Surrounded by Amazing Bloggers and Friends

Joining in with the online discussion on the book “On Being A Writer” by Ann Kroeker and Charity Singleton Craig. Today we are working through Chapter 3: Surround–I surround myself with people, activities, and books that influence my writing. I am so very thankful for the friendships God has orchestrated this year as I have been surrounded by amazing people, places, and things!

These words echoed in my ear as I read them this past weekend. I find I surround myself with people, places, and things that help me to live this quote out in my daily life. I surround myself with amazing friends and family who allow me to talk about things in my life that I am currently thinking about. Sometimes our conversations lead to a blog post.

I also surround myself with awesome books. I have always loved books and continue to love books. Long before I read Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts,” I began a Sunday series on my blog titled “Sunday Blessings.” But after reading Ann’s book, my series was even more solidified. Each week I keep a list on my phone of the blessings I encounter and then post it on Sunday evenings. I also read Annie F. Down’s book “Let’s All Be Brave.” That book led to a blog post after I read it in just a few short days. That book is a book that spoke to me especially this year since “brave” is my one word 365 for 2015. I recently picked up “Wild in the Hollow” by Amber Haines, “Searching for Sunday” by Rachel Held Evans, and “For the Love” by Jen Hatmaker. Books all recommended by other bloggers. I also am currently reading “Orphan Train.”

But, not only, do I surround myself with books, friends, and family, I find myself surrounding myself with more and more bloggers. Because I have come to realize that these people are “my people.” They remind me of the gifts that I bring. They challenge me to be a better writer when I read their posts and want to sound as elegant as they do. But mostly they understand me and what I write about…God, faith, my family, my friends, singleness, mental illness, yearning to be a mom and wife, adoption…and the list goes on and on.

I met many of these woman through the Write 31 Days challenge last October. I spent those 31 days writing about “Being a Daughter: 31 Days of Mental Illness. I met Theresa Moma because her 31 day series was about her battle with depression. I met Dana whose words are always so beautiful and speak straight to my heart. And as the year went on…I have met others through the snail mail party and through Five Minute Friday. And I actually wait for new posts from so many of these people. (Susan, Bethany, TammyMelissaAnnaKate, Jen, Janel, Karrilee, and so many more. I wish I could list you all! I love you all!) Karrilee and I have so much in common that it could only be a God thing that our hearts have been united. And I believe that about all of the other woman as well. Only God could orchestrate these surroundings for me!

Each week, I often link up with some of my most favorite writers. These are writers that I want to to be more and more like. I am so thankful for the many who have shared their testimonies of faith over at Holly’s place every Tuesday. I am so thankful for Kelly and the RaRa Linkup over at Purposeful Faith. Some of the best cheerleaders in the world! I am thankful for Holley Gerth and Coffee for your Heart. But, to be honest, my most favorite of all is the lovely Jennifer Dukes Lee. Jennifer always writes words that speak to my heart. And the funny thing is she attends the church where a seminary friend was their intern. Jennifer’s words always weave together like a beautiful tapestry of words. I want my words to do that too! 🙂

There are so many more that I could write about, because I feel like each of them in their own ways surround me with stories and words that help me to write especially when I am feeling like I have NOTHING to say! I think there is so much power when we can inwardly and outwardly share our stories. I wouldn’t have met so many of these wonderful people if I hadn’t decided to be vulnerable and share my family’s story of mental illness. I wouldn’t know how to live if people like Andrew and dear Kara Tippetts didn’t share what it is like to live with an awful illness. May dear Kara rest in peace and may we all surround ourselves with people, places, and things that help us to answer the question on the header of Kara’s blog: “What will you do in the mundane days of faithfulness?”–Martin Luther.

Words as Offering and Gift

I am linking up for the Five Minute Friday. The FMF is hosted by Kate Motaung on her blog Heading Home. Today’s prompt is “Gift.” Write for five minutes; unedited.

The other day I went down into my basement and found an unwanted gift: a mouse. In the one and a half years I have lived in this house, I have not seen that unwanted gift until last week. Last week I put in some mouse traps and have not seen those unwanted gifts since…so hopefully it stays that way.

But on another note, I recently finished Ann Voskamp’s 1000 Gifts. Oh how I love that book! It has reminded me how important it is to take note of the many gifts; many blessings we have been given in life. I even downloaded the app and have been keeping track on my phone.

Tonight I had the gift of spending some quality time with some dear friends. Oh how much of a gift that is! And earlier this week, I had the gift of having coffee with my dear friend CT. Those moments are indeed gift in my life.

And as I have reflected on the many gifts I have been given in my life, I have been thinking about one of those gifts as my writing; whether it be in poetry or through blogging or whatever writing medium that may be. Those words that spill out onto the page are my gifts; my offerings to God. I write them down and then lift them up and place them on the altar to God.

I am reminded of the words we hear in John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” God sent Jesus into the world as a gift; as God’s living Word in the world. God calls us to use our gifts as an offering for the kingdom; as an offering to God. We place our gifts onto the altar and offer them as a gift for others; that they may realize that they are not alone; that are words are an offering for them too!

Summertime on the Prairie

I am linking up for the Five Minute Friday. The FMF is hosted by Kate Motaung on her blog Heading Home. Today’s prompt is “Blue.” Write for five minutes; unedited.

It is summertime on the prairies of North Dakota!

Summertime on the prairies of North Dakota are my favorite thing in the world. The sky is the deepest blue and spreads out as wide and as long as the eyes can see. This time of the year, farmers like my Dad, Uncle and Grandpa can be found basking under that deep blue sky as they plant in the fields scattered to and fro. Under that beautiful blue sky, the dirt blows and covers my Dad, Uncle and Grandpa as they steward the land God gave us.

For me, I love sitting under the deep blue sky, on my patio, shoes kicked off, reading the best books in the world. This last week I finished Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. Now I am reading Shauna Neiquist’s Bread and Wine. I want to try every recipe in that book!

The skies this time of year remind me of the awesomeness of God’s creation. God saw all that he created and declared “It is good.” That deep blue sky over my head causes me to pause and take in the beauty of this world. That deep blue sky continually bids me to “Be still and know that God is God.”

As the sun fades into the clouds, the deep blue sky fades away and I sit under the darkness of night knowing in the power of God’s love. I look up and count the stars in the sky. And as I count, I remember this God who knows all the stars in the sky and knows every hair upon our heads; this God who saw darkness and called it night and saw light and called it day and this God who created that deep magnificent blue sky that looms over the magnificent prairies of North Dakota.

And I am so very thankful!

O Come Emmanuel

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel which means ‘God with us.’ “–Matthew 1: 23

“God with us”

I find myself clinging to these words during this Advent season. There are so many who have been pulled in by the darkness and cannot find their light. There are so many who don’t have any hope left. They have been robbed of their joy and are instead clinging to the words of Mr. Scrooge in a Christmas Carol “bah hambug.” My heart aches for each and every one of these individuals. However I don’t blame them at all for being down. Sometimes life and all that is happening is just is too much!

Last week at a conference gathering, we had a Christmas carol hymn sing. One of the hymns we sang was “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Those words have been replaying in my head and my heart….especially this day as I want my friends to know that God is indeed with them. God is indeed in the midst of their real. (Credit to my friend Anna for using that phrase in her Advent devotional). 

“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear; Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.”

In the midst of this broken world, I find myself having a hard time sometimes trusting in Emmanuel too. I wonder when peace and justice will be brought about. I wonder if war will come to an end. And then I am reminded that war will end and peace and justice will indeed reign when God comes again to “judge the living and the dead.” 

“O come, O Dayspring, come and cheer; O sun of justice, now draw near. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.”

This Advent I have been reading through my friend Anna’s e-book Moments of Christmas. The book is meant for Mom’s but it really is geared towards all women. In the post a few days ago, Anna talked about how we can choose to chase perfection or we can choose to chase holy. I think especially during this time of the year it is so easy to get caught up in who has the most presents, the prettiest decorations etc but the reality is that God wants us to chase holy; to spend time with him. I know that is not always easy especially when the darkness seems to be overshadowing the light. But, my dear readers and friends, it seems to me that perhaps that is when God is most with us. 

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” I know that there have been several Christmas’s when I have been grieving; grieving because a family member was in the hospital in the days leading up to Christmas. I know that I have yearned for God to bring that special man into my life. But the reality is that God has been in the midst of the muck and the mud with me. God sent God’s son into the world to walk with us and then to ultimately die on a cross for each and every one of us. 

“O come, O King of Nations, come, O Cornerstone that binds in one: refresh the hearts that long for you; restore the broken, make us new.”

God in this broken messed up yet beautiful world, this Advent continue to refresh the hearts of all those who are hurting. Continue to pick them up and walk with them. Restore them from brokenness to wholeness. Grant them peace and joy and hope in the midst of their joy-less days and nights. Give them the words to declare that you are indeed Emmanuel “God with us.

The truth is that God has not left. God is indeed still with us. Even when the darkness seems to be the only thing there, God is still with us. Even when their seems to be no hope left, God is still with us. Even when all we want to do is surrender, God reminds us that God is still with us. 

“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.”

“God who hung the stars-He has taken a thread of his heart and tied it to yours.
 And he didn’t need to, but God tied his heart to yours so when you feel pain. 
He fills with pain.”–Ann Voskamp; The Greatest Gift

Perplexed and Pondering Them In Her Heart

 “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary, and he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  

The angel said her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’  

Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’  

The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month of her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’

Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.’ “—Luke 1:26-38

Perplexed by the angel’s words…
Pondering them in her heart….

As a virgin, no wonder Mary was perplexed. How could this be? How could she be pregnant? And how could she be the mother of this holy Child? I don’t blame Mary for being perplexed by the angel’s words and for taking the time to ponder them in her heart. As a virgin women, I know that I would be extremely perplexed and puzzled if someone told me that I was to bear a child.

And then there is her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth, in her old age, thinks that she will never be able to bear a child. Yet that is exactly what happens. She becomes pregnant and bears a son. I can picture Elizabeth laughing as she hears that she will bear a child. How can this be? She asks the same questions as Mary. Together these two women share this experience together. I’ve never really thought about it before but I wonder what it was like for Elizabeth to come and meet baby Jesus. Why had Jesus chosen Mary and not herself to be the mother to this precious holy child?

The thing is that God sent God’s one and only son into the world as this beautiful baby boy; born in a manger in Bethlehem. There is something so holy and peaceful about watching a baby sleep. This morning at church I held a baby girl in my arms. She peacefully slept in my arms as I talked to her Mom. And then later this morning, I held another little baby in my arms. These two little infants remind me of how this infant Jesus came into the world as a sign of hope and light in the midst of a dark world. Jesus is born the unlikeliest of places in a stinky, smelly stable where hope is born into the world. 

I am reminded of the words to the song “Mary Did You Know?” “Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?; Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?; Did you know that your baby boy has come to deliver you?; This child that you delivered will soon deliver you.” As she held her precious son in her arms, as he peacefully slept, I wonder if Mary really realized the magnitude of the ways her son would change the world. I think of these words from the song as well: “Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?; Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?; Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?; This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.” Mary was indeed holding the Great I am. Mary was indeed holding this precious holy gift that God sent into the world for each and every one of us.

“The birth of the child into the darkness of the world made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it.”–Frederick Buechner

Yes, through the birth of this precious holy child, God calls us to be his disciples in the world. God calls us to follow the examples of his Son; the one who, throughout his life, isn’t afraid to sit with tax collectors and sinners; the one who ultimately dies on a cross for YOU and for ME; the one who rises from the dead and shows us his power; the power of Resurrection. As God’s people, we are to live our lives knowing that we have been ravished and continue to be ravished by God’s love for us.

I love these words from Ann Voskamp’s book The Greatest Gift:

“God gives God. That is the gift God always ultimately gives. Because nothing is greater and we have no greater need, God gives God. God gives God, and we only need to slow long enough to unwrap the greatest Gift with our time; time in His Word, time in His presence, and time at His feet.”–Ann Voskamp

God’s Love Story to Us

First this: God created the Heavens and Earth–all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, and inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss. God spoke: ‘Light!’ And light appeared. God saw that light was good and seperated light from dark. God named the light Day, he named the dark Night. It was evening, it was morning—Day One.”–Genesis 1:1-5 (The Message)

God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of the Earth.’ God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: ‘Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take Charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of the Earth.”–Genesis 1:26-27 (The Message)  

This love began in the very beginning. God sent God’s son as the ultimate example of God’s love for God’s people. And today I found myself relishing in the love of a mother with her daughter. My Mom was able to come to my town today and we spent some time together. It was so glorious. I found myself taking in every moment with her. I went to work this morning and then picked Mom up at about noon. I picked her up, I did a few errands, and then we went to her beloved dollar store. I watched as she carefully chose presents for those she loves and who care for her at the nursing home. After we got down at the dollar store, we went back to the church because I need to be there for a quick meeting. I settled her in my room where she sat and listened to some Christmas music. After my meeting, Mom and I went out for supper. As we were eating the bus driver called and said that he was waiting for us at my house. The bus driver was so kind and said he would come to the restaurant to pick her up. Spending time with my mom reminds me of the amaziness of God’s love. Mom delights over the littlest things. She doesn’t really care what we do as long as we get to spend time together.

After Mom left, I came back to my house, sat down on my couch, and spent time reading today’s reading in my Advent devotional book. I along with several of my blogger friends are reading through Ann Voskamp’s book “The Greatest Gift.” As I read today’s reading, I smiled as today’s reading is titled “Life begins as a Love Story.” Today I experienced that to its absolute fullest! We are created and formed for love.

No matter your story before, this is your beginning now; you were formed by Love….for love.”——The Greatest Gift; Ann Voskamp

During this season of Advent , I am going to try and take the time to relish in this love; to experience it every day more fully; to trust and wait for this precious child who brings hope, light and love into this world. I love this quote from Ann Voskamp’s book.

So go to the window. Go to the hills, the desert, the corner, the back door, and be ravished and taken and awed, and you who were made by Love, made for love–be still and know and watch love come down. The answer to deep anxiety is the deep adoration of God. And the greatest gift we can give our great God is to let his love make us glad.”–Ann Voskamp

In this shattered broken world, perhaps we could be more kind to each other, more patient with each other, and simply share the power of God’s love with the world. For it is God who first showed that love to us and who asks us to show that love with one another. For on the cross, God reminded us of the power of that love.

The Christmas story, this love story–the whole blue marble of the world spinning right now on the Cross-beam axis of Love.”–Ann Voskamp

From the manger in Bethlehem to a hill in Calvary, God’s love sprouts forth for all the world to share.

A Poem for My Momma

My friend Amy posted this on her Facebook page last night and when I read it, it made me sigh. Oh how true are these words! God has picked me up and taken what I need God to take…even when that is easier said than done. I am so very thankful for the ways that God has walked with me and my family and continues to walk with us. I am also so very thankful for my faith in God.

If you’ve been reading my 31 day challenge, you heard me talk about writing poetry as a form of prayer to God and for my Mom. I thought I would share with you some of the poems I have written for her and about our journey. The poem I am choosing to share with you today fits really well with my Day 2 post! Thanks for reading!

My Momma
By Tara L. Ulrich
Talking about boys and life,
Picking out my wedding dress, 
Sharing about my life and loves;
These are all things that I wish
I could do with my momma
Like my friends have with their mommas.
Yet she is still my momma.
My momma has always been my shining star.
She has always been one of
the most kindest caring people in my life.
Yet she cannot do the things that I wish for
To the degree that I hope and pray for.
Yet she is still my momma.
I want to talk to her about boys and love.
I wish that she could come with me
To pick out my wedding dress someday.
I yearn for the day when our conversations
Will be more than a few minutes.Yet she is still my momma.
Momma has taught me so much about life.
Momma loves my sister and I UNCONDITONALLY!
Momma continually shows me that normal is relative.
Momma is and will always be my momma;
A momma who reminds me daily
Of what it means to be who God created me to be!

Click Here for all the 31 Day posts