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Jennifer square new blue backgroundToday, it’s an honor and delight to feature a guest post from Jennifer Camp. Jennifer and I met online and engage with one another online. But Jennifer’s more than a 1×1 avatar to me. She’s near and dear to my heart, a woman I call soul sister without hesitation, someone I can’t wait to meet in real life. How do I know this? Because Jennifer’s writing is deeply revealing of her heart. And I’m convinced Jennifer’s heart is a close match to mine.

Loop cover image amazon (1)Friends, it’s special day for Jennifer! Today her first book, Loop, is being released. Loop is a beautiful devotional written from the heart of God our Father, for His daughters. Loop is a must if you’ve ever longed to be known, to be heard, to be loved and accepted right where you are. Jennifer has been gifted with a love for words. And today, I’m believing the Spirit is ready, waiting to speak to us through Jennifer’s writing. Check out Loop, now available for purchase on Amazon, will you? It would be a perfect gift for a loved one, or maybe a fresh devotional is just what you need to ring in the new year.

Without further ado, I’ll let Jennifer’s beautiful words speak for themselves.


The hard way as the reward?

We didn’t know what we were getting into.

We wanted to go on a hike, the five of us. And when I heard there was a trail up the side of a mountain, something in me burned to go.

So we head up Brokeoff Mountain, one of four volcanoes broken off of much larger volcanoes thousands–if not millions–of years ago, in Lassen National Park. The trail begins ascending almost immediately, gradually, but more steeply than the kids are used to. And after just a mile in, seven-year-old Abby decides she doesn’t want to go anymore.

But we have just two and half more miles to the top, a round trip of only seven miles. I can’t imagine turning around so soon. Abby and her two brothers, Jackson and Oliver, know we are all going up.

Justin plans these camping trips for us multiple times a year. He likes researching and organizing the details of our family’s next outdoor adventure. But on this hike, he is equally open to turning around and continuing on (although it is important, for the sake of morale, to not yet tell this to the kids). The trail is difficult and steep. One child, and then another–when the bees begin buzzing around him and one finally bites him–is complaining.

Are we doing the right thing? Is it right to keep pushing on, to not give up, even though the way is hard?

More often, in moments like this, I find I don’t feel depleted. I feel challenged, motivated, encouraged even more to keep going.


Jackson asks me, in his sincere voice, why I like to hike up difficult trails like this–and why we encourage the kids to do it with us, as a family. I love this question. I love how it prompts me to think about the real motivation behind the sweat, the effort, the challenge of it all.

“You know, buddy, I feel like an easy answer would be for me to say for the view. Because whenever we go up to the top of these mountains we climb the view, of course, is amazing. And we see things God made that we would never experience with our own eyes, otherwise, in such an intimate way. But I think the biggest reason I love this is because of the experience of trying to get there. It takes effort. It isn’t easy. I have to push myself to keep going. It’s uncomfortable. And there is something about being outside and moving forward and being grateful all the while for God’s gift to me–legs and arms and strength–that keeps me wanting to press on, keep moving up. The reward may be the experience of the challenge itself. I love doing the hard work towards a reward I know is going to be worth all the effort–and more beautiful and appreciated because of the hard work to get to the top. And doing it together helps us get to places we might not have the courage to go on our own.”


I am good at saying ‘yes’ to the hard thing on hikes, in the outdoors, when I am surrounded by beauty, when I am with family and friends and not alone and can taste the reward of all the effort, so soon, so close. I have more trouble digging in, being grateful for the hard tasks God puts in front of me, asking me to trust Him in so many other areas of my life: writing, parenting, marriage, friendship. Even though He is with me, whispering encouragement to me, urging to keep walking, continue trusting Him and going on.

God tells us the race is going to be difficult, the road narrow, the way with Him challenging to traverse. And I don’t like to hear that truth sometimes. When the going gets tough in other areas of my life, beyond climbing a mountain with my family in a canvas of beauty, I complain with God, wondering why I have to work so hard, or doubt what I am doing is the right thing, only because the results of my efforts aren’t yet obvious. I get impatient for the reward now.

But we must wait. And keep climbing. And know He is with us, coaxing us onward, up that hill, whatever it looks like for us right now. And the scenery may not be so great. And our muscles may be aching and our heart beating fast and everything in us screams to turn around and head straight down the other way. But He is with us. He is. He does not leave us. He encourages us on. And perhaps, this, right here, the struggle, could be the reward we don’t have to wait for? Being with Him, in the tough places—right now?


Jennifer square new blue backgroundJennifer, co-founder of Gather Ministries, grew up in the middle of an almond orchard in Northern California. A former high school English teacher, she loves to write…but she especially loves to encourage people to seek and live out the truth of their story, their identity in Christ. After leading and teaching women’s ministry groups at her home church for ten years, Jennifer wanted to create a smaller, more intimate group—a safe place for women to gather, be vulnerable, and encourage each other in the sharing and living out their life with Christ. You can read more about the group, called My Girls, here.

Her heart to encourage God’s girls, and her love for writing and story-telling, prompted the creation of her blog, You Are My Girls. Her newest adventure with God, Loop, was stirred by Jennifer’s desire for women to listen to God’s voice, to be reminded of the truth of who they are. You can also find Jennifer writing with her husband, Justin, at Holy, a blog about the redemptive mess of marriage.


I respect you, my readers, immensely. I honor every minute and hour you’ve dedicated to reading this blog, and know this is a busy time of year. So today, we’re headed straight to the heart of the matter.

If you could take a few moments to complete the Second Annual Divine in the Daily Reader Survey, I would be oh so grateful. Similar to last year, I’ve included a variety of questions to accommodate your different personalities. Some questions are highly demographic in nature, others require a more thoughtful response. For the open-ended questions, feel free to write as little or as much as you’d like, or even leave a question blank if it doesn’t suit your style or mood today.

And rest assured, the survey is completely anonymous! 

To complete the Second Annual Divine in the Daily Reader Survey, click here.

Thanks in advance for your time and thoughtful responses. Your feedback will help me move forward with greater focus and clarity, and for that, I’m grateful.



It was a work day for me. I’d made a quick stop at the mall to grab some mittens for my daughter and pay a bill at Sears, and was on my way out. Just seconds after I’d rejected the hair straightener dude who tried to sell me a hot iron as I passed, I walked briskly towards another kiosk where Pete was singing and playing guitar. I’m not sure what came over me, but I knew I needed to talk to this guy. Within a matter of 5-10 seconds, I got the gist of his brilliant business, grabbed his card, and told him I’d be back to chat another day. It was all a bit surreal, really. I’m pretty sure we were supposed to cross paths.

I didn’t have much time before I had to get to my appointment, but couldn’t wait to know more. I looked at the clock in my car and realized I had about five minutes before I really had to go. So I quickly typed Pete’s URL,, into my phone, pulled up his site, and confirmed, this dude is awesome! He has a music video (at the end of this post), a serenade store where he writes and records songs for people, and a happiness store where he’s working towards funding small, but fun random acts of kindness towards others.

My mind raced about the ways Pete and I could collaborate with his songwriting, my writing, and our joint love for philanthropy and sharing peoples’ stories. Later that night, I shared the story with my husband and showed him Pete’s website. Our whole family watched his music video and listened to sample serenades on his site.

One week later, I plugged Pete into my schedule and made a trip back to the mall!


I approached and engaged Pete in a straight forward manner. I figured there was nothing to lose, and at this point, I knew I wanted to share Pete’s story on the blog, assuming he was open to the idea.

So before I tell you more about Pete and his journey to singing and songwriting, let me share what he’s doing at the mall this holiday season! Pete’s rented a kiosk on the second floor of Ridgedale Mall in Minnetonka, Minnesota. It’s called the Serenade Store. (Yes, I’m telling you this because you need to go meet him and hear him play for yourself!) For a reasonable fee, Pete will write and record a personalized song for your loved one! All you need to do is complete a short form with a few questions about the recipient of your song, and Pete will have a song ready for you in 15 minutes. You receive a CD and digital copy of the song, and there’s even an option to create an accompanying DVD slideshow and have Pete perform the song live on location if you wish! How awesome is that?! The dude is super creative. And there’s one thing you have to know – these aren’t cheesy songs, these are awesome, professional songs! Pete has three serenade samples on his website if you want to check them out. Based on everything I’ve heard and seen, I think this would be a GREAT Christmas gift for someone, how about you?!





Now that we’ve covered Pete’s Serenade Store, let’s move on to his story.

Pete says he was born with style and charisma, but growing up, he never considered himself a musician. He started playing guitar when he was 13 or 14 years old, and started singing in college. He began business school, but part way through, had an epiphany about life. Pete dropped out of business school and moved to Argentina. (Sound like a life-altering decision? Yep, it was.) While Pete was in Argentina, he sang, played guitar, and taught music and English.

When Pete returned to the United States, he re-enrolled in college and got his music degree. After obtaining his degree, he moved to California where he played and performed. It was then that Pete wrote a song for his girlfriend. The idea “exploded” more than he ever imagined.

Pete felt called to return home to Minnesota, but continued writing songs. He originally thought his songs would primarily be a gift given between husbands and wives, but it’s been much “bigger than that.” Pete’s even performed his original, customized songs at funerals, and his serenades have been given to recognize top-performing employees at corporations.

Pete shared that there are a few other people around the country who are doing what he’s doing (i.e., writing and performing personalized songs for people to give as gifts), but not many. “It’s very novel to write a song in 15 minutes,” Pete shared, so people think that’s cool. Typically, songs like these can run as high as $250. Pete’s most affordable option is $50 for a super cool customized song!

Pete’s “not where he wants to be yet” when it comes to music. Yet he’s slowly, but surely working towards BIG dreams. “When your priority is to do what you love,” said Pete, “you gotta figure out how to keep the dream going and give back.”

Pete gets asked a lot if he was born playing music. He actually thinks it’s more about work ethic than talent. Pete’s a firm believer in the 10,000 hour theory, that no one really becomes a master of their craft until they’ve put in at least 10,000 hours practicing. So he’s putting in the hours wherever he can, he’s doing what he loves, and he’s dreaming big with the hopes that one day, his music dreams will come true.

As we wrapped up our time together, Pete shared, “It’s the little things that make a huge difference.” So let’s take time to support Pete. Let’s love on a dude who’s following his dreams and doing awesome things with his gift of music. Check out his website, definitely visit him at the Ridgedale Mall if you’re local, and stay to chat a while. Maybe, just maybe, you have someone in your life who would LOVE one of Pete’s customized songs this Christmas!




DSC_2003I’ve been intrigued by the psychology of Disney’s Frozen since I saw it in the movie theater twice in one day. But beyond the psychology, there’s something else that will always tie our family’s heart to Frozen. Our nine-year-old daughter’s name is Elsa. After Frozen released, we downloaded the entire Frozen album from iTunes. Elsa and my husband proceeded to memorize every word of every song. And now? Well, let’s just say she’s overdosed on Frozen and is taking a sabbatical. Because with all the Frozen mania, I’m pretty sure that wherever she goes, people reference Frozen when they hear her name. “You’re Elsa, like Frozen?!”

Halloween 2014 was bound to be filled with millions of little Elsas and Annas. In fact, I asked our Elsa if she wanted to dress up as Elsa this year, and she said she’s going to wait until she’s 17 and get a “real” fancy Elsa dress for Halloween. But I was right about those millions of girls dressing up as Elsa and Anna. As I peered through a window in my daughter’s dance studio Halloween week, I saw six girls dressed as Elsa and two dressed as Anna. That represented just one dance class of 15 little girls.

On November 4, 2014, the Wall Street Journal featured an article titled “Elsa dominates Anna in Frozen Merchandise Sales.” It’s a really fascinating article if you’re interested in the psychology and popularity of Frozen, so definitely check it out. But this blog isn’t about numbers. It isn’t about sales. And it isn’t about data, marketing or anything of the like. So I have no intention of digging deeper into sales of Elsa merchandise vs. Anna merchandise.

But I would like to explore the WHY behind “Elsa dominates Anna in Frozen Merchandise Sales.” Because I like to analyze things like that. It’s simply fascinating and kind of fun.

So here we go. Let’s “Let it Go.”

Anna is everything everyone looks for in a sister or a friend. She’s vibrant, loving, energetic, spontaneous, and confident. Anna is authentic. She grieves the loss of her sister, loves chocolate, and is a romantic at heart. Anna is determined and loyal, and won’t let anyone stop her from accomplishing her mission. Not to mention, she’s cute, beautiful and rocks that green coronation dress.

But then there’s Elsa.

We identify so strongly with Elsa because of her gift.

Elsa possesses a special gift. She discovered that gift at a young age and used it for good. But eventually, the gift brought pain into her life. In fact, the gift she once used for good hurt a loved one, her own sister. The only solution was to limit Elsa’s contact with people, and to “keep her powers hidden from everyone.”

Elsa had a gift. Her life had purpose. Yet, she was asked to “conceal it, don’t feel it, don’t let it show.”

THIS is why we identify so strongly with Elsa. THIS is why “Elsa dominates Anna in Frozen Merchandise Sales.”

So Elsa hid away. She put gloves on. She became measured, reserved, and isolated. She was “a good girl.” Ultimately, Elsa spent too much of her life fearing her gift. She held back. She was scared that horrible things would happen if she released her power. She was scared that releasing her gift, wild and free, would have consequences.

Eventually, Elsa couldn’t keep it in anymore.

She had to break free. She had to break through. She sought freedom to use her gift with wild abandon.

When Elsa finally broke free, she made beauty with her gift. “That perfect girl is gone,” she sang from the tall ice castle she created in the wilderness.

Let’s face it, we’re disingenuous when we hide our gifts. There’s a falsity in putting on the good girl face. We aren’t perfect, but we are beautifully gifted.

Truth be told? We’re all like Elsa.

We’re all powerful, beyond our belief.

We’ve all been gifted with lovely, beautiful, amazing powers.

But sometimes, often, our gifts scare us.

Because we know there’s more to life than this.

We know, intuitively, that God put us here for a reason. We have a purpose to fulfill. We’re here for such a time as this.

Yes, we want to break free. Free from bondage. The good girl, the perfect girl, the measured, reserved, isolated girl wants to be free.

So we relate to Elsa. No longer could she sit on her gift. She let it go. She let. it go.

Yes, that’s what we want. To let go. To be free. To be released, to be me.

Gloriously, beautifully, powerfully, mysteriously, ridiculously free.


So I’ve presented my case, now it’s your turn! I’d love to know who you relate to more in Disney’s Frozen, Elsa or Anna, and why. Let’s chat in the comments!

And did you know I’m doing a GIVEAWAY today? I’m giving away ONE Disney FROZEN Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray DVD + DVD + Digital Copy! I know a lot of you already own Frozen, but a lot of you don’t. And NO household with girls should be without a copy of Frozen this Thanskgiving. So leave a comment on the blog, visit my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter, complete the Rafflecopter entries for each below, and you’ll be entered to win the DVD! Giveaway runs through Friday. I’ll notify the winner promptly so I can get you the DVD in time for Thanksgiving!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

The plan was perfect.

We scheduled our annual family photo shoot with the photographer we’ve used since 2009. Hubs ordered a sweater, I got a necklace and boots, and we put some outfits together for the kids. Everything was ready to go.

That is, until a toss-and-turn night found me sleeping on a chair in our bedroom. The next morning, our toddler came into the room, wondering why I was sleeping in the chair. She flung her body back hard with the intention of lying next to me, but instead banged my eye up big. It hurt. It swelled. I cried. And I had a black eye for two weeks.


Our perfectly planned family photo shoot was down the drain. We canceled, because truth is, I still had a black eye the day we were scheduled to shoot.

The photographer wasn’t available for two weeks, and we didn’t want to take any chances with winter weather on its way. So we decided to do our own make-shift family photo shoot. I’d just purchased my dream camera two weeks prior. Why not use it?

The plan was perfect.

We’d get all dressed up, just like we would’ve for our family photo shoot. And we’d use my brand new camera to take pictures of each other. Sure, we’d miss the family photograph of all five of us this year, but we’d get all the other pictures we wanted!

Off we went. The day was perfect. The sun was shining. The temperature was just right. The leaves were golden yellow. We couldn’t have asked for more.

That is, until things started going wrong.

The baby got crabby.


And I couldn’t get the lighting right (not to mention the tree coming out of her head).


Kids didn’t sit when they were supposed to sit.


Then it was windy.


Our pre-teen boy cooperated at first, but then got irritated with this process.


We moved to a new spot and he started cooperating again.

But apparently it takes more than two weeks to master the perfect balance of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture in the live context of a photo shoot, so we experienced more lighting issues before we found our happy spot again.



When I finally got the lighting JUST RIGHT, baby started getting extra crabby.


There was this.

DSC_0882Then this.


Yeah. We wrapped this shoot with more bad lighting and more baby crying.


This is how mama looks when baby’s standing on the ground screaming and clinging to mama’s legs, and daddy’s determined to finish this photo shoot properly. (This one seriously cracks me up. NOT cute.)


Daddy dashed for the car with said baby crying. I stayed to try to get a few more good shots of our two oldest. But they were clearly fatiguing. It was time to go.

All five of us got back in the vehicle. A few words were said. Then I put my dream camera away, looked out the window, and cried.

Our PERFECTLY PLANNED family photo shoot was NOT PERFECT.

When we got home, I was still quite upset.

I could’ve given up. I could’ve given in to the lie that we’d just experienced the most catastrophic disasters of family photo sessions in the entire world.

But I knew better. I knew there was still hope for this thing. I knew we’d taken some good shots. And I knew there were still a few good ones to be taken in our backyard.

So I put my brave on and got that camera back out.

Within 20 minutes, I had a handful of great pictures of our son, and 15-20 awesome shots of our oldest daughter.

After everyone went to bed that night, I spent two hours weeding through the day’s photographs, 350 a rough estimate. I made a list of every photo worthy of being transferred to a disc, checked it twice, and burned it baby.

“Fall Family Photo Shoot 2014”

We were doing this. We were choosing to remember the good that happened that day.

Three weeks later, I received an email from Shutterfly with some crazy deal, like 30% off holiday cards + another 40% off that! The offer expired the next day, so we knew we had to take advantage of it.

That night, we pulled out the CD from the NOT-SO-PERFECT family photo shoot. We selected seven pictures we LOVED and wanted to share on a Christmas photo card for family and friends.

And just a few days ago, we received the big orange Shutterfly box in the mail with 130 photo cards in it!

What were the words that came out of my mouth when I saw the cards for the first time?

“I love these! They turned out awesome!”

Life isn’t perfect. And typically? Family photo shoots are far from perfect.

But if we’re persistent, positive, and willing to look twice through those all those “horrible pictures,” we might just find a beautifully imperfect family, a beautifully imperfect life, and perfectly beautiful photographs waiting to be shared with loved ones.

ShutterflyShutterfly is running an awesome sale on Christmas photo cards through Sunday, November 16th! Just enter promotion code JOY2ALL at checkout, and receive 50% off 6×8 flat and 3/4 folded cards OR 40% off 5×7, 5×5, 4×8, 4×5 flat, 5×7 trifold, or 5×7 folded cards. And don’t forget free shipping on orders $39 or more; just enter code SHIP39 at checkout! This is one of the best sales Shutterfly runs on Christmas cards, and is the one our family typically takes advantage of every fall.

One more thing before I go…I’m excited to announce that I’ve recently become an affiliate for Shutterfly! That means that if you make a purchase from Shutterfly through the links in this blog post or any Shutterfly link on my blog from here on out, I’ll receive a small commission which will help cover some of the ongoing costs associated with the blog.

Wishing you patience and a sense of humor as you search those family pictures for one that represents your beautiful family.





P.S. This, of course, ISN’T our seven-picture Christmas card. But hey, I thought I’d give you a little sneak peek of one of the good photos and share one of Shutterfly’s cute designs!

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 1.08.45 PM

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means that if you click on the link and purchase something from Shutterfly, I will receive an affiliate commission. Having said that, I promise readers my highest of integrity in that I will only promote products I use, love, and believe will add value to your lives. I’m disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

  1. Melonie Robran says:

    I copy what Anne said! Bless you for helping us all realize we are far from perfect (whatever that is!) and that there is always good if we can calm down and see it! 🙂

  2. Anne Koste says:

    Oh My Word…hilarious!! I can’t wait to see your card…you need to post it here if you can. I bet it’s absolutely adorable!!

  3. Tom Baunsgard says:

    Amy, Great photos all! Playing with the camera and learning all the bells and whistles is difficult enough with out the dynamics of a photo shoot with the family. In those instances I tend to select the more automatic settings and then pic the best photos and adjust contrast, lighting and color saturation with software. Four years out and I’m still learning to use my camera. Looking forward to seeing the finished product on your Christmas Card 🙂

  4. Tanya Pietz says:

    This is great – and I am so so happy I am not the only one who has these photo shoot issues! Thank you for being real and authentic in sharing!

  5. Monica Anderson Palmer says:

    that’s awesome!

  6. Jessica Revak Milkes says:

    Awesome Amy!!! Being a photographer is hard work!!! You keep at it :). I can already see your talent shining through. No matter how awkward a photo I always see a beautiful family behind the lens. 🙂

  7. Raquel says:

    awesome Amy! Next is photoshop and you will be set 🙂 I found that a remote works great to get everyone in the pics 🙂

    • Amy says:

      Okay, Raquel. Tell me more about this remote! Obviously, a tripod would work to get the whole family, but after buying the camera, I didn’t want to fork out more money for a good tripod. So we’re holding on that for now. But I’d love to hear more about the remote.

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