Goal Setting for the Non-Goal Setter

I’m married to a man who LOVES to set goals–he has entire systems for goal-setting that help him live intentionally and thoughtfully throughout each year, month, and day. I deeply appreciate this about Michael; it makes him focused and purposeful in how he lives and in how he loves our little family.

But I happen to be on the “loose” end of goal setting; I have ideas in my head but I rarely write them down, and although I’m a very driven, productive person, I’ve never been excited to get my goals down on paper or really think through entire years or months at a time. The typical lists and formats that I’d seen for goal-setting really didn’t seem to help me–or inspire me.

Then, last year, I purchased my first ever set of PowerSheets through Lara Casey’s Cultivate What Matters shop, and my paradigm shifted; now I want to invest in making time to set goals! Ha! This happened, in large part, because PowerSheets is way of approaching goals that has been created by a woman who deeply loves the Lord. PowerSheets are not just about checking items off of a to-do list; they help you shape your life around what matters most and take steps toward living whole-heartedly, whether you’re a working professional, a stay-at-home mom, or a college student.

I LOVE PowerSheets and use them for both the personal side of my life and the professional side of my life, because this is a tool that helps me stay focused on not just getting things done, but on becoming who I want to become by the grace of God.

PowerSheets by Lara Casey

In short: PowerSheets have been a delightful game-changer for me. If you are looking for a way to intentionally approach this coming year with hope and peace and a heart that’s wide-awake and ready for what’s ahead, I highly recommend getting a set for yourself. They just launched today, and they often sell out, so click over and look into them for yourself!

Full disclosure: I’m a store affiliate for PowerSheets, but I requested the opportunity to do so because I believe in this product so much. I use them myself and encourage my Writing with Grace students to use them, too!



Summer Stitch Fix Review (#3!)

I haven’t gotten a “Fix” for several months, but I had some credit built up and was looking for some pieces to refresh my summer rotation of clothes, so I scheduled a box for this week–and it came!

If you’re not familiar with Stitch Fix, here’s how it works: you order a “Fix” (a box of clothes) based on a style profile you fill out about yourself–colors, sizes, styles, patterns, lifestyle. A stylist picks five items for you (from skirts to tops to earrings to jeans), which are sent to you in the mail. The five items are a surprise! You try on clothes at home with the wardrobe you actually have, keep what you love, and send the rest back in a pre-paid envelope. It’s remarkably simple.

Summer Stitch Fix Review (The good, the bad, the Maxi) at annswindell.com

Why I like Stitch Fix in this season of life:

1. I’m not in a season where I can spend much money on clothes, and I can set my price point with Stitch Fix. Also, if I buy all 5 items in the box, there’s a 25% discount on everything.

2. I don’t have to leave the house. Three words: Kid. Time. Heat Index of over 100 degrees.

3. I can get a “Fix” as often or as rarely as I want. I don’t get mine regularly (although many people do); usually, I request a box when I have an event coming up where I need a specific item (a dress for a wedding, for example).

4. The cost is a $20 styling fee, which goes toward any item you purchase.

5. Stitch Fix works for women in almost any season of life. From teenagers to retirees, they’ve got clothes for women in many stages, sizes (even maternity!), and professions.

My box just came this week; here’s my review–so many great pieces in here (and I loved opening up the box to find these colors and patterns!)

Stitch fix box #3

First up, the Carmela Printed Crochet Detail Flare Skirt. The colors and are so fun, and while the pattern isn’t one I would have picked up in a store, the crochet detail above the knee is really lovely. I paired it with a casual tee shirt, which is right in line with my summer style. This is part of why I love Stitch Fix; I can try on the pieces that they send with what I already own and see how it will actually work (or not work) with my current wardrobe.

Carmela Printed Crochet Detail Flare Skirt

I’m honestly still on the fence about this skirt. It’s flowy and soft and the design is beautiful! I’m just not sure if I’ll wear it enough to justify purchasing it, as I already have a lot of skirts. What do you think?

The second item in my fix was the Roquette Off the Shoulder Tunic. Off the shoulder tops are all the rage this summer, and this top was airy, lightweight, and was comfortable to wear.

Roquette Off the Shoulder Tunic

I think I’ll be sending this one back; as cute as it is, I don’t have a lot of reasons to wear an off the shoulder top, and it was a bit baggy.

Ok, on to the third and fourth item in the box–the Lucienne Knit Maxi Dress and the Carlos Turquoise Stone Collar Necklace. I’m a bit of a pushover for a good Maxi dress–it’s like wearing pajamas all day but looking put together! And the Lucienne Knit Maxi Dress had me when I saw the strap/shoulder situation. I love the higher neck!

Lucienne Knit Maxi Dress

Here’s the closeup of the Carlos Turquoise Stone Collar Necklace. This is a fun necklace, with some really creative details, but I don’t think I’m going to keep it. I usually wear more delicate pieces (unless I’m rocking a 31 Bits necklace!), and I can’t foresee wearing this any time in the future.

Carlos Turquoise Stone Collar Necklace

The last piece in my fix was the 41 Hawthorn Merise Split Neck Tunic. My stylist gave me such a great fix–this top is right up my alley, too. It’s a little on the preppy side, and perfect for the crazy heat we’re having in the Midwest. Sadly, it was a little too tight in the hips for my preference, and going up a size would have made the top too big. It has to go back.

That’s it this time around–and it’s getting me excited for my next fix. Maybe this Fall? Let me know if you have any questions, and if you want to try Stitch Fix, please click this link and I will get a referral credit. And tell me how it works out for you!
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Seeing the Year with Thankful Eyes: 2015 Highlights

Seeing the Year with Thankful Eyes: Choosing Gratefulness. www.annswindell.com

‘Tis the season for year-end round ups, lists of favorites, and reflecting on the last year. I love this time of reflection between Christmas and New Year’s Day–it’s a short window in which many of us take time to think about what’s happened in the last twelve months and start to dream about what’s ahead.

And I love this week. Why? Because before we set our sights on the new year, it is very important to thank God for all that has passed–for his presence, his goodness, and his faithfulness to us for another year. We need to do this, not because God needs it, but because our souls need to recount all that has done.

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
    I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
    I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. [Psalm 9:1]

When we recount the Lord’s goodness, it moves our soul to thank him–fitting praise for our Creator!

When we recount the Lord's goodness, it moves our soul to thank him. Click To Tweet

For me, this blog post is one of the ways I am recounting his wonderful deeds to me and our family this year. We have to much to praise him for!

The past year was a year of change for our family, and it was hard in many ways. But it was also very good–and I am thankful for all of it, because it drew us to Jesus.

We moved to another state for my husband’s graduate work.

I left my teaching job at Wheaton College.

We endured serious sickness but emerged healthy.

Michael and I celebrated nine years of marriage!

God provided for our family in miraculous ways.

I signed my first book contract with Tyndale House!

I launched my online writing course, Writing with Grace (class starts in January!).
I also had some writing highlights that I’d love to share!

One of my pieces for RELEVANT reached a very wide audience and was their most-read article the week it was published.

My honest piece about parenting was named as one of Today’s Christian Woman’s top articles for 2015.

I got to write for the Redbud Post–the publication of the Redbud Writers Guild that I’m honored to belong to.

I wrote one of the pieces I’m most proud of for Today’s Christian Woman, about how I’m learning to accept my own body by teaching my daughter to love hers.

I was able to write for (in)courage a couple of times and always love sharing my words there.

Thank you for joining me here in this space. I’m grateful for all God has done and I look ahead to all that he will do in this coming year! What are you thanking him for?

Courage, Writing, and Publishing: My First Book

It’s a story a lot of people tell: that they’ve been writing since they were children, that they’ve been writing even when no one was reading, that they’ve dreamed about writing books for most of their lives.

That’s my story, too. I’ve been a writer ever since I learned to use words. First, I was writing my name and my age; a little later I was writing stories in blank books in second grace. Fast-forward a bit and I was writing my first poems, my first journal entries (diaries with locks and keys, anyone?), and then I was writing high school essays and fiction vignettes.

My first book contract: www.annswindell.com

Photo by Ann White Photography

In college, I learned to write outside of my comfort zone. A few souls–professors and fellow lovers of Jesus–led me through the forest of words with their own machetes, and once they led me far enough, deep into the thick of language, they handed the knife to me. I started learning to cut out words in college, to make language mean in the ways I wanted it to, and to take risks to alter my voice on the page in surprising, exciting ways.

These are things only writers really care about–the lilt of a sentence, the shape of a phrase, the cadence of a line. And I found, the further I went into words and story and the grinding turn of revision, that I met God in the process of writing in deep, deep ways. I loved that when I wrote, I felt his nearness; I felt, more than anything, at home. I loved writing not only as a hobby or a passion, but as a career and as a calling. And so, I went to graduate school.

There, in graduate school, I was stretched nearly to the point of breaking–not because I was so wonderful as a writer, but because I felt so weak. I remember my first workshop in my MFA program, when I realized how weak my writing was. The other writers sitting around me used words more deftly than I did, and they commanded language with a precision I did not yet have.

And I had a choice. Was I going to keep writing? Was I going to keep trying? 

No one was reading my words, other than a handful of friends and family. No one cared if I kept writing, or if I didn’t.

But I felt the courage of God to try, and to try again, and to try yet again. I stayed the course in graduate school because I wanted to see if I could do this–if I could write with power and grace and if I could find my own voice. And through the guidance of more professors–women who love Jesus and who wield words like flame–I learned. I grew. I found my voice as a writer.

That was years ago. I have still been writing, and I have been teaching, and I have still been seeking to grow and learn and stretch as a crafter of language. Although I write many places, I have been sharing my story and my heart in the form of a book that I have labored over in the quiet of libraries and coffee shops, unsure if anyone but Jesus would ever read it. I started this book not because anyone required it, but because I believe that this is part of the story I have to tell.

And just this past month, the team at Tyndale House Publishers offered me a contract to write this book with them. 

I am more honored than I know how to say.

I am more humbled than I can express.

And I am grateful to the Lord for the chance to write a book about my story that is, hopefully, a book that is ultimately about His story and his presence in the world. 

I can’t wait for you to read it. Although, you’ll have to wait–until 2017. Sorry! But in the interim, I’m going to write my heart out and, with His grace, seek to make this a book worth waiting for.

Thanks for celebrating with me!

If you want to join my online, six-week writing course for fellow writers, registration opens soon! Click here to learn more.

Flowers, Thistles, and Thorns: Meeting Jesus in Places of Pain

Meeting Jesus in Places of Pain... www.annswindell.comI was at an upscale grocery store recently, admiring the tubs full of flowers, when I noticed a bouquet full of lilies, and carnations, and thistles.


Yes, thistles. Prickly, spiky, gray, and full of thorns. It wasn’t a mistake; I checked. Every bouquet in that bucket had a handful of thistles nudged between the flowers and greenery. And they actually looked–dare I say it?–rather lovely. Those thistles didn’t look soft, and they certainly didn’t look inviting. But they grounded the rest of the flowers with their solemnity and honesty. The thistles, prickly as they were, added an unexpected beauty to the bouquet as a whole. 

And I was reminded: this is the good news of the Gospel.

Stay with me.

All of us have thistles in our lives–those painful, thorny parts of our story that we’d rather do without. The broken relationships, the physical aches, the experiences that we wish we could erase. None of our lives are all flowers and sunshine. We have gray places, dark places, things that still feel like they can prick us if we touch them with our memories.

But–here again is that great, surprising news of the Gospel–even the thorns and thistles in our lives can prove themselves beautiful if they point us to Jesus and lead us into more intimacy with him. I think of the Apostle Paul who writes so honestly about begging the Lord to take away his “thorn in the flesh”–that unnamed pain that the Lord never healed–and hearing Christ tell him that His power is made perfect in our weakness.

Those things that make life so challenging–those thorns and thistles–what if we asked God to help us see those places as gateways to his heart? As open doors for his power in our weakness? As opportunities for grace to be abundant? What if we saw the thorns and thistles as part of the bouquet of our lives–not things that make us ugly and undesirable, but as parts of our story that ground us in Christ’s goodness and in the unexpected beauty of a redeemed life?

Those things that make life so challenging--what if we asked God to help us see those places as… Click To Tweet

Because Jesus, perfect as he was, didn’t get past the difficult parts of life, either. In fact, he knows the pain of thorns more fully than any of us do: the thorns lodged in his skin as a mocking crown when he paid for our brokenness and sin on the cross.

In the midst of our own pains and hurts, let us rest our gaze on the One who wore the crown of thorns for us. Let us, as the old hymn says, “turn our eyes upon Jesus,” and see that he can make even the prickliest, difficult aspects of our lives into gateways of hope and redemption as he meets us in our pain. That’s the promise of life with Jesus–not ease, but intimacy; not painlessness, but purpose; not comfort, but camaraderie with Him.

Jesus makes even the prickliest, difficult aspects of our lives into gateways of hope and… Click To Tweet

Yes, that’s good news of thistles in bouquets: the joy of Jesus making even the hard parts of our story lovely in their own way–unexpectedly beautiful–as he redeems them by his grace. 

Meeting Jesus in Places of Pain. www.annswindell.com

Taking Care of Each Other

I’m honored to be writing for (in)courage today, sharing my heart about friendship and learning to receive care from those who love us. The article starts below, but you can link straight to (in)courage here!

Our value is not found in what we do but in  whom we belong to. www.annswindell.com

It had been a particularly difficult week, and after a short trip to visit my parents, I was dreading the return to “real life”—a life that I loved but one that currently felt like more than I could handle. We were trying to get our house on the market—a house we would already be losing money on—and had experienced multiple setbacks. I had been sick, the bitterly cold winter was relentless, and my daughter was having trouble sleeping. I was tired, emotionally shot, and worried about our finances with the house.

Still, I had to return to my life, difficult or not. But when I turned the key to our front door, what I found surprised me. It was cleaner than I’d left it! I opened a card on the table and discovered why: my friend Katie had cleaned, left dinner in the fridge, and stuck notes on surfaces throughout the house—notes that reminded me of my value in Christ and His love for me.

I was overwhelmed.

Because I felt—how else can I say it?—I felt taken care of. There is no other way to articulate why Katie’s actions meant so much to me. She had cleaned my house—the house I felt responsible to clean. She had provided dinner for my family—the meal I felt responsible to cook. And she had reminded me that my value was not in what I did, but in whose I was—Christ’s.

As a wife, mom, and teacher, most of my days are spent taking care of others. I rub backs, prepare meals, kiss cheeks, tie shoes, wash dishes, mentor students, write checks, grade papers and give lectures—along with a hundred other things. I can guess that you do numerous things, too. You may not be grading papers or preparing meals, but you’re probably caring for others somehow. You’re probably taking care of those around you.

I think that, as women, we are used to being the nurturers, the ones who take care of others.

But how often do we let others take care of us? How often do we ask others to take care of us?

Please click over and read the rest of the article here, at (in)courage! You can also sign up here to receive free daily encouragement from the writers of (in)courage, right in your inbox!