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.

I Belong

I Belong

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!

One summer during a Fourth of July weekend, I was invited to a cookout where I watched fireworks with a group of friends. Music was blaring, kids were splashing down the water slide, and of course there was good food. I was able to hang out and visit with my friends, laughing and enjoying their company. For one of the first times in my life, I knew that I belonged. I was not an outsider. I was wanted and welcomed. 

I didn’t put words to it until the next morning in my journal, but as I sat there with my friends, another thought came up. I don’t feel like I have anything of real value to offer. I mean, I think I’m a good friend; at least I’m trying to be. But what do I really bring to the table as a person? Just sitting there being me? I’m not criticizing myself, and I don’t have low self-esteem. I just felt like I came to the table empty-handed. If I’m not doing something to help or serve in some way—if I’m just sitting there “being with” my friends—what do I bring to the table?  

Many of us have believed these lies (or something similar) about ourselves:

“I am alone.”

“I am the outsider looking in.”

“I am not invited.”

I have struggled with these lies as well. And to tell you the truth, I still struggle with them. I often wondered if I should write about it, because I’m still learning to receive my invitation from God: You are invited. Your presence matters. Take a seat at the table. Only after we have received this truth can we turn around and make room for others at the table. 

Here’s the catch: These lies are not my friends. Until you and I realize this, we will keep holding onto them as truth. But they are not true. And they will only hurt us further. 

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, an author and internal medicine doctor, writes that because of a troubled childhood, she did not trust God. Even after she became a doctor, she had no relationship with God until later. She writes, “My spiritual journey was never about finding God. My journey has always been about finding home—a place of rest.”

No matter who we are or where we’ve come from, don’t we all long for home, a place of belonging? C.S. Lewis writes: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” This world is not our permanent home. And yet we are called to make home for ourselves in this world. We know it’s temporary, but God has still called us to create spaces for His heaven to meet the earth. We get to make room for God’s kingdom and beauty and creativity here. This includes intentionally building healthy relationships within the family of God. 

Author Emily P. Freeman writes, “When Jesus walked the dusty roads of earth, many followed Him, but then changed their minds. He was too much for some and not enough for others. He turned to His friends, the disciples, and asked if they wanted to go away, too. As we continue to learn what it truly means to be home, may we say, along with Peter, ‘Lord, where else would we go?’”

After Jesus in His physical form went to heaven, He came in spiritual form to live inside of us—not in a physical body, but as the Holy Spirit. He says it right there in John 14: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth…No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you…All who love Me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them” (John 14:16-18, 23, NLT).

I love this: The God of the universe came to the earth so that He could make His home with each of us. We are never alone. As a result, we can then make the conscious decision to build relationships within the family of God–His Body, His Church. 

We have to remind (even sometimes “coach”) ourselves who God says we are. Speak God’s truth and your feelings will follow. Sometimes this looks like asking to be part of a group (instead of wishing someone would ask you). Sometimes it looks like saying yes when you’re invited to go somewhere with someone. Stop telling yourself you’re not wanted. That lie is broken off! It’s gone now. As you step into your place in God’s family, live out the truth and claim it with confidence: I belong here, I have a place, I am valued, my showing up matters, my presence is a gift to these friends. Sometimes we have to take action and step into places that reflect the truth. People won’t always think to invite us. But if we already know God has invited us, we can join in with confidence. 

We would like to thank Heather Dillard 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!