Building Redemptive Relationships

Flower with text: No matter the conflict or challenge problems are temporary but people are eternal

I’m forty-four and I’m still learning how to create and maintain healthy relationships, really to be an instrument of love and grace. In this, God recently sparked a major mind-shift, one that arose smack in the middle of tension, confusion, and heartache.

But resulted in incredible hope and peace.

I’ve learned and grown the most through my marriage and interaction with my daughter. Those are my two most important relationships—the ones I most want to hold tight to. Therefore, I have a great deal of motivation to love well, in a way that deepens emotional intimacy, creates wholeness, and builds trust. I’ve discovered, fighting for those things has such greater impact in the long term than any “solution” my mind might latch on to or contend for.

As the saying goes, we can win the battle and lose the heart.

Last month, my daughter dealt with some hard stuff. Long-term life impacting hard stuff, and it’s been crazy difficult to watch her struggle. Whenever I see her hurt, regardless of the reason, a fierce desire to protect rises up. I want to immediately “fix” the situation. Whenever I land in that place, however, not only am I getting in God’s way, but I miss out on amazing, transformational teaching opportunities.

When I seek His heart and will, not just for the situation or problem but for the person I’m interacting with as well, my vision becomes clearer. More Christ-like. And I’m reminded that God is much more concerned with what is going on within an individual than any decision they may or may not make.

I think we probably know this intellectually, but our natural inclination is to focus on the now. On finding solutions and alleviating the pain of today. It’s easy to forget how often God uses our struggles to bring about His greatest and deepest work. By following His lead, we have an opportunity to play a part in that.

In every conflict and difficulty, He’s inviting us to bring life and light into other people’s lives.

Let me explain, using my recent interaction with my daughter. From the surface, one might say she’s facing decisions related to her future marriage and everything that comes with merging two families from different cultures. Focusing on that—advising her on what steps to take or not to take—keeps us centered on one immediate situation. And initially, that was what I did.

But in the middle of vacuuming, it was like God whispered in my ear: This is a good thing. You have an opportunity to show her what healthy dialogue looks like and how to communicate with others who may not share her perspective.

So, setting aside my “fix-it” tool belt, I chose a mentorship role and planned a picnic for her, her future fiancé, and my husband. Together, we simply talked. We addressed tough issues, shared thoughts and feelings, and honestly, solved nothing.

But I built bridges of trust that will lay the groundwork for a lifetime of communication. We also, I hope, demonstrated what healthy dialogue looks like. Those things—how to persevere through relational tension and initiate and hold hard conversations with equal parts love and truth—will have a much greater impact on her future marriage than any decision she and her boyfriend make today.

This was my mind shift—to focus on growth rather than behavior. In short, to reach and protect and equip the heart.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” To the ancient Jew, the heartFlower with dark background and text from Prov. 4:23 involved much more than a person’s emotions. It was the core of their being and encompassed their will and intellect as well. In other words, it’s the place where decisions are made.

It’s easy to focus on the “everything else.” To believe the current problem is the problem. But God’s vision goes so much deeper. Scripture says He uses all things for our good (Rom. 8:38)—to mold us into the likeness of His Son (Rom. 8:39).

God’s goal is never behavior modification. He initiates transformation.

As my husband and I prayerfully evaluated the afternoon later, I realized God offers me the same opportunity He presented with my daughter in every encounter, whomever I engage. With every conflict or challenge, He’s inviting me to look past the present situation to the health and growth and healing He longs to bring through it.

This is what it means to create redemptive relationships. To help others experience the same mind-shift which God granted me.

My role isn’t to fix or convince or save but to demonstrate, by example, how we, God’s children, can bring life and light wherever we are. This takes courage and trust, not in the person I’m mentoring but in God. I have to believe He has a plan, is at this moment working out that plan, and that He’ll guide me and the one I love step-by-step toward His perfect and hope-filled will. Resting in who He is frees me to love well and without fear and to focus on the long-term growth, of myself and others, rather than whatever is going on today.

The Importance of Knowing and Teaching Truth

It’s the one area I was most concerned about. I knew I’d make countless mistakes as a mom, but this was something I needed to excel in! Though numerous other things my husband and I sought to teach our daughter were important, this was the only one with eternal implications.

I knew, regardless of how kind or successful she became, when her time on earth ended, her good deeds would amount to naught if she wasn’t right with God.

So, I started reading Scripture to her before she could walk or talk. We began with a picture Bible, then to one for toddlers, than for early readers, ending each night with prayer. This became our bedtime tradition, one that helped mold and train her little, impressionable heart.

I was certain I had this parenting thing down! Until the questions started coming.

“How do you know the Bible is true?”

“What makes what we believe right?”

“What about Buddhism and Islam and all the other religions?”

Though I tried to respond with a confident smile, internally I was terrified. She’d been exposed to things that had caused questions to arise and I wasn’t sure how to respond. What if I answered her incorrectly or insufficiently and she turned away from the only faith that can save?

I don’t remember what I said to her in the moment, but I do remember what I did shortly after—I turned to God in prayer. ‘Show me what to do, Lord. Help me. Help her. And please, hold her tightly.”

His response, whispered like a gentle thought that brought my anxious ones to a halt: “Don’t panic. Teach her.”

And so I did. We began to look at why Scripture was credible, the problem with man-made religions and their failure to deal with sin, and more. We didn’t shy away from tough questions, and I learned not to fear them. In fact, I began to welcome them as I realized they offered wonderful teachable opportunities that, if handled well, could strengthen our daughter’s faith, draw her closer to her Savior, and deepen our relationship with one another as well.  

I wonder if Paul and Timothy offered similar prayers on behalf of the Ephesians as I had for our daughter. Knowing eternity was at stake, did they, like I had, feel a rising sense of panic? And did God say the same thing to them I sensed Him saying to me, back when our daughter was young and curious about false truths that promised a way to God but lacked the power to save?

I’m not sure, but I do know what God instructed the young preacher through Paul: Read and thus reveal truth (Scripture). Encourage believers. Teach them. Keep a close eye on your teaching. (1 Tim. 4:16). Make sure it’s sound and true.

I believe Paul is saying the same thing to us, especially if we have children or grandchildren. But even if we don’t, as Maria mentioned a couple weeks ago, we all have a sphere of influence. And we should continue teaching ourselves, so to speak, as we read Scripture daily, allowing it to encourage us, and prayerfully focus on making sure our doctrine is sound and true.

This leads me to this week’s memory verse: If you’re a parent or grandparent, what are some ways you have or can focus on teaching your children or grandchildren truths revealed in Scripture? What are some ways you are working to teach yourself the same truths?

Share your thoughts here or join the discussion in our online Bible study group which can be found HERE.

You might also enjoy:

Discover One Thing (An online Bible reading plan with brief discussion of the text)

How to Read the Bible For All It’s Worth by Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart

From God to Us (Revised and Expanded) by Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix

Hearing From God by Lyndsey Baker

 

Trusting God With Our Children Part II

When did our children’s behavior become an extension of ourselves? Or am I the only one who seems to have a difficult time recognizing that my child is autonomous, able to make her own decisions and mistakes? When I speak to parents, especially those raising prodigals, I encourage them to analyze the parable Jesus told of the man with the wayward son. Once we recognize who the father represents in the story, I believe we’ll begin to cut ourselves some slack. Because honestly, parenting is crazy-tough, and we all could use a fair amount of grace in this area.

headshotToday, Robin Patchen visits us again to share part two of her encouraging and insightful piece on what it looks like to entrust our children to Christ.

Trusting God With Our Children Part 2 by Robin Patchen

When my oldest chose drugs over our family, my husband and I let him walk away. But we didn’t forget him—not for a moment. No, we prayed and begged God to bring him home. At one point when I was praying, I felt the Lord’s words in my ears. “Do you trust me with your son?”

Did I trust him? Too many young people, many children of godly parents, get lost to drugs and alcohol—or simply lost to their own foolish choices. Some kids end up in prison, others end up homeless. Some run away and aren’t heard from for years. And some end up in the grave. There are no guarantees for any of us. Trusting God meant facing that my son could be lost to us for a time, or for good. But I knew I couldn’t fix it, and I believed God could. I was out of options.

I decided at that moment that I did trust Him with all my children. It was either trust Him or go mad with grief and fear.

My first-born’s story has been a testimony to God’s provision. He brought my son home. He went to rehab, he got clean, and now he’s studying to be a missionary with Youth with a Mission.

God’s plan for my son was not my plan for him. He rejected us and rejected God, but God never rejected him. God wooed him back, pulled him through, and turned him into this amazing, Spirit-filled young man with a burning passion for Christ. None of that would have happened apart from the rebellion that started it all.

So are we failures as parents, because our son landed in rehab? Or, are we good parents, because now he’s walking with God? Or, are we merely imperfect parents, doing our best—all anyone can be asked to do? God knows our faults and shortcomings, and He blessed us with these young people anyway. How they turn out is ultimately in His hands. No matter what happens, I will continue to trust Him with my children.

***

Robin Patchen is an award winning multi-published author, but only because she can’t pursue her other dream.

If time and money were no object, Robin would spend her life traveling. Her goal is to visit every place in the entire world–twice. She longs to meet everybody and see everything and spread the good news of Christ. Alas, time is short and money is scarce, and her husband and three teenagers don’t want to traipse all around the world with her, so Robin does the next best thing: she writes. In the tales she creates, she can illustrate the unending grace of God through the power and magic of story.

Find out more at Robin’s website, and connect with her on Facebook.

robin_twistedliesTwisted Lies: Hidden Truth Series Book #2

She thought they’d never find her.  And then her daughter vanished.

Marisa Vega’s life as an adoptive mom in a tiny Mexican village isn’t what she’d dreamed while growing up in New York, but as the target of a man who’s convinced she stole millions of dollars from his financial firm, Marisa believes hiding is her only way to stay alive. When her daughter is snatched and held for ransom, Marisa must discover who really stole the money in order to rescue her.

Months after being kidnapped, tortured, and left with PTSD, Nate Boyle is ready to live a quiet life in rural New Hampshire. When the source of his breakout newspaper article—and the woman who haunts his dreams—begs for help, he gets pulled into a riddle that’s proved unsolvable for nearly a decade.

Can Nate and Marisa unravel the years-old mystery and bring her daughter home?

Buy it on Amazon, KoboiBooks, B&N, and find it on Goodreads.

Trusting God With Our children ~ Guest Post by Robin Patchen

boy-926103_1920My mentor always says parenting will test and grow our faith like little else can. Each year, as my daughter gets older, and the stakes inherently rise, I agree more and more. I, like today’s guest Robin Patchen, once thought if parents did A and B, C and D would necessarily occur. But then I began to encounter parents who’d done everything they knew to do, who lived incredibly godly lives, to have their children rebel against nearly everything they’d taught them. And suddenly, my black and white world was marbleized with all sorts of ugly grays.

Trusting God with My Children by guest blogger Robin Patchen

I have a confession to make: I have three teenagers, and all of them have rebelled to one degree or another. In fact, one rebelled so thoroughly, he spent what should have been his senior year of high school in rehab. I promise you, when he was a little baby, all smiles and giggles, I never imagined that. When I was reading Goodnight Moon to that boy for the thousandth time, you couldn’t have convinced me he’d ever struggle with addiction. When I homeschooled him, taught him to read, took him to church, rehab never entered my mind.

So what went wrong?

When my kids were preschoolers, my husband and I attended a parenting conference. A man I respected greatly taught one of the classes. He made a lot of points in that class, but one stuck with me.

He suggested that some of the “great” men in the Bible weren’t all that great as fathers. He mentioned Eli, whose sons were called “scoundrels” (1 Samuel 2:12). He talked about David. One of his sons, Amnon, raped his own sister (2 Samuel 13). Another of his sons, Absolom, started a revolution (2 Samuel 15). This Bible teacher’s point was clear: If your children misbehave, then you must be a bad parent.

Some evidence for that idea can be found in the Bible. Proverbs 22:6 tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (NKJV).

Way back when I had preschool children, I savored that idea like I would the best Swiss chocolate. I believed I had that much power, that if I just did my job right, my children would obey me, walk with God, and be blessed. I was convinced that if I could just be good enough, then my kids could skip that pesky rebellious stage and slide effortlessly into adulthood.

What a nice thought, that great parenting plus solid Bible teaching equals perfect kids.

A decade later, I can testify to one thing—that’s a total crock.

Don’t get me wrong, friends. It’s essential that we parents do our very best. We must discipline our children consistently. We must teach them the Bible. We must expose them to truth and encourage them to do right. It’s essential that we love and spend time with them and guard their influences. There’s all that stuff, and there’s mountains more we need to do to ensure our children have the best chance in life.

But do our efforts guarantee results? If we do all of that, will we then have godly, obedient children?

Maybe. Maybe not.

If you read Proverbs 22:6 closely, you’ll see it doesn’t promise that your children will never depart from the way you taught them to go. It says that “when he is old, he will not depart.”

What about the time between today and “when he is old”? Will he not depart from the correct way at all, ever? How does thatyoung-1683363_1920 fit in with the idea that “all have sinned and fall short…?” (Romans 3:23) Other Scriptures warn us that children do rebel against their parents, even perfect parents.

“Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth!
This is what the Lord says:
‘The children I raised and cared for
have rebelled against me.’” Isaiah 2:1

If our perfect God doesn’t have perfect children, how can we, as imperfect as we are? And do we truly believe that our children are simply blank slates, or are they, like us, born with a sin nature? Why do we believe we can outsmart sin with rules and guidelines?

It’s a lovely idea. Or perhaps, it’s an insidiously evil idea. Because if I believe I can control my children’s futures with perfect parenting, where does God fit in? If I believe that Bible teaching and Scripture memorization will make my kids into perfect little Christian soldiers, what room have I left for grace? And when my children fail to be perfect—which they are guaranteed to do—who do I blame? Myself, for all the times I failed? God, whom I was trying so hard to obey? Or my children for not living up to my expectations?

I thank God that over the years of parenting, He taught me that, ultimately, I have very little control over their choices. The older they get, the less control I have and the more freedom they have to make good choices or to mess up their lives.

(Join us next Thursday for part 2 of this post where Robin will talk about trusting God with our kids.)

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this! For those of you with rebellious children, can I say, I’m sorry. That’s hard. I suspect there are times when you’re consumed with guilt, analyzing ever word you spoke or lesson you did or didn’t teach. I suspect there are times when you feel judged by the Christian community, because many of us tend to think in black and white, forgetting that life is incredibly complicated. And third, I suspect your heart is breaking as you watch your child, the one you love so intensely it hurts, self-destruct.

Again, I’m sorry. May we pray for you?

Some of you, who are or have parented prodigals, might have words of wisdom or encouragement to share. I encourage you to do so in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace.

You may also find the following helpful:

A Mother’s Heart Praying for Her Prodigal Son

Parenting Prodigals

Prodigals and Those Who Love Them: Words of Encouragement for Those Who Wait by Ruth Bell Graham

***

headshotRobin Patchen is an award winning multi-published author, but only because she can’t pursue her other dream.

If time and money were no object, Robin would spend her life traveling. Her goal is to visit every place in the entire world–twice. She longs to meet everybody and see everything and spread the good news of Christ. Alas, time is short and money is scarce, and her husband and three teenagers don’t want to traipse all around the world with her, so Robin does the next best thing: she writes. In the tales she creates, she can illustrate the unending grace of God through the power and magic of story.

Find out more at Robin’s website, and connect with her on Facebook.

 

 

robin_twistedliesTwisted Lies: Hidden Truth Series Book #2

She thought they’d never find her.  And then her daughter vanished.

Marisa Vega’s life as an adoptive mom in a tiny Mexican village isn’t what she’d dreamed while growing up in New York, but as the target of a man who’s convinced she stole millions of dollars from his financial firm, Marisa believes hiding is her only way to stay alive. When her daughter is snatched and held for ransom, Marisa must discover who really stole the money in order to rescue her.

Months after being kidnapped, tortured, and left with PTSD, Nate Boyle is ready to live a quiet life in rural New Hampshire. When the source of his breakout newspaper article—and the woman who haunts his dreams—begs for help, he gets pulled into a riddle that’s proved unsolvable for nearly a decade.

Can Nate and Marisa unravel the years-old mystery and bring her daughter home?

Buy it on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, B&N.com, and find it on Goodreads.

 

Focusing on Those Traits That Will Help Our Kids Succeed

l8snwgunqbu-gaelle-marcelBook learning won’t amount to much if the heart of the reader is weak. Lazy. Entitled. One can excel at tests and utterly fail at life. And parents can run their kids from one activity and class to the next in the hopes of helping them gain a leg up in life and, in the process, cripple them emotionally, robbing them of the chance to develop those very traits that will help them succeed longterm.

When our daughter was young, a friend gave me a homeschooling book that encouraged parents to focus on attitudes and character rather than behavior modification. This book had a huge impact on how I parented.

I thought of this book and many of the ways we sought to train our daughter when I read a sweet friend’s post, shared on Facebook, the other day. I knew instantly the parents among us would find her wise words encouraging and inspiring, so I asked if I could share them here. My friend graciously said yes.

When Our Children No Longer Want to Be Superheroes by Brianna Swick

A few days ago while driving in the car, my seven-year-old daughter, Clara, said, “The paleontologist on Dinosaur Train said he fell in love with dinosaurs at age four. The astronomer from Ready, Jet, Go fell in love with a picture of space at seven. I just LOVE check lists. I want to be a school bus driver or a dance teacher when I grow up so I can check the students off as bus-1319360_1920they arrive.”

Honestly, at first my heart sank.  This girl taught herself to read at four years old.  She spends hours reading about science and space.  She often dreamed of being a superhero with the powers to do anything in the world.  This girl wants to be a bus driver.  I said something like, “Oh, that would be fun,” and the conversation quickly shifted to another topic as it so often does with little ones.

Her words (and my less than encouraging response) reemerged many hours later when I should have been sleeping.  Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in encouraging our kids to be super “successful.”  We want them to know that they can be an astronaut or prima ballerina if they choose.  As if success is marked by how prestigious your job is or how much money you make. Sometimes we forget that hard work and diligence in whatever you do is most important.

Children often see the true value in things we as adults miss. I’m encouraged in being a stay-at-home mom every time Levi says he wants to be a dad who doesn’t go to work. He sees value in what I do.

Although it breaks my heart that she’s realized she won’t really be a superhero with powers to do anything (an evaporated drop in that pool of innocence- does anyone else think of Bing Bong from Inside Out and start bawling at these moments?), I find joy in the fact that she sees the value in the people who take care of her.  They have a huge impact on her life, and impacting lives is the highest ambition.

img_20160522_101809684… just some 4 am thoughts from a tired mom …

***

Brianna Swick is the chief baker, chef, story-teller, launderer, maid, inspirational speaker, and chauffeur for three young children and one handsome husband.

Let’s talk about this! What are some ways you have intentionally trained livingbygracepic-jpyour child’s attitude and character? Have you ever paused to make a list of key traits you’d like them to develop? Doing so can help us create a plan of action, a parenting road map if you will. And parents, we can do the same for ourselves. 😉 Because character is a big deal, and something God speaks on often.

Whether it’s regarding training your children, grandchildren, students, or yourself, we’d love to hear from you! Share your ideas, thoughts, and insights with us, because we can all learn from one another!

I would also add, there can be incredible, God-honoring purpose in driving a bus, in sharing the love of Christ with the little ones riding to school each day. Or, for those in public transit, in offering a kind smile and word of encouragement to the lonely and elderly who wonder if anyone sees them and if they have value anymore. Our purpose isn’t defined so much by the what but rather by the how, as Wholly Loved speaker Chaka Heinze reminds us. We live out our purpose any time we accept our role as imago dei. Want to learn more? Join us for one of our upcoming conferences, or invite us to come speak at your next women’s event!

Other resources and articles you might enjoy or find helpful:

Three Ways to Sabotage Your Children’s Future

Parenting With the End in Mind

Team Mentality Parenting

Oh, and before I go, all my previous releases (ebooks) are still on sale for under $2! Plus Restoring Love is still being sold at a discounted rate. I’m not sure how long either sale will last, but you can check all of my books out HERE.

 

 

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.

billy-graham-393749_960_720

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.

***

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.

 

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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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.”