You Don’t Have to Be Great to Start

New Years is typically the time of year people set health and fitness resolutions, but according to Forbes, the follow-through is pretty slim (under 25%). We’re approaching the half-way mark of 2019, and if you’ve already failed at a goal, I want to challenge you to start fresh.

Maybe my personal story will help you feel less intimidated by the idea of joining a gym or tackling whatever goal you have yet to reach. Although I have been a runner for about a decade now, I’ve never joined a gym. Personally, I prefer running outdoors over using a treadmill and have always enjoyed home workouts. These sometimes include an over-the-door pull-up bar and YouTube yoga videos, such as the ones by EkhartYoga and Yoga with Adrienne.

However, my husband enjoys the gym, so when we got married, we both agreed to share in each other’s hobbies. He runs with me occasionally, and I’ve joined a gym with him.

Though I didn’t actually say this thought out loud, I was pretty sure I was going to hate the gym.  Turns out, just the opposite is true. I only had to change my mindset. If I can, so can you.

#1: Get over yourself.

Ouch. There’s no sugar-coating that sentence. In other words, most of us tend to be self-conscious and worried that people are watching us. The truth is, of course, that they aren’t. They’re watching themselves, worried that we’re watching them. It’s a vicious cycle.

Although we may cite embarrassment or self-consciousness as the the culprits keeping us out of the gym, the real reason is pride. We don’t want people to think “less” of us. We don’t want to set ourselves up to look silly at something we’re not good at. On that note, let’s clear the air with the reality that no one is naturally good at anything. Even though we all have inherent gifts and abilities from God, unless we work to develop them, we’ll never excel.

The Bible tell us that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5b NKJV). Isn’t that a wonderful thought? He gives grace. We mostly think of that grace in terms of our spiritual shortcomings, but I believe God also extends His generosity into the ordinary, everyday parts of our lives.

So go ahead. Buy yourself a comfy and trendy workout outfit as long as you’re actually going to use it and not just lounge in it for Netflix marathons.

#2: Learn from others.

I’m a notorious people watcher, so maybe there is a tiny bit of truth that I might be watching you, if you happen to join my gym. The reason is not so I can poke fun at or envy you. On that note, comparison can be a subtle little monster, and we must avoid it like the plague. The Bible makes clear that comparing ourselves with ourselves is not wise in any pursuit (2 Corinthians 10:12.)

Instead, we should want to learn from each other. I’ve seen several ladies doing different free-weight workouts that have given me new ideas for my own. Interacting with other people, regardless of our location or activity, can inspire new creativity and ideas we otherwise wouldn’t have imagined.

#3: Do life with people.

Feelings of isolation and loneliness can turn even the most friendly of us into hermits. Maybe we feel as though we won’t fit in or belong. Whatever subconscious lies the enemy is feeding us, we must choose not to listen to them, because we need community. We need friends to help us get out of our comfort zones and try something new.

Accountability is a huge part of committing to and sticking with our goals.  Each of us might have different personal motivations, but regardless, we need friends and family who can be our cheerleaders and also keep us in check.

If you’re wanting to set new fitness goals, find someone who can help you work to meet them. Maybe it’s a gym buddy or a friend who can walk or jog with you. Even if you can’t train together every week, you can at least send friendly reminders and follow-ups to see if you’re both sticking with the plan.

At the end of the day, we must remember that we’re the ones who are ultimately responsible for our choices. Do we make sacrifices to meet our goals? Are we willing to plan accordingly? Or are we only content to work toward our goals if they’re convenient or feel comfortable? (Reality check: Meeting goals is rarely convenient or comfortable.)

At my gym, there are motivational signs peppered throughout the building. One of them caught my attention recently, and all it said was, “You don’t have to be great to start.”

The key is simply to start. As William Wordsworth so eloquently said, “To begin, begin.”

No excuses.

Kristen

I’m grateful this post first appeared on DailyPS.com.

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You don’t have to be great to start. – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

 

Wedding Day Joy: Stories Behind the Photos

Our wedding photographer recently shared our photographs, and I currently feel like a little kid who is about to overdose on Christmas cookies. It’s the feeling of, “Please, please, someone share this goodness with me because if I eat any more by myself, I’m going to burst!”

So this week, I’m sharing this happiest of snapshots into my personal life. Maybe saying so is cliche, but James’ and my wedding truly was the best day of my life, next to my choice to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.

Some Humor

Joy overshadowed the entire day, and I’m also grateful for the humor dosed throughout. For starters, my now-husband and I wrote each other letters that our friends helped us exchange before the ceremony.

I laughed out loud when reading his first line, “Do you remember the time you broke up with me?”

Yes, yes, I do.

That’s a longer story than this blog has room to hold, but I’d just like to encourage you with this: If you have a relationship you’re tempted to give up on (whether romantic or friendly), give it a second chance. Some friendships aren’t meant to last forever, but some just need extra work. Don’t let pride, miscommunication, or unrealistic expectations rob you of a tremendous blessing.

Some Tears

James warned me that when I walked down the aisle, he would probably lose it, and I didn’t mind that he nearly did. The love in his eyes melted my insides to mush.

This picture is one of my favorites, not only because of the love in my groom’s eyes but also because it captures his mother sharing the moment with him.

However, I was priding myself on keeping things together … until I started to read my handwritten vows.  You see, James and I decided to personalize part of our vows, so we scribbled them on darling little His and Hers booklets from Hobby Lobby.

The moment I saw my promises in my handwriting, I lost it. Not just sniffling. Stuttering sobs.

Bless his heart, James had a tissue ready in case he melted down and offered it to me instead. After dabbing my eyes and nose, I managed to gasp through the rest.

Many times, tears are our body’s way of cleansing or responding to sadness. Not this day. Mine were tears of joy and tears of gratitude. We both had prayed long and hard for God’s choice in a life partner, and today, all those years of waiting were coming to an end. All that bottled-up emotion just seeped out as I realized finally, I was making this lifetime commitment. Today turned a new page.

Some Reminders

Several people asked about the unity cross we assembled during our ceremony and said they had never seen that symbol used before. We absolutely loved the significance of this cross. There’s a detailed explanation that comes with the cross (available through several online sellers), but the short version is that there are two pieces: the outer frame represents the masculine strength of the groom, and the delicate interior represents the beauty of the bride. Three pegs hold the two pieces together, representing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This cross now graces our living room. It’s a daily, visual reminder that we made a vow before God to honor and uphold our marriage and how very much we need to depend on Him for our marriage to flourish.

So Many Thank-You’s

One post can’t even begin to express how much gratitude we owe to our family and friends.  This day wouldn’t have been absolute perfection without all their love, support, and help–from my family who hosted the reception; to James’s mom who hosted the rehearsal dinner; to our sweet friends the Lambersons who organized the reception decor, the flowers, and the emcee responsibilities; and to our many friends who volunteered to help decorate and transport a myriad of items.

You know who you are, dear ones! From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

My friend and Italian travel partner Maria drove overnight from Tennessee to Florida with her husband to help set up the reception. She is an absolute gem!
My dear friend Mrs. Lamberson blew any expectations of mine out of the ballpark with her gorgeous flower arrangements and detailed decorative care. I’m forever grateful to her and her team!

Only the beginning

Weddings are beautiful, but they are only the birthplace of a marriage. As we prayerfully begin this journey together, James and I want more than anything for God to be pleased with our lives and our union.

May we truly be better together for His glory.

Kristen

Special thanks to Aja Skye Photography for capturing these moments!

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Flat Tire in a Foreign Country? Drive on Faith.

Our honeymoon in St. Lucia was epic on many levels. In some ways, that also included risks that many newlyweds probably wouldn’t attempt on their first vacation together out of the country. But James and I are the adventurous type, and perhaps this tendency only encourages a more healthy prayer life.

For starters, he decided to rent a car. That choice seems innocent enough until you consider that St. Lucians drive on the wrong side of the road. Well, to them it’s the correct side, but to us Americans, it’s wrong.

My heart did a little flip flop when we pulled away from the airport and started driving. Perhaps not helping were the crowded streets of Soufriere and the fact that the first intersection we encountered was more like a free-for-all since the street light didn’t work.

After that, our ride smoothed out, and James became a champ at wrong-side driving (with only minor reminders from yours truly to stay on the “other side”).

Perhaps now would be a good time to mention we rented a Chevy Spark. It’s a zippy little car, emphasis on little. My brother and I have a history of renting Sparks on our road trip adventures, which has been a fun experience, but this Spark didn’t know what it was in for when it got us honeymooners for passengers.

Narrow Streets, Drop-Offs, and Distressed Roads

The first few days, we managed to navigate the tunnel-like width of city streets and survive the bumpiest of winding mountain roads that hadn’t seen a grading machine, perhaps ever. James often honked the horn since there was zero visibility around some of the cliff corners.

We did fine, until our day-trip adventure from Soufriere to the capital of Castries. On the way back to our villa, we hit yet another rut, and about a minute later, something didn’t sound right.

I moaned. “I think we have a flat.”

James pulled off to the side. Now grant you, there really wasn’t a side, but at this point, there was a place where several other cars had parked on one side, basically creating a one-lane road. Right across from our resting place were the remains of an old junker car. We don’t believe in omens, but it was ironic.

“Well, I was going to teach you how to change a flat one day, so I guess today’s that day,” James said. How many girls can say they learned to do that on their honeymoon? 

After switching a healthy tire to the front and moving the donut to the back wheel, we resumed our journey.

Here’s the kicker: We till had three days left on our trip, and the roads weren’t improving overnight. We had no cell service and no AAA, not to mention no second spare.

Don’t Wait for a Flat to Pray

We definitely breathed extra prayers every time we left our villa. There was also this plunging dirt road to a waterfall we wanted to explore that probably was a bad idea for us to drive, but we did anyway. This is a funny story to tell now, but we seriously held our breath more than once.

Most of the time, we’re not in a foreign country whispering prayers every time we hit the road. However, what if we approached our every-day lives with the same sense of urgency? When we’re comfortable with our circumstances and everything seems smooth, we sometimes forget how much we need God. But here’s the bottom-line truth:

Just because we’re not driving on a donut doesn’t mean we need Jesus any less. (Click to Tweet) 

King David helps remind me of my constant need for Jesus at work in my life. Time and time again, his Psalms refocus my attention to my dependence on God.

  • “But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head.” (Psalm 3:3 NKJV)
  • “For You are my rock and my fortress; Therefore, for Your name’s sake, Lead me and guide me.” (Psalm 31:3)
  • “But I am poor and needy; Yet the Lord thinks upon me. You are my help and my deliverer; Do not delay, O my God.” (Psalm 40:17)
  • “I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121: 1-2)

Before we end our time today, I want to share one of my favorite Matt Maher songs, simply titled, “Lord, I Need You.”

Lord, I need you. May that be our prayer, whether the road we’re traveling is turbulent or serene.

~ Kristen

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Flat Tire in a Foreign Country? Drive on Faith. – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

 

 

My Top Ten Engagement Superlatives

Hey, friends! This is a big transition month for me, because my wedding is less than a month away. Today, I want to share a lighthearted post about my engagement experience. Enjoy my top ten superlative moments.

#1: Favorite moment of engagement: The North Carolina temperatures were dropping, and I was getting cold, so I suggested we leave the mountain vista we had been enjoying. James said he wanted “just one more picture over there,” and I complied. When we reached the outlook,  he started saying all sorts of sweet things and got down on one knee. You can read the full story here.

#2: Most hilarious moment of engagement: Our friend Amanda didn’t arrive until late that night, and we were all too tired to tell her the story. We pretended nothing had happened and turned in for the night. The next morning, my friend Devon asked her to watch a “funny video” on her phone. When Amanda realized she was watching our engagement video, she threw the phone in excitement! (Good news: The phone is fine.)

#3: Highlight of my bachelorette weekend: We solved an American Escape Room with 8+ minutes to spare. Definitely bragging on my amazing friends for this one! I’m also going to brag on our escape master nicknamed “Snickerdoodles” who was absolutely fantastic. Five stars for this venue!

#4: Funniest moment of my bachelorette weekend: My friends conned the Irish entertainer into serenading me with a love song in front of the entire restaurant.

#5: Biggest surprise about engagement: I believe in transparency, so I’m not going to sugarcoat the reality that once you get engaged, you may have conflict about something you never anticipated. Don’t try to avoid the conflict. It’s a great opportunity to talk through differences, learn how to problem solve as a couple, and grow stronger together.

#6: Most ridiculous question I’ve been asked since getting engaged: Who’s going with you on your honeymoon? 

#7: Most anticipated wedding day moment: I am so excited to see the look on James’s face when I walk down the aisle!

#8: Most anticipated wedding day food: I’m grateful that our friend Ashley, an amazing baker, is making our cupcakes, and some will be Reese’s flavored chocolate. Yum!

#9: Most important part of engagement: The wedding planning is special and fun, but the most important part is the time we’ve spent preparing for a strong marriage. This includes our personal discussions as well as time with our marriage mentors. I’m convinced the more we talk through potential challenges and differences ahead of time, the better we both will be.

#10: My best piece of advice about engagement: It is meant to be a short season. Although every couple is different, I’m really thankful our engagement is only five months long, because the challenges of living two separate lives but preparing to merge them into one can be emotionally exhausting, though certainly worthwhile.

Next week, I’m going to share my parting thank-you to singleness, which I hope will be an encouragement to you! Afterward, I have a wonderful line-up of friends who will be guest posting this month and next. They are such a blessing to me, and I know they will be to you as well.

~ Kristen

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The Reactionary: Gratitude Moments

Coming to the end of a trilogy is a little like crossing the finish line of a half marathon. The only reason I felt amazing at that time is that I’d prepared and trained with friends. Others cheered me on, even though they may have secretly thought I was crazy.

This Tuesday, The Reactionary publishes, and I want to start the week with gratitude by saying thank-you to everyone who made crossing this finish line not only possible, but truly unforgettable. My family has been my constant support, and some new faces have joined those ranks throughout this journey, including my sister-in-law Brooke.

Pictured with my brother Dave and sister-in-law Brooke

I also want to say a special thanks to my fiancé, James Parnell, for wanting to join this bandwagon and encouraging my writing.

Photo credit: Aja Skye Photography

Members of my writing family include fellow author Ashley Jones, my Word Weavers group, members of my book tribe (You know who you are!), and more recently, my colleague Maria Constantine whose family roots go back to Italy. At one point, I mentioned to her that my heroine travels to Italy in this final book and that in my dreams, I’d get to visit one day.

That’s when she said, “You have to go! Want to come with me?” As a result, she and I planned a spontaneous trip to some of the settings in this novel, and in a month’s time, I found myself walking the streets of Orvieto and then mapping out Portia’s entrance to the Port of Civitavecchia from just outside Fort Michelangelo. I can’t thank Maria enough for helping make this dream a reality!

Exploring Civita di Bagnoregio, Photo credit: Maria Constantine

In another sense, Kelli Sorg (Make It Snappy) traveled with me this whole journey as well. She made brainstorming and creating the final cover perhaps the most enjoyable design session of all time.

The leadership and talent at Write Integrity Press also deserve my heartfelt gratitude. My editor Marji Laine championed this book and made the production process as seamless as possible. I’m also grateful to my primary editor Brittany Clubine who grasped the vision of Portia’s story from the start and believed in it.

At the end of my half marathon, people asked me, “So, what’s next?” I told them, “I’ll keep running!” Those runs might be in my neighborhood, for my church’s Hope 5K, another half marathon some day … who knows! The same is true of my writing. Lord willing, I’ll keep composing the stories He gives me and then watch where He takes them.

~ Kristen

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Come Explore Orvieto with Me

The Reactionary, the final book in The Rogues trilogy, releases in 4 days! As I anticipate launch day and entrusting the last part of Portia’s story to you, I want to share some more snippets from my own journey to the Italian settings she encounters.

Portia’s mission to secure communications with a possible international ally takes her to Orvieto, a cliff-top Italian city with more charm and beauty than one visit can capture. My friend Maria and I decided we could live in our Air B&B indefinitely and never soak in everything this city has to offer. However, because I didn’t want my novel to be the length of War and Peace, I chose to highlight some of the city’s main attractions and tie them into the plot.

Exploring the streets of Orvieto with Maria

Orvieto Forever

The Orvieto 4Ever celebration is the reason I chose this setting for my story in the first place. It lauds the American ideals of independence and liberty on an international level, not just a national one. Moreover, it recognizes the Italian influence on the United States, including the contribution of Italian Phillip Mazzei, a friend and correspondent of Thomas Jefferson. Mazzei actually influenced some of the wording of our Declaration of Independence.

I so much enjoyed weaving this historic information into my fictional dystopian tale of a futuristic world trying to recapture the ideal of liberty for all. Though my Rogues (rebel forces) are fiercely independent and even proud to a fault, they must realize that the fight isn’t just theirs. The world, not just the ASU, needs to overthrow the Rosh League and its minions who are determined to uproot the last strongholds of freedom.

Duomo di Orvieto

The city’s centerpiece is a breathtaking cathedral that serves as the backdrop for the Orvieto 4Ever celebration. Getting to visit this beautiful cathedral in person was one of my most-anticipated moments of the trip! The outside itself is stunning and even more imposing in person than in pictures.

Purchasing our ticket to go inside was a must. The massive, pillared space has a sacred, quiet mood that invites reflection and reverence. I found a seat, closed my eyes, and envisioned how Portia would have felt inside this space while waiting for … Well, I’m not going to spoil the story.

Maria snapped this picture of me inside the cathedral.

The cathedral was everything I imagined and more. I hope as you read The Reactionary and Portia’s encounter with it that you can glimpse the beauty and my appreciation for the Duomo di Orvieto.

Orvieto Underground

What’s not to love about a city that has an underground cave system? During our last full day in Orvieto, I squeezed in a tour of the underground cave network. I didn’t realize almost every house has a cave! (It made me want to take the floor-length mirror off the wall in our Air B&B to see if there was a secret passageway behind it, but Maria wisely advised against this.)

Although the caves have served different purposes, the most common was storing livestock, drinking water, and food. They also served as bomb shelters or hiding places during war times.

One interesting feature of these caves are hundreds of little holes in the wall. What do you think these were used to store? Join my friends and me for The Reactionary Launch Party on February 19 on Facebook to find out!

I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to explore a little of Orvieto with me, and I look forward to sharing more of my Italian adventure with you during the virtual launch party next week.

~ Kristen

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The Beautiful Doors of Civita di Bagnoregio

A few weeks back, I had a little heart-to-heart with  you about closed doors and open doors in my life. As we count down to book release day for The Reactionary, it seems only fitting to have a little fun with doors today!

When I traveled to Italy to do book research, one of my favorite places to visit was Civita di Bagnoregio. Aside from the pizza there, which was amazing, I also fell in love with all the architecture, namely, doors. In fact, my friend Maria snapped my back cover author picture in front of a vine-framed door I wouldn’t stop raving about.

Here are a few more of the imagination-inspiring doors we encountered, and all the photo credits go to Maria. (For more of her Italian stories and photos, visit her awesome website.)

Fictionalize It!

In The Reactionary, Portia doesn’t have a chance to explore this town like I did, but she does get to witness the city’s morning beauty from a distance. Here’s an excerpt from her point-of-view, inspired by my own:

The general and guard talk in hushed tones but at a rapid-fire pace. I turn away from them to watch the golden sun pierce through low-lying clouds. The hazy sky turns shades of purple and peach, forming the backdrop canvas to the sprawling landscape before us. It looks like a child scrawled a marker across the page, and nothing was left even, least of all that ragged remnant of a city.

How had I not seen it sooner? But I had been too intent on just taking my next step and learning to trust my stiff legs again.

I want to tell those two to stop talking. Silence seems more fitting for the tragic beauty of this dying place. Buildings jut out along the edges and top of an eroded mountain, now bathed in the dawn’s warm glow.

Join in the Fun!

I’m so glad you can share in my real life and fictional adventures! You’re invited to join my book launch party on release day, February 19, from 7-8:30 pm EST. It’s a virtual party on Facebook, so you can join right from your home! Even if you can’t stay the whole time, please pop in and say hello. We’ll have Italy trivia, book trivia, and maybe even talk about a little fictional and real-life romance … You won’t want to miss it. Click here to join.

One day, I would love to return to Italy to explore even more places (and doors), but for now, I’m content to enjoy my current setting. I hope you are too. Wherever we are, may we appreciate what we have while welcoming the possibilities God opens.

~ Kristen

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