A Mountain of Hope

Only God can turn a marriage that is rapidly imploding into a clear example of God’s power and grace. For all those who are struggling in their marriage, or really any relationship, this Christmas season, maybe Kelly’s story give you hope.

 

A Mountain of Hope
by Kelly Klepfer

Though my upcoming co-written novel, Out of the Frying Pan, is full of humor and quirky characters, and I’m someone who loves to laugh and find joy in the moment, I’ve had my share of sorrow and seasons steeped in darkness.

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Billy Graham

I was “saved” as a young child. Billy Graham scared me straight at age six. I didn’t want to go to hell so I said a prayer. Years later, I was still saying those prayers. Often. Throughout high school I managed to juggle being a good Baptist with hating myself for my inability to be a good Baptist.

My high school sweetheart and I married when we were just 19 and 20. He’d dabbled with pot and we’d both spent far too much time drinking. All grown up we continued to drink, had a child, and he began drinking other places. When I was pregnant with our second child, seven years into our marriage, he began to drink heavily and with a group of friends I didn’t know. A month before I gave birth he finally admitted he didn’t love me anymore.

Devastated, I asked him to leave and began building a life without him while he moved into a home with a barely functioning alcoholic. He insisted on being with me when our baby was born but when my water broke a month early I couldn’t reach him. His roommate said he wasn’t there.

My father took over trying to find him once they had taken me to the hospital. I was prepped for the C-section when he finally arrived. I’ll never forget the loneliness in the following few minutes. The anesthesiologist placed a mask over my face. I was strapped down and unable to communicate. The spinal aid-1807541_640anesthesia numbed a vertebra higher than my previous C-Section so I couldn’t feel my lungs moving.

I began to panic that I wasn’t breathing. So I tried to communicate with my half-drunk stranger of a husband with my eyes. The anesthesiologist had buried himself in a Stephen King novel. My husband finally said something. The doctor leaned over. “She’s hyperventilating.” My world had grown gritty gray and white by this point, and finally he placed a breather mask over my face, and I was able to resurface.

A few months later, on Christmas Eve, my husband had a nostalgic come to Jesus moment. He did love me after all, and wanted back into our home. My heart had hardened, grown bitter. I looked at the options I had and decided if he was willing and would treat me better I’d be open to it. As long as the good outweighed the bad I’d let him stay. We both sought “Christian” counseling. My counselor tried out things like primal screaming. His told my husband he didn’t really have problems with addiction. There was nothing Biblical in our counseling sessions that I recall. (Bonus takeaway: Be warned: Find Biblical counselors not “Christian.”)

alkolismus-64162_1920My husband began to slowly increase in drinking again though he kept it at home. I continued to grow in bitterness and my mantra that as long as the good outweighed the bad he could remain.

Five years later he got scared and cold turkey stopped drinking. Within months there was something weird going on with him. He admitted to me that he felt restless and that he wanted to do dangerous, risky things. I asked him to talk to different males and to please let me know should he really find himself wanting to cave in.

A couple months later, on our anniversary, while I was getting ready to go out on a date with him, the phone rang. My aunt had just arrived to pick up the kids for an overnight and I gave them quick hugs and kisses and sent them out the door before saying hello. That hello changed my life in so many ways. It was the other woman who revealed not only the affair she’d been having with my husband but also that she was pregnant.

Dark, dark, dark days followed. We entered counseling again. He voluntarily went through the alcohol addiction program that is court ordered for those receiving DUIs. We began to attend church again for the first time in years. Somehow, in spite of very close friends and relatives telling me to leave, accusing me of having battered wife syndrome, being foolish, I stood firm. My reason–I wasn’t going to give up if he was done being an addict just to see someone else benefit from my pain. I wanted to see it through to the end just in case he might actually be able to beat this thing.

Our lives were changed in so many icky ways. The betrayal and the hardness of my heart toward him was just ugly. But I trudged through. Early after finding out about the affair I was out of town with unbelievers who loved a good party. They decided that I needed to get all dressed up and get drunk and find myself a little payback.

God delivered me.

I went to the hotel bar by myself to get drinks for the three of us while my friends were doing their hair and makeup. While there my eyes connected to those of a man at the bar. Looking into his eyes was like looking into his soul. I saw such emptiness there, such hurt, such loneliness that it called to me on a very primitive level. I wanted to connect with that. Scared, I hurried back to the hotel room with my drinks and told my friends about the guy. They insisted I go back, but I was afraid. On our way out to go bar hopping we stopped there to see if he was there. He was gone.

At the bars I drank more than I ever had before. Drink after drink after drink. Nothing touched me or loosed my inhibitions. All I could think about was how miserable I was and how much I just wanted to go back to the hotel room and cry myself to sleep. God kept me sober, I’m convinced, because payback would’ve ripped my soul to shreds. And been the nail in the coffin of my marriage. I threw up all night long. But was saved from a very ugly thing.

Five years after the affair we we’re finally able to see his daughter. They lived four hours away. We’d travel at least once a month. It was a very hard time, and I kept a very long list of what my husband was doing and not doing to make up to me for putting me and my kids through the torture.

We’d fight all the way home while I’d critique him and his performance. One night it was so bad. I’m so grateful none of the kids were with us, I remember him screaming. “I hear your words but I don’t understand what you want. It’s like you are speaking Chinese.”

It broke me. I sobbed the final hour of the silent trip. How could he not understand? How could I live with this one second longer? I was tired emotion-556794_1920of paying for his sins. His working extra three weekends a month so he could take one weekend off. That night I screamed out to God that He needed to change my husband. I couldn’t do this anymore. And I was so, so angry that my marriage was going to end over this when it had survived alcohol, a husband who didn’t love me and an affair. So angry. When I was through screaming, God asked me a simple question, right into my heart. “Why do you think you are right?”

I couldn’t answer that question. Exhausted and silenced. I gave up, and I told Him I couldn’t but that I was going to find out what my role and responsibility were in marriage and obey Him. It just so happened that an intense marriage inductive Bible study was starting the next week at my church. I signed up to go solo. And my life began changing immediately. As I learned I changed and let go and healed and grew. I began studying other aspects and absorbing and consuming God’s word. I didn’t care as much about my marriage as I did about my right relationship with Jesus.

The trials didn’t end. But I chose to die to myself. Slowly, my husband became jealous over my relationship with Jesus. He wanted that, and he wanted to share it with me. Through this whole period of time we were involved in a church, leaders to some extent, and there was so much death in us. We began to be resurrected in Christ and we truly died.

At age nine, our youngest daughter, his from another mother, moved in permanently. While we navigated life with God at the steering wheel we were able to overcome even more obstacles. And the strangest thing happened. Our older two kids began to see faith really walked out, not just talked about in church, but the parents they saw in church were the parents they went home with.

Our youngest struggled with obvious challenges.  At age 17 she told us where to put our rules, and she stepped out to live a life of her own choosing. More dark days followed. But God’s faithful answers to prayers uttered with groans and tears and His grace and mercy kept doors cracked open. Today our, MY, youngest daughter is married with a baby of her own and her own stepson. She speaks to us daily and seeks out our earned-the-hard-way wisdom. A restored relationship with her is a gift beyond words.

What about our other two children? The ones who lived through the drama and the affair’s aftermath, my bitterness and self-righteousness, the alcoholism, how are they? Did they survive the ugly childhood we provided?

They are a delight and a joy. Both living fully for the Lord and His plans for them. Our middle daughter chose to follow Christ into opening her life to foster care. She took in four little siblings and has now adopted three and prays and longs for the baby who is currently with the biological mom. As a single mom of three she is a shining light for Jesus and is making a profound difference in the lives of these amazing children. Our son teaches at a local high school. He and his wife have opened their hearts and home to so many people I can’t even keep track of those they have blessed. Generosity is who they are. And they breathe Christ in and out in their interactions.

God has been consistently for me. Allowing me to come to the end of myself, allowing me to fail miserably so that I ran to Him.

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When the chef of Sunset Paradise Retirement Village ends up unnamed-1dead, life for sisters Fern and Zula Hopkins is whipped into a froth. Their zany attempts to track down the killer land them in hot water with Detective Jared Flynn. Should he be concerned about their safety or the criminal’s?

But there are deadly ingredients none of them expect. Drugs. Extortion. International cartels. And worst of all…broken hearts–especially when the Hopkins sisters’ niece KC arrives on the scene.

Before the snooping pair gain any headway with the case, it becomes crystal clear that the sisters share a mysterious secret that takes life from the frying pan and into the line of fire.

Buy Out of the Frying Pan on Amazon.

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unnamedKelly Klepfer had ambitions to graduate from the school of life quite a while ago, but alas…she still attends and is tested regularly. Her co-authored cozy/quirky mystery, Out of the Frying Pan, is the culmination of several of the failed/passed tests. Kelly, though she lives with her husband, two Beagles, and two hedgehogs in Iowa, can be found at Novel Rocket, Novel Reviews, Scrambled Dregs, Modern Day Mishaps, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter, with flashes of brilliance (usually quotes), randomocities, and learned life-lessons. Zula and Fern Hopkins and their shenanigans can be found at Zu-fer, where you always get more than you bargained for.

 

Rippling Waters

It was my third grade year, and I was the awkward, sad, frizzy-haired little girl in need of a friend. I found one in Mrs. Eldridge. I don’t know if she was a Christian, but I suspect she was. That’s the only way I know to explain the love that radiated from her whenever she looked at me, the gentleness that blanketed her words whenever she spoke to me, and the consistency with which she reached out to me.

And I’m almost certain she had no idea the impact she had on me, but when we get to heaven, man is she in for a massive hug!

Passing the Baton
by Mary Bowen

As ripples in water spread outward in ever-widening circles, each of us influences many others. Even the famous evangelist Billy Graham stands on the shoulders of five men in his past. On a Saturday in 1856, Edward Kimball decided to follow up with one of his Sunday school teenagers and talked to Dwight Moody about Christ’s love in the back of a Boston boot store. Years later, under Moody’s preaching, Wilbur Chapman became a believer and then a pastor.

Under his ministry baseball player Billy Sunday was saved. He started preaching, and Mordecai Ham found salvation. Later, as Ham shared the gospel near his high school, a teenager named Billy Graham responded. Through him, nearly 2 billion people have now heard the message of salvation.

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Billy Graham 

I also owe certain people a tremendous debt of gratitude for their spiritual investment in me. The first person to pass the baton of faith was my remarkable mother. She embraced life with both arms, loving people freely and initiating many family adventures. My brothers and I felt enjoyed, even celebrated, in our unique talents. Like the “giving tree” in the popular children’s book, she gladly sacrificed for us in so many ways. For six years she led my Girl Scout meetings, and always cheered with Daddy at my brothers’ football games and wrestling matches.  At the University of Louisville, Mother’s geology students would often seek her out for counsel. I remember lively dinner conversations with Nigerian students she invited over. Mother stayed involved in my life later on when things got hard. Her tenacious prayers and fasting over several years led to agods-intentions-toward-us-are-always-good transformation in my life. Through her I felt God’s unfailing love.

Someone else from my family has also profoundly influenced me for God. My brother Bob, like Mother, believed in me and always saw the best. Bob put his heart into whatever he did, and loved people well.

“Only two things in this life will last — God and people,” he would say. Bob delighted in his family most of all, lavishing time and energy on them. Whether he was designing machine parts at work, seeding the lawn, or kayaking with his boys, he gave it his best effort. Joy percolated just below the surface, often emerging as a smile or joke.

This inner abundance didn’t disappear when he learned he had stage 4 cancer. “God‘s intentions toward us are always good,” he assured us. “Whatever happens, don’t blame God!”  Through an agonizing year he clung to his faith like a life raft. At home or in his hospital room, we often reminisced about family times and shared our favorite Scriptures with one another. The Lord was very near. Bob especially liked Isaiah 40:31. The last day we talked, he told us he’d be experiencing that verse first-hand, his strength renewed like an eagle.

hawk-1535127_640God arranged an air show in October to remind me of Bob. Resting after hiking up a mountain, my husband and I gasped in wonder as a hawk gracefully curved and soared above us. Catching a ride on a column of air, or thermal, it hovered motionless in perfect calm a few moments. Then a sun dog appeared, a rainbow-colored patch in the clouds. Instantly I was back with Bob at his hospital window, marveling together at those ice crystals refracting the sunlight.

Life is unpredictable, and precious. How grateful I am for those who passed the baton of faith to me. They loved me so much I’ll never be the same.

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dscn1905Mary Bowen writes and edits for Grace Ministries International in Marietta, Georgia. For many years her articles and poetry have been published in newspapers, magazines and anthologies. She has worked as a reporter and freelancer, and served as an editor with the North American Mission Board.

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livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about it: Mary shared how key people in her life were so influential in her relationship with the Lord. Who has been influential in your life? And how are you intentionally pouring into someone else’s life so they, too, may experience the joy of salvation? Leave your thoughts here or over on Living by Grace. We’re here to surround and pray for one another through this life!

What Is To Come

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Iris Peters, faithful daughter of Christ, 1973-2012

As death grew closer for my sweet friend, Iris Peters, a woman who valiantly battled brain cancer, our conversations turned increasingly toward heaven. She had so many questions, and as she and I wrestled with this heavy and pressing topic, we realized it wasn’t often addressed in the evangelical community.

Why is that? It can be hard to have an eternal perspective when our longing is never fed. But if we truly understood what awaits us, what God has prepared for us, our every breath would be, “Come Lord Jesus, come.”

This, my friend, is why I consider my chronic illness and pain a blessing–because it daily reminds me, as Mary Bowen, my guest proclaims, that “The Best is Yet to Be.” As you read her post, pause to rest in God’s presence this morning. And dream with me about the day when there will be no more sadness, no more sin and destruction, and no more pain.

The Best is Yet to Be
by Mary Bowen

We’ve all felt it, a “quiet but throbbing ache,” as Joni Eareckson Tada calls it in Heaven, Your Real Home. Inside we can sense a restless yearning for more and better. The relentless alarm-clock-590383_640ticking of the clock often seems like an enemy, snatching away our pleasant moments all too soon. Time makes us feel as if we’re caught in a strong current rushing downstream towards the waterfall of death.

Why do we long for permanent peace and love? Because we were created for them. “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men. . .” (Eccl. 3:11). God made us for heaven: “. . .so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose. . .” (2 Cor. 5:4, 5). In the Trinity God enjoys such wonderful fellowship that He created us for this same intimate communion with Himself and one another. (The Sacred Romance).

Last summer I reveled in my “happy place” on the patio with the purple, yellow, orange and fuchsia of our flowers. But I don’t want to just see beauty, I want to experience it, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “. . . to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it” (The Weight of Glory, 1949).  We’ll do that in heaven.

Our happiest times with family and friends seem to pull back heaven’s mysterious curtain, revealing a glimpse of our life to come.  In his comprehensive book, Heaven, Randy Alcorn landscape-1590888_640tantalizes with descriptions of rich fellowship, incredible beauty and joy, and adventures. We’ll each have exciting assignments from God.

So it’s not just floating around on clouds playing a harp and enduring endless worship services? I sighed with relief when I discovered that heaven won’t be boring, because God isn’t. We are “destined for unlimited pleasure at the deepest level,” writes Joni (Heaven. . . Your Real Home, 1995). The famous poet Robert Browning affirmed, “There’s a further good conceivable beyond the utmost earth can realize” (“Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau,” 1871).

As we set our hearts and minds on things above (Col. 3:1,2), we are pleasing God. Life on earth will never satisfy us completely. Disappointments and heartaches make us long for heaven. Yet our trials are not wasted, but actually count for something. A godly response to them will be rewarded in heaven. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, person-371015_640but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Appearances are everything in our society; an athlete’s ability, a model’s figure are all admired. But their strength and beauty diminish with time, finally pushing them to the outside as younger ones step in to take their place. How we all fear aging! Yet for the Christian, each day brings us closer to heaven. We can accept what others fear, because we know that our time on earth is not the end of the story. C. S. Lewis wrote that this life is like only the title page of a book, and chapter one starts in heaven. Then, each successive chapter will be better than the last. . .”The [school] term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning!” (The Last Battle, 1956).

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dscn1905Mary Bowen writes and edits for Grace Ministries International in Marietta, Georgia. For many years her articles and poetry have been published in newspapers, magazines and anthologies. She has worked as a reporter and freelancer, and served as an editor with the North American Mission Board.

 

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livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this: Mary shared such a joyful post on our life to come! Do you experience joy at the thought of being with Jesus? What are you looking forward to most? Do you feel fear when you consider death? If so, I would love to pray for you.

Leave your thoughts–and encouragement!–in the comments below or over on Living By Grace on Facebook. We can learn so much from one another!

 

Sheltering Our Kids (And a Giveaway)

If only we could keep our children in a bubble, point them to only the best resources and influences, and saturate their brain with nothing but truth. And yet, that would drastically stunt their growth and likely get in the way of all God wants to do in and through them. There’s a fine line between sheltering our kids and shielding them. So where do we draw that line? My guest today, Tessa Emily Hall, writes a helpful post that encourages us to point our children to Jesus. Read on–and be sure to enter Tessa’s giveaway at the end of this post!

Is Sheltering Teens More Dangerous Than Exposing Them?
by Tessa Emily Hall

unwritten-melody-quote01Is sheltering kids the answer to keeping them safe from the sin and danger that lurks in our world today? In effort to explore this question, I wrote a YA novel, Unwritten Melody. The protagonist in this story, Cassie, is a 17-year-old who has been raised by her overbearing grandmother. As a result of the strict rules, she develops a hunger to ultimately go against her grandmother’s wishes.

We all need rules and guidelines to follow, but could too much of this potentially lead to more harm than good?

Let’s look at the possible dangers that could result from this:

  1. Kids might long to break free from their bubble as they become desperate for “freedom”.
  2. Their walk with God could become based on rules and regulations (“religion”) rather than from a pure adoration for Him, wanting to obey Him, and an understanding of His Son’s sacrifice.
  3. They might not know how to witness to unbelievers since they’ll have no way to identify with them.
  4. If the kid is raised believing that being a Christian consists of all rules and no fun then Christianity might leave a bad taste in their mouth.dad-909510_640
  5. They might not have the chance to walk out their own faith without having to rely on the faith of their parents’.
  6. If the kid is resentful toward their sheltered lifestyle, when they’re given their first taste of freedom, they might rebel in attempt to make up for “what they’ve lost”.
  7. It might cause them to believe their parents sheltered them out of spite rather than love.
  8. They could become resentful toward their parents for keeping them from being “normal”.
  9. The lack of life they experience might cause them to experience depression. They might feel as though they’ve become a slave to rules, have no purpose in life, and aren’t worthy to live the life they’ve longed for. (This is a lie Cassie believes in Unwritten Melody.)
  10. It might cause them to develop a low-self esteem. (In Unwritten Melody,Cassie believes the reason she’s shy is because of the way she was raised by her overprotective grandmother. It’s this temperament that makes her feel as though she doesn’t measure up to other teens and has few friends.)

Since Satan is the ruler of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), we should be careful not to become influenced by the ways of the world. So how can Christians strike a balance between shielding and sheltering?

Encourage children to establish a personal relationship with Jesus. When they fall in love with their Savior and are lead by the Holy Spirit, they won’t have a desire to live a life cross-423157_1920that displeases Him. Show them that the rules set by authority are there to help them, not to keep them from having fun. And remember to always lead and discipline in the spirit of love.

Proverbs 22:6 (NIV) says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

Parents should introduce their kids to Jesus. When it’s time to let go, they should trust that the Holy Spirit will lead, guide, direct, help—and yes, shelter their kids from the danger that threatens to put an end to their faith.

Even when kids do become exposed to the world, they’ll remain much safer in the hands of Jesus than they could ever be if sheltered only by their parents at home.

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Enter for your chance to win the Unwritten Melody Prize Pack! Two winners will be selected and announced on Tessa’s blog the final day of tour (Friday, December 9th) and will be notified via email.

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This prize pack includes…

  • E-copy of Unwritten Melody
  • Signed paperback copy of Purple Moon
  • Unwritten Melody mug, filled with goodies
  • Unwritten Melody swag, including a bookmark, pen, and poster
  • Starbucks mocha flavored instant coffee
  • Free Unwritten Melody: Page-By-Page Secrets PDF
  • Handmade journal
  • Typewritten thank you note

*This giveaway is open to the US only 

Enter here:  a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Unwritten Melody:

Does breaking free require breaking the rules?

unwritten-melody_webCassie Gilbert lives every day in the shadows of her deceased mom’s rebellion. But now that she’s seventeen, she finds herself longing to break away from her grandmother’s suffocating rules, experience what it’s like to be a regular teenager, and fulfill her songwriting dreams.

James Russo, former American Spotlight contestant, escapes to small town Willow Creek, SC hoping to flee from his tarnished past. When a school project pairs him with the shy principal’s granddaughter, he’s determined to get to know this Emily-Dickinson-obsessed and typewriter-using girl. His plan? Convince Cassie to co-write songs for his demo album.

As Cassie gets to know James over “project meetings” (more like opportunities to match her lyrics with his melodies), she becomes intrigued by his sense of adventure and contagious passion for music. But soon, his past becomes exposed. Cassie’s left to wonder—did she make the same mistake Mom did by falling for the bad boy?

Then, Grandma’s control pushes her over the edge. Cassie must choose between remaining in the chains of yesterday, or delving into her own freedom by completing the melody her mom left behind.

Buy it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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tessa-emily-hall_headshot1Tessa Emily Hall writes inspirational yet authentic YA fiction to show others they’re not alone—and because she remembers the teen life like it was yesterday (or a few years ago). The debut novel she wrote at 16-years-old, Purple Moon (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas) was a Selah 2014 Finalist. Her second novel, Unwritten Melody, releases with Clean Reads November 2016. She’s the Founder of PursueMagazine.net, a magazine that inspires teens to embrace their calling. She also enjoys helping writers achieve their dreams through her internship at Hartline Literary Agency.

When her fingers aren’t flying 116 WPM across the keyboard, Tessa can be found making healthy homemade lattes, speaking to teens, decorating her insulin pump, and acting in Christian films. She writes in a small town nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Southeastern coast. Her favorite way to procrastinate is by connecting with readers on her blog, mailing list, social media (@tessaemilyhall), and website.

Connect With Tessa on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

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livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this: When our daughter was young, we sheltered her–in numerous ways. We homeschooled, and I was very careful about who she spent time with and what I allowed her to experience. But I didn’t do this on a whim. I knew this was how God was leading me. Fast forward to her seventh grade year, and suddenly, God turned the tables on me. He told me it was time to release her–to the public school arena. Again, I followed His leading, though I was terrified her innocence would be shattered along with her faith. The opposite happened–her faith and reliance on her Savior grew, and God gave her clear vision into her encounters. In other words, she began to see a clear distinction between good and evil, light and dark, and she was drawn to shine with the love and truth of Christ.

The key then–prayer. Momma’s, make prayer the most important part of your day. Pray for your kids regularly, and pray for yourself–that God would reveal their hearts to you and give you clear wisdom as to how to raise them. Because only He knows what they’ll face and what they’ll need to experience to prepare them for that. (If you and your group would like to hear more, ask me about my Parenting to the Heart talk. I’d love to come share what God has shown me with your Bible study/women’s ministry/moms group. Contact me at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com to find out more.)

Your turn! How have you achieved a balance between shielding and sheltering? Do you believe over-sheltering kids could lead to more harm than good? Share your thoughts in the comments below or over on Living by Grace on Facebook.

Visit Sarah Ruut’s blog (scroll down) to learn where else Tessa will be on her blog tour. 

The Road to Restoration

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The Road to Restoration
by Jan Pierce

Luke 3: 4-6 “As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make ready the way of the Lord, Make his paths straight. Every ravine shall be filled up, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough roads smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” 

We believers are aware of the need to “fill the valleys and level the hills” for those who have never heard the Gospel. They may not understand God’s ways or the depth of their sin. They don’t grasp their need of a Savior. But how do we deal with long-time Christians who fall into sin?

They know better.

I’d been saved for over twenty years and my husband was a pastor. I taught Sunday School and women’s groups. I’d studied the Bible forward and backward for many years. I knew heartsickness-428103_640about sin and the wiles of the enemy.

I knew better.

But even though I knew, over the course of several months I allowed a relationship with another church leader to go beyond the bounds of friendship. I moved into a secretive and “romantic” relationship with a man not my husband. And though the relationship never became sexual, my heart was divided.

We’d been friends for years, enjoyed social times as couples, gone on leadership retreats, worked side by side to build a church. We’d even lived with the family for a time while we were in the process of buying a home. We were friends. We loved their children and they loved ours.

I sinned.

Once the relationship became common knowledge we were required to go before the church and confess. We were not allowed to speak to one another again. He lost his leadership position and moved away. I lost my good reputation.

Although all of this took place over twenty years ago, some of the lessons learned are as nature-669592_640fresh today as they were then. I learned first-hand about ways to minister to those caught in the web of sin. I learned what helps and what doesn’t.

My Father God sent Jesus to die for my sins. He wanted me restored to Him. And I was. But as I look back on that time I realize we Christians often don’t know how to love someone back on their feet. We mess it up.

From My Perspective:

  • Though I’d behaved in sinful ways I was shocked at my own behavior.
  • I didn’t expect anyone to overlook my sin or condone it.
  • I was numb both in mind and spirit—it felt as if I had watched another person’s behaviors.
  • Long lists of scriptures handed to me by well-meaning believers were not helpful.
  • Notes and letters of condemnation and shame broke me further.
  • At the most horrible time of my life most friends and acquaintances had no idea how to help. They disappeared.

Over many months and years I received my healing. I traced the roots of my unhealthy need for approval that led to attention seeking. I came to understand some of the “ministry” I received had not been at all helpful, though well-intentioned.

How can we do better? How can we help to “make the crooked straight and the rough roads smooth?”  These are the actions and behaviors that brought healing and eventual wholeness to my heart.

Unconditional Love

While I didn’t expect or want friends to condone what I’d done, I was not able to take in corrective words at rope-1469244_640that time. I was in shock. I was grieved beyond words. I could barely get through the days—going to work, cooking meals, being me. Those who were able to reassure me of their unconditional love were like healing balm to my raw heart. One woman said, “I don’t care what you did, I love you anyway.” Another stood in church beside me and read a verse of God’s redemption with a strong, firm voice. A man I barely knew wrote me a letter telling of the struggles in his own marriage and sending encouraging words filled with love. I’ll never forget those who acknowledged that I’d fallen, but loved me until the day I could stand again.

The Gift of Time

Because we were in positions of leadership, everyone involved went through painful transitions. We lost our leadership positions. We eventually lost our church body. We were like lepers calling out “unclean.” Friends disappeared like a mist. A teacher friend once said, “Nobody loves you when you have head lice.” It was like that. Those who were willing to spend time with me, talk with me, listen and pray—they were gold.

Honesty Concerning Consequences

When sin twists its way into our lives there are dreadful consequences. There is no reason girl-517555_640to minimize them. One friend said: “It will eventually be like a broken bone that’s healed. There will always be that knit-together place,  that scar.” And he was right. The consequences were great. Innocent people were hurt. The ripples of the events traveled out to family members, friends and beyond. We lost people we loved. I had to face dark places in my own being that I’d ignored to my own hurt. To be honest, years and years have passed, but there are still awkward meetings with friends from those days—a wedding where we run into them, a funeral we don’t attend because we would run into them. It’s a sad fact that sin destroys. But…

Moving On

Praise God He sent Jesus to die for the very sins I committed. It was a long time before I healed. It took encouraging words from a new pastor who helped me get “unstuck” from shame and guilt. He offered to pray with me, counsel with me—whatever it took to regain love-699480_640my true identity as a beloved daughter of the King.

There’s a time for mourning and then there’s a time for moving on. I returned to teaching and leading women in the church. My husband and I began a ministry to Christians in India. We rejoiced that our marriage not only survived but became stronger and healthier. We counted our blessings.

John preached the message: “Repent, the King is coming.” And He did. He came and died for your sins and mine. He came to restore and heal. Let’s join hands with Him to bring restoration and hope to His people.

*** 

homegrown-family-fun-frontToday’s children are missing out on old-fashioned unstructured creative play. They seldom run and play outdoors. They don’t spend time building forts or making mud pies. Their primary choices involve computerized screentime. While computerized games and activities can be educational, they eat up the time that would otherwise be spent in active, kid-powered play—the work of childhood. Homegrown Family Fun: Unplugged offers hundreds of ways to encourage healthy play, both indoors and out. Find this helpful family resource at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Find Jan at www.janpierce.net.

***

jan-109acrop1Jan Pierce is a Christian wife, mother of two, grandmother of four little boys and a retired school teacher. She draws on her life experiences to write both fiction and non-fiction. She is the author of Homegrown Readers and the newly-released Homegrown Family Fun: Unplugged. Both  available at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. Find Jan at www.janpierce.net.

What Do Your Actions Say About Your Integrity

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Integrity speaks. Loudly, and most often, when we’re completely oblivious as to who’s watching. But the truth is, someone is always watching, and if you’re a follower of Christ, this is a big deal because we are Christ’s representatives. This means, others will catch a glimpse of who Christ is by what we do and say. More so what we do. Our actions either back up and strengthen our words, or they contradict them.

Integrity doesn’t happen over night. And it doesn’t just happen. It’s developed choice by choice, thought by thought, until it’s just something we do. Until it’s almost organic to us.

For those of you who are following our study of John the Baptist:

John’s life was characterized by integrity. (I’ll share some suggested reading passages at the end of this post.) He continually did what was right–whatever God had called him to do–even when doing so was crazy hard, and ultimately cost him his life. That’s integrity, and man, did that speak.

sarah-ruutToday’s guest, my sweet friend and fellow ACFW member Sarah Ruut, shares a moment when a stranger caught a moment of integrity she wasn’t even aware of, and what she learned from it.

The Statement of Integrity by Sarah Ruut

During our trips to Costco, one of the highlights for my kids is the sample carts. On this particular morning, I had all four kids with me, and they had gone over to a particularly crowded cart. I stayed close enough to give my approval to the lady serving them, but far enough to avoid the jumble of carts and bodies.

It took a few minutes for them each to have a bite in hand and return. As they photo-1448131063153-f1e240f98a72stood next to our cart enjoying their little treat, another shopper approached.

“I just want to tell you how impressed I am with your son.”

Oh? My mind replayed the scene, wondering what had caught her attention.

“There weren’t enough samples for all of them, so he served his younger siblings first and waited for the next batch to get his own.”

I hadn’t even picked up on that, but the simple, quiet action had obviously made an impression.

We have opportunities to make impressions on those around us every day. Often we don’t even stop to think about it. How many people see what you do? The decisions you make, or the way you respond to a challenge?

Probably more than you think.

Sometimes it’s easy to think, “No one will ever know. No one will ever see.” We can use that as an excuse to get away with something we would not do in front of others, especially those we want to impress. But if no one will ever know…?

That very decision, though, defines your character. Do you have integrity? Will you do what’s right, no matter who is or isn’t looking?

I love this quote from Chuck Swindoll:

“Few things are more infectious than a godly lifestyle. The people you rub shoulders with everyday need that kind of challenge. Not prudish. Not preachy. Just cracker jack clean living. Just honest to goodness, bone – deep, non-hypocritical integrity.” ~ Chuck Swindoll

Doing what’s right. No matter who’s watching. No matter what the circumstances. Just doing the right thing. Do we?

***

Sarah Ruut is an avid reader of Christian fiction when she’s not busy homeschooling her four tweens and teens. She loves sharing about books and their authors on her blog, Fiction, Faith, and Fun, where you’ll find devotionals as well as reviews of Christian fiction, interviews with amazing authors, giveaways and more! You can also connect with Sarah on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Goodreads.

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this! Can you share a time when you were faced with a difficult choice, maybe when you worried doing the right thing would cost you something, and what the result was? Do you have any thoughts on Sarah’s post? Share your thoughts, stories, and examples here in the comments below, on Facebook at Living by Grace, or join our discussion in the For the Love Bible Study group.

Read the following Bible passages and consider how they reveal John’s integrity:

Luke 1:13-17, Matthew 3:4

John 1:19-27

Matthew 14:1-12

You may also enjoy: In the Absence of Integrity

Walking In the Wilderness

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I hate being stretched, prodded, and poked. At least, emotionally. But I’m learning to view my struggles and frustrations differently—through the lens of grace. I’ve shared before, but our family has been called to a challenge, one that, at times, takes every ounce of our energy and endurance. One that often leaves us feeling uncertain and one that also brings every selfish and un-surrendered thought to the surface.

This morning, after a particularly trying day the day before, I opened my Bible to James 1:1-3. And was challenged. Inspired. And invited to participate with God in the growth He is initiating in me. 

Then I open my computer and begin reviewing today’s post, and received yet an extra dose of encouragement to stay all in. And to lean hard on Christ. My struggles are nothing like Julie went through, but maybe that’s what makes her post so encouraging–to see faith and strength in the extreme.

 

Don’t Despise the Wildnerness
by Julie Arduini

It was 2003. I lived in Upstate NY and the financial consequences from 9/11 hit our small city hard. The main corporation in town, Corning Inc., let go 20% of their workforce. At the time, their stock was worth less than a slice of pizza at the local shop. Most businesses in town were somehow connected to Corning, including my husband’s employer. His work dried up to the point that the employer left the business and told his employees to keep it baby-1178539_640running—without salary or benefits.

Our baby came into our lives that August and I thought for sure my new role as a full-time mom would be the needed turn. Not long after her birth my husband realized he had to get another job. Our health insurance alone was a huge amount per month plus a 20% co-pay. On paper, we never had the amount. In reality, God provided. Yet, something had to give.

Once my husband started working as a temp to help make ends meet, we received news that our daughter’s newborn tests were abnormal. After hearing all was fine, we later learned the office made a mistake and our daughter was not fine. They sat me down and told me that because she lost 8 weeks of needed medicine, we were to prepare our child for mental retardation.

The hits became relentless. Our daughter got sick before Thanksgiving. Although we were changing doctors, we still hadn’t found one, so we went back. He prescribed a medicine with codeine, something I questioned for a three-month baby. He assured me he’d prescribed this for years.

Our daughter nearly died on Thanksgiving Eve.medic-563425_640

As she recovered, we learned my dad had lung cancer. I refused to believe it. He looked so good. They didn’t want anyone to know for fear he’d be treated differently. As Hannah battled RSV and pneumonia and my husband learned his second job was ending and that a company five hours away wanted to hire him—my dad wasn’t getting better. Three weeks after my husband moved to his new job knowing no one in an apartment the company found for him, my dad passed away.

I was grieving while taking care of two small ones, including a chronically sick baby. My mom was beside herself losing her husband and her daughter’s family. Once I sold the house and reunited with my husband, I remember sitting in Ohio, shell-shocked.

I felt completely abandoned by God.

It was in Ohio I found mentors and Bible studies that helped me. One day I was reading Beth Moore and she mentioned Hosea 2:14: therefore-i-am-now-going-to-allure-her-i-will-lead-her-into-the-wilderness-and-speak-tenderly-to-her-hosea-2-14-niv

That verse made this season almost feel like a gift.

A blessing.

As the grief subsided, I realized there were lessons I learned in the wilderness I never could have grasped in the clearing. I was introduced to opportunities that I never imagined I could have been prepared for. Those excruciating times were when God drew me close and taught me things. Showed me secrets and strategies. Most of all, loved me in an intimate way I’d never known.

The wilderness is scary and no one would voluntarily sign up for it. However, I don’t resist it anymore. I know a lot of fruit comes out of the wilderness. I wouldn’t be writing without those times. I hope my story encourages you. Don’t be afraid of your Hosea 2:14 wilderness.

***

“You need to leave me alone. It’s the least you can do.”

entangled2_editedCarla Rowling has been given her dream of attending cosmetology school. The gift is so generous she feels unworthy because of choices she made as a teen. The pressure mounts as Carla juggles school, is a single mom, helps her best friend Jenna plan her wedding, spends time with boyfriend Will Marshall, and deals with the fact that her son’s father is back in their lives.

Will Marshall is the one Speculator Falls resident everyone can count on. His truck deliveries are reliable. He’s the first to help friends like Ben Regan with boat work or be a card partner with Bart Davis. Will’s ready to settle down with Carla, loving her is natural. He’s bonded with her son, Noah. But when Carla starts cosmetology school, she puts emotional distance between her and Will.

Can Carla release her past and create a future full of highlights, or, will she burn her options worse than a bad perm?

Buy Entangled on Amazon.

***

profileJulie Arduini loves to encourage readers to surrender the good, the bad, and —maybe one day—the chocolate. She’s the author of the  re-release, ENTRUSTED: Surrendering the Present, as well as the sequel, ENTANGLED: Surrendering the Past. She also shared her story in the infertility devotional, A WALK IN THE VALLEY. She blogs every other Wednesday for Christians Read. She resides in Ohio with her husband and two children. Learn more by visiting her at http://juliearduini.com, where she invites readers to subscribe to her monthly newsletter full of resources and giveaway opportunities at JULIE ARDUINI: SURRENDER ISSUES AND CHOCOLATE and the weekly e mail. SUNDAY’S SURRENDER AND CHOCOLATE.

Connect with Julie on her websiteFacebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

 

 

No Longer Alone

 

We’re taking a brief break from our For the Love series to center ourselves in Christ.

I’ve heard it said one doesn’t truly understand that Christ is enough until He is all that they have. When Jenna Victoria’s world came undone, God showed up. Read on to see how, and may her story encourage you to hold tighter to the God who never leaves nor forsakes.

Going It Alone ~ Not Quite
by Jenna Victoria

When our world gets crazy busy with interruptions or requests, we might envy the many species God created that choose being solo over one-of-a-crowd. From red cross-1448946_640panda to platypus, sloth to skunk or eagle to armadillo—these creatures revel in their solitude.

Frustration with crowds aside, there’s a lot to say in support of seclusion. Especially Christian solitude, as this partial verse in John’s Gospel attests.  For when we are alone, we are not actually alone. Our Savior, our Father in heaven, is with us. How magnificent it is to grasp this truth.

In 2012, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer. After a long road of prayers, chemo, a right mastectomy, and radiation, my family, friends, coworkers and I celebrated my being cancer-free in early 2013. Five weeks later, that was no longer true. The cancer spread to the scar tissue of my mastectomy site, and to the left side breast and lymph nodes. Re-radiation, a lumpectomy and more chemo followed. In 2014 and 2015, as treatment continued, friends and family started to draw back. Close relatives and friends who had formerly been by my side, returned to their own lives and commitments – and rightly so. My rock, my one special knight-in-shining-armor then decided at the end of 2015 they had enough and essentially walked away. I was alone, I thought.

As the days and weeks of early 2016 drew out, I clung even more tightly to the One who book-1209805_640never leaves us or forsakes us. I downloaded more than 1000 Christian podcasts from preachers all over the world, and listened to the Word being taught every night. I soaked every drop of wisdom into my brain. I listened to praise & worship songs, studied the Bible and let God’s thoughts fill my thoughts.

In time, that head knowledge became heart knowledge. In my loneliness, I heard the whispered words of my Savior, “I am enough.”  As the cancer is now staged as metastatic, I will always be on some type of IV chemotherapy, but I don’t sit in the infusion suite alone. God is with me. I have contentment and, unbelievably, unshakeable joy in the midst of my circumstances and my solitude. The words “I am enough” wield great power. This sense of peace is not of my strength and ability; it is 100% from God and it did not happen overnight. I chose to embrace God as being enough, and He has become my portion.

It is comforting to know that John, our “companion in tribulation,” was given the words of the book of Revelation to write down, while he was alone, in exile on the island of Patmos.

I’d like to believe he, too, heard those same words from our Lord.  “I am enough.”

It is my prayer that those of us in desert places and filled with loneliness also receive grace to hear them too.

***

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When a vintage snow globe sends Boston dress designer Louise Martin & British B&B owner George Walker back in time to London, December 1940, they race against the clock to reconcile a feud between their families and solve a 75-year-old mystery. As Louise relies on God; and on George for guidance, friendship then love, will the future George envisions strangle her own dreams? Will their love survive generations of mistrust, the Blitz and being stranded in wartime 1940, possibly never to return to their former lives?

***

jennavictoriaEver since her grandfather co-created Twinkies, Snowballs & Hostess cupcakes for Intercontinental Baking Company, circa 1959, Jenna’s yet to taste a cake she hasn’t liked.
Jenna is the author of  “fiction that feeds your faith” – Happily-Ever-After romance & romantic suspense stories with a Christian world view. She also writes clean, wholesome romances. Her stories emulate those she enjoys reading…with a heroine who is in grave danger & a hero who is smart enough to get out of her way as she kicks butt & takes down names… and those that feature the sweetest of fairy-tale-ending love stories.

She writes romances that glorify God and His sacrificial love through His Son, Jesus Christ and show how He gives us hope & peace amidst unbearable situations. After her first breast cancer diagnosis in 2012, several reoccurrences and metastasis, Jenna continues to praise God and trust His oversight in her life; and continues to write more books.

Connect with Jenna on her website and Facebook.

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this! First, do you have any words of encouragement you can give Jenna? I cannot imagine going through what she is, and to turn such heartache into an opportunity to proclaim God’s goodness–wow.

Can you share a time when you discovered, in a deeper way than ever before, that God was enough? Share your thoughts, questions, and examples here in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace, because we can all encourage and learn from one another!

Loving the Weird in Our Kids

JohnStudy1I must have mortified my parents on numerous occasions. I was the kid who walked into walls, got lost in elaborate daydreams I spoke about as if they were true, and chose to wear a big old clunky feather in my girl-1538809_1280combed-frizzy hair for school picture days. Seriously, folks, I was strange.

But on a more serious note, we’ve become the comparison culture. The insecure culture. We see other people’s highlights, compare them to our lowlights, and think, “I’m not doing this parenting thing right.”

But here’s the deal. When we focus on what everyone else’s doing, what their children are doing, we lose sight of all the beautiful things God is doing in our own kids. And trust me, He’s doing amazing, glorious, life-equipping things–at this very moment. Molding our children to be, not who we think they should be, or society says they should be, but who He knows them to be. (Eph. 2:10, Ps. 139)

 

Loving the Weird in Our Kids
by Mikal Dawn

Do you sometimes look at your kids and wonder what planet they came from? When et-1435634_640they’re running in circles with underwear on their heads, or telling you stories of their friends who just moved here from another galaxy (and insist they’re telling you the truth), or want to take up the sport of Chess Boxing (yes, it’s a real thing…there’s even a World Chess Boxing Organization).

Please don’t ask me how I came up with the ideas above. Just … don’t.

We all have dreams of having the child who will be easy, normal, never be made fun of, who will fit in with everyone, whom everyone will love. But what do you do when you know your child isn’t like everyone else? We turn to the example of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

John the Baptist’s life started out differently, even before he was conceived (Luke 1:5-25). His ministry was prophesied by Isaiah in the Old Testament (Isaiah 40:3-5). His parents were already old, having never been able to have children until the Lord decided it was time. When the angel Gabriel announced John’s impending conception, Zechariah didn’t believe him. Because of that, he was silenced until the day of John’s birth (Luke 1:19-20). When Mary, Jesus’ mother, visited her cousin, Elizabeth, John—now in the womb—was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15) and knew his Saviour was near. “When Elizabeth birth-466140_640heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb” (Luke 1:41, MEV).

When the baby was born, Elizabeth insisted his name be John. Those around her argued because John was not a family name; however, when Zechariah stepped in and named his son John, he was finally able to speak … and those around him wondered just what kind of child John would be (Luke 1:60-66).

I think it’s safe to say that most of us will never have children who are quite as different as John the Baptist was. Our kids likely won’t live in the wilderness, wearing camel hair clothing and living off honey and locusts, until the day God calls them to enter the Jordan area and begin preaching.

It’s obvious, however, that Zechariah and Elizabeth loved John. How is it obvious? Zechariah then prophesied over John, declaring his son’s purpose in Luke 1:76-80 (MEV):

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
     to give knowledge of salvation to His people
by the remission of their sins,
     through the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise from on high has visited us;
     to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

This prophesy gave Zechariah and Elizabeth the guidance in how to raise John. While they may not have known how John would be martyred, I’m sure they knew how difficult his life would possibly be because of the circumstances of his birth and the Lord’s obvious fashion-1524525_640hand in it. They raised John under Zechariah’s teachings, ensuring he knew the Scriptures. In other words, “the child grew and became strong in spirit” (Luke 1:80a, MEV).

So how does that translate to us and loving our kids? It’s a matter of cultivating what we see in them. That kid running around with underwear on his head? Maybe he’s a track and field athlete who will one day get a scholarship to a university because of his accomplishments. Take him out to the park or track and race him. Not only will you each get exercise, but he’ll remember those sweet moments you spent with him as he grows, and you’ll deepen a relationship that will sustain you both throughout life.

That child who told you stories of their friends from another galaxy? Maybe that child is an author in the making. Buy a father-1633655_640bunch of pencils, pens, crayons, and paper, and ask her to write her story in a book. Even send it to a printer to have it bound. Find some classes around town that can teach her how to grow in her talent. By doing so, you’ll give her confidence in her ability, and what child doesn’t need a dose of confidence? Especially from her parents.

And that child who wants desperately to get into Chess Boxing? Well…just love on them because I’ve got nothin’.

***

dsc_2718-edit-1Mikal Dawn is an aspiring inspirational romance author, wedding enthusiast and proud military wife. In addition to being part of the new Wholly Loved women’s ministry team, she blogs for a local ministry, works as an administrative assistant for an international ministry organization, is a virtual social media assistant, volunteers as a Key Spouse for her husband’s squadron, and drinks a lot of coffee. When she isn’t writing about faith, fun, and forever, she is obsessively scouring Pinterest (with coffee in hand, of course!) for wedding ideas for her characters.

Mikal lives in Nebraska with her husband, Mark, and their three children and one ferocious feline. Find Mikal on mikaldawn.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this! If you’re a parent or grandparent, how hard is it for you to resist the comparison game? Is this made more difficulty by social media? How might viewing your child through the lens of grace and God’s sovereignty help? In what ways might God be cultivating the “weird” in your child for His divine purposes? Share your thoughts here in the comments below, on Facebook at Living by Grace, or join our interactive For the Love Bible study, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

But before you go! Two fun announcements. My sweet friend and ministry team partner, Mikal, already shared one, but I’ll expand. I’ve recently launched a parachurch women’s ministry called to help women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. To this end, we facilitate events locally and nationally that encourage authentic community, emotional healing, and spiritual growth. We’re focusing on two main events:

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***

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Scheduled dates and locations to be announced soon! We’re still booking (though our availability is limited), so contact us if you’d like us to come to your church or women’s group!

If today’s post encouraged you, you might also enjoy my piece on Christians Read titled “Unpopular Parenting.” 

Raising Children Who Reveal Christ

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I had a very difficult pregnancy, one characterized by the constant fear that I would lose the precious child I’d prayed for, that I’d grown to love so deeply, from the moment I knew she existed. One night in particular, everyone–myself, my husband, our doctor–was certain I had. I was awakened in the middle of the night by a strong, rapid, and continual trembling and rolling in my abdomen followed by significant bleeding, and my husband rushed me to the hospital. As I lay on that cold, hard table, all I could  pray was, “No. Please Lord, no.”

I went home that night with my sweet Ashley, still very much alive, but my prayers took on a desperation after that. A bit of bargaining*. “Lord, if you’ll just help me keep this baby to term, I’ll give her back to you.”

I remembered that promise often in the days and years ahead: When I was tired and table-rock-943215_1920-1tempted to forgo our nightly Bible reading. When I was frustrated and tempted to take the easy road, parenting wise. When my heart was breaking over something she’d endured and I was tempted to focus on fixing the situation rather than helping her grow in Christ.

All I can say is, 19 years later, as I see the young woman God’s molded our girl into, I’m oh-so-grateful for that promise and how God used it to help me raise a child who does her best to reveal Christ.

This is our focus this week in our For the Love Bible study, and my special guest author Candee Fick talks about what this looked like for John the Baptist’s parents and how we can follow their example.

Raising Children Who Reveal Christ
by Candee Fick

It’s not everyone who gets a supernatural birth announcement or a miraculous baby after years of infertility. Personally, I think Zechariah and Elizabeth might have needed the baby-179378_640overly-dramatic beginning to give them the stamina and dedication to prepare their child for his destiny—to prepare the way for the Messiah. Every day they saw John’s face they had to remember that God was intimately involved in their lives, and then remember that John was born to tell others about the coming Christ.

Can you imagine the stories shared around the fire? John must have grown up surrounded by village tales of a heavenly voice in the Temple and a temporarily-speechless father not to mention an entire hill country wondering what he would grow up to become.

John’s life was the stuff of legends and the angel even said he would be great. Being told he would be filled with the Holy Spirit and go before the Lord in the power of Elijah could have led him to believe that he was something special.

And he was.

Except he wasn’t the greatest. Somewhere along the way, his parents not only raised John with the skills he would need to fulfill his personal mission of bringing the people of Israel desert-1197972_640back to God, they had to teach him to deflect the attention toward God. Huge crowds gathered to listen to John’s message of repentance, then one day John looked up from baptizing folks on the banks of the Jordan River and knew the time had come for his audience to follow Someone else instead. Between the Holy Spirit and the training he received from his parents, John obviously recognized the pivotal moment for what it was and transferred the crowd’s fickle attention with his announcement for them to “Behold, the Lamb of God.”

How did John’s parents raise a child who pointed others to Christ?

  • First, Zechariah and Elizabeth lived a personal example of faith. Between their priestly lineage and the gift of prophecy at critical moments, John couldn’t help but be raised with a solid foundation of truth and the knowledge of God’s power through history.
  • Second, they obviously also set up some behavioral boundaries to keep him on the right path and not derail his future. The angel told them to keep him away from the wine and fermented drinks (a cultural sign that he was set apart for God’s work) while later in the first chapter of Luke it states that John lived in the wilderness before he began his public life.
  • Third, I have to believe that every time John did something great or had some amazing insight thanks to the Holy Spirit in his life, his parents pointed out how that was an example of God working in and through him. Always pointing John back to person-371015_640God so that he could in turn point others to God.

I’ve got a son who is gifted with some serious athletic talent. In fact, he lettered in four sports his senior year of high school and is now in college with a basketball scholarship. All that to say, it would have been very easy for him to get a big head and strut his stuff down the hallways.

While this isn’t on the scale of a John the Baptist, as a mother I have tried to constantly remind my son of the Gift-Giver and his responsibility to use those gifts in a way that points people back to God. I strive to keep the presence of God in the middle of our family through prayer, devotions, and natural testimonies of what God is doing in my own life. To identify examples of God’s hand at work in the lives of others. Ultimately, my hope is that my oldest son will use his platform as an athlete to be the right kind of example for younger boys to model as he deflects attention heavenward.

Consistently pointing back to Christ is a difficult lesson to learn and even harder to live. Yet aren’t we all called to do the same, to use our gifts for God’s glory and then become less so that God’s message can become more? Thanks to the influence of his parents, John learned to to do just that.

***

danceoverme-500x750-1Danielle Lefontaine, a fledgling actress raised to the lullaby of Broadway, searches for her long-lost brother and her place on the stage, but a jealous cast member and numerous fruitless leads threaten to drop the curtain on her dreams and shine a spotlight on her longing for a place to belong. Meanwhile, Alex Sheridan is living his dream except for someone to share it with. When Dani dances into his life, he hopes he’s found the missing piece to his heart but fears the bright lights of a bigger stage could steal her away.

Will the rhythm of dancing feet usher in their deepest desires or leave them stranded in the wings?

Find Dance Over Me on Amazon in ebook and paperback.

And for a funny, more lighthearted post by Candee, visit my alter ego’s blog to read how she lives in continual weather-confusion. (You can read that HERE.)

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candee-fick_headshotCandee Fick is the wife of a high school football coach and the mother of three children, including a daughter with a rare genetic syndrome. When not busy with her day job or writing, she can be found cheering on the home team at football, basketball, baseball, and Special Olympics games. In what little free time remains, she enjoys exploring the great Colorado outdoors, indulging in dark chocolate, and savoring happily-ever-after endings through a good book.

Connect with Candee on her web site, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, and Google+.

Let’s talk about this! If you’re parenting now, what are some ways you try to raise your children to point to and reveal Christ? What makes this hard? If your children are grown, what were some ways you did this while they were growing up? Can you see the results of your efforts now that they’re adults? Share your thoughts with us here in the comments below on Facebook at Living by Grace, or join our Facebook Bible study group For the Love to discuss this further. Because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

john12-24versejpgAnd for those following our Bible study, here’s this week’s memory verse, one God intends for each of us to live out, daily, and to teach our children to do the same.

*Note: God’s will cannot be “bargained” nor does this post intend to support that or encourage one to even try. Rather, it shares a moment of heartache and terror and my human response, and how God later used that, because He truly can use it all–our successes and failures, our steps of obedience and our regrets and weaknesses.