Honestly, I never thought myself as much of a caregiver. Yes, I loved my ministry as a mom and wife, but that was in my wheelhouse. I was MADE for it!

Yet, God chose to stretch me.

In 2001, an elderly couple asked me and my husband to be their medical guardians. Their only child had been killed in 1997 at the age of 40. So, they chose us and we chose them. From that moment on, we were their ‘Smith kids.’

We sailed along for several years…no major hiccups. Even in their mid-70s, they were able to take care of themselves. I stayed in the wings, taking them to appointments, knowing their medical issues but leaving it up to them.

Then, in 2009, Mrs. Roberson was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. The stretching I spoke of earlier, this is where it starts. The decision was made to fight it.  Since I’m a cancer survivor (that actually came in handy!), I knew the lingo and the cancer community in Lubbock. The race was on. Chemo, radiation, surgeries, colostomy, and the devastating side effects of all that. They looked to me for strength, guidance, and hands-on care.

Mr. Roberson wasn’t in good physical condition, so I learned quickly to love even though my flesh was saying ‘no’ when treating the chemo side effects and changing a colostomy bag. I learned to fight for her because, frankly, the elderly are often ignored. When I thought I had reached my limit I would rely on Psalm 71:9:

Do not cast me away when I’m old;  do not forsake me when my strength is gone.

Mrs. Roberson died in 2012. I had promised her she wouldn’t die alone, and that I would take care of Mr. Roberson. I kept those promises. I learned so much from her graciousness and strength in the battle. 

Mr. Roberson never left the nursing home after her death. Battling years of obesity, a bad heart, old and worn out joints that left him in agony, a slight addiction to pain meds, and many other issues…it often proved too much. Hard decisions legally fell to me and my husband. Decisions that were made somewhat easier by the promises we had made to Mr. Roberson: he wouldn’t die hurting, he wouldn’t die alone, and we would take care of him and fight for him.

He died this last November.

I’m so happy to have allowed myself to care for them. We were related by choice, not blood. After we had chosen each other as family, I came across this scripture in my prayers:

If anyone doesn’t provide for their family, he has denied his faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8

I was created in part to take care of those two old people.  I see now that by allowing God to use me in ways that were so uncomfortable, He taught me humility and compassion. He taught me to get over myself and my hang-ups and discomfort with sickness and disease and death. The lesson is to love with unflinching compassion.

This post was written by Deborah Smith. To read more about her, click here. 

The Truth about Gossip

quote - lisa“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres”. 1 Corinthians 13:6-7

Am I willing to bet you have heard this passage spoken over a couple at their wedding? Two people are lovingly looking into each other’s eyes, and promising these words over their future. Today I want to challenge you to look at these words through a different lens.
The dreaded word that makes every woman grind their teeth.

We are all guilty to some extent of gossip, myself included, but as I read this passage the words jumped all over me. We all know God is love; it is the core of who he is. As Christians we strive to live by this truth, to love your neighbor as yourself; husbands love your wives like Christ’s loves the church; or a mother’s instinct to love their children sacrificially. When our words are spoken in love, it rejoices, protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. I believe when we choose to speak gossip we are delighting in evil. Ouch. Which goes against the core of who God is. Double ouch.

As I type this truth, I am reminded of the times I have let gossip drip from my lips–like a leaking faucet I am unwilling to put the work into. Over time the drips turn into streams, which then starts pouring all over my heart and spreading into the core of who God has called me to be. Let’s turn the spotlight off ourselves; what if other people are choosing gossip and you are not?

Love is not passive. This passage doesn’t say to sit idly by. Look at the passage again: Love protects. As believers, if we want our relationships “rejoicing with truth” and not evil, we must use the words we speak to change the situation into one of hope. 

I challenge you to be the change you want to see. When gossip enters the room, there is no hope or protection for the other party; the truth is, we are speaking evil over them instead of love.

I heard it said once by Lisa Terkeurst:

It’s a much more effective use of time to pray for someone rather than talk about them.

I truly love this. What if women today choose this philosophy in all their relationships? We could all put our hurtful words aside and, in turn, have words of blessings pouring from our lips. My heart is not to make women feeling convicted; I am preaching to the choir. I want nothing but loving words to come from my mouth–after all, God is love. My heart is to strive to be more like Him. I hope yours is too.

This post was written by Madi Mikael. 

Balance in Marriage

As I was thinking about balance in marriage, I tried to imagine what this looks like.

Is it marital equality—where each person does his or her share, where all work inside and outside the home is evenly distributed?

I think the reality of that picture—if we can even fathom it—is as much of a unicorn as the reality of a woman who deftly does it all.

No woman can do it all. And no marriage can be quantifiably balanced.

In fact, I was grateful for the wisdom once shared to me: keeping score (of who has done the most chores, of who works hardest, of who slept the least, etc.) is not worth it. It’s never enough (for anyone), and no one wins.

If I start to feel that comparison creep into my marriage, it’s usually a symptom of something greater—my heart condition.

As a quick disclaimer, let’s be clear that only God can fully satisfy us. If we’re looking for that in our spouse, we won’t find it. If I’m feeling a little self-pity about my “too much to do” list at home, probably I’m not feeling loved. And when I’m in *that* place, I need to check the condition of my heart and remember who I am in Christ.

balance pic 1So, that’s not what we’re talking about today. But I was thinking maybe balance in marriage means making sure each other’s “love tank” is full.

Gary Chapman’s, The Five Love Languages may be cliché by now, but they are all widely accurate for relationships. Below is a list of the languages, but if you’re not familiar with them, you can find a description of each here:

  • Physical Touch
  • Quality Time
  • Acts of Service
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Gifts

If your marriage feels out of balance—or if you feel like you need to move the focus of the fulcrum over your marriage in this season, maybe that starts with meeting your husband’s love language.balance pic 2

Howell and I are both big quality time people, so maybe we’re fortunate that our languages speak to each other. And we’ve learned if we schedule too many social nights away, we’ll both feel disconnected and starved for some QT.

But what if your husband craves acts of service? Is there something you can do for him around the house to fill his tank? Make his favorite meal? Help him with yard work?

What if your husband craves physical touch? Can you make time for sex and intimacy—or find ways to sneak in a hug or kiss even if you’re busy cooking dinner or chasing a toddler?

And what if your tank feels low too?

You might ask yourself if you’re putting unreasonable expectations on your spouse. And then communicate to him (respectfully!) what you need.

As with breaking any cycle, the first move is the hardest. But if you feel you need to bring balance back to your marriage, start by first determining what you can do to fill your husband’s love tank.

Do you need to check the condition of your heart today? What is one thing you can do today to fill your husband’s “love tank”?

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

From Ordinary to Extraordinary – Part 2

From Ordinary to Extraordinary – Part 2

love 1

Continuing from our previous post on marriage (if you have not read Part 1, click here)…

God’s story for us is one of pursuit and redemption, of lavish gifts and sacrificial love. This is not an epic love story—it’s The Epic Love Story.

God is love.

I love my husband. And over the last almost nine years, our relationship has grown from initial attraction and interest to deep love and affection; it has, at times, been both passionate and romantic, and other times, both ordinary and comfortable.

But Howell cannot be the lover of my soul. He cannot fill all my desires. He can’t complete me or satisfy me or fill me.

Only Jesus can do all of that.

And the moment I put that expectation on Howell: I fail, he fails, and our relationship stops working. Who can live up to that pressure? Who can trump Jesus?

It may sound paradoxical—let Jesus have all my desires, and my desire for Howell will be greater. Let Jesus fill me, and my love for Howell will be fuller. But that’s precisely how it works.

Today, we do have an extraordinary marriage not because of luck but because we’ve chosen to fight for our marriage—to choose forgiveness and to release expectations. Walking out forgiveness is even more countercultural than our expectations for love.

Deep down, here’s the battle. I love my husband, and I know he loves me. I know that he’s not spiteful or mean-spirited. He never intentionally hurts my feelings or disappoints me. But in the moment, I also feel hurt or disappointed. So the battle is determining what to choose—to choose what I know or to choose what I feel. And on paper, this sounds easy.

Obviously, I should choose what I know. But in the moment of your hurt feelings or disappointment, it’s a much more difficult decision. You think, if I choose to resolve this now, he won’t know how big of a deal it was. Or, if I choose to forgive, it’s just the same as saying it’s okay—and it’s not okay. Actually, the greatest lesson we could have learned (and I really believe this) was to stop saying “it’s okay” altogether. To, literally, stop using those words, and instead to say “I forgive you.”

Forgiveness brings freedom to your marriage. When you take the steps to surrender that issue—whether big or small—God comes in and does the supernatural work of healing. God comes in and restores love and grace in your heart toward your spouse. If the issue is small, the process of forgiveness is often easier, quicker. You remember why you love your spouse, you remember to expect the best in them, and you remember that you don’t want to keep record of wrongs. And so, you surrender and you release.

If the issue is great, sometimes that process takes more time. But don’t lose faith in His supernatural power; God is a God who heals—physically and emotionally. He can make you whole and free. He alone can fill your every desire. And He can bring extraordinary love to even the most ordinary marriages.

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


From Ordinary to Extraordinary – Part 1

love 1My husband Howell and I will be married 7 years this summer. I don’t want to gush, but in all sincerity, he is my greatest gift from God. We understand each other, even though our personalities are very different. I can’t remember the last time we had a fight, but it’s been weeks, maybe even months. I believe we have an extraordinary marriage, and when I really do think about it, I feel lucky.

But the Lord reminded me today that our journey to get here was paved with grace and forgiveness and hard work—not luck. During our two years of dating, we probably fought every day if not every other day—about something. Anything. And our first two or three years of marriage seemed only slightly better.

I was constantly offended; my feelings were always hurt. Generally, our arguments were based on this: I hoped/thought/expected that he would do/be/say X. And when he wasn’t doing/saying/being X, my feelings were deeply hurt. Clearly he didn’t love me because he if loved me, he would say/do/be X. And since he didn’t say/do/be X, I shouldn’t trust him, respect him, or love him either.

It was exhausting—for the both of us.

But today, our marriage is a source of joy and a safe place because we have chosen to persist in two major areas: expectations and forgiveness.

One of my issues—the creation of false expectations—was closely related to our culture’s view of love—our very false, very misplaced presentation and consumption of love: that love is romantic and fairytale, that love says your man will be transformed and will eventually—and at all times—meet your greatest desires with the right lines and big gestures.

So I had a lot of expectations about marriage and about Howell. Most of them were uncommunicated, too, so they became guesswork for him.

When we would argue, I would shut down, waiting for him to say the right line—the magical words. Read the script, Howell!

Of course, he didn’t know what his lines were supposed to be.

I remember one fight—a pretty serious one—where I left the house. I went to a park. I was hurting, and my instinct in our arguments was always to run. But in Hollywood, the boy always follows. He knows instinctively where she is. So I sat, and waited, and eventually (more angry than before), I went back home where my husband was also hurting and stressed out and unsure of what to do. I hadn’t given him the script then, either.

So maybe Hollywood and our culture are to blame, but the real ownership on my part comes from recognizing that my expectations were for Howell—not Jesus—to be my everything: to fill me, complete me, know me fully inside and out, comprehend my every thought and desire.

There is only one perfect man, and His name is Jesus. He made the greatest gesture any man could ever make for us; He became the ultimate example of self-sacrifice. Nothing trumps that. Nothing.

Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon!

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

Love God, Love People, Live Simple

holiday photo 2During the next several weeks, we will be enjoying a beautiful series of very special holiday posts! Some of them are from familiar writers, and some are guest posts…All are from remarkable women whose words will be sure to give a breath of fresh air to your spirit during this holiday season! Keep reading for inspiration, encouragement, and of course, yummy recipes!

I love the holiday season. There’s just something about how fall ushers in cooler weather, the cotton strippers and combines start to pull out of the barns— signaling the beginning of harvest—and of course, pumpkin-flavored EVERYTHING! There’s just so much to love about this time of year! I get so excited about reaching towards the back of my Scentsy drawer and pulling out my fall and Christmas scents. And I am sure my husband just loves having to drag our Christmas décor out of the basement earlier and earlier each year…because seriously, one month is just not enough time to enjoy a beautifully decorated Christmas tree! Can I get an Amen??

And the food, oh the food! Hot chocolate with marshmallows, chai tea lattes, soups in the crock pot and warm pumpkin cookies…why does it all taste so much better this time of year? Oh well, I will start my diet next year.

This will be my twin boys’ first holiday season, and I am so excited about sharing it with them. I can’t wait for Bryan and I to create new traditions with them, and I am especially excited about seeing their faces light up when they see our Christmas tree for the first time. But most of all, I am looking forward to watching them experience their first holiday season with our incredible family. Out of everything I love about this time of year, I look forward to spending time with our family the most.

I recently heard something that resonated with my heart. It was a call, an urging to embrace the following:

Love God. Love people. Live simple.

These three statements showed up in my life just in time for what usually turns into a crazy season for me. As much as I adore this time of year, by the middle of December I am so ready for Christmas to be over and the New Year to begin. Can anyone relate? I get so caught up in the hustle and bustle that I completely miss out on the beauty this season has to offer.

Love God. Love people. Live simple. This is now my to-do list every day, and let me just say how freeing it is. If I have done just one of these three things in a day, I’ve done enough. When did these things become not enough? I’m not sure, but I am so ready for that to change in my life. I want Thanksgiving and Christmas to simply be a time to be grateful because of what we’ve been given, and a time to give out of the overwhelming gratefulness we have for the One who gave everything for us. It is so easy for us to miss the opportunity this season offers us.

If we allow Him, I believe God is extending an invitation to us all to embrace a new perspective this year. Instead of spending money we don’t have on gifts that have no meaning, what if we gave our time and energy to those we love? Isn’t that all we really want from those we love? What if instead of dreading the time spent with extended family, we chose to love them the way God does? What if we chose to expect the best instead of the worst when it came to relating to that difficult family member? What if we practiced these simple truths this holiday season? Love God. Love people. Live simple.

I am compelled by this scripture we’ve been studying at church the past couple of weeks.

1 Timothy 6:18-19 “18Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

“…the life that is truly life.” Friends, let’s choose to do something different this holiday season. Let’s choose to embrace a simpler, more fulfilling way of life. Aren’t you curious about the kind of life this scripture is offering to us? I know I am.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

I want to leave you with my most favorite holiday recipe given to me by a very dear friend. I look forward to making it every year and I KNOW you will love it too.

Soft Pumpkin Cookies

Cream together the following until smooth:
½ cup butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar

Add to butter mixture and mix until smooth.
1 cup pumpkin
1 egg
1 Tbsp. vanilla

Sift the following together:
2 ½ cups flour (I use King Arthur…the BEST!)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg

Add to butter mixture and stir until smooth…will be sticky.

Drop in heaping tablespoons onto greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 12-15 minutes. (Mine are cooked perfectly at 12 min)

Icing: 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 Tbsp. melted butter, 1tsp. vanilla and milk to consistency. Drizzle over baked cookies.

Eat. Enjoy. 🙂

(I usually double this recipe and use a whole can of pumpkin)

This post was written by Amber Curry. To read more about her, click here.


Love, Thanksgiving, and Cherry Pie

cherry pie picDuring the next several weeks, we will be enjoying a beautiful series of very special holiday posts! Some of them are from familiar writers, and some are guest posts…All are from remarkable women whose words will be sure to give a breath of fresh air to your spirit during this holiday season! Keep reading for inspiration, encouragement, and of course, yummy recipes!

Last Thanksgiving began with the unmistakable sound of shattering glass. We had just arrived at my in-laws and when I opened the rear passenger door to our car, I watched helplessly as the coconut cream pie I had made slid out and crashed onto the pavement. Thus began a holiday that turned out opposite of what I had expected.

My husband and I are both from Plainview and have most of our family still there. We have a big lunch with his side and then turn around and have a big dinner with mine. We really have to pace ourselves so as not to end up in a food coma by the end of the day! The in-law lunch went by rather smoothly except for my pie debacle, but my family dinner was not the usual. We headed to my aunt’s house where—come to find out—the stomach bug had started to make the rounds. My parents only joined us for dinner for a very short time because they took food to Momo (my Dad’s mom) who was very ill. Then to cap off the night, while driving back to Lubbock, my kids whined about how they were hungry because they wouldn’t stop playing long enough to eat.

Expectations can be a slippery slope. If rigid and unrealistic, they can prevent you from experiencing all God has to offer. I often find myself building up in my head how special occasions, especially holidays, should look. Then as I go to bed that night and reflect on the day, I battle the disappointment of things not meeting my lofty expectations. If I’m not careful, I will find myself blinded to the love happening in precious moments that aren’t found within “the plan.”

We live in a time where social media, if we let it, can add to our unrealistic expectations. Rather that being inspired by Pinterest or celebrating one another’s accomplishments seen on Facebook, we feel inadequate in our own experience and start adding things to our check list to make it “better.” Great is the temptation to compare our journey with others.

My husband and I teach our boys that we have two main rules in our house: love God and love people. Everything else is simply a subcategory of these commandments that Jesus gave to us. As I am instilling these into my children, I am attempting to embrace them for myself. These are the only expectations I want to have for the upcoming holidays. My hope is that I am able to roll with the punches that life can throw at me, but still graciously honor my Father and those around me by laying down my life and plans.

My parents were my greatest example of this last Thanksgiving. As I said before, they were only at dinner for a very short time. They made a plate for my grandmother, even though she had to be coaxed to eat even a few bites. She was at home, where in the last month she had stayed, because of some unsteadiness and a severe fall. Momo’s health was suddenly going downhill fast. I watched as my parents selflessly jumped in to help her. That night my parents physically cared for her when she couldn’t care for herself. In the days and weeks to follow, my parents relentlessly served Momo with grace and love—allowing her to spend her final days with dignity, honor, and compassion.

This, for me, was truly a picture of loving God and loving people. As I look at last Thanksgiving, I am able to laugh off the splattered pie and late-night hungry kids in light of witnessing the beauty of my Mom and Dad walking out God’s commands.

Maybe you are dreading the family drama that seems to inevitably happen when your family gets together. Maybe you find yourself having to work and be separated from those you love most, or maybe you have a sick little one this year. Whatever our holidays look like, I pray that the things that can bring us down would pale in comparison to loving and serving our Creator and those around us.

At the end of the day, my Thanksgiving will look different than yours, because it is uniquely mine. But what is the same—what we all have in common—is a God who loves us and gives us the ability and choice to love those around us. So I embrace my Thanksgiving in all its distinctive qualities (and celebrate you in yours), and I rejoice in the beauty of what we all have in common through our God.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

My passion for baking and creating desserts began with my grandmother. The following recipe is a favorite of my family’s that she would make for the holidays. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Momo’s Cherry Pie

3/4c sugar
1/4c flour
16oz. can red, tart cherries packed in water
Pinch of salt
2 TBS Cold butter
9 inch double pie crust
Ground cinnamon

Separate the juice from the cherries and place in a saucepan. Add sugar, flour and salt and stir to combine. Cook over low heat until juice turns clear and sugar is dissolved.

Place cherries in uncooked, prepared pie crust. Cut butter into small chunks and dot cherries with them. Pour cherry juice mixture over cherries. Cover with top crust and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes then lower temperature to 350 degrees and cook an additional 30 minutes or just until browned.

*For added texture you can swap out the top crust for a streusel topping.
1/3c sugar
1/4c brown sugar
1/2c + 2TBS flour
1tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2c COLD butter cut into pieces

Combine all ingredients except for butter in a bowl. Add butter and using a pastry cutter or your hands, mash until the butter is the size of small peas. Sprinkle over the top of the pie and bake as directed.

This post was written by Meredith Riddle.


The Heart of Giving

give love liveOver a year ago, God placed some specific financial goals on the hearts of both Derek and I, so that we could ultimately give to others. Since the very get-go of this journey, I hunkered down and decided to give my very best.

Recently, God revealed to me the true motivation of my heart in deciding to give my best. It came about when Derek decided that we needed to wait on purchasing something I’ve wanted for a while. We had the ability to walk out of the store with my “toy” in hand, but all I walked out with was a crummy attitude.

I knew the reaction in my heart wasn’t due to just being told “No.” There was a deeper reason for why I truly believed I needed that item. Not even just needed, but deserved it. God showed me that deep down the true reason of why I worked so hard in meeting our goals wasn’t the freedom to give to others, but the freedom to consume things on myself. Instantly my heart turned to repentance and an honest prayer came out: “God, I want to have the heart of a true giver.”

The next morning, God took me to 2 Corinthians 9:6-9, 11:
“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work…He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way.”

God showed me that the theme of this passage isn’t finances, but it’s the heart of giving. Realizing this, I read it again. This time, the words grace, sufficiency and righteousness stood out. Understanding that my righteousness in Christ means I’m complete, whole and lacking nothing, and that grace (God’s ability or power) reigns through righteousness, the passage came alive. God says that when we give from a heart that believes in its true state of righteousness, he will make all grace abound so we can ultimately give to others.

If I give from a heart of lack, then I will be reluctant to give. I will want to keep my resources for myself so as to meet my own needs. If in that attitude I choose to not give at all, I’m saying no to more than just the giving of my resources. I’m saying no to grace abounding in my life and an increase to the harvest of my righteousness.

Whether it’s giving time to a friend in need, genuine love to those in our family, or full surrender to God in our moments of pain, we all have something to give.

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