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

Aching for Home

THE ACHE

This past summer, our family moved to a new city, and into a new life. And in the midst of the transitions and changes that the last year has brought our way, I have thought about the feeling, the idea, and the desire for home.

Two years ago during Holy Week, I reflected on that same thing–that ache for home that so many of us feel. And in light of Easter, and I wanted to share those thoughts with you again here in this space:

I love traveling; Michael and I love traveling together, exploring new places, and learning about the world. But when it comes down to it, I am a homebody at heart, and I love having consistency in my life.  In fact, one of the sweetest things about traveling, for this homebody, is the longing that develops in me when I am away from home. There is a familiar ache that bubbles up, whether I am in Wisconsin, Florida, or England—the ache for a place where I know the corners of the rooms, the ache for a place where the walls and bed and blankets are familiar, loved, home.

Easter is about Jesus making a way for us to be able to enter the eternal Home that we were created… Click To Tweet

My mother and I traveled to Grand Rapids for a conference, and while we were there, my mother drove us past her childhood home, her elementary school, and her family’s church.  My grandpa was a Methodist minister, and so she moved several times as a child, but it was in this city that she started going to school, and her memories of Grand Rapids are vivid. I loved seeing bits of her life through these buildings—the house where she lived, the steps she climbed on her first day of kindergarten, the steeple of the church where my grandfather preached. And although those places were not mine, I felt that old ache flutter again.

C.S. Lewis has written about this ache. In “The Weight of Glory,” he writes,

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

“News from a country we have never yet visited.”

Home.

Easter, which we are looking toward, is about many things. But in one sense, it is about home. It is about Jesus making a way for us to be able to enter the eternal Home that we were created for. It is that country we keep hearing news from—that ache that bubbles up, that longing that draws us to beauty and goodness and light. The desire for wholeness, and freedom, and perfection—the ache for heaven. Jesus is the only one who could become the doorway for us to that Home. His body, broken and torn on the cross, became the doorway that allows us to enter in and walk into right relationship with God. And through the doorframe of that empty tomb–his resurrection–we get to enter into that heavenly home with him, forever.

He crossed the threshold from death to life and held the door open for us, too.

Jesus crossed the threshold from death to life and held the door open for us, too. #Christianity Click To Tweet

Home. It is what we long for, ache for, desire. This Easter, we can remember afresh that because of the great cost Christ paid for us on the cross, and because of the great miracle of his resurrection, we have an answer to all of the aching and longing that we find in our own hearts.

We can remember that we have found our truest home—in Him.

Mardi Gras, Lent, and Jesus

What does Mardi Gras Have to do with Jesus www.annswindell.com

Lent begins this week; it is a season, for Christians, of reflection, of repentance, of remembering the cost of the cross for Christ. It is a season of acknowledging, again, our need for a savior who can rescue us from our untamable sin. 

Lent is a season of acknowledging our need for a savior to rescue us from our untamable sin. Click To Tweet

And tomorrow is Fat Tuesday—more commonly known in its French translation as Mardi Gras. Americans, at least, tend to associate Mardi Gras with parades, with green, yellow, and purple beads, with masks and music and drunkenness. The holiday’s mecca is New Orleans.

But the irony of Mardi Gras—and also the reason it exists—is that it falls on the eve of Lent. Because Lent has historically been a time of fasting and repentance, Mardi Gras is the last day of excess before a season of restriction. Are you giving up chocolate for Lent? Then scarf down not just a piece, but an entire chocolate cake on Fat Tuesday. Are you giving up red meat? Then gorge yourself on hamburgers and steaks before the clock strikes midnight. For when the clock strikes twelve, Lent begins, and we find ourselves like Cinderellas, back in our rags. Our party clothes are gone and it is time to mourn.

This is not really how it works, of course. Mardi Gras revelers party all night, well past the midnight chimes and into Ash Wednesday. But as people of faith, Ash Wednesday is  a day that marks us—figuratively and, in some traditions, literally—for a period of weeks that is meant to change us. Lent: the quiet and repentant season of the Church that seeks to usher in the celebration of Easter. Lent seeks to hush our ravenous appetite for ease and excess and, instead, remind us that the way of Christ is neither of those things. The way of Christ is the way down—down from heaven, down to the dust of the earth and the pain of a cross. It is the way of truth.

The way of Christ is the way down—down from heaven, down to the earth & the pain of a cross. Click To Tweet

I am not in a liturgical church tradition now, although I have been in the past. But still, my soul pauses on the edge of Lent. I want to learn the way of Christ more fully, and I want to join him on that journey to the cross. It is not an easy journey; it has never been an easy one. But through his humility and his sacrifice, Jesus showed us the path to the deepest joy: the path of obedience to the Father, the creator and lover of our souls.

If words like obedience and repentance and reflection and sin make us want to turn away–if the thought of sobering ourselves and acknowledging our deep neediness for salvation is challenging–then that is exactly why we need the season of Lent the most. We need to be reminded of our humanity, of our brokenness, of the places in our hearts and minds and bodies that still cling to darkness.

We need Jesus. We need him desperately, because we need to be saved from the darkness that still lingers inside of us. 

We need Jesus because we need to be saved from the darkness that still lingers inside of us. Click To Tweet

And so, let us invite Christ into our lives afresh this Lent. Let us stand on the cusp of these days before Easter and remember why we are so desperate for Easter in the first place: we need new life. We don’t need another holiday or another reason to dress up. We need healing. We need wholeness. We need saving. We need Him. 

Lent rightly reminds us of our need and our neediness.

But Lent also reminds us that our brokenness and need did not keep God away; no, not at all. In fact, it drew him close–so close that he became one of us to save all of us.

That’s the good news of the Gospel, whispered like a secret during the days and weeks of Lent: yes, we are broken and breaking, yes we are full of neediness and hurt. But yes! Christ has come for us, and yes, he has pulled us out of the miry pit. Yes, Christ has paid the price for our lives, and yes–he will come again.

Praise Him.

Five Ways to Keep Jesus Central this Holiday Season

Life doesn’t stop in any season, especially during the busy Christmas season full of t0-do lists, parties, shopping, and, (hopefully!) worship opportunities. So how can we still try to focus our hearts in a deeper way on the presence of God in our lives, especially during Advent? How can we attend to how he is moving and how we are (or are not) responding to his love?

5 Ways to Stay Close to Jesus in the Holiday Season. www.annswindell.com

Here are some simple steps that I’ve found are helpful to stay close to Jesus in the busy days of Advent:

1. Start with Scripture. It sounds simple, but it can also be very hard to read the Word regularly. I have found, for me, that when I start my day in the Bible, my heart and mind are better prepared to respond to God’s presence throughout the rest of the day. Aligning my mind and heart with his Word in the morning is like tying up my shoelaces before going out the door—it’s much easier to keep from slipping as I walk through the day.  If this isn’t a normal part of your life, that’s ok! Start by reading just a few verses at a time, and ask God to speak to your heart with his truth.

2. Pray as you go. It is important to have regular time set aside to pray, but as in any relationship, ongoing communication is important. I often pray in shorter bursts while I’m driving, or while I’m walking across campus to my classroom, or while I’m picking up toys in the house. I had a professor in college who prayed for a particular person each time he turned on a light switch, and I love that idea of partnering normal, daily actions with intentional prayer. Prayer doesn’t need to be fancy or long—just honest communication with God. 

3. Pause when you feel overwhelmed. This is an important one for me. There are often multiple times every day where I can feel overwhelmed, anxious, or concerned—usually about things that are outside of my control. If I take time to pause and turn to God when these moments come, rather than letting fear or anxiety overtake me, I find that he has never left my side, and He is always offering me his peace, which is bigger than any fear (Phil. 4:6-7). The time it takes me to pause and pray is always shorter than the time it takes me to be worried about something for another five minutes—or five days!

4. Listen to Truth. In our home and in our cars, Michael and I play music that reminds us of God’s presence in our lives. Music seeps into my mind more easily (and mindlessly) than most things, so if I find myself humming a tune unintentionally, it helps my soul if it’s a song that reminds me of who God is and how he loves me. If you don’t love listening to music, find a radio station or audio book that declares the truth of who God is and listen to it in your car or while you’re working out.

5. Place reminders of God’s love and presence in your home. I am a visual learner, and it helps my heart when I have visual reminders of God’s heart in my house, my office, and even in my car! You can go the fancy route and buy (or paint) a representation of a Scripture and hang it up in your kitchen or bedroom, or you can write a favorite verse on a sticky note and put it by the radio dial in your car. Choose a Scripture verse that is meaningful to you and let it remind you of God’s particular love for you and attention to your life.

How do you keep your heart close to Christ during Advent? I’d love for you to share your insights!

This post is a holiday version of a previously published blog post on my site.

Similar post: What Does It Mean to Have a Close Relationship With God

God Doesn’t Care How Big Your Platform Is: An Article for RELEVANT Magazine

God Doesn't Care How Big Your Platform Is. www.annswindell.com

Most of my life, I’ve felt a tug toward greatness.

You know–that feeling that burns deep and can push us wide? Deep because we know that we were created to do important, meaningful, gorgeous things in the world. Wide because we look around us at all that we aren’t doing and see people who seem great in our eyes—people who carry great influence, great ideas, great power.

And that feeling in us, that yearning for greatness, can sometimes make us feel very small. Small because we lack great influence. Small because we lack world-changing ideas. Small because we lack great power. I don’t have a million followers, a best-selling book, a corporate position or a lot of money. I’m guessing you might not, either.

But we look at others who do, and it’s easy to feel like we should be doing something bigger and greater and more important with our lives. Sometimes, we might even find ourselves thinking: “What if I’ve missed it?” “What if I’m never great in the way I long to be?”

Those are the moments when I find myself trying to push my way into greatness. I think that if I can work harder, think more deeply or just be better—then, perhaps, greatness will fall upon me like a cape. If I just keep driving my way forward, maybe I can make this thing—this elusive greatness—happen.

But I can’t. It never works out that way…

Read the rest of the article here, at RELEVANT!

The Scars We Carry: Women as Warriors

 

The Scars We Carry: Women as Warriors

I shuffled into the locker room at our local gym a few days ago, searching for an open locker to dump my bags in before heading upstairs to a treadmill. There’s no shortage of women changing in the locker room, and as I found a pod of lockers that were mostly unused, I walked past an older woman who was bending over to change. Without intending to, I saw down her shirt. And what I saw surprised me.

She was missing her right breast. Even at a glance, I could see the scar; there was a shell of padding filling that side of her bra. And I knew, in half of a second, that this woman had undergone breast cancer and had needed a mastectomy to remove cancerous tissue. My grandmother underwent a mastectomy; I remember hearing her talk about her expensive bra that was filled on one side with padding rather than her own flesh.

And in that locker room, I realized that this woman changing next to me had walked through the pain and the fear of cancer. She had needed her flesh cut off and sewn up. She had been delivered news that brought nothing but hardship and had been given a diagnosis that could have ended in death. And she had not only survived, but she was here at the gym, using her miraculous body that lived through that cancer to swim and move and work.

This courageous, strong, wrinkled woman next to me was a warrior.

She had lived. She had won. And nobody else knew that under that padded bra was a woman with more fortitude than fear.

Before I left the locker room, another woman stood in front of the mirror and began blow-drying her hair. She was wearing a bra, but no shirt, and underwear, but no pants. Unselfconsciously, she stood and dried her hair as other women walked in and out. And I noticed a long, thin scar on her lower abdomen. I know that scar; I bear one myself. My daughter was pulled through that cut in my stomach when she would not come out otherwise. Whether this woman with the blow dryer had one child or many pulled out of her, I do not know. But she will carry that scar forever.

This confident, mighty, toned woman next to me was a warrior.

She was a mother. She had birthed life, made room in herself for another. And nobody else knew that under her shirt was a woman who, like all mothers, has made sacrifices too numerous to count.

I sat down on a bench, suddenly overwhelmed by the power and beauty of the women around me. These were survivors I was walking among—saints, heroes, lovers. Women who share in this sisterhood of scar-bearing.

We all bear scars. Mine is 6 inches across, snow white, a thin line of remembrance an inch below my hip bone. But I have others, scars less visable. Scars where pain has been seared over by love, or by time, or by prayer.

Several days a week, I stand in that locker room and don’t think about the other women around me. I see them peripherally, changing their clothes and doing their hair. They probably see me in the same way. But here, in this locker room, I had been given a glimpse of the scars that each of us carry. Whether from breast cancer or c-sections, whether from broken hearts or anxious minds—we bear the scars of being women, and of living in a shattered world. Most of us can hide them under bras and shirts and acceptable words. But we are, all of us, warriors.

Those who have survived. Those who are living. Those who are mothers, sisters, wives, and friends.

Those scars do not define us. They have marked us, yes. But they can remind us that we have more fortitude than fear, and that we can make room in our bodies and our hearts for life to be birthed. In fact, we can be proud of our scars: being a scar-bearer points us to the truth that scars can be signs of life—even of love.