Making the Manger Personal

Last September, I had the opportunity to travel to Italy with a colleague, work remotely, and research my next novel. During one of our day-tripping adventures, we visited a place called Civita di Bagnoregio, a place sometimes called “the dying town.” This city rests atop a hill that is slowly eroding, and the place itself is breathtaking.

As my friend Maria and I explored the city, I suddenly stopped short. There, to my right, were the remains of a manger.

A manger. The scene seemed taken right out of a nativity story set in Bethlehem, and yet here we were in Italy. As I soaked in the moment, a few realizations struck me. Though perhaps I’d already known them, I hadn’t taken them to heart before. Maybe you can relate.

The manger was a common place chosen for an anything-but-uncommon Christ.

Jesus could have been born anywhere else. People expected that the Messiah would come as king and break Rome’s oppression. They expected a palatial birth with pomp and circumstance. As a result, they couldn’t even recognize His birth in a stable, among animals and dirt, to a simple girl and her carpenter-husband.

I get caught up in my expectations sometimes, too. I expect God to provide a certain way, and when He doesn’t, I feel confused and frustrated. Yet God’s uncommon methods are the very means He uses to accomplish His will back then and today.

The manger stands as a challenge for simplicity and personal humility.

For introverts like me, Christmastime can overwhelm the senses with programs, white-elephant gift exchanges, Sunday school parties, special services, shopping, and everything that we’ve come to expect. Granted, those things may all have a time and place, but they often distract from the main reason we celebrate.

When I looked at the manger, all I saw was a rickety feeding trough that did double-duty as the Messiah’s crib. Its bare simplicity reminded me what a humble birthplace Christ accepted. It reminded me of these verses from Philippians where the Apostle Paul challenged his writers to adopt the mindset of Christ:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7 NKJV).

Is that mind in me? Is it in you? If I’m honest, it often isn’t. I prefer things my way, on my schedule, for my convenience. Yet Jesus exercised humility even though He was equal to God! How much more should humility characterize my thoughts and actions?

Back in Italy that day, I felt reluctant to leave this manger-like scene. However, I don’t have to relegate the manger to once-a-year Christmas stories and pageants. I can strive to apply the truths it represents every day of the year. So can you.

May you experience the joy of God’s unexpected blessings this Christmas and always!

~Kristen

Thanks to DailyPS.com for hosting this week’s post on their blog. 

 

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Choose Life’s Travel Companions Wisely

My friend and colleague Maria and I traveled to Italy in September.

The last few months have redefined epic adventure in my dictionary. From travel hacking Italy with a colleague to a surprise engagement trip in the mountains of North Carolina, I’ve been overwhelmed with God’s blessings and the people He’s placed in my life.

However, there’s a difference between amazing people and iron-sharpening people. I’m grateful mine qualify as both, but as we’re choosing friends to do life with, we should consider some important questions.

Do they point you to Christ?

I went on a North Carolina hiking trip in October with my fiance James and friends Devon and Conrad.

There are plenty of people in this world who model ingenuity, bravery, kindness, and adventure. From the world’s standpoint, they personify the ideal. These charismatic people attract a crowd, and although they can be generous and inspirational, they’re missing the main thing.

Without a personal relationship with God, a person with everything the world has to offer has nothing of lasting worth.

Do the people in your tribe encourage you to have a closer walk with God? Do they keep you accountable and ask you to do the same for them?  Beyond that, do they pray for you and with you (James 5:16)?

We need to surround ourselves with Spirit-filled friends who strengthen our faith and won’t let us settle for status quo.

To read the complete post, visit DailyPS.com.

Who’s in your tribe? Do they build you up and make you better? Most importantly, do they point you to Jesus Christ?

~ Kristen

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Say Yes to New Adventures (Engagement Story)

Dear friends, please celebrate with us! I’m so excited to share that my wonderful boyfriend James asked me to marry him, and I said yes. Here’s the story for all you romantics.

Let’s take a road trip, he said.

James has been going to Beech Mountain, North Carolina for years, and last winter, I went for the first time as part of our church group’s ski trip. You may remember my takeaways as a first-time skier.

Since Florida doesn’t see foliage, James suggested getting a group of friends together to take a long weekend and hike around Beech Mountain. So along with my best friend Devon, we road tripped to Beech Mountain where our friend Conrad joined us.

After work on Thursday, we started the long drive, prepared with more snacks than necessary, of course. Some ten or eleven hours later, we rolled into the driveway of a rustic cabin along the ski slopes and crashed for a few hours.

Let’s wait for this view, he said.

North Carolina dawned with sparkling blue skies and cool fifties, the perfect hiking weather. It’s as if Beech Mountain were in on the surprise.

We had breakfast and coffee at Fred’s, and if you’ve ever been to this part of the Carolinas, you know Fred’s is a landmark! Fueled with food, if not much sleep, we started out for some hiking trails.

Welcome to Fred’s!

The last hike of the day was called Wiseman’s View, but to get there, we had to work our way over one of the bumpiest stateside roads I’ve ever seen! However, the view was more than worth it. Some people have even described the vista as the “Grand Canyon” of North Carolina.

The late afternoon chill was setting in, and after exploring one of the outlooks, we went to another. However, a couple was there taking pictures, so we waited against some fencing.

“Maybe we can just go check out another view or head back,” I said at last. “It’s freezing out here.”

Freezing is subjective. To a Florida girl, one flannel shirt is not sufficient for low fifties.

“No, let’s wait,” James said. “I want to do a picture like that one.” He meant a “facing away” picture like the other couple.

“Okay,” I said and shivered next to him.

Wiseman’s View

Let’s spend the rest of our lives together, he said.

When he finally led me to the outlook, something was different. Maybe it was his breathing or the way his heart beat in his chest.

AND THEN HE STARTED TALKING AND GOT DOWN ON ONE KNEE.

So help me, I don’t remember much of what he said. Snippets included:

  • I love you more than I thought possible.
  • There’s no one else I want to spend the rest of my life with.
  • Will you marry me?
I said yes!

I said yes.

The video my friend took (which is good, because otherwise, I might not remember anything) involves me smiling as broad as the mountain range (hyperbole, perhaps), saying yes, and embracing the love of my life.

I couldn’t have asked for a more special moment. James was there, naturally. My best friend Devon was there capturing it all and celebrating with us. This cute hiking couple was there and insisted on shaking our hands and wishing us the best.

So grateful for amazing friends like Devon and Conrad!

And God was there. We’ve bathed this relationship in prayer and sought wisdom for this road. I’m trusting this love is from Him, and He’s blessing it.

Adventure On.

Let me be vulnerable for a hot second. I’m in my early thirties and wasn’t sure if God would bring along someone or ask me to stay single. Though I prayed for marriage, I was trying to be content with either option.

I’ve learned that both singleness and relationships bring their highs and lows. Right now, my thoughts and emotions feel like fireworks, but I also know marriage requires work. Regardless, my conclusion is this: Godly love purposes the good of another and pursues God first. When that’s the case, we can thrive-whatever the future holds.

I hope I can encourage my young friends today with this: Don’t wait for a relationship to start living. Be your best self right now. That best self will either be fabulous single or incredibly attractive to the man or woman God has for you. And regardless, God can use you for His glory.

Thank you for celebrating with us!

~ Kristen

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Italy in 10 Snapshots

Hello, friends! Thanks for joining me on my Italian adventure. Over the next several months, I’ll unpack more of this trip and its correlation to my upcoming novel, but for now, I’m limiting myself to 10 top moments, one for each day I was in Italy.

Day 1: The Streets of Orvieto

After an eventful rental car experience in Rome and finally finding our Air B&B in Orvieto, my colleague and I enjoyed a few moments roaming the cobbled streets before settling into our adorable apartment. After all, this was a working trip as well as an adventure.

Day 2: The Duomo in Orvieto

This breathtaking cathedral is a centerpiece of what might be the most charming, authentic city in Italy. Of course, I’m biased and haven’t even scratched the surface of Italy’s hidden gems, but there was nothing fake or superficial about this place. It was consistently the same whether I was visiting a back street or main attraction.

Day 3: Pizza in Civita di Bagnoregio

This place is a literal city on a hill. The views are breathtaking, and I should probably choose one of my landscape shots as my featured image, but you guys!! This was also the place I experienced my first Italian pizza. Enough said. (For actual pictures of this beautiful town, visit my Facebook page.)

Day 4: Walking Tour of Rome

I will never forget the day my colleague and I walked fifteen miles on a self-guided tour of Rome. The trek started at the Colosseum, so this picture seems appropriate.

Day 5: Fort Michelangelo at the Port of Civitavecchia

Nicknamed “The port of Rome,” Civitavecchia is a hub for cruise ships and tourists entering Italy. I gushed over it for a similar reason, because it is the point of entry into Italy (and the international scene) for my heroine Portia in The Reactionary (Coming 2019).

Day 6: Gelato in Palermo

Italian gelato is all it’s promised to be and more. My go-to flavor was fragola or strawberry. Delish!

Day 7: The Beach at Palermo

Naturally, the Florida girl in me feels at home on any beach, and Palermo’s was stunning! The water was a refreshing temperature and oh so very blue.

Day 8: Prickly Pear in Valguarnera

Have you ever eaten the prickly pear fruit? I never had, but it tastes as sweet as candy! Note: The locals eat the seeds, so just chew them and pretend to be Italian.

Day 9: Scala dei Turchi

My friend Maria promised me that the cliffs and beach in Agrigento would fast become my favorite place. How right she was! These pearly white cliffs and the sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean were like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Day 10: Cappuccino in Valguarnera

Before we returned to Palermo, we spent the morning with Maria’s family. Like many other days, breakfast consisted of a chocolate or cream brioche and a cappuccino. Yes, I’m basically in withdrawal at the moment.

Thanks for sharing in this adventure with me!

~ Kristen

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Italy Adventures: Choose Joy and Enjoy the Journey

Ciao from Italy! I’m so thankful to be here, visiting some settings in my next novel, exploring this beautiful country with my colleague, and working remotely.

However, lest you think the writer’s life and remote work life are purely magical (and oftentimes, they are), keep reading. Here’s what this trip has taught me so far.

#1: You can’t plan for everything.

Perhaps you’re wondering, Wasn’t Kristen going to blog while she’s traveling abroad? The answer is that yes, I was.

However, when I turned on my laptop in Orvieto, I discovered that it would not charge. My colleague and I tried everything from reinstalling battery drivers and various other online suggestions with no success.

Here I thought I had everything I needed! I had an adapter, and my colleague had one too, and yet for some reason, my charging cord was not compatible with European power.

I don’t like feeling helpless to solve my problems, but there wasn’t much I could do about the situation. So, as my brother says: improvise, adapt, and overcome!

#2: You can’t control or fix everything.

I had two choices when this hard reality hit. I could be miserable for the rest of the trip, or I could make the best of the situation. Though the frustration was real, my friend, I chose the latter. As a result, I’ve been waking up at five o’clock in the morning each day to grade, so that I can use my friend’s laptop when she doesn’t have to work. Is it ideal? Of course not. But I’m able to still grade, help my students, and do my job. (However, I sadly have not had much time for my lovely blog.)

The privilege of working remotely means sacrificing whatever is needed, in this case sleep, to make a work-around possible. But the reward is worth it! After putting in those early hours, my friend and I get to spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon adventuring before she logs in for her own job.

Maria and me at the Duomo (cathedral) in Orvieto (Photo cred: Maria Constantine, thepotentialofyouth.com)

#3: You can choose to live in the moment.

The planner in me is dying to know if my laptop will work fine once I return home or what repair work will be needed, but again, I choose not to worry. Philippians 4:6-7 has been a go-to for me on this trip:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

God’s peace goes with me, regardless if I haven’t slept much, am under-caffeinated, and don’t know how I’m going to solve some of my circumstantial challenges. However, I can enjoy the gift of this moment and this incredible opportunity, choosing not to let inconveniences steal the beauty of this adventure.

Exploring the streets of Orvieto, we found these fun metal horses, designed for the young and young at heart. (Photo cred: Maria Constantine)

#4: You can both prepare and be spontaneous.

When Maria and I were in Orvieto, we planned one day at a time. Of course, we had some ideas ahead of time of where we could go and what we could do, but the key to working remotely and adventuring is not to try to do everything. You do have to sleep sometime, although the extent of that sleep is clearly debatable.

As it was, we decided to visit Civita di Bagnoregio, nicknamed “the Dying Town” because it looks like an elevated island in the middle of a mountainous region. As a result, its inhabitants have to carefully guard against erosion.

But oh, the place is stunning! It’s like a city on a hill, and yes, it is a short trek to get there but so worth it. This spontaneous day-trip might just be my favorite yet.

(Photo cred: Maria Constantine)

#5: Take time for gratitude moments.

Even in the “ugly” moments of travel and working remotely, we can still find something to be grateful for. For starters, I’m grateful to be traveling with someone who’s willing to share her laptop when she’s not using it. I’m grateful for the kind lady who helped us get a taxi when we literally lost our car and the friendly construction workers who helped us get back to the road we were supposed to be on.

The moral is this: Anything worthwhile is going to be both wonderful and likely challenging. Whether we’re home or abroad, we get to choose our attitudes even if we can’t choose our circumstances.

Choose joy, my friends. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

Ciao!

Kristen

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Come Adventure with Me! Italy in Real Life and Fiction

Starting next week, I’m traveling to Italy with my friend and colleague. Among other mouth-watering destinations, we’ll be exploring some of the settings for the final book in The Rogues trilogy, which include Orvieto and the Port of Civitavecchia. I can’t wait to share these places in real life with you and then take you into my heroine’s fictional story where she experiences them in her dystopian world.

Can you believe we’ve been on this trilogy adventure together since 2016 when I first signed my contract with Write Integrity Press? The cover reveal for The Reactionary will be coming soon, but for now, you can preview Portia’s climactic adventure.

Maybe you haven’t dived into Portia’s story yet. No worries. You have a few months before book three releases to catch up on the action. And this month, if you read and share your review about The Revisionary or The Revolutionary on Amazon and tag me in a social media post about it, I’ll enter you into my summer book challenge giveaway. (Maybe I’m in denial, but I’m not counting summer as over until the end of this month.) Bonus points if you review both or participate in the original summer book challenge.

Oh, what’s the giveaway? So glad you asked. It’s an autographed paperback copy of The Reactionary once it releases next year. (A winner outside the U.S. will receive a Kindle copy.)

Wherever We Go

As I’m hustling through all the last-minute trip preparation, I need to pause and remember: This trip isn’t about me. Yes, it’s a huge blessing and opportunity that has me antsy with anticipation. But at the end of the day, whatever I do and wherever I go, I want to shine God’s love and light.

No, this isn’t a mission trip by any means, but are we not always to represent Christ? Who knows whose paths I’m going to cross. My hope is that I’ll represent Christ well even if I’m tired, anxious, or inconvenienced.

Bottom Line: I’d appreciate your prayers during this trip and would love for you to share in this European adventure with me. I’ll be updating my Instagram stories @kristenhogrefeauthor and on Facebook, and you’re invited to follow me there.

Happy reading, safe travels, and adventure on!

~ Kristen

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Whatever I do and wherever I go, I want to shine God’s love and light. – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

Dreaming Isn’t Dangerous. Doubt Is.

If you told me a few weeks ago that I’d be planning a spontaneous trip to Italy in a month, I wouldn’t have believed you. I’d probably have laughed and then sighed, Wouldn’t that be nice?

Truth. I really am planning a spontaneous trip to Italy next month.

Let me back up the story. A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a colleague and landed on the topic of travel. I told her how much I admired her working from Italy last spring, and that in my dreams, I’d do the same thing some day. I shared how my next novel takes my heroine to Italy and that seeing those places first hand instead of through research would be amazing.

She replied, “Well then you have to go! I’m planning a trip soon. Want to come?”

I hesitated for only a moment. Although some logistical questions ran through my head, my answer was yes.

She came back to me a few days later with a more concrete plan and a question: How serious are you about going to Italy? 

If I remember right, I told her 88% or some random percentage like that, because once again, there were some work details that had to be approved. (And then there was the matter of begging someone to watch my cat Ness, who has a reputation for not being the best house guest.)

But guess what? That elusive 12% worked out. I might just have the best boss in the world, and I do have the most amazing family, because they agreed to keep Ness from starving.

As I tackle the next challenge of packing only a backpack, I see a few takeaways I hope might encourage you.

Focus less on obstacles and more on the prize.

As you read my story, you probably noticed the times I hesitated. Caution raised a flag. What ifs popped in my head. If I hadn’t investigated those questions and pursued the possibility, I might still be sighing to myself, Maybe one day.

I think the same is true in our Christian lives. Sometimes, God calls us to an opportunity, and we spend more time stressing about all the reasons it won’t work instead of realizing all the ways it very well could.

I’m learning that dreaming isn’t dangerous. Doubt is. After all, Jesus never criticized people for having too much faith. He chided them for having too little (Matthew 6:30, 8:26, 14:31).

How much we miss when we doubt! But when we dream and allow God to shape those dreams, possibilities often unfold in ways we could never have imagined.

Dream bigger and expect great things.

Maybe life jades us a bit as we grow up. As children, people tell us we can be whatever we want to be, but the truth is that life has many gatekeepers that prevent some of those dreams from coming true. (Sorry, kids, but only so many people can ever be president.)

However, we shouldn’t always conform to what’s reasonable or realistic, because sometimes, God delights in impossibilities. After all, Jesus turned water into wine. Peter walked on water. Paul turned from persecuting the church to boldly proclaiming the gospel he once sought to destroy. The Bible is full instances that defy logic or even nature itself.

You may say, Sure, but that’s the Bible. That’s not my life. Perhaps instead of focusing on what seems impossible, we should start risking, start daring. I like what my pastor said Sunday on the subject of taking risks for God.

“The problem is not that we dream too big. It’s that we dream too small.”

– Pastor Ken Whitten

Choose adventure over comfort.

I confess. I like my routines, things like 8 hours of sleep, a cup of coffee in the morning with my quiet time, fresh laundry, and a clean house.

Travel hacking with only a backpack isn’t going to guarantee any of those things and will likely stretch my comfort zone. But that’s a good thing, right? Because which would you rather be: Home and perfectly comfortable or sleep-deprived in Italy? Allora. (That’s Italian for “um,” I believe.) Yeah, 100% the latter.

The Christian life is something of an adventure, too. We can content ourselves with our church and devotional routines, or we can step out and try something that might seem a little scary. Maybe you’re not sure what that might be. I’m not either. But we can pray about it, and ask God to show us how He’d like us to step out in faith. Perhaps the answer will surprise us.

How might God want you to dream bigger? 

~ Kristen

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