousand children became part of Operation Babylift. These orphans and abandoned children were airlifted out of a fallen Saigon to be adopted into Western homes. 

The Nature of Small Birds, by Susie Finkbeiner, introduces us to one of these Western families. Our story is told by three members of the family over three significant time periods - when Mindy is adopted, when she and her sister Sonny are teenagers, and when the girls are adults. Mindy has always wondered about her past, but when the internet gives the option of researching her birth parents, she finally has the chance to ask the questions she's always wanted answered.

The best word to describe this book is Poetic. The writing is lyrical and beautiful. There are times when the characters will actually quote poetry, which set me off on many a google search to find the original poem.

This family is loving, which is a powerful choice. This isn't the high drama of a broken family. Instead, we're treated to a journey of learning how to love, heal and forgive within an environment of grace. We see the question of "what is a family" explored across generations and perspectives.

I honestly loved all the characters in this book! They're realistic and relatable. Each of our three narrators has a unique voice and perspective. 80's-era Sonny with her references to scrunchies, Aqua Net, and separating your eyelashes with a pin were particularly fantastic for this 80's-era girl! 

And the references to birds are lovely! I'm a notetaker when I read, and I always love finding references to the title of a novel. There are wonderful quotes and gorgeous thoughts about "the nature of small birds" woven throughout this story. I lost track of how many lines I underlined!


I can't recommend this gorgeous book enough!
Buy it, find a cozy corner in your backyard or by a sunny window, and enjoy.

I highly recommend The Nature of Small Birds!


For a bit of added reading, Susie wrote this piece about the inspiration 
for the character "Bruce":

https://susiefinkbeiner.com/2021/06/04/of-birds-and-providence/


You can learn more about Susie Finkbeiner and her beautiful writing at

www.SusieFinkbeiner.com 



Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Turnaround Prayers - or How I Found Gratitude in an Awkward Moment 


“And, please God, bless Iago…”

My heart sank as soon as the words left my lips.


Last month, I said good-bye to my beloved pet of 21 years. Iago was a tiny, spotted leopard gecko. I know lizards aren’t everyone’s idea of a loving pet, but Iago was something special. He was sweet and yes, very friendly. He loved being held by people, and we developed a high level of trust over the years. For over two decades, he was my constant companion. Losing him was heartbreaking.

Every night, I pray for our family pets. Last night, I had listed all our puppies, when I found myself adding Iago’s name to the list. 

“And, please God, bless Iago…”

My breath caught as I realized what I’d done. I suddenly felt awkward, and a little sad. I paused and considered what to say next. My misspoken prayer wasn’t a surprise to God. He’d created Iago. He knew how much he’d meant to me. 

In that moment, I decided to turn the prayer around:


“Dear God, thank you for Iago! Thank you for his long, happy life. 
Thank you for allowing me to care for him. He was a precious piece of your creation.”


In that moment, I felt a little weight lift. Sadness was replaced by a warm glow of gentle joy.

By turning my prayer around, I found gratitude in an awkward, unexpected moment. 


I thought, 
“What other Turnaround Prayers can I say?”


We’re often encouraged to find gratitude in difficult situations, but what I was considering was much more specific - not just “finding” gratitude, but actively thanking God with prayer!

No one has a perfect prayer life. If we’re being honest, we all have prayers that are a little self-centred or potentially inconsiderate of other people. Prayers that start with “Let me get…” or “I want to win…”

We all say prayers that ignore God’s grace or generosity. “Why can’t you just give me…” or “I’m still waiting…” or “That didn’t turn out like I asked for…”


How can I shift the focus of these prayers from my needs and complaints 
to a focus on God’s goodness and love?
How can I make these into Turnaround Prayers?


What if I start small?

“God, the fridge is a mess - Thank you, God, for a full fridge!”
“God, that guy just cut me off - Thank you, God, that I have a car!”
“God, the wifi is dragging - Thank you, God, that I have access to technology!” 


Now, I’m not trying to be naive or over simplistic. I know there are times when finding gratitude in a situation seems impossible. To say “Thanks” in the midst our pain can feel ridiculous. Trust me, I get that.

But as someone who’s gone through immense tragedy, I can honestly tell you there is always a reason to be grateful. Always. I’m not suggesting you should be thankful for the tragedy itself. Instead, I would encourage you to find something in your surrounding circumstances for which you can offer thanks. 

It might be tiny, especially when compared to the magnitude of your pain, but remember: every piece of gratitude is significant. After all, we’re told that we only need faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains. Imagine how powerful a tiny seed of gratitude might be to our waning faith!


If we practice Turnaround Prayers with the small stuff, it’ll stretch our prayer muscles. 
Eventually, we’ll learn to do it with the big stuff.


The apostle Paul wrote:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; 
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

What a set of instructions! 

Rejoice always (Good times and bad!)
Pray continually (When you feel like it and when you don’t!)
Give thanks in all circumstances (ALL of them!)


As I write this, we’re celebrating our 2nd Thanksgiving in the pandemic.
I can’t think of a better time to pray some Turnaround Prayers.

Here are some I’m lifting this weekend:


“God, I wish we were touring with Infinitely More, 
but I’m thankful we can be home with our family for Thanksgiving.”

“God, I felt so sick last week, but I’m so grateful for a negative Covid test.”

“God, the lockdowns are frustrating, but I’m thankful for this time to write and make music.”


Start small, and allow your Turnaround Prayers to reveal God’s grace in every situation.

What Turnaround Prayers can you lift this Thanksgiving?







Book Review: Come Back To Me, by Jody Hedlund 


Historical Fiction meets Time Travel? 
Yes, please!

Welcome to my latest book review:

Come Back to Me, by Jody Hedlund

By the way, how's your reading going in this season? Some people haven't been able to read a thing since the pandemic hit. Others, like me, can't devour books quickly enough! But, I digress...


Come Back to Me introduces us to Marian Creighton - a super-smart, fact-based, workaholic research scientist. Marian has a limited social life, a sister she adores, and a complicated relationship with her father. Marian's mother tragically died from an incurable genetic condition, the same condition that now ravages her sister's body. Marian's scientist father had abandoned traditional research to pour himself into a search for a mythical cure with ties to a particular stream of holy water and the Biblical Tree of Life. When Marian accidentally ingests a few drops of the water, she finds herself coming face to face with the Middle Ages, the Peasants' Revolt, and a handsome knight.

This book was so much fun to read! It's actually my first time travel book, and I loved the blending of science fiction with historical fiction. One of the things I love most about historical fiction is leaving the book to deep dive into the real historical facts. I knew very little about the Peasants Revolt of 1381, so it was fascinating digging into that chapter of history.

I also loved these characters! Seeing modern, scientific, feminist Marian navigate the rough, superstitious, patriarchal world of the Middle Ages was fantastic. The danger and challenges of this fish-out-of-water story always felt grounded and realistic. I don't want to reveal too much about Marian's mysterious knight - Jody does a perfect job of unfolding his story!


Come Back To Me blends themes of history, science, faith, romance, 
and mystery to create a true romp of a book!


Jody Hedlund is so prolific! 
Her website is filled with lots of extras and bonuses for her many novels. 
You can find videos and even a free preview of Come Back to Me on her site:

http://jodyhedlund.com/books/come-back-to-me/





Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Book Review: Writers on Writing, by Kimberley Payne 

 

Last year, I joined Inscribe Christian Writers' Fellowship to be part of a national writing community. 

In addition to finding lots of writing opportunities and inspiration, it's also been a great way to discover new books! 
When Kimberley Payne started talking about her new book, I knew I wanted to read and review it.

Writers On Writing - Interviews With Writers of Faith is a collection of writer profiles compiled from the Koinonia community. This Medium-based publication features "stories by Christian writers to encourage, entertain, and empower you in your faith, food, fitness, family, friendship, and fun." The editors have been hosting interviews with their 350+ contributors to provide a "snapshot into the lives of writers of faith." This collection features 35 interviews from this series.


The writers represent a wide spectrum of ages, backgrounds, nationalities, and experience levels. Their common ground is a love of both writing and the Gospel.

Each writer was asked such questions as: 

- What inspires you? 
- What do you like most/least about writing?
- How do you balance professional time with personal time?
- What makes you unique?
- How is your faith reflected in your writing?

Owing to the original online format, many of the answers to these questions are quite short. This isn't a collection of long form essays on writing. It is, however, a wonderful collection of writer profiles, emphasizing the diversity and passion of Christian writers. The answers are straightforward and honest. You can easily read the whole book in a day, or read an interview a day for a month's worth of inspiration. Some will connect with you more than others (as is the case in any collection), but every interview has some gem that you'll want to underline and bookmark for further reflection.


I think this would be an especially fantastic book for the newer writer of faith - 
either for the writer to buy, or for a supportive friend to offer as a gift! 


You can learn more about Kimberley Payne at https://www.kimberleypayne.com

You can follow the Koinonia community at https://medium.com/koinonia 



I was offered a complimentary e-copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. 

Book Review: On The Cliffs of Foxglove Manor, by Jaime Jo Wright 


Friends, I have discovered a new genre of novel:

Historical-Creepy-Ghost-Story-Sleep-With-Your-Nightlight-On-Christian Fiction!

On The Cliffs of Foxglove Manor, by Jaime Jo Wright, is spooky, Romantic, and enthralling Gothic tale! 


We open in 1885 (I feel like half the books I've read in 2021 open in that decade!) and meet Adria - a broken young woman, sent on an impossible quest by her domineering father. We also meet Foxglove Manor - a haunted, secret-filled mansion perched on the cliffs of Lake Superior. 

Our second timeline is present day. Kailey and her autistic brother, Jude, have their own history with Foxglove Manor. They arrive at the front door to work and live in the private-manor-turned-nursing-home with a secret mission to unravel their own complicated past. 

What follows is an epic tale inspired by the real-life legends of missing and smuggled Confederate gold. The past and present storylines weave together to tell a wild and gripping mystery inhabited by engaging characters. Jaime Jo's writing hits a great balance between poetic, romantic descriptions and nail-biting, page turning urgency.


I read this book on our front porch in the middle of a heat wave. 
In an ideal reading world, I'd read it by a stormy lake, with a cup of hot tea in my decanter...

Wherever you find yourself, pick up a copy of On The Cliffs of Foxglove Manor 
and let yourself be swept away!


Jaime Jo is really fun to follow on social media, and her site is filled with all kinds of treasures. 
For On The Cliffs of Foxglove Manor, she's created a whole page of videos, image downloads, 
and even a FREE book club kit!

You can access all the freebies here:






Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.




Book Review: Yours Is The Night, by Amanda Dykes 


 I literally turned the final page, 
looked at my husband, and said, 

"I want to turn back to page one 
and start this book all over again..."


So, yes, you're about to read a ga-ga lovesick review for
Yours Is The Night. 


I was so excited when I found out Amanda Dykes was about to release a new historical fiction! Her 2020 release, Set The Stars Alight, was one of my favourite books of last year. I also loved her 2019 seaside tale, Whose Waves These Are. I'm so thankful to the folks at Nuts About Books for sending me an advance copy of Yours Is The Night!

We open with an unusual ceremony - choosing the casket for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A fascinating, brief moment in history, that quickly spins us back in time to the trenches of WWI. 

We're introduced to five vibrant and diverse characters who meet in the final year of the war. Matthew - the "horse whisperer" who has never really had a home. Jasper - the professional soldier with a heartbreaking past. Henry - the reporter tasked with sharing the war with the world back home. George - the unspiritual chaplain who would do anything to avoid the front. And Mireilles - the "Angel" who brings hope to the hopeless, while struggling to find a path for herself. 

When Mireilles is found hidden in the depths of the woods, the soldiers are tasked with delivering her to safety. Our friends embark on a journey that will challenge their notions of duty, love, self, God, and friendship. 

Yours Is The Night has everything I love about a great novel! Every aspect, from story to characters to dialogue, is fantastic. The history feels authentically researched and executed. Our characters take turns narrating different chapters in first person. Each voice is unique and distinct. It's a wonderful narrative device, giving us a fully-rounded perspective of the story and relationships.  


Amanda is somehow able to weave together the genres of romance, historical fiction, spiritual journey, road trip, and buddy movie to create a novel that rings true on every emotional level.


And her writing is just breathtaking! I turned down pages and underlined countless sentences simply because I love the way they are written. I read most of the book on my front porch, and I kept having to lift my head to remind myself that I was safe in the sunshine of my neighbourhood and not smothered in the chilly darkness of the trenches. 


I wasn't kidding, either - 
I did finish this book and debated just turning back to page one 
and starting over again. It's that good! 

Yours Is The Night honours the sacrifice of the men and women 
who fought in The Great War by telling a fictional story that captures 
the essence of their very real experience. 

It's somehow both escapism and realism, and it's truly wonderful. 


In addition to her site, Amanda has a great social media presence. Her Facebook page is filled with all kinds of images and behind the scenes info from her WWI research. You can check it all out here:

https://www.facebook.com/authoramandadykes


Amanda showing some "trench art" - a feature in Yours Is The Night.
Taken from her Facebook page.


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.