Grief and the New Normal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experiencing God’s Love During Singleness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Surviving the Holidays with Family

family-holidays“Surviving” and “Holidays” seem like two words that do not belong together; however, the reality is that the holidays can be a very difficult time for a plethora of reasons. The holidays can be a not-so-gentle reminder of past hurts involving family members, an opportunity to grieve those that are no longer with us, and a platform to build up more resentment in struggling familial relationships. This season also lends itself to helping us lose focus on the most important parts of Thanksgiving and Christmas: We become inundated with school plays, holiday parties, and shopping. We are both so eager for the holidays to arrive and eager for them to be over.

I want to challenge each of us to approach this holiday season differently. I am such a visual and kinesthetic person. In an effort to shift my thinking and also the lenses through which I am viewing people, I often picture the following scenario: I picture different pairs of glasses. There are clear ones that are my correct prescription, sunglasses with orange tinted lenses, glasses with weird shapes in the lenses, and a pair with lenses that distort objects.

The reality is that the truth of what I am viewing doesn’t change when I use different lenses. Instead, it is my perspective that changes.

As I approach the holiday season, I am asking the Lord to provide me his lenses through which I can view his people. Using his lenses allows me to love those individuals that are difficult to be with during the holidays. His lenses also allow me to identify hurting people during this season and position myself to love and encourage them. I am so thankful that, this holiday season, we can be a church that chooses our lenses intentionally so that we can participate in what the Lord is doing in the most incredible of ways.

We have the ability to shift our thinking from a mode of “survival” to a position of opportunity this holiday season. I am excited and eager to see what the Lord reveals to me as I ask for his lenses.

This post was written by Lindsey Wesley. To read more about her, click here. 

Preparing for the Holidays

family-picThe leaves are changing, the air is turning cooler, and the expectancy of the holiday season is upon us!  My heart leaps when I think about the holidays!  I still feel the same expectancy that I did when I was a child, eager for Christmas morning!

However, I have found myself a little anxious about the holidays this year because of the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, finding the right presents, scheduling family events, and already feeling behind in my normal holiday routine.

Recently, the Lord has been impressing on my heart a few things that have brought me a lot of peace and joy.  Instead of the focus and attention being on what gift we are going to receive, the perfect gift we are going to buy, the menu for Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner, the schedule of who goes where, when, the endless parties to attend, and let’s not forget about teacher gifts…let’s look for the “new” in our traditions and the people we enjoy!

Many of us have the same traditions year after year.  Looking back, as a child, some of the happiest memories I had were during this time of year.  Instead of taking for granted the “process” and people we love this year, how about we notice and really “see” them? Look for the amazing qualities that we may have missed over the past year (or years).  Let’s live our traditions out this year like it could be our last, really taking the time to enjoy the moments we get to spend with family and friends.

The years go by fast, and time is fleeting before us. Our children are getting older, our parents are getting older…our “normal” becomes just memories!

I don’t want to miss a thing this year!  I don’t want to take one thing for granted.  I want to go to every event with expectation in my heart for something new!  I want to buy something for someone that brings meaning to their life.

The Lord has brought forth blessings overflowing in my life.  This holiday season, I want to be grateful for every person, every gift, every smile, every endless side dish full of carbs, every Walmart line, every pile of leaves in my backyard, every cup of coffee filled with holiday creamer, and most of all Christ’s love and sacrifice for me!

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Colossians 2:6-7

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17

This post was written by Amy Meek. To read more about her, click here. 

Surviving the Summer Days

summerOh Summer, how I love you!!!

This is truly my favorite of all seasons…my kids are home almost everyday, it’s warm, full of fun, a wealth of sunshine, plenty of time with family and friends, s’mores (got to have them), an abundance of snuggles and lots of swimming (my family’s favorite).

God has really been working on my heart and showing me how easy it is to get caught up in thinking we have to work to make summer out to be something extraordinary for our kids. We tend to get caught up in thinking our kiddos are missing out if they aren’t visiting Mickey Mouse or zip-lining through a rainforest. In doing that, we get wrapped up so much in trying to make summer perfect that we lose sight of what’s most important–the everyday. 

I don’t know about you, but there is nothing perfect about life!! It’s a mess!! There is baseball schedules, junior high daughter things (need I say more?), unexpected medical bills, trying relationships, toddler silliness, plumbing mishaps…the list goes on and on and there is much work involved in that.

With that all being said, I LOVE imperfect!!! It allows us to slow down and enjoy the little things. It allows time to teach our children how to work through circumstance. It allows us to remove ourselves and remember that life isn’t a snapshot; one day we will see the bigger picture. It allows us time to grow!! It allows time for us to see that Mickey Mouse and the rainforest aren’t that big of a deal after all!!

I know for my family the small and unplanned getaways are the most memorable, most vulnerable, most appreciated times together as family. I challenge you this summer to change your way of thinking along with me and see how our mighty Father works in your family’s heart through it!! I pray this summer is the best one yet with lots of love, growth, patience, relaxing and many unforgettable times!! Let’s not just survive this summer…lets THRIVE!!!

Romans 12:2 (GNT):

Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.

This post was written by Kisa Luther. 


vacationSummers were made for vacation, right?

Jodi Leigh shared great tips for traveling, especially with littles. Being prepared—mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually—is certainly key.

If you’re thinking: “We can’t travel anywhere! We don’t have any money! There’s no time!” my answer to you is this: Make it a priority; it’s worth it!

Vacations offer us a new perspective, rest for our soul, and the opportunity to make memories with our loved ones.

I don’t know why we have to leave town to get that kind of transformation, but we just do.

If you don’t think you have money to spend on vacation, consider this, you’re likely paying for a data plan on a smart phone, a Netflix account and internet, or a cable account—or some combination of all the above.

I’m not suggesting you cancel your cable and take a trip, but we pay for whatever we prioritize.

Howell and I didn’t have a lot of “extra” in our finances during our first few years of marriage, but we were raised in households that vacationed at least once a year. It didn’t have to be anywhere fancy—but getting out of town was a common practice we wanted to continue.

There are plenty of opportunities for vacationing that won’t break the bank:

  • Go somewhere close
  • Stay at hotels or motels that include breakfast
  • Pack lunches
  • Choose cheap entertainment opportunities

The biggest advice I would offer is to plan and save. Sometimes we have a place picked out where we know we want to go, and sometimes we just start to save—putting a few hundred dollars back each month. When we have X amount, we start “shopping” around: Where can we go that includes hotel, gas or flights, meals, etc. for this amount?

We’ve traveled to many great places (London, San Diego, Colorado, the Caribbean—and all over Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, of course!), but the trip with some of our best memories may very well be one of our cheapest vacations.

We went to Fort Davis in our first or second year of marriage. We drove about six hours in the car, so gas was fairly minimal, and we stayed somewhere cheap (but nice enough to include breakfast 🙂 ). Our entertainment included a lot of free things—touring Fort Davis, hiking outside of Fort Davis, hiking Enchanted Rock, and walking around the shops in town.

We have several funny (and some embarrassing) memories from that trip, and I bet the whole weekend didn’t cost more than $300.

If you plan well and manage expectations (as Jodi suggested), then vacations give us a wonderful opportunity to let go of stress, forget about work and the laundry, and make memories with our family.

Your kids may or may not remember the $100 you spend on their shoes or jeans, but they will remember that time you went to Six Flags and ate turkey legs together.

Yes, it’s an investment. Yes, it’s time away from work and other responsibilities (and may require that you delegate). But it’s worth it!

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

Embracing Summer

bubblesWhen I think about summertime with my children, I kind of imagine a scenic picture of a mom in a precious sundress bouncing down the sidewalk with her children who seem to be smiling ear to ear with a little bit of “What a Wonderful World” playing in the background. However…Yes, I said it. However, this is so not what my life looks like most of the time in the summer. Far too often I look up and it is 11 a.m., I am still in my yoga pants and t-shirt, re-heating my coffee and trying to keep up with the wild circus that is taking place in my home.

Summertime can be overwhelming, and last year I really had to begin praying through how to embrace summer, and I feel like the Lord laid several things on my heart.

1. Work hard/Play hard: I am raising girls to be women—and you may be raising boys to be men- so we work. So we start our day with breakfast and chores. Every morning they are to put away their laundry, hang up their clothes, and help mama unload the dishwasher. I know what you’re thinking—fun summer, mama! However—fun really isn’t ever really fun until you know what work is. Spontaneity cannot exist without structure, so set a schedule and create some responsibilities for your children, because they will be more excited than you can imagine on the random day you throw that schedule out!

2. Partner up: Take the time and initiative needed to get together with your girlfriends. Let others know what you’re doing with your children and do them together. Our children need to see what friendship, and living with one another looks like.

3. Get involved in the community: I feel like sometimes summer throws our budget straight out of the window. I love to take my children out and do things with them—but that can often be expensive. Use your resources. The library is free and has many events for you and your children such as magic shows, petting zoos, or kick off summer parties—there are SO many options in your local community that are cost effective. Do your research and get out into the community!

4. Get outside: I cannot stress this enough. Get. Outside. Go on a nature walk or an adventure! Just this last week we saw a duck that made a nest in our neighbors’ bushes with 4 eggs. The eggs had hatched but left behind their shells as treasures. Engage their imagination and get them some vitamin D as you get outside. Plus side: we always do this right after our chores and my house stays cleaner a little longer!

5. Be Present: No matter what it is you do with your children this summer, be present. You only have 18 summers with them. That’s it! Use your time wisely and be right there in the moment with them. Take their hand as you adventure through summer together!

This post was written by Maggie Riley. 

4 Must-Have Family Travel Tips

family vacation kidsSummer is upon us and family travel is eminent. I love THE IDEA of getting out of town for a bit. However, THE REALITY of leaving with the entire family can be exhausting. If your family is anything like ours, the concept of vacationing goes like this: You actually factor in some extra time to leave, then turn around and go back to the house to get the one thing you stayed up all night telling yourself to not forget!

Vacationing used to be a breeding ground for tiffs and tough times. I have a friend who says taking a family vacation is just a way to go fight in a different place.

My husband Jodie and I have learned a few things that help us travel in “peace” with our kids. Maybe they’ll be helpful to you, too.

1. Manage expectations. Talk OUT LOUD with your spouse regarding what would make your trip great and also what would create anxiety. If you understand what would make each person’s dream come true or what they’re worried about, then you can take that into consideration. Take action steps to make that person’s dream come true while being considerate and helping ease anxiety. When we go see my parents, Jodie loves to go to a restaurant in Strawn, Texas, called Mary’s. He can put up with a lot of other randomness on our trip if he knows that an ungodly-sized chicken-fried steak is in the forecast. Usually we each only get one dream granted per trip. Deal with it

2. Get organized. Trying to do everything needed to get gone the day we’re leaving on a trip is a sure-fire way to put me in my pain cycle. One of the kindest things I can do for myself is handle laundry, packing suitcases and servicing the car 1-2 days in advance. If we’re feeling super motivated, then we pack everything in the car the night before we leave.

3. Set realistic travel plans. When we’re traveling with kids, we understand we’ll have to stop. A lot. Or we can force it and deal with explosions of emotion 10 miles from our destination. Do whatever you want, but setting up children and grownups for meltdowns just doesn’t sound like a nice, relaxing atmosphere.

4. My heart is my responsibility. If I find myself heading down a bad path emotionally, I need to be the grown up and figure out what’s going on and make a choice to get back on a better path. Early on in our marriage I vented all my frustration on my husband when we’d leave town. After a while we figured out that I needed to eat an apple for the first 10 miles of the trip. I know it’s silly, but it helped give me time to cool off and get some perspective.

Do what you need to do to take care of yourself. You being yourself is the best start to making your trip awesome!

This post was written by Jodi LaFrance. To read more about her, click here. 

7 Must Wins: Overcoming the Fear of Lack

7 must winsThis week is our final installment of the Must-Win series. If you missed any previous posts, you can start with Part 1 here.
As a reminder during this Christmas season: Jesus came so that you do not have to live in the fear of lack, but out of the abundant life that He gives! 

Overcoming the fear of lack changed my life.

The fear of lack led me to some ugly places. It motivated me to do things of which I am not proud. It made me feel like I was in a constant state of not having enough and not being enough. You know:

Not smart enough.
Not quiet enough.
Not rich enough.
Not skilled enough as a wife/mother/friend.
Not pretty enough.
Not organized enough.
Not serving enough.

It manufactures lies and pain. The lies sound something like my own accent whispering, “Why don’t you try harder? After all God has done for you how can you be so ungrateful? You are a disappointment.”

The fear of lack waits until I am about to accomplish a goal and then it moves the goal line just a little further out of reach.

God says otherwise.

He says I am complete, whole and lacking nothing. Because I performed well enough? No. Because Jesus Christ went the distance. Through His life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension, He exchanged His righteousness and integrity for my lack.

Now my work is not to grovel. My work is to BELIEVE I am who He says I am.

He bestowed upon me dignity, beauty and worthiness. He says in Christ I am enough and I have enough.

This changes everything. I quit demanding from others what only God can give me. It’s not my husband’s or my kids’ fault I can’t be myself. I choose to show up and be seen because I am enough.

What is at stake if I lose this battle with the fear of lack? Wholeness.

At some point I have to drive a stake in the ground and believe that God is not holding out on me. He truly gave me what I need to do life in this season of life. It’s up to me to engage and take action. Show up. Be seen. Believe that I have something to offer because of who I am in Christ. This is not perfection. This is COURAGE. And it is INSPIRING!

Will I experience failure? Yes. Will I get some sand kicked in my face? Probably.

Am I saying I have to give my life to something I don’t want to and don’t enjoy? No. I’m saying I quit hiding behind excuses for not speaking up and not acting on what God has called me to even when the going gets tough. God extends an invitation for us to come awake. LIVE. Dare greatly in the arena instead of playing it safe as a spectator of my own life.

Friend, your life counts. Your family needs you to engage and quit believing that you’re not enough. Your workplace needs you to show up and let your ideas be seen. Your community needs you to speak up for what is right and decent.

What actions will you take when you believe you are whole, complete and lacking nothing in YOUR life?

This post was written by Jodi Leigh LaFrance. To read more about her, click here.

Christmas with Purpose

Christmas pic 1This week, we are concluding our beautiful series of very special holiday posts! If you have missed any of them, click here for the total collection of writings…All are from remarkable women whose words will be sure to inspire, encourage, and give a breath of fresh air to your spirit during this holiday season!

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go…”

Well, it is, isn’t it? We went to the mall today and it felt like it was the weekend before Christmas rather than November (as I write this). The crowds were CRAZY and the stores crammed full of Christmas paraphernalia. I will be honest, there are moments when it makes me cringe.

I love this time of year. I love Thanksgiving, how it gives us a chance to refocus our hearts and our minds on our Father, the Giver of all good things. And I love Christmas, and the opportunity it affords us to celebrate the beautiful life of a baby born in a manger, the One sent to bring peace on earth. Ladies, it is indeed “the most wonderful time of the year.” But at times, it feels as though the season has been hijacked, and instead of being a time of focused worship for us and our families, it becomes a feast of the flesh…We want to serve the tastiest food, have the most festive home, give the best teachers’ gifts; our kids want the newest, fanciest gadgets—and on and on—and we lose sight.

So, how do we keep our focus and provide meaningful opportunities for our families to extravagantly pour out the love of Jesus?

First, it is so important to be intentional. Proverbs 21:5 states, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty.” We do not want to find ourselves impoverished at the end of this beautiful season because we did not plan. What are some things your family can do to show the love of Christ? Does it mean setting aside money all year so you can buy gifts for a family in need? Or, does it mean choosing a weekend you can serve at a local nursing home, or open your home to your neighbors? Whatever it is, make sure it happens.

Next, let your children lead. I have a friend whose son just turned seven. Instead of gifts for his birthday, he asked if people could give money for him to give to a local homeless shelter. He wants to be sure people are able to have a Thanksgiving dinner. The hearts of our children are tender towards the things of God. Jesus told us this when He said that we must be like them to be saved.   If your child wants to give to someone less fortunate than him, let him. If she wants to forgo a gift in order to bless someone else, let her. You’ll be amazed at what they are willing to do.

Lastly, but most importantly, hear God. There is so much out there. You can stuff shoeboxes or buy gifts for kids whose names are on an angel tree. You can serve food at homeless shelters, give food to food banks or donate money to the Salvation Army. We must, must hear from God. And, we must trust Him in His plan for our family. Suffice it to say, the things He asks us to do, or not do, will not look like what He has for other families.

I’d like to leave you with an idea of something we have felt led to do since we moved into our neighborhood. A week or so before Christmas we put together goodie bags, sometimes with homemade goodies, sometimes store-bought; it all depends on the year and mama’s stress level. The kids decorate Christmas cards and we pray specifically for the folks who will receive them. We then deliver them to our neighbors. At each home we sing a carol or two. I do not know who enjoys it more, our family, or the neighbors, but it is meaningful—to all of us—and the name of Jesus is exalted.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

bio picMonica Patrick is our guest writer this week, and it is a pleasure to have her. She lives in Fort Worth, TX. She has been married to her husband Charles for 8 years.  They have 4 kiddos, and they homeschool, which keeps them pretty busy.  🙂

What do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy spending time with my family, reading, sewing, and movies with my hubby.

What area of ministry are you most passionate about, and why?
I am most passionate about people knowing Jesus.

What is one quirky fact about you?
I love magazines…no, like really, really love magazines.  I could buy one every single time I go to the store, but I refrain.