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I’ll be blogging here only occasionally so I highly recommend you check out W&W. It’s all about “seriously joyful living”!

Whimsy & Wisdom

The last 25 years have been an incredible journey of exploring the world of publishing and books andsurprise for me!illustration and art. And, over the last few months, I feel like God has given me greater clarity about what to do with my gifts and talents.

After much reflection and prayer, I’ve decided to give my creative work a name: Whimsy & Wisdom! (Thus the renaming of this blog, which used to be called Piece of Mind.) As many of you know, I’m passionate about both faith and artistry, I can be both serious and silly, and I’m committed to truth while also being a fan of wholesome fantasy. I have written articles about difficult subjects and doodled whimsical butterflies.

Some people worry that if they’re too joyful, people will judge them for not being serious enough. The opposite is also true. I am on a mission to remind people that they can be botheven at the same time! I want to inspire you toward seriously joyful living.

In the coming months I will be working on projects I look forward to sharing with the world at some point. But, for now, I’d like to ask you to sign up to receive a FREE weekly e-newsletter I’ll be launching sometime in February. You won’t be receiving long letters or articles to read (although I may include the occasional interesting link). Rather, I would like to send you bite-sized inspiration, creative ideas, and tips for living with more joy. And while I may occasionally mention my books, this newsletter won’t be a weekly sales pitch. That’s a promise!

How does that sound? Are you in? Then please click on this link and fill in just a couple of quick details: http://eepurl.com/hmTd8j. That’s it! 🙂

I’m not sure of the exact date I’ll send the first newsletter, but I’ll probably send an update in the next few weeks. Of course, you will always have the option to unsubscribe if you’re not enjoying the weekly emails.

Thank you for your time, interest, and encouragement! Wishing you many blessings in the days ahead,

Ann-Margret

New Year, New You

Five to Wear

When holidays and celebrations roll around, it’s not unusual for women to look for a new outfit to wear. I’m not as much of a shopper as I used to be but I still enjoy putting on a pretty new blouse or heading out in cool new boots. Let’s face it: We live in a fashion-obsessed world.

But did you know that the Bible gives the best outfit advice? Look at Colossians 3:12…

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Think about the word “clothe” for a moment. When you get dressed every morning, I assume you open your closet or drawers, look at what you have, and choose what you’re going to wear. Whether you lay your clothes out the night before or throw them on in a mad dash before going out, it’s probably safe to say you choose your outfit.

How much time do you spend every morning deciding what qualities and character traits you are going to adorn yourself with? How much thought do you put into what people see and experience three seconds after they notice your clothes and hair?

It really doesn’t matter how sharp your suit is or how darling your dress is if you forget these garments at home:

  1. COMPASSION – sympathetic concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others (see also Zechariah 7:9)
  2. KINDNESS – the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate (see also Job 6:14)
  3. HUMILITY – a modest or low view of one’s own importance (see also Proverbs 22:4)
  4. GENTLENESS – the quality of being kind, tender, or mild-mannered (see also Philippians 4:5)
  5. PATIENCE – the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset (see also Proverbs 19:11)

No amount of fashion sense can make up for a heart focused on pleasing and glorifying itself. Not even the most stunning outfit or perfectly applied make-up can cover up a selfish, prideful and arrogant character.

Conversely, it really doesn’t matter if your blouse is 10 years old or your jeans don’t turn heads if you are clothed with the five qualities listed above. Few people will care about how you look on the outside when your kind words and gentle nature make them feel respected and safe.

Here’s a challenge I hope you’ll join me in this week: Memorize Colossians 3:12 and recite it back to yourself in the mornings as you get dressed. Observe any changes in your life with each passing day.

To help you out, I’ve created a graphic you can post up somewhere as a reminder. Just click on the image below to download or print it.

Five to Wear 2

Please leave a comment below with your own thoughts about Colossians 3:12. What does it mean to you? Which of the five qualities do you struggle with the most? (For me, it’s probably gentleness.)

I wish you a blessed, joy-filled, and peaceful new year. If you were planning a make-over in 2021, don’t forget to clothe the “new you” with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Happy new you! ❤ 

Ann-Margret

Ditch the List

Most of us start each year with a long, stress-inducing to-do list that—let’s be honest—only makes us feel lousy, as if we were such horrible people in the previous 12 months that we need a major overhaul this year to have any value. This is usually the result of comparing ourselves to others. Please stop doing that to yourself! It’s not constructive and it’s not even close to being biblical.

I’m not suggesting that we adopt the attitude of Calvin here. . .

. . . but I find it ironic that the motive behind most of our resolutions is to make us feel better about ourselves, a flawed strategy that inevitably backfires on us.

Try this: Instead of writing down all the things you can do to like yourself better 12 months from now, ask the Lord to help you start a revolution in your life and in your family, to transform you from the inside out.

Romans 12:1-2 is a great passage to memorize and meditate on: 

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

This year, replace your list of goals with a blank page that you offer to God. Allow Him to reshape your thoughts, character and behaviour.

Old Habits Die Hard

Some of you might still be itching for a list of some sort, so here are five general principles (not goals) that can help you prepare to be transformed in 2021.

  1. Do a clean sweep (see Colossians 3:5-10) — Before you tackle the closets you want to declutter or start tossing out junk you’ve been hoarding, invite the Lord to help you let go of attitudes and compulsive behaviours that hinder your spiritual growth and your relationships with others.
  2. Celebrate each day (see Psalm 118:24) — Don’t wait for special occasions to break out the fancy dinnerware, blow out candles or give cards. Make it a habit to find something special about each day to rejoice over, because each day is a precious gift from God. Do something fun or meaningful—even if it’s tiny—to celebrate.
  3. Break up with your mirror (see 1 Peter 3:3-4) — When I turned 40, I wrote this in my journal: “There must come a point in every girl’s life when she cares less about how beautiful she is and more about the beauty she creates.” Certainly, use a mirror when you’re getting ready in the morning but try not to spend hours in front of it and avoid checking it throughout the day. Set an example, to your children and to others, of prioritizing inner beauty over outer beauty and of beautifying the world around you. Remind yourself that how you see is more important than how you look.
  4. Talk less, listen more (see James 1:19) — We joke about how there’s a reason God gave us two ears and one mouth, but the truth is that some people can be difficult to listen to. However, your relationships in general will become healthier when your loved ones see that you are listening to understand them and not simply to respond.
  5. Bark less, wag more (see Philippians 2:14, 4:4) — Determine that you will replace complaining and criticizing with thanking and praising. Don’t wait for your circumstances to change your feelings; you will be waiting a long, long time. Instead, change your attitude and your circumstances will suddenly look very different.

I’m pretty sure 2020 did not turn out the way you had hoped. Whether that’s because of COVID-19 or your own unmet goals, let it go. Let God give you a fresh start. 

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.’” 

Lamentations 3:22-24

I love how Anne Shirley (in Anne of Green Gables) put it: “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

Happy new year, friends!

Ann-Margret

Wanting Not

(No, your mind is not playing tricks on you. I originally posted this last Saturday but decided to move it to today.)

It’s the same every year: Thanksgiving. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Christmas. Boxing Day. We gorge ourselves during the last several weeks of the year—on food, on consumer goods, on anything that brings us pleasure—and then wake up on the first day of January determined to be more altruistic.

We know that “stuff” will never make us truly happy and yet we remain on this cycle, believing the lie that one day we will find the perfect thing that finally makes our world okay. If it’s not gadgets and clothes, it’s money, food, entertainment, and a rush of adrenaline, fame or someone who loves us.

As a Christian teen, I pitied unbelievers who sought fulfillment in behaviours I wouldn’t dream of. Naïvely, I did not recognize the same patterns in my own life. My pursuits were different but the driving force was the same: a longing for significance. I began performing, trying to please people. What I lacked in beauty, athleticism, and charisma, I tried to make up for with academic excellence, church involvement, and perfect behaviour.

None of those efforts are inherently bad, but when the underlying goal is to earn people’s love, you set yourself up for a life of regret. The slightest indication that I’d fallen short sent me into a tailspin of anxiety, followed by self-flagellation. I’d pull away from people, trying to hide my brokenness and weakness, sabotaging any potential for true intimacy.

Harry Schaumburg, a Christian counsellor and author, says, “In demanding the bliss of someone’s real or imagined warmth, we become consumed with ourselves, which destroys the very ecstasy we seek. There is no way out. We are locked in reality, always wanting and therefore always destroying what we want.”

Several years ago, I realized that even my relationship with God had become a way to feel better about myself; confession and repentance were more about not feeling yucky than about pleasing God. I prayed: “Please teach my heart to want nothing but You. I want to want You, Lord. I want to truthfully say, ‘Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.’”

I listed the things I wanted—to lose weight, to have a vibrant devotional life, to have victory over sin, to manage my time better, etc. Not a single thing on my list seemed contrary to God’s will but I knew I wanted those things more than I wanted God. Things began to change when I made hungering for God my daily, overarching goal.

God is patient and faithful and—I love this—God is for us. He doesn’t shame or condemn us for our cravings because He sees them for what they really are, even when we don’t. He is ready to meet every need.

My wish for you for 2021 is similar to Apostle Paul’s: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. . . who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:17-20).

Ann-Margret

My 2020 Christmas Letter

It’s hard to believe nine months have already passed since we first heard of COVID-19. Back in March, most of us thought it was a temporary setback. Then, as we understood it might take much longer, panic set in: How will we ever get through this? And now we’re seeing just how resilient and strong people can be when life strips away comforts and conveniences we so easily take for granted, when we’re forced to lean into each other even as we practice social distancing. I know that for many of you the challenges of 2020 have been far more difficult than they have been for me (although I had to mourn the deaths of an aunt, a church member I’ve known since birth, and a friend I went to college with), so I won’t pretend I understand what you’ve been going through, but I do want to encourage you to not give up. People like me are inspired when we watch people like you!

Thank you for being part of my journey, even if you only interact with me on social media and we don’t know each other personally. Each connection has played a part in helping me become who I am and come this far in my life, especially in the last few years as I’ve experienced more change and growth than I believed was possible for me.

As strange and tough as 2020 has been, I must confess it was a good year for me. That’s partly because 2019 was such a hard and discouraging year. I struggled in my work, in my spiritual growth, in my personal life. But God is faithful and He is good, and He relentlessly told me He loves me through people, through books, through music, through nature, and through His Word, even (or especially) in times of silence and darkness. After 40 years of being a Christian, I finally got it.

Unless you’ve had this experience, too—I know some of you have, and I hope the rest of you will one day—it’s hard to imagine how much light and freedom and hope pour into your life when you truly believe God loves you, and you start to love Him back. When you start to follow and obey Him because you are excited to, and not because you feel like you have to (or else you’ll displease Him and disappoint people around you), the whole game changes. So 2020 has been unforgettable for me for reasons other than COVID. I’ve been rediscovering who God made me to be and enjoying the abundant life He has for each of us. Some of the changes have been significant (such as driving… confidently!), some minor (I finally got my ears pierced in January), some sweet (I now have an adorable brown tabby named Buttercup and she makes me smile every day), and some celebration-worthy (my nephew got engaged!)

I’ve been busy with work and am starting to shift into teaching about writing. Things are happening at my church, despite COVID-related challenges, and we’ve had a number of new families join us, which shows that even a global pandemic cannot stop God from moving in people’s hearts. It’s wonderful! Of course, we were unable to go to Armenia this summer—and then there was the heartbreaking war in Artsakh—so our hearts and minds have been with our beloved friends there.

So that’s some of my news! I pray that this Christmas you will truly experience God’s amazing love as you reflect on the greatest gift ever given to us: Jesus coming to this earth to live among us and then to give His life for us. May God bless you richly in 2021!

Ann-Margret

Illustration by Ann-Margret Hovsepian

Two “Joy” Books!

A month ago I shared a list of books that have had a great impact on my life in the last year or two but I didn’t say anything about the books I’ve written or collaborated on. So I’m going to tell you about two of them today!

The Joy of Working at Home

This summer, after numerous discussions about how COVID-19 has forced many people to work at home—people who never intended to work from home and possibly still hate doing so—three freelance writer friends and I decided to write an ebook covering all the ins and outs—and ups and downs—of telecommuting.

The Joy of Working at Home is a practical manual that covers, among several other topics:

  • Best practices for a useful workspace
  • Tools for managing time and tasks
  • Advice on staying healthy, professional and productive
  • Tips for setting boundaries
  • Help for blending work and family

At only $2.99 US from Amazon, you can download a copy for yourself and give one as a gift to a family member or friend who is also puzzling over how to deal with the challenges of working and living in the same space.

If you’re on Facebook, you can also follow our page for free book excerpts, bonus tips, and more: https://www.facebook.com/joyofworkingathome.

Choose Joy: A Coloring Book of Gratitude and Wonder

I was thrilled when, early in 2020, Ink & Willow asked me to participate, for the third time, in a multi-artist colouring book. (I had previously contributed five drawings each to Whatever Is Lovely and Everything Beautiful.)

This time, I not only got to draw seven of the pages in this gorgeous book, but one of my designs was chosen for the cover and I lettered the quotes on eight other illustrations. Five years into illustrating colouring books, this is my best work yet. I hope you’ll get a copy! Click here to find it on Amazon.

I’m working on several new creative projects that I look forward to sharing with you in 2021. Thanks for stopping by! I’ll share a Christmas reflection this weekend, so please make sure you’re signed up to be notified of new posts.

Ann-Margret

My Book Wish List (for you)

Since 2011, I’ve been keeping track of the books I read in an old notebook, listing books as I buy them and then using a date stamp to mark when I finish one of them. I have also finally started to keep track on Goodreads (you can follow me here).

As I read, I tend to pull out quotes I like and share them on Facebook (follow my author page here). A few friends have told me they appreciate my book recommendations so I thought I’d write a post about several books that have had a great impact on my life in the last year or so.

Other than the first two, they are in no particular order…

After the Bible, The Cure (by John Lynch) has been the biggest game-changer for me, especially as a long-time Christian who grew up in evangelical circles and became a pastor’s kid in my teens. A kind, older gentleman who was in my life for only a couple of months recommended it to me last November, not knowing the spiritual turmoil I was going through at the time, and God used it to open my eyes to the fact that I’d spent years trying to make Him (and everyone else around me) be pleased with me instead of trying to please Him. Every page of this book made me feel less alone, less hopeless, less lost. My relationship with God did a 180 turn and I’ve been going through a transformation I had begun to despair I’d ever experience.

The Rabbi’s Heartbeat by Brennan Manning – I’ve read this little book three times in the last couple of years. The second time was in one sitting, a few weeks before I read The Cure. I wept and wept as it touched a deep place inside, a place that found it hard to believe God truly loved me. It helped me better understand the kind of intimacy I could experience with God. Another game-changer.

Your Future Self Will Thank You by Drew Dyck – If you struggle with self-discipline and self-control and feel frustrated by failed attempts to form new habits, read this. It’s full of biblical wisdom and practical tips, woven with humour and backed up with brain science. It helped me shift the way I approach self-control and I’ve started to see good progress with my goals!

The Sensible Shoes series by Sharon Garlough Brown – These books read like novels but are packed, packed, packed with insights and encouragement about the journey of spiritual transformation we go through as we submit our lives to Jesus Christ. I was especially touched by the character Hannah as her story mirrored mine in some ways. (Fun fact: I got my ears pierced in January because of her!)

Influence by Kate Motaung and Shannon Popkin – Every Christian who is a writer or speaker or “influencer” of some sort needs to read this little book. The authors help make sense of the condundrum we all face: How do I market my work without making it all about me instead of God? Insightful and inspired.

Free to Lean by Jocelyn Green – I’ve read all eight of Jocelyn’s fantastic historical fiction books but this little non-fiction number is my favourite. It’s a breath of fresh air for those of us who feel weighed down by the pressure to be everything and do everything. Stop. Read this book.

Other books I highly recommend:

Your Beautiful Purpose by Susie Larson

Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

Lies Women Believe by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Sex and the Single Girl by Juli Slattery

Me, Myself and Bob by Phil Vischer

The Minister’s Wife by Karen Stiller

The Art of Work by Jeff Goins

No Impossible with God

When was the last time you wondered, How am I ever going to get through this? or When will this end? I’m going to assume it wasn’t all that long ago for most of us.

In the last three months, we’ve all come face to face with a global pandemic that not only made hundreds of thousands fatally ill, but also sparked widespread panic, stress, and confusion. The economy took a blow, the wearing or not wearing of masks has become a divisive political issue for many, and there are still many unanswered questions. Besides all this, we have ongoing debates on political and societal issues, further dividing communities and families that were already hurting.

And then there are individual, personal problems. Broken relationships, children who have walked away from the Lord, lost jobs, sickness, fatigue, loneliness, phobias… The list goes on and on.

You know you have to trust God, be patient, and keep obeying, but it’s too much. It’s too hard. Don’t you just want to give up sometimes, to stop trying, to stop praying, rather than risk the disappointment of not getting the answers you hope for?

Wait. Stop. Listen to this: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

One of my favourite songs is No Impossible with You by I Am They because it always reminds me to put my hope in Jesus Christ. It is a prayer with this chorus:

There’s no heart You can’t rescue,
no war You can’t win,
no story so over it can’t start again,
no pain You won’t use,
no wall You won’t break through.
It might be too much for me but there is no impossible with You.

Can I get an amen? Jesus Himself told His disciples: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Amen!

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:20-21).

The Bible is full of examples of “impossible” things God did, which is why it’s crucial that we immerse ourselves in God’s Word. The more our minds are saturated with His proven promises, the less room there is for destructive thoughts from the enemy.

I am sure you can look back in your own life and recall marvelous things God has done. Reflect on those, give Him praise, and thank Him that you can trust Him with the future as well.

Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you (1 Samuel 12:24).

Potential vs. Purpose

The assignment seemed easy to me, but five days later I was still agonizing over it.

At my church’s Women’s Fellowship meeting a couple of weeks ago, I suggested to the ladies that we all choose one word or phrase that we’d like to focus on in the new year. Not necessarily a goal or a resolution, but just an idea or truth we feel God might be calling us to concentrate on. The women all agreed. Then I got stuck.

The morning after Christmas, during my quiet time with the Lord, I was reading a chapter in The Cure, a book that talks about how to move from self-rewarding righteousness into a deeper love-focused relationship with Christ. The authors pointed out that, as we shift our focus from ourselves to the Lord, we mature in our faith, and that maturity brings us closer to fulfilling the purpose for which God created us.

We all have potential. Peter had the potential to become the best fisherman in Israel, Matthew could have become the top-ranking tax collector in his division, and Martha could have won awards for her hospitality skills. However, despite the obvious skills and talents of these followers of Christ, God had a higher calling for their lives.

Peter became a fisher of men. Matthew recorded the life of Jesus in what is now the first book of the New Testament. And Martha modeled great faith for centuries to come when she proclaimed: “Yes, Lord . . . I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27)

I have the potential to do many things—some of which I may eventually do, some of which I won’t. The same is true for you. You have talents and abilities that, given enough time and attention, could make you highly successful.

In my experience, focusing on my potential has been frustrating and tiring at times. I don’t always know where to put my energy and, when I fail at something, I feel discouraged. What if I were to put my energy into trusting and loving Jesus, asking Him to make of my life what He wants, what He created me for?

“It’s up to God, and it involves His glory, your fulfillment, and the welfare of others,” write the authors of The Cure. It’s reassuring to know that if I focus on following Jesus, instead of on trying to prove my worth to others, I will mature into someone who lives a life of purpose and not merely potential.

My word for 2020? I have finally settled on PURPOSE.

purposeSide note: A few hours after I chose my word, I came across this insight in Boundaries (Cloud & Townsend): “Only the honest, purposeful life leads to good fruit.”

BINGO! Just the confirmation I needed. As my friend Paola likes to say, “God is so personal!”

At the same time, I was about to crack open a new journal as I’d been madly writing in my previous one for a couple of months and it was full. So I lettered the quote on the first page. Good to go…

What about you? What is God leading you to focus on in the new year?

Ann-Margret Hovsepian

 

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