Do you have a book inside of you?

Do you have a book inside of you? 
Or do you have an article you want to get published?
How about a blog that you want to write for and grow?
Or maybe you love to write and want to get better at your passion?

But where do you start? 

How do you go from having writing dreams to making them a reality?
How do you move from wanting to be a writer to fully owning your calling as a writer?

I know how: you have to take the risk to invest in yourself and your desire to write. I did this when I decided to pursue my MFA in Creative Writing nearly a decade ago–and I gave years of my life to studying the craft of writing and immersing myself in the world of literature and critical feedback.

Your writing dreams matter because your story matters. WritingwithGrace.com
But most of us can’t drop everything and give years of our lives to solely focusing on writing, and that’s why I started Writing with Grace back in 2015. I knew that there were writers who wanted to grow and pursue their calling as Christ-centered word-wielders, but they didn’t have the time or finances to go back to school.

So, after teaching college-level writing courses for half a decade, I decided to offer the best of that material in an online format. I teach the classes live, and you can re-watch them later when you have time. This is the cream of what I taught in 300 and 400 level writing courses, distilled into a six-week course and offered at a fraction of the cost of traditional university education.

I want you to have access to the best writing instruction in a format that works with your current life.

Registration is open now, and you can use the code GRACE to save 10% on the cost of the course. We’re going to have an amazing time together starting at the end of this month, and I want YOU to be there with us.

So, do you have a book inside of you? An article (or ten?) A writing dream?
If you do, this is your next step.

Come join me over at Writing with Grace for all the details–I can’t wait to see you there!

Registration is open now at Writing with Grace! www.writingwithgrace.com

Creating Friendships that Last

In a world bloated with quick fixes, instant gratification and social media profiles, it can be hard to know how to build—and keep—lasting friendships. And while we may want to portray a particular side of ourselves online, the truth is that we need friends who know us here and now, in the middle of our mess and our daily routines. And we need to be those types of friends, too.

Creating Friendships that Last from annswindell.com

The secret to these kinds of friendships is actually pretty simple: You just have to show up.

The secret to friendship is actually pretty simple: You just have to show up. via @RELEVANT Click To Tweet

The Scriptures calls us to draw near to Christ and to draw near to one another: “let us draw near [to Christ] with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” and “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:22, 24-25). As people of faith, we are called to live so that we are encouraging those around us toward love and good deeds. I think this comes most obviously and importantly through deep, meaningful friendship.

Here’s how to start—and build—friendships where we spur one another on to godly lives and where we reflect God’s love to one another:

SHOW UP WITH A MEAL.

A friend doesn’t have to be sick to need a meal. A new baby doesn’t have to be born, and it doesn’t have to be a holiday. Many times, we need a friend to care for us—spiritually and practically—in the midst of our everyday lives when things just feel like a little too much to handle. I’ve taken meals to friends who are emotionally overwhelmed, to friends who have sick kids and to friends who just need a break from adulting. If you don’t cook: Take a pizza. Breaking bread together—sharing meals—is something that marked the early church, and it’s not hard to understand why. Sharing a meal together feeds both the body and the soul. It’s not hard—it just takes intentionality.

SHOW UP WITH PRAYER.

Hanging out and talking, watching a game together, laughing together—these are good gifts of friendship. But being friends who follow Jesus also offers us the rich opportunity to pray not only for but with one another. I’ve found that my times of prayer with friends have been some of the deepest and most steadying parts of our friendship.

Can it be awkward, especially if you’ve never prayed together? Sure. But it can also crack open the opportunity for deeper relationship and trust. Maybe you can’t help your friend practically, with her need or with his struggle. But you can pray with your friend, right there, asking God to meet that need and provide grace in the struggle. If you don’t know what to pray, consider getting a copy of The Book of Common Prayer and praying a liturgical prayer together. It doesn’t have to be fancy. But when two or three of us get together in the name of Jesus, He’s there with us (Matthew 18:19-20). When we pray, He hears us, and moves on our behalf.

Easy Ways to Encourage Your Pastor

Easy Ways to Encourage your Pastor! www.annswindell.comThis is the start of my most recent article for the Deeply Rooted Magazine blog.
You can read the entire article here!

I love church. I really do. I love the Church with a capital C—the church universal that Jesus died and rose for, filled with every tribe and nation and people and tongue (Rev. 7:9). And I love our particular church that meets every Sunday in a building that used to be a funeral home (a reminder of the beauty of going from death to life every week!). And after years in church ministry, as a pastor’s wife and now as a seminarian’s wife, I can unequivocally say that while church is messy and challenging and sometimes deeply painful, I know that there’s nothing else I will give my life to—because that’s what Jesus did. If he gave his life for the church, then I will give my life to the church, to love and care for and serve his people.

If Jesus gave his life for the church, then I will give my life to the church, to love and care for… Click To Tweet

While my husband and I are not in full-time ministry right now, I know what it’s like to be married to a pastor, and one of the many things learned in those years of ministry is that most pastors live in the simultaneous reality of loving what they do and also being tired. Sometimes pastors are just kind of tired. But other times they are exhausted. Getting to pastor the people of God is an incredible gift, but it is also a job that doesn’t have very clear starting and ending times. Ministering is fluid; people don’t have important questions and life crises only between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm. Work and ministry and life bleed into one another. And yes, sometimes pastors need better boundaries. But sometimes life and ministry are one and the same thing—and that’s ok. And tiring.

Your pastor is meant to be a gift to you. But you are also meant to be a gift to your pastor: Click To Tweet

I don’t know who your pastor is, and I don’t know what kind of season your pastor is in. But this is the pastor that you have in this season of life, and he is meant to be a gift to you and your church family. The flip side of the equation is that you are meant to be a gift to your pastor, too. One way to do that is to intentionally encourage him and the other staff members at your church. So, as we end Pastor Appreciation month, here are some simple ways you can encourage the pastors in your life:

  1. Say thank you. Say thank you when you see him on Sunday. Send a quick note of thanks to the office. Write a thank-you email regarding something specific that meant a lot to you. This will go so, so much farther than you can imagine.
  2. Drop off coffee or food at the office. Find out when the weekly staff meeting is and drop by with donuts or coffee. You might just make the staff’s entire week! They will know they are loved and thought of on days other than Sunday.

Read the rest of the article here, at Deeply Rooted!

Mentor for Life: Why Discipleship Matters

If you know me, you know that I care deeply about discipleship in the local church–I care about it so much because Jesus cares about it. He called us to be disciples who make disciples, and the church is the place where we can most readily and powerfully fulfill this mission, while inviting those who don’t yet know Jesus to join us, too.

My friend and fellow writer, Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, recently wrote the book Mentor for Life, which addresses the beauty, power, and necessity of mentoring and discipleship in the church. I’m honored to have an interview with her in this space. Read below, be encouraged, and buy this wonderful book!

Discipleship and Mentoring is so important!

Natasha, why did you want to write this book?

The process for Mentor for Life came about quite organically. I was leading a mentoring ministry in my local congregation and it was the type of ministry I wanted to be a part of my whole adult life. I was growing my faith, meeting new people, having interesting conversations, and reading thoughtful kingdom-focused books.

The ministry was important to me so I would frequently talk about it and I wrote about it on my blog and in some of the leadership articles I wrote for Christianity Today. When I would share what we were doing and how I was watching God change people’s lives through mentoring as intentional discipleship, I started hearing people say, I want to be a part of something like that, or I wish there was a ministry like that in my church. I would get messages on my Facebook page, notes in the comments section, or emails from my blog asking for a resource or my curriculum. When I saw this was a need in the church and people were sincerely asking for help, that’s when I sat down to write this book.

What makes Mentor for Life unique, as a book?

Mentor for Life is unique because it addresses mentoring from a perspective of 1-on-1 relationships. It clearly defines mentoring from the kingdom perspective of intentionally making disciples, and we do that within a small group of approximately six mentees and we invest in building quality relationships through intentional learning over a longer period of time (approximately a year). The book is kingdom-focused, it engages the Biblical texts, there is opportunity for theological reflection, it is missional (not just about what we do in the church but how we live among people), and it is challenging.

This book is also personal and relational. Throughout the book, I share about my faith journey, along with the leadership and mentoring lessons I learned while attending the United States Naval Academy and serving as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

How do you imagine the book will be used in both an individual and group setting?

Mentor for Life is not necessarily a book to rush through. It is a book to ponder. I have included questions, opportunities for personal reflection, and exercises at the end of each chapter. I encourage the reader to complete those, and I pray that as they go through the book they are not only thinking about starting a mentoring small group or ministry, but they are also asking themselves, “How can I be more intentional in how I live?”

I pray that Mentor for Life is spiritually transformative for every reader and it’s my hope that they will share and model what they learn with others.

I’m grateful to  Zondervan for providing me with a copy of this book and to Natasha for sharing her words here. I believe this is an important book for us today and highly encourage you to pick up a copy of the book for yourself–and share it with your church leadership and friends! 

The Unhappiest Year of My Life: The High and Holy Calling of Motherhood

This is one of my articles for Today’s Christian Woman.

Everything about having a baby is touted as happy: the rounding belly, the cute maternity clothes, the baby showers, the adorable tiny clothes.

Yes, pregnancy can be difficult for some women (for me it was very hard), but the overarching sentiment is that having a baby is an amazing, wonderful thing. And it truly is. The miracle of life, the gift of a child, the hope of a growing family—these are all amazing, wonderful things. Beautiful things. Happy things, even. But for me, the first year of my daughter’s life wasn’t very happy.

Actually, it was the unhappiest year of my life.

I knew that having a child would change things; many of my friends had already become parents, and I had watched them go from women with time for coffee dates and professional lives to moms who were worn out and frazzled. I didn’t expect the transition to parenthood to be easy. I didn’t expect that I would sleep much or that I would have a lot of extra time.

Still, I did expect to be happy. I thought that having a baby—a baby that we’d hoped and prayed for—would bring happiness in the midst of sleep deprivation and the transition into life as parents.

How to Make it When Motherhood is Hard. www.annswindell.com

But I wasn’t happy; at least not for a good while. Don’t get me wrong—I was thankful. Ella and I were both healthy, I loved her immensely, and seeing my husband as a father was incredible. But the combination of exhaustion, the lack of time for myself, the shift in my identity to becoming a mother, the change in our marriage relationship, and the depth of responsibility I felt for my daughter, all combined with those powerful postpartum hormones, left me feeling very, very unhappy.

As a new mom, I missed my old life. Would I ever be happy again? #motherhood Click To Tweet

I missed my old life. It’s not that I didn’t want to be Ella’s mom; I loved her more than I thought was possible. But I missed the freedom and rest that I realized I would never get back. I missed being able to put myself first, something that felt increasingly impossible. I missed who I was, and I had the realization that I was never going to be that woman again.

A Shared Experience

Women don’t always talk about it, but many are unhappy—to some degree—during that first year of motherhood. The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, recently reported that the “drop in happiness experienced by parents after the birth of first child was larger than the experience of unemployment, divorce or the death of a partner” (Source). Similarly, an earlier study published in Great Britain noted that “parents often report statistically significantly lower levels of happiness, life satisfaction, marital satisfaction and mental well-being compared with non-parents” (Source).

Here’s what some other moms told me about their first year of motherhood:

“I wanted adult conversation. Because I was doing same routine everyday, I felt my intelligence and self esteem diminishing.”

“Having no time to myself and being utterly sleep deprived brought out bitter anger that I’d never dealt with before and was without tools to deal with.”

“I was terribly caught off guard by how my relationship with my husband changed. I suddenly had experiences and a life he couldn’t relate to.”

“I lost any desire for sex because of the fatigue and the physical and hormonal changes.”

Additionally, for many new moms, the shift in their spiritual life—on top of and because of all of the other changes—can cause a great deal of unhappiness, too. One mom remembers that she “found it completely impossible to pray because my mind simply would not stop buzzing with so many things.” Time for a devotional life dwindles down to nothing, or emotional and hormonal changes send us into a dark spiral of depression.

So: the drop in happiness, the loss of identity and adult interaction, the lack of sleep and energy, the change in our marriages and even our relationship with God—these are high costs that most mothers pay time and time again in the early years of child-rearing. So why have children? Are mothers giving themselves over to a life of exhaustion and self-loss?

The Cost of Motherhood

In some ways, the answer is yes. Yes, every intentional mother (and father, albeit in different ways), is giving herself over to a life of exhaustion and self-loss. The cost is very real, and, at times, very painful. And still, we have a model who taught us about the surprising gift we can receive through exhaustion and self-loss: Jesus.

Jesus was, undoubtedly, exhausted at times by his ministry on earth (Mark 4:37-39), and all of his life was aimed at the supreme act of self-loss for the sake of those he loved through his death on the cross. Does that mean that as mothers, we are called to give up everything, too?

No, not in the same way Jesus did. We are not the savior of our children—Christ is. We are not supposed to find our identity or value in our children—that is found only in Christ. We are not asked to find our value in our role as moms—our value is in who Jesus says we are, not in what we do. But the way of Christ is the call to pick up our cross and lay down our life (Matt. 16-24-26), and for many of us, mothering will reveal the depths of that call like nothing else. We will be asked to lay aside our immediate desires for the sake of our children’s wellbeing and growth. We will be asked to consider one little life—or many little lives—as more important than our own (Phil. 2:3-4). And we will feel the loss of self in new and, often, painful ways—sometimes in ways that make us very unhappy.

We are not the savior of our children—Christ is. #motherhood Click To Tweet

The Gift in the Struggle

Yet, there is a deeper joy that goes beyond the cost of our unhappiness—the gift of sufficiency in Christ. For Christ himself tells us that “…whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). In our weakness and our pain and our sorrow, we are offered the gift of Christ’s strength: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In the places where, as mothers, it often feels most like we are losing our own lives—losing our freedom, our time, our sleep, our energy—we have the opportunity to find our lives through the sufficiency of Christ as we rely on him for everything. One mom puts it this way: “Being a mom drove me to my knees in helplessness before God, which in the long run did a great deal of good in me.”

So while having a child may make us “unhappier,” perhaps that is not a bad thing.[1] Perhaps the gift of getting to experience Christ’s strength in our weakness, perhaps letting the struggle of motherhood reveal our reliance upon Him—perhaps these are the very things that will lead us into joy that runs deeper than fleeting happiness. I know it has for me. I don’t always feel thrilled about the responsibilities that I carry as a mother, and I don’t usually feel happy about being exhausted. Still, I’ve never felt more joyful than when I’m holding my daughter in my arms, aware that my loving Heavenly Father—who sees me, cares for me, and knows my needs—is holding me, too.

 

[1] If you are struggling with deep sadness that persists or anxiety that won’t go away, you may have post-partum depression. Please seek professional help and start the journey to healing—in Christ, healing is possible.

 

Still Waiting is available now! www.stillwaitingbook.com

The Gift of a Good Fight

If you know me, I don’t love conflict. But I have grown to appreciate the necessity of fighting–how it can lead to deeper intimacy in friendships, in family relationships, in marriage. My newest piece is up at Today’s Christian Woman, about this very thing.

The Gift of a Good Fight: Fighting can help our relationships, if we follow God's advice!

I was out of town when I received a voice message from my friend Gwen. I’d been at a conference all day and couldn’t be reached, so I sat in the hallway and listened to her words. She was hurt, she mentioned, by something I’d said earlier in the week, and she wanted to know my intentions behind it. Had she misunderstood me?

I sighed.

I dislike conflict—especially conflict with people I love. Three or four years ago, words like this from a friend could have sent me into a tailspin. I would have felt anxious and unsure about our relationship, questioning her love for me and our friendship’s footing.

But this time, I was sighing because she was right. I was sighing because I knew that I needed to apologize. I was sighing because, honestly, I was tired of being a sinner. I was tired of hurting the people I love the most.

I connected with Gwen, explained my intentions, and repented for where I had sinned. She was more than gracious. She was loving, and she forgave me. And I wasn’t worried about where we stood; I knew our friendship was solid.

For someone who used to avoid any form of argument as much as possible, I felt oddly buoyed by the realization that I was, in fact, getting better at this conflict thing.

The Grace of a Fighting Friend

Gwen is nothing if not honest. When we became friends, it quickly became apparent to me that she never shied away from conflict.

When our friendship grew closer, I learned she also wasn’t afraid of a fight. In fact, she welcomed it. She was never bullheaded or self-righteous, but if there was something between us that didn’t feel healthy to her, she brought it up. I initially had a difficult time reconciling Gwen’s welcoming attitude toward conflict with friendship. The two seemed to be at odds.

But Gwen’s friendship has been a grace in my life. I’ve learned that conflict, handled well, leads to intimacy. And the inverse is also true; intimacy can’t exist honestly without conflict.

What Holds Us Back from Conflict

I wish conflict didn’t exist. My preference is that relationships could roll along without any fights, arguments, or disagreements. But if we get up every morning and actually interact with other humans, we know that conflict—or at least the possibility for conflict—is everywhere.

Read the rest of the article here, at Today’s Christian Woman!