Finding Peace During Stress

How do you find peace during stress?

“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mark 5:34
 

I spoke last week quite a lot on who I was – but now it’s time for me to tell you a little bit about who I am now. I didn’t even know how to write this post (although I had it planned) until last Saturday when I went to founding editor Renee Fisher’s birthday party. The picture above is from that evening.

The truth is, I didn’t even really want to tell you who I was before Saturday.

My life is pretty great. If there were some checklist for a great life, mine would pass with flying colors. I don’t say this to sound like I’m bragging or ungrateful. I actually say this to let you know I am aware of how blessed I am. I have a wonderful marriage. I have a nice home to live in. I have a supportive family. I live in beautiful San Diego. I just became the editor of Devotional Diva. My husband mainly supports our family so that I can work on my writing. And that’s really good, because I still have ongoing health issues. But recently, in the midst of all this good stuff happening, the health issues have been worse. On top of being sick, the military healthcare system can be rather difficult.

And I have been so insanely stressed out.

I was lashing out at my husband because I got frustrated so easily. And then I would feel terrible about that, too. My anxiety was getting really bad. Any little thing that happened could throw me into brief hysterics. I kept comparing myself to other people.

“Nobody else gets so upset about a rude cashier.”

“Nobody else goes to the doctor so often.”

“Everybody else gets so much more accomplished than I do.”

I was beginning to hate myself. Friday night, I had a heart-to-heart with my husband about how stressed out I was feeling and how bad I felt about myself. Impulsively, I decided I would get a haircut the next day. After growing my bangs out for 6 months, I had them cut short again. I thought I might look better in bangs again, and I craved some change. Looking the mirror instantly became easier.

Small changes can help, but later on Saturday God brought me an even bigger one.

I was anxious about the party because the only person I was going to know beforehand was Renee, the birthday girl. When the party (at a local winery) got started and Renee introduced me as the woman who was now editing Devotional Diva, everyone gave me a warm and excited welcome. I found that conversing with everyone was pretty easy, and I was enjoying myself and the beautiful view. Towards the end of the evening, Renee offered to anoint me with oil from Israel and pray over me. I have been a Christian pretty much my whole life, but I had never experienced either of those things before. The anointing oil possessed the best scent I’ve ever smelled. As the women prayed over me, I never felt the presence of Christ more. The stress I had been bearing seemed to just melt away.

I felt peaceful.

It was almost as if I could see myself sitting in that beautiful sunset, these ladies’ hands over me in prayer. I could see the power of God at work. I went home feeling so blessed, and have retained that tranquil feeling ever since. I can still picture myself being prayed over in that gorgeous setting. My stress level is much lower now. I was praying in the several days before the party that God could heal me of my recent emotional turmoil. And did He! I don’t think that I could have gone on much longer the way I was.

The Lord is so awesome, isn’t He?

→M

 

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Resolved to Surrender

surrender

[Guest Post by Andrea Portilla – Why is it that we try to work harder, give and serve more when all we need to do is simply surrender? I appreciate Andrea’s post, and I hope you will too!]

At the beginning of the New Year I had made a resolution: I was going to take a bubble bath once a week!

A perfect kind of resolution!

The first few weeks into the year I was beside myself, for I came to realize God desired so much more from my life than I had been giving Him. In the midst of motherhood and babies; being a loving wife and intentional mother, I lost the vision for myself.

I lost the desire to dream in the midst of diapers.
I lost the desire to plan in the “to do” lists.
I had lost the joy of the work set before me.

The idea of God desiring to use me for more was daunting and overwhelming. I had nothing else to give. Yet, I was restless and discontent.

One evening I was soaking in my bath tub, enjoying the warm water and quiet hum of the jets as the scent of lavender and peppermint permeated the room and the fizzy bath salts tickled my toes. Candles were lit and soft music was playing.

Despite the serenity of that moment, my heart was shattering. In the weeks prior everything I tried so hard to be “good” at seemed to crumble. My marriage was strained by stress and hard parenting issues. My relationship with my children was strained because of disobedience and strong wills.

I had no words to encourage my husband.
I had no wisdom to parent my children.
I had nothing.

I was desperate. So I took baths and I prayed.

I was crying out to God; angry, scared and uncertain of all I was “suppose” to do.

“Lord, somehow I have lost myself. I was trying so hard to juggle all this stuff. I was trying to keep it all together and instead, everything is a jumbled mess. What do you want from me? I can’t do anything…I have nothing.”

“Surrender.”

The word that had been haunting me for months came softly into my soul, like a soft wisp of wind gathering strength in the valley to flow through the trenches of my heart. In the quiet of that moment, I gave my nothing to Him. I offered all of my lost dreams, desires and doubts to Him.

Every plan I had for my children.
Every formula I had desperately tried in hopes for better.
Every desire I had for my marriage.
Every fear I had for each of those beautiful blessings.

In that moment, with airy bubbles all around, I lifted my hands in complete surrender and said, “I’m done.”

“I’m giving it all to you…all of it. My husband, my family, my life…it’s yours. Do what you want with all of it.”

I was breathless and vulnerable and completely free. My spirit was consumed with joy and overwhelmed with His love. All those selfish desires that were hindering me to live a life completely devoted and in full surrender to His purpose were gone.

In my bath tub full of bubbles and bath salts, I completely submerged myself; baptizing myself to show the Lord I was in.

For the first time in my life I was resolved to live this life with raised hands and open palms. A life emptied of all my nothingness and filled with His everything.

Beloved, He desires to use every part of your life. He desires to empty you of your plans and fill you with His purpose. He desires for you to give Him all your dreams, your visions, your doubts and your fears. He wants to take all you have been called to and every gift that he has given you, to send you out to those who only you can love and minister to because that was His greatest reason for creating you.

Lift your hands up in complete surrender and give all of yourself to the God who called you, so that He can give you the life He purposed and created for His kingdom.

Surrender your life so that He can give you the life He died for — A life worth living.

Andrea PortillaAndrea Portilla lives in Richmond, Texas and has been married to her high school sweetheart for 11 years. She is a mom and home educator to three amazing kids. Andrea writes at www.beautifulcraziness.blogspot.com, loves to entertain family and friends in her home and spends whatever time she has left pretending to be crafty. Connect with Andrea at http://www.beautifulcraziness.blogspot.com, the Beautiful Craziness Facebook page or on twitter @andreaportilla9.

[photo credit: Dennis Wong via photopin cc]

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Shame, Our Souls, and the Gospel

shame

[Guest Post by Kimberly Davidson Campbell – I have never met a woman who had it all together on the inside. Maybe you do a good job or holding everything together on the outside, but there’s always traces of shame that tries to steal our joy. I appreciate Kim’s words of encouragement today. Like fresh water in a desert oasis of my heart. Receive them today with love!]

As I sit in the passenger seat of my husband’s now trip-cluttered (otherwise immaculate) Camry, I am intrigued and overwhelmed by all the areas of shame that plague me. 

These areas of shame don’t just plague me — but in some way — they plague most of the women we know.

According to author and blogger Shauna Niequist in Bread & Wine, most women are battling shame in two areas: how their bodies look and how their homes look. I would like to add one as well: how their children look (or act).

Here are some of those examples in my own life:

+ I’m ashamed that my husband is unable to give me a piggy-back ride or carry me over the threshold.  This isn’t because he isn’t strong.  He is.  I love his arms and how strong they are. It is because I weigh almost 40 lbs more than him.

+ I am ashamed because of my flabby body.  It is now covered with stretchmarks from two kids and losing large amounts of weight several times. I wouldn’t trade my boys for anything – but I don’t like stretchmarks.

+ I am ashamed because my closet is a mess and my husband’s is all in order and tidy.

+ I am ashamed because I struggle to keep our home as clean as the mister would like it.  So I come unglued when he suggests that he could help do some of the dishes or vacuum. Shame affects pride.

+ In high school, I was ashamed as a part of the cheerleading squad and traveling singing group because the order size for my uniform or dress was always bigger than everyone else’s.

–        I struggle when I am in public with my toddler and he is pitching a temper tantrum because he doesn’t want to do something.  My parenting skills are not what they should be if he is misbehaving.

+ I (wrongfully) pride myself in that my boys have never had to have their nursery number put up on the screen during church for me to come and get them. I would die in horror if that ever happened.

You may or may not be able to resonate with any of these examples, but I’m sure you have examples of your own.

Maybe it’s why you can’t look at pictures taken long ago. Or why you keep private stashes of House Beautiful or Shape for midnight reading. Maybe your shame in your body comes from a tattoo from another time in your life you would gladly remove if you could. Or maybe it’s the scars from an abortion or eating disorder.

Shame is not only an indicator of the outward home or clothing size or perfect children. Shame reaches our souls and steals our joy!

Shame also reveals many other truths about our hearts:

  1. It reveals pride. I’ve mentioned this before, but pride is so ugly in a believer’s heart. Everything we have ever received is from God and is not of our own doing. So, when we strive to keep appearances up for the sake of making ourselves look better – it is not a helpful tool in sharing the truth of God’s Word.  (Ephesians 2.8-10; Isaiah 2.17)
  2. Comparison is a nasty habit. Whenever we compare our lives with those of others it reveals an ungrateful heart to the Lord. It is wrecking friendships as well. Oh, be grateful in your heart for all that God has done for you and in you! He works all things together for our good and His glory! (Romans 8.18-39; Colossians 3.15-17)
  3. Both of these areas of our hearts reveal a lack of love for others. One of the two commandments we are given in the Word is love your neighbor as yourself. Friendships are one of most important things in my life.  I love the sweet friends that God has blessed me with over the years and in every place I’ve lived. But, when I let sin hinder those relationships, it brings bitterness that takes forgiveness to overcome – by the truth of the Gospel.  (1 Corinthians 13)

The Gospel – the life and work of Jesus Christ – as it does for every area of our lives, has a direct impact on our life and soul of shame.

  1. Jesus doesn’t love you because you are skinny or wear a certain size. I remember Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada boasting in the fact that she was now in a size 4. But, her life wasn’t any happier than it was when she was slightly bigger. Jesus work in our lives often to heal us from an addiction to the scale or the tag on the skirt.
  2. The gospel isn’t yours only if you have a farmhouse table in your dining room or your baseboards never have a speck of dust on them. The gospel is ours not because of anything we have done – but because Jesus has done everything.
  3. Christ is ours no matter how our children behave – or misbehave! Claim that truth!
  4. Christ frees us! Romans 8.1 is a verse that every believer needs to claim for their lives as a mantra. We are free. There is no condemnation!

The next time you find it hard to believe that you are more than your house, your outward appearance, or any other area you find yourself ashamed of – rest in the doneness of the Gospel of Jesus! And boast in that!

kimberlycampbellKimberly Davidson Campbell is a wife, mother, freelance writer and photographer who resides in the Atlanta area with her family. She graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity in Education. Her passions include life-on-life discipleship, speaking, teaching, writing, cooking, being healthy, and photography – and mostly spending time with her husband and two very active sons! She blogs regularly at http://kd316.com.

[photo credit: Jims_photos via photopin cc]

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Choose Joy in a World of Sorrow

joy

[Guest Post by Kay Warren – When I attended the Mental Health and the Church Conference at Saddleback Church, I was inspired by Kay’s story. She has learned to choose joy through sorrowful circumstances. If, like Kay, you find yourself in mourning or grief — I hope you are encouraged today because of Jesus!]

Sisters, Jesus was a man of joy. He was a man of joy!

He showed it in his attitude; he drew crowds who couldn’t get enough of him. He showed it in his words; he was a master communicator who impacted those who listened to him in person two thousand years ago, and he impacts us today.

He showed joy in his actions; he treated people with good humor and patient understanding of their human foibles, and he was skillful in bringing them to the spiritual realizations they needed.

His joyful essence was evidenced particularly in the way he interacted with his disciples. He spent three years with them, day in and day out. He did not spend those three with them as a lecturer on the speaking circuit who used them to organize his comings and goings: “Okay, let’s go over the agenda. Who will be taking care of the donkey this afternoon? Oh, and make sure the people know that I’m coming.”

He didn’t relate as a distant professor who made them sit still while he instilled: “Now, I have three points I want to make today, and I’ll be testing you later. Is everybody writing down what I’m saying?”

No, Jesus lived his life with them.

They saw him when he was sweaty and stinky from a long walk from village to village. They knew when his stomach growled from hunger pains. They probably heard him pass gas and burp a few dozen times. I’m not saying that to be sensational; I really believe it.

Jesus spent nearly every waking—and sleeping hour—with  these twelve men for three years. How could they not really know each other? I’m sure Jesus and his friends shared many private jokes, funny stories, and poignant memories, which happens only when people spend intentional time together.

I am convinced they laughed till their sides hurt at every opportunity. He loved them and invested in their lives as individuals. I think he probably knew the names of their family members for a couple of generations back; he knew the beauty and dysfunction that created each one of them. He believed in them, ultimately entrusting them with his gospel message of a joyous relationship with God. As his time on earth drew to a close, they were the ones he wanted near him—these friends who had become brothers.

Why does it matter that Jesus was a man of joy?

It matters so much more than you might have ever realized! Some of you may need permission to seek a life of joy for yourself. The burden of grief that you carry, the health issues, the relational pain, the financial questions, the internal struggles and temptations no one else knows about—sometimes all of that weighs you down so much that you give up on the idea of joy.

At times I have felt I could identify with the title given to Jesus in Isaiah; I could call myself “Kay Warren, woman of sorrows.” Perhaps that title fits you today as well, and you could fill in your name too.

Many of us need permission to recognize sorrow but go beyond it and still choose a life of joy.

Yes, Jesus suffered, but we can’t stop there. We can’t let that truth dominate how we act and how we speak about him. There was a reason why Jesus chose to endure all that he did. There was a reason why he allowed himself to be bloodied and beaten and tortured.

Hebrews 12:2 gives us an insider, behind-the-scenes look at why Jesus allowed all of that to happen: “who for the joy set before him endured the cross.”

But what was the joy that was set before him?

What joy was so rich, so satisfying, so deep that he was willing to suffer such terrible abuse? You were the joy set before him! I was the joy set before him!

He suffered so he could be reconciled with you.
With me.

When people spat at him, his disciples left him, and everyone mocked him, he was thinking of the joy. When he was flogged, when that cruel crown of thorns was jammed on his head, and when he hung on the cross, he got through  it because he was holding on to the joy of presenting us to God.

Here she is, Father; I brought her back to you.

The joy of restoring the broken relationship, of living with me and you forever . . . that was the joy set before him, that was the joy that kept him nailed to the cross.

Jesus knew that for him to fulfill his God-given role here on earth, he would have to experience abandonment, betrayal, torture, and death. Yet knowing full well what was ahead of him, he chose to laugh, to tell jokes, to roll around on the ground with children, to build rich relationships, to have meaningful work, to experience joy.

Jesus’s life is an illustration of the two train tracks converging into one. He shows us how to see joy, a joy that sometimes comes in darkness. And for that joy he endured the greatest suffering anyone has known.

This is what Jesus’s life tells me: It is possible to experience enormous burdens, pain, and struggles—the weight of the world on our frail shoulders—and still experience joy.

Jesus’s life reminds me that joy is possible no matter what.

His life gives me permission to seek a life of joy for myself even in a world of sorrow.

Kay Warren Doorway (Proof Only)Kay Warren cofounded Saddleback Church with her husband Rick Warren in Lake Forest, California. She is a passionate Bible teacher and respected advocate for those infected with and affected by HIV and AIDS, as well as orphaned and vulnerable children. She founded Saddleback’s HIV/AIDS Initiative. Kay is the author of Say Yes to God and coauthor ofFoundations, the popular systematic theology course used by churches worldwide. She has three children and five grandchildren. Learn more at www.kaywarren.com and follow her on Facebook (Kay Warren) and Twitter (@KayWarren1).

[Excerpt taken from Choose Joy by Kay Warren, published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2012. Used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.]

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When Our Hearts Are Unguarded

hearts are unguarded

[Guest Post by Holley Gerth – Whenever I go through seasons of feeling like I’m not okay, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one. I appreciate her sweet words reminding us why it’s important to guard our heart — and how our hearts  can function from a Biblical perspective. Please welcome Holley!]

She sends me a text and I can almost hear the sigh in her voice at the end of her words.

“I said something I shouldn’t have,” she confesses. She goes on to share that she’s especially frustrated with herself because she’d just been studying how we’re to use our words for gratitude and praise.

Isn’t that how it goes? We have good intentions, we know what’s right, and then we go out and do the opposite.

Or maybe that’s just my friend and me.

So many days I set out to do one thing and end up doing another. I struggle, repent, try again. This is especially true in times of stress.

My friend above shared the same. She’s been under major pressure, and it finally came out of her mouth. I’m sure it felt good in the moment but left her feeling disappointed with herself and full of regret.

Why does that happen?

It’s because in times of stress our defenses are down. We each have a threshold for what we can take before it becomes really tempting to do something we know we shouldn’t. Stress takes us across that threshold much more quickly.

A popular method called HALT describes how this works.

In essence, when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, then we’re more likely to make poor choices. This has been applied in areas as varied as from addiction recovery to parenting. What remembering HALT serves to do is to help us pause and recognize that we’re vulnerable in some way.

We need help of some kind.

It might be rest, a good meal, or a conversation with a trusted friend.

HALT is just one tactic for dealing with these moments in our lives. There are many other strategies too. One verse in Proverbs sums them all up: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (4:23).

When we say what we shouldn’t, do what we swore we wouldn’t, mess up in more ways than we knew we could, it doesn’t begin right at that moment. Those are only outward displays of what’s already brewing in our hearts. “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45).

So when I say that our defenses are down in times of stress, what I really mean is that our hearts are unguarded.

This happens to all of us.
It’s part of being human.
The good news is that we can learn how to really guard our hearts.

Your heart is a treasure. As the verse above says, everything in your life flows from it. It’s a wonderful, mysterious  gift that God has given you. It holds so much of who you are and what he’s called you to do. It’s worth protecting.

 Signs of a Guarded Heart

What does a guarded heart look like? Let’s picture a place that holds great value. In biblical times, that would have been a palace. Solomon, who wrote the book of Proverbs, was a king with great wealth. He had guards surrounding where he lived to protect all that was within. Those guards had several roles.

First, they would act as defenders and keep out anything or anyone that had evil intent. Second, they would let in what was needed—such as supplies or important guests. If anything did come within the palace that should not be there, those guards would have the duty of making sure it was sent back out. They would also let Solomon and others go out into the kingdom through the gates as needed.

Guarding our hearts works much the same way.

It’s not a static state but instead an in-and-out flow we carefully watch. Some-times through  life circumstances we end up focusing too much on one of these aspects. When that happens, our hearts can fall into one of these states:

+ Lockdown—Our hearts  are closed. Nothing can come in, and nothing can go out. We feel isolated and alone. Perhaps even hard and bitter. But the risk of opening  up is simply too great.

+ Open wide—Our hearts are unprotected. We let anything and anyone in, even if it’s harmful. We may feel unvalued, of little worth, and so we don’t feel as if this precious part of who we are deserves to have boundaries.

+ Exit only—Our hearts aren’t completely closed down. We feel comfortable  giving to others and meeting  their needs. But we are unable or unwilling to receive. The only direction is out, and we’re often exhausted.

+ Entrance only—Our hearts can receive, but we don’t pass it on to others. We’ve somehow believed the lie that life is all about us. We take and take, then wonder why we still feel so empty all the time.

These descriptions are extremes, but we can all probably identify times we’ve been in each of these states at different points in our lives.

What keeps us from falling into these patterns is learning what it means to have a heart that’s guarded instead.

This matters all the time but is even more important when we face challenges or difficulties.

Imagine  you’re standing in Solomon’s courtyard. All around you is the bustle of people coming and going. Activity is happening. Colors, food, and music abound. The air is filled with vitality and life. You smile as you are caught up in the flow of what’s around  you. More than anything else, the word flow describes what a guarded  heart is supposed to feel like: “Everything you do flows from it” (Prov. 4:23). That happens in several ways when our hearts are truly guarded.

Holley GerthHolley Gerth is a bestselling writer, certified life coach, and speaker. She loves connecting with the hearts of women through her popular blog and books like You’re Already Amazing, You’re Made for a God-Sized Dream, and Opening the Door to Your God-Sized Dream. She’s also cofounder of (in)courage and a partner with DaySpring. Holley lives with her husband, Mark, in the South. Hang out with her at www.holleygerth.com.

[Excerpt taken from It’s Going To Be Okay by Holly Gerth, published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2014. Used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.]

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When Church Hurts

when church hurts

[Guest Post by Lori Tisdale – We know each other through mutual friends nearby, and she asked me to share my story on her blog — I had to host her here! If any of you have stepped foot in the church, you’ll understand what it means to be hurt. But. It’s what we do with our hurt that matters. Please welcome Lori!]

I was the first born of a new pastor and his young bride. 

For the most part, I was a very well-behaved preacher’s kid — the teacher’s pet, a devout Missionnette (the church’s version of a Girl Scout). I led the on-campus High School Bible Study, taught years of Sunday School, went on missions trips, etc.

I vividly remember God’s call on my life, at a summer kid’s camp – I was 12 years old. He very clearly told me that He wanted me to use my hands to reach others for Christ. I was not your typical preacher’s kid — you know the kind, they are usually rebellious.

But I was not.
Until I was hurt. 

Nearly 25 years into my Dad’s ministry career, he was targeted by certain individuals in our church who felt they were hearing God’s voice and direction more clearly on certain issues. And for years they argued with my Dad, their pastor, about how he handled these issues. Until they eventually disagreed enough that they threatened my Dad to step down, or else.

These individuals were more than just people in our church. They were people we had vacationed with, shared holidays with, and had grown up with.

Their actions rocked our world.

I had been extremely hurt by quite a few people in our church family. 

I started to question the purpose of church altogether. Church didn’t feel like family anymore. And I certainly didn’t want to go to church, mostly for fear of being hurt again. Plus, finding a new church after you’ve listened to your Dad’s preaching all your life is rather difficult.

I used the excuse that church wasn’t a requirement to being a Christian, so long as I still had a relationship with God.   But in that decision I was turning away from God’s call to ministry.

Along came some new friends who were much less judgmental. After all, when you’re partying and drinking with them at the bar they don’t want to be judged either.

As a result of hurt and resentment and pain,  I completely stepped out of God’s will for my life. I was running from it, kicking and screaming. For a long time, I kicked and screamed.

It was ugly. 

Until I got it. I finally learned to accept God’s love for what it was, all I would ever need! My worth wasn’t found in the circumstances of my life, how bad my church hurt my family or me. My worth was found in His undying love, His mercy and grace, His forgiveness.

I finally learned how to forgive those who hurt me, who hurt my family. 

It took longer than I like to admit.
But I finally learned that painful lesson.

My journey kind of reminds me of Jonah’s:  God told Jonah His will for Jonah’s life, and due to a number of circumstances Jonah said “Nope! Not gonna do it!” and he ran from God’s will for his life.

But God said, “Oh yes, you are!”

With God’s help (and a lot of grace), Jonah faced his fears, and fell back in line with God’s will for his life. What’s even more amazing is the thought that even with all of Jonah’s running, God still wanted to use Jonah for His glory!

That’s amazing to me! 

So here I was, finally returning to church, returning to God’s call on my life, but so very fearful of being hurt again. 

And yet God reminded me of the plan He had for me. To use my life to bring Him glory. I can’t say I wasn’t hurt again.  But my perspective had changed. Despite my fears, I could rely on God to go before me, to protect me and be with me.

“There is no fear in love. Instead, perfect love drives fear away” (1 John 4:18).

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).

Lori TisdaleRaised in church, as a “preacher’s kid”, Lori has a unique perspective of church, leadership and faith.  Lori loves sharing her personal faith journey and what it took to bring her back into a deep relationship with her Heavenly Father.  Having a passion for authentic living and connecting, Lori views her life as an open book and loves sharing that with others.  Lori’s faith and lifestyle blog explores various DIY/craft projects, kitchen successes (and failures), and God’s life-giving message as it pertains to His calling on our lives (and the life lived in between all of the rest).  Lori and her husband Lee and their dog Callie reside in San Diego County. Connect with Lori on her blog: http://mylifeaslori.wordpress.com.

[Photo credit: Johndel via CreationSwap]

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The Parenting Package

parenting

[Guest Post by Marci Seither – I met her at an event I hosted a writers event at my house last year. I am excited for her to share a parenting story with you today!]

I handed my daughter a new toothbrush and toothpaste to pack alongside of her bathing suit and flip-flops. 

“Do you need more sun screen or the little stick that you can swipe across your nose?” I asked. She continued folding clothes she would need, along with her journal and an assortment of pens.

“I think I’m fine,” she said, looking under her bed and retrieving a lost tennis shoe.

“Do you have batteries for your camera?” I asked.

I remembered the first time I dropped Emma off at camp. She was eight years old. I had a hard time getting back into the car and driving off without her. I remember the quiet car ride home and couldn’t wait until the week was over to pick her up.

The sunny days had freckled her nose and left light streaks in her brown, bobbed hair. She smelled like a mixture of fresh air, mosquito spray, and marshmallows. She had the time of her life.

For the first time, I realized that she was more than capable of surviving without me than I was of surviving without her.

But this wasn’t just a weeklong stay at Camp Joy.
This was six months on the other side of the world.

Emma had graduated a semester early from high school and opted to travel to Saipan to experience Island life before settling into the rigors of college. While I wanted her to trust the Lord with her plans and stay in His presence, I was having a difficult time not getting in the way and, at times, casting my own shadow.

“Mom,” she looked at me. “I am totally going to be fine.  Plus, I will be staying with Aunt Beth and Uncle Andy. Really. You don’t have to worry.”

But worrying tends to be part of the whole parenting package.

How odd it is when you find out you are expecting a child. You are sent home after your first ob/gyn visit with a small diaper bag full of coupons, samples for baby products you never knew existed, and a thick book titled “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

You have nine months to prepare to bring your bundle of joy into the world, yet very little time to prepare for when they begin to stretch their wings, lift off from the nest, and soar into the next chapter of their life without you.

This is a huge transition for kids, but also for parents. We assume that the Lord gives us kids so we can help them grow up. But in reality, I wonder how many times it is the other way around.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:7-10).

So pack your bags and be ready for the journey.

Because whether it is Camp Joy, Saipan, or somewhere in between, the Lord is with you and your kids.

Marci SeitherMarci Seither and her husband, John, live in California. They have six pretty awesome kids who have provided her with volumes of adventures, symphonies of laughter and loads of laundry. Her book “Empty Nest: Strategies to Help Your Kids Take Flight”  by Beacon Hill was just released this spring. It is available on Amazon.com or you can visit her website at www.marciseither.com.

[photo credit: FulgentKlutz via photopin cc]

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Riding Waves of Faith

waves of faith

[Guest Post by Emily Rose Massey – When she asked if she could share her story, it was hard to narrow it down because this girl has gone through so much! Her testimony is as huge as her heart. I know you will be encouraged by her story. If you currently feel stuck under the waves of life, you are not alone. Stand and have faith with Emily today!]

Our faith is tested under waves of faith, and in the weight and pressures of life.

It’s in the fire, the trials, and the storms of life that we are truly strengthened. We can choose to rise above the chaos or allow it to overtake us.

Recently, my husband and I endured a time of testing and trial as we lost our first baby at just 6 weeks along in my pregnancy. I carried that child for two weeks before ever knowing that the baby was with Jesus and not going to be a part of our family here on earth.

Our faith in Jesus Christ is what has been our anchor through all of this.

Having an eternal perspective definitely helps you put one foot in front of the other when you are going through a storm. God’s overwhelming love and amazing grace has overshadowed us and carried us. We have felt His arms hold us close and we are thankful. We are also so grateful for the prayers of so many friends and family who have continued to lift us up.

As someone who doesn’t like to admit weaknesses, not out of pride, but because I constantly declare Philippians 4:13 over my life, I have had a hard time realizing that it is okay to grieve and it’s okay for grieving process to take time.

I have heard the grieving process described as “coming in waves,” and I can definitely attest to that.

Grief becomes a danger when you allow those waves to pull you under instead of rising above and riding those waves with the grace and strength that the Lord pours out for us. Just because you have God’s grace and strength to endure difficult times doesn’t mean you won’t ever have to face sadness or grief.

Just like all attacks from the enemy, the Lord gives us the armor to withstand whatever is thrown at us, as well as a firm foundation beneath our feet. One of my favorite pieces of our armor is the sword of the Spirit because it is our offensive weapon to cut down the devil’s lies with God’s Word.

Faith comes by hearing the Word and that faith is released when we declare God’s truth and promises. Those promises are what give us hope. Jesus promises us in John 16:33 that we will have trouble in this world, but He also promises us that we are safe because He has already overcame the world.

Whatever you are facing has an expiration date.

You won’t have to live with that trouble forever; it cannot overtake you, unless you let it.
So take heart!

Stand firm on the foundation of your Rock, Jesus Christ. Let nothing shake you because you have been made an over-comer through Jesus’ victory on the cross. Sadness and grief will come, sometimes like a tidal wave, but you have an anchor of hope and His name is Jesus! He gave you the power to walk on those waves and He will not let you sink. Keep your eyes on Jesus.

I am praying for those who may be going through a season of sadness, grief, or loss. Lift your eyes up to the hills where your Help comes from. He will keep you from sinking!

Emily Rose MasseyEmily Rose Massey is the author of The Vessel: From Marred to Honorable, a true story of a life delivered from the mire and filthy pit and bondage of sexual sin and molded into a vessel for the Lord to flow through to reach others for His Kingdom. She and her husband are both active in many areas of leadership at their church, including worship ministry, drama ministry, children’s ministry, and youth ministry.  In addition to teaching and preaching the Word of God, Emily also pours out her passion for the Lord through her songwriting. Her songs spring forth out of a forgiven heart full of thankfulness and devotion unto God. To connect with or learn more about Emily, visit www.emilyrosemassey.com.

[photo credit: esther** via photopin cc]

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I lost more than a marriage

tin can phone

[Guest Post by Kathy Moore – I have been walking alongside my friend through her separation, and then divorce. It has been especially hard to watch as the gossip train has started, and doesn’t seem to stop. If you are a “Christian” who knows others who have been destroyed by gossip, please forward this to them. If you are one of them — be encouraged by my friend Kathy’s story today.]

I am divorced.  

Out of obedience to the Lord, I have been silent to share my story — until now. Due to continuing gossip, I have felt the Lord’s prompting to speak truth.

Matthew 5:13-14 reminds me as a Jesus follower I am to be salt and light to the world.  Salt, as we all know, flavors, and light reveals. In addition to being a flavoring, salt is a healing agent, though at first it stings like no one’s business.

And light? While we are thankful for all the wonderful gifts it brings into our lives. Sometimes, when we look straight into it — we are blinded. I realize that there is a cost in being salt and light.

I have had my own healing happen through the stinging, cleansing agents of salt. I have looked into the light and been found wanting.  

I have yielded to both the stinging and the blinding, and I have come out stronger for it. I have come out a stronger follower of Jesus, a more compassionate friend, an empathetic leader, and a mom who is able to instill healthy boundaries into her children.

It was not without pain, tears or anger at God. 
God has brought me full circle. 

He took an anger so deep that it turned logic into chaos. He lovingly comforted me as I came to the cross, a 41 year old broken, humbled, beaten woman full of repentance and asking for forgiveness. He has restored my heart, even in my deep brokenness.

It is time to speak up and confront the abuse — spiritual and otherwise — that continues in my life and the lives of my children.

January 2011, my life unraveled. 

I had known for many years that things were not right. I worked and worked to make things right. But. Nothing stuck. Healing did not occur. My husband and I had separated 3 times in 15 years together.

The final time, I sought assistance from church leaders. I realize now they were not equipped for such a large task. I knew that my church did not support divorce, and I didn’t want one — but I knew I could not keep living in a terrible situation.

I was angry.
I was hurting.
I was out of options. 

The problems had started years and years before. I never really had the guts to bring the situation into the light. My husband and I did not fight well. As a matter of fact, the fights often turned abusive. Chocking, hitting, name calling, and being thrown down occurred more than once.

I admit, sometimes I fought back. The last time we fought, my diamond left a cut above his eye. But years of verbal, physical and emotional abuse left their mark on me. All I wanted was out. And so I began swallowing over-the-counter migraine medicine. That one act created a firestorm that led to my eventual divorce. Unfortunately, the firestorm really didn’t hit the true cause of my misery — abuse. It only added to the abuse by adding a layer of spiritual abuse.

When I filed for legal separation, I lost more than a marriage, I lost a church family and the support of those I had counted on.  

I was left a shadow of what I had once been.

What I have failed to mention is all the gossip that has occurred since my separation, and then divorce. Though I filed for separation, I was not the one to check the divorce box. I never wanted divorce. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt what was happening inside the four walls was not healthy for me or my kids and it wasn’t getting any better.

I have been called a run-away wife. 
I have been told that he found better women. 
I have been told I am a terrible mother.
It has been said that I’ve slept around.

And who said all these things? Christians. The very ones who turned their backs and didn’t wait around for the real story.

I am tired. 
I am righteously angry. 
And now, my children have gotten caught in the insipid chatter.

Ladies and gentleman, abuse is never ok. Abuse is a symptom of a much deeper issue. 

I tried everything imaginable to stop the abuse. I stayed for 15 years. I loved my husband. I wanted a better future.  I drove those who really loved and cared about me nuts, because I could not leave my marriage. And yet, the marriage and abuse were killing me, slowly.

It is a rare day when I don’t pray for my children’s father.
It is a rare day that goes by when I don’t grieve over my broken marriage.
It is a rare day that goes by when I am not confronted with the damage of divorce. 

On the other hand, rarely am I not thankful for who I have become. I wish I had had this strength when I was married, I believe maybe there could have been a different ending.

I like who I am.
I like who God created me to be.
I like the woman who relies fully on Jesus — for everything. 

God has shown up and continues to show up — financially, emotionally, and with gifts I couldn’t have asked for.

And yet, the gossip continues. People. I am divorced. I left an ugly situation hoping and praying for a different outcome, which still hasn’t come. However, God has come into my life and scooped out the anger and given me a heart of forgiveness towards my children’s dad; a forgiveness I’ve extended verbally to him.

Before the Lord, I am clean.

I have kept silent about the true nature of my marriage, because I wanted to protect not only my kids, but their dad as well.

I prayed that understanding would come. I have begged and pleaded with the Lord for someone to stand up for me — and yet here I am, with full peace knowing I must stand up now and speak truth.

Truth shines light on wrongdoings. 
Truth exposes sin. 
Truth is love. 

Love isn’t just sappy and happy. Sometimes love hurts. But, what is the outcome? Peace. True, God-given peace. I have walked a very lonely road. Often times the road has left me in the dark, by myself for long periods of time.

I’m thankful for it.
I’m thankful that I know Jesus intimately.
I’m thankful that it’s purely Jesus, me and my kids going down this road.

I continue to pray for the kid’s dad. I pray true, salt and light repentance occurs.   continue to speak truth into my kid’s lives. I continue to love them and have fun with them and all the while encourage a deeper relationship with Jesus. For those that think they are helping by speaking “truth” into my kid’s lives about me or my church or my life — stop it. If you really want to help, confront the sin that is standing right in front of you masquerading as “right” living.

For the rest of you who have so faithfully stood by my side through tears and really, really tough junk. Thank you. I pray one day I can do the same for you.

Kathy MooreI am Kathy Moore, a daughter of Jesus and mom to three. Writing is my passion and encouraging others towards a deeper, more authentic relationship with Jesus is my goal. I’m funny, serious, a bit weird at times, but overall a fun person to hang out with. I’ve been through a lot–just like the rest of humanity and try to use my “a lot” to help others. Connect with me at delivered2thrive.com.

[photo credit: Florian SEROUSSI via photopin cc]

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Our Need For Intimacy

need for intimacy

[Guest Post by Priscilla Cash – When I got an email from a military wife, I had to say yes. Not just because I support our military, but because I know many military wives and moms who can relate. I hope you are encouraged by her vulnerability and courage to share about intimacy.]

It was not just that I was a woman. It was not just that I had seen too many TV shows or read too many novels.

Deep within, I knew I needed intimacy. It is a profound need. We crave it, we seek it, but it often alludes us. And so, as a teenager, I waited, feeling like there was a deep, vacant hole in my soul.

I have journal entries from those days before I was married, chronicling the loneliness. It brought me closer to Jesus. My relationship with God grew as I looked to Him to fill the void. Even so, I knew that God had something more for me.

A man came into my life and I was swept up into a beautiful and tender romance. I had never imagined anyone being so happy. The love and intimate friendship we shared was unlike anything I had ever known before. We were married late in 2010.

For two and a half years, our relationship grew. Sometimes we argued and hurt each other, but forgiveness and love continued to abound. God blessed us. Then in 2012, my husband, a soldier in the Pennsylvania National Guard, was called up to deploy to Afghanistan. We bravely set about making plans. I slowly transitioned into doing everything at home, while he was away frequently for training. We spent the moments we had together as wisely as we could and prepared for the unknown.

In late summer, my husband left for Texas for four months of pre-deployment training. In January he boarded a plane and left for Afghanistan. His residence became a little combat outpost with weak Internet and poor living conditions. My residence was our small apartment, with his empty shoes left by the door.

Intimacy became a long-distant memory and I struggled to maintain a connection to a man surviving in a world dramatically different from my own.

Intimacy eroded over the months that followed.

By the time my husband came home, nine months later, I had changed. As strange as this may sound, I had grieved when he left and it changed me. I became closed, hard, and tenaciously independent. As much as I tried to understand that my husband had done what he needed to do, I still felt like a dear and intimate friendship had been ripped from me. Now I was lost and unsure where even to begin to put the pieces back together

As our marriage began to struggle, I found myself pushing my husband away. I realized that something needed to change, but I could not force myself to engage, try as I might. It only resulted in me feeling angry, bitter, and broken.

So I began to pray, desperately. My husband began to pray. We talked and talked and talked. And as I came to God, broken, having only enough courage to utter the word, “help,” God began to work. But not in the way that I had expected.

I wanted God to fix me and our marriage, to miraculously zap things back to the way they used to be.

Instead, He drew me to Himself.

I found my deep need for intimacy being nurtured and healed by God’s hand. Whenever anger and bitterness rose their ugly heads, I felt God’s gentle calling, “Priscilla, come back to me. I’m here.”

I still have a long way to go, but seeing God’s hand in my life, touching me deeply where I have needed it the most, has been a life-changing experience for me. No one wants to go through hard times. No one knows exactly how they’ll handle those times when they do arise. But God is always there, touching and healing in intimate ways.

I fear we try to “fix” things much more often than we’re meant too. When we’re supposed to be leaning on God, we’re running around trying to force things to happen and make our lives perfect looking, while deep within, our spirit smothers.

I’ve found that God addresses our need for intimacy by drawing us to Himself first.

Only then, when we’re nestled close to Him, are we free to begin to engage fully in other relationships. If you’re going through something similar, I’d ask you, dear sister, to kneel where you are and hold up closed fists to God. Slowly let your fingers open and give your burdens, one at a time, into His hands. He’s gentle with the sorrowful and the weak and the worn out.

He loves you.
Rich intimacy awaits.

Priscilla CashPriscilla Cash is married to an Army National Guard Soldier, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom. She spends much of her time caring for their precious toddler son, keeping their home running and trying to better her skills as a wife, mother, friend, and follower of Christ. When she’s not engaged in the above, you’ll find her reading, freelance writing, crocheting, and bookmaking. You can find her on her blog at priscillacash.blogspot.com.

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