Created to Encourage

Created to Encourage

Editor’s Note: During the month of February, we are focusing on a Call to Femininity. The world often gives women a different idea of what womanhood should look like. Looking to the Word gives us clear direction and instruction on how to be the woman God designed us to be. 

As I sit here writing this post, praying that God guides me with His Word, I think to myself, “What does biblical femininity mean to me?” God gave me the words “unique,” “brave,” and “encourage.” Women are created in God’s image, and with that comes a call to represent God well through our uniqueness, our brave spirit, and our encouraging heart.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27).

God has created us all in a unique way. He not only made us beautiful in His image but He has blessed us all with different strengths.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come”  (Proverbs 31:25).

Although we are all uniquely designed and gifted, we can trust that God has also given us exactly what we need in order to uniquely fulfill the call He’s placed on our lives.

For example, I’m a mom to 4 amazing kids who need me daily. “Mom I left my bag at home.” “Mom can you help me with my homework?” “Mom I’m hungry. Can you please make me something?” Appointments, therapy, church, bible studies, classes–whew! Sound familiar? Life with littles can be tiring, but God knew exactly what my life would look like in this season. Multi-tasking is one of my strengths, and although my circumstances might sometimes be overwhelming and I don’t always feel like I have the strength, God truly helps me stay positive and gives me the strength and comfort that I need to get  through it all.

When I hear the word “brave” the first thought that comes to mind is trying to get the courage to start something new. Maybe a new business, talking to new people, or going up on a stage. Several times in Scripture, the Lord reminds and commands us to be brave:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God

will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

My family is blended, and my two older kids–an 8-year-old  and 9-year-old–have hurts from our past. The situation is out of our control, so we bravely pray to the God Who Hears to heal their hearts. My family has also had to be brave as 1-year-old is going through health issues. He’s doing great, but every day is a different battle. I also have a 6-year-old who has Autism and speech delay. Most days are great, but sometimes it gets really hard not knowing how to explain certain things to him. Sometimes I feel as if I’m not doing something right, but that’s when I remember that the enemy is  trying to get at me again. The Holy Spirit helps me find the courage to bravely start praying to God to help me and guide me through the situation. When I thank him for my circumstances, even when they are overwhelming, somehow everything begins to feel peaceful again. The word “brave” reminds me that I am a woman who is facing the difficulties and challenges of every day, and even when I can’t understand why my family goes through these situations, God is always there to help us through it.

So let me encourage you today, whether you’re a mom, grandmother, aunt, sister, cousin, daughter, married or single, kids or no kids: you are strong!

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).

Remember, you can do this! You’re not alone! We are all here to help! There are so many women going through hard situations. Let’s remember to uplift and encourage one another. Let’s set an example of what it means to be unique and brave. God will help you through any situation you’re dealing with. We understand all of our strengths and situations are different, but God helps us use our unique lives to encourage others. Be you, be brave, and be encouraged to share God’s love with anyone and everyone you can! Feeling at home with God and sharing his love and joy with others: that’s what “biblical femininity” means to me.

We would like to thank Bre Flores for writing this post.

Biblical Feminity

Biblical Feminity

Editor’s Note: During the month of February, we are focusing on a Call to Femininity. The world often gives women a different idea of what womanhood should look like. Looking to the Word gives us clear direction and instruction on how to be the woman God designed us to be. 

What exactly is Biblical Femininity? Femininity is a word that tends to induce one of two polar opposite reactions. As I was preparing to write this, some women I spoke with only associated negative thoughts and feelings with this word, while others took great pride in it. I must admit, I
had mixed feelings when thinking about the word. The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear feminine is being a “girly girl” (which also made me think I am the last person on earth that needs to be writing this post). So, I decided I better start doing some research and find some
definitions to help me understand what femininity really is.


First, I decided to look up the worldly meaning of the word feminine.
adjective
pertaining to a woman or girl: feminine beauty; feminine dress.
having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, such as sensitivity or gentleness.
effeminate; womanish: a man with a feminine walk.
belonging to the female sex; female: feminine staff members.

(obtained from Dictionary.com)


The definition that I would like to focus on is the second one listed, the one regarding the qualities of a woman. For me, this definition is the one that caused such mixed emotions. In the world today, women do not like to feel like they are weak, not good enough, or unequal in any
way. I feel like the world views sensitivity and gentleness as weak qualities. To the world, sensitive women cry too much and gentle women have no backbone. Women are taught, sometimes from an early age, to believe that to get anywhere in this world, they must put these
characteristics aside, toughen up “like a man,” and grab this world by the horns.


Second, I turned to the truth about femininity in God’s word. Of course, the scriptures that every woman turns to on how to become a godly woman are found in Proverbs 31, but these can be very intimidating scriptures. When I used to read the scriptures, I would start having an anxiety attack and get depressed. I kept thinking, “I am supposed to be Wonder Woman, and I am failing miserably.” But in order to really understand the Godly meaning of femininity, we need to go all the way back to the beginning.

In Genesis 2 we read:
And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper
comparable to him”
(Genesis 2:18, NKJV).
Later in that chapter, God created woman. So, if we look at the above scripture closely, we learn that God purposefully made women as we are, and He meant to make us that way! What the world views as weak, God has perfectly made and uses for His Glory. Gentleness and sensitivity are not weak at all but strong and bold in their own way, and they are an important part of how we fulfill our job as helper. These characteristics are not something to be ashamed of but embraced and used!


So now, when we go back to Proverbs 31:10-31, we can read it through different lenses. In the world now, the Proverbs 31 woman looks a little different but still exhibits many of the same qualities. As women, oftentimes we wear many hats: we are wife, mom, doctor, teacher,
disciplinarian, chef, custodian, friend and in some situations, we are dad, too. And God gave us just the right qualities, including the feminine ones, to handle every situation and be the best helpers that we can be. It is time for us to step into and accept the femininity that God gave us.
Gentleness and sensitivity do not make us the weaker vessel; they make us the equal vessel.

A special thanks to Tana Navarette for writing this post.

Husband of the Husbandless

Husband of the Husbandless

Editor’s Note: During the month of February, we are focusing on a Call to Femininity. The world often gives women a different idea of what womanhood should look like. Looking to the Word gives us clear direction and instruction on how to be the woman God designed us to be. 

As I walk into the store, I am surprised by the massive Valentine’s displays. I just got all of my Christmas
decor put up, and already Valentine’s themes appear everywhere I look. But as I look at my calendar, I
realize it IS only a month away. Wow! How quickly the seasons pass!


Although all my closest friends are married, Valentine’s Day is one of the only times of the year when I
am starkly reminded that I’m single. But talking about biblical femininity this month has me thinking
about my purpose and calling as a single woman of God. What is biblical femininity or biblical
womanhood, and how does it apply to the unmarried woman?

The first mention of “woman” in the Bible is Genesis 2:18: “The Lord God said, ‘it is not good for the
man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’”
Then Scripture goes on to give the account of
how God made Eve from Adam and for Adam. Eve was created to be a helper, a companion, and a mate
or wife for Adam. This was her purpose.


Women were created to be wives, helpers for their husband, and mothers to their children. This is a grand
and noble calling, and I do believe this can be the primary occupation for some women, at least through a
season of their lives, but I wonder, “is this the only plan and purpose for women?” I think of the Proverbs
31 woman, and I am awed by her amazing character and accomplishments, but to be honest, I am not
really inspired. Actually I think, “Been there and bombed that!” So now what? As a single woman, do I
just live out the rest of my days the best I can, never really having fulfilled my purpose? Or is there a plan
B?


As I continue reading in Genesis, I’m so glad the story of mankind didn’t end in Genesis 3. The rest of the
Bible is the story of God’s plan of redemption. It is the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his twelve
sons or the twelve tribes of Israel. In it the nation of Israel becomes the smaller story through which the
larger story of mankind’s redemption is told. And right there in the middle of that story, God speaks
through the words of Isaiah to the nation of Israel – and to me!


For your Maker is your husband, The Lord of hosts is His name;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel;
He is called the God of the whole earth
(Isaiah 54:5).


Your Maker is your husband. These words resound in my heart!


I go back to Genesis and read again the story of creation, but this time I back up to Genesis 1:26: “Then
God said, ‘Let Us make mankind in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish
of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every
crawling thing that crawls on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He
created him; male and female, He created them.”


We – both man and woman – were created by a triune, relational God who wants relationship with us.
Eve was created as a companion for Adam, but we were all created to be in relationship with God. And
we as redeemed believers are called the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7 & Ephesians 5:32).


So even though I’m single, I can still live with purpose and within the purpose for which I was made. I
am the bride of Christ; I am His helper and His companion; my Maker is my husband!

A special thanks to Sheila Campbell for writing this blog post.

Women are Life Givers

Women are Life Givers

Editor’s Note: During the month of February, we are focusing on a Call to Femininity. The world often gives women a different idea of what womanhood should look like. Looking to the Word gives us clear direction and instruction on how to be the woman God designed us to be. 

When I was a senior in college, due to some major medical trauma of the past year, I began to lose my hair. Losing my hair was quite an identity crisis for me. Even though the head scarves my mom had bought me were very pretty, I still worried what other people thought of me. 

One evening, my sister and a friend of ours told me we were going to get coffee. But when we got to the car, our friend blindfolded me and would not tell me where we were actually going. Finally, we arrived at the destination. They led me carefully up the steps of a house and opened the door. 

One of them took off the blindfold. There, in the middle of the living room, stood nine of my friends from church. 

“SURPRISE!!!” they yelled. 

I gaped at them. “What is this?” I looked over at the girl next to me.

“It’s a surprise party for you!” she said gleefully. 

Each of the girls had a scarf wrapped around her head, and most of them had on their reading glasses—just like me. Each one of them had bought me a brand-new scarf, and at the end of the night, gave them to me. I even got some from a few friends that were not able to make it. 

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was a turning point for me. These friends ministered to a place deep inside me, even before I knew I needed it. Their presence and their kindness told me that they cared, and I was not alone. 

My own definition of biblical femininity is: what it looks like to be a woman who follows Jesus every day. The women who have taught me the most about this will probably never be recognized publicly for what they do. They just continue to serve those around them and teach by their actions and their words. I have watched how these women have treated their families, their husbands, and me. They are full of kindness and speak life over everyone around them. Proverbs puts it this way: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26).

Here are a few things I have learned: 

  • Women who follow Jesus are life givers. 

As women, we were created to make things around us better. When we choose to speak life and God’s Word over the people and situations around us, we change things (even when we can’t always see it). 

  • Women who follow Jesus see beauty in the broken. 

Whether it’s seeing the potential in a broken piece of furniture at the antique store or seeing the gifts in a broken and hurting person, women are created to notice beauty. As women, we make our homes places of comfort and welcome for our families and ourselves (whatever that looks like!). We ask God to help us see others the way He sees them, even if they are a bit “messy” on the outside. 

  • Women who follow Jesus are not afraid to set healthy boundaries. 

The more we follow Jesus, the more secure we are in our identity in Christ. We choose to follow His voice first. Sometimes that means narrowing our focus and saying no to good things in order to say yes to the best for a season. Setting healthy boundaries means protecting our time, our health, our marriage, and our family. When these areas are in a healthy place, then we can reach out to others beyond that. 

  • Women who follow Jesus love and serve those around them. 

You may feel like your “circle of influence” is small. But don’t compare yourself to someone else. Who has God put around you today? Wherever God has placed you, the people you are called to love and serve are the ones you bump into every day. 

Maybe you’re like me in the beginning story. You feel like you’ve lost something and you don’t know what it looks like to step into your biblical womanhood. Keep your heart open and keep being faithful with what God has put in front of you. God will show you how, one step at a time. 

A special thanks to Heather Dillard for writing this post.

Beauty.

Beauty.

Editor’s Note: During the month of January, we will be reposting some of the top posts from 2020. I hope these encourage you. We have some great series planned for 2021. Stay tuned for all new posts coming in February!!

Beauty.

When I see that word, I generally think of clear skin, long thick hair, long eyelashes, manicured nails, and a polished smile. But how does God see true beauty?

He looks inside of us.

He looks in our hearts.

None of that outward appearance stuff matters.

We are to adorn ourselves with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. This kind of beauty will never disappear.

1 Peter 3:5 says, “For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands.”

To “submit” means to cooperate voluntarily with someone else out of love and respect for God and for that person. Submission is mutual. Peter is telling individual women to submit to their own husbands but not for all women everywhere to be subordinate to men in general.

Ephesians 5:21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Jesus submitted to death so that we could be saved; we may sometimes have to submit to unpleasant circumstances so that others will see Christ in us. We could not be submissive without the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.

Peter instructs Christian wives to develop inner beauty instead of being overly concerned about their outward appearance. Their husbands will be won over by their love. This does not mean that Christian women should settle on their outward appearances, but strive to let their inward beauty be outwardly seen through their confidence in Christ and themselves.

But far more important is the development of an inner spirit of godliness. Live your Christian faith quietly and consistently in your home, and your family will see Christ in you. True beauty begins inside (Proverbs 31:30). It is not of this world but is instead saturated in the word of God.

I remember the planning meeting Ian and I had just weeks before our wedding, with Matthew, my young adult minister from the church I was attending in college. I remember specifically asking him to read this scripture, 1 Peter 3:5, at our wedding. The minister giggled and looked at Ian to ask if that was okay with him. Matthew questioned me as to why I chose that verse, but without hesitation, I told him about how my parents had modeled such beauty in their submission to one another through a long, Christ-centered marriage.

After eleven years of marriage, and in my “Wonder Woman” skin (as Ian likes to say) God constantly invites me into His way of living, sometimes quietly, sometimes gently, and sometimes persistently. He loves me, and I can trust in obeying His guidance to lead me to His blessings. This kind of obedience shows my husband that he can trust my heart, and he honors me in this way.

I hope that you will look into your own heart and find the beauty that is within you.

I pray that you will see God’s desires for you: a humble attitude softened by knowledge of God’s grace, confidence in the Lord that leads to wise speech and kind action, trust in Christ’s sovereignty, determination to do good and obey God in love, and courage in light of God’s steadfast promises.

–Bonnie McIntosh

We’d like to thank Bonnie McIntosh for writing this post!

Raising Kind Children in an Unkind World

Raising Kind Children in an Unkind World

Editor’s Note: During the month of January, we will be reposting some of the top posts from 2020. I hope these encourage you. We have some great series planned for 2021. Stay tuned for all new posts coming in February!!

I am a mother of four wonderful and beautiful children, but if I am being honest, it’s not always rainbows and sunshine. Some days I feel like I could write a book on parenting, and other days, I would like to crawl in a ball, with my stash of chips (that I hide from the kids), and hide in the closet. We don’t live in a perfect world, but having the responsibility of raising our children to not only be productive members of society but also caring and kind, can be overwhelming at times.

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). One thing I have learned during this pandemic and being quarantined and at home so much is that, number one: six people can get tired of each other, pretty quickly; number two: my children have no choice but to feed off of my attitude. It was a realization of how, even though being stuck at home all the time was irritating, I now had the opportunity to mold my children and to model behavior without having any outside behaviors influence them. I suddenly found myself grateful to the Lord for the lesson through the storm. In Ephesians 6:4 it says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  The Lord provided me with a time of reflection and a gift of time to mold habits that my children could learn from.

My children are all two years apart, so they fight like crazy. I discovered that being kind to one another had become a very hard thing for them to do. They didn’t understand that words cannot be taken back. They clearly did not know how to control their behavior and think about what they said before they actually said it. 

I think a lot of times, in society now, even adults do not understand that concept. Social Media has become a platform to say anything you’d like, without thinking there may be a consequence for it. This is all learned behavior that is being passed down to our children. We cannot simply sit back and expect our children to learn the gift of kindness from school or friends, because kindness seems to be a forgotten characteristic. It is our responsibility, as parents to instill this quality in our children.  I think about the story of Moses and how he trusted in the Lord to guide him, even against his father’s beliefs.

In our family, we have to actually sit down and explain in detail the lessons that we need our children to understand. We, as parents, cannot expect them to just “know.” If we aren’t careful, someone else will teach them the bad behavior that will have lasting consequences, and eventually habits will be created that will be tough for them to break.

It is an amazing feeling to know that God left these tiny humans in my hands and care. The Lord wants to guide us through raising our children and doesn’t want it to be an overwhelming experience but a gratifying one. I pray daily for my children and that the Lord will give me the guidance to not “mess up” my kids. 

Kindness goes a long way, but it has to be modeled and created in a home because the world is a scary place. Some days I fail, but I am grateful that God blesses us with a new day. I want my children to see that I’m not perfect. I don’t always say the right things. I do hurt their feelings sometimes. But I understand the consequences of my behavior and correct it. I tell them this all the time: It is fine to say that you are sorry, but by apologizing for something you did, that means you are going to intentionally put effort into not making that mistake again. “I am sorry” becomes a meaningless phrase when actions do not follow. Children have to be taught that.  

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). The peace that brings my heart is such a blessing. I pray that it blesses you, too, as you seek to raise up kind children in this unkind world. 

We would like to thank Brooke Vancleave for writing this post!

Loving Your Husband When It’s Not Easy

Loving Your Husband When It’s Not Easy

Editor’s Note: During the month of January, we will be reposting some of the top posts from 2020. I hope these encourage you. We have some great series planned for 2021. Stay tuned for all new posts coming in February!! The following post is a bit more vulnerable in nature. We’ve chosen to leave the author anonymous in order to protect those involved.  Many of us fight battles behind closed doors and are struggling to find  healing in those dark places.  We pray this will bring hope and encouragement if you’re walking through a similar situation.  As always, Harvest Christian Fellowship is here to help you.  Please reach out at anytime.  We are praying for you and we know God is always working things out for good for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose.  Much love, Julie Snellgrove (julie@harvestchristianfellowship.org)

I could’ve easily titled this blog, “Dealing With My Husband’s Porn Journey,” but I’ve realized, this isn’t only about him; it’s our journey. And yes, I’m going to talk about pornography today.  (Insert smile here)

I came into our marriage with trust issues because of choices I made in my past. I was a guarded woman, and fear had taken root in my heart about infidelity and lust. As newlyweds, there were a lot of career and family distractions, so it was easy to shove my pain and my hurt under the rug and pretend I didn’t know my husband had a problem with lust and pornography. I was scared to face it, honestly. I was scared to address it because I knew that meant pain for us both. 

One night, I’d had enough and called him out when I saw him looking at another woman.  We had come to a spot in our marriage I never dreamed we’d find ourselves in: broken.  I’m not sure I will ever forget the pain that I felt that night. Women are emotional beings, and we tend to attach our self-worth to the attention we get from our husbands. And when our husband’s attention is not 100% on us, we get jealous. We feel hurt, inadequate, less than, betrayed, violated, not good enough, ugly. To compensate, we put up walls, cover up, and aren’t as willing to have sex. Is anyone with me? I became very jealous and hyperaware. The enemy had a foothold at this point. 

The evening that I lost it was the night the Lord began healing us both. My husband didn’t change instantly, and I didn’t trust instantly. Things actually got worse before they got better. I had a really hard time trying to understand; I felt so betrayed by these fake images.  It took some hard conversations, some honest evaluations of where we were in our relationship, some boundaries, and a lot of counseling to get through.

The Lord graciously gave me insight to this specific addiction. Desire for the opposite sex in itself is not sinful; it’s what we do with those desires.  I’ve found that pain from old wounds is what drives a man to look at porn. It’s a deep-rooted problem. If this is a struggle your husband is dealing with, he probably hates that he does it. He probably prays for enough strength to not look at those images and asks other men for wisdom and prayer for healing. He probably lives his life in constant shame. Through this process, the Lord brought enough healing to my heart that allowed me to see that my husband was being honest and had a desire to change. I realized that I needed to find a way to help him.

Here are some things that really helped us:

  • HONESTY. One evening, we sat down and my husband allowed me to ask some really tough questions under the agreement that we wouldn’t get mad at each other. I would much rather know and have him be honest with me about where he is than keep it from me. Warning: these conversations are NOT fun. But there is something supernatural that happens in your marriage when you get to this place of honesty (Proverbs 12:22). 
  • BOUNDARIES. We put boundaries in place and made a commitment to stay within them. Boundaries bring safety and cultivate deeper intimacy (1 Corinthians 13:6-7). 
  • COUNSELING. We went to counseling together, and I unloaded a bunch of pain that I had been holding onto. I realized that my husband was wrong for looking at porn, but I was wrong in assuming wayyyyyyyyyyy too much because of pain I had not dealt with in my own life. I had to swallow my pride (Ephesians 4:32). 
  • FRIENDSHIP. I was completely vulnerable with a few friends and they supported me, listened to me, grabbed my hand and told me I was strong and brave and could do hard things. They spoke life into my bones (Proverbs 17:17). 
  • COMMUNICATION. This is the bottom line: had we talked about our struggles years before, they wouldn’t have bled into more than 5 years of marriage. It’s taken a long time to take off each brick that has been put around my heart as a result of lust and porn. Our marriage isn’t perfect; we aren’t perfect. But we have learned some very valuable lessons along the way, and one of the most important is to communicate with your spouse (Proverbs 16:24). 
  • LOVE. I learned to love him through the sin. Together, we didn’t accept or support the sin; we acknowledged the sin and agreed to love each other through the sin. It was hard to love him while I knew he was still struggling with looking at porn. But love conquers all. Even a porn addiction (1 Peter 4:8). 
  • PRAYER. I prayed like crazy over my husband and myself. I prayed for freedom from this addiction. I prayed for empathy to rush over me. I wasn’t perfect, and I had to humble myself and realize I am a sinner, too. I prayed for forgiveness and understanding (1 Peter 3:8-9). 
  • SCRIPTURE. I saturated myself in the Word of God and in His Truth. I did my best to take every evil thought about my husband captive and submit it to the Word of God (Philippians 4:6-9). 
  • SUBMISSION. I learned that my husband was created for intimacy and has a sex drive, and my role as a wife is to submit to him and his needs. If I’m not giving my husband what he needs, it may be a stumbling block. Sex with your husband is a weapon of unity against the enemy (1 Corinthians 7:3-4).

With confidence, I can say the Lord met us in these hard places, and with a lot of hard work, He delivered my husband from his sexual sin, and my heart was healed from jealousy and filled with trust. And I can confidently say that the Lord will meet you. He will walk with you through this valley (Psalm 23:4).  We had some very ugly fights and hard conversations, but the rewards are worth it. We now have an open and honest relationship with more intimacy than I ever thought possible.

Never be ashamed of seeking help; we ALL have issues. You may feel hopeless or feel like the pain is too deep. But know there is always hope! Our God is a God of healing and restoration. Please send an e-mail to the church office if you’d like more information on counseling. We are here for YOU!

Stepping Forward

Stepping Forward

I started blogging in 2007, before blogging was popular. (And I’m now told that it’s dying, like all things print, because people only want to watch or listen. Gosh, I hope this isn’t true.)

When I created this site on Blogspot, before there were other fancier forums, I titled it Obeying the Call because that’s what it felt like. Every post seemed vulnerable to share—and to do so was always my act of obedience. 

I’m an introvert—and not the kind that thrives in virtual spaces where I could have a larger-than-life personality. I’m afraid my online persona is basically the same as me in real life. (To give a slightly embarrassing example, even social media posts that get a lot of comments can sometimes overwhelm me, and I’m always in awe of those who can reply (cleverly) to each person. Meanwhile I’m like—ahh, all. the. people.)

And so, here I go again—sharing and being vulnerable—because I feel God nudging my heart to pick up my pen more in 2021. 

2020 was awful. I think we can all agree. 

I lost two friends.

I had COVID twice.

I had two non-elective surgeries.

You see a pattern there? 

I started studying the significance of the number two, and although not the only symbolism for this number, two can represent division or contrast or opposites. Like a line in the sand—that’s the picture God gave me. 

The number two represents a choice.

Life or death. 

Light or darkness.

Faith or fear.

Spirit or flesh.

Peace or anxiety.

Tree of Life or Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Two masters: God or money.

The narrow gate or the wide gate. 

There are always two paths. We always have to choose. 

God continually invites us to go deeper. Writing that sentence reminds me of a dream I had years ago where God opened the door to a staircase and said, “Come.” 

There’s always a new step, a deeper level of discernment, a stronger capacity for faith, a fresh understanding of His Word. 

We’ll never have all the answers.

We’ll never have Him all figured out.

We’ll never know everything there is to know about His Word.

We’ll never not need Him. (Yep—double negative there. That’s how strong this truth is.)

Aren’t you glad? 

In 2021, God is still opening doors to staircases for me, still extending His hand, still saying “Come.”

And He offers you the same invitation. 

Sometimes God doesn’t give us what we asked for, but do you know what He never withholds? His presence. His goodness. His faithfulness. His joy. His love. 

And when we look back, when we reflect, we see that He’s always answering, always working, always making a way. Sometimes it’s a new path. Sometimes it’s the same. But we have to move, participate, engage.  

We have a choice this year, this day, this hour. 

I’m taking a step forward. How about you? 

We would like to thank Laura Brandenburg for writing this post!

A New Year’s Challenge

A New Year’s Challenge

Anybody out there looking forward to closing the door on this year and opening the door to a hopeful and fresh 2021?

Me too!!

As you prepare your heart for the new year, I’d love to share with you a challenge that’s been valuable to me over the last few years. 

Five years ago, I began a practice that seemed like a small thing but has led to big transformation in my life. At the start of a new year, rather than becoming overwhelmed by all I need to do or change, I ask the Lord for one word. This word serves as a focus that I return to countless times from January-December. The word I hear usually bumps around quite a bit in my heart, but eventually settles in my spirit and becomes a marker that helps guide my thoughts, my decisions, and my growth for the year.

Words have power.

Words can change things.

One word from God, if we choose to acknowledge it and allow it to continually lead us back to Him…can change everything.

It’s not so much the word itself, but the fact that if I allow it to, it points me back to my creator again and again for understanding, interpretation, and guidance.  I’m shaped and made as I seek His voice and His interpretation of the world around me and the world inside of me.  

I’m always surprised to see the unexpected ways God is faithful to lead me into a new understanding and experience of the word He’s given me. I usually can’t see it at the time, but looking back, I see how camping on a specific word each year has propelled me toward knowing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and in knowing Him more—knowing myself better. He is faithful to form us into all we are meant to be in Christ.

Boldness. Trust. Health. Surrender. Prayer.

These are some of the specific words that have been my one word and have helped form me over the last few years.

Dear ones, God is intimately acquainted with us and is always at work drawing us to Himself, to give us identity, purpose, freedom, and LIFE.  Returning to my word for the year almost always causes me to take steps outside my comfort zone while at the same time being invited to hide in the shelter of His wings as He does His transforming work in me.  

I bet you’d agree with me that more than ever, we are desperate for the Lord this year. I’m desperate to know Him and to be known by Him. I challenge you to seek the Lord like never before in 2021. Be in His written word, the Bible. Listen to His voice in prayer. Tell Him what you want, and trust Him to provide what you need. Worship Him in spirit and in truth. Cry out for a focus and for vision for your life. Write down your word and keep the vision before you. (I even like to put that word into a pretty frame and keep it on my dresser so I see it every day!)

As you meet with Jesus, bring Him your questions and He will reveal what He’s doing in your life. I can’t wait to hear the impact one word can make in your life in 2021.  

“Let us seize and hold tightly the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is reliable and trustworthy and faithful [to His word]” (Hebrews 10:23).

We would like to thank Jill Moudy for writing this post!

What Christmas Means To Me

What Christmas Means To Me

Editor’s Note: We hope these stories warm your heart this season. Maybe you pick up a new tradition, or maybe these stories will be a fresh breath of air to your soul as you reminisce your childhood, or MAYBE they will serve as a reminder of the reason for the season. Whichever way they speak to you, we pray your hearts would be turned towards Him. We pray that Jesus would be your comfort, refuge and HOPE! Merry Christmas!

When I was contacted to write a blog about what Christmas means to me, about what Jesus means to me, I hesitated. I thought, “You are definitely asking the wrong person.” As that was the case, why did I say yes to writing this blog? I felt God whisper to my heart, “You need to know what Christmas means to you. You need to know what My Son means to you.” Since then, I have prayed about what I should write. I have asked God if there is something someone needs to hear. I felt as though God was leading me to be honest and to dig deep. Maybe someone reading this can relate to my journey.

I have not only loved the Christmas season but also struggled with it. I have many treasured memories of Christmas events and celebrations from my past. Christmas was often a time to see my extended family, to decorate our home, to drive around town enchanted by the glittering lights, to sing Christmas carols, to join in merriment with others, and to give. On the other hand, I have been told I should not celebrate Christmas because of its roots in pagan traditions. I have spent the days leading up to Christmas stressed and in tears because I did not have enough money to buy gifts for all the different events that I felt obligated to attend. I have tried to give my best during the Christmas season, only to worry about how it was not good enough.  I have thought, “Why should I give to people who have so much and neglect the people who have so little?” I have lamented how the world has stripped Christ out of Christmas.

The truth is that I wrestled with whether or not I should even celebrate Christmas. I had convicting conversations with others, and I earnestly sought truth. Finally, I came to the conclusion that celebrating Christmas allows me to share the hope I have in Jesus. His birth was a turning point for the entire world. It had been prophesied for centuries. This birth was the ultimate gift from the Father. This birth brought Yeshua, the Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace. This birth brought light to our dark world of sin and grief. This birth brought hope. My internal struggle helped me realize that Christmas is a time to celebrate the greatest gift to mankind – the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Jesus means more than I can fathom. He has freed my soul from the shackles of my sin. Without Jesus, I was lost and hurting. I chose to believe in Jesus when I was eleven years old, and I chose to be buried with Him in baptism when I was twelve. However, it was not until recently that I fully understood what Jesus means to me. He is life to my death. He comforts me, guides me, and fills my soul. Without Him, I am empty and heartbroken. He is the One who gives me hope and a future. He sustains me through difficult seasons, and He never forsakes me. When I call out to Him in my agony, He answers with His peace. He paid the ultimate price for sin so that all those who believe in Him could have a home with Him in heaven. This means that I do not have to fear death. I do not have to fear what may happen to me in this world.

Because of Jesus, I have something to give during the Christmas season and throughout the year. I may look at what I have to offer and think, “How is this going to make a difference?” It doesn’t matter how large or small or what form my offering may take. What matters is that I was willing and joyful in my giving. I need to have faith that He will take what I have and multiply it.  Am I willing to give what He asks of me?

Let your heart be filled with joy this Christmas season. Rest in knowing that Jesus came to this world of sinners to bring hope and peace. This year has brought heartache, trials, fear and disappointment. As believers, we can navigate all of these things knowing that Jesus is there through it all. He loves us, and He was born to save us.

“Do not let your heart be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me” (John 14:1).

We would like to thank Julia Franklin for writing this blog!

Christmas Traditions

Christmas Traditions

Editor’s Note: We hope these stories warm your heart this season. Maybe you pick up a new tradition, or maybe these stories will be a fresh breath of air to your soul as you reminisce your childhood, or MAYBE they will serve as a reminder of the reason for the season. Whichever way they speak to you, we pray your hearts would be turned towards Him. We pray that Jesus would be your comfort, refuge and HOPE! Merry Christmas!

Birthdays have become more and more excessive…have you noticed this? As a child, my birthdays were typically celebrated at McDonalds. Does anyone else remember this? Let me set the stage for you. It was a package deal: you got there on time, typically between errands, you ate McNuggets with your buddies, played a bit on the outdoor playground, had a piece of homemade cake, and that was that.  

Fast forward to today’s birthdays: IT. IS. AN. EVENT. Yard signs are not uncommon.  Balloon numbers and garland are a thing.  Cakes are commissioned pieces of art. And gift bags are passed out to guests. Birthdays have become more and more of an all-out deal. 

But, there’s one birthday that tops them.

It’s the most celebrated birth in human history: the birth of Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ birthday is the most important day in all our homes. You can be the most Pinteresty of all Pinterest moms and you will never come close to matching the grandeur of Jesus’ birthday party. His party comes every year with so much excitement and lasts over a month. Truth be told, even that never really feels like it’s long enough.

In my home, our Christmas tree is featured in our front window, for all passersby to see.  Each year, it’s filled with ornaments that we’ve collected throughout our marriage and the hand-made treasures that our children have made over the years. Each one with its own story—our family history symbolized in a collection of dangling, dainty decorations. There’s an evening each year dedicated to decorating the Christmas tree.  It’s such a sweet time of wonder for us all. The conversation flows over with all the earthly and eternal blessings for which we are most thankful.

Beautifully wrapped gifts are tucked beneath the tree, sparking joy and wonder from our children. They just love trying to guess what’s in each box every time another one appears.

Our hand-stitched stockings are hung with care above our fireplace: I hand-stitched my husband’s stocking, Evelyn’s and Graham’s stockings were hand-stitched by my mother-in-law, and my Sittie (grandmother) made my stocking the year I was born. After 36 years, it’s worn and tattered and one of the most special tangible things I have left of her. When I hang it, I always tear up as I imagine her delicate hands covered in thin skin and beautifully polished nails as she placed each stitch with precision. So much love and history went into the simple detail of stockings. And that is all because of Him. 

Our big old trees out front are wrapped tightly with about a hundred strands of red and white lights from their base to as high as I can reach on a 12-foot ladder. Nothing makes me happier than dressing up those beautiful trees. They were planted as tiny seeds into God’s soil and have grown with unimaginable patience, decade after decade, into these strong and beautiful living structures with root systems that go down and out even further than they stand high. They, in and of themselves, are miracles of God. Most of the year, their grandeur gets overlooked. But this month,  they will not go unnoticed. Drive down 16th street after sunset, and you’ll see our wrapped trees from blocks away. It’s their month to shine: they shine for Jesus.

Christmas is this magical time when I can’t help but reflect on what His birth means in the lives of everyone I love. On Earth,  we create these traditions celebrating Jesus’ life and what He sacrificed for us to have life eternal. These traditions are bound tightly in our families and are passed down from generations gone and will continue for generations to come. Christmas is this beautiful culmination of all our family histories, which I think is a most appropriate celebration of Jesus Christ because without Him, there would be nothing to celebrate.

“For in Him we have life, and motion, and existence” Acts 17:28. 

In these moments leading up to Christmas Day, take time to reflect on the beauty of tradition, the gift of family, and the unimaginable grace of God that He would send us His beloved Son. 

Happy Birthday, Jesus!!

We would like to thank Elizabeth Loeffler for writing this post!

Running to Jesus

Editor’s Note: We hope these stories warm your heart this season. Maybe you pick up a new tradition, or maybe these stories will be a fresh breath of air to your soul as you reminisce your childhood, or MAYBE they will serve as a reminder of the reason for the season. Whichever way they speak to you, we pray your hearts would be turned towards Him. We pray that Jesus would be your comfort, refuge and HOPE! Merry Christmas!

Decorating for Christmas is one of my favorite things of the year. The twinkle lights and ribbon turn an ordinary room into something extraordinary. We all have different styles of décor when it comes to Christmas. Some folks enjoy the very formal look of a perfect Christmas tree, while others want their tree to be filled with all their children’s handmade ornaments. If you are looking for a way to add a designer’s touch to your tree, you can follow these 5 simple steps:

Add lights:

I love the pre-lit Christmas trees. They are, by far, the easiest way to light up a tree. However, one year, you might plug in your pre-lit tree and half of the lights do not work. Or maybe you prefer a real tree and need to string your own lights. The white lights are my favorites, but if you like the colored lights, they add some fun whimsy to a tree as well.

Add ribbon:

There are many ways to add ribbon to your tree. Some people like to wrap the ribbon around the tree. Others like to start from the top and work their way down the sides. Others take small sections of ribbon and just tuck it into the tree. Adding your ribbon is a great way to add color that will tie all of your Christmas décor together.

Add filler:

By filler, I mean anything that you can fill your tree with that covers up the holes in a tree. I have added large floral picks, cotton stems or large Christmas decorations. Anything that adds visual appeal adds a designer touch to your tree.

Add ornaments:

This is where it really gets fun! You can add your child’s school-made ornaments, or you can add colored ornaments. There is no wrong way to add ornaments to your tree. To add some depth to your tree, you can add some larger ornaments to the inside part of the tree and not just hang everything on the outer branches.

Add tree skirt:

The final step in making your Christmas tree have a designer feel is to add a tree skirt. You can add a collar around the tree, a tree skirt or even use a blanket.

Although I love decorating for Christmas, my absolute favorite part of Christmas is the story of Jesus’ birth. We have all read this story multiple times, but this year, I chose to read it out of the Message translation. I was literally stopped in my tracks when I came across Luke 2:15-18. This part of the Christmas story is when God’s angel revealed himself to the shepherds who were keeping watch over their flock at night. Can you imagine how terrified it might have been to be sitting out in the field in the middle of the night and, suddenly, an angel appears to you? But the angel assured the shepherds that they had nothing to fear. 

Verse 15 says As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.

Running. That is the word that stopped me in my tracks. I think about the shepherds who were watching their sheep in the middle of the night, but once they heard the news of Jesus’ birth, they dropped everything and RAN to the Savior! How many times have I been THAT excited to RUN to Jesus? Do I drop everything that seems important to me and RUN to Jesus? The shepherds could’ve said, “Thanks for the information, angel, but we have work to do. We can’t get there until we finish the job.” Or maybe they could have said, “Babies are born every day, angel. What is so special about this one?” But no. They knew, without a doubt, that their SAVIOR had been born and they knew that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING would stop them from getting to Him.

I want to be like the shepherds. When I hear from the Holy Spirit, I want to be obedient and RUN to the Savior! I need to drop everything that I am doing so that He can be revealed to me just like He revealed himself to the shepherds.

Finally, in verse 20, it says The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told! This Christmas, I intend to “let loose” and live the GOOD NEWS of Jesus!

Christmas decorating is fun and festive. I love it, but I need never to forget the true meaning of CHRISTmas. Run to the Savior this year and LET LOOSE with the good news!

We would like to thank Vickie Young for writing this post!

Christmas & Memories

Christmas & Memories

Editor’s Note: We hope these stories warm your heart this season. Maybe you pick up a new tradition, or maybe these stories will be a fresh breath of air to your soul as you reminisce your childhood, or MAYBE they will serve as a reminder of the reason for the season. Whichever way they speak to you, we pray your hearts would be turned towards Him. We pray that Jesus would be your comfort, refuge and HOPE! Merry Christmas!

Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of year. I love making precious memories and new traditions with my family. Growing up the youngest of 4 kiddos came with lots of fun times, too. My mom made sure each of us felt special and loved. One Christmas season when I was a teenager, my mom and I decided to do something different and get a real tree. We jumped in our little 4 door sedan and drove to town to get a tree. We were so overcome with excitement we didn’t even have the forethought to think of how we would get the tree in the car and unloaded; not to mention it was so icy! We got the tree home and the two of us slipped and slid all the way inside the house with this gorgeous real tree that ended up being too big for our little house. We laughed together hysterically for years to come at the site of us and that big tree in the trunk of our car, in the ice, sliding all around the driveway.

I will always remember how fun my mom was and how truly funny she was. She had a lung disease the majority of my life, but she never quit laughing, smiling or praying God’s truth over us. I found the memories of my mom and family during the Christmas season as some of my most treasured. Looking back on past Christmases, I think of very simple times that brought lots of laughter and joy, not a perfectly put together meal or extravagant gift. I pray my own family has great memories of a mom that laughed, played, and was intentional to create lasting connections.

May we all find joy in too big Christmas trees, not perfectly put together homes or extravagant gifts, and focus on the reason for the season: Christ’s most perfect gift to us.

Luke 2:10: “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great JOY for all the people.’”

We would like to thank Christy Bennett for writing this post!

Peace With Your Children

Editor’s Note: During the month of November, we are going to learn how to build healthy, Godly relationships. Whether it is with yourself, your spouse, your kids, your friends, your co-workers, who we surround ourselves with matters! Relationships can be life-giving and sometimes not. Looking to the Word gives us clear direction and instruction on how to foster healthy relationships. Enjoy reading these just in time for the holidays!

Many years ago, when I was expecting my first child, a dear friend said something to me I have thought about many times since. “This baby is coming into your world, not you into it’s.” At the time, we were discussing schedules, but over and over again as a mom, I have had to remind myself of this. As a wife, and a mother, I am not merely a thermometer in my home, but I am the thermostat. God has given me authority over my home, and I get to choose what the atmosphere is going to be at any given time. Do I want an atmosphere of chaos or peace? Personally, I prefer peace. That choice is mine.

Part of how we establish peace in our homes is through boundaries. One huge area in which we must establish those boundaries is with our kids. Contrary to what my dear friend told me many years ago, culture encourages us as moms to “be present” with our children. Yes, we absolutely need to be present. Our children need our hearts more than anything else. But the underlying myth that comes with the statement that we need to “be present” is that we need to be available at their every beck and call. I have four kids age 8 and under. I don’t know about you, but if I make myself available to their every beck and call, I am going to be CONSTANTLY called in MANY different directions. That in no way is going to establish peace in my home. It is going to bring, chaos, dissension, and discord.

So how do we strike a balance between being present, and bringing peace? There are lots of ways that you can do this in your home, but below are a few of the ways that I have been able to find that balance in my home.

1. Tell your children no.

As moms, our hearts are for our children. We want them to be happy. We want what is best for them. Sometimes, that means learning how to deal with the disappointment of being told no. God places us in families, and that can mean that there are different needs and wants at coinciding times. Part of our job as moms is to take all of the information in, and then make the best decision for our family. I’m sure you have discovered, this doesn’t always make everyone happy. In those moments, I like to remind my kids that they have an opportunity to “value others above ourselves” as Paul instructs us to do in Philippians 2:4. 

When you make a decision and you tell your children no, stand firm. When we concede to their pleas for a different answer, it may bring peace for the moment, but it does not bring an enduring peace to your home.

2. Be honest – with your kids, and with yourself.

Many times, my children ask me to play with them. I hate telling them that I can’t right at that moment. So what I find myself saying is “in a minute” or “let me just finish this one thing” when I know that what I need to get done is going to take more than a minute, or that I have more than one thing to finish before I can sit down and play with my children. What we are doing when we answer our children like this is just kicking the stone down the road. We don’t want to deal with the repercussions of telling our child no, so we delay the consequences. This isn’t honest, and it isn’t honoring to our children. 

1 Corinthians 13 tells us that “love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” So, instead, be honest with your child. Tell them that you would love to play with them, but you have some things you need to get done first, and you will come find them when you are ready. Another thing that works really well in my house, is to invite your children into what you are doing. Let them come along with you and help. Whether that is folding laundry, or making dinner, or even working from home. Find a way for them to be in the room with you, helping, or doing their own “work” from home.

The other thing we need to be honest with ourselves about is the actual “needs” on our to do list. Sometimes, when I look at my child’s eyes, and I stop and listen to the Holy Spirit, I can see that a few minutes spent with my child is actually a much greater need than folding the laundry on the couch.

3. Expectations and Routines

Kids respond well when they know the expectations and boundaries that are in place. Creating a habit out of the expectations and boundaries we have can be difficult, but putting in the effort at the beginning to create habits will reap rewards for years to come. If I thought that establishing a schedule and a routine for one child was important, it only gets more important for each child you add to the mix, and for each activity you add to the list. It is much easier to move a herd of animals when they are all moving in the same direction. The same is true with a family. A schedule has been crucial in our home because not only do my kids know what to expect when, but they know what the expectations are for that specific activity. If I tell them that it is time to get ready for school, they know that means they need to go and do their morning checklist. On Sundays, when we get home from church, it’s cleaning day, (yea for help!) and then they know that everyone takes a nap. They don’t fight us on this or whine about it, because they know what is coming. If my kids want a snack, they know they have to say their memory verse first. These are simple examples, but having these routines in place means that I don’t have to make extra decisions or answer extra questions throughout the day. My kids know what to expect, and this brings peace and order to our home.

Peace in our homes is something that the enemy fights against with all that he can. So moms, let’s not let all of our circumstances dictate the atmosphere in our homes. Let’s stand firm, and choose peace for our homes, so that the peace of Christ may also reign in our hearts, and in the hearts of our husband, and our children.

We would like to thank Brooke Kellum for writing this post!

Hunting & Husbands

Hunting & Husbands

Editor’s Note: During the month of November, we are going to learn how to build healthy, Godly relationships. Whether it is with yourself, your spouse, your family, your friends, your co-workers, who we surround ourselves with matters! Relationships can be life-giving and sometimes not. Looking to the Word gives us clear direction and instruction on how to foster healthy relationships. Enjoy reading these just in time for the holidays! This is a re-post from 2 years ago.

My husband asked me to go hunting with him a few months ago and I said, “Sure, sounds like an adventure.”

Ladies, be sure you get all details before you agree to go on a hunting trip. 

Turns out, we hunted for 5 days. Like hardcore hunting in the MOUTAINS. Hello! Of course you are going to have to hike, JuLea!!! We woke up at 4:15 and didn’t return back to the cabin until after dark. It was COLD…16 degrees cold and snowing. I opted out one morning when it was 2 degrees… did you get that???!!! 2 DEGREES!! I told them to come back for me when it was at least double digits. I bought a cute backpack before we went, not knowing that by the time I had packed all of my necessities for the day would weigh over 40 pounds. It consisted of: water, Gatorade, sandwich, chips, granola bar and bullets (that I never even used). In addition, I carried a 12-pound rifle, 3-pound binoculars, and a blanket strapped to the top of my pack. I was a sight to be seen!  

What had I gotten myself into??? 

One evening, I became quite nervous. We had hunted all day. I was tired, and it was quitting time. We had just hiked to the top of a double black diamond. If you are skier, you know what that means. We were 2.5 miles away from our pickup, and the sun was setting. So, down the black diamond we went. After about 20 minutes, I knew we still had at least about 1.5 miles to go and it was completely dark. Everything looked the same. I couldn’t have retraced my steps if my life depended on it.

Every step into the dark was unknown. Luckily, we had a guide who knew those mountains like the back of his hand. 

And it reminded me, sometimes we are in uncharted territory in life, or so it seems, but our Father knows exactly where we’re at. He knows our next step. He’s the one who created the mountains! And with confidence He leads us through the mountains to our destination – just like our guide. 

Things may feel way off. You may be nervous. You may feel like you’re on the wrong path. But take heart, He has overcome the world! Scripture says in many places that He is guiding your every step. Proverbs 16:9 – The Lord will establish your steps. Isaiah 58:11 – The Lord will guide you always. Friend, He knows what He is doing! He knows exactly where that dark trail leads to.  Choose to be brave in those moments of uncertainty. He will always get you to the other side if you keep walking. He cares about you. We are of such high value to Him! 

Back to the hunting trip…my husband was so excited that I said “yes.” He was proud that I was hunting with him. And you know what? Every cold moment was worth it to see him happy. Once we were at the top of the double black diamond mountain, it was amazing to watch the beauty of creation from a couple thousand yards away. Hours of peaceful sitting became filled with prayer and quiet time. But the greatest reward was the time I got to invest with my husband. 

Flowers won’t grow if you don’t water them.

Your relationship with your spouse won’t grow if you don’t water it either. 

 Figure out things you and your spouse like to do together and do those things! Make time. Do the things you don’t like to do that your husband does and see what happens. A couple of years ago I stumbled across the “30 Day Husband Encouragement Challenge.” Every day you encourage your husband in a different way. Some days the encouragement was subtle and went unnoticed, other days it was apparent. Some days I would forget and so will you. But, it will become part of who you if you stick it out. Eventually Brent caught on and he started returning the encouragement!

I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. Be intentional about showing him physically, emotionally and spiritually that you care about him. I would encourage you to do your own 30-Day Husband Challenge and keep track of what God does in your marriage. Here are some examples straight from the challenge of what you can and can’t do for 30 days:

  • You can’t say anything negative about your husband… to your husband… or to anyone else, about your husband.
  • Say something you admire to your husband or to anyone else, about your husband.
  • Let him know you appreciate him and his hard work every day. Tell him you respect him. 
  • Praise your husband for a character quality that you see in him. Build up that man of yours!
  • Appreciate your husband’s faithfulness to you.
  • Praise your husband’s faithfulness to God.
  • Ask your husband questions – hear the heart of your husband. Get to know him. LISTEN, women! Quit talking.
  • Tell your husband how handsome he is.
  • Submit to his authority. God’s perfect design. 
  • Let your husband know when he pleases you and help him navigate through those unknowns.
  • Encourage his love making and masculinity.
  • Verbally let him know you are proud of him.
  • Don’t focus on his faults. Make a list and focus on his strengths. Draw those out in him. 

I leave you with the most important thing you can do for your husband: Pray for him. Pray for him. Pray for him. Have fun encouraging him and in return, enjoy the intimacy this will bring to your relationship!

Oh, I almost forgot. My husband got a nice muley buck on the last hour of the last morning of the hunt. BAM! 

We would like to thank JuLea Bouma for writing this post.

An Eye Opening Flight

An Eye Opening Flight

Editor’s Note: During the month of November, we are going to learn how to build healthy, Godly relationships. Whether it is with yourself, your family, your friends, your co-workers, who we surround ourselves with matters! Relationships can be life-giving and sometimes not. Looking to the Word gives us clear direction and instruction on how to foster healthy relationships. Enjoy reading these just in time for the holidays!

When our daughter was 8 years old, I remember watching her little figure disappear down the tunnel to board a plane to visit her grandparents in Dallas. It probably would have felt like a big deal, except she was so confident and fearless that I just went with it!  

Until she was out of my sight. Then I basically freaked out, realizing that my child was now alone in the world for the next hour until she arrived in Dallas, where HOPEFULLY my parents were there to meet her.  

I mean, logically, I figured she’d be fine. But I think my fear was more that something crazy would happen and she wouldn’t know what to do. Like a flight diversion or the oxygen masks falling down or the old lady next to her having a heart attack. As I stood there doubting our parenting wisdom in sending her, just as clear as ever, the voice of the Lord said in my spirit:

“Playing it safe will not get this girl where she needs to go.”

Say what? This was a little terrifying and somehow comforting all at the same time! It brought peace to my momma heart as I stood in the airport that day, and it opened my eyes to the bigger picture that the risk involved in this plane ride was a tiny step toward her destiny in the Kingdom.

Have you ever felt stuck in your relationship with your kids? Maybe your own fears keep you from letting go as a parent, or your child has a personality that’s COMPLETELY foreign to you and keeps doing things that you just don’t understand. Tension builds up in your relationship and you’re just not sure how to relate and help them become all they’re meant to be.

I get it!

Friend, God is 100% for us and our children. He isn’t hiding stuff from us when it comes to our kids.

Through the years as our family has talked through decisions big and small, this word over our child has helped define our relationship. It’s affected decisions all the way from whether or not she could go to a certain party or event, to making a bold decision to change schools. It’s been so important in our relationship because it’s helped me as a mom to understand my daughter enough to push past my fears over her. It’s given me a God-confidence for her future. It has given our daughter the freedom to take risks, and to fail, and to GROW.

What truth has God shared with you about your children? It could be a phrase, a scripture, maybe a picture, or a prophetic word delivered by someone else to you. If you aren’t sure of anything specific, that’s okay. Begin asking the Lord to show you, and I fully believe he will. When you feel fear or anxiety about your kids, like I did in the airport, that’s the perfect time to listen. These are the moments when the Lord wants to remind us that he’s the Good Shepherd, always seeking us out, leading us, tending to us, and strengthening us.

God says, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice” (Ezekiel 34:15-16). 

The Good Shepherd wants to keep you and your children close to Him. Sometimes He prompts me to knock on our daughter’s bedroom door late at night and initiate a conversation, to unexpectedly check her phone, to probe deeper with my questions, to share something with her that’s on my heart. When you receive that word from him about your kids, let it inspire your confidence and move you. It’s not comfortable, but it’s a gift and will lead you into deeper connections with your kids than you ever imagined.

The challenges of 2020 are leading our kids into their destiny. Do you believe that? Don’t listen to the voices that say that the future is bleak. As moms, let’s partner with God in raising kids who know who they are and who take their rightful place in their homes, their communities, and the world.

We would like to thank Jill Moudy for writing this post.

Contentment in the Quiet

Contentment in the Quiet

Are you craving some quiet?

Your soul needs quietness to thrive. Depending on what season of life you find yourself in, that may not seem possible. You might have to grasp for whatever snatches of time to yourself that you can find. Let me encourage you that it is so worthwhile!

Regardless of our personality types, we all benefit from some span of time to be alone or be still. This is true whether we are naturally introverted or extroverted. God’s Word says, “In quietness and trust is your strength (Isaiah 30:15). Learning to embrace the quiet is a vital soul-care practice that strengthens us in our inner being. If it’s uncomfortable at first, don’t give up. Relax, breathe, and let your mind wander. If I’m finding myself antsy or distractable, I’ll try a couple things. First of all, I set a timer, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. I decide what I’m going to do — just until the timer goes off.  Also, I keep my sticky notes nearby to just jot down any thoughts that bubble up or distract me. The important thing is just to pause during your day and recenter.

Sometimes in these unstructured moments, creativity will rise to the surface. Imagination. Impressions. Stirrings of God’s voice. Sometimes I look out the window or move outside and notice nature. Sometimes I pray or meditate on a song or verse. Other practices of quietness for me: reading for pleasure, walking (without earphones), doing jigsaw puzzles, journaling, puttering in my flowerbeds.

But guess what? Your child’s soul needs quietness to thrive too. But that same child may never know it unless you help him discover it. This practice will have to start small, but try it and see where it leads. It can be a vital piece of developing peaceful rhythms in your home.

This habit can apply to all ages. Yes, our children thrive on interaction and engagement because we were all created for meaningful connection. But even infants can be content without constantly being held or soothed. Babies can even learn to put themselves to sleep. (One of the best routines we ever developed early on!) Toddlers and preschoolers can play alone in a playpen or inside a gated area for limited stretches of time. (I have one little friend who can happily occupy herself for long periods in her play tent with just her finger puppet “people.”) School-age kiddos can entertain themselves without external stimuli. Tweens and teens are not beyond this practice either.

Choose a time that works for your own schedule and lifestyle. Pre-determine the length of time appropriate to your family members and their ages. Assign a personal area that works for each one. Set the expectations ahead of time about what this quiet time will look like. This is not punishment! This practice is different from naptime or screen time. Provide a limited number of quiet activities that each individual child may select from, such as reading, puzzles, colored pencils, individual games, or soft toys. (Limitations like 3 choices per day boost the likelihood that your child will get creative and really engage in an activity instead of bouncing from one thing to the next.) Music or audiobooks could be optional, but this is not the time for electronic stimulation.

This habit also helps provide an environment where your child knows how to flourish within boundaries. What a life skill! Here are some examples of the guidelines that we trained our kids to follow during different seasons:

● Stay in the room or space assigned to you; we do not come in and out.

● Choose calm activities and a quiet volume; we do not raise our voices.

● Trust the adult to let you know when the time is up; we do not ask questions or pester about how much longer. 

These ideas are flexible and adaptable to your own style and preferences. You can expect the experiment to be most successful if you start small and add one layer of expectation at a time, with lots of practice in between. Most of us need encouragement and training to become comfortable with this habit. Then get ready to see the creativity, the independence, and the self-awareness skyrocket. The art of establishing some type of quiet time in your home will allow each of you space — including you, Mom! — to figure out what makes you feel the most like the person you were made to be. 

We’d like to thank Jill Brown for writing this post!

Contentment in My Family

Contentment in My Family

Editor’s Note: It can be difficult to walk through a long season, but God is our comforter. He is our strength, he is our provider, our deliverer, our refuge, our very present help in time of need. God is with us and is for us. He is not far away. This month, we are going to talk about contentment. Contentment in the valleys and contentment on the mountains. God is near in both places.

Do you ever look at your husband and think he has it better than you? That his role as a man seems a lot better or easier than yours as a woman? After all, it seems like all he does is go to work and provide the money while you pretty much take care of EVERYTHING else. Well, my friends, that’s exactly how I found myself during this season of my life: sulking, frustrated, and pondering those things.

This summer was not an ordinary season for my family. My husband works as an electrician for a company that travels all around the U.S., and typically, the summer is when his work slows down and he is home. However,  due to Covid-19, his crew has been out working more than usual. In fact, he was gone for a little over two straight months. During this time, it has been easy to look at my life and become resentful over the role God has given me as a woman. It has been easy to think my husband got the better end of the stick. He’s traveling, seeing the country, and has no responsibility other than providing for us and making phone calls to us. Meanwhile, I’m home dealing with the house, the kids, a child that just had surgery, a new grand baby, bills…blah blah blah! 

But God, in His sovereignty and because He loves me, opened my eyes. An opportunity came up for the kids and me to spend 2 weeks on the road with my husband, something we have never done for an entire 2-week period. We travelled with him through 4 states, stayed in hotels, and ate out for two meals every day. As much as I thought I would love to be in his place, this taught me what all my husband truly endured as he loves on and provides for our family. He drives hundreds of miles to his job sites, works long hours in the hot sun, then returns to an empty hotel room to eat his takeout or fast food alone. He doesn’t complain or act like it’s a burden; instead, he willingly does these things to give us a good life. And here I was, complaining about being a wife, staying home, raising kids and paying bills. 

In our first week on the road with him, all I could do was repent for ever believing that my husband’s role was more glamorous than mine. God has graciously opened my eyes to see the beauty in the specific roles He’s called my husband and me to. Neither role is more important than the other, but together, each one fits perfectly into God’s created order and design for balance in a marriage.

When we choose to embrace our roles as women in whatever place God has called us to, we can really begin to understand what it means to live in contentment and satisfaction.

So, dear friends, wherever you find yourself today in relation to your role as a woman or your role in your marriage, I pray that God will reveal to you the truth about who you are and what you contribute to this world. You are meant to be you—not your husband, not another woman—YOU! I hope He graciously opens your eyes to this beautiful and freeing truth just as He  did mine.

We would like to thank Brenda Martinez for writing this post!

Contentment in Sorrow

Editor’s Note: It can be difficult to walk through a long season, but God is our comforter. He is our strength, he is our provider, our deliverer, our refuge, our very present help in time of need. God is with us and is for us. He is not far away. This month, we are going to talk about contentment. Contentment in the valleys, and contentment on the mountains. God is near in both places.

I step outside, curl both hands around a warm mug, and gaze wistfully at the splash of burnt orange stretched across the western sky where the last rays of the sun have just disappeared beneath the horizon. I breathe deep the smell of damp earth and decaying leaves mingled with the sweet smell of apple and cinnamon in my mug. It is the smell of autumn. The quiet stillness of the countryside blankets itself around me, and a gentle breeze brushes across my face. I feel the cares and anxiety of the day begin to wash away, and in the quiet stillness, I know I am not alone.

I love autumn. To me, it is the most beautiful season of the year, and yet, every year beginning in August and lingering until November, I struggle with what some might consider mild depression. For me, like most people, the source of my depression is complex. I mourn the passing of summer, the passing of the year, the waning sunlight, and although all the major losses in my life have occurred in the spring, I mourn them again every autumn.

I was a young mother in the spring of 1992 when my comical and active, red-headed, five-year-old little boy had open-heart surgery. Complications following that surgery left him severely brain damaged. What should have been a week-long hospital stay lasted months. In early August, soon after his sixth birthday, we brought home a child completely changed from the one we took to the hospital. That was when I began to see the reality of my loss. My heart broke and the cracking of it left a fissure that will never completely heal this side of heaven. I cared for Justin twelve years, and he would never walk, talk, feed himself, or even hold his head up again.

Nine years later, in May of 2001, my husband took his life. The sudden trauma of his death left me numb, and again, I could not begin to grasp the reality of that loss until after the farm sale in late August.

I think as we age and begin to experience more losses in our life, each one can revive old memories, even if we have come to a place of peaceful acceptance in our grief. This past March, my Dad died on the sixteenth anniversary of Justin’s death. Although his passing was not as traumatic as the other losses in my life, I have missed him and mourned his death with the coming of fall as the season has once more reminded me of loss.

In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist introduced the five stages of grief. Although everyone grieves differently and not everyone will experience all five stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, most of us will experience some degree of these emotions in some order. Isolation and loneliness are also common when grieving, and many therapists link these with depression, but in my experience, I do not think they are quite the same. For me, a natural introvert who seeks solitude on a regular basis anyway, isolation has been the longest stage of grief.

But knowing that we do not grieve like those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14), I have come to embrace the comfort of solitude, for we were not left alone or without comfort. In John 14:16, Jesus says, “And I will pray to the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever;…”(KJV). And just before Jesus ascended, He left us this promise, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NIV). So while we are not meant to stay in isolation, I am thankful Jesus meets us there in our grief and provides comfort and contentment for our broken hearts.

And so again, I breathe in the sweet smells of fall, gaze at the beautiful golden horizon, and give thanks for this season and a Comforter who meets us in solitude, and my heart is once more filled with peace and gladness.

We would like to thank Sheila Campbell for writing this post.

Contentment in the Workplace

Contentment in the Workplace

Editor’s Note: It can be difficult to walk through a long season, but God is our comforter. He is our strength, he is our provider, our deliverer, our refuge, our very present help in time of need. God is with us and is for us. He is not far away. This month, we are going to talk about contentment. Contentment in the valleys, and contentment on the mountains. God is near in both places.

Working in education is completely new this school year. I’ll bet you can say the same about your workplace, too, whether you work at the bank, at Walmart, or in medicine. Even though I’ve worked at my job in the same school for the past 22 years, teaching this year has come with some challenges that I’ve never faced before. Will it be possible for us to learn to find contentment in our workplaces, even in times like these?

In 22 years, I’ve found a good deal of enjoyment in my vocation; otherwise, why would I still be at the same place? I’ll admit, though, that I’ve gone through days or weeks of doldrums, discouragement, and discontent, too.  Most of the time, looking back, the deciding factor between the good days and the bad days has more to do with my attitude or disposition than with any circumstance or challenge in my job.

How do you see your workplace? To maintain contentment there, it has to be more than a paycheck: it needs to be a mission and a calling. Colossians 3:23 tells me, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.”  When I consider that I’m working for Him, my work becomes a calling and a ministry, not just a job. As a teacher, the last line on my contract says, “Other duties as assigned.” To me this means that there will be divine appointments taking place throughout the day, and I’m in that school to meet needs that may have nothing whatsoever to do with teaching kids to read or write. I might get to pray for a co-worker, comfort a student who has had a loss, encourage another who is struggling, or visit with a parent who is worried about her child. What kinds of divine appointments do you see at your workplace on a daily or weekly basis?

Thomas Merton wrote, “Before the Lord wills me to do anything, He first of all wills me to ‘be.’ What I do must depend on what I am.” God’s Word has some great advice about contentment in all parts of our lives. Philippians 4:11 says, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am in.”  If Paul can learn to be content in his work, we can learn the same in ours. He continues in verse 13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Let’s look at some practical ways that we can not only be content ourselves but create an atmosphere of peace and contentment within our places of employment and among our colleagues.

The words we speak are creative. They are either creating a positive or negative environment around us. In John 6:43, Jesus tells people, “Do not grumble among yourselves,” and Philippians 2:14 advises us to “do all things without grumbling or disputing.” A workplace where employees grumble and complain about the job, about co-workers, or about the boss is going to be stirred up with negativity. Our words feed the spirit of the places we work, and since we spend the majority of our time there, we are submerging ourselves in peace or stress with every word we speak. If we have to complain to someone, Psalm 142:2 directs us: “I pour out my complaint before Him.” Taking our frustrations and aggravations to Jesus will prevent us from muddying the atmosphere at work with negative talk.

Working with other people can be stressful. Colleagues or customers will rub us the wrong way at times. The stress in people’s lives now magnifies trouble. Paul tells us in Ephesians to “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (4:32). If we can make the decision to forgive before we have ever been offended, we can walk in peace, no matter what happens. Romans 12:18 in The Passion Translation says, “Do your best to live as everybody’s friend.” Sometimes in workplaces, there can be a lot of drama. The lunchroom or the lounge can turn into gossip-central, if we are not careful. Living as everyone’s friend means that we will allow the Holy Spirit to guard our mouths and let love cover over other people’s faults.

In the workplace, everyone has his or her own idea of what is important. We all want to be recognized for our contributions, but Philippians 2:3-4 tells us, “Don’t allow self-promotion to hide in your hearts, but in authentic humility put others first and view others as more important than yourselves.  Abandon every display of selfishness. Possess a greater concern for what matters to others instead of your own interests.” I’ve found that when our staff works as a team, covering each other and helping each other, rather than staking out our own territory, there is much less friction.

Finally, communication is so important for a peaceful workplace. Part of my job this year is to take the Pre-K students their breakfasts every morning. My principal asked me to do this about the second or third day of school. I began going in at 7:30 and getting breakfasts for the students as they came in. I noticed that the cafeteria director seemed more and more annoyed with me every day. Finally, about a week ago, I asked her if there was anything I could do to make things easier on them. She said, “Well, it’s just that I was told that no one would be coming in to get the breakfasts for the Pre-K until 7:45.” I had never been told that before! So, we made a deal right then that I would not come in anymore until 7:45 to get the breakfasts. Sounds like a simple thing, but miscommunication, or lack of communication, was compounding her stress level, and it was a simple fix! If things don’t seem right, ask if there is any way that you can help or make things easier. Opening up communication will prevent so many misunderstandings and save some hurt feelings.

The workplace is where we can let our light shine. If we can walk into our jobs filled with the Holy Spirit, ready to lay our lives down for our co-workers, and prepared to serve people as if we are directly serving God, what a difference it will make in our places of employment. What a witness to the world around us that we can really walk in peace in the midst of chaos.

We would like to thank Sheri Warren for contributing this post!

Contentment In The Waiting

Contentment In The Waiting

Editor’s Note: Have you ever had to wait on something? Have you ever felt like God has given up on you? The truth is He has not and He never will. It can be difficult to walk through a long season, but God is our comforter. He is our strength, he is our provider, our deliverer, our refuge, our very present help in time of need. God is with us and is for us. He is not far away. This month, we are going to talk about contentment. Contentment in the valleys, and contentment on the mountains. God is near in both places.

When I was asked to write about “Contentment in the Waiting,” I almost panicked. Seriously. It’s so fresh. The “waiting” period has become all too familiar to my family and me in the recent years. I feel like we have all experienced or will experience a time of waiting, each difficult in their own way, and the way we handle that waiting can be extremely critical. I don’t know that I can give you any legitimate insight on “Contentment In The Waiting” without telling a bit of my story, so here we go. 

I’ve experienced the specific “waiting” of infertility two separate times, handling them both differently. When I was unable to conceive before my son, Hayes, I was angry. Truly angry. That kind of can’t even “fake it ’till you make it” anger and depression, touching many different areas in my life. Why me? Or better yet, why NOT me? I knew I served a God that loved me, heard my cries, and could move my mountains, but I doubted that He would. It was hard for me to truly find rest and ultimate peace in the hands of our Father. How arrogant, right? Obviously, my focus was on ME.

Fast forward to round 2 of infertility, which seemed a bit more extreme even from the beginning. This time, I had true diagnoses and fertility doctors telling me Hayes was the definition of a miracle and that I would not conceive again on my own without multiple surgeries. This time around, instead of getting angry, I decided I could fix this. My “control everything” personality heard surgery as a “fix it” to my problem. When my husband, Hagen, and I discussed it, he told me we would do whatever I wanted to do. I took it and ran with it. Honestly, I never even stopped to pray about it. I took charge, and I scheduled that surgery. I had no doubt in my mind that it would be my solution. Again, how arrogant. A couple weeks went by, and during worship at a Sunday morning church service, I heard God clearly speak to me: “BE STILL.”

When it comes to things in my life, “be still” does not fit my personality. I like to be in control. “No, God. I don’t want to be still. This isn’t fair. I deserve this.” Again, about me. Obviously, God wanted to teach me something during both of these waiting periods. He first taught me that control and contentment don’t go hand in hand when you are living in the Kingdom. What hit me like a ton of bricks, especially the second time around, was that if I would let go of that control and let God take over, miracles truly do happen. I cannot live in my desire of the flesh to react in anger or to control situations and have a true sense of peace and contentment in the Holy Spirit. And second, He taught me that sometimes our battles and our testimony are just not about us. Watching God use our storm and the rainbow He creates from it to help and better someone else’s journey is POWERFUL. 

Before these two specific waiting times, I truly believe God placed other things in my path that were designed for me to show complete surrender to Him and let Him work in my life, but I did just the opposite. Now looking back, it took me facing something I literally could not control and hitting rock bottom to give up my desire to control every little thing.

The memory of the phone call to cancel my surgery is so vivd in my mind. As soon as I said, “cancel my surgery, please,” I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders that I did not even know I was carrying. When I decided to follow God’s command of me to be still, it allowed me to not only trust in His plan, but it allowed me to step into the roles that He had called me to. I didn’t even realize what I had been missing out on in the everyday life as a wife, mom, daughter, sister, and friend until I let Him take away the responsibility of my infertility and the need to fix it. 

God’s timing and plan is always perfect. It may sound cliche, but it is absolutely true. My Hayes and Hatton are living proof. His strategy of teaching me “Contentment In The Waiting” was just icing on the cake. So in whatever waiting you’re facing, trust Him, friend. He’s worth it. 

We would like to thank Beckah Hunt for writing this post!

Hearing God in the Gap

Hearing God in the Gap

Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered if God still speaks to us today? Or have you wondered if what you’re hearing is really God speaking to you, or just your own thoughts? If you’ve wrestled with these questions, you’re not alone. Hearing God, although our divine birthright as believers, can be one of the most elusive parts of our walk of faith but it’s not supposed to be. Jesus said that His sheep hear His voice and we can always trust that what He says is true. This month, we’re going to talk about hearing God and the primary way we do that: through relationship with Him. 

I’m throwing out a hard truth here: We don’t always get what we ask for when we ask for it. Sometimes what seems like a no is a not yet. And sometimes there’s a gap, a tension, between hearing God and seeing His word come to pass. 

The gap can bring discouragement and distance. When it doesn’t feel like God is answering our prayers, we might shut down altogether—and we might miss hearing His voice, the thousands of other conversations He wants to have with us while we wait.

How do you grow your relationship with God in the midst of a not yet? 

I spent years fixating on what I wanted God to do for us. I had a clear word from Him, and I sowed into it with prayer often. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for me, it resulted in two unfortunate consequences. It focused my attention on my circumstances, on what was lacking. And when I didn’t see His word coming to pass, it caused me to question anything I thought I heard. Our relationship suffered because I had forgotten what His voice sounded like.

In early 2015, four years before God would answer our prayer, I reached a breaking point. I missed my Heavenly Father. Knee-deep in my grief and pain, I felt lost and confused, and I was desperate for His affirmation. But my ears felt clogged. So I committed to spending 40 days with Him, every morning, and I asked Him to give me a word every day. I didn’t spend that time praying for anything. In fact, I was mostly quiet because my soul needed to receive from Him. I needed to hear His voice again, to be reminded what He sounds like, and to remember what He says about me. During this season the Lord showed me that I had connected His love for me with what He was doing, or in this case, not doing. To wait for years and years, to get another no, another loss, over and over again, to watch those around me receive what I wanted (and sometimes they didn’t)—it all felt very unloving. 

But here’s another hard truth I learned: to equate God’s love with my circumstances is to manipulate who He is. 

I had to come to grips, and repentance, that I was angry because God wasn’t doing what I wanted. If He loves me so much, why wouldn’t He do this for me? The other side of that? I was withholding my love because He wasn’t doing what I wanted. Ouch. 

You know why I call that manipulation? Because it makes love conditional. If He loves me, He will do this for me. If He does this for me, I will love Him. 

When He showed me that His love is unconditional, the power of this truth transformed my life. It still transforms me even now. And it’s a good thing, my friend. I’m so grateful His love isn’t based on my performance. At the time, I wanted it to be because it felt like control. If only I could do something, He’d love me enough to answer my prayer. Today I’m so thankful He answered my prayer in spite of any works on my part. He loves me no matter what. And I love Him whether He’s answering my prayers today—or not. 

If you have heard God for something specific, and you find yourself in the gap, I encourage you to keep pressing into your relationship with God. Spend time with Him. Refocus your attention. Let Him remind you how much He loves you. Ask Him to show you what His purpose is during this season. Allow Him to refill your cup. Invite Him to speak truth over you, reminders of who He is and who He says you are. 

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will quiet you with his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” ~Zephaniah 3:17

We would like to thank Laura Brandenburg for writing this post!

The Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden

Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered if God still speaks to us today? Or have you wondered if what you’re hearing is really God speaking to you, or just your own thoughts? If you’ve wrestled with these questions, you’re not alone. Hearing God, although our divine birthright as believers, can be one of the most elusive parts of our walk of faith but it’s not supposed to be. Jesus said that His sheep hear His voice and we can always trust that what He says is true. This month, we’re going to talk about hearing God and the primary way we do that: through relationship with Him. 

The Garden of Eden. What comes to mind when you hear those words? Something about it seems so far away, so mystical…so other worldly. Yet it was a very real place. The garden was a paradise where God would come down and walk and talk with Adam and Eve—the pinnacle of His creation—in the cool of the day. It’s where He would commune with His children; it was a place where Heaven and earth overlapped. There was no separation, no sin. This was God’s original intent for the state of the world.

Well, we all know what happened. Eve just messed it all up and now it’s ruined for us forever, right? Well, not exactly. You see, God had a plan. He had a plan not just to give us a road back to Heaven when we die, but a plan to bring Heaven to earth. In Jesus, once more Heaven and earth were joined together: fully God and fully man. He lived a perfect life. He died as a sacrifice for all of humanity, and He sent His Holy Spirit to once more create a space for Heaven to overlap earth—through US.

So how do we experience that? Is that just a gift reserved for pastors and really “spiritual” people? I would say not at all. God has made His presence available and accessible to all, and one of the best ways to find it is through worship. Have you ever noticed how the atmosphere of your home, or car, or workplace just changes by simply playing worship music? There’s a reason for that. Psalm 22:3 says that God inhabits the praises of His people. INHABIT=to live or occupy a place. To bring Heaven down to earth. You see, God’s not waiting for us to all fly away to be with Him. He wants to walk with us in the cool of the day, just like He did with Adam and Eve. He wants to commune with His children. He wants to speak to you as well as hear your prayers.

That all sounds so glorious, doesn’t it? But the truth of the matter is that like anything that’s good for you, it may be simple, but it’s not always easy. It’s not easy to make the time. It’s not easy to unplug. It’s not easy put down a phone, or turn off Netflix, or whatever it is that we run to in order to pass the time. And just in case you think worship leaders automatically just wake up in the third Heaven, it’s not like that. We all have to be intentional to get into God’s presence. That seems a little ironic since He lives inside of us, doesn’t it? Worship doesn’t just bring God’s presence; it also reminds us that He’s been there all along. It stills our hearts and brings us to that peaceful place in the garden that He’s put inside our hearts; a place where we can walk with Him and talk with Him, free from the distractions and worries of the world.

I remember a time when I first started playing on the worship team. I was coaching at the time and had just had a super busy and exhausting weekend. I realized that Sunday that I was scheduled to play for a worship night that evening, and I had such a poor attitude. I was tired. I didn’t want to go. I was in such a bad mood. That all changed right before we started when I felt God whisper to me, “May I have this dance?” He continued to ask that same question before every song, and for the first time in a long while, worship became personal to me again. That’s who we serve—a personal God. He couldn’t care less if we raise our hands and jump around if it’s all about externals. He wants something deeper, something more intimate and personal. He still longs to come and spend time with just you, to walk and talk with you in the garden. Perhaps He’s calling you to make room for Him. Perhaps He’s holding out His hand. Perhaps He’s asking the question that stills my heart 20 years later…

May I have this dance?

May I take your hand in Mine?

May I hold you close right here with Me,

As the music keeps time?

May I take the lead?

May I show you how this dance goes?

Don’t you know I’ve been watching, waiting, asking Will you follow?

May I have this dance?

I want to encourage you to take a few minutes sometime today and click on this link. Spend some time in the garden. And P.S.…it’s a great song for a waltz. 

We would like to thank Becca Wilhite for this blog post!

Hearing God Through Prayer

Hearing God Through Prayer

Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered if God still speaks to us today? Or have you wondered if what you’re hearing is really God speaking to you, or just your own thoughts? If you’ve wrestled with these questions, you’re not alone. Hearing God, although our divine birthright as believers, can be one of the most elusive parts of our walk of faith but it’s not supposed to be. Jesus said that His sheep hear His voice and we can always trust that what He says is true. This month, we’re going to talk about hearing God and the primary way we do that: through relationship with Him. 

Have you ever scheduled time with a friend, maybe over a good cup of coffee, just to talk? You’re able to catch up on everything that is happening in each other’s lives, or just share what is on each of your hearts. You may completely lose track of time during your sweet visit and become disappointed when the time finally comes when you have to go. 

Jesus longs to have an even closer, joy-filled relationship with each of us. I know we may not have hours every day to sit in singular, focused fellowship with Jesus, but the good news is that He is always with you, in your coming and going, in your commute, in your workplace, in your family time, in your home, and even on your vacation. Jesus Himself said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He sealed you with His Holy Spirit when you put your trust in Him!

He not only wants you to share your heart with Him but He also wants to share His heart with you! This is what prayer is all about. Please don’t try to complicate it. You may be wanting or needing to hear from Jesus, but you don’t think He is speaking to you, or you may not think you can hear Him. The best place that I know to start is in the greatest love letter ever written: the Bible. His heart is shared with you there. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you through His Word. He longs to speak to you, and He is faithful. 

When we declare His Word over ourselves and pray it back to Him, it is so very powerful. I find myself most often praying God’s Word, but some of these times are extremely precious and memorable to me. One of those times happened in the darkest season of my life. I was staring at the walls of a pit of postpartum depression after losing our third son late in my second trimester. Grieving the loss of a baby was unbearable. A dear friend sent me a card with Philippians 4:7 written in it: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I read every word deliberately and slowly. At that moment, the Holy Spirit spoke to me. He said, “I am guarding your heart and mind in Christ.” I cried out and admitted to God that I needed Him to guard my heart and mind because I wasn’t able to do it. Immediately His peace washed over me and gave me rest. I don’t want you to misunderstand or think that I got to skip past grief, because I assure you, I didn’t. But I knew Jesus was walking me through it, and His peace was guarding my heart and mind. As I prayed these words over and over, I proclaimed to the darkness that it wasn’t going to damage my heart or mind, because the peace of God was guarding it.

The times when He brings His Word to mind in prayer is not always so heavy or pressing. I love praying His Word over myself, my husband, my children, relatives, friends, neighbors, schools, and our church. Jesus said that we could ask anything in His name and it would be done. “In His name” means by His authority. We have to spend time with Him in His Word to hear and know what He authorizes. When you hear from Him and He has shared His heart with you, by all means, ask for it in prayer.

Commonly, my day starts with a Bible verse of the day. I will read from that part of the Bible until God speaks to my heart about something I am reading. It doesn’t usually take long for me. I also like to ask Him questions and ponder parts of Scripture that I don’t fully understand. Today’s verse of the day was James 1:22 “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” This is easy to pray about. My prayer sounded something like this, “Lord, you know my heart and you know my ways. Please bring to my attention any way I am hearing your Word, but I am not doing it. I don’t want to deceive myself.” As I said before, the Lord is faithful. In my normal daily happenings, He will kindly bring something to my attention regarding this prayer as He speaks back to heart.

If you are in a place of needing to hear about something specific from Him, make sure you are quieting your heart so you can hear and ask someone you can trust to pray for you as well.

Remember, hearing the Lord in prayer is all about our relationship with Him. He is not hiding His heart from you. I hope you will take the time to hear what He is saying specifically to you as you pray and seek His face.

We would like to thank Racheal Kasner for writing this post!

My Invitation

Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered if God still speaks to us today? Or have you wondered if what you’re hearing is really God speaking to you, or just your own thoughts? If you’ve wrestled with these questions, you’re not alone. Hearing God, although our divine birthright as believers, can be one of the most elusive parts of our walk of faith but it’s not supposed to be. Jesus said that His sheep hear His voice and we can always trust that what He says is true. This month, we’re going to talk about hearing God and the primary way we do that: through relationship with Him. 

My boys are growing up so fast. They started 1st grade this year, and I can’t stop thinking about when I held them for the first time. They both nestled into my arms and were so still and calm. I remember kissing their tiny heads and wanting to never forget that moment. And now, six years later, the only time they stop long enough for me to kiss their heads is when they’re sleeping. They are always on the move, fighting Jedi battles with light sabers in hand, showing me how they can run as fast as a cheetah, or practicing their ninja moves; it’s tough to get them to slow down. I often find myself asking them to take a second, come sit in my lap, and talk to me. I just want to hold them for a bit, but most of the time, it’s like holding a cat that doesn’t want to be held. They wiggle out of my lap and off they go on their next adventure. 

Sometimes I wonder if God ever feels that way about us. Does He wish that we would slow down and climb up in His lap for a bit? Does He want to talk to us and spend time with us? I believe He does. In fact, I know He does. 

In Exodus 25, we find God giving Moses instructions for building the tabernacle that will house His presence. He gave very detailed directions on how to build it and what materials should be used. And in verse 22, we see a glimpse of God’s heart for why He wanted the tabernacle built in the first place. 

I will meet with you there above the mercy seat, between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the testimony; I will speak with you from there about all that I command you regarding the Israelites.”

Did you catch that?! If you read it too quickly, it would be easy to miss. But when we slow down and really think about what He is saying here, we can see that He’s extending an invitation to a relationship. He didn’t just want a place where he could speak to them; He wanted a place where He could speak with them and meet with them.

When it comes to hearing God, sometimes I think we only expect to hear God speak to us rather than expecting Him to speak with us. If He only spoke to us it would be one-sided, but if He speaks with us, He invites us into a conversation. He longs to hear from us as much as we long to hear from Him. 

We can be sure that God desires relationship because when he created us in His image, He wired us to desire relationship just like He does. Think about it this way: He’s the one that decided to exist in three persons instead of one! He has Jesus seated right next to Him and He sent the Holy Spirit to be with us and to help us. We’re all in this together! The very nature of who He is shows us His heart for relationship.

You were created for relationship by the One who longs for relationship with you. And when He created you, He gave you the ability to hear His voice just as surely as He gave you a voice to respond to His. Hearing our God is the most wonderful gift, and it’s something that each of us can do. And when we respond to His voice, we enter into the most amazing conversation we could ever have. We just have to create space in our life to build that connection with Him. It’s that simple. 

Will you slow down today, climb up in His lap, and begin a divine conversation with our God who wants to meet with you and speak with you? If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t hear Him, first, ask yourself if you’ve made space for him in your life. If not, you can start that conversation today. 

We would like to thank Amber Curry for writing this post!

Hostess with the Mostest

Editor’s Note: It’s almost FALL, y’all!!!! We will be focusing on hospitality for the next few weeks. Hospitality is so much more than what you produce. It’s the warm, welcoming atmosphere, it’s the peace you welcome others into, it’s the attention to the person in front of you, the listening that shows true hospitality. I know you’ll be refreshed and enlightened by the posts we have this month. Happy reading!!

I learned when I was a young child the duties of a hostess as I watched my Mom and Dad in their church work. They were very involved with the youth ministry, so they were always ready for expected and unexpected youth coming to our house and making themselves at home. My mom was an amazing cook, and she had the sweetest soul of anyone you would ever meet. She always had something special ready for snacks. My dad was deemed the best all around door-greeter and was loved by all. They were prime examples of “Love God, Love People.”

An important part of being a great hostess is setting an atmosphere of fun and relaxation.  My guests need to feel safe, comfortable, and know that they are welcome, to the point where no one feels like leaving. One way to do this is to make your guests feel important. Give them your undivided attention. When they leave your house, it’s not the food or the spotless floors they’ll remember; it’s your caring heart and your invested conversation that will make a bigger impact. You can make your guests feel loved as soon as they step into your home by treating them as VIPs. Each and every person who enters your home is very important to the Kingdom because they are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). You can extend this even further by offering your guests a word of encouragement as they leave your home.

One specific way you can set the stage of comfort, relaxation, and importance in your home is through the sense of smell. Smell is connected to memory, so yummy smells in your home can help trigger fun and happy memories for your guests or just help put them at ease. If you enjoy candles or essential oils, you might have some going near the front door, on your patio, in your sunroom, or in the living room. If you prefer the smell of baked goods, fresh baked bread, brownies, or cookies are all inviting smells and come with the added bonus of having a treat to serve your guests. 

God gives us the gift of hospitality so that we can glorify Him as we care for others. The blessing of the walls in our home provides safety and security for our families and can provide an atmosphere of care for the guests who enter as well. Romans 12:13 teaches us to share with those in need and to practice hospitality. When we open our home to others, we honor God and honor those who walk through our door. I Peter 4:9-10 says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.Practicing hospitality makes us instruments of God’s grace and allows us to extend His grace to those with whom we come in contact. 

The Word tells us, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously (2 Corinthians 9:6). Scripture goes on to say, “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11). As you seek out opportunities to show hospitality by inviting guests into your home, remember that you are also practicing generosity. Ask God to cultivate this fruit in your life and watch His blessings flow! 

We would like to thank Diana Brumley for writing this post!

Focus on Blessing, not Impressing

Editor’s Note: It’s almost FALL, y’all!!!! We will be focusing on hospitality for the next few weeks. Hospitality is so much more than what you produce. It’s the warm, welcoming atmosphere, it’s the peace you welcome others into, it’s the attention to the person in front of you, the listening that shows true hospitality. I know you’ll be refreshed and enlightened by the posts we have this month. Happy reading!!

I used to stress any time I knew we would have guests over. Don’t get me wrong, I love people and I am always excited to hang out with both new and old friends. But I would seriously stay up all hours of the night overthinking everything I needed to do to make their visit absolutely perfect. After all, I went to “sister Suzy’s” house last month and she served a gourmet meal and her home was immaculate! And did you see her dining table? Beautiful! You know, like the ones you see in magazines, dressed with center pieces and fine china.

The irony in this is I have worked in the hospitality industry for 20 years. I KNOW hospitality! I work with my staff daily to teach them that although a clean room is very important, what makes a stay memorable is the way the guest feels welcomed and at home. It’s not about perfection; it’s about connection.

So why do I stress so much about inviting someone to my home?

It took me digging into what hospitality really means before it finally clicked and I could apply it to my home life. Because in reality, I am a wife and working mother of 6 kids. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve set a pretty table and used that china I’ve had stored away for years. And you know what, I’ve learned that is perfectly ok. Let me tell you why.

While I was studying, I came across the Greek word for hospitality: philoxenia. It literally means LOVE OF STRANGERS. It does not mean I must cook a mean filet mignon, or have the shiniest silver. It means I should show compassion, take genuine interest and serve others. Now if you are one of those lovely ladies that can do it all, may God bless you sister. God created us each to be unique in our gifts. I, for one, did not receive that gift. And for those of you that are in my boat, don’t worry. God never said that practicing hospitality would look the same for everyone. He wants you to share your heart.

1 Peter 4:8-9: And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.

My takeaway from that is we are called to let our hospitality be an overflow of God’s hospitality to us. And by the way, the memories and the friendships you make along the way will outweigh the troubles of the mess left behind. I promise. 

In biblical times, it was not uncommon to invite a stranger in. There were no stigmas on needing to have a perfect home in order to offer drink or food to a traveler. Jesus himself showed us how to actively love people and create relationships over a meal time and time again. And even though it is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, I don’t think He would have walked away just because you served your meal on paper plates.

So my suggestion to you is to keep it simple. Invite your neighbors over for s’mores over the firepit. Ask the new couple at church to join you for pizza and a game night. Take cookies to the new family that recently moved into the neighborhood. And by the way, I am almost positive they are not going to turn them away even if you bought them at the grocery store instead of baking them from scratch. You could even send an encouraging note to your friend that has moved away. Or invite a new mom over for a play date. You know we all could use adult conversation from time to time. And if nothing else, BE FRIENDLY. Sometimes a simple hello can go a long way. Remember, the purpose of hospitality is to fellowship, mentor, strengthen bonds and get to know one another. Don’t focus so much of what would impress your guests, but more on what would bless them.

Mathew 25: 37-40“Then those that are right with God will say, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You? When did we see You thirsty and give You a drink? When did we see You a stranger and give You a room? When did we see You had no clothes and we gave You clothes? And when did we see You sick or in prison and we came to You?’ Then the King will say, ‘For sure, I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of My brothers, you have done it to Me.’

Today I am planning an evening with friends. I am choosing to intentionally focus on serving my guests, and I’m not stressing over what would impress them. I realize now that even though we drink from plastic cups at my house, my guests still feel loved and cherished. And regardless of the food on the table, it is a chance for simple moments to spark beautiful memories. And you know what? I sleep much better at night too, having peace in knowing I don’t have to stress about perfection. All I have to do is love people like Jesus loves me. 

We would like to thank Misty Rowell for writing this post!

How to Practice Everyday Hospitality

Editor’s Note: It’s almost FALL, y’all!!!! We will be focusing on hospitality for the next few weeks. Hospitality is so much more than what you produce. It’s the warm, welcoming atmosphere, it’s the peace you welcome others into, it’s the attention to the person in front of you, the listening that shows true hospitality. I know you’ll be refreshed and enlightened by the posts we have this month. Happy reading!!

When I think of the word hospitality, I think of inviting someone into my home, providing food and drink, initiating good conversation, and in essence, offering a pleasant time spent together.

I have to be honest: in the past that word HOSPITALITY would bring anxiety, fear and insecurity. Sometimes, it still can. For me, it brings up thoughts of scheduling, tidying up, spending, and worst of all, getting everybody on board to help for having someone in our home. But as I’ve learned more about who God is and what He is about, I’ve learned if it’s not good then it’s not God!

If I allow those feelings of lack (fear, anxiety, insecurity) to dictate my actions, then I’m not allowing God to use me or be seen by others through me. His Word says to “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (Romans 15:7). We are called to do as our Father does. 

Romans 12:13 says to “find ways to show hospitality. ” This requires being proactive in seeking out opportunities to be hospitable. It means being a good steward of the home God has given me so I can show love to more of His children. My home is HIS home. It really is that simple. 

Even more simple than that is knowing what true hospitality is—“to present a friendly and generous reception.” We usually think of hospitality as using our physical home, but I think it’s more about our spiritual home. So rather than making hospitality about meeting at a time and a place, we can demonstrate hospitality through our everyday interactions: a warm smile, a touching note, a prayer or wise word, or a needed phone call. Actions of love show someone that you value them and that you’re willing to do a little extra for them. In the end, isn’t that what hospitality is truly all about?

God’s greatest commands in Matthew 22:37  were to love Him and love your neighbor.

Everything about God is about the heart—it all begins with our heart. Our goal is to love who God loves and there is NOT ONE person that God doesn’t love. So practically speaking, how can we mold our heart to love who God loves?  His word says in Ephesians 2:10 that we were “created to do good works [show hospitality] which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God did the hard work, and He will not stop, so we just have to LET Him use us. That’s it! We were MADE for this – TO LOVE OTHERS AND SHOW IT!  

When we begin to pray on that one thought – to show others God’s love, no matter who – then our thoughts become actions, and that’s when hospitality comes in. Inviting someone into your prayers invites them into your space, and that becomes an act of love. Hospitality becomes a far deeper and more personal act than simply inviting someone into your physical home; it becomes an intimate conversation with God about another of God’s beloved. Hospitality becomes an emotion of LOVE. We were made for this, now we just have to allow ourselves to DO it.’

We would like to thank Sandra Villa for writing this blog post.

Building Unity in a Broken World

When my boys, who are five and seven, argue with each other, they get to wear a “get-along” shirt. They both fit inside Daddy’s shirt with one arm sticking out and one around each other. The first time I challenged them to move across the room without touching the floor, arguing turned to laughter and unity. The next time they forcibly donned an oversized shirt that wrangled them together, they began, without prompting, working their way across the room together as in a game. If my boys sulked inside the shirt or didn’t communicate, they never would have made it across the room united.

Sisters, Psalms‬ ‭133:1‬ ‭reminds us, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Yet any time I turn on the news or scroll through Facebook, discord splashes my eyes like grease from a hot skillet. My heart wretches at the pain spewing from people in the form of violence. My heart joins with peaceful protests concerning injustice.

But who am I to write about racial injustice?

Well, first and foremost, I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus, before whom “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation‬ ‭7:9‬) will stand and worship. Jesus Christ who “is all, and is in all” (Colossians‬ ‭3:11).

How does that give me voice to speak about racial injustice?

I am one who is submitted to the authority of Jesus Christ. However, on an external level, I acknowledge that I have grown up with white privilege. I am proud of my heritage with five generations working the same land, but I also acknowledge that such a heritage was denied to an entire people group based on their skin color. What was and continues to be a blessing in my life was never a possibility for my brothers and sisters in Christ with more melanin.

So, who am I to write about racial injustice?

I am a wife of a Christian man who happens to be Black. Once engaged, I was told, “You know it will be harder for you, right?” One one had, no. Marriage is not harder for us. My husband and I share like faith and values making marriage so much easier. We must communicate with each other and share our hearts just like any other couple.

But on the other hand, yes. It is harder. Not because my husband is Black, but because society perpetuates judgement towards my husband and three sons based on superficial skin. It’s harder because my husband and I will have difficult conversations with our sons as to why their hair looks different than their friends’ and won’t comb smoothly, as to why they don’t look like their Black friends OR their White friends, as to why they must be careful about how they interact with authorities, not only out of respect, but to save their lives.

And yet parents of all races should engage in challenging conversations with their children.

So is my interracial marriage really harder or simply different?

The real question I should be asking is: Who am I to say nothing about racial injustice? I’m someone who knows The Answer: Jesus.

Believers! We are not only called to unity, but to one body (Colossians 3:15). We need each other to function.

Believers! We are the answer our broken world craves. We are the embodiment of love because God is love (1 John 4:8) and God dwells in us collectively (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

How can I handle this rift in our country that could easily consume me? If I focus on the ditch when I’m driving, I will end up in the ditch. If I focus on the road, then I am not so easily swayed.  Rather than pretending continued racial inequality is a spin of the media or politicians or fixing our eyes on the media’s portrayal of a very real and pained racial divide, fix your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). He will guide you to the people you need to spend time with. Run in your lane. You may be called to a city where riots are shaking the streets, but don’t be so focused on the problems out there that you forget to love your own neighbor-next door or at the grocery store or at work.

Realize, as I’ve heard so often at church, “You can’t drive a ten-ton truck over a two-ton bridge.” Most of the topics in the news today are ten-ton topics. Don’t go up to someone you don’t have a relationship with and ask what they think about what is going on in the world. However, if someone needs to speak, let them be heard. Pain is real and deep and impossible to articulate without vulnerability. Attempting to give an answer or saying that you understand barricades the relationship road.

Please, acknowledge people’s lives and their pain. Listen and don’t judge their motives. People need to be heard and acknowledged as valuable. Meet people where they are and introduce them to Christ by your love.

Listening, laughing, crying with one another; having play dates with your kids; working side-by-side with excellence; playing games; sharing home culture and music and food and language; worshipping God side-by-side, hands lifted (or not). These are the types of activities that build relationship bridges. Create a safe environment for healthy relationships; not because of or in spite of skin color, but rather because we are the body of Christ. As Colossians compels us, let us put on love.

We would like to thank Mary Coleman for writing this blog post!

Coals of Kindness

There’s a story that’s told about Abraham Lincoln. It was after the Civil War, and he was being criticized for his lenient treatment of the South. They had been defeated but Lincoln was trying to help them get back up on their feet. A woman approached him and in no uncertain terms let him know her opinion. “They are our enemies. They ought to be destroyed!” To which Lincoln responded, “How can I better destroy my enemies than by making them my friends?”

Mic. Drop.

The cultural atmosphere we find ourselves in today is no less divided. Masks or no masks….which lives matter….left or right….we all have convictions on these things, and it seems that just a quick surf through the social media world would tell you that you can pretty easily make some “enemies” just by voicing those opinions. But people are never the enemy. It says clearly in Ephesians 6 that “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the posers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (v. 12, NASB).

One of the things I really love to learn about is the cultural context of Biblical stories or sayings. I find myself sometimes just skimming over those parts I don’t understand; the ones my 21st century Western mind just doesn’t have a file folder for. One of those passages for me comes at the end of Romans 12. In verse 20, it says: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

I guess that I’ve always thought this alluded to some passive-aggressive way of getting back at people you don’t like. Kill ‘em with kindness. Heap those burning coals on their heads. That’ll teach ‘em. But the context of this verse paints a very different picture.

The people of the Bible times obviously lived a very different lifestyle. No microwaves, no convection ovens. If you were going to cook for your family, fire was a necessity. Many times a town would have a community fire that was constantly tended so that it would not go out. Residents could come and gather hot coals which they carried back to their homes in buckets on their heads. Now, if you didn’t live far from the fire, this was no problem. You could get home in plenty of time and use those coals to cook your family a meal. Folks who lived on the outskirts had a harder time. They had to rush to get back to their homes before the coals went out. Neighbors knew this, and would take some of the hot coals from their homes and put them on top of the buckets of those on their way so that they coals would stay hot for their journey. They would “heap coals of fire” on their heads. It wasn’t an act of revenge or spite but rather an act of kindness. It helped provide and sustain for their most basic needs. It was life-giving.

I don’t know how many of us would say today that we have people in our lives who are flat-out enemies. I do think we could all agree, however, that the culture in which we live is increasingly trying to divide. I’m not here to tell you which side to take.

I’m here to encourage you to bring a Kingdom perspective to your circle of influence.

The Kingdom says love your enemies. The Kingdom says pray for those who persecute you. Romans 12: 17-18 says, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceable with all men.”

Am I saying you shouldn’t speak up? No. Am I saying having convictions about cultural issues is wrong? Absolutely not. What I am saying is that we’re called to speak truth in love…to walk in kindness and humility…to heap burning coals on the heads of those who would oppose us…to speak life and blessing. Uggh. That’s hard. But that’s Kingdom, and that’s who we’re called to be.

We’d like to thank Becca Wilhite for writing this post!

Fasting to Feast

Editor’s Note: This summer we will post a new blog every other Thursday. In August, we will start a new series. I am praying that you would be refreshed and enjoy your SUMMER!

Fasting. What images or feelings does that word conjure up in you? I don’t know why I didn’t practice fasting as I grew up. It’s just not something we did as a family. I’m not sure I ever heard it talked about much. We read our Bibles often, but maybe we just glossed over those portions of scripture that mentioned that particular spiritual discipline. I certainly believed there was no way I could ever do that.

For some reason in the past two to three years, I have been exposed to people who fast from food on a regular basis, and they seemed pretty normal. I am not sure what really captured my fascination with it other than I felt a conviction in my spirit that my physical and spiritual appetites were out of control. John Piper wrote in his book A Hunger for God, “If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

I knew God was calling me to action.

Let me say that there are all kinds of fasts you can do. I choose to fast from food after supper to the next day’s supper one day a week. I don’t believe that the spiritual discipline of fasting meant that God was extra proud of my sacrifice or spirituality. Fasting isn’t meant to be a tool whereby we manipulate God and others into doing what we want or projecting a holier-than-thou image. In fact, it exposed all kinds of stuff in me. I’m not proud of this, but there was a spoiled child inside me who demanded to have what she wanted when she wanted it. I learned to take those strong emotions and issues to Christ as often as I had to in order to bring myself into submission to Him and His word.

It became a powerful practice to help me in my relationships with Christ because I was more aware of His nearness in my daily life. In John 6:22-35 Jesus and a group of seeking people have an interesting interaction. Go read it. There’s a lot going on in that text, but one of the things that speaks to me is how much Jesus wants us to know Him. 

Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (John 6:26-27 NKJV).

Do you find yourself jumping from hobby to hobby, job to job, diet to diet, or friend to friend just hoping that maybe this next one will be “it” for you? Do you ever look back over the seasons of your life and notice that your soul is unsettled or unsatisfied?

Friend, there is another Bread. Are you willing to fast from food for a short period of time so you can feast on the Bread of Heaven?

God knew our souls were made to crave connection and fulfillment with Him. He designed us that way. But we medicate that hunger with what seems like everything but time with Him. Fasting is one of the quickest ways I know to create capacity for our relationship with Christ. Wendy Speake, author of The 40-Day Sugar Fast puts it this way: “When God sets us free from the strongholds in our lives, we’re free to experience His strong hold.”

And that’s what I’ve been craving this season. So much has changed in my life over the past few years that I am desperate to experience the friendship of Christ like never before. I want to hear His voice because the world is screaming loudly these days with a new crisis every week, it seems. Fasting helps clear out all the spiritual clutter. I believe God has very important things to impart to us in this season of our lives. Let’s embrace a fasting lifestyle so we can listen, hear, and respond quickly to His voice.

We’d like to thank Jodi LaFrance for writing this blog post!

Cultivating Your Child’s Heart for Worship

Editor’s Note: This summer we will post a new blog every other Thursday. In August, we will start a new series. I am praying that you would be refreshed and enjoy your SUMMER!

Today I woke up with a song on my heart called the Goodness of God. One of my favorite verses in this song is when it says, “with every breath that I am able I will sing of the goodness of God.”  So many of us wake up with a song on our hearts or we are singing His praises during the day.

We were created to worship God, and as parents, we are also responsible for helping cultivate a heart of worship in our children.

John 4:23 says, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.” I want to be that kind of worshipper to my King, and I want that same experience for my children.  

Something that the Lord has been working on with my family and me over the past few weeks is setting a good foundation. I like to think of it has having good “roots.” I have this picture on my phone of a huge tree that my dad recently had to dig up. I showed this picture to my kids and we talked about all the roots that were on that tree and how that relates to our life. When we have God’s Word in us, then we will have roots that look just like that tree. We can stand tall and firm in Jesus because we are rooted in Him and our foundation is strong. Matthew 7:24 says, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” 

One of my jobs as a mom is to help lay that kind of foundation in my children. To become the true worshipper that John 4:23 talks about, we must position ourselves in a way that we can enter into His presence.

In our house, our children know that we listen to Christian music. It plays in our cars, in the background while doing chores around the house, and it plays when my children go to sleep. We talk about why we listen to this type of music. Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” If we are sowing good seeds into our hearts and minds, then we have prepared ourselves to receive the Spirit in order to become the true worshipper.  

As we worship in our home, I talk to my kids about why we close our eyes and lift our hands. I tell them that when I close my eyes, I like to picture Jesus sitting before me as I worship Him and thank Him for all He has done in our lives. I also show them that by lifting my hands, I am giving everything I have to Jesus because He has given me everything! I am surrendering to Him. 

One thing that I love about playing Christian music in our home and cars is that when my children worship at church, they already know most of the songs. We have cultivated our hearts and made them ready to receive the Spirit and all that God has to offer us. I believe this allows them to be able to close their eyes, lift their hands, and come into God’s presence because the songs are already written on their hearts.  

We were made to worship our God.

When we as parents prepare our children and their hearts to become a true worshipper, we are setting them up to receive the destiny God has for them.  

Start off by laying the foundation of why we worship. Show them that the songs we sing are scriptures in the Bible. My daughter loved being able to see this! Once you have laid the foundation, train them on how to worship and what it looks like in your home. Deuteronomy 11:18-19 says, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

As we train our children to become true worshippers, we are allowing the Holy Spirit to lead, guide, and direct the path of our children. Every time they worship, the Holy Spirit is putting His thumbprint on their hearts and they learn to hear His voice and obey His commands. What an awesome thing to learn as a child!

We would like to thank Kaylene Vanbebber for writing this post!

Rescued

Editor’s Note: This summer we will post a new blog every other Thursday. In August, we will start a new series. I am praying that you would be refreshed and enjoy your SUMMER!

In working with kids and teens who have been through trauma, I have learned a term that some call “felt safety” or “psychological safety.” The idea behind this is that kids and teens (and adults, for that matter) have to feel safe in order to react in healthy ways. The people around the child may know that she is safe: The doors are locked, she has caring adults around her, she has enough food to eat. But if the child or teen does not feel like she is safe, she will continue to react out of survival mode. This could look like destructive behavior, disrespect, or keeping secrets.  

In order for all of us (kids and adults alike) to function from a healthy mindset, we have to feel safe. For many of us, this means choosing to operate from a mindset of fear to an attitude of trust.

A few months ago I attended a conference, and one of the speakers challenged the audience to change the way they talk to God. He said, “So often we try to be professional in our relationship with God, and we forget to be personal.” He guided all of us right then to practice talking with God as a loved son or daughter. While the music played, we all started praying out loud. 

As I prayed, God gave me a picture of Him holding me and rocking me in a rocking chair. As I leaned up against Him, God spoke to my heart, “You can come get a hug from Me any time you want.” That spoke deeply to me. And I realized that this is one of the ways God gives us “felt safety.” No matter who we are, all of us have areas where we feel insecure or unsafe. God wants to speak directly to those places. He wants to bring healing to our hearts. He wants to rescue us from our own feelings of shame and isolation and bondage.

Recently, I came across one of the prayers that the Jewish people pray at the end of their Sabbath celebrations each week. After a little research, I found out these prayers come from Isaiah and the Psalms: 

“‘Behold, God is my salvation;

I will trust, and will not be afraid; 

for the Lord God is my strength and my song, 

and He has become my salvation.’

With joy you will draw water from 

the wells of salvation.” (Is. 12:2-3)

“I will lift up the cup of salvation 

and call on the name of the Lord.” (Ps. 116:13)

I decided to look up the Hebrew word for “salvation” since it was used over and over again in these verses. The original Hebrew word for “salvation” paints a picture of someone coming in from the outside and rescuing us from a place of bondage. It means we have been freed and given victory over our enemies. Because we’ve been rescued, we have a sense of calmness and peace, and we feel safe. When we feel safe, we can flourish and live in prosperity and abundance.

Stick with me here; it’s just getting good. The Hebrew word for “salvation” in these verses is yeshua. The name for Jesus. “And you shall call his name Yeshua—Jesus—because he will save (rescue) his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Let that soak in.

Jesus is our rescuer. Because of Jesus we have freedom. Because of Jesus we have victory. Because of Jesus, we don’t have to be afraid anymore. Because of Jesus we have peace, calmness, comfort, and “felt safety.” 

You are free from shame. You are free from the names the enemy wants you to call yourself. You are free from guilt. Because Jesus has rescued you. 

“As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I (God) seek out My sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered.” (Ezekiel 34:12 ESV)

You are safe. You have been rescued. Jesus sees you. Jesus wants you. He draws you near with cords of kindness. His goodness and loving kindness pursue you every day of your life. Rest in the truth of that today, my friend. 

We wold like to thank Heather Dillard for writing this post!

Having Peace and Order in Our Homes

Editor’s Note: During the month of May, we will focus on learning to have peace in every aspect of our lives. Lean in and ask the Holy Spirit to cultivate this fruit in you. Let’s “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14) together! 

“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (I Cor. 14:33). 

As women who influence our homes and our families, one major way we can usher in the peace of Christ is by rejecting disorder and embracing order and all that means.

Order involves submitting ourselves to the government of God and His priorities. So first—always first—seek His Kingdom. That means we welcome the presence of the Holy Spirit and the reign of Jesus in our daily lives. Give room to His Word and to connection with Him, whatever that looks like for you. 

Order means we follow the biblical model for how we honor one another in our relationships. We yield to the grace of God within us to treat each other according to the fruit of the Spirit. 

But order for me also equates to having a tidy home. I experience a greater sense of His rest and calm when my space is neat and orderly. I am more free to focus on the people, the experiences, the moments, and the memories we are making together. Our environments directly affect our moods and mindsets. I know my family members function better when our house is generally clean and picked up. Not perfect! But tidy. Organized with purpose. 

Let’s ask ourselves: How does my home represent the rule and dominion of my King today? Is it time to get rid of some clutter? For instance, how many toys and games do your kids really use? It might be time to create some breathing space. (Now, books are a different story…Don’t mess with my books!) Items that served us in one season may not serve us so well in another. When our boys were younger, we would grab a  plastic sack and pick a random number like 27. The challenge was to fill the bag with that many things to get rid of, either to throw away or donate. Other days, I would write several “Missions from Mom” on hidden slips of paper. Someone would draw a surprise mission, we’d set the timer, and run to help each other accomplish one specific task before the buzzer went off. (Timers are magic!)

Streamline the kids’ spaces especially. It is really difficult to expect a child to be responsible for his or her own room if there is just chaos and disaster lurking in the toy bin or behind the closet door on the best of days. You cannot just say, “Go clean your room,” without first training your child and practicing with them what that means, step by step. We added very basic shelves to our bedroom closets and sorted items into cheap bins — not real fancy, but functional. Trust me, the sticker labels of the Brown childhood were not Pinterest-worthy, but the boys knew where their things belonged.

One of the most important ways to keep order in your home is to expect every member to simply pick up and put away whatever they were using when they’re done. Don’t get out anything new until you’ve dealt with what you were already using. Just form a habit early. Sometimes it’s the little things in life! They end up really making a difference. 

We called it the “Do It Now” principle at our house. Put the crayons or scissors back where they go instead of leaving them out on the table “in case” you want them again later. Fold and put the laundry away when it’s fresh. Empty trash from the car each time you get out instead of letting it pile up first. Help each other clear the table and do dishes after every meal. These jobs usually take much less time than we guesstimate when we’re dreading them or procrastinating.

I’ve recently heard this concept referred to as “completing the cycle,” and it still challenges me. Finishing what I start is not always my strong suit, but it appeals to my desire for a well-ordered environment, both internally and externally. It’s always worth it when I will put in the extra effort required to bring a task to completion. Now…I think I’ll go empty my dishwasher! 

Being a keeper of our homes is one of the roles we are created for, sisters (Titus 2:5). Yes, it takes consistent work, but what a gift! Small steps with Kingdom purpose yield peace-filled results. God bless you and fill your homes with His order and peace today!

We would like to thank Jill Brown for writing this post.

Having Peace in Our Failures

Editor’s Note: During the month of May, we will focus on learning to have peace in every aspect of our lives. Lean in and ask the Holy Spirit to cultivate this fruit in you. Let’s “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14) together! 

I have totally, 100% blown it this week. In fact, I cannot think of one single thing I would call a win. Over and over, day after day, I have failed as a mother, as a wife, and as a business owner. There isn’t a single hat I wear that I have worn with excellence this week. 

I’ve yelled, I’ve been extremely short on patience, and I’ve spoken horrible, discouraging words over my children and my husband. This isn’t the case every week. But this week it is. It is my reality.

This afternoon I’m sitting here in my studio working while my kids are in the house, fending for themselves and vegging out on technology and carbs. As I have reflected on this week, the thoughts above ran through my head. I have this sinking feeling deep inside my gut.

If I had to name that feeling it might be “despair” or “shame.” Maybe “guilt.” Possibly “unrest.” Anything but peace. Whatever it is, it’s nasty and I don’t want to carry it with me. And because I know that God is a good, kind, and loving father, I know that He didn’t mean for me to carry this either.

So you know what? I’m not going to. 

You see, it was that simple. These thoughts ran through my mind. I recognized them. I recognize my faults and need to do better. I repent. But then I am choosing to move on. Despite my faults, I can cling to peace. Instead of carrying all of my failures, God allows me to take hold of forgiveness, grace and peace. I believe that this “peace” is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.

Peace isn’t just about being in a state free from conflict. Peace is living through conflict but knowing there is a fresh start. Peace is living knowing that when I fail, there is another chance. Peace is knowing that even though I have totally blown it as a mom, my kids rest in God’s authority.

Each one of the thoughts we possess that do not line up with who God says we are, are the enemy’s attempt to rob us of our peace. If I choose to stay stuck in my failures of this week, I will carry turmoil right on with me into the next. Hmmm…Isn’t that just just what the enemy would want? He’s called the “thief” for a reason. And I will not let him steal my peace.

Ladies, let’s outsmart the enemy! Why would we choose to get stuck in his lies when Jesus offers us a better alternative? Peace. Wisdom tells us that we are better than our mistakes. We know we were created with a divine purpose. So let’s let go of our shortcomings and walk into peace.

We would like to thank Robin Sanders for writing this blog post!

Having Peace While You Wait

Editor’s Note: During the month of May, we will focus on learning to have peace in every aspect of our lives. Lean in and ask the Holy Spirit to cultivate this fruit in you. Let’s “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14) together! 

No one likes to wait. I feel like this is a universal truth. Sure, some people might be more patient than others(ahem…my hubs, not me 🙂), but no one wants to wait—in line, on hold, for an answer, for a decision, even for a gift. 

And I don’t think this is limited to our present time. Sure, we’ve got the “microwave generation,” “the e-generation,”the “Google generation”—and in short, we’re all used to getting what we want in a relatively short time. 

But have you read Sarah’s story? She straight up offered her servant Hagar to her husband when God’s plan hadn’t moved fast enough. That’s not patience. Or peace. 

Did you know it’s possible to have peace even as you wait? 

We waited nine years for our baby girl, who was born last November, and I won’t for one second pretend that I did it all patiently. (That’s why I love Sarah’s story; she didn’t do it all perfectly either.) But what I learned is when I focused on Him, and not on what I wanted right this second, I was not anxious. I could even be content.

The verse I clung to reminds me of this, and I still have a personalized copy on my desk: “You will keep [Laura] in perfect peace when her mind is stayed on You because she trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3). 

During our season of waiting, what I found is captured so well in the song “Take Courage” by Kristene Di Marco. Have you heard it? When I’d want to forget, when I’d doubt, when it felt too long, too impossible: 

He’s in the waiting.

The song says, “Take Courage”—the very words Jesus spoke to His disciples in Matthew 14 when the storm came, and they feared for their lives.

A little while earlier, Jesus had sent them ahead of himself. And maybe now they feel abandoned. John 6 says, “It was near dark, and Jesus had not yet come.”

Ever feel that way?

But then, there He is. Walking on the water.

Take courage, He says.

Because He knew. He always knows the outcome.

In this moment, the disciples have the opportunity to witness a miracle, a glimpse of His power.

In this moment, Peter has the chance to go deeper in His faith.

All the events culminate to the here, the now.

Yes, there’s a storm. Yes, Jesus had not yet come, and yes, they feel abandoned.

But it’s like He says, Take courage. Here I am. And I’m giving you something rare and powerful: an experience, an encounter you won’t forget.

Though we face unknowns, though our hearts are full of anticipation, I sense it even now:

He’s here. He knows. He’s got a spectacular story for us. 

For you.

Take courage, my heart. Stay steadfast, my soul. He’s in the waiting.”

Peace is a person. Jesus. And He will meet you wherever you find yourself waiting.

I don’t know what your heart longs for, my friend. I don’t know how long you’ve been waiting. But I do know this, our God is a good Father, our Jesus is never delayed, and our Holy Spirit is present, full of power and comfort and grace. 

We would like to thank Laura Brandenburg for writing this post!

Having Peace as a Working Mom

Editor’s Note: During the month of May, we will focus on learning to have peace in every aspect of our lives. Lean in and ask the Holy Spirit to cultivate this fruit in you. Let’s “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14) together! 

As a CFO for Covenant Health System, one of the phrases I use often in my line of work is, “No Margin, No Mission.” If we are not good financial stewards and do not have a good margin, we cannot fulfill our mission of being the hands and feet of Jesus. One day I had a revelation: this should apply to my personal life, too! If I do not have margin in my life, meaning, I do not set boundaries and seek peace, I cannot fulfill the mission of being a disciple of Jesus, an uplifting wife, a fun and positive mom, and a good friend and coworker. Without peace, and I mean the peace that only Jesus can offer, it will be impossible to have anything that resembles margin.  

What does it look like to have peace as a working mom? How do you create margin? I think we often view peace as sitting in a quiet place, drinking coffee, and listening to worship music or reading a book.  We equate it to its true definition, which is freedom from disturbance. In all fairness, in a worldly sense, that is what peace looks like. Those things are great, and goodness I would give anything to have the time to do those things, but the reality is that most days, I do not have that kind of time. Sometimes we have a false sense of what peace looks like because we have false expectations or worldly views.  Routine looks different for everyone, but as disciples of Jesus, peace should not. Peace is not found in any earthly person, place or thing; it is a promise from God, and it is Jesus himself! There are countless verses in the Bible that tell us if we will fix our eyes on Him, He will give us peace. Here are just a few:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).     

Peace to me lately has looked like truly believing that God wants only good for me and He works all things for my good (Romans 8:28). I was asked to write this blog prior to COVID-19 (insert laughter here). As a hospital administrator, you can imagine my life has changed some since that time. I’m still working fulltime, attempting distance learning with Marek (heavy on the word attempting), and we also moved in the middle of it all. One might say my world has been turned upside down, as many of ours have, but through all of this I have remained at peace. Are the days stressful? Of course! Am I exhausted at the end of most days? Absolutely! But peace does not equate to a relaxed schedule, and true peace is not circumstantial; peace simply equals trusting God.

I’m going to trust that God is who He says He is, and that manifests peace in my soul.

Anxiety is a lie. It tells you that you are not enough, you are not equipped to handle your purpose, and it causes you to live in a world of worst-case scenarios. I choose the peace of Jesus over anxiety! 

As for creating margin, last week I drove to Sonic and ordered a chili cheese dog, turned on worship music, and sat in my car eating junk food and worshiping Jesus, proclaiming that we are going to see a victory. Margin will look different for everyone, but find those small moments in your day, even if that’s all you have, to create margin.    

May mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance (Jude 1:2) my friends, as we face whatever trials might come our way.

We would like to thank Cassie Mogg for writing this blog post!

Persevering Together

Editors Note: During the month of April, we will be focusing on marriage. We hope these posts encourage you to go to new depths in your marriage during this season. Marriage operates BEST when God’s plan is followed. Be encouraged today!

When Bryan and I got married in 2013, I thought I had it “all figured out.” Love God, love each other, and everything would be smooth sailing, right? I quickly learned that my expectations were wrong, short sighted, and I needed a lot of God’s grace. When I have struggled with stubborn independence, God turned me toward Himself in humble reliance. 

When I got married, I was very much in love but also very broken from past failures in love. I brought a lot of baggage to the relationship that I was unwilling to unpack. I instead thought it would be better to leave it packed up and stuffed away. My husband and I both claimed a faithful walk with the Lord; we attended church, but we both lacked purposeful seeking of His heart and His will ‪from Monday to Saturday. When you only engage on Sunday, you make yourself a prime target for Satan to get into the undedicated areas of your heart the other six days of the week. Many days I thought I was the problem in my own marriage, but the truth is sin was the problem. Even at my very best, I would never be enough to do it on my own. 

The Word tells us to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10). What happened next in our marriage required me to lean into God and let him teach me some of those precious truths of his Word. 

We were married only 18 months when the border trips started. What we both believed would be a great opportunity quickly turned into a driving wedge in our fragile marriage. At the best of times Bryan was gone once every 6 weeks for 7-9 days, but at its worse, he was gone two times a month. This continued for close to a year, with little end in sight. I lost count after over 30 trips; each time it tested our communication, patience, and resolve to each other. I would feel alone even when he would be home and abandoned every time he would leave. Each time he left, a little callus developed on my heart with the continued voice in my head, “he’s choosing work over you. You are 2nd to his job. If you were just _____ he wouldn’t want to leave home.” 

 During this time of hidden crisis, God began to reveal the issue was not in my husband’s lack of time but in my own lack of dependence on God. He began slowly to re-reveal himself through Bible study, books, and through a truly strong mentor in Christ. Even when I felt completely empty, she encouraged me to give back through getting involved. I dove into it with both feet: women’s ministry, high school youth, and a daily committed bible reading. God was gracious and gave me strength to know where I belonged: at his feet. His Word encourages, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26). He was the needed strength when I felt like I was just a broken vessel.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).

The border trips were hard, but we were hit with even harder news that year. We had been trying for a child for several years but were told natural children would never be possible and IVF treatments were our only choice. Bryan had recently gotten a promotion that stopped the border trips, so he was home more now. Where we had failed in our previous challenges, this time we leaned into God like never before and prayed Psalm 55:22: “Give your worries to the Lord and He will take care of you. He will never let good people down.”  We endured 3 rounds of IVF back-to-back. It was a rough 6-months of treatment and bonding over seeking the Lord’s plan each day. Though this was a difficult experience, we were able to a build a supportive marriage and center it on the Lord. God worked on our hearts and showered us with grace while we continued to seek Him. Though saddened that our IVF attempts failed, we kept James 1:17 in our hearts and remembered that God’s timing is not that of the world’s. 

“Give your worries to the Lord and He will take care of you. He will never let good people down” (Psalm 55:22). 

Since our days of IVF, we have been faced with ups and downs, but God has walked beside us every step of the way. He has led us on an incredible journey, and we are being conformed more into His image every day. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

My prayer is that you would allow yourself to really seek God in each and every season. He has something so good for you and for your marriage if you are willing to endure through every trial and every success together.

We’d like to thank Kate McCandless for writing this post!

Selfless Love

Editors Note: During the month of April, we will be focusing on marriage. We hope these posts encourage you to go to new depths in your marriage during this season. Marriage operates BEST when God’s plan is followed. Be encouraged today!

On March 12, Martin and I celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary. At this point in my life, I’ve been married way more years than I’ve been single, and I’ve lived in my home with my husband longer than I lived in my parents’ home. It’s hard to believe! Where has the time gone? 

From the beginning of our marriage, God has been an equal partner with Martin and me. I believe that He brought Martin and I together in a very undeniable way. I have the best falling in love story. Ask me about it sometime; I’d love to share it with you! We were both Christians when we met. Even though we are both saved, neither one of us are perfect. 

After all these years, the main advice I give anyone who asks is this: Try not to be selfish. Believe me, it’s easier said than done. I heard a pastor once say that when young couples come to him for pre-marital counseling, they usually use the words we and us. When couples come in for pre- or post-divorce counseling, the words most heard are me, me, me. The focus of the relationship went from we and us to me and mine. Or, in other words, from selfless (I would do anything for you) to selfish (you’re not giving me what I want). The definition of selfless is: having or showing great concern for other people and little concern for yourself. The definition of selfish is: lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure. Total opposites!  

I believe in a marriage, neither person has the right to be selfish. Oh, but it’s so hard! It was worse for me when I was younger, but I still have my selfish moments. It’s in these times that I can feel God the most. Most times, it’s in a gentle whisper that tells me how wrong I was, or in His gentle reminders of the times my husband was very selfless towards me. The Bible says selfishness ruins friendships/relationships.

Proverbs 18:1-2 says, “He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom. A fool does not delight in understanding, but only revealing his won mind. Selfishness also hinders prayer.”

James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you spend it on your pleasures.”  

God is still teaching me more about my marriage every day. I do know that I have to listen to not only the words that Martin is saying but also to his heart. I always want to be on the same page as God, and I believe that is being on the same page as my husband. It can not always be my way or his way. God tells us in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” Wow ladies, you know how hard that can be! Especially when you’re stuck in quarantine with your kids and you just need a break! It’s ok to take time for your own needs, but not selfishly, and not at the expense of your kids and spouse. It’s very hard to find the right balance. If and when you do, your reward will be a balanced and fulfilling marriage.

Romans 12:3 says, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgement, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”

You might ask, how in the world can I control my selfish desires? One word: LOVE!  

For God so loved the world…can you think of a more selfless act than Jesus dying on the cross for me and you?

Phillipians 2:2 says, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”  

This is my prayer for my marriage. I pray that it be yours, too!

We would like to thank Trina Lewis for writing this post!

Let No One Separate

Editors Note: During the month of April, we will be focusing on marriage. We hope these posts encourage you to go to new depths in your marriage during this season. Marriage operates BEST when God’s plan is followed. Be encouraged today!

I’m about to type a verse that I am sure we have all heard many times. But I need you to make me a promise. Promise me that you will read it out loud. If you’re not alone at least promise me that you will read it in a semi-awkward mouthing whisper. Okay? Promise?

“This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united as one. Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart” Mark 10:7-10. 

Okay. Make sure you really let it sink in. 

Now, let’s focus on that last part, “let no one split apart.”

Whenever I’ve read this in the past, I always had this picture from a movie scene where someone busts through the church door and stops the wedding. Something super dramatic. I’ve always thought of someone from outside of the relationship doing something to hurt it.

But recently God showed me a new picture of this. It goes like this….

“Now that you’ve left your father and mother and have become one, YOU can’t allow ANYTHING to cause separation.”

You see, it usually isn’t some third party pushing through the door that causes pain and separation within your marriage. Instead, we have control over what and who we allow into our marriage that causes problems. 

I believe it is God’s desire that we become gatekeepers to our marriage relationship. We must recognize where we have weakness and strongholds and take a stand against them. 

What are some things that you need to say “no more” to? Or “you aren’t welcome here.” What are you allowing to cause ill feelings towards your spouse?

Could it be bitterness? Maybe marriage isn’t all you thought it would be and you’re blaming your spouse.

Could it be unforgiveness? Something your spouse did or said that you can’t let go of.

Could it be that your priorities are not in line with God’s word? I recently heard Marriage Today’s Jimmy Evans say, “Most things that destroy marriages are good things kept in the wrong priority.” God’s word tells us that our relationship with our spouse should come directly after our relationship with Him. Some of these good things that us women tend to place ahead of our spouse might be work, children, in-laws, hobbies, and friends. They aren’t bad things. They are good things out of priority. 

Could it be that you only choose to serve or show affection towards your husband as a reward after he shows love toward you? This tit for tat mentality isn’t healthy in a marriage.

Whatever that “thing” is, God is saying in the verse we read that it is not okay to let that come between the relationship he desires for you and your husband.

I’m going to challenge you to try something new in your marriage. Stop placing blame on your spouse for any pain in your marriage. Stop placing blame on your circumstances. Instead choose today to control your own thoughts and actions.

That’s really all you can do.

Choose to honor and respect your husband unconditionally.

Have a servant’s spirit. Every husband has what his wife needs and every wife has what her husband needs but only they can serve each other. Instead of waiting for him to serve us, let us, as women of God, choose to serve first. 

Choose to show goodwill towards him even if you don’t feel like he deserves it.

Choose to show gratitude for him. Go on a treasure hunt to seek the good in him.

If these things seem impossible to do, the first step is to come to God. Ask God to change your heart towards your husband. Ask the Holy Spirit to begin a new work inside of you. Ask again, day after day, and see what God will do. 

Women of Harvest Christian Fellowship, let this be the day that we make a change! Let this be the day that we no longer allow anything to separate our marriages!

We would like to thank Robin Sanders for writing this post!

Lifting My Eyes To The Hills

My recent reflections have been over Pastor Brad’s past sermons on the attributes of God:  God is love, God is good, God is our provider, God is faithful, and God can be trusted. Our life group question following these sermons was, “So, if God is good, why did he allow [fill in the blank]?” This has caused me to think about “mountain top” vs. “valley” experiences. What a joy to be on a mountain high! On top of the mountain, the air is fresh and invigorating. Looking back down at that valley, you recall a difficult path, an environment full of stress, pain, and insecurity. But now, having arrived to the top, you rejoice in God, for He guided your steps. 

Andy Andrews, Christian author of The Noticer, writes, “Everybody wants to be on the mountaintop, but if you’ll remember, mountaintops are rocky and cold. There is no growth on the top of a mountain. Sure, the view is great, but what’s a view for? A view just gives us a glimpse of our next destination – our next target. But to hit that target, we must come off the mountain, go through the valley, and begin to climb the next slope. It is in the valley that we slog through the lush grass and rich soil, learning and becoming what enables us to summit life’s next peak.” 

Together we journey this valley of “coronavirus insecurity” and individually we have other valleys we travel (health, financial, family, etc.). We all desire to get to the mountaintop. No one is excluded in these unsettling walks. Even as I share this blog, the enemy searches my walls for vulnerable places where I am unarmed. It is crucial for me to carry the shield of faith, fortify my walls with the armor of God by wearing His breastplate and helmet, carry the sword of the spirit (the Word), and pray always (Ephesians 6). 

God’s love, goodness, provision, and faithfulness are seen when our eyes are fixed on Jesus. As the body of Christ, God will lead us in an excellent way to serve our Christian family and community (1 Cor. 12:27; 31).   Look around and see God at work in His people; you don’t have to look too far. It might be a life group member offering services to help, an encouraging text or call, a shoulder to lean on, or knowing with confidence you are being lifted in prayer to the Almighty.

In this valley faith grows and the fruit of the Spirit is manifested through God’s people.   

Stop, look, and listen. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” The Spirit is at work; His fruit is bountiful (Galatians 5:22-23). I encourage you to share what God is doing during this walk of your life: what has He taught you, how is He directing your path, how is your faith growing, and how is He using you to further His Kingdom? Encourage and pray for one another as we walk through this valley, keeping our eyes on the hills from where our help comes. 

Psalm 121  

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence comes my help?  

My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.  

He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.  

Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep.  

The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade at your right hand.  

The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.  

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul.  

The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in   

From this time forth, and even forevermore.

We would like to thank Darla Newland for writing this blog!

All Things New

How could we have known just a few days ago that toilet paper would turn into gold and that every one of us would face drastic changes in our everyday lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic? Until this week, it was impossible to imagine a nation with schools and church buildings shut down. Our calendars were full of plans, we had tickets to sporting events, daily routines, family birthday parties, work meetings, standardized tests to prepare for, and plenty of supplies in our hospitals. We didn’t know what “social distancing” was or that just going about our daily lives could spread a virus that could be anything from slightly annoying to deadly. But over the last 2 weeks, we’ve seen our leaders make excruciatingly difficult decisions to save lives at the expense of our freedom and undoubtedly, our economy, for awhile. I think we all realize now that this is no joke.

So the other day, as I spent a few moments quieting my heart with God, He dropped these words from scripture into my heart.

“Look, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5 NLT).

Or another translation says,

“Consider this! I am making everything to be new and fresh” (Revelation 21:5 TPT).

Jesus is saying here that when he returns, everything will be restored completely and there will be no more death, pain, or tears. But we aren’t meant to sit here talking about end times and wishing and wanting and waiting and sheltering in place until Jesus comes. God has always been in the business of making things new and restoring things that have gone wrong. We are called a “new creation” and we get to join with God in bringing His Kingdom—His restoration—to Earth.

Jesus taught His disciples to pray:

“Let your kingdom come, let your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

He is working in us and through us to bring His Kingdom to Earth. Here are some of the “new” things I have seen God doing among us the last 2 weeks:

– In a culture that has worshipped youth and disregarded the elderly, we are protecting the vulnerable by altering our daily lives to limit exposure to those who are most at risk.

– In neighborhoods where we have tended to isolate, we are reaching out to serve our neighbors, realizing that at times like these, we need each other.

– In a society that has been mistrusting and dishonoring of our leaders, we are submitting to those in authority and following their recommendations.  

– In an entitled generation, we are recognizing that our food and supplies are not to be taken for granted; they are provision from God.

– In our fast paced, exhausted way of life, we are finally being made to slow down, stay home and spend time with our families and children.

– We are uniting as Americans in a way that seemed impossible 3 weeks ago.

– We are seeing creative acts of kindness all over the place. I’ve heard of people picking up meals from local restaurants and delivering them to medical personnel who are on the front lines. They are supporting both our local business owners and our healthcare workers. Numerous people are sewing masks in their homes to help with the shortage.

And my favorite one is this: the gathering restrictions have forced the “church” outside its four walls and into our homes. Instead of the church being shut down, there is a new unity and zeal that the American church hasn’t seen in decades. This is bringing Christ and worship back into our homes, while also boosting exposure of His kingdom by utilizing social media to reach those who don’t know Him. As in the early church, we are being dispersed into the world where we can actually be the light!

Jesus is making all things new.

“And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me, ‘Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.’ And he also said, ‘It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children’” (Revelation 21:5-7).

There are moments when I feel anxiety creeping in, but I choose to believe God’s word and hold to these promises. I hope you will too, but if anxiety becomes a way of life, or if you are in need of any help or support, please reach out to our pastoral staff. We are here for each other and are ready to help in whatever ways we can. We will get through this together!

Let’s encourage each other with this—what new things do you see God doing through this crisis? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

We would like to thank Jill Moudy for writing this post!

Trusting God With Our Business

Editor’s Note: During the month of March, we will be focusing on setting boundaries in different areas of our lives. It’s our prayer that the posts we share this month will inspire you to set healthy boundaries that will help you live the abundant, blessed life that scripture promises, which glorifies the Lord and points those around us to Jesus. 

Have you ever thought you were unworthy? Not smart enough? Not good enough? We’ve likely all had these thoughts before. God created women to be strong, tough, loving, faithful, fragile, bold, courageous risk-takers. And our God tells us WE ARE worthy!

There are some very worthy and strong women in the Bible. Lydia is the epitome of a strong woman. She held church meetings in her home and was a hospitable “God-Worshiper” who spread the Gospel. You can read Lydia’s story in Acts 16. What about the Proverbs 31 woman? She was a hard worker who provided for the needs of others. She was a strong, capable woman who was an investor and entrepreneur who ministered to those around her. God created women to be strong, hard workers, leaders, and He also created them to love and care for their husband and children.  

I was a stay at home mom when my kids were little. As they got older and I had more free time, I decided to enter the work force. My high school dream was to be an attorney, but I never made it to college. I was the owner/editor of the Kress Chronicle for about a year and then opened a manufactured homes dealership. Both ventures were a challenge but very rewarding. God was revealing my passions through those ventures and I eventually found my true calling: selling real estate. 

At this point in our farming operation, we were running out of water, needed new equipment, more land, and our boys had gone off to college, so our “work force” had left the building. After 3 years of successfully selling real estate, Johnny told me if I acquired my broker’s license, he would get his sales agent license and we would open our own office. I thought he was crazy! But after much prayer, we took the plunge. We sold our farm and equipment, and we opened Street Real Estate in 2005. I think most people thought we had lost our minds, and after the first year, I was kind of thinking the same thing! We went from taking a risk in farming to taking a risk in real estate. 

Taking a risk takes trust and courage. We trusted that God would take care of us. The first year was full of stress, hard work, and lots of prayers. Over the years I have learned a lot of things, but the most important is to trust God. You must be willing to work hard and take a risk. 

God will provide us with what we need so we can do what He calls us to do. 

I have confidence that He has placed me exactly where I need to be. Our business has grown beyond our wildest expectations, and we give God all the glory!

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:17

I have always made it clear that God is my leader. I put a Bible verse on my business cards, on all of our advertising, on my emails, and on our website. It is a great way to open conversation about God and what He has done for me, my family, and my business. It also makes people feel comfortable talking about their faith when they know I will give my support. I’ve learned in the business world not to be afraid to take a risk because fear is not creative. 

As a business owner, it’s my responsibility to create a culture of integrity. All employers and business owners need to remember that your employees and clients are always watching and listening. While integrity is important, we have to keep perspective and remember who we’re really working for. 2 Corinthians 13:8 says, “Don’t try to impress other people – only God!” God has given each of us gifts (1 Corinthians 12:8-11). We need to seek out our God-given gifts, find the gifts of those with whom we work, and create an empowering environment that allows us to use those gifts. 

Here are a few other tips I’ve learned about being a business owner and working with people: 

  • Pray always and about everything.
  • Be who you are and follow your heart.
  • Have a positive attitude – it’s a daily choice. 
  • Quickly recover from set-backs; remember, today I will begin again.
  • Admit when you are wrong. 
  • Don’t ask someone to do something that you are not willing to do yourself. 
  • Choose Joy. Have fun. Learn to walk in the present power of God and enjoy your kingdom of heaven on earth (Habakkuk 3:18). 
  • Be content with what you have. “Stuff” doesn’t satisfy your soul – only Jesus can do that. 
  • Be involved in your church and your community; give back what has been given to you.
  • Love your people. The love of Jesus will show through you and people can see it. Love your clients, employees, vendors, delivery people – show them all Jesus’ love (1 Corinthians 13:13). 
  • Last, but certainly not least, remember to tithe. Johnny & I made a commitment many years ago to tithe. God has been faithful to us and we love to give back to Him; it’s His anyway!

Remember that you are a worthy and strong woman! Be Lydia. Be the Proverbs 31 woman. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your business ways, submit to Him, and He will make your path straight. Lead in your circle of influence and do it well!

We would like to thank Kim Street for writing this post!

Setting Boundaries With Your Time

Editor’s Note: During the month of March, we will be focusing on setting boundaries in different areas of our lives. It’s our prayer that the posts we share this month will inspire you to set healthy boundaries that will help you live the abundant, blessed life that scripture promises, which glorifies the Lord and points those around us to Jesus. 

Time. It seems there is just never enough of it. Not enough hours in the day to do all I need to do, much less all I want to do. But God has been teaching me how to number my days that I might gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12) and to redeem—or make the most of—my time (Ephesians 5:16). He is showing me that my time should be spent on things of eternal significance. What does that mean? For me, it has meant three things.

First, I made a list of priorities, then took that list to God and allowed him to re-prioritize as needed so that he is the one establishing my steps (Proverbs 16:9). Our lists will be different depending on the season we are in, but God desires for all of us to commit each day to the pursuit of honoring and glorifying him. In each moment and season, it is our opportunity and responsibility to show Christ and make him known, but all too often I have allowed opportunities to slip right by because something insignificant was consuming my time. 

Second, I had to set personal boundaries to guard and protect those priorities. Like priorities, personal boundaries are just that—personal. No one but God can truly help you set them, but doing so will be for your good and his glory. The Oxford English Dictionary describes boundaries as “lines that mark the limits of an area, a dividing line.” When it comes to my time, I have learned that I must set dividing lines and limits to keep my heart, soul, and spirit healthy and my life fruitful. Setting boundaries includes learning to say no. As a recovering people-pleaser and yes-girl, saying no has been the hardest part for me. But, as John C. Maxwell said, you must “learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best.

Not too long ago, I found myself once again saying yes to too many good things. Fear of letting others down and, worse yet, fear of what others might think about me if I said no caused me to step out of bounds, which led to bitterness and resentment. God, in his infinite grace, helped me through it all and I actually found joy at the end, but the journey there wasn’t pretty. On another recent occasion, I found myself saying no to a really good thing in order to stay true to my priorities. Great peace washed over me as I said no, but guilt, regret, and envy tried to take over later as I listened to others tell of the time they had.

Saying no is a choice and it is not always easy but God hears and sees.

When the desire of my heart is seeking and honoring him above all else, he rewards me with inner peace and joy that can never be robbed by my negative emotions.

Finally, I had to learn the importance of Sabbath rest. Honoring the Sabbath is the only one of the Ten Commandments we believe is optional. It’s not. God intends for us to set aside time each week to rest and be with him. It’s how he refreshes, renews and sustains us as we pursue all he designed us to accomplish. Sabbath is a gift from God and he expects us to honor it. 

Setting and staying within boundaries takes effort and intentionality. But I have found that when I do, I have more than enough time for all God desires for me to do. The result is a peaceful, joyful, fruitful life that glorifies God!

References:

Cloud, Dr. Henry and Dr. John Townsend. Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take control of Your Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.

Morris, Robert. Take the Day Off: Receiving God’s Gift of Rest. New York: FaithWords, 2019.

We would like to thank Melissa Hooks for writing this post!

Boundaries of the Mind and our Self-Talk

Editor’s Note: During the month of March, we will be focusing on setting boundaries in different areas of our lives. It’s our prayer that the posts we share this month will inspire you to set healthy boundaries that will help you live the abundant, blessed life that scripture promises, which glorifies the Lord and points those around us to Jesus. 

Let me set the stage: I teach 5th grade math. Yes, I know some of you just thought to yourselves, “Oh bless your heart,” but I’ve got a story for you that I pray will bless YOUR heart. 

I had just put a problem up on the board when I heard a collective sigh from my entire class and the moaning and groaning started. “This is too hard,” “I don’t get it,” “I’ll never be able to do this.” I stopped them and motioned to a poster in the back of my class that had been there all year but none of them had read. It said, “Don’t decide you can’t before you discover that you can.” One of my little girls looked at me and said, “Ms. Ludecke, why are you always so positive?” That got me thinking, and honestly, I’m positive because I spent so long allowing myself to be negative.

Self-talk is the inner monologue that directs every moment of every day. If we choose not to set up boundaries over our mind and the self-talk that flows through it, we make ourselves powerless against attack. A boundary is a wall that is built to protect our hearts and minds. Most people see boundaries as only being physical, whether that be in a relationship, a job, or with our time. All of these are important; however, if that is your only focus, it’s like putting a Band-Aid over a gushing wound. 

I recently read a quote that said, “Your brain is a supercomputer and your self-talk is the program it will run.”

The Bible says something similar in Philippians 4:6-7:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything with prayer and petition with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Our minds were created to be the thing by which all of our lives happen. If we allow the thoughts that stem from anxiety, depression, and insecurities to rule our lives, we will become the things that we have told ourselves we are. 

I’m reminded of a time not so long ago (lets be real—4 months to be exact) when I was struggling with a bout of depression. I allowed myself to go “there.” You know, the place in your mind where you wake up in a slump and find that you can’t do anything. I felt like I was failing as a woman and I was failing at my walk with Christ. I felt alone. But God never leaves us there. Sister, if that is you today, you are not alone in your fight! I love that God predicts how we are going to react to suffering before we ever do. He says, “Do not be anxious” because He knows this to be our tendency.

He also knows that the cure for anxiousness is our thankfulness and His peace. These two things together is what forms the ultimate weapon in guarding our minds, but let’s not forget: it takes an active stance to guard. 

So many of us just allow our minds to go unchecked. Another verse says it like this:

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Ladies, this is a fight. Build up your boundary walls because if you don’t, you are giving the enemy free reign to come and destroy. Even worse, he doesn’t have to do a single thing because your self-talk is doing the work for him. 

When I was younger I told myself lie after lie that I wasn’t talented enough, outgoing enough, or spiritual enough to have life-giving friendships. I even ate in the bathroom all throughout high school because I felt inadequate (don’t worry; I don’t do that anymore). God gives us the key to stopping this spiral of negative self talk. He says in Philippians 4:8 to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, whatever is excellent and worthy of praise.” 

So start by taking one negative thought captive and feed your mind the truth of scripture. You don’t have to tackle all of the negativity at once. Just start with one thought, then move on to the next. As this practice becomes a habit, God will completely change the way you think about yourself and give you peace. 

We would like to thank Savanna Ludecke for writing this post!

Beauty Within Marriage

Editor’s Note: During the Month of February 2020, we will be posting blogs about the beauty that God instills in us. I hope these words bring to light what beauty truly means to these women of faith, and that the Lord speaks truth to you about the beauty in your life.

“But let it be [the inner beauty of] the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality and unfading charm of a gentle and peaceful spirit, [one that is calm and self-controlled, not overanxious, but serene and spiritually mature] which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands and adapting themselves to them.”

1 Peter 3:4-5

My husband and I began planning our marriage by discussing our religious backgrounds. We had differing backgrounds and this was a big upset for us until we came to realize that it’s really all about Jesus. Our hearts opened, and I surrendered to this man God sent me. In this moment, religious chains broke we didn’t even know existed. Once surrendered, the Holy Spirit began moving.

At first, I didn’t practice patience well and acted independently. Over time, I learned to communicate instead of rushing my husband into projects. Rushing resulted in aggravation, poor results, and doing things on my own, which led to needing his help anyway. My husband plans carefully and when he’s ready, he’ll let me know. This also applies to requests to God. He works in His time, not ours.

Patience is not easy, yet is a virtue.  

I stay busy and my husband is really good at stopping me to relax with him. It’s hard knowing there is much to be done, but I know these moments spent with him far outweigh my busyness. These are the times we talk about God in depth and our kids’ relationship with God. In these times, great plans and creativity begin. Such is also true with God. We are His hands and feet, yet we must be still and listen. 

“God has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. He has also planted eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God]—yet man cannot find out (comprehend, grasp) what God has done (His overall plan) from the beginning to the end.”

Ecclesiastes 3:11

Trust in God’s love, strength and hope to guide your words, actions and thoughts toward your husband. Submit to God and it will come naturally with your husband. Resistance to submit to your husband is against the Lord’s will. Rise above selfishness and surrender. This will bring peace, joy, and love. Open your heart to God and therefore to your husband. God calls our husband the head of the household. Let God’s everlasting faith, grace, and mercy wash over you.

Be loving, supportive, agreeable, sympathetic, compassionate, humble, and a blessing. Pray and speak life over him.

Respect equals love! 

“A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown.”

Proverbs 12:4

“She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm all the days of her life.”

Proverbs 31:10-12

“She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:  many women do noble things but you surpass them all. Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

Proverbs 31:26-31

Husbands and wives are joined together by the Holy Spirit. A relationship between a husband and wife should mirror your relationship with yourself and God. This is a testimony of His great love. Receive His blessing and care for your husband. This will glorify the Lord. God makes beauty out of our marriages.

We would like to thank Wendy Baker for writing this post!

Sacred Scars

Editor’s Note: During the Month of February 2020, we will be posting blogs about the beauty that God instills in us. I hope these words bring to light what beauty truly means to these women of faith, and that the Lord speaks truth to you about the beauty in your life.

My due date was only 2 days away! The hot July sun had made that ninth month of my first pregnancy miserable in our little farmhouse on the plains of West Texas. Just as my husband and I were eager to bring our baby home, I was also just as eager to drop this baby weight and feel like myself again. I’d married my college sweetheart at age 21, and being a mom had been my life dream, but now at the ripe age of 23, as I looked in the mirror, I hardly recognized the girl staring back at me. I weighed more than I’d weighed in my entire life. Determined to get quickly back into shape, I had accumulated an arsenal of exercise equipment and loaded my VCR with mommy/baby weight-loss videos. I would whip my body back into shape right after I popped this baby out!

The next morning, my heart was racing as we drove the 45 miles to the clinic for a checkup. Little did I know that it wasn’t just the excitement of the long-awaited due date making my heart pound. As the nurse checked my vitals, I sensed her concern. The doctor was summoned, and I began to hear words I’d only read about in my prenatal books…. preeclampsia, fetal stress, toxemia.  

What was happening?

It’s astounding how quickly our priorities can shift.

An amniocentesis to evaluate the baby’s lung maturity was ordered immediately. Painful for me and very risky for a full term baby, we were advised that sudden movement of an arm or leg in the path of the needle could be disastrous. We prayed hard. Magnesium sulfate shots were administered deep in my hip every four hours. They were excruciating but would hopefully prevent the onset of toxemia, liver and kidney failure, and seizures. Hours after inducing, my water broke containing the baby’s meconium. I remember the fetal monitor beeping irregularly as I was rushed directly to the OR for an emergency C-section.    

Our baby boy was born in critical condition. Having ingested meconium into his lungs, the pediatrician was giving him a 50/50 chance. I, too, was struggling for my life. My husband, encircled by our parents, prayed for God to intervene, breathe His breath into our baby boy, and stop the progression of toxicity in my body.  

My 40 year adventure in faith was ushered in by that crisis. For on the heels of our crisis that summer came an amazing miracle of healing. Our God is faithful! That baby boy just celebrated his 40th birthday and has two adorable boys of his own. That life-threatening experience early in our marriage knitted my heart together with my husband in a way that has equipped us for the challenges and blessings of 43 years of marriage. Not only did we bring home a healthy baby boy that August, but I also came home with an unlovely, jagged scar. After recuperating, I actually did some of those exercise videos, but over time my vision of myself  changed resulting in a life giving paradigm shift.

A Solid Truth took hold in my heart and it is this: I hadn’t just experienced a miracle, rather, our loving God had partnered with me in that miracle of birth both physically and spiritually. And just as my scar represented my physical sacrifice to birth my precious baby, Jesus’ scarred hands had birthed me into adoption as a child of God.

My gratitude for a healthy baby made it possible to overcome my former fixation on the flesh and adopt a mindset focused on growing in spirit.

This paradigm shift has impacted my life every day since. When crises come—and through the past 40 years, they have come—I’ve been gifted the faith to reframe them, taking my thoughts captive and declaring God’s opinion over my circumstances.

I Peter 2:21 says “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow in His steps.” Are you bearing a scar in your flesh? Or possibly in your soul? Does it remind you of a past crisis? Does the enemy attempt to use for evil what God means to use for your good?  

God tells us that we are made like Christ through the things we suffer. That’s probably why he tells us in I Peter 4:13, “Rejoice to the extent that you share in Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy!” And always remember, we are not meant to suffer alone. We are to SHARE! Share in suffering.

Can you imagine being so excited by suffering that we actually call up our friends and share because we know God is about to do something amazing?

Friend, hand over your scars today. Try blessing instead of cursing them. Make them an altar where God can be honored and given residence and permission to reign. Then hide in the secret place of His presence and watch the transformation of beauty in your own life take place!

We would like to thank Susan Hurt for writing this blog!

Dishing up Beauty

Editor’s Note: During the Month of February 2020, we will be posting blogs about the beauty that God instills in us. I hope these words bring to light what beauty truly means to these women of faith, and that the Lord speaks truth to you about the beauty in your life.

I enjoy making lasagna. But boy, does all that cheesy goodness stick to our pottery dinner plates! My husband loves peanut butter and honey. He takes a glass bowl, stirs the two together, and then smears the creamy, sweet mixture on top of each bite of a banana.  Again, this sticky substance remains stuck within the bowl, especially if he accidentally allows it to sit in the sink for a length of time without rinsing it off. These are just two examples of how beautiful dishes of glass, ceramic, or porcelain can be made seemingly disgusting and filthy by what is placed IN them, as well as what was allowed to REMAIN in them. If one does not take the extra effort to wash away the leftovers, the beautiful dish quickly becomes contaminated, impure, and unclean. It is quickly rendered unusable.

When my daughter was a pre-teen, I took her to a fancy-schmancy department store that had elaborate crystal and china displays. I had previously been collecting fine bone china luncheon plates of various patterns that appealed to me. This time, I turned to her and said, “Out of all these exquisite china patterns, which plate do you think is most beautiful?” She found this to be a difficult decision at first. They were all lovely in their own way. They all glistened in the well-lit displays. About a month later, I called her into my prayer closet and she sat cross-legged in my lap. I presented her with a beautifully wrapped gift.  You guessed it…it was a single, glistening bone china plate she had finally chosen as the most lovely of them all. I had taken a black sharpie, and on the back I had written:

2 Timothy 2:20-21 TLB “If you stay away from sin you will be like one of these dishes made of purest gold—the very best in the house—so that Christ himself can use you for His highest purposes.”

I must say, I was surprised by her reaction. She said nothing. But then, she burst into tears. She understood completely. An interesting side note, the china pattern she had chosen was a Vera Wang for Wedgewood pattern entitled Imperial Scroll. How appropriate! So befitting for a daughter of the King!

So how do we keep our plate (our heart) clean, presentable, and ready for His use?  Memorize and meditate on Psalm 139:23-24 NLT: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

Next time you wash dishes, ask yourself “Do I sparkle? Am I ready to be used by God?” True beauty comes when a person has spent time with Jesus, soaking in His Word, allowing Him to scrub off the impurities that we may have allowed to “dry” onto our heart. That’s when people sparkle from the inside out! That is what true beauty is to me. 

Proverbs 31:30 TPT “Charm can be misleading, and beauty is vain and so quickly fades, but this virtuous woman lives in the wonder, awe, and fear of the Lord. She will be praised throughout eternity.”

We would like to thank Cristie Harrell for writing this post!

What Is Your Word For 2020?

Have you thought of what your word is for this year? Instead of focusing on resolutions, let’s focus on just ONE word all year long. This past year my one word was “delight,” and here it is the end of the year. According to the dictionary, delight means “please (someone) greatly” or “great pleasure.” A biblical definition is ” joy.” Did I find “joy” this past year?

As I went through the year with this word on my mind scripture made it’s way into my heart. Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3 tells me that God can and will restore me to Him. He loves me that much!

About seventeen years ago, I realized I did not know what the Bible was actually telling me personally. Don’t get me wrong, I had read the Bible, but I cannot say that I studied the Word.  It was hard to apply the scriptures to me personally; I had been a “Christian” since I was a teen but obviously had not taken this book seriously as a pattern for my own life. I knew how to please others, but I did not truly believe the Lord could possibly delight in me. I was in the process of realizing how broken I really was, and my God was ready to open my eyes to the restoration that He had planned for my life.  

One of my favorite verses is Psalms 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Oh the desires I have had, but those are not always the desires of His heart for me. I am learning to listen to His voice as He speaks those truths to my heart.  

As I started to give Him the broken pieces of my life, God began to fill those empty places with himself. He put people in my life that spoke truth and love. I began to believe that I am precious to God. I am reconciled to God, I am blessed, and I am highly esteemed. Have you read the “Who I Am In Christ”?  How powerful that booklet is and has been in my life.

I am thankful I was given the word “delight” in 2019. I will continue to “Delight in the Lord”  and I will listen to the song He is singing over me like Zephaniah said.

I wonder what my word for 2020 will be? I wonder what your word will be for 2020? Let’s move into this new year with our eyes fixed on the Lord and the many blessings He has for our lives.

We would like to thank Sharon Biles for writing this post!

A Baby Changes Everything

Christmastime is my favorite. I love the lights, the food, the spirit of giving, and the togetherness the season brings. One of my most favorite things this time of year is listening to Christmas music. I use “this time of year” very loosely; Addison and I have been listening to Christmas music since…September. Listening to Christmas music really helps me to reflect and prepare my heart for the true meaning of the holiday: Jesus, our Messiah. 

I’ll admit that last Christmas, I was in a bit of a fog, what with a new baby and still trying to learn the whole mom thing. But this year, I’ve been much more intentional and present in enjoying the season and making memories, particularly with Addison. In fact, I was emotional at the Plainview Christmas parade, seeing the joy on that sweet face and the sparkle in those precious eyes. I didn’t expect the tears, but I let them come, and I said a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessing she is to my life. 

I think back to Christmas 2018 or even Christmas 2017, and I’m reminded of the song “A Baby Changes Everything.” My top-half-only decorated tree and my Amazon shopping cart are proof. And you know, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Addison is a gift from God. She’s changed my life in every possible way, but the changes have brought about blessing, growth, and fulfillment. 

I’ve soaked up all the time with Addison I can manage, and this season, my thoughts have gone to Mary, mother of Jesus. She felt the same level of love for her Son as I do for my daughter; yet her baby changed everything—for the world. The significance of her baby’s birth—the birth of Jesus Christ—is for much more than just Christmastime. A friend said something the other day that speaks directly to this: a thousand times in history a baby has become a king to rule a nation; only one time has a king become a baby to save all nations. That’s powerful, friends. 

The power in that truth, in fact, overwhelms me with gratitude for the gift of grace and salvation I could never earn and don’t deserve, but through His Righteousness, can accept and walk in. Philippians 2:8 says, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” He was always God’s plan for our salvation. Plan A. God didn’t need plan B. He didn’t send His Son as a last resort. Jesus and his birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection were always God’s plan for us, His children. 

As I sat listening to my Christmas music playlist a few days ago, I was struck by the fact that as we celebrate the birth of Jesus during this time of year, we should also celebrate the gift of salvation by grace through faith, the tremendous sacrifice of death on the cross, and the triumph and power of a risen Savior. The significance of His birth is much more than Christmas (Romans 1:3-4). Addison has changed my life in ways I never expected, and certainly, Jesus changed Mary’s life, too. But truly, a baby—especially this baby—changed EVERYTHING, and for that, we can only praise the Father and give thanks for His indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15). 

I love this season. I love family traditions. I love Christmas music and lights on the tree. But more than anything, I love the reality of salvation and a new life in Christ the picture of a baby who changed everything brings. 

My whole life has turned around

I was lost but now I’m found 

A baby changes everything. 

Merry CHRISTmas!

We would like to thank Ashley Edlin for writing this post!