First Chapter Fun


Tricia Goyer, well known author of Mom’s Night Out , the novelization of the motion picture, and more than fifty other titles, has inspired me with her new First Chapter Fridays. Tricia has been sharing the first chapter of one of her books and offering a giveaway each Friday. Check out Tricia’s site and her latest release. You may find you love what she has to offer. Not only is she an prolific author, but she encourages teen moms, adoptive parents, and homeschooling families.

In the meantime, enjoy the first chapter of my book, The Miracle of Us: Confessions of an Online Dater, and enter a drawing for a free copy by commenting below. Thanks for the idea, Tricia!

Happy reading.

Is this really happening?

I surveyed the scene around me as an observer, despite my role as the primary participant. The delicate gown of ivory lace hanging from a cupboard door whispered reality. My bridesmaids sharing a mirror to apply makeup nodded at me in confirmation. A few close friends conversing over croissant sandwiches and grapes solidified the certainty of this remarkable day. My youngest granddaughter attempted first steps on wobbling legs.

At forty-seven, starting over after two failed marriages seemed frivolous and impossible even for an optimist like me. I believed God could do incredible things, but marriage a third time? After my previous heartbreak, marriage seemed like an attempt to grasp a school girl’s dream.

Only now it wasn’t merely a dream. It was becoming a reality.

God was offering me another chance at life with my soul mate. Yet the process of getting here hadn’t been an easy one. It took faith, prayer and patience.

Even with my adventurous and hopeful spirit, I still couldn’t have conceived of the enterprise embarked on years previous to this moment. And I never imagined God would use the internet to introduce me to Brendan, my amazing man from Australia.

Yet here I stood with the sun’s descent casting fragile streams of light through the upstairs window of the church. My attendants circled me, arms outstretched to adorn me with bridal blessings before I joined my life with Brendan for the remaining years we had.

My three daughters squeezed in close. The eldest, Vici, already a wife of two years and Ashley, my youngest, the twenty-one year old “baby” flanked my soon-to-be stepdaughter, eight year old Bella. They brushed elbows with my dearest friends, all participating in the momentous evening. Tears threatened my mascara, and I breathed deeply, both to keep them from spilling over and to calm my eager heart.

All eyes closed, but I peeked again at my homemade spider orchid bouquet. Can you love flowers? Every time I visually caressed the creamy burgundy tinged petals, I thought I love my bouquet!  And I thrilled at my dress and my bridesmaids’ dresses and the wonderful people taking such great care of me. This aged school girl released a contented sigh.

Closing my eyes, I forced my mind to concentrate on the words being spoken. I wanted so badly to remember as much as I could about this beautiful night of redemption and hope, the culmination of miracle upon miracle. My soul soared, my heart spilled over with love, and songs of worship played in my mind. Songs that I knew provided the background to our slideshow which entertained friends and family as they gathered downstairs in the sanctuary, preparing to celebrate with us.

In a few minutes, I would walk down the aisle on the arms of my two grown sons, Josh, the eldest and Chris, my towering younger boy, toward the man of my dreams.

Only You could have pulled this off, God.

Chapter 1

I had been single for only a year and a half when a friend asked if I would ever consider marrying again. A longing stirred in my heart, but I wasn’t so sure. Twenty-one accumulated years of two devastating marriages made me hesitate to answer her. Something in me wanted to hope that marriage held possibility, but my wounded heart felt like it had sustained a bad sunburn still too tender to touch. Marriage was a risk I wasn’t sure I was ready to take. Again.

However, when this new friend shared her romantic, divorced-mom-of-three story, it kindled a small, warming flame of hope. Like many others, from the time I was a young girl, I dreamed of romance and a life shared with my “soul mate.” I watched hundreds of movies depicting boy-meets-girl adventures and wished they could be my life. I confess I wanted a story that would defy everyone who ever told me I was unrealistic, idealistic or a dreamer. Deep down I believed God meant us to have that kind of romance—that He created it in the first place. Wasn’t it His good plan for man not to be alone?

The flame flickered in my heart, and I wondered if maybe that could still happen for me. Some day? But it certainly would take a miracle. Being alone at that point trumped the marital distress I had previously experienced.

A few years passed after that conversation. Within the safe acceptance of my loving church family, my broken heart was learning that relationships consisted of more than me attempting to be good enough to please someone else. I settled into single life with contentment as I pursued a deeper intimacy with Jesus. Over time, watching other happily married couples renewed my hope, and I felt the desire to try relationships again. While I felt satisfied and fairly confident about my life as it was, I did long for the proverbial “soul mate,” partner, friend, lover that I had somehow missed out on in two previous tries.

But how does a forty-something woman with grown children meet men? The single women at my church seemed to outnumber the single men by about four to one.

In the past, my “guy meeting” experiences were limited to youth groups, school, and church. As a teen, life was one social scene. But now? I hadn’t dated since I met my first husband at a college church group.

Not one of the few men at church showed any interest, and I couldn’t bring myself to bar hop looking for a match. A local Christian singles group appeared to be the only avenue available, but it didn’t thrill me either. Some of my acquaintances practically obsessed over each outing as they desperately sought Mr. Right. But that felt a little too intense for me. I cringed at the idea of attending events hunting for a man. Besides, I wanted a relationship to come from God’s timing, not my arrangements. If God did have someone for me, I prayed I could simply bump into him randomly, like at the grocery store or post office.

Or, be set up like one of my best friends, who met her husband from a friend-of-a-friend. I liked the idea, but that wasn’t happening for me either. Most of my friends were married with married friends. You get the picture.

Then one night, I sat in my parents’ living room after sharing a delicious meal during one of my rare visits. Naturally, as it usually did, the conversation turned to my struggling, single-parent-of-teenagers life. My parents felt the time had come for me to have a husband—preferably one who cared deeply for me and could support me in the fashion in which I had been raised as opposed to the one in which I had survived for the previous twenty-five years.

They had an idea of how to launch me back into dating society.

“You need a man. A nice Christian one with a good job. We have this friend…”

It’s not what you think. The friend was not someone they thought I should date. He was an acquaintance who met his match on the well-known, vastly popular internet dating site eHarmony, an establishment that has been harmoniously matching soul mates for more than a decade.

E- what? Internet dating? Never heard of it.

What did my parents, who barely used computers, know about dating online?

I chuckled at their ludicrous suggestion and wondered how I could steer us out of the conversation.

However, they seemed pretty convinced. My dad proceeded to relate some stories of people they knew who had actually met and married as a result of meeting on eHarmony. I confess it intrigued me. I went home that night with the idea rolling around in my mind. A few days later I decided to look up the site “just to see what it was like.”

I still remained skeptical, but waded around in the shallow end looking at a few free matches. Then I ended up filling out a questionnaire that took days, but taught me a great deal about myself. Worthwhile, but after a few months, I let it go. The stress of waiting for matches built up until I wondered if I were obsessed. Nonetheless, the concept lingered.

It resurfaced a couple of years later. The usual ways of meeting guys still weren’t working for me or my never-married-yet friend, “adopted” sister, housemate, and business partner, Carol. I told her about my previous experience, and after talking and praying about it for a few months, we decided to plunge into the deep end of online dating. What once seemed crazy to me now became a viable option.

Social networking wasn’t what I thought to look for, but I’m grateful to my parents for making the suggestion.

Carol and I held a conviction that finding marriage between two people absolutely created for one another held possibility. Granted, internet dating hadn’t been in our list of options, but why not? We figured if God could do anything, did it matter what vehicle he used?

Comment below for the chance to win a free copy of the book.

 

 

Is It Worth It?


Today I share the words of a young scholar.

He wouldn’t call himself an author even though I am featuring him as such. As a matter of fact, English is his least favorite subject. He didn’t write the following for me, he wrote it to encourage a couple of friends. But when numerous people read it (on Snap Chat) and began responding with resounding thanks and “I needed that,” he showed me.

My featured author is my fourteen year old son, Blair, dsc_0031who composed this late at night in the shower taking a short break during a study session. But I’m not sharing this because he is my son. I’m sharing this because it shows that even at a young age we can consider what it means to take our lives forward. This is what my son was thinking about the other night when he was tired, wanting to be watching television, sleeping or playing a video game instead of studying.

“Is this really worth it? All this stressing? Is it really worth it?”

I really thought about it.  Yes, it is extremely worth it. We dream big. We set out goals way out of our reach to test us. And we make them. We want to go to a good college to get an education and play sports to prove something.

But it starts here.

With these late nights studying. We will go far because we set our goals way too far. We don’t want mediocre. We don’t want to be okay with where we are.

We want to be great.

We want to be completely and fully satisfied with where we end up. We can only do this with the power of God! Let him work in you and through you, and you will go far and accomplish your goals.

Blair’s friends were encouraged, he was encouraged and I hope you are too.

Don’t give up.

As we end the first month of this New Year, look at the steps you’ve already taken and applaud yourself. Even a baby, barely standing and reaching out a shaky foot to take a tiny step is celebrated.

  • Find your celebration.
  • Recalculate your direction and the steps needed to get you there.
  • Evaluate the good and the not so good. Set your goals out there so you have to reach.
  • Be great because God has greatness for you. He will strengthen you and uphold you.

Now go tackle the next eleven months.

Shared with permission. =)

Sweet Hymns of Joy


For many this time of year isn’t a cheerful time. But JOY can still be found.

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As the song says,

“…a weary world rejoices…”

And today’s world is certainly weary, isn’t it? But it is an emotional weariness. A deep question of where is the good in all the bad.

So for today’s post, I feature my author and musician friend, Lisa Hamil who has created some helpful material for taking your life forward into joy.

Don’t we need some joy?

Lisa coaches people in a practical way to create joy in their lives. She utilizes three steps: Faith, Appreciation and Relationship as the basis for gaining a settled life of more joy.

You can download her material here.

Not only that, but she’s just released her new book, It’s About Time.

Her book reviews various perspectives of time both conventionally and from a biblical perspective and shows us how to live NOW.

We don’t have to wait for heaven to experience a rich, fulfilling life. We can enjoy our “now” by living in the present with JOY.

Lisa has a passion for healthy vibrant living. As a pharmacist, she knows that medications may not be the best answer for creating what really promotes healthy life-style changes. Spiritual guidance has so much to offer in propelling our life’s mission.

Our thought life is what energizes our world.

Lisa has found that her moment by moment connection to the presence of God is what transformed her life. That life long pursuit grows more fully with each day. Her mission in life is to share that expanded joy with those seeking to live a life of purpose, passion and fulfillment by knowing the reality of God. Lisa herself is a joy and delight to be with. She exudes peace and confidence. Her book and music are available on Amazon or on her website.

Do It Scared!


This could be your best year ever.

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Brendan zip-lining through the Santa Cruz Mountains at Mount Hermon

According to Michael Hyatt, leadership mentor and best-selling author of Living Forward, if you wait until you aren’t scared, it won’t happen.

What is “it”?

The possibilities for your life. And 2017 could be the year that turns it around.

We’ve been working on taking our lives forward with intentional purpose (if you have missed my Take Your Life Forward guide, sign up my email list and I’ll gladly send you a FREE copy), and I’m thrilled to offer you some tips and resources that can make that happen.

One of the things I love about Michael Hyatt is how helpful he’s been at teaching people to be purposeful with their lives.

That’s why when he offers a webinar, I jump at the chance to participate.

As always, Michael shares valuable information.Whether you buy his books or products or not, you can be certain he will teach you important truths and lead you well. (Can you imagine how much MORE valuable his books and products are than his free advice? Yep. They are that valuable!)

Today I offer some tips from his recent webinar titled 7 Steps for Taking Control of 2017: How to Leverage Goal Setting to Design the Life You Want. And while I can recap here, I highly recommend buying his book, Living Forward,and signing up for the actual course here.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”      Wayne Gretzky

The above quote has already been a reminder to me this week to press into things that I am afraid to do or think I can’t manage. That alone has been valuable insight passed on by Michael. Here are a few others:

  • Clarify your priorities.
  • Make sure your goals are written, specific, measurable, and with deadlines.
  • Goals should push us a little outside our comfort zone so we continue to grow.
  • Everyone feels fear, uncertainty and doubt-those feelings show we are on the right track.
  • We must have a compelling reason to accomplish the goal.
  • Don’t focus on too many goals at once – start with a few and work toward more.
  • Chunk our goals into small, bite size pieces that start easy.
  • Track your progress so you are motivated to keep going or readjust.

These are just the basics.

For the full benefit of Michael’s instruction check out his website and sign up for his course at Best Year EverBest Year Ever, and/or get his book, Living Forward to make 2017 the year that living forward began with turning fear to opportunity.

What would you like to accomplish this year that has made you afraid in the past?

John Mark Miller: The Real Deal


Recently I had the privilege of interviewing John Mark Miller, a musician and writer who leads worship at First Baptist Church of Sunset, Texas. John Mark inspires and encourages other Christian artists with his blog and has recently been showcasing various artists. I was blessed to be on his list.

What I admire most about John Mark is his genuine love for the Lord, music and fellow artists. He exudes grace and kindness. I hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as I have.

Hi, John Mark. Thanks so much for spending some time with us today. I’ve appreciated reading your blog and interacting with you through comments and emails. I guess we’ll jump right into the questions I have for you.

First, let me ask when did you first know you were born to be a singer and a writer?

I was born singing, and I caught on to writing as soon as I could! When I was just a toddler, my mom remembers finding me rolling around the back yard on my riding toy, singing a hymn that she and my dad had sung in church that morning. She was impressed that I remembered the melody perfectly, and started to encourage my musical gifts. I sang my first church solo when I was five years old and started taking piano lessons when I was seven years old. I honestly cannot remember a time when music wasn’t an important part of my life, and here I am all these years later, still making music and teaching others how to join in!

Interestingly enough, it was my dad who honed in on my gift for writing. He read some of the stories I wrote for spelling class and told me that he thought I had real talent. He was a pastor, and before I knew it I was writing articles for the church newsletter and helping him prepare Sunday School curriculum and church publications. One weekend as we drove to a funeral, he realized he needed a poem to recite for the Graveside Service and told me to write one on the spot! I did… and thanks to his belief in me as a writer, I’m still at it!

It’s great that your parents were so encouraging and helpful in fostering your God-given talents. Perhaps that’s one reason you are so great at encouraging other artists.

So, along those same lines, what is your favorite worship song?

My all-time favorite worship song is “Before the Throne of God Above,” but I also find great inspiration in “Give Me Jesus” by Fernando Ortega and “All of Me” by Selah.

I love that song by Fernando Ortega as well. A few of his CD’s spend time in my player!

And how about favorite books?

Where books are concerned, I’m going to have to break this down into categories! I would say that my favorite devotional book is “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers, my favorite fictional book is “The Robe” by Lloyd C. Douglas, and my favorite biography/memoir is “Rocket Boys” by Homer Hickham.

That’s quite a nice collection. I read and re-read “My Utmost for His Highest” over a three year period, and it literally changed my life. What do you feel most inspires your creativity?

I feel most inspired when I spend time outside, either walking for exercise or just sitting and drinking in all of God’s beauty. Taking time to notice the splendor of Creation helps me to quiet the distractions, focus my prayers, and allows me to listen for His still, small voice. It has been during these quiet moments of reflection that many of my greatest ideas have come to me.

It’s amazing how even a little bit of time outside can bring out the creator in us!

Now this may seem like a strange question, but I think you can tell a lot about a person by their favorite “working” drink. I tend to stick with water or tea. How about you?

I absolutely love a steaming mug of hot tea (either Earl Grey or Vanilla Rooibos) while I’m working on a project. The warmth is comforting, and the aroma stimulates the senses. I’d have to agree with C.S. Lewis, who said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me!”

That’s a great quote! I might have to add it to my bulletin board. When is it that we would find you nursing that steaming mug of tea? Are you most productive in the morning or at night?

Though I’m married to a night owl, I will forever be a hopeless morning person! Much to my wife’s dismay, I wake up bright and early and ready to work. My best work takes place early in the morning, and I’ve noticed that my writing is much stronger and more focused after I’ve spent some quiet time with the Lord.

I so agree with you. Spending time with the Lord makes the difference between a good and rough day, writing or otherwise. Do you have a “life verse?” How does it influence your creative endeavors?

Since high school, my life verse has been John 15:5: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” I used to get very nervous playing the piano in church, to the point that my fingers and pedal feet would shake uncontrollably and cause the entire piano to have tremors! I remember sitting in church waiting for my turn to play, and reading this verse on a small index card. It was comforting to remember that without God I could do nothing, but with Him behind me I was guaranteed to bear good fruit. I have clung to this through the years, and it’s just as helpful to me now as it ever was!

That’s a verse my husband has been meditating on lately. It’s so true that whatever we produce comes from Jesus working in us. It’s a great reminder. What would you say is the most important message you want your listeners or readers to take away from your work?

The sole purpose of launching my blog, The Artistic Christian, was to help people realize that the beauty of God is all around us. There is such rich beauty in the midst of the most everyday moments, and all of it declares the truth of Who God is. Psalm 19:1 says “the heavens declare the glory of God,” and each aspect of nature tells us something about God’s character. Immovable mountains declare His strength, soft rose pedals declare his tenderness and beauty, and so on. Not only this, but anytime an artist creates he or she is imitating God, since we are all made in His image (Gen. 1:26). Because of this, artistic works also point us to God, since they reveal the divine spark which lies in each of our hearts.

I hope that by reading my work, my readers will have their eyes opened to the beauty and splendor that lies everywhere they look, and realize that all of it was designed to draw our hearts toward worshiping God. And once they begin to see this, I want to remind them that if they will seek God with all their heart, they will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).

I certainly get that from your blog. Where can people find your work? Can they purchase it yet?

I am still working on getting a book published, but my reflections on art, culture, and life can be found at my primary blog, The Artistic Christian, at http://theartisticchristian.wordpress.com.

Also, my sermons and thoughts on Bible Study and church life can be found at my self-titled devotional blog, at http://johnmarkmiller.wordpress.com

Finally, readers can keep up with my thoughts and latest releases by following me on Twitter: @JohnMark_Miller

Thank you so much for investing this time with us today!

Thank you for interviewing me. It’s been an honor.

Go visit John Mark Miller on Twitter and his blogs. I guarantee you’ll be blessed and glad you did!

Saying Goodbye


I finished my first novel yesterday.IMG_0368

I confess I cried. Yes, near the end it brought tears both for the characters and me. Finishing a project is like wondering what to do on the day after Christmas. Content, but sad. Joyful, but empty. The idea for this story began thirty plus years ago. Yet it ended far differently than I envisioned. (Those willful characters again.) Now that’s it’s done, I’m amazed at the way it turned out. And glad. But sorry.

I have plenty of other work to do.

But today I found myself wandering. Mentally, emotionally and even in daily life. I actually made dinner early for a change because I didn’t have to drag myself away from writing. I hardly knew what to do with myself. Like an empty-nester whose chicks have all flown off, I’m ready for the next adventure, but not quite over letting the last one go.

Even my blogging is uninspired.

And that’s that. The end.

 

How do you feel when you complete a writing project?

 

 

What’s An Author to Do?


I confess I don’t have time to write a blog post today.

The truth is I am in the final pages of my first novel and all the good stuff is happening. Since I never know what my characters may do, especially in the heat of crisis, I’m afraid to leave them alone too long. I already took too long over dinner. (My son needed really needed me.)

So now, I beg your leave with apologies. I will come back next week and attempt to offer something helpful, challenging (thinking of last week…) or encouraging. May God bless you.

Until then, I hear my protagonist calling. She’s in a real dilemma and doesn’t know what to do…DSC_0002

 

Oh, and FYI my first book, The Miracle of Us: Confessions of an Online Dater, is on sale on Amazon in paperback or kindle, or you can order a slightly imperfect copy for a great deal (thanks to a printing error) on my website.

 
What do you do when your characters start doing things you didn’t plan?

Why Do You Write?


Yesterday, I opened an email from a follower of this blog and a reader of my new book, The Miracle of Us: Confessions of an Online Dater. My tears of joy could not be contained as I read how this person’s life was being challenged and changed by God.  In part, as a result of the book.

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Bella at Riding Lessons

I’ve seen the growth. I feel proud, like a beaming mother watching her child on stage or at a sporting event. (I know this feeling well with seven children and seven grandchildren!) The joy that bursts forth in your heart to see someone live out who they were made to be can’t be described. And the blessing of being a small part of that overwhelms me.

I told my husband, “This is why I write.”

 

It’s not for money. Forget the hype of “New York Times Bestseller! ” Most authors make very little in comparison to the hours they put in.

Nor is it for fame. True, it’s been kind of cool to have a few people recognize me from one of two newspaper articles about the release of my book. But that is nothing but a bit of lovely fun.

To make a point? Well, I suppose that the point I try to make in all my books is that God offers us hope, healing and redemption. His love for us is beyond our comprehension, and he is able and willing to do anything to show us that.

But the bottom line reason is this:

“Thank you again for this book. I’m learning to believe in miracles and the One who works them.”

“I just finished reading your book “The Miracle of Us.”  I loved it! I was in tears at times as I read the miracles that God did in your relationship with Brendan.”

“Laura’s book strengthened my faith in God’s ability to work miracles for broken people.”

“What a lovely story of love, adventure, and God’s faithfulness!”

 

God uses our words, gives them to us in fact, to change lives for people’s good and his glory.

 

I’m so stoked on that. Amazed. Humbled. Grateful.

And I’m convinced he wants to use each of us to do the same. Maybe through books, or poems, or songs, or art or your job as a postal clerk (Tina has blessed me every time I mail something, and she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it), a doctor, a mother, a sales representative…in other words, whatever you do.

So, why do you write?

 

Confessions from an Author


Yesterday, Brendan tiptoed into our bedroom(home of my office) with the grin of a Cheshire cat.

“Darling, guess what?”

He held a small package in his hand.

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Me holding my book

“It’s here?”

He nodded and held it out as if on a silver platter for me to open. My book proof had come. I pulled the tab and slid it out. My book. The culmination of a thousand starts and stops, tears, rewrites and re directions sat in my hands, my name on the cover. I like the cover.

I confess, I don’t know how other authors feel when they see their books in print for the first time. I’ve never thought to ask. There is something surreal about it, and I don’t think it’s fully sunk in. Writing is hard work. It takes practice and patience and gumption. It requires determination and fortitude. All of these thoughts have rattled around in my head since yesterday. And the work isn’t done. The final proofing will now begin.

But, the contemplation of process and pain, and questions of “am I good enough?” drift away as on a gentle breeze. None of those seem to matter now.

I mean, I absolutely hope my book will encourage someone, or bless them, make them laugh or sigh with hopeful longing. But the project has added so much to my life as a writer and as a person that I am content, I think. Whether anyone reads it, or likes it is now simply icing on the cake.

I’ve written a book. I’ve held it in my hands. That is no small thing, and I feel…satisfied.

For you authors, how did you feel when you first held (or saw the Kindle) of your first book? For those of you still in process, can you speculate?
 

For anyone interested, there are still a few FREE copies to be had. AND there is still a week left to pre-order for 20% off the retail price. Click here to fill out the form requesting either or to volunteer to review it on your blog.

 

Failing to Grow


A few weeks ago, I had a wonderful conversation with my eldest son. 301

During the course of our discussion, he made two comments in relation to life and career:

If you are unwilling to experience discomfort, you will not experience success.

and

It’s okay if I keep failing as a result of trying to grow.

Since our chat, I’ve thought a lot about that conversation and the wisdom of those two statements. I think they apply to life in general, but I’ve specifically thought about them in regard to my writing career.

Sometimes, I must really push myself outside of my area of comfort in order to find get to the place I really want to be. With trepidation I pressed myself to:

  • write my first book
  • approach publishers
  • attend writer’s conferences
  • start a blog
  • join Twitter
  • write a second book
  • have my work critiqued (several times)
  • submit proposals
  • re-write both books numerous times
  • entered contests
  • learn, practice, learn more, practice again
  • write articles
  • seed out the advice of established authors
  • attend a mentoring class
  • read a lot (okay, so that part is fun)

For some people, those things may be easy. For others, the same activities may feel impossible. Looking back on the journey, I see that I am becoming more successful as I am willing to be uncomfortable. Because we’re only uncomfortable for a little while, until we try, learn and become comfortable again with our new knowledge or abilities.

And even though I’ve failed a lot doing the above things, I’ve been growing. So the failure is part of the process and actually something to be embraced, not avoided.

I want to see my life in the same light.

Pushing outside my comfort zone, trying, failing, learning, failing, and growing.

Thanks for sharing, Josh. I love you.

 

What makes you uncomfortable? Where have you found growth in failing?