Grief and the New Normal

You’ve lost a parent. The funeral services are over and family and friends have returned to their lives and normal activities, and you realize that the normal you once knew no longer exists. You are faced with a new normal, one you didn’t want and didn’t ask for. There are no more Tuesday doctor appointments or Friday lunch dates. You pick up the phone to call your loved one to only realize that no one is there to answer. A hollow emptiness follows and you feel that you are all alone.

Everyone has moved on and seems to wonder why you haven’t, too. They don’t realize their normal still exists so they have the same platform to operate from, where your normal is gone and your very foundation has been shaken. The solid footing you have known your whole life has crumbled and changed.

You have stepped into a new reality with a new foundation of normal. It is similar to the end of other phases in your life. You graduate high school and can never go back to childhood. You get married and no longer identify with the single crowd. You have children and life is forever changed. A big difference between these situations and the one you are facing now is that you looked forward to those changes. You were happy about them, dreamed about them, planned for them. You shared your joy and excitement with your family and friends. But this is something different. The joy and excitement is missing, and you don’t jump in with both feet ready to get this new life started. You stand on the edge of your new normal looking back at what you no longer have, remembering, wanting.

You feel lost and alone. Your emotions are all over the place, and sometimes you question your sanity. “Is this normal? Do other people feel this way?”

You are not alone. It is like an elite club whose membership requirement is to have experienced the loss of a parent and faced the transition into a new normal. We see you and feel your hurt. Even if we know nothing else about you except that you have lost your parent, we feel a bond with you. It is like a secret handshake in the brotherhood. We identify with you.

You may not hear us or see us, but we are thinking of you and praying for you. We think of you in the days and weeks following the services, when all of your family and friends have gone home. We think of you each time we think of our lost loved ones: on holidays; in the grocery store seeing the cherries that Daddy always bought; sitting and watching the grandkids and remembering the patience Mother had, sitting for hours watching us; seeing you praise and worship in church, and knowing that the Lord is meeting you in a special way and touching you deep in your spirit.

I just wanted you to know. You are not alone.

This post was written by Darla Carthel. To read more about her, click here.

Experiencing God’s Love During Singleness

Have you ever paused, reflected on your life and thought “How did I end up here?  This is not where I thought I would be.”  This is the very place I found myself last November, right before the holidays. It was a rough season to get through, but I also look back at that time with such joy and thankfulness.  I was in the beginning stages of learning how to become more intimate with my Lord and Savior.

At the beginning of this journey, Satan often reminded me of my track record. I’d had glorious moments with God since I became a Christian at the age of 13, but I had never been consistent.  But.  God had begun a work in me, and I final started having the faith that He would and could complete it (Philippians 1:6).  I begged God to show me how to have consistency and intimacy with Him.  He didn’t give me answers overnight, but He has taken me on a beautiful adventure that has required time, trust, and willingness.  I want to share with you a few things that I’ve learned so far on this road to being content in my singleness.

God’s love is unfailing, and unconditional. One night, my youngest son was sick, and I was getting some serious baby snuggles as a result.  The weight of how much I love him swept over me.  I touched his soft baby skin and held his tiny finger in adoration when my eyes were opened wide to the love the Father feels for the Son. I am one of His adopted daughters (Galatians 3:26) and He loves me with that love I feel for my children, multiplied by an amount unfathomable.

For the longest time, the way I thought about God’s love was twisted and conditional.  Over time, by meditating on the truth, I have come to realize that I am valuable to Him (Psalm 139:14; Matthew 10:31) and that His love and grace really can transform me into who He created me to be (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:16; 2 Corinthians 3:18).   If you are reading this and doubt in the least bit the love God has for you, ask Him to show you.  He will.

I gain more of God by letting go. Tragically, sin has been blocking intimacy with God since the very first sin recorded in Genesis.  Praise God that 1 John 1:9 states:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Letting go of my past and accepting His forgiveness was a process, but I’m finally starting to see myself the way He sees me, and it’s so freeing!  I am free to be close to Him and have joy.

Spending time with God is the best way to want more of Him and purify our desires in other areas.  Prayer journaling was a great start for me, because I had a hard time focusing on my prayers at first.  I still love to write my prayers, but I also tend to connect faster when I’m looking at His beautiful creation. If you are having a hard time feeling His presence, please try something new….be willing.

Whatever season God personally has you in today my friend, my prayer for you is that He will bless you with more of Himself.

This post was written by Korey Coffman. To read more about her, click here.

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The Words You’re Probably Avoiding

Finances. Budgets. Bills. These are words most couples dread, right?

This topic has been on my heart, so I wanted to share a few principals we follow that I believe bring peace to this area in our finances.

  1. Tithe/Give. If you’re on the fence about tithing, I can promise you it’s worth it to be obedient to the Lord. When we follow His word and do as He asks, abundant blessing follows. Our first couple years of marriage, our combined income was below the poverty level, and yet, we followed this principal of giving 10% of our income to the Lord—and we never went without. God has always provided everything we need.

We’ve always had the mindset that everything we own is God’s, and from the very beginning, we’d ask him, what do you want us to do with your money? My dad used to tell me, even as a young girl, “You can’t out-give God.” How incredibly true! From the beginning of our marriage, we not only tithed, but we prayerfully considered giving to specific ministries every month. At first, we couldn’t give much, but as we were diligent to give away the little that we had, God quickly and immeasurably provided a blessing in return. With every raise we’ve ever had, our question has always been—Okay, God? How much and where to?

  1. Save. We saved enough for a down payment to buy a house within one year of being married on an income that certainly felt teeny-tiny. Want to know how? We save 10% of our income each month. 10%–that’s all. Give 10, Save 10.

We’ve been supernaturally rewarded by being stewards of our money in this way. We’ve been married 9 years, and we’ve paid off roughly $90,000 in debt. Today our only debt is our house, which will be paid for in 13 years or less. I don’t say that to brag—in fact, I was humbled when I started totaling it all up in preparation for this post. But because I know it’s possible to tackle what might even feel impossible, I want to encourage you: it can be done!

  1. Mutually submit. We get paid twice a month, and we immediately tithe and save 10%. We do it on the gross income (though we don’t think there’s anything wrong doing it the other way), so we’re a little more stretched. What’s left after that is the money we live on and the money we give away.

So what do I mean by mutually submit? Every couple has a spender and saver—and sometimes to more or less varying degrees. Whether you’re one or the other, remember that every financial choice you make affects your spouse. You’re communicating love and respect by how you spend your money (or by what you withhold in spending).

If your spouse has asked you not to purchase something or to be conscious of the “leftover” money this month, then honoring that amount is the way you honor him or her.

And I believe the Lord blesses us, not only when we honor each other with our spending but when we honor Him with our money as well.

I know money isn’t everyone’s favorite subject, but I hope you’ll be encouraged this week. If your bills feel too high, if your savings feels too low—begin to ask the Lord how He wants you to steward your money (and then be obedient! 🙂 ).

His word is true. Psalm 23 begins,

The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not lack.

Believe that, my friends. He will always provide for you!

This post was written by Laura Brandenburg. To read more about her, click here

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Lessons that Came from Pain

In the summer of 2015, Eloise was bit by a rattlesnake.  It is only by the healing hand of God that she is still alive today.  We are grateful for her testimony and we pray it speaks to your heart.

I was walking on the freshly mowed grass on a warm summer evening when the fiery pain shot through my foot. I knew I had been bitten by something. Afraid to look down, I screamed as Emily turned to see a rattlesnake clutching my ankle and refusing to let go. The seconds felt like an eternity as I kept my eyes forward, refusing to face the reality of the moment, until finally, the serpent released its fangs and cowardly slithered under the fence.

LESSON 1: YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN THE SERPENT WILL STRIKE.

A few days before the snake bite, Miles and I took a marriage retreat. We spent time praying, talking, and having fun together. God gave us specific visions for every area of our lives. We anticipated seeing God’s plan transpire. We also worked on our bucket lists. “Miles, #15 on my list is going to be: witness a physical healing. How awesome that would be!”

LESSON 2: GOD ANSWERS PRAYERS. IT MAY NOT BE THE WAY YOU THOUGHT HE WOULD. 

Just days later, I found myself in the ER, taking injections of anti-venom. Compartment Syndrome in my leg was a probability, and the swelling continued to creep up my body. Once out of the woods for surgery, the condition of my blood was the next concern. Toxins were throwing my blood into complete chaos. Venomous snakes do not tend to hold on to their prey. In my case, the snake held on, releasing every bit of toxic venom it had. Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC Syndrome) was the diagnosis. DIC can lead to multi-organ failure, widespread bleeding, and even cause death if not treated correctly.

In this situation, I had absolutely no control. I began to see things from a new perspective when I accepted God’s sovereignty. My situation did not change, but my mindset did. Trusting God took the focus off myself and put it on my Savior. “God, where are You in this?” changed to “I cannot do this by myself. I cast my cares on You.” [1 Peter 5:7]

LESSON 3: I DO NOT HAVE CONTROL. CAST MY CARES UNTO THE LORD.

I learned to praise God in the miracles along the way. On the terrifying days, I cried out, “Jesus hold me!”, and He was faithful to do so. Rollercoaster, yes. Constant God, Yes.

Fifteen days in the hospital and 34 vials of anti-venom later, I was released to go home and begin the process of recovery. “Miles, you should be planning Eloise’s funeral,” explained Dr. Sharp. What a miracle! I had witnessed a physical healing.

LESSON 4: DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF PRAYER AND THE BODY OF CHRIST.

With a room filled with flowers, Scripture, and food, how can you not experience the Presence of God? The Church is the avenue for God’s love to be expressed. I experienced love mainly through intercessory prayer. Intercessors are people who can carry us to the throne of God when we are unable to get there by ourselves. Jesus intercedes for us [Romans 8:34], and we intercede for each other. I was anointed with oil and prayed over by complete strangers. I could not have come out on the other side without the Body of Christ.

The truth hurts, but it will set you free!

LESSON 5: PAIN IS NOT WITHOUT PURPOSE.

That is the promise of Romans 8:28. God did not make this happen to hurt me, but He used it to build me. God turns misery into ministry. God promised this in the beginning,

Then the Lord God said to the snake, ‘You will be punished for this…You will crawl on your belly and eat dust as long as you live. I will make you and the woman hate each other…Her offspring will crush your head and you will strike her offspring’s heel.’

[Genesis 3:14-15, GNB]

This was a foreshadowing of the Gospel. Jesus’ death on the cross was the strike of the serpent. But the resurrection was Jesus crushing his head, leaving the serpent in defeat. Psalm 91:13 says “You will crush under your feet the lion and the snake.” Yes, Lord, I will!

There were many more lessons learned from my experience two years ago. My human mind cannot conceive a God that is so powerful, loving, and good, but my heart accepts it without reservation.

This post was written by Eloise Bell. To read more about her, click here.

The True Caregiver

I’ve always been a person to take on responsibility for things, even when they weren’t mine to carry.  In fact, I was so bad that when things went wrong I would take the blame and then murmur and complain to the Lord!  The reason I say that is because it carried on into my family after I got married.  This festered in my life for years.

Then, in 1990, at 39 years of age, I found out I was pregnant.  When Sarah was born we soon found out that she had physical obstacles.  Who do you blame?  Well, of course, you blame yourself.  That’s when I began the “blame game.” It’s all my fault, I was too old, blah, blah, blah!  In that place, I forgot to seek the Lord.  I forgot to listen to Him.  On the outside I looked like the godly wife and mother who cared for her family, but in reality I was caring only for myself.  Everything I did, I did for recognition or praise.  It was all centered on me.

In that place, though, I cried out to the Lord and He heard me!  In that place, I truly began to see that I wasn’t alone; the Lord had not forsaken me.  He was there all the time, shining His precious light on areas that I had taken over.

When I realized that I wasn’t in control and began getting my directions for the day from the Lord, my life radically changed.  1 Peter 5:7:

…casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.  Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.  After you have suffered for a little while the God of all grace…will Himself, perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.

It doesn’t matter if you are a caregiver for a husband, child or parent, you must be in Him.  Everything you do must be as unto Him! When I truly received this truth, my life and family was totally restored. Now I can’t imagine my life without my daughter.  She has brought so much joy to our lives.

Have I had opportunities to choose my way or God’s way? You bet! I have learned, though, when I go my way it brings exhaustion, frustration, and confusion.  Not a good place to be!  I then take a deep breath and I think on Jesus.  Philippians 4:6 tells me to be anxious for nothing. And in verse 8 –

Whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute…if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Jesus is the true caregiver!

This post was written by Beverly Sharp. 

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Raising Warriors

The ranch. It’s a place I have always been able to find the desires and longings of my soul. Over the years that I have known my husband and been taking trips to the ranch, every trip helps me to see the beauty, romance, and adventure that my soul craves.

That is, until I became a mother.

Then it started to become a hassle. An undertaking if you will. All the gear, all the stuff to take “just in case,” all the fear. I will be three hours from anything if something happens. Taking kids to the ranch just isn’t the same as taking only myself.

And so, the ranch began to lose its magic, just as I think we let motherhood lose its magic. We let motherhood lose its power. We as mothers have such an intrinsic need to care for our children, to meet their needs, that we forget what a precious gift we have been given. We forget the power and the purpose with which our feet have been set on this path.

God didn’t make us mothers so that we could aim to keep our house clean, make the perfect meal seven nights a week (in addition to cute breakfasts and perfectly packed lunches), and present perfectly behaved miniature adults to the world on a daily basis. God didn’t give us children so that we could create picturesque monthly photos of our babies for social media, and make Pinterest-worthy projects and nurseries. None of these are bad things, it’s just that we are called to so much more.

God gave us our children to foster the next generation of hearts for His kingdom. He gives us our children so that we can teach them to love, to live from their hearts, and to learn to trust in Him. God gives us our children—entrusts them to us—so that the next generation of warriors are raised with the Word of God implanted into their hearts and a fresh fire and passion for Christ on their lips.

This last trip to the ranch showed me that in the craziness of life, I have missed it. I have been given the opportunity to live a wild adventure every day. And not to go alone, but to take my children with me. I have been given the chance to show my kids beauty all around us, every day. I’ve been given the gift of teaching my kids the greatest romance of all time—the romancing of their souls by Christ our Savior.

Motherhood is not just a list of tasks to be performed every day, or a checklist of thing to do in order to be a good mom. It’s an invitation to participate in the greatest, most rewarding adventure of all time: the adventure of training warriors for the kingdom of God. Motherhood is a chance to change the world beyond ourselves, to have a lasting impact on the world we will someday leave behind.

I sure don’t want to miss this opportunity because I was too busy looking at the pile of laundry at my feet. Do you?

This post was written by Brooke Kellum. To read more about her, click here. 

Seeing the Goodness of God in Marriage

David and I have been married for almost 31 years…that’s a lot of territory to cover!!  The word God told me to share about our marriage is “testimony.” Revelation 12:11:

And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.

Here’s a little bit about our story and the AMAZING goodness of our Daddy!

David and I started out kinda rough.  I found out I was pregnant with Britni at the beginning of my junior year in high school.  We got married that October; I was 16 and David was almost 19.  Going to high school pregnant is NOT fun or easy. David was starting college, while learning to provide for a new wife and baby, so this was also challenging.  We both came into marriage carrying big suitcases of baggage.  I’d been molested for several years as a kid and, while my family was amazing in many ways, there was some unhealthy thinking about life and about God.  David’s parents got divorced, his church split, and when he moved to Texas at 17, he was rebellious, hurt, angry and jaded.  We were two scared, hurting kids trying to figure out how to navigate marriage, parenthood, finances, etc.  So many people told us we would never make it, and there were times WE wondered if we’d make it! Most of the couples around us DIDN’T.

Fast forward to 30 years later.  The GOODNESS OF GOD!!  David and I aren’t just still together, we’re incredibly happy!  We’re pursuing God and what He has for us.  Our lives are so much MORE and BIGGER than we’d ever dreamed was possible.  David never did finish college; it was just too hard on our marriage in that season.  But we’ve been blessed way beyond what we could have ever hoped to imagine financially. And we have amazing kids who are in love with God and pursuing Him!

Here are a few things he’s taught us over the years:

  • Pursue each other. Every year for our anniversary since our 5th, we’ve taken a trip (just the two of us) to invest in our relationship.  Some years we had no money and our trip was two days spent in an Amarillo hotel.  This year it’s two weeks in Hawaii! Make your marriage a priority!  I’ve had people tell me they can’t afford to do that, but they have funds for new cars, going out to eat, toys, hunting, friend trips, etc.  You invest in what you value. Choose wisely!
  • Pursue peace. David is not the enemy.  There is an enemy who wants to steal, kill and destroy, but David is not it.  When we fight, I ask God to change our hearts—to help us line up with heaven and see each other, ourselves, and the situation the way HE sees them.  He’s ALWAYS faithful in that! (James 1:5 says if you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you)
  • Pursue God and allow Him to heal the places that need healing! He’s a healer and a redeemer. He loves you more than you know.  Loving and speaking truth over myself allows me to love others.  If you wouldn’t speak something over someone else, don’t speak it over yourself.

Blessings and abundance over you guys!!

This post was written by Sheila McCay. To read more about her, click here.

Your Home, Your People

I love beauty. I love that God is the ultimate creator and source of beauty. And I love the fact that because we are made in His image, we are, by nature, also creators of beauty.

I also love all things “home.” It’s my very favorite place to be. I could spend hours just looking through picture-perfect homes in magazines. But what the magazines don’t share is that God has given each of us an incredible opportunity to express his rich beauty, love, and hospitality through our homes in a way that’s completely unique to how he has created us and the home that he has given us to share.

In the last 6 years, my husband and I have lived in a tiny university-owned apartment, a sweet, small rent house, and our very own home. Through each of our homes, I’ve gathered some practical ideas for creating a beautiful and welcoming environment (that probably won’t be featured in the next home and garden magazine article).

Decorate with what you like. Instead of trying to fit everything into one particular style, choose pieces that you love and that fit your lifestyle. You might find that, like me, you’re somewhat eclectic. Your home doesn’t have to fit into a box, so don’t try to force it. Our homes should be an expression of who we are and our love for the people in our sphere.

Embrace the process of making a home. Unless you have a huge budget (and probably not even then), a home that fits you and your family doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process—a living, breathing, expression that is built over time. When I try to make everything look designer-put-together and finished all at once, I always end up not completely loving it. Let your home breathe a little. Let it become, over time, a place of retreat for anyone who enters your door.

Display your fondest memories. These probably won’t ever be magazine-worthy. They’re amateur pictures from your favorite vacation. Pictures your babies drew for you as a way to show they love you. Papers and sticky notes filled with scripture that some of your sweetest friends posted all over your house while you were gone for weeks in the hospital with your husband. These things make a home.

Prepare your home for guests. Pick up around the house. Put on some worship music. Brew a pot of coffee. Light a candle. Pray for the people that you will be welcoming into your home. Invite the Holy Spirit to minister to them in your house.

Focus on people. It’s easy to get caught up in whether the house looks perfect enough, or whether everything is done before guests arrive. But your people are much more important than any unfinished task. Don’t feel pressure to point out or apologize for every little thing that you think is wrong or unfinished about your home. They won’t care. They probably won’t even notice. Pay attention to the people in your house more than the tasks or things. It’s such a sweet opportunity to love on them that you don’t want to miss.

Like the author Myquillyn Smith shares in one of my very favorite books, The Nesting Place,

It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

This post was written by Catherine Dunn. To read more about her, click here. 

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How to Be the Hands and Feet of Jesus

In August 2013 I was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.  Yes, those were the words the doctor used in the measured, clinical tone some doctors use in delivering bad news.  Those words, in addition to “It’s not good, Monica,” and “A few people make it to five years.”  I will be honest, I have experienced the goodness of God and I know the One who numbers my days, but this news of metastatic breast cancer was devastating.  My husband and I have four kiddos and at the time they were 6, 4, and 3 years old, and our baby was 7 months old.  My mother’s heart grieved, and I simply could not imagine not raising them.

So, my family started down a path that we continue to walk today, and many in the body of Christ bravely chose to walk with us.  The Bible says that we are to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), which, if we are honest, can be overwhelming.  However, in God’s incredible grace, He surrounded us with people who were willing, by the power of His Spirit, to do the hard thing and bear this burden of cancer with us.  How sweet our co-laborers have been.

First, people prayed.  A woman I had never met came up to me almost a year after my diagnosis and said, “I have been wanting to meet you.  I pray for you twice a day, that you will dance at your grandchildren’s weddings.”  I receive that!  She continues to pray for me, twice a day.  When we do not know how to come alongside someone in their suffering we can always, always pray.  I have friends who have called and prayed with me over the phone, laid hands on me in my sister’s living room, texted prayers, and I could go on and on.  God has heard.

People gave.  They gave of their time.  My mom and dad still come almost every three weeks when I have treatments.  It is a sacrifice of their time and their resources, but they continue to bear that burden with us.  People gave and continue to give physical gifts:  money to help with medical expenses, gifts to encourage my heart and my kids’ hearts, breast milk to feed my baby while I was receiving chemotherapy, and countless meals and gift cards, to help ease the tasks of everyday life in the midst of initial and continued treatment.  God has faithfully met each and every need.

People believed.  What balm to my soul to see faith personified in the body of Christ. Just last week, a friend sent me the following scripture: “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim Your might to another generation, Your power to all those to come” (Psalm 71:18).  She is believing with me—especially in those moments of darkness when I do not believe myself—and for me: that in my old age, I will be proclaiming the name of Jesus to another generation.  May it be so.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ 

Monica Patrick has loved Jesus for as long as she can remember.  She is a stay-at-home wife and mother in Fort Worth, TX.  She and her husband Charles are about to celebrate 11 years of marriage and have four children, Susanna, 10, Josiah, 8, Nathaniel, 6, and Seth, 4.  She homeschools their children and together she and Charles serve as the 4th grade Sunday School teachers at their church.  She is a gatherer and enjoys bringing women together to talk about Jesus and His faithfulness in marriage, parenting, friendship and life.  She dreams of one day traveling the country with her family in a motorhome.

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Mom Guilt…

Teething. Sickness. Growing pains. Sleep regression. TWONAGERS…. (I wish I could use the big-eyed emoji right about now) You guys know what I’m talking about!

You’ve had a long day of trying to keep your patience, your child chose not to eat anything at dinner; it’s time for bed and he says, “I’m hungry.” UGHHHH!!!! You get him something to eat, then something to drink, then re-brush his teeth, finally get him to bed, and sit down with a big sigh…FINALLY I can rest!!

Hop on some sort of social media, and the first thing you see is some motherhood quote about being patient because they grow up so fast (or something like that). And BAM, mom guilt strikes again! The devil creeps in through that one post and whispers in your ear, you weren’t good enough today.

Y’all, this is 100% true! Since becoming a mom I have figured out that if I’m not proactive when those words are whispered in my ear, then they don’t stop. If I don’t speak life into myself, I can’t speak life into others, including my child! The devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy and the first thing he is after is your happiness.

Before I was aware of what was going on, I would spiral into this negative way of thinking, and attack my every move. “Not good enough” became: not patient enough, not healthy enough, not loving enough, not enoughbut is that what our Father in Heaven says about us? NO WAY!!! He says,

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

2 Corinthians 12:9

He made you the perfect mom for your children. Your kids don’t need Daniel Tiger’s mom—they need you!!

They need the mom who is able to speak life into them, because she speaks life over herself. The mom who spends time with the Lord because she makes the time to do it. The mom who is confident in who she is, because you are His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10).

So next time the devil whispers in your ear, remember that you are enough, and tell him to shut it!

This post was written by Dana Kimmell. To read more about her, click here