Connection not perfection. We all long to be accepted and live a life of connection and recognize life is not perfect and yet we still strive for the unattainable and beat ourselves up over all the things that go wrong. How do we let our guard down, release the need for perfection and open our hearts and homes to others? As Emerson says, "Let not the emphasis of hospitality lie in bed and board; but let truth and love and honor and courtesy flow in all thy deeds." What if we started to see all the things that don't go as we plan as an invitation to open our heart to Christ and others? In Invited, Christen bares her soul to breathe words of hope and encouragement to other women who long to connect and show hospitality to their people in their place. As someone who is a mediocre hostess at best I found her words refreshing and inspiring. Read Invited and let it usher in a life of hospitality for you and yours. - Abby Gray
This is the hardest blog post that I've written in a really long time.
Because it's honest and it hurts to be honest. But, honesty also heals, which makes it worth it, right?
After six years of writing on my blog, last year I was finally given the opportunity to write a book. Many of you have been with me on this journey of writing and releasing Invited and I can't thank you enough for your support. It truly has been a dream come true. But, what I haven't shared about as much is how this process has affected me on a personal level...what life behind social media has looked like - and that's what I'd like to share today.
At the beginning of 2017, I asked God to give me a word for the year. I wanted this one word to be a reminder to me that God was with me. As I tried to be still and listen for a word from God, the one word that I kept hearing was "fail." Yep, you heard me right. I didn't hear "flourish" or "joy" or "peace." Nope. I heard F-A-I-L. Now, I don't know how you would handle this, but I did not take it well. In fact, I threw myself one big pity party and all my fears came spilling out. I felt like all the hard work that I'd put into writing the book in the past year was going to be just one big disappointment, a waste, and that God was just trying to let me down easy before it ever released. I feared that I was a failure and was going to be extremely disappointed in myself.
A few days after I heard the word "fail" for 2017, I opened my Jesus Calling devotional and read these words from Sarah Young:
After reading these words, I began to see the word "fail" through a biblical lens. Fail can mean dependence instead of disappointment. Perhaps God was warning me of how Satan could use my fears of failure to trick me into feeling unsuccessful in my efforts. I also believe God was revealing that I was free to fail in Jesus. Paul writes about this to the church of Corinth when he hears God say, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9)." Being free to fail in Jesus meant that I could never let Jesus down because I don't hold Jesus up. He holds me up, gives me His strength, and His power is made perfect in my weakness. It was just as I'd written in chapter 19 of Invited about how our thorns lead us to the throne of grace.
Now that I understood what God had meant when I heard the word "fail" I went into the launch of Invited with new tenacity. One of my biggest fears with releasing this book was that nobody would care. I knew that I wasn't a "big" author and didn't have a massive budget or mega publishing company to help me promote this message to the masses. So, I started small and went local.
I hired my own videographer and photographer and interviewed women that I knew personally who were willing to share their story of #connectionnotperfection with others. I did all of the administrative work of setting up a launch team, editing photography, coding the website, writing marketing e-mails, asking authors for their endorsements, and reaching out to local business owners for book signings. I had some help from a very small team but for the most part I worked tirelessly as we prepared for the book to come out late spring.
All that hard work paid off and I had a really incredible launch of Invited. My launch team was wonderful in helping me get the word out and I felt like people were genuinely cheering me on. Besides Raleigh, the girls in my small group were my core support group. They went above and beyond in planning the most beautiful launch party I could have ever imagined and we gathered together to eat cake on the most perfect summer evening in early June. On the actual release day of Invited, I clearly felt like God knew exactly who would read this book. Again, I was free to fail in Jesus.
The summer flew by as we went through the online Bible study of Invited for Undivided Women, I filled orders, and drove all over Alabama for book signings. So many people were asking how it was all going and I genuinely meant it when I said "great!" However, that fear of failure was always just beneath my skin. The launch of Invited had been great for me, but it wasn't really record-breaking in the big scheme of things. It was easy to compare myself to these major Christian authors and feel very mediocre. I often felt this way when I had been going past my limit, not getting enough rest in God's word, time with my family, or sleep.
I originally thought that summer would be a time of recovery from the launch but it wasn't! I was so busy and before I knew it, the summer was over and it was time for our kids to start school. August hit and we had a hard time adjusting to our new routine that were primarily focused on the twins' schedule. Suddenly, I had to make a tough decision and spend less time on ministry and more time making sure homework was completed, soccer bags were packed, and we got to school on time (which meant we had to go to bed on time). I confided all of this in my dear friend Stephanie one day and she helped me realize that recovering from such a major project was going to easily take the remainder of the year, so I needed to give myself permission to not go at the pace that I had been frantically running at for over a year.
With her advice, I began writing less. My schedule was still full with speaking events and book signings on top of our family's activities so it was easy to justify writing less so I could spend more time resting in God. However, as hard as I tried to engage in a Bible study or listen to a sermon, I was not in a healthy place to receive it. Nothing felt fresh, everything felt stale. I've been through seasons of burnout in the past and even wrote about it in the book, referring to it as one of the stages in the "party planning cycle" in chapter four. Even though I recognized it, it was still really, really hard to walk through it. This fall has been the most difficult season that I've walked through all year. I have been unmotivated, exhausted, and not feeling like myself. Suddenly, my schedule has seemed impossible to fulfill and most tasks have overwhelmed me much easier than they have in the past. Instead of resting in God, I've rested in entertainment. Not only did I stop writing but I stopped coming to God with my weaknesses. I began to feel really alone and questioned all my efforts.
As I've walked through these post-release months, I've had to stare at the glaring truth: I don't fully understand how to rest. How do you rest when you have to work a full time job, take care of three little ones at home, and stay slammed on the weekend with birthday parties, family time, and additional work? I've felt myself running from one activity to the next, not ever truly breathing. Anxiety has been ever-present and my calendar has completely stressed me out.
Friend, when I stopped writing, I stopped being me. Writing has always been a way for me to find healing and for me to notice how God shows up in my daily life. Even if I never become a best-selling author, I still believe that I connect best with God when I write and share His message. To get out of my funk, I did what I only knew to do: write.
In an effort to come back to the word of God, I've created a new journal based upon the Year of Jubilee. Inside the Jubilee Journal are four prompts for the day - Scripture, Journal, Confession, and Celebration. Writing in my journal has helped me rest in God. It is a simple act that is bringing me back from this difficult season of burnout. I've found comfort in this quite space of reflection and have had a chance to confess the areas of my life that desperately need God's intervention.
This year has been one that has completely turned me upside down and has made me examine my heart, brought forth my fears, and I've had to make some really, really, hard choices. Now that I've walked through all of the emotions and steps of writing, releasing, and marketing a book I can honestly say that this experience has taught me that faith is not about what we do, but about the person we are becoming. I've had to build on my failure, and offer God my praise, not my performance. I've learned to ask myself, "What is my definition of victory for the kingdom of God, not what is the world's definition of victory for me?" Now that I'm almost at the end of this year, I still believe that I am free to fail in Jesus and His power is made perfect in my weakness.
I don't know what's next but I have what Emily P. Freeman calls a "hopeful vision" for my future. Next year, God could share the word "fail" once again with me, or He could be preparing me for a whole new adventure. I'm not really sure, and that's okay. Thank you for being my people and for reading about what God's been teaching me. I hope that this story will somehow make a difference in the story He's writing in your life too.