Staying True to Your Purpose

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Do you ever feel like God is calling you to do things that guarantee you to a life of obscurity? Financial struggle? Does it feel like His call–to die to yourself, to do what’s right whenever everyone else is conniving to get ahead–places you at a disadvantage?

Many of us know intellectually that God’s way is best and that serving Him in whatever capacity truly will be the most fulfilling thing we could ever do, so what keeps us from resting in that?

profileTempted: When the World Fights Against Your Purpose

Julie Arduini

I’m so thankful to be part of Jennifer Slattery’s study on John the Baptist. He’s an inspiring person to me because he had a pioneer spirit, something I can relate to. When I’ve been mentored, the Biblical example given to me was John the Baptist. The hard part? He was beheaded.

His death wasn’t fair. Not the manner in which it was executed, not the frivolous way it was ordered. But his life exemplified what the royal court couldn’t comprehend—he stood strong against temptation and stayed obedient to the call on his life.

That encourages me. As an author and speaker passionate about encouraging others to find freedom through surrender in Christ, the world’s chaos sometimes overwhelms me . Most of my work is through writing, and I create contemporary romances so readers can find hope and encouragement in their reading. I enjoy putting flawed characters together and, through surrender and faith in Christ, transform them.

This year I took an even bigger step of faith and created my own imprint. I re-published my first contemporary romance, ENTRUSTED, and published the sequel, ENTANGLED. I poured 16 hour days into formatting, creating book covers, and watching videos to learn everything. I made myself sick from not drinking enough nor sleeping well. When the books released, I had such a sense of accomplishment.

Then the temptation kicked in.

After the books were active on Amazon, I needed to continue to promote them. As I did, I noticed that other romances, the kind that mirrored Fifty Shades of Grey that would turn me 100 shades of red, got a lot of attention.

traffic-sign-416439_1920And sales.

I can’t even look at the covers but I’d see the hundreds of stars next to reviews or the bestseller status. Me? I’m trying to get readers to know my work exists, let alone have anyone buy enough to make any splash in the world as an author.

Slowly, the sneaky thoughts dropped in.

All the attention is on ero*-ick!-a.

Who cares about clean romances with a message of hope?

Do you know how piddly your royalties are compared to the others?

You could write under a false name and no one will know.

I’d love to tell you that I immediately cast those thoughts away in the name of my Best Friend, but no, I entertained them. I thought about money I’m not making against time I’ve spent. It didn’t seem fair when the “other” writers were doing so well.

That’s when it hit me.

John the Baptist lived in the wilderness, physically and spiritually. He didn’t cater to anyone. He let Herod know his marriage to Herodias was wrong because she was basically his sister-in-law. Telling the truth, doing the right thing, was his death sentence.

And his legacy.

I resolved to do the same. The moment I confessed my tempting thoughts to Jesus and focused on staying true to God’s call, I had peace. Did everything change? Not quickly. My royalties are still small, especially against time spent. But I’m starting to see favor. People are starting to find me that aren’t related or friends. They are leaving reviews, strong ones that speak louder than any promoting I could do.

John the Baptist was a strange man by the world’s standards, but he was obedient to the end. This pioneer is encouraged by his testimony. I hope you are, too.

***

Julie 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 her on Facebook, Twitter, Instragram, and follow her on Amazon.

entangled2_editedEntangledSurrendering the Past

Book #2, Surrendering Time Series

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

Carla 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 it HERE. Buy book one HERE

 

 

Let’s talk about this. We all have a purpose, a role God has assigned specifically for us–one we are uniquely able to fulfill. From the time we are born until the time He takes us home, He is lovingly and patiently molding and equipping us to fulfill that role. But in our comparison-based and social-media saturated culture, it’s easy to allow the noise all around us obscure or even devalue our purpose. When that happens, we can begin to feel defeated and insignificant.

It’s really a matter of focus. When defining ourselves, evaluating our to-do lists and accomplishments, and prioritizing our time, who will we listen to, our rapidly imploding culture or that gentle yet steady voice of our Savior that guides us toward His very best.

The choice is ours.

At Wholly Loved Ministries, we want to help you zero in on God’s voice and learn to clearly discern His will, because we know none of us will find fulfillment until we are doing that which we were created to do. Join us for one of our upcoming conferences.

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this! I think we all face struggles similar to what Julie expressed. I have to believe John did for sure. He was an amazing man of God, but he was also human. What do you think helped him to remain so steadfast to his calling? Have you felt God call you to something difficult, and if so, how did you respond? What do you think we can do, in the day-to-day, to tune out all the cultural noise and stifle our tendency to compare ourselves and our lives with one another so we can focus fully on God’s will for us?Share your thoughts in the comments below, at Living by Grace on Facebook, or in our online For the Love Bible study, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

 

When the Wait Is Over

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The pain of infertility runs deep and cannot fully be understood unless one has experienced it. I suppose that’s true of anything we face, be it tragedy, joblessness, illness … Last week in For the Love Bible study, we talked about how to stay strong when it feels as if our prayers fall on deaf ears, and Chaka Heinze shared an incredibly powerful testimony revealing how this plays out in her life. You can read that HERE. Then, Monday, Maria Morgan talked about choosing faith over doubt. You can read that HERE. Today those two messages come together in a celebratory post by my sweet friend Susan Aken.

When the waiting ends
by Susan Aken

“But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” Luke 1:7

“LORD, Please hear my prayer! You know my heart and how I long for a child. I want to shy-863056_640hold my own baby and know the joy of motherhood. I desire this with all my soul. Will You give me a child? If not, help me bear this pain and find contentment with empty arms. If it is Your will, please show me what to do. Help me to trust You.”

The cry of a childless woman runs deep. This longing is confronted at every turn with a woman who is a mother. The new babe who smells so sweet. The woman lovingly caressing her swollen abdomen. The toddler who runs around on chubby legs. On and on.

Living in a culture where being childless was a sign of God’s displeasure added to Elizabeth’s pain. Maybe she asked herself, “What did I do wrong?” Sympathetic and condescending smiles mocked her.

“Look at poor Elizabeth! I’m glad it isn’t me.”

Elizabeth’s one recorded quote after becoming pregnant is telling,

“’The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.’” Luke 1:25 (NIV)

Why can’t I have a child Lord? Why do other women get this blessing and not me?

I felt that pain. I always wanted a husband, children and the American dream. But things didn’t happen the way I hoped. I found myself single at the age of twenty-nine. Not the way I’d have written my story. Then I met my wonderful husband, got married and prepared my heart for children. I soon discovered he wasn’t ready (he was younger than I) so I waited.

Years went by. He decided he didn’t want children. I won’t share the whole girl-926225_640story here but I found myself at the age of thirty-eight hoping to get pregnant by means of insemination. Month after month nothing happened. After a year of special treatments, I faced the truth I might not ever be a mom and my prayers were similar to the one I began with. Similar to what Elizabeth may have prayed.

Then came a phone call about a baby boy who needed a mom and dad. Twenty-two hours later I was holding our son! Like Elizabeth my miracle came. The wait was over.

Euphoria! Grace in the form of a newborn baby. A love letter from God. Grace in every cry and squeak. Grace in arms filled with a sweet baby boy. I knew that I didn’t deserve the miracle God

Week 3 memory verse

Week 3 memory verse

gave. We made several decisions along the way that should’ve taken us off the miracle list. I hadn’t even been seeking God with my whole heart.

child-337540_640Did Elizabeth feel that euphoria? I’m certain she did! Did she see grace in the face of that newborn boy? I believe so.

She went from shame to rejoicing.

I wouldn’t change one thing about how our son came to us. I imagine Elizabeth would say the same. God’s timing is always perfect.

In that moment, when the waiting ends, God’s grace is painted in living color and all we can do is bow and give thanks.

“For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition that I made to him.” 1 Samuel 1:27 (ESV)

***

Amazing Hope:

This is a 40-day devotional book on the topic of hope. Each day’s amazingdevotion includes verses from the Bible, inspirational thoughts by the author, reflection questions and a prayer. The topics include many of the struggles common to us all such as parenting, death, fear, sin, and the futility of daily life. There are also devotions on the character of God, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the power of God’s word and other topics. These writings express the hope that gets me through each day and I pray they will also help you.

***

susanakenSusan is a homemaker, substitute teacher and writer. She lives in Nebraska but was born and raised in Oklahoma. Her greatest love is for the Lord Jesus Christ who has redeemed her and set her free. Her other loves are her husband and son (she is now an empty-nester). Susan enjoys reading, photography, spending time with family and friends and writing. She has a heart for prayer ministry and loves her church!

Connect with Susan on her web site and Lulu.com.

Let’s talk about this! When our prayers aren’t answered on our timetable, when our waiting takes years, even decades, we may assume God isn’t listening or that He doesn’t plan to answer our prayers at all. But Scripture tells us God is always working on our behalf. That doesn’t mean He’ll grant every one of our desires, but it does mean He will always and only do what is for our best.

This brings me to this week’s memory verse: “From ancient times no one has heard or perceived, no eye has seen any livingbygracepic-jpGod besides You, who intervenes for those who wait for Him” (Isaiah 64:4 NET).

Can you share a time when it felt as if God wasn’t listening only to find out later He’d been working behind the scenes, setting things into motion, on your behalf? How might focusing on His promise to work things out for our good (Romans 8:28) help you maintain hope and spiritual strength during a time of waiting?

Share your thoughts here in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace or For the Love Bible study, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

Will You Believe the God of the Impossible?

JohnStudy1We know intellectually that nothing is impossible with God, and yet, when trials hit or dreams are sparked, it can be hard to live in that knowledge. Maybe because, though we say it, we don’t really believe it?

Today, continuing with our For the Love study, my sweet friend Maria Morgan shares how, when facing the impossible, we can choose faith over doubt. Because, yeah, it is a choice, and in Christ, we have the power to make it.

The God of the Impossible: Will You Believe?

By

Maria I. Morgan

Painting by Ashley Slattery of AS Art  asartgallery.wordpress.com/

Painting by Ashley Slattery of AS Art
asartgallery.wordpress.com/

Our God is a God of the impossible. The words of His mouth brought the heaven and earth into existence. He made the lame walk, caused the blind to see, and brought the dead to life. This is the God we serve, and yet in our humanity we often choose doubt over faith.

When trials come, our natural default is to worry, instead of rest in the One who knows what is best for us. I’m guilty. I start considering all my options in a feeble attempt to fix things rather than trusting the Lord to use the situation to continue to mold and shape me into His image (Romans 8:29).

Rewind two thousand years to when a couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. The circumstances were much different, but the response was similar. They were “… righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6; KJV).

A problem

But they had a problem – they didn’t have any children. Elizabeth was barren. And they were well beyond child-bearing age. Children were considered a blessing, so Zechariah and Elizabeth’s childless state was viewed as a curse. No doubt the couple had prayed repeatedly for a child. It was a humiliating and impossible situation from a human standpoint – one that only Almighty God could change.

While Zechariah reverently performed his priestly duties, the people prayed outside. Imagine Zechariah’s shock when angod-of-the-impossible angel of the Lord appeared in front of him. The angel spoke, “. . . Fear not, Zacarias*: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth* shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John” (Luke 1:13 KJV).

How amazing! This was a direct answer to what was likely one of their deepest desires. While the people outside the temple were probably praying for the coming of the Messiah, the angel of the Lord was letting Zechariah know that he and Elizabeth would be the parents of John – the forerunner of Christ.

Questions & doubt

Although Zechariah had longed to hear this news, his logical mind couldn’t believe it. Questions plagued him as he responded to the angel with doubt: “. . . Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years” (Luke 1:18 KJV).

Sound familiar? When God’s answers defy human logic, we often choose unbelief over faith in the God of the impossible. Because of his unbelief, Zechariah was unable to speak until the birth of his son, John.

A few months later, the angel Gabriel visited a young Jewish virgin named Mary in Nazareth. She was afraid when the angel appeared to her. The message she heard from the angel was as unbelievable as what Zechariah had received. Mary would conceive and have a baby she was to name, Jesus. She didn’t understand. How could she have a baby when she was a virgin?

The angel’s explanation was unusual: “. . . The Holy Ghost* shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35 KJV).

Questions & belief

Mary had to decide: would she believe God, or doubt His word? Her response is beautiful: “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy Word” (Luke 1:38 KJV).

She believed God and embraced His plan.

You and I are faced with the same decision as Zechariah and Mary – will we trust God or will we doubt Him? Remember the God of the impossible is the same God you serve. Trust Him today!

Let’s talk about this! What difficulty are you facing today? What step will you take to trust God in your situation and obey with a “Yes, Lord” attitude? Join the conversation here or in our For the Love Facebook group, because we can all learn from and encourage one another! Then, make sure to come back Thursday to read an encouraging post from my sweet friend Susan Aken about something amazing God did in her life when her waiting ended.

Maria Morgan is an inspirational writer and speaker. She is the award-winning author of Louie’s BIG day! Regardless of the age of her audience, her goal is the same: to share God’s truth and make an eternal difference.

Visit her online at Maria Morgan.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

And check out her latest Bible study, Outrageously Fruitful:

How do we win the battle against selfishness? Outrageously Fruitful is an 11-week online Bible study that explores the characteristics the Spirit longs to develop within us. Traits like: love, joy, peace, and goodness. Let go and let God make your life outrageously fruitful! For more information and to register: www.mariaimorgan.com/its-time-bible-study

*Zacarias is the KJV spelling of Zechariah, Elisabeth is the KJV spelling of Elizabeth, and the Holy Ghost is how the KJV terms the Holy Spirit.

 

Obedience in the Mundane

Have you ever felt invisible? Wondered if anyone would notice, should you stop doing whatever it is you’re doing, day JohnStudy1in and day out?

When our daughter was younger, I often wondered what would happen if I didn’t make the bed–after all, it’d only get messed up again. Or what if I left the laundry and dishes untouched.

There were times, many, when the tedium of the day wore me down and left me feeling … insignificant.

They say integrity is doing what you know is right when no one is watching.

Except, Someone is always watching, right? Psalm 139 tells us God is attentive to our every move. He knows every detail of our lives and every thought that flits through our brain. More than that, He takes great delight in us.

Psalm 37:23 says, “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord upholds them by the hand” (NLT, emphasis mine).

Pause to consider that verse for a moment. The Lord delights in every detail of our lives–when we’re doing something grand and exciting and when we’re folding towels for the umpteenth time. Perhaps because He knows our character, that part of us He’s continually molding, is grown in the big and the small.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be a woman of integrity.

I want to be known for my character and obedience. I want God to look down on me, when I’m elbow deep in dishwater, and smile, and I want to do it all–everything–for Him and His glory.

For obedience sake.

These emotions and thoughts were triggered as I read Luke 1:5-7. Elizabeth and Zechariah, an old and childless couple, were known for being righteous and carefully obeying God’s commands and regulations. When we read this passage, it’s easy to skip over that, probably because we know the end of the story. They were faithful, and God rewarded them with something they’d deeply longed for–a child. Not just a child, but the one birthed to proclaim the coming of Christ.

Wow. Pretty awesome, right?

But let’s step back. Back to when, still childless and likely unnoticed, John’s parents lived obediently. Scripture tells us Zechariah was a Jewish priest, and as such, his responsibilities were to maintain the workings in the temple, instruct the people, and on occasion, if the lot cast landed on him, to enter the Holy Place of the Tabernacle to burn incense on the altar of incense.

I’m not a statistician, but it seems likely he could go his entire life and never, not once, receive this honor. He was one of 20,000 priests! Though Scripture doesn’t tell us, I think it’s safe to assume there were times he felt unseen and wondered if what he did mattered. After all, should he simply cease performing his duties, there were 19,999 other men ready and able to take his place, many of which likely had children.twins-1628843_1920

Let me explain the significance of that for a moment. In Bible times, children were seen as a blessing from God; barrenness was seen as a curse. Meaning, Elizabeth and Zechariah were likely judged for their infertility. The common assumption of their day–They’d likely done something wrong or had displeased God in some way, and that was the reason they were barren.

In other words, Elizabeth and Zechariah served God faithfully in the midst of their sorrow. Despite the fact that He hadn’t granted them the one thing they likely longed for above all else.

That’s integrity.

They obeyed in the mundane, in the hard and painful, simply because it was the right thing to do.

They obeyed because they knew God is worthy, amen? colossians-verse

This leads me to this week’s memory verse: “Whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17 NLT).

romans12-1-verseThere’s a verse I love, and one I pray often: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him” (Romans 12:1 NLT).

In view of all God has done for us, in view of Christ’s sacrificial death so we might live, may we offer our whole bodies–all we are. Our time, our gifts, our words, our thoughts–to Christ, as a living sacrifice.

Sometimes life is a sacrifice, right? Obedience isn’t always easy or glamorous. But that is “truly the way to worship [God].” Or to put it another way, every time we scrub toilets, mop floors, wipe snotty noses, or answer phones, if we’re doing it in obedience to Christ, we’re worshiping Him.

Isn’t that cool?

For further discussion, I invite you to join Cynthia Simmons and I for a video discussion on today’s passage.


livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this!

What were your thoughts as you read today’s focal passage? Is there an area in your life or something you do that feels insignificant? How does it feel knowing God is watching you every time you engage in that activity? How does it feel knowing that thing, whatever it is, can be an act of worship?

Did you have any other insights to share?

For those wanting to learn how to dig deeper into Scripture, join me in our Facebook group where we’ll be talking about reading biblical passages in light of their historical context. We’ll also touch a little on what I encouraged you to do last week–jot down observations and any questions you might have.

Before I go, I wanted to share information on a complimentary study that was recently launched by a dear friend:

How do we win the battle against selfishness? Outrageously Fruitful is an 11-week online Bible study that explores the characteristics the Spirit longs to develop within us. Traits like: love, joy, peace, and goodness. Let go and let God make your life outrageously fruitful! For more information and to register: http://www.mariaimorgan.com/its-time-bible-study

Other articles and videos you might find helpful:

Meaning in the Mundane

In Absence of Integrity

The Invisible Woman

Pulling Back the Veil on Christian Love

ID-100201732Scroll through social media long enough, and chances are you’ll read a few (or more) negative posts regarding Christians and Christianity. Some say we’re intolerant, others that we’re hateful, close-minded, or out of touch, or whatever. Find a negative adjective, and I’m pretty sure you can find a statement connecting it to Christ-followers.

Granted, there are those among us who do indeed fit those descriptions, but from my experience, when I step back and truly consider, those angry (or perhaps confused) individuals are the minority. The vast number of Christians I know are doing amazing things. They’re feeding the hungry, adopting orphans, walking beside single moms, bringing clean water to the sick and thirsty, medical care to the ill, and more. So much more.

Yesterday I considered all the ways God’s children have shown up in my life lately, of all the sacrificial giving of time and resources I’ve seen displayed, not by one, not by two or three, but by a large number of believers with whom I have contact.

All this points not to the good of the human heart, nor to the quality of my friends (thoughgirl-1186895_1920 I think they’re amazing) but rather to the power of the Holy Spirit, at work in us. And every act of love displayed by one of God’s children points to His ever-reaching, ever-faithful Daddy’s heart.

Let me explain:

God has called our family to something hard, amazing, beautiful, and frightening. He has called us to help initiate life change and healing, to show the truth and depth of His love, even when–especially when!–that love is spurned.

This in and of itself is not unique to Christians. I believe we all as humans long to make an impact, to help others, and to see our world change. But wanting and doing are entirely different things, and on our own, in our own strength, we lack the power to truly live “all in,” sacrificially, for a significant length of time. 

Let me explain–from my experience. Lately, many have showered me with accolades, saying they view me as giving, loving, and … saint-like. But I’m not. So not. On my own, I’m selfish, fearful, distracted, impatient, ever-viewing the world through a me-centered lens.

And that’s where the tug-push-pull comes in–an inner wrestling of God’s Spirit with mine, and an intimate time where He personally meets with me, changing my thinking, softening my heart, and empowering me to follow, wholeheartedly, His leading.

Here’s how it starts. I’ll step out in love and faith, only to have my love spurned. My natural, human reaction? To get frustrated, maybe even angry, discouraged, and to want to pull back. To self-protect and withdraw–to take the easy route.

But then, in the midst of my selfish thinking, God speaks gently to my heart. Sometimes He’ll remind me of His love. Always, He’ll help me see the situation and the other person through His eyes.

Let me pause here. That is the most powerful, most attitude and heart changing aspect of walking in a close relationship with Christ–being granted the ability to see, truly see, other’s through Christ’s eyes–to catch a glimpse past behaviors and words to the hurting, bleeding heart within.

When that happens, everything changes, in an instant. Anger is turned to compassion. Frustration to peace. Discouragement to hope. Selfishness to love. And suddenly, one is filled with a passion so strong, they cannot not act, cannot not love.

Gal 2-20verse jpgThis has been my journey lately, a daily teeter totter, and praise God, He has been winning–love has been winning. Not because there’s anything remotely good within me, but because God has proven strong on my behalf. Again and again and again. And through it all, I’ve grown even closer to Him as He overwhelms me with the revelation of the depth of His love for our hurting world.

When I started this post, I planned to share all the ways God’s children have shown up for our family as we seek to obey Him. But as I wrote, it took a bit of a detour, hopefully one that was God directed.

For now, I leave you with this–if you’ve never experienced the love and life-changing power of God’s Spirit living within, today can be the day–the day you quit trying to live on your own and in your own strength, the day you stop seeking temporary fillers to the emptiness within, the day you know what it’s like to be loved deeply, at your core, and held close by your heavenly Father, from now to eternity. (Find out how HERE.)

For those of you who do have a relationship with Christ, I challenge you (and me) to get and stay connected–to Him. Make your relationship with Christ your top priority and to carve out time when you rest in His presence, allowing Him to change your perspective, soften your heart, and empower you to do that which He has called you to do. Because in Him, you have everything you need to live the life He desires.

I leave you with one of my favorite verses:

“By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of 2Peter3-1versejpgthis by coming to know Him, the one who called us to Himself by means of His marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this! What is God calling you to do? In what ways has He empowered and equipped you to do that? In what ways has He revealed His love to you through others? Share your stories with us here in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace, because God is worthy of our praise and the whole world needs to know about all the great things He does and has done!

But before you go–an invitation to my Omaha Metro friends. Join me and my sister in Christ, singer Shelly Conn, at Chocolaterie Stam for a fun afternoon of live music, books, readings, and chocolate!

Chocolaterie Signing-page-001

Taking Steps Toward Change

blonde-1031534_1920It really stinks when we blow it. It stinks even more when we blow it repeatedly, and yet, if you’re like me, you keep fighting the same battles again and again. But Scripture says we’re made new (2 Cor. 5:17) and that we have everything we need, in Christ, to live godly, Spirit-led lives (2 Peter 1:3).

So where’s the disconnect? Why do I still lose patience? Say things I wish I hadn’t? Fight for my way and allow my fears, worries, concerns, and selfish ambitions to lead me rather than the will of Christ? 

When our daughter was ten, after five years of educating her at home, we felt led to enroll her in school. We knew it’d be a bit of a transition for her, but we had no idea just how difficult that transition would be. First, I hadn’t emphasized cursive (I focused more on keyboarding and computer skills), and at her new school, cursive was required for everything, from spelling words and in class assignments to homework. Then there was the whole matter of homework period, getting up and out the door in the morning, adapting to teachers other than Mom, she was young for her grade …

Suffice it to say, there were times when her little brain felt ready to explode.

And like she’d always feel behind, ill-equipped, and unable to master her new role.

One night, as I was tucking her in, tears streamed her face, and she shared her fears with me. “I’m trying, but it seems like I’ll never get better.”

Have you ever felt like that? When you look at certain behaviors, maybe how you react while in rush hour ache-19005_1920traffic, or when your child throws a fit while you’re rushing out the door, and you think, “Man! Am I doing this again? I should be past this, much more spiritual mature, by now!”

My response to you is the same as it was to my daughter, eight years ago. “You’ll get this. I promise. Just keep stepping, and give it time.”

And develop an action plan, because as the cliché goes, wanting doesn’t make it so.

The first step in anything is prayer, asking for God’s help, wisdom, perseverance, and grace. And this isn’t just a one time, “Lord, help me out here,” but rather, a practice of remaining in communication with Christ throughout the day (1 Thes. 5:17)–in an attitude of surrender. (Because what good is it to know God’s will if we don’t live it out?)

The next step is, through prayer and self-evaluation, to get at the root cause of your behavior. If you’re reacting with impatience, ask God to show you why. What are you afraid of? That you’ll be late for work and then lose your job? That your child will be late for school and fall behind? That others will be disappointed in you?

Whenever we react negatively, if we dig deep enough, we’ll find there’s a reason, and unless we address that reason, we’ll remain stuck in managing symptoms (reactions) without ever truly moving forward.

Once you’ve uncovered the reason for your reaction, replace whatever that is with truth. For example, right now I’m feeling squeezed. It’s an incredibly busy season where I feel I have more to manage than I have time or energy to do so. My fear is that I’m going to drop the ball, but more than that, as my time grows shorter, those things on my to-do list that are selfishly motivated become more apparent.

The solution, then, is surrender. To help with this, I’m focusing on (reading, meditating on, praying over, and memorizing) key passages of Scripture that are helping me to zero in on God’s will and leading in this crazy time.

My verses are 1 John 2:15-16, Galatians 5:1, 16-24. I’m camped out here, reading the same Scriptures LivebytheSpiritpassagedaily, because I know God’s Word will change my thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors, but this won’t happen overnight.

At this point, I must ask, do you memorize Scripture? If not, I strongly encourage you to start. It is incredibly powerful to be able to pause in the middle of a tense or difficult situation to pray God’s Word. The peace that follows is amazing.

Next, I’m practicing doing better. Notice I didn’t say “trying.” I suppose I could, but practice reminds me that I’m retraining myself, and the more I behave and react in line with Christ’s will, the more it becomes a habit to do so.

Finally, I’m persevering. I’ve mentioned this a few times in this post, but behavioral change, whether it’s changing the way one eats or learning how to handle conflict in a biblical manner, takes time. Often, progress comes slowly, but with God’s grace and power at work within us, it does come, until one day we’ve mastered that thing.

Then God reveals another area within us in need of growth. Ah, Christian maturity. Isn’t it fun? 😉

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this. Is there one area in your life, one challenge, temptation or character weakness/flaw you believe God may want to change? What are some ways you intentionally grow? Why do you think it might be beneficial to focus on one behavior or attitude and correlating verse for an extended period of time rather than trying to change numerous areas of weakness at once? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from each other.

And join me on Christians Read on June 20th to read about a slice in a very busy day when God granted me incredible peace and clarity amidst the rushed chaos.

Defusing Conflict in Your Marriage

Early in our marriage, it seemed Steve and I spent more time fighting than talking, and with every ID-100160817argument, our hearts grew a little harder and the distance between us widened. More than that, we developed a pattern of behavior and a completely skewed perception of one another.

It’s amazing how quickly negative behavior patterns can take hold, and how quickly those patterns can affect our thoughts. The two are always interconnected. The more we fight with our spouse, the greater the tendency we have to see them as our enemy, and the more they become our enemy, the more negatively we view them. 

The latter is the kicker, and it creates a quickly spiraling hotbed of negative thinking.

20160602_101945Years ago, when Steve and I were just beginning to follow God’s way of loving one another, we went to a marriage retreat. While there, one of the speakers provided a visual that’s stuck with me. He held a quarter out at arm’s length, then talked about how he barely noticed the quarter. It was but a blip in his vision. But then he began to bring the quarter closer and closer to one eye. As he did, the quarter grew bigger, more dominant in his view, and everything in his peripheral blurred.

Now, imagine that quarter is one of your spouse’s behaviors. First of all, I’m not talking about abusive or destructive behaviors like addiction. I’m talking about stuff like leaving dirty laundry on the floor, the garage door open, or perhaps even saying something callus on occasion–it happens, folks. None of us are Jesus.

Back to the quarter/behavior. The more we focus on it, thinking about it, nagging our spouse about it, the bigger that thing becomes until it dominates our view. But if we pull back and consider that behavior as but one of many other quite positive behaviors, that thing shrinks … and our tenderness grows. 

This is a powerful conflict defuser, at least for the one practicing it, and when one participant in the conflict softens, the other has a much greater likelihood of doing the same.

So, step one is consciously, deliberately think of your spouse’s good. 

Here’s how it plays out in my home. Conflict often arises when both of us are tired or aren’t feeling well, because, well, honestly, that’s when we begin to self-preserve, but that’s a topic for another post. Looking around at all the things left undone that I have no energy to do, I can easily get irritated at my husband for “not helping.” (Largely because I’m quick to focus on how I’m feeling but slow to recognize when he’s feeling the same.)

BUT when I pause to remember all the times he’s gone grocery shopping for me, washed our cars, mowed the lawn, washed dirty dishes … you get the idea, I’m reminded he’s really a good guy at heart. And he truly does love me. He’s just having an off day. (We all have those, right?)

Step two: walk away. 

This can be crazy hard because our pride will convince us we need the last word, or will make us view the argument as competition or a challenge, as if winning the fight has any positive value at all. (Most often, to the contrary. We can win the fight and lose our marriage. It happens all the time. Almost happened to Steve and I.)

But don’t just walk away; walk away to pray–for your marriage and that God would align contemplation-176883_1920your heart with His. Because chances are, without God’s help, all we’ll do is stew. And become more angry, more hurt, and more committed to digging in our heels in this fight against our spouse, and we’ve already established how helpful that is. (Read sarcasm into that last phrase.) Granted, praying in the middle of a conflict is incredibly hard, but it’s also incredibly powerful. Marriage transforming powerful.

Step three: Return calm, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, and with one goal in mind–unity. 

If your goal is anything else, return to step one.

Obviously, following these steps won’t resolve every issue you and your spouse will face, but man will it put you on the best footing for that to occur.

And if you try all those steps (really try, and recognize you might need to cycle through them more than once, especially when dealing with more difficult issues) and you and your spouse are still at opposing ends, get help. Seek out a Christ-centered, wise,  unbiased individual who can walk beside you. Because the marriage God intended is within your grasp, and it’s beautiful. Beautiful enough to work for. 

LoveThrivesVerseJpgEven if it means setting that ugly, prideful, selfish, wounded self aside. (Speaking to myself here, because when I get to the heart of things, it’s usually my self-centeredness that’s causing a chunk of our issues.)

Let’s talk about this! What are some things you’ve found livingbygracepic-jpto be helpful in defusing a conflict? Have you tried any of the steps listed above, and if so, what were the results? Share your thoughts and experiences with us, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

Oh, and before you go, I invite you to join my alter ego, Jen Pheobus, at her new blog! You can do so HERE. You can also read Jen’s first post on Christian Reads, a piece on the importance of guarding our words when life squeezes us, HERE. And make sure to like her Facebook page HERE to stay up to date on her writing journey. 🙂

Parenting With the End in Mind

Parenting is a long, terrifying, rewarding, heart-breaking journey, one we won’t see truly see the fruit of for

Photo by radnatt taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by radnatt taken from freedigitalphotos.net

years to come. And in the interim, as we chase after naked babies, clean vomit from furniture, and bruise our knees–literally–through the teen years, it’s easy to get bogged down in the tedium of it all. To lose sight of our end goal, and maybe even to worry we’ll never quite get there.

If that’s you, I hope you find comfort in today’s post, and may you rest in God’s promise found in Galatians 6:9.

-And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up-Galatians 6-9, ESV

Waiting for the Harvest
by Meredith Houston Carr

 

I promised them I’d be right back. I just needed to step into the pantry to look for that box of much-desired Teddy Grahams.

Alone. And behind the thin layer of protection afforded by the pantry door.

children-251610_640As tiny fists pounded the pressed wood separating me from my 1- and 2-year-old toddlers, my ears absorbed the millionth whiny cries of the day. Without warning, hot tears filled my eyes and made their way down my flushed cheeks.

I’m so tired! The inaudible scream left my heart and shot up to God.

Tired of the whining. Tired of the crying. Tired of the sheer volume of epic neediness two toddlers can exhibit!

Yes, I needed to duck into my pantry to look for my children’s snack … but more than anything, I needed a good old-fashioned time out.

Inside that small space, in a brief moment alone, I felt the gentle hand of my Heavenly Father on my shoulder as He whispered, be still.

The words of Matthew 11:28 resonated with my fatigued soul: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (NIV).

Breathing in the truth of these words, I wiped my tears, whispered to Jesus how worn out I felt, and timidly emerged from the pantry—Teddy Grahams in hand—to see smiling, happy faces.

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Motherhood is hard. That sounds obvious, but oftentimes the world makes us forget the truth that this high and holy work we’re doing is about so much more than simply feeding hungry mouths and clothing precious bodies. We are nurturing souls, sculpting human hearts and minds in the midst of the mundane, everyday tasks we do.

It is all at once boring and chaotic. Routine and unpredictable. Filled with incredible highs and wrenching lows.

In the exhausting hyper-vigilance created by mothering young ones, I am reminded of the words of Galatians 6:9:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (NIV, emphasis added).

These early years of motherhood are all about laying the hard, laborious groundwork. Sowing, planting, watering, pulling weeds, shooing away birds, endlessly tending to tender, young shoots. The harvest appears very far off at times, and it’s easy to lose your way in the midst of all the work. This I understand, and all too well.

Dear mama, I know you are weary—I am too. But let us cling to the beautiful promise in this verse. All that hard work and sacrifice? It matters, and you and I will see the harvest … friendship-831522_640one day … if we will only not give up!

So keep on loving those little ones. Keep on showing patience and grace and forgiveness and kindness and joy in the midst of these intense, chaotic days. Keep on keeping on.

Your babies are watching, and their little senses are taking it all in—taking in all the love and sacrifice and grace you’re offering, day after weary, beautiful day.

And one fine day, you will emerge from the pantry, or wherever your hiding place happens to be, and look up to see the beginnings of a golden, bountiful harvest. Born of love and tears and perseverance, this harvest will make all these sowing and cultivating days worth the effort.

And you and I will feast with joy.

***

Meredith CarrMeredith Carr is a Georgia Peach but now calls the hills of Northern California home, where she lives with her husband, energetic son and precocious daughter, and two crazy Chihuahuas. An attorney in her former life, she now enjoys the thrilling and slightly crazy stay-at-home mom life. You can find her writing (semi) regularly during naptime and in between loads of laundry at meredithhcarr.com.

***

Let’s talk about this: Meredith shared from experience the exhaustion that comes with parenting, but she also the hope and encouragement found in God’s Word. What are some of your favorite verses to gather encouragement from? How do you work through your weariness and continue on? Share your thoughts in the comments below because we can all use ideas!

Divine Truth April 23 2For those of you who live local, join me this coming Saturday at Divine Truth Christian Bookstore where I’ll be signing copies of my latest release (and maybe my previous titles as well).

You can read the first few chapters for free HERE.

You can read some of the latest reviews HERE and HERE.

You can read how God is using this novel HERE.

And, just for fun, come learn about the writer’s personality, because I’m truly not weird! Well, maybe I am, but when surrounded by other writers, I fit right in! Read more HERE.

Loving Fiercely

Their love is fierce, in the passionate moments and in the conflict, and though I know they’d rather skip the fighting all together, they’ve learned how to hold on. Tight.

Love isn’t always flowers, date nights, and long, intimate conversations. Even the best of marriages have teeth-gritting, foot-stomping moments. Those moments can absolutely shatter your marriage, or you can find a way to push through.

Today I’m honored and tickled to have my sweet brother and sister-in-law on my blog.

-However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.-Ephesians 5-33, ESV

Warm Cups of Tea
by HaYoung Jung Febus

I woke up this morning to a very awake husband whispering(ish), “Jakkiya, do you want 20160309_073940some tea?… Jakkiya, do you want some tea? … Jakkiya, I already boiled the water. Jakkiya, do you want some tea?”

Now, for those of you that hear about our marriage off-Facebook, know that my husband and I can be fiercely affectionate to each other…and equally fierce in our fights, as well. Like, really fierce. I think this is what makes these whisper(ish)’s and teas all the more special for me.

We have both felt “defeated” as we repeat certain conversations over and over and over. And over. A wise friend once told me of the 20151230_114539importance of “persevering in repeated conversations” in marriage. Yet there have been times we both literally felt like we had depleted every ounce of perseverance juice in our souls—every ounce.

However, through these warm cups of tea, the Holy Spirit is very much alive in our household, and I experience the Spirit’s love through my husband. I know my husband doesn’t make me tea in horrendous hours of the morning just because I am so great to him. I know that he’s seen the ugliest side of me—he will see more—and the miracle is that he still chooses to serve and love, because the Spirit is very much alive in him.

Even after this wonderful cup of tea, we will still fight. We will still have deadlock areas that seem impossible to figure out. We have baggage that will take a lifetime to unpack. And it still hurts that my husband doesn’t think I’m funny, because let’s be real people, I’m hilarious. But as long as we have these milk tea-moments in our marriage going on, I know we will only learn to love better. I 20160318_184554know we have already learned to love better and praise God for that every day. Well…almost every day.

Conclusion: Husbands, thou shalt make caffeinated beverages for thee wives every morning. Thank you, husband.

***

livingbygracepic-jp

Let’s talk about this: HaYoung shared a bit about her marriage and the fighting–and how the Holy Spirit uses simple peace offerings from her husband to show His love and keep hers and Raymond’s strong. Do you see “milk-tea moments” in your own  marriage? How do you intentionally reconnect after a conflict or during times of stress?

For those following me online, here’s where I’ve been this past week:

Today I’m on Putting On the New talking about intentional obedience and deliberate grace. Join me HERE.

Tuesday, I was busy! I dropped in at Seriously Write and spoke about how authors can get their books into libraries and stores. Join the conversation HERE. I also went over to Seekerville to share my observations about those who have a winning mindset. Join the fun HERE.

On Saturday, I had the joy of visiting Edie Melson on The Write Conversation. I spoke about narrowing the scope of your blogging. Join the conversation HERE.

And finally, last Friday, I shared how reaching the end of myself led to freedom on Elaine Stock’s site. Read the story HERE and join in the conversation.

10426573_10205915387019579_6039181238012022411_nFor those who live in or near the Omaha Metro, join me on April 9th at Barnes and Noble near the Oakview mall between 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. I’ll be signing copies of my latest novel, Breaking Free (and maybe all my other novels as well. I’ll find out). Come in, say hi, grab a latte or mocha at the cafe’, grab an autographed copy of my novel for you or a loved one, and let’s chat! And help me spread the word by inviting your friends! You can do so by sending an email through the B&N link then click on “email” in the bottom right. Click HERE. 

Wayward Teens–Their Parents Left First

MamaMondaysjpgThis isn’t a relational law, and obviously, exceptions always abound, but from my observations, when one takes a big picture look at the life of a wayward teen, they’ll discover, more often than not, the parents left first. I don’t mean they bailed or cut off all ties, but emotionally and in terms of accessibility, parents began to drift further and further away. 

I first noticed this trend when our daughter turned twelve, the legal age for staying home alone. It was as if, for many of her friends, life had changed overnight. Moms started returning to work or working longer hours. Family dinners and game nights were done away with. And as parents drifted further and further away, I heard them say, regarding their teenager, “They don’t want to spend time with me anyway.”

And, if we focus on the eye rolls, the arguments, and overly-dramatic, body-flailing sighs, it’s easy to believe that’s true. It’s easy to believe that as our children age, they no longer need us, or even want to be near us.

But statistics overwhelmingly prove the opposite.

ID-10075985 (1)

Photo by David Castillo Dominici taken from freedigitalphotos.net

In a study conducted by Childtrends.org, seventy-nine percent of teenagers enjoy spending time with their parents.

Consider this quote from Dr. John Townsend, author of Boundaries With Teens: “Parents are the center of a child’s life, so it’s always difficult for children to disconnect from them. So when you look at your teen’s surly, angry face, understand that she does not enjoy the alienation any more than you do.” (pg. 24)

In other words, our teens need us.

In fact, according to Ellen Galinsky, President of Families and Work Institute, when conducting interviews with children, she found, “it was teens more than younger children who felt that they didn’t have enough time with their parents.” (You can read the entire interview HERE.)

Our children change dramatically during their tween and teen years, for sure. And our relationship will–must!–change with them. But that doesn’t mean it should become nonexistent. If anything, that is the time when they will most need us.

IMG_1219They need to know we’re on their team. That we “get” them and will always be there for them. When they’re world is shifting and they’re bombarded daily by negativity that tears away at their self-worth and confuses their sense of identity, they need a safe place to land, to be encouraged and uplifted.

If the relationship is hard, work through it. It’s okay–healthy, even–to set boundaries on behavior. Healthy boundaries, not emotional withdrawal. Get help if you need to. But don’t pull away. Too much is at stake. 

Back to my original example… As I mentioned early in this post, when my daughter turned twelve, I noticed a dramatic parental shift–in some. I noticed parents who began to distance themselves from their teens, not intentionally, but rather, through self-justification as they allowed busyness to overshadow relationships. Less than two years later, in every single instance I witnessed, those teenagers began to rebel.

To self-destruct.

But then there was another set of parents, some working, others who chose to stay home, but all who determined to stay involved. To intentionally build and maintain their relationship with their teens. They continued with family dinners, maintained open communication, worked through issues to hold tight to positive relationships. And those teens excelled. They grew increasingly mature and remained close to their parents. In fact, in the second set of teenagers, when difficulty and confusion hit, they turned to their parents first.

As I said, our teens need us. Not just to drive them from place to place or glance at their report cards from time to time. They need us to walk beside them. They need us to carve out time, regularly, where to connect with them on a heart level. Because if we don’t, their hearts will break, one hurried, frazzled, disconnected day at a time.

Let’s talk about this! Parents of teens, what advice would you give to moms of little ones? How can their choices today set the foundation for their relationship with their children later? What are some ways you’ve made a deliberate and consistent effort to connect with your teen’s heart? How do you address those eye rolls and disrespectful behavior without pulling away emotionally? For those with rebellious and aggressive teens, have you sought help, and if so, what was the result?

Share your thoughts with us, because we can all learn from one another!

Other resources you might find helpful:

Boundaries With Teens (Excellent!!)

It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again

Making Lemonade

Somewhere Between a Freak-out and a Pajama Party

And don’t forget to come back Thursday for part two of the S word! (Read part one HERE.)