In early 2016, God began taking me through a transition between seasons. I’m so grateful for the long, drawn-out way He went about the whole thing because I take so long to process emotions and get my heart right when things are hard. It was during this time that God began speaking to me about a book. What He said very plainly was, “Write the book.” I hadn’t considered this daunting task and had no idea what this book would even be about— if I even knew how to go about doing something like that! I sort of tucked that instruction away, thinking I’d understand it later.
Six months later, He said it again, this time more firmly. I reacted with the same intensity I sensed in His command, but in my frustration around not understanding what He was asking of me, I shouted at Him like a teenager with an attitude,
“IF YOU WANT ME TO WRITE THE BOOK, YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO TELL ME WHAT IT'S ABOUT AND HOW I’M SUPPOSED TO DO THAT!”
And at that exact moment, the phone rang. It was my mom. She was asking if I’d be interested in a free ticket to a pricey writer’s workshop that weekend.
“Woooooaaaaahhhhh…” That was all I could get out for a moment. I had goosebumps all over me and there was a rush of heat and energy surging through my veins. The Holy Spirit had my attention.
“What?” my mom asked, a little confused. She knew I liked to write, but she didn’t know what God was telling me about "writing the book.”
“Mom, I was just fussing at God because He’s telling me to write a book and I don’t know how!” We both started laughing and rejoicing in God’s clarity and provision.
I attended that conference where I learned all about blogging. (AKA: not how to write a book) The content from the first day was powerful and some of it was incredibly helpful, but I wasn’t learning how to write the book. I went to the organizer at the end of the first day and introduced myself. It just so happened that my mom nannied for him and his wife’s three children. I thanked him for the ticket and told him how God was telling me to write the book. I asked if the next day might be focused on writing and publishing books. He responded with a question.
“Do you have a blog?”
“Well, I used to have a blog, but it was nothing formal,” I said, feeling increasingly novice.
“You’re going to need a blog and an audience of 10,000 readers before a publisher will be interested in your book. Why would they invest in you when you can’t show that anyone would buy your book?”
“Looks like I need a blog,” I admitted.
Ten thousand readers? This was bigger than I thought.
I heard God say, “If you will just walk in obedience and do what I tell you step-by-step, this will become something you can’t even think of." I took that as a promise.
As I continued to soak up the knowledge and understand better the process of becoming an author, I had the idea of featuring my friend Jes’ hand lettering on this apparent blog of mine— maybe even selling some of her art! That was such an inspiring idea and I began to get a vision for what this blog thing might look like. Then I pictured a pretty little book. A bathroom book or a coffee table book, maybe. It was beautiful and filled with Jes’ art and my words! I was so excited about the idea that I left the session to go outside and call Jes to invite her into my dream! She instantly gave me her yes. And she wasn’t just willing, she was excited! Like— Holy Spirit excited.
Jes proceeded to work on my header and a couple of exclusive pieces for the shop while I got to work building the website and planning a launch for February 1, 2017. The launch went so well and all my people were so kind as to sign up for my emails, follow on social media, and actually visit my website! Some even purchased Jes’ artwork and other items from the shop.
“It’s working!” I thought as I grew even more excited about what God was doing. The same week of the launch, my family visited a new church that instantly felt like home. We sensed God calling us to that community right away. Soon after we made our transition official, I began picturing the worship pastor, Mikala, leading women at events where I was speaking. It kind of came out of nowhere. I started to brainstorm it with God. What would it look like to gather women and propel them into a deeper commitment to their calling? To spur them on in creativity and risk-taking so that they can give their “Yes!” when Jesus calls on them to obey in the face of the unknown? What would it look like to bring Jes, Mikala and me together as a team and put on events where women could take a deep breath and get themselves collected? Suddenly, I was reminded that God had given me that word, “collected”, back in the fall of 2015. I wondered if there was a connection. As I processed, I recalled when I was first starting the blog and several women had asked me to write about how I ended up doing what I do. They wanted to know how to escape the 9-5 lifestyle to pursue their passion and work on something meaningful that would impact the world. (At the time I was working full-time for an organization in rural Kenya.)
There was one hold up in the idea... I’d never been a big fan of women’s ministry in the past. Everything always seemed too sweet… and made me feel a little too salty. As I worked out a vision for these events, I started talking to Jes and Mikala and eventually set up a meeting. As we all brainstormed together, the Spirit’s presence was so evident. Our conversation turned into passionate prayers and worship. On May 23, 2017, we all gave our yeses and got to work. God gave us a picture of a new kind of event for women-- even women who don't really like women's ministry. And once we began to hone in on the message, I shared the story of how I received the word “collected”. It was all coming together and Jes and Mikala agreed.
Oh, you want that story? You're going to have to attend a workshop for that part!
On August 29, 2017 we hosted a preview event attended by 15 women whom we strategically selected. What God did in all of our hearts and revealed about the scale of His plan for us was entirely overwhelming. Women from every demographic were deeply impacted and the content we planned was enhanced by the Holy Spirit in ways we couldn’t have anticipated. We saw chains broken, hearts begin to heal, and passion re-ignited. The response was overwhelmingly positive and the feedback was so constructive. We left that event with so much peace and reassurance that we were on the right track. But it still felt so scary and big.
The very next day we were hired by a local company to provide a one-day retreat for their corporate staff. In the weeks that followed, we made connections with several churches who were also interested in booking retreats and workshops! The sudden momentum was not unexpected, but unbelievable all the same. God began making good on His promise immediately! How tender of Him to reassure us in the face of so much risk and vulnerability! God’s showing us how He can use this ministry to change lives and that He will sustain us in the process. It’s just beautiful.
On November 18th we will be hosting Collected-LKN, a workshop that is open to the public. We want to give area churches and leaders, along with our personal network of women, an opportunity to attend the worship without booking a private event. Our hope is that the November 18th workshop in Cornelius, NC will be a springboard for filing the 2018 calendar with life-changing workshops and retreats wherever God leads us. So far we have 4 events in 3 different countries on the books for next year!
Our desire is to see our message, one that God seems to be sending out through women leaders all over the world, reach every woman God intends to touch. The message is this: Lay down distractions so that you can connect with your truest self and say yes to the purpose that is written on your soul. We want to commission each and every woman to start walking in her assignment with passion, grit, and great courage.
We’ve designed our workshops to entail a lot of worship, lead by the gifted and most amazing Mikala Hooper, as a top priority. There is no other way to shake off all that the world tells us to carry around every day. In addition to Bible-based teaching from your’s truly, women are given time to engage in guided reflection and dig into some personal work. This is all completed in a— wait for it— pretty little book! That’s right! We’ve created a gorgeous guidebook and journal for women to use as a roadmap to finding themselves calm, collected, and ready to dream big with God. On top of that, we've intentionally added a component of creative expression that will serve as a form of low-stakes risk-taking as we explore the concepts of vulnerability and identity. Our goal is to prepare women to courageously obey God by helping them look logically at what is at stake when faced with a call. We help them realize that they can give their yes even when they aren’t sure what to expect. This portion of the day is facilitated by our resident artist and favorite lover of life, Jes Biondo. As part of the activity, attendees also participate in a mini hand-lettering workshop and receive a starter kit to take home and continue practicing worship through creative risk. Even if you have no interest in creative things or hand lettering, you have to trust us— there’s more happening here than meets the eye! The day culminates with a vision renewal process that allows each woman to begin sketching out a plan for moving forward in her calling.
So here we are! We’re doing it! And we are on the edge of our seats waiting for the next instructions, ready to do whatever it takes to stay in a place of obedience to what He’s called us to do.
Now that you have the whole story, will you please join us on this journey? Will you gather your personal group of women— from your church, work, small group, or wherever— and come see what this is all about? We’re counting on you to help move this vision forward!
Thank you so much to all of you who have encouraged, prayed, attended, promoted, and served so far. Our gratitude can’t be expressed in words. And to those of you who will attend on November 18th, please know that we are praying for you. We’re asking God to prepare your heart, to inspire you, and provide everything you need to be able to attend care-free. And as always, we ask all of those things in Jesus’ name. So you can count on it!
PS: In case you thought I've forgotten about the book… I haven’t. I’m still just obeying step-by-step, trusting His timing, His instructions, and His crazy way of working things out. If you believe in what’s happening here, I’d love it if you would join my email list and follow my social media pages (@tiamcnellynotes). I’ll need all of you sharing content and spreading the word if I’m ever going to get close to that 10,000 number. Thank you!