November 18, 2014

Four Tips to Make Your Marriage Stronger

November 18, 2006
Today is my eighth wedding anniversary. I'm blessed to be married to my best friend -- a guy with whom I'm survived disappointments, graduate school, debt, disagreements, and much more.
But we've had a lot of good times, too. We have many reasons to smile. One of these reasons is the upcoming birth of our first child, a boy. He's due 12-13-14.
We have survived what many call "the seven-year itch." Instead of declining in happiness and joy, I think our marriage has increased in it. I give all the glory to God for that, but I also thought back over the ups and downs and some lessons I've learned along the way.

Here are four things I believe changed my marriage for the better:

1. Brag on your husband. Nothing is off limits. 
Too often, women gather together to diss on their husbands and complain about all the stuff they don't do right. When you take time to brag on him instead -- both privately and publicly -- you show your husband he is respected and esteemed. You also shape your own perception. The more you talk about his virtues, the more you'll start seeing them instead of any weaknesses.

2. Ask what three things you can do to be the best helpmate possible.
It's impossible to do everything we think a "good wife" should. A lot of those things might not matter to your husband anyway -- they're simply a means of comparing ourselves to other women we know. I mean, my husband couldn't care less about whether the kitchen is clean (that's my pet peeve!). What's most important to him is that I make his lunch every day, do the laundry often enough for him to have clean undershirts, and take care of feeding the dogs. These things might change, so check in with him on a monthly or annual basis. Doing this will help take off some of the pressure you feel, and make your marriage less stressful overall because you know where to focus your energy.

3. Let him help you solve a problem.
In other words, don't be so independent! Our husbands want to feel like they are a help to us and that we respect their opinions. But don't ask for help unless you're truly willing to consider what he has to say. Not that you have to do exactly as he suggests, but it wouldn't be very uplifting to him to have his opinion asked and then disregarded completely.

4. Give him 15 minutes to himself when he gets home from work.
Many guys need time to transition from work life to home life. That can be difficult for us to understand if we've been home all day or busy with the kids. We see him getting home as a win for us -- "yay, he can take the kids so I can finish up dinner without interruption!" But giving him that little bit of space when he returns home -- after a quick kiss and hello, of course -- lets him decompress and switch modes without feeling overwhelmed.

Your Turn: What things have made your marriage stronger? If you aren't married, what have you seen in other marriages to make them healthy and vibrant?

November 11, 2014

Face Me Blog Tour: The Real Face of Pregnancy

When my friend Jaime Wright first brought up the idea of a blog tour featuring posts on beauty -- requiring blog authors to post a picture of themselves without makeup -- I said, thanks but no thanks.

I'm 35 weeks pregnant and let's just's not been so kind in the face department. In other words, I've struggled with acne throughout my pregnancy. So the idea of posting a pic of myself without makeup to hide these imperfections from the world was...well, scary.

Because I want the world to see me like this:
A cute pregnant girl with flawless skin.

The truth is, makeup covers a lot of imperfections. And so does Photoshop.

But as I saw more and more of my friends taking up the challenge -- saying, "yes, I'll do this...even though it makes me nervous!" -- I wondered what my excuse was. Because really, pregnancy isn't an excuse (to avoid this, that IS an excuse to eat lots of ice cream! Hehe).

In fact, pregnancy is one of those times in a woman's life when she feels particularly vulnerable. If you've been pregnant, you know how weird it is to not feel comfortable in your own skin -- which is always stretching, by the way. Your body does things you didn't know it could both bad and good ways.

There are kankles. Stretch marks. Love handles. Acne. Tired, puffy eyes from lack of sleep.

None of these things show in the picture above. Photoshop and makeup have the ability to whisk all of that unpleasantness away. It presents a false image. And no, there's nothing inherently wrong with wanting gorgeous photos to remind us of this special time in our lives.

But...what about authenticity?

If makeup and Photoshop cover up our true physical appearance, might we also be covering up our true spiritual and emotional states? Whether you're pregnant or not, many of us rarely share our true selves.

Why? The same reason we love makeup.

Because we're afraid of rejection. If we show our true selves, will people still love us?

Because we compare ourselves. If we show our true selves, will we look as good -- on the inside and outside -- as so-and-so?

Because, ultimately, we are valuing the wrong things.

God created each of us -- He created YOU -- as a work of art, a thing of beauty. His Word says, "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well" (Psalm 139:14).

That's not talking about the made-up you or the "you" that you allow others to see. Because God? He sees everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And He loves you anyway.

You don't have to fear rejection from God. He will never reject you.

You don't have to compare yourself to others for God to love you. You are a unique creation He cherishes.

Let's start valuing the RIGHT things. Let's stop caring about how we look on the outside and realize that EVEN WITHOUT MAKEUP, WE ARE BEAUTIFUL...especially without makeup. Because without it, we are real. And real is beautiful.

Because this acne and these tired eyes I'm dealing with? This. Right. Here?
I'm choosing to embrace them. Because it means there's a little person growing inside of me. Someone who God created. A mother is a warrior -- and these are my battle scars.

Embrace what you see as your imperfections.

Embrace who YOU truly are.

God has...and He loves you in spite of them. He loves you FOR them.

Bottom line -- He loves us. It's time we start loving ourselves.

Your Turn: I'd love to see a photo of your pure beauty -- without makeup, without fear! If you don't feel comfortable with that, that's okay too. Let's talk: why do you think women have such a hard time embracing their own beauty? And if you've ever been pregnant, what physical aspect of that made you the most uncomfortable with your body?

For more Face Me Blog Tour inspiration, check out posts by these amazing authors!

Gabrielle Meyer
Nick Kording
Joseph Courtemanche
Jaime Wright
Carrie Wisehart
Emilie Anne Hendryx
Andrea Michelle Wood
Sarah Baker
Kristy Cambron
Rachel Britz
Cara Putman
Stacy Monson
Laurie Tomlinson
Katie Ganshert
Katherine Reay

November 4, 2014

How to Become Dissatisfied Overnight

This time last month, the beloved car I'd had since my senior year in high school bit the dust.

The 1996 Ford Contour was in decent shape on the outside, but its insides decided to give up the fight. It was going to cost way more than it was worth to fix it.

Dilemma time. See, we'd been hoping to eek a few more years outta the old girl before upgrading.

Ever since my husband and I got married, we've driven old beat-up cars with one glorious thing in common -- they were paid off. My Contour and his 2001 Toyota Corolla were the only cars I'd ever driven on a regular basis. But we didn't care. They did what cars were supposed to do -- got us where we needed to go.

And yeah, our friends teased us about how old they were. I mean, the locks and windows were manual in one and didn't work in the other. But like I said, we didn't care. We didn't know any different.

But when the Contour died, we decided (after thought and prayer!) to purchase a van. I'm thirty-four weeks pregnant and we have two big dogs, so the extra room made sense for us. And when we did the math, we decided to purchase a new vehicle since we plan to keep this one for awhile.

Thus began a journey toward something we didn't expect: dissatisfaction. Let me explain.

We got our new van, which came equipped with all of these features that are "basic" on the vehicle, but "like, whoa, this is amazing" to us. We didn't even get the top model! When we first bought it, we loved taking it out for rides and figuring out all the gadgets and gizmos.

Then, we took a road trip in it. It was such a huge blessing to have! I was way more comfortable than I would have been traveling in my third trimester in a small car, I can tell you that.

Yesterday, for the first time since the road trip, we drove the Corolla -- which, remember, was perfectly fine to us just a month ago. In fact, it was our "nice" car.

And we couldn't believe how much our perception has changed already! We started seeing all the flaws of the Corolla and comparing it to the nice, new van.

Whoa. How did this happen? Did we become materialistic overnight?

Thankfully, my husband and I recognized this in ourselves and are still too practical to go out and buy a new car to replace one that still runs perfectly fine. But still. It speaks to something in our human nature -- something potentially frightening. And it speaks to something much bigger than my feelings about a new car.

Because I don't want to be someone who just sees the flaws in something -- or someone. I want to see the best. I want to see how something fits my needs just as it is, right now, without feeling the need to wish for something "better."

Because that definition of "better"? That's a perception thing too.

Today, especially as we head into the Thanksgiving season, I want to be GRATEFUL for what I have and where God has me. In some ways, I want back that naivete I had before buying a new vehicle. Sometimes, it's not possible to go back. And if that's the case, I want to be grateful for that too.

I guess, no matter what, I want that contentment Paul talked about -- to not always be looking ahead for the "next thing" but to be happy with what God has given me here and now.

Your Turn: Have you ever experienced a shift in perspective that showed you just how human you really are?

October 13, 2014

A Beautiful Baby Shower...and an Unexpected Gift

A little over a week ago, my friends and family threw me the best possible baby shower a girl could ever imagine. Here are just a few pics from that beautiful night (I didn't have my camera, so I'm waiting on pics of me with people!).

The couch where I sat and opened gifts. The venue where the shower was held is owned
by one of my mom's dear friends, who put together much of the beautiful decor.
One of the many beautifully decorated tables.
Another table.
Nautical decor.
One of my friends found a bunch of nautical- and mommy-related quotes.
This one made me want to cry!

Drink station.
Only some of the delicious food. There was also a mashed potato bar, fruits, and veggies.
The day of the shower, I realized something. Something significant.

I was not going to have a single blood relative in attendance.

That struck me...because many showers are thrown by moms, aunts, grandmas, or cousins. Mine, however, was being thrown by my friends, my mother-in-law, and my stepmom.

And as I think about that, I realize how completely blessed I am. That these women did all of this for me, not out of some sort of obligation...but because they love me. They love this baby. They wanted to do this.

Of course, if I'd had blood relatives here in town, I know they would have done the same thing. I'm just super blessed that way.

You see, being pregnant and all that goes along with it has been wonderful. But it's also been hard.

It's been a huge reminder to me that my mom isn't here anymore. She died 10 years ago, so she wasn't here for my college graduation or my wedding either. But this...this feels different.

And I was feeling really sad about the fact that she wouldn't be at my shower.

Then, my friends and family did something amazing (on top of all the work they did throwing a beautiful shower). Something I didn't expect. But I should have, knowing how wonderful they are.

They made my mom a part of my shower. 

The first gift I opened for the night was a baby blanket. It was beautifully stitched with a sailboat and colors that matched our nursery. 

And sewn into the cloth were the words "Gramma Sandy." Sandy was my mom's name. My friends said they wanted to make her part of my special day and my baby's life. That every time my baby boy is wrapped in that blanket, it'll be the next best thing to having my mom hold him. 

Oh my. I completely lost it right then and there. Hysterical Lindsay. But...grateful Lindsay. 

Because as I looked around that room, I baby may not ever know his Grandma Sandy. But he'll know his Grandma Harrel and his Grandma Walker. He'll know his aunties...both my sisters by marriage and those precious friends who are like sisters to me. And of course, he'll know all of my loving relatives even though we're separated by distance.

God has taken what was lost, and though he has not given it back to me exactly, he has filled my life with mentors, family, and friends who I can count on. I am blessed. And I am grateful beyond belief.

To everyone who helped make this baby shower happen...and make it one of the most memorable, beautiful events of my life whether by attending or helping...thank you. You'll never know how much you touched me.

Your Turn: Have you ever received an unexpected gift?

October 6, 2014

Kept and the Modern Family: Guest Post by Sally Bradley {and a giveaway!}

Christian fiction is known by many as sweet and saccharine -- sure to induce happy, glowy feelings about God and family. And for many novels, that's the truth. But in today's world, there's more than that to Christian fiction (in fact, my friend Rachel McMillan just wrote this awesome article about that on

My friend Sally Bradley just released a book called Kept, about a woman who lives everything BUT a sweet, saccharine life. But the difficult themes don't mean it isn't a "Christian" book. Sally does a great job of dealing with very real life in a very real way, with truth woven in -- truth we all need to hear. I asked Sally to give a little more insight into her book today. I hope you enjoy hearing from her. (Also, check out your chance to win a copy below!)

Sally, take it away...

As a teen growing up in the late eighties and early nineties, I remember hearing repeatedly that the family unit was under attack. Changes in society and our culture were out to destroy the family, they said, and I mentally rolled my eyes. Really. Destroy the family?

Like that could happen.

Here we are, twenty years later, and those words have proven true. Overall, the American family is a completely different entity from what it was back in the day. So many families are broken by betrayal and divorce, and other families never even got off the ground with parents who were together a brief time -- never married, never committed, never parenting their child together. Many children spend little time with one parent, and some have never even known their father.

Things really have changed, haven't they?

When I prepared to write Kept, this concept hit me and played a huge role in who Miska, my heroine, was. She's grown up in a single-parent home, with a mom who beat the odds and financially was a huge success. Miska's never known her dad, not that she remembers at least, and grew up with two womanizing older brothers who've taught her their version of love and relationships. Saving herelf for true love became a joke a good decade ago, and now she's just hoping for a relationship that's half as good as what she dreams about.

I bet we all know someone -- or many -- like her.

The cool thing is that, no matter what society throws at us, no matter how it tries to twist and destroy all the good that God created, our God is bigger than all of it. Way bigger. And far more powerful. As a pastor's wife, one of the things that excites me is that in our messed-up, promiscuous culture, God is still saving people, still bringing them to Him, and still giving them new hope and a new future.

That never gets old, does it?

People who've been where Miska's been still have struggles. There are still consequences from the past that follow them into their new life, and sometimes these new Christians struggle with where they fit into the church -- with God, with other Christians, with the possibility of a Christian family. That's why I wrote Kept -- to show that there is more than just forgiveness and salvation with God; there's also love, care, hope, and a future.

Society will always try to destroy what God created and called good. Always. But God will always be bigger than that. No matter where we've been, no matter what our culture is, no matter what our messed-up society has taught us, God still has the answers and can still reach those who long for truth.

He can still bring families from the ruin.

Your Turn: What issues do you like to read about in a novel? What issues are close to your heart?

Sally Bradley writes big-city fiction with real issues and real hope. A Chicagoan since age five, she now lives in the Kansas City area with her family, but they still get back to Chicago once in a while for important things -- like good pizza and a White Sox game. Fiction has been her passion since childhood, and she's thrilled now to be writing books that not only entertain, but point back to Christ. A freelance fiction editor, Sally can be found at and on Facebook at Sally Bradley, Writer. Kept is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

Life has taught Miska Tomlinson that there are no honorable men. Her womanizing brothers, her absentee father, and Mark, the married baseball player who claims to love her -- all have proven undependable. But Miska has life under control. She runs her editing business from her luxury condo, stays fit with daily jogs along Chicago's lakefront, and in her free time blogs anonymously about life as a kept woman.

Enter new neighbor Dillan Foster. Between his unexpected friendship and her father's sudden reappearance, Miska loses control of her orderly life. Her relationship with Mark deteriorates, and Miska can't help comparing him to Dillan. His religious views are so foreign, yet the way he treats her is something she's longed for. But Dillan discovers exactly who she is and what she has done. Too late she finds herself longing for a man who is determined to never look her way again.

When her blog receives unexpected national press, Miska realizes that her anonymity was an illusion. Caught in a scandal about to break across the nation, Miska wonders if the God Dillan talks about would bother with a woman like her -- a woman who's gone too far and done too much.



See below for details on entering the giveaway for a digital copy of Sally's Kept. The giveaway is quick  this time -- it closes tonight at midnight! -- and is open to U.S. residents only.

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September 8, 2014

2014 Pre-Conference Mix and Mingle

In less than 3 weeks, I'll be attending the American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference. This is seriously one of my favorite times of the year. I get to gather with other authors who have the same passion as I do -- to reach people with the love of Christ through fiction. Nothing better than that.

This will be my third year attending. Last year, a few of my favorite moments included:
Hanging with my beautiful author friends at the Gala, where I was a finalist for the Genesis awards.

Performing as the Tin (wo)Man in the My Book Therapy musical.

Goofing off. (I'll miss you this year, Jess!!!)
Of course, I also loved learning more about the industry from professionals who know what's up, and connecting with editors and agents.

One of my author friends, Laurie Tomlinson, has arranged a fun pre-conference mix and mingle via a mini-blog tour. I'm supposed to answer a few questions so others can get to know me before we meet up! So, here goes!

Name: Lindsay Harrel

Location: Phoenix, AZ

What you write: Contemporary fiction with romantic elements

Place in the book world: Pre-pubbed author represented by Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary Management. I'm working on my third manuscript and will be pitching my second at the conference!

On a scale of hugger to 10-foot-pole, please rate your personal space: Bring on the hugs!

The unique talking point that will get you going for hours: Um, writing? And dogs. And the upcoming birth of my first baby.

Loved ones at home you'll be missing: My husband and two golden retrievers

Conference goals we can pray for? That my pitch sessions will go well and I'll be encouraged by them.

Anything we can celebrate with you? I signed with my agent in November, so am excited to meet her and pitch with her name and efforts behind me. And the aforementioned upcoming birth of my first baby -- a boy!

One or two ways we can help you build your platform? Like my Facebook author page and follow me on Twitter! Sign up for my blog if you'd like as well!

Thanks, all! Can't wait to see you at ACFW.

July 21, 2014

Behind the Scenes of Captured by Love: What I Hope Readers Take Away From the Novel (Guest Post by Jody Hedlund)

By Jody Hedlund (@JodyHedlund)

Every inspirational fiction writer faces the challenges of weaving spiritual themes and messages into stories without coming across as sounding "preachy."

While I don't want my stories to come across as "preachy," I also don't want to neglect a spiritual message since I desire for God to touch lives through my stories. Finding that balance between preachy and heart-touching is always difficult.

During the planning stages of a novel, I always try to give my characters real spiritual struggles. In fact, I prayerfully consider those struggles, asking God to make clear what issues he wants me to tackle. Then I attempt to have my characters wrestle through those issues in meaningful ways that hopefully readers can relate to.

Often I intertwine the spiritual growth with their character arc growth (also known as the internal plot). The two are usually building upon each other, because in real life as we grow in spiritual awareness, we put ourselves in a place where God can change our character so that we become more trusting, less anxious, more forgiving, etc.

In Captured by Love, both of the main characters (Angelique and Pierre) have unique spiritual/character struggles.

The heroine, Angelique, struggles with the instability of her past. Since her father was a fur trapper and gone for long periods of the year, she desires the safety and steadiness of a permanent home on the island. Mackinac Island has become the bedrock of her life.

My hope is that readers, like Angelique, will learn that only God can be the steady foundation. Everything else in our lives is like sand. It shifts, blows away, and leaves us dry and empty. God longs for us to stand on Him, the Solid Rock, that never moves and never forsakes us no matter where we go or what we experience. If we plant our feet on Him, He'll see us through our most difficult days.

The hero, Pierre, struggles with living for himself and his own pleasures without thinking about the consequences to others. He's the prodigal son who's returned to his home after years of wild living. He claims to be a changed man, but quickly realizes that he has a long way to go. Little by little, he begins to understand what it means to sacrifice for those he loves -- until in the end he's willing to sacrifice the thing that matters the most.

My hope is that readers too will learn what it means to do the right thing no matter the personal cost. And I also pray that readers experiencing the hardship of prodigal children will draw encouragement to never stop praying like Miriam, Pierre's mother.

My own mother is a prayer warrior, like Miriam, and I dedicated the book to her, because I'm deeply grateful for all of her prayers over the years. Here's what I wrote:

"To my wonderful mother, Your solution to every problem has always been prayer and plenty of it. Thank you for praying without ceasing for me and for all your family. We couldn't ask for a greater gift."

What about you? Do you like books to contain a spiritual message? When does the message become "preachy" to you? And are there times when you thought the message was too skimpy?

Jody Hedlund is an award-winning historical romance novelist and author of the best-selling books, The Preacher's Bride, Unending Devotion, and A Noble Groom. She received a bachelor's degree from Taylor University and a master's from the University of Wisconsin, both in Social Work. Currently she makes her home in Michigan with her husband and five busy children. Connect with her on her website, Facebook page, Twitter, or email.

Lindsay here: See below for details on how to enter Jody's Captured by Love giveaway! I adored the book -- like all of Jody's writing -- and I know you will too! The giveaway ends at midnight on Saturday, July 26 and is only open to U.S. residents.

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