Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Guest Post: Choose What Matters This Christmas

It’s playing on the radio right now—that beloved Christmas carol. It’s blaring through my speakers louder than some people blast their rock music. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. I’d sing along if I wasn’t—you know—writing.

Why am I writing? It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I’m curled up in front of our freshly trimmed Christmas tree and the Christmassy coziness is REAL. I’m writing because, three days into the holiday season, I’m already suffering from Christmas Brain.

In other words, I can’t remember anything other than the lyrics to my favorite Christmas carols, recipes for Christmas cookies, and the day’s date. (Why the date? Because I’m counting down the days until Christmas…wishing there were more of them.)

Now, at this point, you’re probably thinking this is going to be a happy little post all about the Christmas spirit or something.

Not to burst your bubble or anything but…

It’s not.
This is a guest post about how I FORGOT TO WRITE THIS GUEST POST. About how I thought Stephanie must have been mistaken when she asked me where my guest post was. That was on Saturday and I ever-so-nicely replied that she must have made a mistake. Um…nope. That would be me.

Of course, Stephanie ever-so-sweetly reassured me that it was FINE and that I didn’t have to write a post if I was too busy. Of course, I insisted that it wouldn’t be a problem. That I could get the blog post written and sent to her on time. Which—obviously—I did.

And now I will actually begin my post.

And I’m writing this post for me. Because I need it. And maybe you need it too.

I’m a workaholic.

Now wait—before you think this is just a re-write of Tessa’s post from last month. It’s not. Promise.
I’m not here to help you make sense out of the crazy chaos surrounding a busy school, work, and writing schedule. I’m not even going to touch that subject since I’m obviously still figuring it out myself.

No, what I’m here to say today is this.


If you’re like me, you don’t stop to think, to breathe, or even sleep. You rush ahead, meeting the world head-on as you chase your dreams. That’s great—it really is. But it isn’t enough. We all need time to stop, think, and just be. We need to be able to enter into a place with our Lord and Savior and rest in His love, in His presence, in His words that say that we are enough because of Him (1 Corinthians 3:5).

That’s why I want to encourage you to take these weeks leading up to Christmas and lay aside the chaos of life. Am I telling you to procrastinate? No. Be lazy? Absolutely not!

I’m telling you to rest. Take a break from those “optional” things that you normally just can’t say no to. It’s the season of Advent, of Christmas. The season that celebrates the greatest gift ever given to us—a baby.

When Jesus came to earth, he was laid in a manger in a barn. A barn? Not one of those cutesy stables with a nice, cozy feeding trough lined with supersoft blankets you see in nativity scenes. It was a dirty, smelly BARN—simplicity at its finest.

And if God can send His one and only Son to earth to spend his first hours in something as unglamorous as a barn, can’t we take a little break? Do things just a little more simply this Christmas season? Let’s not worry so much about growing our platforms, about meeting that self-imposed deadline, or about keeping a perfect blog schedule. Those things can wait.

What can’t wait?

Today is here and then it’s gone, faster than snow melting during the spring thaw. You’ll never be able to get today back, you’ll never be able to slow down the hands of the clock or—oh, how I wish—rewind time.

So whatever you have planned today—take a second look. What do you HAVE to get done? What can wait ? And what, most of all, does your heart need?

Maybe it’s just some extra quiet time with God. Maybe it’s coffee with that special friend or a night sipping cocoa by the fireplace with your family. Maybe you’re like me—an introvert who has already peopled way too much for the week—and you just need to take an hour to read or write in your journal.

Whatever it is—do it. Make the time to rest, to recharge.

When Jesus visited Mary and Martha, did he tell Martha: “Oh, look at you! You’re running around, stressing yourself out all because of Me. Blessed are you, dear sister.”


He praised her sister, Mary, for laying aside the things that could wait and just being in the presence of her Lord and Savior.

So, today, as we gear up to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the day He came to Earth to cleanse our sins and make for us a forever home in Heaven, rest in Him. Whatever you have going on, good or bad—it’s temporary. Think about everything on your to-do list. Which of those things will matter—I mean really matter—in six months? Focus on them first.

And then, before you move on to those other things—the ones you’d really like to do—take a moment. Ask His guidance. But don’t do it because you “have to” or because “that’s just what you do.”

During this precious Christmas season, don’t forget the joy that is found in sitting back, reveling in the holidays, and celebrating the precious gift of our Savior.

And if you listen to Christmas carols and munch on a few cookies while you do that?
Even better.

Taylor Bennett is the author of the contemporary YA novel, Porch Swing Girl, which releases from Mountain Brook Ink in June 2018. When she isn’t pecking madly at her computer, she’s playing violin on her church’s worship team, snapping pictures, or walking in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. She loves to connect with future readers on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram (her favorite!) as well as on Goodreads and her author website.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Rapunzel Taught me About Spiritual Bondage

Rapunzel is my favorite Disney princess. 

She and I have a lot in common. We’re both creative people who like to read books and bake pastry. We have long hair and are skilled with frying pans. I like that she plays instruments. Rapunzel isn't my favorite for our similarities, though. She's my favorite because out of all the princesses, she taught me the most about overcoming anxiety.

If you haven't seen Tangled, there are two important things you should know about Rapunzel. First, that she has the heart and ability to build an entire world out of a really crappy living situation. Second, that she’s been captive in a prison tower for her entire life and has no idea what the outside world is like.

This is one of my favorite scenes from Tangled. In it, Rapunzel chooses to take a risk for freedom and exits her prison tower for the first time.

That's cool, right?

This scene represents a really special time in my life. When I was fifteen, I went through an intensive spiritual course called The Seven Steps to Freedom in Christ. It was a program that helped free me from crippling anxiety. My tower was fear and I'd been stuck inside it since before I could remember. This scene was what it felt like to finally let it go and be free.

I'm sharing this with you because I know we all have towers. Pieces of spiritual bondage that have kept us captured for months and years at a time. Things like anger, bitterness, anxiety, and depression. The good news is that those things aren't hopeless things. Jesus is the answer and He will set you free.

Overcoming anxiety and bondage has been a journey for me. One that fights against demons and relapses, but gets easier as the days move on and my trust in God strengthens.

Before we finished the seven step program, my mentor and friend sent me this scene. Rapunzel finally has first-hand experience in how awesome freedom actually is. Yet, despite everything she's experienced, she's tempted to go back. Again, she weighs between freedom and bondage.


Something that's interesting about spiritual bondage is that while it keeps you in definite and obvious chains, it starts showing you how to adjust to those chains. It even starts to make you believe that your bonds are comfortable and better than actual freedom. Rapunzel is a creative princess. To cope, she paints the walls within her tower and decorates with candles and pies. She makes captivity a nice place to be.

...until she goes outside.

If we want to be free of spiritual bondage, we have to walk away from our comfort zones and our coping mechanisms. We have to recognize that unknown freedom is better than familiar bondage. 

One last thing, and it's about Mother Gothel.

The biggest tool I found to help me overcome anxiety was separating the lies of the devil from the truth of Christ. I believed a lot of lies! The devil is a sneaky foe, and often he weaves his lies within the truths we believe about God. This is exactly the way Mother Gothel keeps Rapunzel captured, too.

Posing as someone who loves her--posing as something good, Mother Gothel uses the same mixture of truth and lies to keep Rapunzel from ever experiencing true freedom. When Rapunzel finally seeks out the whole truth, Mother Gothel has no more power over her.

This is why stories are my favorite. Tell me about a spiritual truth you've learned through a fictional book or movie!


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

How I Got to New York (Part 2)

:: Read Part 1 ::

This evening I was dancing around the kitchen to music and it hit me just how crazy that was. I haven’t been one to hugely reflect on being sick, because I’ve put all my new healthy energy into living again.

But then every once in a while, the remembering hits. And it’s a tidal-wave. Three years ago right now, I was hardly surviving. I was sleeping every minute I could, my brain stopped recalling information, and I started experiencing partial seizures. One day I wrote this list of things that were difficult for me. Some were: climbing stairs, opening Ziplock bags, and opening windows. I wore the clothes that took the least energy to maneuver in. In high school, I carried around an entire backpack full of medicine and somehow had to fit seven doses into a day.

The thing is that I didn’t just pop up here. I didn’t just appear back in Virginia with a professional writing contract, an internship with Hartline Literary Agency, and a healthy body. I didn’t just get to start school and decide to work four different jobs in an industry that I love. I mean, I did. But I didn’t at first. At first, it wasn’t supposed to be possible.

The thing is that—three years ago—even after all that medicine, my body still fell short. It still didn’t work.

… and that’s part of the story I haven’t really told yet.

We spent over two years doing experimental treatment, and after those two years, my test results came back with hardly any improvement. Shortly after turning nineteen, I walked into my doctor’s office as chronically ill home-girl teenager who wanted to live in her home state forever. And then I walked out with a document that said, “Get as far away from Virginia as you can or spend the rest of your life sick.”

In three days, I left my house. I was told never to come back.

In three months, I left the state. I was told never to come back here, either.

Taking a gamble for my health, I left my family, friends, mountains, town, job, and everything I’d ever known.

Then I moved to a town I’d never visited to live with a family I’d never met. And getting better was a 50/50 chance. 

That’s how I got to New York.


Monday, November 6, 2017

How to Manage Your Crazy Workload Without Going Crazy Yourself [Guest Post]

Hi, my name is Tessa … and I’m a workaholic. I love the feeling that comes from staying productive and reaching new milestones. It keeps me striving forward as I reach for my dreams. This has lead me to a career as an author, associate literary agent at Hartline Literary, YA acquisitions editor at Illuminate YA, and editor-in-chief for Pursue Magazine.

Although being a workaholic can become unhealthy if it gets out of hand, I’ve learned, through trial and error, how to manage my crazy schedule without going crazy myself.

I think this is an important skill for all writers to learn. In order to make a living as an author these days, most of us can’t simply depend on the royalty checks we receive from our books alone. Aside from managing social media, email, and marketing our books, we have to create other streams of income as well. This can come from booking gigs as a speaker and/or a writing instructor or becoming a blogger, freelance writer, freelance editor, etc.

But how is it possible to effectively balance these separate entities without going crazy?

It comes down to evaluating how we spend our time. Here are 10 ways I’ve managed to keep everything on my plate—without losing my mind in the process.

1) Keep a planner (or productivity app).

Although there are several planner/productivity apps people use to organize their time and tasks, I prefer to use a physical planner. For the past few years I’ve used an Erin Condren planner. This allows me to keep track of my daily to do lists, set monthly goals, and keep track of my deadlines.

2) Prioritize.

On my planner, I use a highlighter to highlight the tasks that are a priority for that specific day. Doing this helps me to not become overwhelmed when I look at the list as a whole, and instead I can focus on the tasks that need to be accomplished that day. The lesser-important tasks are then pushed to the next day. If they aren’t complete by the end of the week, then I usually try find time to accomplish them on Saturdays.

3) Take breaks.

Even though I love being ambitious and staying productive, I’ve learned (the hard way) how important it is to take breaks. I try not to work any more than eight hours a day—then I’m off of the computer for the rest of the day. I’m far more productive in the long run when I do make it a priority to take daily breaks.

4) Make time for yourself and have quiet time with God.

There’s a difference between taking a break from work and making time for yourself. When you aren’t working, do you find yourself working on other projects or doing favors for others? Analyze where your energy is spent. For most of us, it’s impossible to spend eight hours a day entirely focused on ourselves. We have a life to manage, after all! However, our energy is replenished when we do devote a certain amount of time to ourselves daily—and most importantly, when we make time to spend with God.

Every day, I try to do something for myself—whether it involves taking a walk with my dog, spending time with friends, or reading a book that I’ve been itching to read. But even if I can’t find time for myself, I make sure to protect my quiet time with God. After all, He’s the One gives me the strength I need to accomplish the daily work He’s given me. And the time I spend in prayer and in the Word will reap both earthly and eternal benefits (1 Tim. 4:8).

5) Keep a regular schedule.

This is probably the hardest for me. I’m more of a night owl, so it requires a lot of self-discipline to go to bed early and wake up early. But I’m most productive when I can get an adequate amount of sleep at night and keep a semi-regular schedule throughout the day.

For instance: In the mornings, after I have quiet time, breakfast, make coffee, and do my morning exercise, I then spend 20 – 30 minutes scheduling social media for the day. After that, I’ll spend about 20 minutes answering important emails. Then I begin to work on knocking tasks off my to-do list, beginning with the most important. I continue to work until around 5 or 6 in the evening.

6) Assign days to specific projects.

This is something new I’ve started to do, and I’ve already found it to be beneficial. Since I work for separate entities, it’s easier to organize their specific tasks and assign them for different days of the week. This may change, however, depending on deadlines and such.

7) Don’t overcommit yourself.

Do I sound like a hypocrite by advising this? ;) Honestly, I have had to learn this the hard way. I don’t like to say no to new opportunities—but I can’t juggle too much at once. When I try to do this, then I end up devoting only a small amount of my attention into each project.

I know how much I can handle per day. So, whenever I’m presented with a new project, assignment, or opportunity, I don’t let my emotions make the decision; instead, I evaluate my current to-do list. I analyze whether or not I’d have the time/energy required to perform this task. Then I can realistically know whether or not I should move forward or say no. The latter isn’t always fun, but it’s a vital part in keeping my sanity—and staying more productive in the long run.

8) Don’t be afraid to hire—or ask for—help.

I have interns and others working with me at IlluminateYA, Pursue Magazine, and Hartline Literary (including Stephanie!). Without them, it’d be impossible for me to manage 100% of the job’s responsibilities entirely on my own.

If you’re finding it difficult to juggle your separate jobs, perhaps you should consider hiring help or seeking unpaid interns. You can hire a social media manager, secretary, publicist, etc. You can also find college students who would be happy to work at an unpaid internship in the field they’re studying. Consider posting an ad on

9) Keep your health in balance.

When our mental/physical health isn’t in balance, then we can’t adequately accomplish our daily tasks. This is why keeping good health has become a priority in my life. I make sure that my daily diet gives me the nutrition I need and that I exercise daily. Click here for my complete list of 8 ways writers can keep their health in balance.

10) Stay focused and eliminate distractions.

Only you know what distracts you the most—whether it’s social media, YouTube, housework, texts/phone calls, etc. Whatever it is, do what you can to remove those distractions when you sit down to work. Give yourself a time limit for the task you’re accomplishing; that way, you can stay focused within that timeframe.

I’ve found it helpful to change up my work locations. Some days, I might work from a coffee shop; other days, I’ll work at my standing desk; other days, I might work on my screened in porch. Do what works best for you. Just make sure that 100% of your attention is given to the specific task at hand.


In order to make a living from working on your passions at home, you need to first learn the art of time management and self-discipline. Analyze how you spend your time and when your energy is at its peak. Discover how you can best keep track of your tasks—whether it’s by using an actual planner or an app.

Then, create a schedule that will allow you approx. eight hours of work, eight hours of non-work (which includes breaks and quiet time), and eight hours of sleep.

Only then will you learn the secret to managing your crazy workload—without going crazy yourself.

~ ~ ~ 

How do you manage your time and workload? 

Do you prefer to use a planner, productivity app, checklists, etc.?

Tessa Emily Hall writes inspirational yet authentic YA fiction to show teens they’re not alone. Her passion for shedding light on clean entertainment and media for teens lead her to a career as an Associate Agent at Hartline Literary Agency, YA Acquisitions Editor for Illuminate YA (LPC Imprint), and Founder/Editor of Tessa's first teen devotional will release with Bethany House in 2018. She's guilty of making way too many lattes and never finishing her to-read list. When her fingers aren’t flying 116 WPM across the keyboard, she can be found speaking to teens, decorating her insulin pump, and acting in Christian films. Her favorite way to procrastinate is by connecting with readers on her blog, mailing list, social media (@tessaemilyhall), and website:

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Day of Big Dreams

Today's been the kind of day that needs a lot of deep breaths. It's my first Sunday here in Virginia since moving on Wednesday, and homesickness is hitting me pretty hard. My room is still piles of clothes and boxes, I have a cold, and somehow I still seem to be freezing despite many layers of blankets, sweatshirts, and socks. I'm starting a new job tomorrow that I'm so thankful for -- but I'm also having car trouble. So I'm nervous about even getting there. In some ways, it seems like there's a lot against me. But I know there's a lot for me, too.

Just when I was getting pretty down, I noticed this. It was written one year ago today, after I experienced a period of creative silence. It was me, three years after signing my book contract, finally beginning to hash out how I felt about everything. How I felt about waiting three years for publication, and how I felt about the future of my story.

I've worked out a lot of things since that post. When I wrote it, I wasn't expecting to. I wasn't expecting to have answers now. But here we are. I'm going to tell you about those answers soon. If you're signed up for my newsletter, you might already know some of them. I'm going to tell you about where I'm going, what I'm doing, who I'm working with, and what in it for the future of Reaching Home. But all you need to know right now is that a year later, I'm sitting in a cold Virginia bedroom and I'm here to chase my writing dreams.

In the post, I referenced today as a day of "big dreams and bright stars." It's the day I signed my book contract. The day that I finally thought I could start chasing being a writer. Here I am four years later, four years older, unpacking boxes, driving a dying car, living in a new town (again!) and all because I'm still after that dream. Still succeeding, little by little. Still dedicating my life to this.

It's not going the way that I would have planned necessarily. But one of the things that I love about dreams is that they're so strong, so important, and so passionate that we are willing to do all the hardest things to make them possible.

Yeah, it's tough.

It's t o u g h.

But it's possible.

So here we go...

To the day of big dreams and bright stars. 


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Truth Notebook 9/10/17

Freely I have given you, now freely give.
"Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."
How deep the Father's love for us.
But every day is a new beginning.
"Many dream by night... but those who dream by day will change the world."
"There is no language for this kind of loss."
The saddest kind of life must be one where you cannot pray.

You will stop at nothing 
To heal my broken soul
I realized you never left
And for this moment 
You planned ahead

The world changes today.
Some people spend so much time talking about God they don't have any time left over to act like Him.
"A stranger by sight isn't always a stranger by spirit."
They buried us. They didn't know we were seeds.
He has not left us as orphans.
So it was not you who sent me here, but God.
Even the wind and the sea obey Him.

The world is just as scary as I thought it was
But your love makes me braver still

Exceedingly and abundantly above all we ask or think.
"Grace came down and opened us like flowers."
See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
If pain makes you unable to feel, write about love instead.
"How can a man just keep walking around with his heart full of holes?"

The tune resonates in the open space 
To show us how emptiness sings

Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.
God doesn't give us permission to reject people. 
Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe.
Forgive him, for the Father in Heaven has forgiven you.
If the Spirit says, "Go."
He cares about specific needs, too.
Longing for the Father's love.
Grace tonight will pull us through.
"We in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes."
I must understand my identity in God.
Thy will be done.
Jesus, my most precious treasure.

To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
If stretched from sky to sky

I have decided to follow Jesus.

No turning back.

No turning back.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Cover Reveal: Where Dandelions Grow by Lydia Howe

Hi all! Welcome.

This is my first cover reveal ever, and I'm super happy that it gets to be for Lydia. A few years ago, Lydia and I emailed back and forth about our experiences with Lyme Disease. She had suffered from the illness for multiple years and was just beginning to get better. I was really sick, though. I will never forget how much her encouragement meant to me during those dark days. She even sent me a "get well soon" package with fuzzy socks and a notebook. This girl is gold.

Anyway... to the cover reveal!

Where Dandelions Grow is Lydia's newest novel. It's set to release in ebook on September 26th! The book is available for pre-order through Amazon at this link and only costs $0.99! Here's the blurb:

Cousins are forever, or at least they’re supposed to be.

What happens when your world falls apart and your dreams are mocked by those closest to you?

Destiny’s idyllic childhood full of laughter and cousins abruptly ended when her mom uprooted the family to move them across the country with strict instructions to never talk about Swallow Ridge again. Eleven years later Destiny moves back to her hometown, determined to find her cousins… and answers.

Plagued by generations of bitterness and manipulation, Destiny hides her life-long goal - unwilling to let anyone else trample her fragile dreams. But living in the cozy town full of dandelions teaches Destiny there’s more to life than what she’s been taught.

Is it possible Swallow Ridge not only holds the answers Destiny so intensely searches for, but also the hope?

... and the cover!

Congratulations, friend! So beautiful.

Lydia is hosting a giveaway here that you should absolutely enter. Also, be sure to check out her blog. I love reading up on all her travels and adventures!  

Let's send Lydia some love! What do you think of her cover? Is there a blogger in your life who has blessed you during a difficult time?