Book Illustrations, High Functioning Anxiety, and the Call to Stand Tall

One question I get often is how much input did I have on the illustrations of The Anxious Lily. Here’s a short breakdown of what that process was like for me, as well as some fun pictures of the process!

When writing a proposal for a children’s picture book, a best practice is to include any vision or ideas you have for illustrations on that designated spread. So for example, in my manuscript, after the written text, I would include in brackets a sentence or two describing what I saw in my head. There’s no guarantee that a publisher will use that specific idea, but it is very helpful in communicating the story—because as we all know, the illustrations tell the story just as much as the words do.

I felt extremely lucky to have a publisher that asked for the style I liked and for any extra ideas. My understanding is that is not always the case! My absolute favorite illustration is one that my son helped me with. The original sketch is below! You can see Lola bent low, working with a night sky behind her.

One sign of high functioning anxiety is productivity. A person may be getting a lot done, not because they have peace internally, but because they don’t. Productivity is not the enemy (far from it!), but if our drive to do more comes from a place of fear and lack of trust in God’s provision, then we’re only running ourselves ragged and missing out on true rest.

Has this ever been you? Bent over in worry, afraid of what might happen, and convinced that you and you alone can make everything ok?

If so, you’re not alone. It’s been me. Sometimes still is. But daily reliance on God is helping me stand tall. You can stand tall too. It’s what you were made for. ❤️

“While you bend in worry, the world is awake! To hide from your purpose would be a mistake.”


Have you snagged your copy of The Anxious Lily yet? For a limited time, it’s 30% off from End Game Press! Click here to order now – use code EASTER30 at checkout.

Did you know there is a free downloadable Family Activity Packet that goes along with the story of The Anxious Lily? It includes discussion questions, activity sheets, Scripture verses to memorize, and a fun art activity. Get yours by clicking here, or click on the image below!

Risks Worth Taking: My Writing Story

I got a 3 on my elementary school writing test. Do you remember those? It was in fourth grade. Each student was given a prompt, and you had a set amount of time to write a story using the prompt. The highest score you could receive was a 4. 

I wanted that 4. 

I got a 3.

That’s when I knew I’d never be a writer. 

Isn’t it funny the things that stick with you? A test score made me write off (see what I did there?) my ability to put words together. I didn’t have it—whatever “it” was. The test said so. 

But over the years, other things stuck with me, too. Like when my 5th grade teacher read a story I wrote, pulled me aside, and told me how much she loved it, how creative it was. How she liked the way I described the things I saw. Keep writing, she said.

Or the way a college professor in one of my writing courses told me I’d successfully “hooked” the class with a story I told. Or how another told me she looked forward to reading my work every time assignments came in. 

Those things stuck with me, too. And I started to wonder if maybe the big bad number 3 from test scores of old was just that: a number. 

Taking some risks

When my son was born, I took time off work and found myself enjoying those wonderful newborn days of snuggling a sleeping baby for hours at a time. During those snuggle sessions, I wrote stories in my head. The ones I kept coming back to, I finally wrote down, with fantastical visions of one day writing a real, hold-in-your-hands picture book. And then I did the scariest thing any writer can do. 

I let someone read it. 

That someone was my mom. Like most moms, she told me it was great. Unlike most moms, however, she told me the parts that weren’t great—or rather, the parts that could be stronger. My mom happens to be a very talented, published author, so she knew what she was talking about. At her encouragement, I went to a short writers conference to try and learn how to get better at this thing I enjoyed doing in my free time.

If you’ve never been to a writer’s conference, just imagine you’re drinking. From a fire hydrant. All day long. Yeah, it’s like that. 

After attending classes and taking notes and marveling at the beauty and art and technique and strategy behind writing, I did an even scariest-er thing (yes I just invented that word):

I pitched my story.

In between classes at one of my first writers conferences.

How it works (or doesn’t work)

If you’ve never been to a writers conference, here’s essentially how it works: in between attending classes and workshops, writers have the opportunity to sign up for meetings with agents and publishers. In those meetings, you have approximately 10-15 minutes to discuss anything you’d like—and many writers use that time to pitch manuscripts. 

If an agent or editor likes your pitch, they may ask you for a book proposal, which is huge. Essentially, it’s an opportunity to get your foot in the door of the publishing world. A request for a book proposal could mean nothing—or it could mean a book contract. But a face-to-face meeting held more potential than a cold submission.

Heart racing, palms sweating, I went for it. I pitched to a few publishers, and one publisher in particular was interested enough that she asked for a proposal. 

I went home floating, thrilled beyond words that someone wanted to consider my manuscript. My first conference. One of my first pitches. What a success story! I spent hours on that proposal, sent it off, and waited.

Remember how I said a proposal could mean nothing or it could mean a book contract?

Well. This one meant nothing. 

As did the next one. And the next one. And the next one. 

Only it didn’t mean nothing—not really. Because every time a publisher said, “Thanks but no thanks,” I learned something new about the industry, about storytelling, and about myself. 

Writing is more than publishing a book

The next year I went to another writers conference, and learned that writing with purpose didn’t just mean publishing books. I began “slinging mud”—a.k.a. hurling submissions—to blogs, parenting websites, online magazines, and more. And I discovered something amazing. 

I could reach a lot of people without ever publishing a book.

I got one “yes” and then another, and then another. I read books about writing, and wrote and wrote and wrote. One article would give me a byline, and that byline would get seen, which would lead to another open door, or a connection, or an opportunity. 

I enjoyed the challenge of writing something meaningful and effective with a limited amount of words—and still do. But always in the back of my mind, I still wanted to go for a children’s picture book. By this time, I had 3 or 4 manuscripts sitting on my computer, but hadn’t yet found a home for them.

Working on proposals during nap time.

One step closer

In 2018, I went to another conference, armed with copies of manuscripts and a promise to myself that I’d make pitches again even though the thought of more polite rejection terrified me. I sat down across from an agent, pitched a few stories—and she requested a proposal. 

I’d been there before, so I tried not to let myself get too hopeful. I sent off the proposal, and moved on with life. 

Turns out, she loved it. 

A few days later, I found myself signing a contract to be represented by Tessa Emily Hall of the CYLE Literary Agency.

Signing the contract with my new agent.

Long hours, lots of rejection

This was a huge win. In the writing world, many publishers won’t even talk to you unless you’re represented by an agent. An agent is able to get your work in front of more publishers than if you tried sending cold submissions on your own—which, up to this point, is what I’d been doing. 

When I signed the contract, I was in a very busy season of life. My son was 3, my daughter 15 months. I was working a lot, and my hours were pretty odd – minimal daytime hours (so that I could be with my children), and lots of late night hours. Needless to say, the days were long—and there was very little “free” time. 

But writing had become important to me—more than just something to do for fun or whenever I had the chance. I wanted to make it a priority. So I began getting creative with my time. I’d stay up later, capitalize on nap times, and coordinate with my husband to have designated no-one-interrupts-mommy writing time. 

I spent hours and hours and hours on book proposals. My agent sent them out again and again. Months ticked by, and I heard really encouraging feedback from many publishers—but always with a final “this is not what we’re looking for right now.”

In the midst of all this, I kept writing articles for whoever would have me, and I managed to get some work published in a few book compilations. Many times, I wanted to give up. I remember telling my husband, Matt, that maybe I just wasn’t meant to publish a children’s book. Maybe I just needed to be ok with that. 

Matt told me I couldn’t quit. That my time would come. To keep pushing, keep writing, keep working.

He was right. In summer of 2021, my time finally came. 

Signing the contract with End Game Press for The Anxious Lily.

More than a contract, more than a book

I was rocking our third baby to sleep when I got the email from my agent with the news that I’d been offered a contract; I had to hold in a squeal of delight so as not to wake up my little one.

Three years after I signed with my agent, and six years after I decided to take writing more seriously, I finally had a contract for a story that was and is so important to me.

And 18 months later, after much planning, editing, waiting, doubting, hoping, and praying—I finally held the book in my hands. This story that started as notes on paper—as a small attempt to make sense of my own anxiety and my understanding of a God who promises to meet my every need—is real and beautiful and ready to be shared with the world. 

This book represents so much work. Many tears. Doubts. Submissions. Revisions. Rejections. Late nights. Early mornings. And lots of head-in-my-hands-what-the-heck-am-I-doing-still-trying-this moments. 

And you know what?

Every writer I’ve ever met has their own version of this same experience.

Holding my books for the first time.

For the one who wants to write

Why am I sharing all this? Because I know some of you have a “thing” in your heart—something you’d love to try or to throw yourself into. Maybe it’s writing, or maybe it’s something else. The world we live in teaches us that hard things are to be avoided at all costs. And if something doesn’t come easily—or if your test score is a 3 instead of a 4—then maybe it’s just not meant to be. 

Please hear my heart—I don’t share this to pat myself on the back. Far from it. I share this because the struggle and discipline and journey of writing has brought me face to face with both my weaknesses and my Savior. 

God is the ultimate Storyteller. He is the Author of Life. And in a small way, writing allows me to know him more and to reflect him to others—which is what we, as image bearers, are called to do. 

It’s taken a ridiculous amount of work, but I don’t regret any of it. And I can honestly say that even if I never have another book published, or if no one ever bothered to read this book, I could still offer it up to God as my best work, for his glory and his alone.

If there’s something you’ve always wanted to try or pursue, but the season is “too busy” or “not the right time,” I’d challenge you to take just one or two small steps this year, and see where it takes you. Reaching big goals never just happens. It takes intentional planning and many times even significant risk-taking. 

There’s always a reason not to do something. But you’ll never regret trying. And more than likely, your risk-taking will give you stories to tell that will encourage and empower others in ways you never could have imagined. 

“Security is mostly a superstition”

When I wrote The Anxious Lily, I immediately put myself in Lola’s shoes (er, roots?). Like Lola, my fears of what could or might happen as well as the desire for security and predictability have made me miss out on so many good, good things. I don’t want that for myself. And I don’t want it for you.

I’ll end with a beautiful quote from Helen Keller on this idea of safety vs. risk-taking:

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

Like Lola the lily, you were made to stand tall. To stretch your petals and leaves toward the sky, basking in God’s glory and pointing others to him. 

If God’s given you a dream or desire—to learn something new, to write that idea down, to hold your breath and hit “submit”—then go for it. Feel the fear. Take the risk. Make the change. 

Because after all, life is a daring adventure, or nothing. 

And some risks are always worth taking.

2023 Book Journal: Reading Together

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been preparing for the second half of the school year. My 2nd grader and kindergartner love to read, so I started looking for a downloadable book journal where they could keep track of the books they read throughout the year. There’s something really cool about looking back and seeing that “I read this many books.” It’s not about checking boxes or meeting reading requirements; it’s about enjoying the things we read, remembering them, and celebrating the hard work of learning to read and growing our vocabularies!

Anyway, I found many, but all of them were geared toward adults; and I really wanted something that would help my kindergartner practice her handwriting as well. 

Since I couldn’t find anything, I decided to make it myself. I love how it turned out, so I thought I’d share for those of you who might like to use it for the kids in your life (or for yourself – because I’m definitely using one to track my own reading!). 

There are two versions: one with handwriting lines, and another with regular lines. I punched holes and tied with string so that I can add more pages if needed, but you could also staple them. Print as many of the inner pages as you’d like; you’ll want to make sure you print double sided and select “flip on short edge.”

You can let your kiddos decorate the front however they want, or you could encourage them to color in one book every time they finish a title. 

This is such a simple way to help your children track their reading, retain and discuss the content, and also take pride in their accomplishments.

Click the image below to download yours now!

Grief, Advent, and Unanswerable Questions

I recently went to a routine doctors appointment where they ask you a thousand questions about your medical history. I rattled off the answers until the nurse asked the question I should have known was coming but didn’t.

“How many pregnancies?”

I don’t know exactly how much time it took me to answer. Probably 5-10 seconds or so. But in those few seconds I wrestled with how best to respond. And in those few seconds a lump lodged itself in my throat.

“Five,” I said.

Then the next question: “And how many children?” Again, the pause.

“Three,” I said. And then, in barely a whisper: “Here.”

The appointment continued. Then ended. I got in my car. Pulled out of the parking lot. And cried. And I thought about all the unanswered questions I have.

Whether you’re walking through loss, tragedy, sickness, or separation, we’ve all had the questions.

As I drove home, I had the thought, “Jesus, when will you come back? When will you dry every tear? When will there be no more death or crying or pain?”

Later that day one of my children expressed how hard it was to wait to open Christmas presents. “Why can’t we open them now? Why wait until a certain day?” He asked. “It’s so hard to wait!”

I told him when we wait to open our gifts, the anticipation reminds us of that first Christmas – of how the world was anticipating a Savior, of how his arrival rocked the world and was the fulfillment of so many promises. Of how now we await Jesus again, his second coming, when he’ll come not as a baby, but a conquering King, to make everything right.

Sometimes when we tell our children the truth, we’re really telling ourselves the truth, too.

Whatever’s hurting your heart this Christmas, know that the longing you feel—for peace, for rest, for rightness—is a GOOD longing to have. And it can only be fulfilled through Christ. One day everything will be made right, only because of him. That’s how I can live with the questions—because I know the one who is the Answer. That’s how I can rest here, now—because of hope.

And that’s the kind of hope that can make a weary world rejoice.

Watching a Lily Grow

This past spring I planted a lily bulb. I should note that I’m terrible with plants and really anything that requires nourishment to survive. (Other than my children. I can handle that.) But being the sappy person I am, I wanted to just watch a lily grow, because I knew this year I’d get to watch something else grow and come to life for the first time: my book.  

The Anxious Lily is about Lola, a lily who spends her whole life fearing the unknowns and the what-ifs. She’s so consumed with what might happen that she completely misses what IS happening – her own miraculous growth. 

And wouldn’t you know it, after weeks and weeks of waiting, the week I saw my book’s cover for the first time was the same week this sweet little flower finally bloomed. 



Honestly, the character of Lola is just an extension of myself. When I first wrote the story, I was trying to process internal fears and worries. And this idea that my own internal angst was causing me to miss the beauty of the world burst on to the page. 

This lily was designed to reach toward the sky, toward the One who created it. Can you imagine if instead it bent low to the dirt, working frantically to plan ahead for what-ifs and maybes and needs that its Creator has already taken care of? 

That’s exactly what we do every time we trust ourselves and our limited understanding instead of the God who knows us completely and promises to care for our souls. 

In about 3 months (eek!), The Anxious Lily will be released to the world and I seriously cannot wait to share this story with you. You can preorder your copy now by clicking below!

15 God-Focused Activities & Devotionals

I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year. From the moment the calendar flips to September 1, everything’s either pumpkin-spiced, plaid, or bonfire-scented. And on top of all the Fall-even-though-it’s-still-85-degrees-in-North-Carolina decor, there are the 3,264 events you can attend or sign up your family for. 

Is it just me, or does it seem as if there’s a tad bit of pressure to do all the things this time of year? After all, if you don’t enjoy a pumpkin-spice-something while wearing cute boots and carving a pumpkin while roasting a marshmallow…did fall even happen? And if you don’t create DIY Halloween costumes for your children while wrapped in a blanket scarf and bake pumpkin-somethings from scratch…do you even have a soul?

These are the questions that haunt me. 

In all seriousness, I’m guilty of trying to do every last activity or event with my kids—like if I don’t do enough, they’ll be in therapy someday, lamenting the woes of their lost childhood to their therapist. 

If only I’d gone apple picking and had my picture taken with a scarecrow, I might have gotten a real job and made something of myself, they’d say.

Ok, so I can be a bit dramatic. 

But honestly, this internal pressure isn’t just Fall-related. The feeling that I need to make sure I’m doing enough for my children is one that’s constant, and often leads me to over-complicate the divine task I’ve been given of pointing them to Jesus.

What if instead of focusing on doing lots of stuff, I focused on taking every normal, everyday mundane sort of task and using it to point my children to Him?

I’m learning that my children are so receptive to truth that even an everyday mundane moment, when connected to Jesus, can make a lasting impression. This season, I want to leave my children with more than just 28,953 filtered pictures of themselves posing next to pumpkins and scarecrows. Instead, my hope and prayer is that when they are grown, they’ll be changed by the gospel message and obsessed with sharing it with others. 

Our legacy as parents is not calendars jam-packed with stuff to entertain and fill time. 

Our legacy is the way we point our children to Jesus. 

And we don’t need expensive experiences or fancy books or resources to do that. We just need minds that see God in everything. And we need hearts with the willingness and determination to point Him out to our families. 

That’s why I’ve put together this simple resource for those of you who want to create God-conversations with your kiddos without all the extra planning and glitter and stress.

Included in this free download are 15 activities and devos (that can be spread over 3 weeks or longer) that focus on simple biblical truths and provide easy dinner or bedtime questions for conversation. 

If you have young children, then you’re probably already doing a lot of these activities. So hopefully this will give you some ideas for taking those everyday moments and turning them into discipleship moments.

*These activities and questions are geared toward ages 3-8ish, but they can easily be altered for older ages, too.*

Instead of obsessing over doing everything to make my children’s fall season or school year “good enough,” what if I were obsessed with making a few things into teachable, gospel-centered moments?

Sure, go to the pumpkin patch. But use it as an opportunity to talk about how creative our God is. Yes, bake pumpkin cookies. But then use them as a way to bless others, reminding your children that we love others because God loves us. 

Pick a few things your family will love to do, and then focus on injecting every one of those moments with the gospel.

I hope this resource will be just the start of a thousand great moments and conversations. Click below to get yours now!

Happy Fall(ish)! 🙂

6 Ways to Help Your Child with Anxiety: A Free Resource

Intrusive thoughts, fears, and worries can be paralyzing. It’s easy to tell our children (or ourselves!) to just move on mentally and “don’t worry about it.” But this is much easier said than done. Throughout Scripture, we see a pattern of not only throwing off unhealthy or sinful practices, but also putting on healthy, godly practices.

In other words, we must replace intrusive thoughts, fears, and worries with the truth of God’s promises. That’s why I’ve put together some practical strategies for talking with your children about worries, and also printable cards with some of God’s promises from His Word. These strategies have been so helpful in my own life – for both my children and myself – and I hope they will be helpful to you.

The Scripture cards are meant to be printed double-sided, so that a summary of God’s promise is on one side, and the Scripture itself is on the other. You can print, cut, and place these in prominent places where you and your children will see them. (Helpful hint: if you’re able, consider laminating them or printing on cardstock to make them last longer. You can punch a hole in the corner and stick a binder ring through them, or Velcro them to a focal board.) When you or your child is faced with anxiety or intrusive thoughts, take out one of these cards and pray over these promises together.

Remember, anxiety is an opportunity to grow closer with your child and create mutual trust.

Discipling our children as they navigate worries and fears is hard – but you are not alone! God has given us everything we need in His Word – we just have to turn to it.

Click below for instant access to these free resources. You’ll find two versions with the same content but different images: one with flowers, and one with swords. Enjoy!

-Mary

Why Our Summer Reading Looks Different This Year

It’s that time of year again when summer reading challenges abound! I’m taking a different approach this year, and the picture above sums up why. On vacation a few weeks ago, my son grabbed one of his favorite books (Encyclopedia Brown, of course), plopped down on the beach, and sat there reading for close to an hour. (What can I say, he’s a child after my own heart.)

Our challenge last year focused on reading a certain amount of books, and I think it worked great for us during that season. Reading was very new and practice reading lots of words was key. But now we’ve transitioned into this really neat place of reading for enjoyment. My favorite school times this last year were without a doubt when we read aloud together and slowly digested a book without worrying about “getting it done” so we could check it off a list. (Holes by Louis Sachar was hands down our top pick!)

So this year we’re just picking a few books and reading them at our pace, planning to talk about them, maybe reread them, maybe watch the movie about them. Zero pressure, because I want reading to be a fun, together kind of experience.

I had so many people reach out about our reading challenge last year, and so I’ve put together a similar free printable download to share with you! You can click the image below to get it sent directly to your inbox.

Here’s a shortlist of some of the books we’ve enjoyed so far together. What would you add to this list? Happy reading!

  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
  • Holes by Louis Sachar
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  • Stuart Little by E.B. White
  • The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  • Bunny’s Book Club by Annie Silvestro
  • Encyclopedia Brown by Donald Sobol

Just as He Said: A Free Easter E-Book for You

The resurrection of Christ changes everything. As an Easter gift to you, I’ve put together some writings from the last few years on the resurrection and how it has changed me. Included are 3 chapters:

  • 4 Ways to Make Easter Meaningful for Your Family
  • The Longest Night of My Life
  • Death, Where is Your Sting?

Click the image below to sign up for my email list and receive this free e-book in your inbox instantly. Praying you and your family have a wonderful Easter. Christ is risen!

Book Update: The Anxious Lily, Coming Spring 2023

Confession: I’ve done a terrible job of updating this blog. The last year has been a bit of a whirlwind as we’ve adjusted to life as a family of five. My consensus on having three children so far? I love it. It’s a whole new level of chaos and exhaustion, but also a whole new level of joy. I am learning so much about patience, service, and dying to self. My husband and I have gone from playing man-to-man to a zone defense – it’s nice to know all that high school basketball is finally paying off in some way. 🙂

In the midst of all the craziness, I realized I’d never given my exciting news a home here on the blog – so here it is:

 I signed a book contract with End Game Press for my first children’s picture book!

One of the best parts of getting this news has been sharing it with my family. Seeing the excitement on their faces when I told them they’d get to hold one of those stories in their hands is a moment I won’t forget. 

Can I be honest for a second? I’ve come so close to giving up on writing children’s stories. Since I first signed with a literary agent 3 years ago, I’ve had a variety of manuscripts rejected more times than I’d care to admit.

This whole writing thing can be pretty painful. When you pour hours and hours into making every word count – only to be met with a “thanks but no thanks” – it starts to wear on you.

I remember saying to my husband not that long ago – “I think I’m done writing. I think I need to just let this go.”

To which he said, “absolutely not.”

Man am I glad he said that.

I’m so humbled by this opportunity to share a story with you and your families. It’s a story for the children in your life, but it’s also a story for you.

The Anxious Lily is a story I wrote several years ago while studying what Scripture has to say about worry, fear, and anxiety. The year after I finished the manuscript, I walked through a season of loss that plunged me into some of the most intense anxiety I’d ever experienced. I remember holding onto God’s promises in Scripture with a death grip. And I also remember pulling out that manuscript and reading it again and again. Because there’s something about a story that helps truth become more vivid. 

That’s my prayer for this story. 

I cannot wait to share this picture book with you, as well as all the steps along the way. I am currently in the midst of the editing process. I’ve been paired with editors from End Game Press who are helping me make this story as strong as possible.

To be among the first to know about updates (such as the cover reveal, preorder opportunities, and giveaways), click the image below and sign up for my email list. I can’t wait to put this book in your hands. Thanks for joining me on this journey!