Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking Ahead: 2014

January always bums me out a little. With Christmas over, the snow suddenly seems a little less magical, Christmas songs are getting a little annoying, and the cold is settling in for another four months. I’m ready for tulips and sunshine, but instead we are stuck with snow heavy clouds, icy streets, and bitter winds. It’s safe to say that I catch a bit of the winter blues in January!

I figure this is the perfect time to start looking ahead to all the good that 2014 has to offer. I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions, simply because I haven’t had much luck following through with them in the past. A few years ago I discovered something I like much better—it’s called “My One Word.”

The idea behind “My One Word” is to pick one word that centers on your character and creates a vision for your future. Instead of making a long list of resolutions that will most likely fall of the radar by February, you pick a word that helps you narrow down your focus and provide some clarity. You can learn more here: http://myoneword.org/

For 2014, I have chosen the word “Abide.”  It comes from the passage of scripture found in John 15:4, which says, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”

This passage was read at our wedding in June, and it’s how we prepared ourselves for marriage. We refer back to this passage often to remind ourselves that whatever plans we make for ourselves better include the Lord, with the goal of glorifying his name. Without Christ, all of our well-intended plans will be meaningless. So while this is a passage that will continue to guide and shape the rest of our life together, I have chosen it for 2014 to remind myself to make plans for the future that include the Lord. Here are some things I have planned for 2014:

1.     Cherish life’s daily joys. Big and small.


Every day is worth celebrating, simply because God has granted us another day to live out his love. It can be difficult to appreciate his little blessings in the business of life, so we now have a visual reminder to help us slow down and take not of what God is doing for us. At the end of 2014 we’ll go back through the notes we threw into this little jar and remember all that God did for us—all the good, bad, and in between.

2.     Learn. Reach out. Speak.

We have a lot to learn! 2013 was a year of learning, especially when it comes to our book business. We took some big risks, trusted that God would provide for us, and then took some big steps. We want to keep learning all we can about how to market my writing, all the while keeping in mind that things might continue to go slowly for a few more years. We are having fun, though, and are grateful that for now we are in control over my writing. I am not currently under a contract to write, which means we can take a break while we figure out how we want to move forward with my publishing adventure. You can read more about the fears and doubts I have struggled with recently on my author blog: http://sarawhitley.wordpress.com/

With this in mind, we are striving to reach out and speak in 2014. We are researching events to go to sell books, and I’m also working very hard to set up some speaking events. I am excited to speak to the Sioux Falls Kiwanis club in February, and I’m contacting quite a few teachers with the hopes that I can get into many classrooms in 2014. I’m hoping to get into more libraries, shops, and bookstores in the coming year. Keep checking out my Facebook fanpage for all of those details!

3.     Run.

Running has always been a passion of mine, but I pushed it to the backburner when the opportunity to write presented itself. A pretty nasty IT Band injury didn’t help either, and the fact that I had to drop out of the cross country and track program at USF to begin working. I wasn’t running on a scholarship and things were getting a bit tight in the money department, so I made the choice to take a break with the hopes that after my injury healed I could just run on my own. Life got busy, however, and I simply didn’t make the time to schedule running back into my life. I want to change that in 2014! With these snazzy pink shoes and an injury prevention program in place, I am looking forward to getting back on the trail. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be heading up to the Twin Cities in October for my first marathon.

January is looking a little brighter as I look forward to all the things that 2014 has to offer! As always, I appreciate all the prayers and encouraging words from you, my family and friends. I find so much joy knowing that because I belong to the body of Christ, I am never alone—no matter how dark and cold this journey can get, I have a warm and loving support system to help me through.

Happy New Year! 

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 In Review

Ben and I are treating this normal life like one big, exciting adventure. While life changing moments may not take place every day, week, or month, the little moments add up to make the biggest memories, which we are treasuring up with the hopes that years down the road, after our yet to be family has grown and life has slowed down, we will be able to pull up and smile fondly at. (I hope nobody reads this and thinks we are about to be a family of three…not yet! J )

Here is a peek into 2013—a bigger year for us, one we will always hold near and dear to our hearts.


In January we welcomed our beautiful niece, Mariah Rose Harriman, into the world. We fell in love instantly, and every time we go down to Yankton Ben looks forward to one thing more than anything else—getting to hold the baby! She has brought so much joy into our lives, and we love watching her grow and change.

I also got the first printed copy of my first book—the promotional copy, as it is called in the publishing world.  I also gained control of my author website in January! A team at Tate Publishing put the site together and helped me get the hang of navigating it, then released full control over to me. Now I can upload photos, write blog posts, and make other changes to the site. Check it out here: http://sarawhitley.tateauthor.com/


I signed my contract for my second book in February! I was still in the beginning stages of learning how to market my first book, so this was a whirlwind time for me! Ben and I have learned so much since those first crazy months of book ordering and planning events. We are looking forward to all the events we will do in 2014.

February signaled the end of my days of a cashier. (Hopefully! I would take a second job in a heartbeat if we needed to, but I pray I don’t have to J) I started my wonderful new job at Lutheran Social Services in February! Back then I worked as an assistant teacher at an after-school and summer program, and I have since moved to a new program where I am the lead teacher of 16 of the squirreliest, funniest, most difficult group of kids I have ever had the privilege of working with. Some days I come home crying in frustration, other days I come home laughing and telling story after story of how wonderful my kids are. It’s the best job I’ve ever had, and I feel so blessed to have found it!


March was a busy, busy month of book promotion! On March 2nd I had my first official “pre-release” book signing at the University of Sioux Falls. I forget that most of you don’t understand all the publishing jargon that I have gotten to learn over the year, so I will fill you in on what this means. The pre-release stage in publishing is similar to when a movie releases in a movie theater. The point is to build excitement and get people talking about the movie so that when it releases to the public, people actually want to buy it. During the pre-release stage, I am the only one who has copies of the book, which I order directly from Tate Publishing. I receive these books at a discounted price and sell them for full profit, a great way to earn back the money I invested into the project—I earn my full investment back when I sell 1000 copies in actual book stores and from online sites such as Amazon.com. The copies I purchase don’t count towards the 1000 copies I have to sell, but it is the quickest way to make money on this project! And it is also fun to put on these events. I LOVE talking to people, especially kids who have a passion for reading and writing. If I can inspire just a few people or turn even one soul to Jesus, I have accomplished my goal. Here is what we did in March:

March 2nd—The first official pre-release party at USF
March 6th—I got to speak to the Faith Baptist Youth Group and share the story of how God lead me to pursue this dream and how he calmed my nerves and provided for me during each day of doubt. A wonderful night!
March 16th—Pre-release signing in historic downtown Yankton at Rexall Drug

I also attended my bridal shower and began writing my 3rd story—I didn’t plan on expanding any more on Molly’s story but God had other plans in mind. I have been spending my Christmas break pounding that out, and I have a fourth story on the backburner that I had been working on before my present project. Third book is called (at least for right now!) “A New Day Dawning” (I hope you all have caught on to my “A” theme!) and the fourth is “The Year of Jubilee.” I am beyond excited for these two stories!


In April the trailer of “Another Ending” was released! See it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgEyAV02zEU

USF also did a nice little news story for me. Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZLP0rJX2hM

Ben and I hit up LOTS of garage sales in April to fill up our first place! We moved him in at the end of April, and our apartment quickly became a cozy little home thanks to all the furniture my parents sent with us! Ben’s favorite is a giant overstuffed chair that doesn’t fit through any doorways or hallways. He had a blast taking off our front door and then removing the feet of the chair in order to get it into the apartment. He loved it even more when it wouldn’t fit down the hallway to the bedroom and we had to rearrange the living room to fit it in J (Did you catch the sarcasm? That chair is a source of great frustration for him. But it is a great chair and will be following us to our next place.)

I got a Facebook fanpage in April! If you haven’t “liked” my page, please do so here! https://www.facebook.com/authorsarawhitley I try to keep most of my book news separate from my personal page, to not overwhelm people with book posts!

To finish off April I turned 20 and celebrated with a yummy sundae, then watched my little brother grow up right before my eyes as he walked down Grand March at his prom.


I kicked off May by going to a local elementary school and speaking about my book! I am now in the process of writing and sending letters to teachers offering to come speak in their classrooms. If you know of anyone who might be interested let me know!

May is kind of a blur to me because a lot of things happened, but nothing really big happened. I am grateful for that month though, because the coming months would really make up for that! I finished my sophomore year and ran around getting all the last minute wedding details figured out. I spent countless hours constructing these guys:

Also, I watched my sister Katie graduate from Dordt College and this awkward family photo was born:

I started working full time in May at the summer program—I worked from 6:30-2:30 Monday through Friday all summer long. It was a struggle to drag myself out of bed most mornings, and I was glad to go back to the normal 2-6 when school started up again in August. My first book was also officially released, which means that bookstores were able to order and stock the book, and I could now to book signings in bookstores.

Oh, I also suffered a panic attack the end of May and ended up in the hospital. No big deal.



That tops anything else that happened in June. We honeymooned at a charming Bed&Breakfast in Jordan, Minnesota and hit up IKEA, Mall of America, and ValleyFair while in Minneapolis. Perhaps we will take a more exotic vacation before we start a family, but we are both pretty low-key people and those few days of relaxation and laughter in the warm Minnesota summer air were just what we needed after the previous fun-filled, stressful weeks.

I also got to see Barry Manilow in Sioux City with my mama! It was a blast—he may be in his 70s but he’s still got it and he knows how to put on a good show. I know you are all jealous 


In July we just had a good old time being silly together. Here are some of the things we did:


August was our first experience as a vendor at the Lifelight Music Festival. It was a hot, dusty, exhausting, extremely rewarding weekend!

I received the promotion copy of my second book “An Open Window” in September. It was amazing to hold two published works in my hand and marvel at how far God had taken us.


I did my first signing at an actual bookstore! It was so fun to set up at Crossroads Book & Music in Sioux Falls and meet with readers. I got to do an interview with Keloland too, to promote the event! If you missed it, catch the blurb here: http://www.keloland.com/newsdetail.cfm/20-year-old-author-publishes-first-book/?id=154408

We also did more silly, fun things, and celebrated 5 years of togetherness: 


November was pretty low-key for us. I learned so much from my students about thankfulness, and celebrated Thanksgiving with both sides of the family. My mom and I also went to see The Cake Boss at the Washington Pavilion!


The highlight of December so far has been picking up my sister at the airport, who had spent the last five months teaching overseas. I got the first hug J

It’s been a blur of Christmas gatherings, Christmas goodies, and hours of shopping and wrapping gifts. Ben and I are looking forward to going home and celebrating our Savior’s birth with both sides of the family—it’s so convenient that they live in the same town!

So much to be thankful for in the last year! We are looking forward to all the adventures to come in 2014! Thank you for walking this road with us.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Cupcakes, Cookies, and Christmas Books--A Tale of a Special Christmas Party

My job is one of the greatest sources of stress in my life. It is also one of the greatest sources of joy. Imagine being bombarded with 16 kindergarten through fifth graders who have just sat through an entire day of school—most of them have ridden the bus for over an hour before coming to school. Needless to say, the kids are often already wired and reckless or tired and cranky. One day the program is utter chaos, and I feel like I’m a chicken running around with my head cut off dealing with one crisis after another. Other days I wander around, scratching my head, wondering who kidnapped my rowdy kids and replaced them with calm, respectful kids. I like those days J.

I liked yesterday too. And yesterday was the opposite of calm!  Yesterday was our Christmas party, and all of the kids had just come from Christmas parties from school—where there was candy, cookies, games, and no structure whatsoever. My kids came running down the hallway with grins on their faces and arms full of gifts from their teachers. And this is when my heart melted.

My kids attend a low income school—and it shows. They show up wearing old clothes, worn shoes, and hungry bellies. I’ve never seen kids so excited about eating fruit as these kids! They rely on the school to provide breakfast and lunch for them as the only meal they are assured is dinner. On the weekends they are sent home with food and if they miss school on Friday, that means they and their families will go hungry. A few of my kids cry at least two times a week because they don’t want to go home because at home, they are hungry. It breaks my heart.

Special days at school are a million times more special to the kids at this school than they ever were for me. Teacher gave me cookies? No big deal—mom would help us make Christmas cookies over break. Teacher gives us a bag full of pencils, erasers, and a sharpener? Who cares? I have plenty of pencils at home.  For my kids, these simple things are the truly amazing. The church we have our program at put on the Christmas party for us, where they provided apple cider, a fruit and vegetable tray, and Christmas cookies for the kids to decorate. Those veggies disappeared so fast, I could have blinked and never known they existed. They were thrilled to have fresh veggies to snack on!

But the greatest part of the day was seeing my kids open their hearts and give. Immediately when the kids came down from their classrooms to come find me, they were searching for what they could give me. One of my sweetest, funniest students insisted that I take the wrapped present that her teacher had given her, and I knew that if I said no it would break her heart. After making sure she was absolutely sure that she wanted to give me her gift, I graciously accepted it and opened it with her.  It was a Christmas book, which we then read together; a sweet moment I will hold in my heart. Another student gave me the fluffy cupcake she’d gotten from her classroom party, and then later gave me the cookie she had frosted—decorated with treats I had given her as a gift.

These three things—a cupcake, a cookie, and a Christmas book—will hands down be my favorite gifts this Christmas, as I know that the little ones who gave me these things had nothing else to give. They will most likely not wake up to a Christmas tree overflowing with gifts like I did as a child. Who knows if some of them will even receive one thing? Still, I did not see one pair of sad eyes in my program yesterday, because what they had been given was more than enough. To me, it seemed like so little, and for them to give what little they did have truly touched me.

I will miss those little stinkers over Christmas break. I pray they are blessed by others as much as they blessed me yesterday.

Merry Christmas

The Widow's Offering

Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins.

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on."

Mark 12