Choosing to Praise

Whatever we focus on tends to dominate our thoughts, and our thoughts determine our emotions. Is it any wonder then that our misery grows when we obsess over the issue or difficulty? And yet, when we choose to praise … Today my sweet friend, photographer, and gifted devotional writer, Susan Aken shares some thoughts on how we can choose to praise God, no matter our circumstances, and why we must.

Choose to Praise by Susan Aken

My heart is steadfast, O God! I will sing and make melody with all my being! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your faithfulness reaches to the clouds” (Psalm 108:1-4 ESV).

God called King David a man after His own heart (Acts 13:22). There are many reasons God said this about David but Psalm 108 shows us one clear reason. David was fixed on praising God. He was fixed on praising God not because things always went his way. Not because he never suffered. Not because he was perfect. It was a choice he made. He told God, “My heart is steadfast!” To be steadfast is to be firm, stable, established, fixed. He was set on praising God and nothing would sway him from that. He said:

I WILL sing and make melody with all my being!

I WILL awake the dawn!

I WILL give thanks to You, O LORD!

I WILL sing praises to You among the nations.

David determined to sing for God with all his being. He chose to start his day praising God. He made the choice to give thanks to Him. He was set on praising God in his heart and also chose to praise Him among the nations.

Why? Why would he praise Him in spite of trouble and oppression? Why would he praise Him in spite of his own weaknesses? Why would he praise Him in the midst of daily struggles?

For Your steadfast love is great above the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let Your glory be over all the earth!” (Psalm 108:4-5)

Why would he praise Him? Because God’s love is great above the heavens! His love never fails. His love is everlasting! Because His faithfulness goes on forever!   

He deserves all praise and all glory! His love and faithfulness will never fail us.

Like David, I can choose to praise Him. I can say with David:

I will sing and make melody with all my heart!

I will wake up in the morning praising Him!

I will give thanks to you, O LORD!

I will sing your praises to those around me.

It’s a choice I can make. I can praise Him in spite of circumstances because He never changes. His character is firm in spite of my problems and struggles. I can praise Him because His love for me never fails. He will never love me any less. I can make the choice to sing and make music in my heart. I can thank Him everyday for all He does for me. I can also choose to praise His name to those around me. I can tell them how great He is.

God’s love for me is steadfast. It will never change. His faithfulness goes on forever. He is worthy of all my praise.

I will give thanks to you, O LORD! I will sing your praises to others. Praise your Holy Name!

This is a choice we can make every day! It’s a gift we give to our Lord.

Let’s talk about this! Choosing to praise isn’t always easy, but man, is it important. It draws our hearts closer to Christ and helps us appreciate all the abundant blessings He’s provided. When life is going well, it’s easy to praise. But when life is hard, what can we do to really fix our thoughts on Christ and praising Him, remaining steadfast in our praise? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from each other.

 

Susan Aken 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! Visit her online at Soaring With Butterfly Wings and check out her inspiring photos at SusanAkenInspiringPhotos

And be sure to check out her wonderful devotional!

Amazing Hope: Reflections on Hope in the Midst of a Crazy World:Amazing Hope - cover sunrise and sea

This is a 40-day devotional book on the topic of hope. Each day’s devotion 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.

You might also enjoy:

Big Me, Little God Syndrome by Jennifer Henn

When There Are No Answers by Tara Johnson

As I’m linking to all these great posts, I’m reminded that I haven’t shared some of my devotions, written for Wholly Loved Ministries, with you. Sorry! For those of you who would like to check them out:

Fearless When Ill-equipped

The Freedom of Living Wholly Loved

And on Crosswalk:

Five Ways to Destroy Your Marriage

How to Develop the Mind of Christ

Also, if you’re in the Omaha/Bellevue/Papillion area, I’d love to see you Saturday! Stop in at Divine Truth Christian bookstore and grab an autographed copy of my latest release, Restoring Love! Reviewers are calling this my best novel yet, and I’ve been told it’d make a great witnessing tool. Plus, it’s set in Omaha, which is crazy fun!

Safety Net

safetynetjpgLife is a lesson in trust. In choosing to fix our thoughts on God’s promises or obsess over our fears, concerns, and anxieties. We may feel as if we’re free falling, but as you’ll see when you read my friend, Toni Shiloh’s post, we never are. We’ve got a strong, sure, unmoving safety net. So if God calls you to jump …

Safety Net by contemporary romance author Toni Shiloh

Have you ever stood on the ledge of choice making and wished there was a safety net to catch you? It’s hard to overcome fear at times. We’re shown too many times the consequences when something goes wrong. For those of us who struggle with anxiety, worry, etc, making a decision and taking the steps to bring it into fruition can be particularly troublesome. We wish for a safety net. We want to know with 100% certainty, that God will make our choices a success.

And we’re always told we have to take a leap of faith. That there are no guarantees. It’s not something we want to hear. It’s not something that soothes anxiety. Well, today, I’m here to tell you, there is a safety net. God’s Word has shown us this, but it wasn’t until a recent sermon at church that it finally dawned on me.

trustprov30-5verseProverbs 30:5b, states, “He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him” (NKJV).

Y’all, our safety net is trust.

We should not be scared to trust in a God that has proven Himself over and over again. He is a God who makes promises He keeps. Not just any type of promises, but covenants that are unbreakable. Jesus shows us this when He establishes the new covenant.

“For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28, KJV).

We can trust God because He is TRUST.

 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6 KJV).

We should trust that no matter what happens, it happens because God has our best interest at heart. Theretonisquote are no failures when we take a leap of faith, although the world may disagree. The world may see a person who lost their job as a failure, but God sees a person who is now free to pursue His pursuits. The world may see a person who is debilitated by chronic illness, but God sees a person who has made Him their strength.

Trusting in God frees us from the constraints that the flesh (and enemy) would put on us. Trusting in God allows our perception to finally match that of reality: God’s way. When fear comes upon us, when anxiety seeks to freeze us, we must:

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”  (Proverbs 3:5-6 KJV).

God has you, so trust Him.

***

SONY DSC

Toni Shiloh is a wife, mom, and Christian fiction writer. Once she understood the powerful saving grace thanks to the love of Christ, she was moved to honor her Savior. She writes to bring Him glory and to learn more about His goodness.

She spends her days hanging out with her husband and their two boys. She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the local Virginia Chapter.

You can find her on her website.

Her latest release, Buying Love, a sweet romance that is receiving great reviews, is the first in her Maple Run series. Reviewers are calling this novel refreshing, engaging, with a much-loved heroine that is equal parts sassy and sweet and a hero MeezCarrie from Reading is My Superpower calls yummy.

 

blBuying Love:

Will money ruin everything?

Nina Warrenton is ready for the next step in her life plan—marriage, but there is one problem. No one has proposed! Taking matters into her hand, she places an ad in the newspaper hoping to entice a willing stranger. But when she begins to fall for the small-town chef, she realizes how much she wants him to love her and not her money. 

Dwight Williams needs fast cash to save the family restaurant. When he sees Nina’s monetary offer for a husband, he goes for it. He’s determined to save the legacy his dad left him, but can he let it go to prove his love for her?

 Can Nina and Dwight find true love, once money has entered the equation?

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this. How did Toni’s post speak to you? Is God asking you to step out, or perhaps to be still? Or maybe to view a situation through His eyes, knowing He is always working all things out for your good? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook at Living by Grace or in the comments below, because we can all encourage and learn from each other.

Waiting Well

jrlkfafz-4e-elijah-hendersonWe all have struggles. Challenges we must face, uncertainties we must embrace. And sometimes, in the pressing forward and the waiting, it can feel as if God isn’t listening. And in the silence, we may be tempted to think He doesn’t care. But as my guest shares in the following post, He does, and He’s given us marching orders in the middle of the tough. Or should I say, resting orders … 

Waiting Well by Dr. Leslie Parker Umstattd

Over the past two years I have been sick. You wouldn’t know it to look at me on most days. Most days I’m up before my kids, getting lunches fixed, working, and going about my daily life. I may look a little tired but most people don’t notice. If you asked me, I’d say “I’m fine” because to tell you what has transpired over the last two years would be too much for a five-minute conversation.

There are days when I simply wanted to feel better, and in my mind I wasn’t asking for much. I’d cry out to God wondering why in the world this was happening but it felt like He was deaf to my tears, my suffering, and even my anger. I was frustrated at myself for getting sick and God for not taking it away. I read, I prayed, others prayed, and still nothing. Then finally, His answer–Wait!

I didn’t get there overnight and some days I don’t rest here but for today, I can rest well knowing that God is bigger than whatever is wrong with me and whatever my diagnosis turns out to be.

So waiting well sounds good, but how? How do I wait well when I feel lousy and I’m having a bad day? How do I wait well when I become frustrated at insurance and uncaring doctors? How do I wait well when it seems my cries to God for relief from the pain or just an answer seems to go unanswered? How do I wait well when I know that God could heal me if He wanted to but doesn’t?

I don’t claim to have all the answers but I can share five things God has taught me thus far. Waiting well isn’t easy but it is something that God calls us to do, just ask Abraham or Noah, maybe Esther or David, or even Jesus. All of these people had to wait on God’s plan to unfold.

lesliequoteone1) Realize it’s okay to question and get angry—just don’t stay there! Sometimes this is hard because there’s a very real struggle in keeping perspective when you are lonely, exhausted, in pain, or generally depressed. The emotions of the moment take over and judgement is clouded. Remembering the truth of what I know doesn’t negate my feelings but it tempers them long enough for me to gain perspective. The only real truth I know is God’s Word which leads me to number two.

2) Your lifeline as a believer is the Word of God. It is the only true and righteous place to find comfort and peace in times of wondering, wandering, and waiting. Scripture doesn’t always have specifics for every situation but it does have guiding principles for all situations. I know what God’s word says about waiting on Him. This is nourishment for an emaciated soul that doesn’t understand or needs to be quiet in times of chaos or simply needs direction in times of waiting.

3) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As believers we are a community and there are brothers and sisters in Christ who desire to minister to you. Don’t steal that blessing. (P.S. I fail at this often!) There are others who are walking in this life with you and desire to be a part of what is going on in your life. Pick and choose wisely who these people are going to be for you. Believers whom you trust can serve you well in your wait. Whatever we are waiting on, someone has walked this road before and it is easy to forget that in the moment.

4) Keep doing! -don’t allow whatever you’re waiting for to stagnant your ministry or your life. God has created you for lesliesquote2something, allow Him to keep working in your waiting. Whether you are waiting on a diagnosis, a spouse, or a different pay check God is fully aware. Situations don’t determine your usefulness to God. He can use you, just the way you are-just where you are. With that said, a new season or situation brings about opportunity and sometimes in ways you never expected.

The last thing for me is sometimes the hardest, next to asking for help.

5) Keep an eternal perspective. Romans 8:28. “All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord.” This is our hope that there is more than just the waiting. God is ALWAYS doing something. Keep in mind it may not be what you expected or even what you wanted but He is doing something in your or in someone else that is watching you.

Be reminded and encouraged He is faithful even in the waiting, allow Him to work and move, and don’t allow what you are waiting on to steal your first love. In your moments of waiting, take heart that God has never left you there.

***

16523735_10154246558168093_1704661183_oDr. Leslie Umstattd was born and raised in Alabama with her high school years being spent in Fairfax, VA. She graduated from the University of Alabama with a business degree. While there, God called her into full time ministry so she moved to Texas to go to seminary after graduation. She graduated from Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth with my Masters in Religious Education and Marriage and Family Counseling and also met her husband there. They’ve been married for fifteen years and have two beautiful daughters, Ashtin is 13 and Jordan is 10.

After graduation from seminary, she worked in the public and private school sector as an elementary teacher until she moved to Kansas City. After moving to Kansas City, she completed my DEdMin at Midwestern Seminary. She’s been teaching and doing online development work for Midwestern for several years and serves at her local church on staff as the Children’s Ministry Director and heading up their women’s ministry. A couple of times a month she guest writes for a women’s devotional blog, Gracefully Truthful.

Let’s talk about this! Are you in a time of waiting? If so, which of Leslie’s suggestions resonated with you most? If you’ve livingbygracepic-jpcome through a time of waiting, do you have any advice to share with others who might be in a tough and uncertain season? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook, because we can all encourage and learn from each other.

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.

 

While We Wait For Guidance

thinkinglikechristGod always answers us, and often in unexpected ways.

I have found myself, once again, in a position of awaiting divine guidance. I’ve been praying throughout the day, asking God to direct my heart and to turn my will from mine to His. As I sit with my coffee, my Bible, and my journal each morning, I stay alert for God’s guidance.

This morning God assured me He hears me as I read Psalm 16:

“I will bless the Lord who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me. I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me” (Psalm 16:7-8 NLT).Psalm16verse

Not exactly the answer I was hoping for, but a promise none the less. Assurance that as I grow closer to Him, as I spend time with Him and reading His Word, the Bible, He’ll shift my thinking and sway my heart so that I can say, like my Savior did, that I only do what I see the Father doing.”

This is a process, and one that is infinitely more important than any decision I make today. I often have a very short term focus, getting caught up in the here and now. I allow myself to be deceived into thinking this thing, whatever it is, is more urgent, more necessary than the weightier and eternal matters relating to my character and spiritual growth.

This has become a cliche’ but I’ll say it anyway: God is more concerned with our journey than our destination. Yes, He is always working out His plan. Yes, He is always working on our behalf. Yes, He guides us regarding which path to take, what opportunity to accept or decline, and how to handle the difficulties that arise. Like a loving Father, He wants the very best for us.

But what if that best is not so much what happens to us but instead within us? 

Tuesday, as I was reading Psalm 15, I sensed God saying to me, “Why are you asking Me what you should do? You already know. Live out what you know to be right. I’ll show you the rest in time.”

Let me share the passage I read with you, one that has become my memory goal for this week:

psalm15versejpg“Who may worship in Your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter Your presence on Your holy hill? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends. Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the Lord, and keep their promises even when it hurts” (Psalm 15:1-4 NLT).

There’s enough instruction packed in that short passage to keep me occupied for weeks. Months. The rest of my life.

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this. I like to have all the answers. To know what’s ahead and how to get there, and I can get so caught up on the whats and whens that I lose sight of what God is trying to do in and through me in the here and now. Can you relate? When you look back at your moments of uncertainty or indecision, can you see God’s hand working not just in the situation, but in and through you as well? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace, because we can all learn from one another!

Before I go, I’d love to invite you to visit the Wholly Loved blog where my ministry team and I share stories on how we’re learning to live wholly loved, as God’s image bearers who surrender our whole selves, quirks, faults, and all, to God, so He can mold us and use us for His glory as we learn to lean deeper into Him.

I also invite you to read a few stories behind the story in my newest release.

Read about how my family’s interaction with a poor, single mom in Omaha influenced the missional thread in Restoring Love HERE.

You can read how God used a difficult time to birth my passion for single moms HERE.

And you can read some of the reviews that have been coming in for the story HERE.

And for the discount lovers among us …

ebook-sale-2

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.

***

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.