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!

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!

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!

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!