Suzy Taylor Oakley

helping Christians share their faith with respect and love

How to stay true to your mission when you’re tired or weary

This is a repost from one of my older blogs, To Well With You. It originally appeared Aug. 7, 2015. I ran across it as I was searching for an old quote that I wanted to reuse in an Instagram post about revisiting my “why.” – SuzyO

Gandhi quote

When you purport to be a coach, a teacher or a mentor (of anything), it’s tempting to let everyone believe you’re a strong, infallible and powerful superhero, no chinks in the armor, ever.

I used to be that person. No, not strong, infallible and powerful, but someone who wished she could come across that way to the world (remember, recovering perfectionist here).

But if I were trying to advise you in how to do something (or stop doing something), wouldn’t it be better if I could relate to the challenges you face, and better still if I had gone through those challenges (or similar ones), myself? Whether I had succeeded the first time or failed 1,000 times and finally figured it out, you’d be more likely to come to me for advice … or at least for empathy, right?

Sometimes a “superhero” needs to just be real.

Sunday, we had a visiting missionary in our church services. He has written before on his blog about how missionaries are expected (by some) to be perfect saints, and, in fact, some missionaries try to perpetuate that myth. The tendency is to think you can’t show vulnerability or you’ll turn people off to Christianity. After all, isn’t following Jesus supposed to make our lives rosy and perfect?

Well, no.

In John 16:33 (NLT), Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” He never said life would be perfect; He said he’d never leave us to face life alone (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Our missionary friend knows this truth. In fact, his wife and daughter couldn’t be with us Sunday because they were with his wife’s family, grieving the unexpected loss of his father-in-law a week earlier. And Sunday evening, he told us that he had just gotten a call from his mother; she and his dad were meeting with hospice the next day because his dad is dying of cancer and the end is that close.

IT IS WELL

There is plenty to be weary about, but this missionary friend told us, “It is well.” He knows where his source of strength comes from, and it is not from striving and trying and wearing himself out in an effort to attain perfection. As he told us Sunday morning, Jesus didn’t come to heal the well, but the sick.

The missionary’s wife has written beautifully, too, about the struggles they face on the mission field and, heck, just as human beings living in a broken world.

I use the word beautifully a lot when I share others’ words, and the common denominator – the thing that causes it to be beautiful to me – is that the speaker is letting herself or himself be vulnerable.

Authentic.

Imperfect.

Real.

I’m writing about being real today because I’m tired and I want to let you know about it. I know my mission, but lately the path to fulfilling it has seemed to take a lot out of me. I’m learning a lot, but some weeks I feel as though I take two steps forward and one step back. I’m working on learning how to discern the essential from the nonessential, but figuring that out is not easy or simple.

The one below – picking out a birthday card for my mom last week – was an essential. Waiting until the day of … not the wisest decision. But I allowed hubby to help, and he picked out a beautiful card for her. (I think I’ll keep him.)

TextMsgScreenShot073115HOW TO STAY ON MISSION

Here are 10 things you (and I) can do to stay on mission when you’re tired or weary – or when life is just plain hard:

  1. Be honest. Don’t try to hide the fact that you’re hurting. Talk to a trusted mentor. Ask for prayer from your circle of friends. You don’t have to go into all the gory details, but share what’s on your heart. We were made for community. Reach out.
  2. Take a break. If you can’t take a full-blown vacation, escape for just a day, or even an hour. This will help refresh your mind and your body. If you can do this on a small scale every day or week, even better.
  3. Spend some time examining the things that got you to this point. Don’t think about it for five minutes and quit; really reflect on what’s going on in your life.
  4. Remember your “why” (aka “look at the Big Picture”). Have you figured out your mission – your purpose? If not, get in touch with me or a trusted mentor to help you through the process. Remembering your why is probably the most important thing on this list. I have it as a reminder on my idea board, in notebooks, on my bathroom mirror and as a hashtag when I post a workout to my running app. Remembering my “why” carries me a long way when I’m tired or wondering why I’m doing this.
  5. Decide what’s important. Figure out what is essential for you to fulfill your purpose and what is not.
  6. After thinking through what’s important, focus on the No. 1 thing on the list. Get rid of what isn’t essential to your mission, with the realization that you cannot do everything. (I’ll be writing a review of the book Essentialism as soon as I finish reading it – so much great advice.) Last weekend, our missionary friend’s wife and daughter stayed behind in their home state to grieve with their family before they return to the mission field. This was their No. 1 priority at that time. (If family is not near the top of your list, it should be.)
  7. Pray. I pray to God for peace, comfort and guidance.
  8. Ask for help. I’m not talking about divine help, notwithstanding Item 7. If you have a task that’s overwhelming, ask someone to help you accomplish it. As wise King Solomon said, you get a better return for your labor; a cord of three strands is not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
  9. Celebrate what you’ve already accomplished; recall the progress you’ve made – even the small stuff – and take time to appreciate it. If you have trouble remembering any of the good, ask a friend! (See Item 8.)
  10. Let go of “perfect.”

This isn’t a comprehensive list. What have I left off? (See, I’m asking for help! Leave a comment with some of the things on your list.)

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley, writer • editor in faith, hope, mission, 0 comments

When small sacrifices have big meaning

Today’s post was supposed to be about memorizing Scripture — a follow-up to last week’s post about handwriting the Scriptures — but we’ll get to that next time. I wanted to use this space to tell you about an unexpected pleasure I had this evening.

Dad's grave with U.S. flag

Dad served in the National Guard. The spelling of his first name is Bennie on his birth certificate and Benny on other documents. Most people called him Ben. Lots of my friends in youth group called him Uncle Ben.

After I had made my daily trip to the local convenience store to get my ginormous glass of ice tea — because I’ve lost my ability to make great iced tea at home (insert the saddest emoji you ever saw) — I decided to mosey over to Emily’s grave again. I wrote about Emily and other family members after my trip to the cemetery on Easter weekend.

The lanes in that cemetery, as in most cemeteries, are narrow, and when I drove up, a very nice lady, Susan, was putting U.S. flags on the graves of her loved ones. She apologized for blocking the lane and said she was almost finished, but I told her not to rush. I got out and looked at the graves she was fussing over (her in-laws’) and mentioned that I wasn’t sure whether Emily’s parents would be visiting this weekend, because there’s usually something new on her grave when they’ve been to town.

Susan said she had an extra flag, and she handed me one, plus a flathead screwdriver to bore a hole in the hard dirt.

Emily's grave with U.S. flag

Emily never served in the military, but she sure served Jesus in her short little life!

She told me exactly what to do, because she’s been putting flags on graves in that cemetery for several years — not just those of her loved ones but on the graves of other veterans who have passed away.

It touched me, and it made me a little embarrassed at how cavalier I am at Memorial Day, Independence Day and other holidays where our nation remembers and honors the men and women who have dedicated their lives to our freedom. On some of those holidays (Memorial Day and July 4), I have the day off work, and on others (such as Veterans Day), I go to the office.

It’s awfully tempting to think of those occasions as just an extra day off work (although I appreciate every one!), so I’m grateful that this evening I met Susan and got a reminder that it’s not a burden but a PRIVILEGE to take a few minutes to remember and to honor.

Susan’s father-in-law served in World War II, and her son is deployed now.

I think that having someone close to you who has served or is serving gives you a heightened sense of their sacrifice. (The families sacrifice, too, in ways the rest of us probably will never understand.)

After I left Emily’s grave, I drove across to the other side of the cemetery, where Dad is buried.

Someone had put a U.S. flag there, too.

Then I walked over a few yards to the grave of Emily’s great-grandparents. Yup. A flag on her great-granddaddy’s grave, too. Dad’s flag and Richard’s flag looked identical, from the same batch, so I suspect that the same good soul had planted them. (Thank you, whomever you are.)

Some people never serve a day in the armed forces, but they serve our country, just the same.

People like Susan remember. They honor and respect. They give. And they don’t consider it a burden to take the time to buy flags and drive around the cemetery putting them out, even on the graves of someone they never knew. Or to hand an “extra” to a stranger.

I imagine they consider it their duty, in a sense — contributing in their own small way to what makes this a great country.

But it isn’t small at all.

Blessings,

SuzyOakleySignature

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Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley, writer • editor in patriotism, 2 comments

The value of writing the Scriptures in longhand

Do you have a shortcoming that hinders you from getting things done — from being as effective as you could be?

Mine is perfectionism.

It’s a recurring theme for this blog, even when you’re not reading about it. (It’s often why you’re not reading the blog at all — because I haven’t posted!)

My goal is to publish a post every weekend, consistently. My No. 1 hindrance — even more than the health problems that keep me tired all the time — is perfectionism.

If you’re a blogger, you understand all the steps that go into publishing a decent post. It’s more than just writing the words; it’s editing, creating and checking links, producing nice images (including finding or taking photos or creating graphics, cropping and sizing them correctly), publishing the post, pushing it out to social media, writing an email to let your subscribers know about it … and don’t get me started on SEO. (If you don’t know what that is, you’re probably better off!). I have given up on the idea of search-engine optimization … at least for now. It’s a low priority. Also, if I were a fancy blogger, I’d use professional-looking pictures every time. Some websites are unbelievably beautiful. I want mine to be believably about Jesus and his grace and mercy for us. 🙂 So I often take pics of my handwritten cards, notes and pages, and sometimes I even post them on Instagram, LOL!

My goal with this website is to help you.

I want to encourage you, inspire you and spur you to action. I want to help you KNOW GOD. And not just “know” God, but to really dig deep and have a relationship with him that helps you navigate life and help others do the same.

My aim is to make the Lord’s name great and to take you along for the ride. I want us to share our faith with love and respect, no matter whom we’re talking to.

We’re learning together here. I’m studying Christian apologetics, and it has been fascinating so far. I’m hearing terms and concepts I had never paid attention to before.

But all that sharing and blogging comes wrapped up in perfectionism, which tends to drag me down and keep me from doing … anything.

I’ve been working behind the scenes, though just not publishing.

So when I find something that calms me down — that allows me to pull back, slow the spinning plates and just sit and contemplate for a few minutes — I grab hold. And then I want to share it.

I’ve followed a woman named Arabah Joy for a year or so, and she recently offered her Love the Word Bible Study Binder at the low cost of … FREE … and I grabbed it. (The free offer has expired, but here’s the link in case you’d like to buy the 66-page download for $27.)

It includes pages for writing Scriptures, and this is something I’ve wanted to do for a while.

Also, I looooove writing longhand. I’ve always enjoyed writing of all kinds, and in the past couple of years I’ve been reminded of how I enjoy not only keyboard typing but simply getting back to the basics and writing things longhand. Handwriting uses a different part of your brain, the scientists say.

(Jury’s still out on whether I’m a paper-planner girl or a digital-planner geek. I think I’m a hybrid — I enjoy and see value in both methods.)

So, if you’re struggling with perfectionism, a busy schedule, a brain that goes in a hundred-thousand directions all the time, or any other issue that’s making you cray-cray, consider writing out some Scriptures.

Then sit and contemplate them and pray over them.

Here are a couple of my faves to start with:

2 Chronicles 16:9 (NIV) — “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”

James 1:2-5 (NIV) — “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

Write these on whatever you have — it doesn’t have to be fancy paper or colored index cards. You see from the first photo that I scrounged around and found some colored notebook paper. I’ve had the paper for years, and I’ve had the colored index cards for years. Don’t go out and buy something.

JUST START.

I included a set of my favorite writing tools in the first photo because I enjoy writing with these markers (using them actually slows me down and helps me contemplate what I’m writing), but a plain ol’ pencil or regular ink pen will do. (If you do want these markers, here is an Amazon link to my idea list where I recently started list of my favorite office supplies. I’m not an Amazon affiliate, so I don’t make any money off your clicks or purchases.)

Also notice that I chose not to start over when I messed up; I decided to scratch it out and keep going. I gave myself a bonus point for letting that go; the message is more important than how pretty and “perfect” it is.

Have the handwritin’ of a serial killer? No problem.

TYPE IT OUT. I love me some copy-and-paste, but this is not the time for that.

In the above passage from James 1, instead of copying and pasting from the website I linked to for you, I retyped it. I have it memorized in a different translation, so I did have to check my notes a couple of times, but writing it — whether by hand or by keyboard — helps you remember and internalize the words, and especially the message.

Have I inspired you to give it a try? Leave a comment or, if you’re on my email list, reply to the one I’ve sent you about this post. I’d love it if you’d include a picture of your handwritten verses.

P.S. I’ve had another brainstorm since I wrote this post, so be sure to check back later in the week for that announcement (hint: #ScriptureMemorization). Subscribers will hear about it first, so be sure to fill out your name and email address in the box at right [probably at the bottom if you’re on mobile] to get updates. 🙂

Blessings,

SuzyOakleySignature

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley, writer • editor in reading, 6 comments

He’s not there

Dad’s grave.

I rarely think about visiting my dad’s grave. Usually someone else suggests it. This evening, it was Bruce. We had eaten dinner out, and as we got into the car I wasn’t ready to come home just yet.

“Let’s drive by the river,” I suggested.

“Go to the cemetery?” Bruce said.

“Oh, yeah. Good idea.”

I had been restless and out of sorts most of the afternoon, and just before Bruce got home from Saturday work duties, I was finishing a great but depressing book about Alzheimer’s disease. Great because it was a true story told well; depressing because it was a true story written by a daughter in anguish over her mother’s devastating illness.

By the time Bruce got home, I needed something fun and distracting, so I suggested we go to dinner or a movie. Bruce predicted that I would tire out before a nighttime movie was over, so we settled for dinner at a burger joint (where neither of us ordered a burger).

After we finished our food, we sat and lingered — rare for me. Bruce loves to linger over dinner out; I’m usually ready to leave as soon as we finish eating. But we were enjoying the atmosphere, the food and the 1970s-80s music, so we chilled while Bruce enjoyed his Dr Pepper (no ice), and I had three glasses of iced tea. Just a nice, relaxing evening as we took our time, enjoyed each other’s company and chatted about aging, our bodies and our minds, how we’re slowing down, even in our 50s.

Back in the car, as we approached the White River we noticed how high the water had risen because of the recent rains. Just like the ebb and flow of life — sometimes high, sometimes low.

We parked near the dam and sat in the car watching the sun set for a few minutes, then we drove to the cemetery where so many of our loved ones are buried.

Some of them are my family, and some are friends unrelated by blood, but all have a place in our hearts.

The verses on Emily’s tombstone, Psalm 139:13-14, say: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Sometimes during the week, I drive to the cemetery on my lunch break and sit in the car by Emily’s grave. Sometimes I get out and just stand there in front of it, marveling that she touched so many lives in just 13 years, wondering why her death hit me so hard when I’m not even her mother. (Would you tattoo the name of someone else’s daughter above your ankle?)

When Emily’s aunt, my cousin Teri, mentioned getting a tattoo after Emily died, I felt a strong urge to get one, too. Teri and daughter Peighton have multiples; this likely will be my only one. I had it done a month after Em died.

Tomorrow is six months since Emily’s little transplanted heart gave out. I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around the reality that she’s gone.

I drove Bruce to view her gravestone, placed just recently, and I took pictures (I also keep a collage of Emily pictures, produced by the mortuary for her service, on the bulletin board above my computer). Not even Emily’s mom knows this, but I take pictures of her grave almost every time I visit. Most of them look the same. Some have wilted flowers in them, fresh after her burial; others have autumn leaves, maybe a dusting of snow; the most recent ones have her gravestone in place.

I’m ready for grass to grow over the grave, I told Bruce this evening. Right now it’s just dirt. Would grass make her death more real, the site seem more “normal”? I’m not sure why I want the grass.

We moved on.

Back in the car, I said, “You know, I haven’t been by Philip’s grave since we buried him. I’m not even sure I could find it without a lot of driving around.”

So I dialed Mom’s number. Philip was Mom’s first cousin, and she knew how to find the grave. I’m not sure she’s been back to his grave since that day in 2015, either, but she directed us to the right spot. Sometimes I marvel at the things Mom can remember, especially when it comes to the many relatives we’ve lost.

We told her we had been to Emily’s grave and were going to Dad’s, but we wanted to find Philip’s gravesite first.

Uncle Arthur and Aunt Virginia are buried right behind their son Philip.

We found it, and just a few feet away are his parents’ graves; I had forgotten that. I barely remember Uncle Arthur and Aunt Virginia, and I wish I’d known them better.

Earthly years

By most standards, Dad and Philip had long lives. Dad was only 59 when he died (just three years older than I am now), and Philip was 85, but they were very old compared to Emily.

And compared to Kristen.

Our grief over Emily was still brand new when we lost Kristen, daughter of my cousin Billy from Yuma, Ariz. Kristen died in a car accident on Nov. 1. We didn’t get to attend a service for Kristen, but we grieve her just the same. Kristen was a young single mom, and my heart aches for her parents, her children and her siblings. I can’t express in words how it hurts my heart to think about the loss of this precious young woman I hadn’t seen since she was a little girl.

When we lost her grandmother, my Aunt Juanita, Kristen was just over 2 months old; Dad and I flew to Yuma from Arkansas as soon as we got the news that the swift-moving cancer had taken my aunt. Mom and several other family members packed into a van and drove out, arriving a couple of days later.

The minute I met Kristen, I was in love.

At one point that week, when the rest of the family left the house, I held this sweet tiny baby in my arms for two or three hours. While the others made funeral arrangements and visited places they hadn’t seen in years, I hung back with the baby. I couldn’t put her down; we were buds.

The other Arkansas family members were in Yuma for about a week before having to head back to their jobs, but I stayed two weeks, having cut my summer internship short at the newspaper where I was working. My Uncle Bill and I had always had a special bond, so I hung out with him after everyone else had gone and the house was quiet (except for Aunt Juanita’s cuckoo clocks, which were everywhere — she had them set to go off at slightly different times so that she could enjoy each clock’s unique sound). That week, Uncle Bill sent me on errands in her car — a big ol’ Lincoln Town Car as long as a boat. She had a green-apple air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror, and to this day the smell of green apple always evokes memories of my Aunt Juanita. Since then, I’ve gone on the hunt many times for green-apple air freshener — in auto-parts stores, convenience stores, discount stores … I can’t believe how hard it is to find that particular scent nowadays.

I wish I had a particular scent to associate with Kristen. I’ll just have to hold her memory in my heart. If I had pictures, I would post them. I hope to see my cousin Billy this summer; maybe he’ll have some pics of his daughters and grandchildren that I can share.

Fragile heart

As with baby Kristen, it was the same for me with Emily. I remember the first time I laid eyes on her, through the glass at the hospital when she was just minutes old. I took some of the first pictures of her through that glass. Her mom, Tanya, jokes that I got to see her baby before she did! Tanya was still being tended to after an emergency C-section when the rest of us were marveling at the new life she had just brought into the world. She was beautiful and perfect.

Except her heart. We knew from the beginning that Emily’s heart would require special care for the rest of her years on earth. We just didn’t realize how few those years would be.

When her parents took her to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for medical care, I was living in North Little Rock, less than 10 miles from ACH. I tried to visit as often as I could. In the beginning I got to hold her, even in her hospital room. During later hospitalizations, visitors were limited or prohibited.

I have no idea how many days Emily spent at Children’s, but her mom probably does — or maybe she and Chester lost count over the course of 13 years. I do know that she received outstanding care there.

But finally the excellent care of humans was not enough. It was time for Em to rest in the arms of Jesus, the Great Physician, healer of all hurts and sorrows, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Jesus and Emily have better things to do than fret that no grass is growing over her grave.

Emily’s grave, a few days after we laid her body to rest.

For 21 years, Mom has tried to make sure Dad’s grave has new flowers each season, but I never think of it (pretty sure it doesn’t bother him, either). I rarely think to visit his grave. I think of Dad every day, because he’s in my heart and always will be, but I don’t think often of the place where his body is buried. When I visit, I don’t linger, and I rarely cry when I stand over his grave, even when I’ve had a rough day.

He’s not there.

When I visit Emily’s grave, I grieve for her parents, her sister, her nephews, her grandparents, her aunts and uncles and cousins, for the youth group at her church, the adults who ministered to her, the medical personnel who skillfully and tenderly cared for her … for the people on this planet who hadn’t met her and will never know how wonderful and funny and smart she was, that she loved pink — that the women wore pink blouses and dresses and jackets and the men wore pink ties the day we lowered her worn out little body into the ground. I grieve for those Emily left behind, but I don’t grieve for her when I visit that grave with the dirt and no grass.

She’s not there.

Emily is with Jesus, the One who died for her sins, the One she accepted as Lord and Savior when she was a little girl — the One she wanted everyone to know and accept as Savior, too. He’s the One who holds her heart in His hands.

And this weekend, as we pause to ponder the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord who gave His life for us, we celebrate the reality of the tomb where His body was laid to rest.

He’s not there.

That tomb is empty.

HE IS RISEN!

Blessings,

SuzyOakleySignature
Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley, writer • editor in reading, 2 comments

A reason for hope: He is risen!

Happy Good Friday, friends!

Do you struggle to be consistent, positive and hopeful?

I do.

I haven’t posted on the blog in two months. I’m still struggling with some health issues, which are overwhelming at times. In fact, because I have an autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s, a hypothyroid condition), my doc decided to test for other autoimmune diseases last week. People with one autoimmune disease are more likely to have others.

I tested positive for ANA (antinuclear antibody). ANA is present in most people who have lupus, but not everyone who tests positive actually has lupus. The doc has referred me to a rheumatologist in Little Rock for further testing and evaluation, and I’m still waiting to get an appointment. (I tested negative for rheumatoid arthritis last week, but I seem to be developing osteoarthritis.)

I don’t want this blog to be about my health, but you need to know that my health struggles are an ongoing source of concern for me and my family, and a source of exhaustion and frustration for me in particular; it means I struggle to concentrate and stay focused on what I’m writing, so I’ve started and stopped many posts many times.

(I also live with a dude who’s had an autoimmune disease since the first year of our marriage, so there’s that.)

With every post I write — especially when I haven’t posted in weeks — I struggle with whether to bring up my health, because that’s the main reason for the inconsistency.

And I struggle to stay positive. I struggle to get out of bed every morning, and to put one (injured) foot in front of the other.

So let’s look at the very best reason to stay positive and have hope:

HE IS RISEN!

Today is the observance of Good Friday, the day our Lord Jesus was crucified.

On the third day after the crucifixion, He rose from the dead.

He died and rose for ALL of us, no matter what race, color or creed.

Those sins you’ve struggled to conquer? He conquered death so you could rely on HIS power and strength, not your own.

That disease or family problem or job strain or those money woes you’re stressed out about? He has overcome the world and, while we still have to live in the world, that’s not the end of the story.

His death gives us HOPE because He has promised us a future, if we will believe in Him.

If you’re not a believer, you can become one this instant.

Admit you’re a sinner in need of the Savior’s forgiveness, grace and mercy. Turn from your sin and hand him the reins of your life.

For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

Yup. You have to relinquish control. And that’s nothing to worry about; it’s actually FREEING. You have Him there to lead and guide you, every step of the way.

He died for this. He died to give us hope and a future.

I celebrate this fact with you today, because it’s the only thing that can get me out of bed some days.

HE IS RISEN!

Jesus is Lord, and He is alive and living in the world today, even when it seems crazy to believe that.

I pray that this brings you hope on this very Good Friday, and may you go out and give hope to someone else this weekend.

HE IS RISEN!

Blessings,

SuzyOakleySignature

If you need to talk about faith, Jesus, becoming a Christian or anything else you need help with, you can contact me here.

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley, writer • editor in faith, forgiveness, hope, Jesus, 2 comments
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