Here We Are

So it’s been too long, and I’m sorry.

I’ve been longing to write to you; I’m teeming with ideas to share, but honestly, the things I’m learning about life and business and family right now, I’m not sure you want to hear, so I’ve kept quiet. In short, I’m learning about how to be a better, more courageous leader and Christ-follower. A consistent, patient entrepreneur. An understanding and supportive friend. An irrationally generous giver. I’m making exchanges (not sacrifices) in my life right now that do not afford me time for Project Runway reruns, crafting or margin to blog.

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But it’s been TOO LONG, and we had some stellar family photos taken, so here I am. It’s post-church naptime for the kids and my To Do list can wait.

We are The Armstrongs.

We work hard. We are kind. We do difficult things on purpose. We have fun. We choose to be brave. We forgive freely. We love each other. We follow Jesus.

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Finn is loving PreK. We love Mrs. Brown–she makes learning fun. He is great with spelling and language. He’s a terrible writer/artist and I think it’s hilarious. His aide told Joey one day, “The first thing I noticed about Finn is that he has a lot of friends.” P E O P L E!!!! You’ve been praying for friends for Finn! THANK YOU! He has friends, praise Jesus. Another aide told us “Finn is the best part of my day,” –and her job is to wipe his butt.😉

His wheel got stuck in the grass and he fell over in his chair a couple weeks ago. No teachers were around, but his buddy Thomas ran to get the teacher. Finn was freaked out and had a bump on his head, but he’s fine. This wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last. I get asked a million questions about Finn each day when I pick him up. “Why can’t he walk?” “Is he a baby? Why is he wearing diapers?” “What’s that thing on his back?” “When will he get better?” “What’s wrong with him?” They are asking honest, innocent questions I don’t always have the answers to. I don’t mind answering these questions, but I hate that it’s in front of Finn. And if I get all these questions in 5 minutes, I wonder how many he gets throughout the day? My heart hurts for him, but God gave Finn such a resilient spirit. It doesn’t seem to bother him at all. He is a good, kind Father.

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Paisley is so spunky. Okay, and naughty. Her sense of humor is subtle and smart. She observes people before she’ll befriend them. She loves ‘nastics and jumping and climbing and being upside down. She is full of life and extremely independent. “Gummy” (gum) is her favorite and she loves to pack her Paw Patrol lunchbox with all kinds of random items for “school” so she can be like Finn. She likes to sing and dance. I can’t get over how beautiful she is. I’m so grateful she has a daddy who will protect her fiercely.

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This morning on the way to church, Finn said that he “want[s] to marry Paisley, and I’ll blow her a kiss.” Paisley told me yesterday that Bubba (Finn) was her best friend. She helps him pop over bumps in the sidewalk, rides his back like a “horsie” and races him with her baby stroller. Their friendship is a gift from above.

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Joey and I have had a tough few months. I blame Dave Ramsey. We’re doing Financial Peace University with another couple from Life.Church, and though these are conversations we obviously needed to have and there is always room for improvement when it comes to spending and saving, I am TIRED of talking about money. The conversations are unsexy, exhausting and difficult to trudge through. We’ve learned a lot about our personalities and fighting fair during this process though, and in a few hours, we’ll meet the Gates for pizza and to discuss our last FPU session to celebrate. Praise. Jesus.

Joey is so good to me. He’s fun. He’s my best friend and lover. He unloads the dishwasher like a ninja. And I love to watch him “dad.” I’m truly a better human being because of his influence in my every day life.

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Thanks to Maylee Hill for taking such fantastic photos of our family! She is super talented and captured our personalities so well. I love the color in these shots. We took these photos on the Eastside of Tulsa near the Blue Dome District. Check out her website!

As the holiday season approaches, I pray you’ll run (or wheel) like a little child toward Jesus’ transforming love, your families, your dreams, and better overall health. Go now; don’t wait.

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Thank you for praying big prayers for our family and specifically for Finn, for following our journey, and for being true friends. We are not perfect, but we are following hard after our perfect Savior, THANKFUL for His goodness and grace in our lives.

We are The Armstrongs. Roar.

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Pre-K

We sent him off to his teacher’s bench early Tuesday morning. It was his first full day of Pre-K, the first of many days of public school.

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This day was one I feared since the NICU, watching Finn’s tiny pink lips breathe in and out, closed around his feeding tube.

Sure, he’s been in daycare since infancy, but this was different somehow. I was sending my heart off between two wheels, trusting the world to treat him fairly, give him a chance, open doors, be kind.

He popped a wheelie, yelled, “Wahoo!” when he saw cute little Mrs. Brown, and zoomed off.

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I turned around, my eyes stinging with tears. Then Paisley almost ran off the curb into a line of cars and I forgot to cry. A busy day at work kept my mind distracted.

He won’t really tell us anything about his days…nothing true, anyway. He said he played in the dirt all day and that his new friend’s name was Booty.😉 Mrs. Brown tells me he always asks when nap time is and even fell asleep sitting upright in his chair.

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Thank you, Jesus, for Mrs. Brown.

He’s adjusting well and is excited to go to school each morning, a blessing for sure.

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When asked by kids in his class why he’s in a wheelchair and “what’s wrong with him,” Mrs. Brown says he responds that “his legs aren’t very strong and he uses his wheelchair to move.” I’ve never heard him respond to anyone about his disability before; probably because we answer for him. This is pretty close to what we’d say, except I don’t want him to believe he isn’t strong…just stronger in some ways than others.

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I’m so proud of you, Finn. You are teaching us all that it’s okay to be different. And what’s more, that it’s okay to LIKE being different! Your joy humbles me. You don’t make excuses for the things you “can’t do;” you simply find a way. I am so grateful for the confidence God gives you.

Here’s to 14 years of childhood education–Whew, that sounds daunting!–a rich education mentally, physically, socially and spiritually.

Will you pray with us for one or two really good, loyal friends for Finn? Friends that would see his differences as a blessing, not a burden. We all need a couple friends like that, don’t we?

 

A Perfectly Boring Marriage

June 30th, 2006 Joey and I were married in San Antonio, Texas.

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It was hot, but a coastal storm rolled in that evening and knocked the flower arrangements off my reception tables, cooling off our happy guests.

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Yes, I let Joey and his groomsmen wear those ridiculous sweat bands at the reception.

Joey’s dad performed the ceremony and it was personal yet powerful.

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Our sacred vows were witnessed by 350 of the most influential people in our lives. I didn’t sleep much the night before from excitement and my eyes felt puffy. There was no real drama, catastrophe or anxiety that day. I was marrying my best friend, someone who felt like “home” to me.

Now, a decade later, our love is standing taller, battered by a few storms and it’s maturing like a good wine. We’re friends; we like each other most of the time, and more importantly, we choose each other. Every. Single. Day.

We’ve been asked many times how we’ve maintained a healthy marriage. “What’s the secret to staying happily married for 10 years and beyond?” The answer is nothing fashionable, shocking or dramatic. In fact, you may find it boring.

Daily, (seemingly) insignificant good choices. Today. Tomorrow. The next day…

“…They [successful people] achieve these dramatic results in their lives through making choices that are the very antithesis of drama–mundane, simple, seemingly insignificant choices.” -Jeff Olson, The Slight Edge

I apply this principle to my personal training career, my own physical fitness, parenting, my Arbonne business, my spiritual life and marriage.

*Before I go any further, I must say, our marriage is far from perfect. In fact, this past year has probably been the hardest of our ten. But we are working on it, praying through it, and fighting for it.*

In the moment, these good choices seem inconsequential, but compounded over time, they yield massive results. (I’m obsessed with books, The Compound Effect, The Slight Edge, The Power of Habit these days.) The trouble is that these small, simple choices are just as easy not to do as they are to do. Kissing each other goodbye in the mornings won’t save or ruin your marriage that day—but done (or not done) for hundreds of days over time just might. Daily bad choices (or perhaps the absence of good choices) have the same effect over time: destruction, divorce, obesity, bankruptcy.

Some simple choices Joey and I have made, by the grace of God:

We go to bed at the same time every night. This causes us to be on the same schedule. One person is not more tired than the other, we pray/talk a little together in bed, and it allows for physical intimacy. No kids in bed either, unless it’s May in Oklahoma and they are afraid of the storms.

We are a team. This is tough when you feel like you’re playing a different game altogether, not seeing eye-to-eye. But like any sport, we practice and we get better. IMG_5778.JPG

We go out on dates regularly. With no kids around, we can give each other our undivided attention, we can listen and get to know each other, we can flirt, try new restaurants, hold hands. IMG_6259

We put the kids to bed early. No brainer: more time for us. Structure and sleep for them. High five.

We put toothpaste on each others’ toothbrushes at night. Silly, but sweet.

We don’t make close friendships with people of the opposite sex. This is just smart; he is the only man I should be “emotional” with.

We work out together on Fridays. He rarely lets me train him, but I love including him in something that is so important to me–physical fitness. We think it’s important to stay fit (aka: HOT) for each other.🙂

We appreciate delicious, healthy food and black coffee. Oftentimes, we cook together. Chemex pour-over coffee every morning. IMG_6615

We play together and we play with our kids. Dance party every night; Justin Timberlake on repeat. Our kids remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. IMG_2874

We travel together (minus kids) at least once a year. It’s a true break in routine, scenery and responsibility. We invest in each other this way and create memories to think back to when “normal life” gets tough. IMG_1350If anyone has an excuse NOT to travel, it’s us. Two full-ish time jobs, I actually lose money when I go on vacation, two kids–one of which is disabled and has a potentially life-threatening condition. But it’s THAT important to us. Albeit, we have incredible parents that we trust to watch our kids.

We speak highly of each other. We chose early on not to make fun of marriage or put each other down, even in jest. We respect marriage and each other too much.IMG_4085

We apologize and try to fight fair. Even when we don’t feel like it. Ugh; this one’s hard.

We kiss each other every morning. 

We value friendship outside of one another. Life is more fun with friends. I think this is partly why our marriage has been hard this year–we’re lacking consistent friendships with other couples. DSC_2511

We take turns doing household chores and getting up with the kids. As a working mom, this is such a blessing to me. Joey is so helpful (acts of service is my love language).

We make time and energy for sex. I’m blushing just typing that…we are really private about our sex life. It’s the part of us that’s just for us.

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6 months pregnant with Finn

We share our calendars. This means less surprises for me.

We support each others’ careers by asking questions and allowing time for personal growth and study. Joey pushes me to achieve my goals and I’m so grateful. IMG_1922

Joint bank account. 

We read. Less screen time is my struggle, but I’m working on it. Currently reading The Slight Edge by Olson and up next are Niequist’s new Present Over Perfect, Maxwell’s 12 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, and the new Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

And finally…We individually seek to know Jesus more and work on improving ourselves. This is, without question, the most important element. The secret sauce. Because without Him, our love for each other is incomplete, shallow and self-serving.

I believe God made marriage a sacred covenant, binding unto death, because He knew that at some point, we’d want to get out.

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:6

It seems easier at times just to give up, do our own thing, or try someone new. But I said “I do,” to Joey on June 30th. Then again on July 1st. And July 2nd…And I’m saying “I do” today.

A healthy marriage isn’t fancy and it doesn’t make you famous. There’s no one event that changes everything. It’s the boring, mundane, good choices over time that lead to renewed vows when you’re 75 and wrinkled.

To the singles: are you the person that the person you’re looking for would want to marry?

To the married and healthy: thank you for your example! We’re watching and inspired.

To the married and struggling: dig in your heels and fight for your family. It takes two to make it work, yes. But pray for your marriage like it’s your full-time job. Go to counseling. And work on you. Let God work on them.

To the married and abused or neglected: Get help. In some cases, get out.

To the divorced: there is redemption. I’ve seen it and it’s beautiful.

To Joey: thank you for choosing me then and choosing me now. Happy TEN YEARS, my Love.

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Creating Space

My client of 5 years, John, drives to Tulsa to train with me from Norman once a week.

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He attended my indoor cycling classes at least twice a week in 2011 but was shocked to learn his nagging back pain was caused by blockage in his heart. He underwent a quadruple bypass shortly after. John faced life differently after that. He stood taller, but more humble; grateful for each breath. He does not back down from a challenge. He changed his nutrition drastically, stopped drinking, and he’s active more hours of the day than not. John has lost about 80 pounds, maybe more…I lost track and he doesn’t let me weigh him anymore.

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It wasn’t uncommon for him to ride his bike from downtown Norman to yoga on the west-side about 10 miles away, then up to Moore another 10 miles to train with me at Next Level, then back home. I told him I wouldn’t train him anymore until he bought a helmet. John watched me struggle through my pregnancy with Finn from the back row of my spin class, where I was oftentimes wiping tears along with my sweat. He’s one of Finn’s biggest fans and created a website for brave, imperfect people to share their stories: Courage Endures.

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Courage Endures dudes: Eddie and John. They live bravely.

He and I had a conversation this morning about creating space in our lives for creative thought, spiritual inspiration, revelation, and meditation. We decided it was repetition that provides enough rote, automatic, flowing movement to allow the mind to wander and dream.

Activities like yoga, cycling, swimming, painting, crocheting, running, playing an instrument and fishing are repetitive in the most therapeutic ways.

When we busy our minds with television, radio news or surf social media, there’s too much “noise” to give our minds rest. We’re thinking, sure. But maybe we’re overthinking. [What’s she doing these days…Who is that with her?…What makeup does she use?…I didn’t know she…We’ve got mutual friends…She has more friends than me by like 500…He’s got a new job…I wonder what happened… ] My mind becomes mush with too much unimportant information.

I love the books, The Power of Habit and The Compound Effect. They are life-changing for me because they’ve changed my mindset. Simple habits, repeated over time create massive waves in the sea of our lives. Our days are made up of a collection of habits and the seemingly small, mundane routines are its foundation. Collect the right habits…create the right life.

Kissing Joey goodbye as we head off to work.

Praying over my kids, singing songs before bed.

Exercising–sweating–daily.

Reading Bible plans, devotionals, the Word.

Putting lotion on after I shower.

Brushing my teeth.

Making coffee e v e r y  m o r n i n g.

Thanking God for the day as Finn and I turn left out of our neighborhood.

Roasting vegetables in a hot oven.

Washing dishes.

Watering plants.

Buckling seat belts.

Folding laundry.

Wiping butts.

These are the stuff of our lives. Although I appreciate spontaneity and I’m a sucker for change, repetition and routine have great value.

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16

“…Daniel got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” Daniel 6:10

I think monks would argue (okay, monks probably don’t argue) that ritual may be one of the best opportunities for spiritual enlightenment.

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Go do something boring, repetitive, and let your mind free.

Cray Cray Pai Pai

Paisley Dawn, you’ve added so much mischief, pink laundry and laughter to our lives in just 2 short years. You are beautiful and smart and kind and we love watching your personality unfold.

All About Paisley:

  1. Girl loves shoes. She changes shoes at least 5x/day. IMG_3705
  2. She prefers vegetables to anything. Cucumbers and roasted broccoli are her favorites. She would much rather eat adult food than chicken nuggets or pizza like Finn. She’ll only eat dark chocolate. We’ve got a little foodie on our hands. FullSizeRender 41IMG_3617
  3. Armstrong Dance Party begins every evening around 6:15pm. Girl’s got moves you’ve never seen.😉 Then we race around the house–Finn in his wheelchair, and Paisley with her “wheelchair” (baby stroller). She wants to be just like Bubba.
  4. She loves bubbles and animals and babies. She is naturally nurturing and tender and loves “putting us to sleep.” IMG_4218 2
  5. She would do anything for Finn. I love to watch their growing friendship. IMG_3788IMG_3794
  6. She is bossy. I think that’s my fault. IMG_4198 2
  7. She drinks a vegan Arbonne protein shake every morning like mommy and daddy. The greener the better.
  8. She has curly, unruly hair like her Papa Terry. Shea Moisture spray does the trick.IMG_4024
  9. She is a big helper. She loves to clean and help me unload groceries or the dishwasher. IMG_4203 2
  10. She’s a climber, a jumper, a mover. She carries a step stool around the house so she can have full access at all times. Sister is a busy girl. IMG_3738
  11. I love her legs. They’re strong and sturdy. Stout and muscular. IMG_3631I prayed for long, skinny legs for a good portion of my adolescence. I didn’t like anything about my own. But when I see them in miniature form on my perfect daughter, I’m obsessed with them. Falling in love with her body has made me love my own even more.

Paisley, we love you. We need you. We celebrate you this weekend!

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Happy TWO YEARS!

In the Palm of His Hand

We celebrated Joey’s grandma’s 93 years of life today at her funeral.

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My father-in-law, Terry, led the service. He has this unique gift of performing both weddings and funerals with warmth and ease. He honors the moment, the people and the Lord in joy and in sadness. He makes us laugh and cry at once. It’s a craft.

Joey and his cousin, Blake, played the guitar and the mandolin skillfully, singing three songs to celebrate Grandma Davis.

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The lyrics of one folksy hymn got to me:

And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings,
bear you on the breath of dawn,
make you to shine like the sun,
and hold you in the palm of His hand.

(On Eagle's Wings)

I envisioned myself sitting, cross-legged, safe in the palm of His hand, like a ladybug trusting the Gardener. My mountains are but speed bumps. My lofty goals, little. My self-importance seems silly. Perspective. Funerals offer perspective.

And somehow, despite my smallness, I matter to God. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast your anxiety on Him, for He cares for you.” He cares about my pocket-sized life and I think He can even make it big. I can be influential and impact not only my community, but the entire world because of Him.

It’s like Antman. (I know this seems off-topic, but we watched it last week and it’s fresh in my mind.) The Marvel superhero can diminish to the size of an ant, access keyholes and pass through microfibers, etc., all for the sake of his mission.

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He’s microscopic, but powerful when he wears his Antman suit. Maybe he’s powerful in the same way Scripture says “faith as small as a mustard seed” is powerful. Even in minuscule doses, faith infiltrates our lives, sneaking into our thoughts, flavoring our words and enriching our relationships.

Grandma Davis’s life was ordinary, small in the grand scheme of things, but today I was reminded that little lives can have a big impact in the palm of His hand.

 

How to Be Brave

Some people are born brave. Some people are forced to become brave. And maybe there are some people who will never be brave.

Yesterday Finn woke up from nap time at school with blood dripping from his mouth. He had bitten through his bottom lip, was lethargic and his skin was splotchy red. The teachers assumed he had a seizure, though no one saw him shake or go rigid. We took him to the ER and ran a shunt series (IV, blood work, head and chest x-rays, and CT scan) to be sure his shunt was working properly and that his brain wasn’t swollen. Praise God all his tests came back normal!

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Apparently this was his first seizure and most likely not his last. We’d appreciate your prayers against them. They’re so scary to me, and yet another thing to worry about/watch out for.

As Finn was wheeling away from the CT scan room, wiping tears from his eyes, he said through swollen lips, “I was so brave, wasn’t I, Momma? It wasn’t so bad. Where are the Popsicles?”

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Nothing terrifies Finn more than being strapped down and shoved inside that spinning CT scan tunnel, but he was forced to do it (not the first time; not the last), and he emerged braver. He was an over-comer, and he knew it. He was brave.

Since I was a child, I’ve been a risk-taker, dangling my legs over the edge of the canyon, asking bold questions, and pushing boundaries.

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But I’ve been fearful, so  O U T S I D E  my comfort zone, in the past two years because of various life, friendship and career changes. I’ve had to remind myself daily:

“God did not give [me] a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love and self-discipline.”   2 Timothy 1:7

So if I entertain fear, it’s not from God.

 

How to Be Brave:

1. Feel the fear, but do it anyway.

-I tell my clients, “Don’t think, just do it.” Box jumps. Pull ups. Meal planning.

2. Remember what you’ve already overcome. Think back to the struggles. Many of us have endured some scary stuff. Stand tall; you made it!

-Parenting is tough. Wear your supermom/dad cape with pride, knowing this is perhaps the most difficult job you’ll ever have.

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3. Make a commitment and stand by your word.

“A commitment is doing what you said you’d do long after the mood you said you’d do it in is gone.” -George Zaluki

-Faith in God. Marriage. Jobs. Ministry. Taking your kids to the park. These are commitments we stand by whether we feel like it or not.

-I love the phrase, “Because I said I would…” There aren’t many characteristics I admire more in people than those who do what they said they’d do, when they said they’d do it.

4. Instead of shrinking from that which you’re afraid of, go toward it. Run! Now.

5. Put yourself in situations where you’re uncomfortable.

-Comfortable faith and comfortable lives don’t transform us or inspire others. Get to the point where you’re actually uncomfortable in your comfort zone.

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6. Surround yourself with people who are bolder and more courageous than you are. They’ll rub off on you.

7. Dream bigger.

-I’m a realist, so I’m guilty of dreaming small. I dream only for what I think is attainable. That’s boring, and it doesn’t involve faith or big thinking.

-Write those dreams down somewhere and share them with others. It makes them more real and you’re accountable for them.

8. Pretend you’re brave.

-When I first became a personal trainer, I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew I liked people and I liked movement…so I made people move. I faked it. When they’d ask why we were doing a particular exercise, if I didn’t know the answer, I’d say something semi-intelligent then let them know I’d research the answer. And I did. I got better.

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9. Practice being brave.

-Talk to your cashier. Ask them a specific question like, “Do you work all evening? Has it been a tough day?” Look them in the eye.

-Invite someone to your church. Or your gym. Or your play date group.

-Order your own food. I listened to one of the top-earners in Arbonne say she used to be so terrified of being in front of people that she actually couldn’t even order her own food at a restaurant or in the drive-thru.

-Ask your family and friends questions. Be in control of the conversation.

-Voice a complaint or a compliment–in person–at a local establishment.

-Discipline your kids. They’re kids; you know best. Be the boss.

-Ask for a raise and articulate why you deserve it. But be sure you deserve it.

 10. Ask God for courage. He commands it.

-Mary and Joseph, Ruth, Rahab, Joseph son of Jacob, Paul, Moses, Abraham, Solomon, David, Peter…these imperfect people trusted in a perfect God for their courage and strength.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Be braver, friends. I’m right there with you.