Choosing to Rest in the Chaos

20170105_094135It’s that time again–when my already busy schedule feels squeezed, my calendar is packed full of obligations and author interviews, and amidst it all, my brain determines to take a brief vacation.

Leaving me with two choices: Try harder and chain myself to my computer, or take a hiatus.

I’ve decided to do the latter, starting tomorrow, not because I’m quitting. I’m far too stubborn for that. Rather, because, well, I need a break. And I believe there are times when we simply need to retreat. To refuel. And spend time with those you love.

And I can do that, because quite frankly, this writing thing, my ministry, and really everything God calls me to do is not up to me. Part of it is–the obedient part. The rest? That’s all God. Because He’s bigger than my schedule, my blank computer screen, or anything I could stress and angst about.

About ten, maybe fifteen years ago, the children’s director at the church we attended asked if I’d be the “point person” for our Vacation Bible School–the first VBS we’d done, at least, since my family had been attending. Can I share my ignorance here? I didn’t know what a point person was and assumed it was someone who, well, pointed people in the right direction. So I was like (in my head), “Sure. I can greet parents as they come in, direct children to their appropriate groups, whatever. No problem.”

Fast forward a month or so, and the children’s staff asked me to go to a VBS informational meeting. Again, I had no idea what that was but figured, sure. I can go, listen, and bring back information.

Um, no. They sent me to a VBS curriculum fair to help select curriculum.

help-1724292_1280Great, right? Except … I’d never been to a VBS. Ever. Up until that moment, I hadn’t a clue what they were. Actually, I still wasn’t sure, even after I spent an afternoon flipping through curriculum and talking to people.

Maybe a month later, with curriculum picked and purchased, I sat on my bed and spread the material before me. Trying to figure out what in the world I was to do with it all. Not knowing what else to do, I read it. Every page of every booklet. Took notes. Then stared at my notes, wondering what in the world I was to do next.

Fast forward another few months, and I was once again sitting with my material spread before me, only this time I was pool side. I’d joined my husband on a business trip, and I’d brought the VBS curriculum with me. By now, I had more of an idea of what to do, and I’d even begun to form a team of volunteers–all of whom were much more knowledgable and experienced in this area than I, praise God!

I was still confused, and yet, I felt incredible peace. Because somehow, somewhere between when I first accepted the assignment to that moment at the pool, I’d come to the realization that our church’s VBS event wasn’t up tohand-1044883_1920 me. I would do my best, learn what I could, and enjoy the process. I’d let God take care of the rest.

At this time, I got to chatting to a woman lounging in a pool chair beside me. I don’t remember our conversation, except for me sharing what I was working on and how I was surrendering the results to God.

Her reply: “That’s what you get when dealing with volunteers. They don’t care about the outcome.”

And I thought, ‘Nope. That’s what you get from walking beside Christ. You know you’re not responsible for the outcome.’

Fast forward another couple of months, and our church had a phenomenal Vacation Bible study that drew a large number of children from the community. Kids accepted Christ, volunteers experienced the joy of serving Him, and the peace I felt that morning at the pool dominated my heart the entire week.

I’d like to say that peace, that level of surrender, stayed with me over the decades since, but unfortunately, it hasn’t. I have a tendency to want to hold too tightly to my assignments, to throw my expectations into the mix, along with a chunk of my pride, making it hard for me to surrender. But every once in a while, often when I’ve reached the end of myself, I sense God saying to me, “Remember …?”

And then I smile, nod, close my computer, and loosen my grip.

For those of you wanting to follow my online book/blog/author tour … I’ll catch you up next week. 😉

restoringlove_n174111In the meantime, here’s more info on my latest release, Restoring Love:

Mitch, a contractor and house-flipper, is restoring a beautiful old house in an idyllic Midwestern neighborhood. Angela, a woman filled with regrets and recently transplanted to his area, is anything but idyllic. She’s almost his worst nightmare, and she’s also working on restoring something—herself. As he struggles to keep his business afloat and she works to overcome mistakes of her past, these two unlikely friends soon discover they have something unexpected in common—a young mom who is fighting to give her children a better life after her husband’s incarceration. While both Mitch and Angela are drawn to help this young mother survive, they also find themselves drawn to each other. Will a lifetime of regrets hold them back or unite them and bring redemption along with true love?

Respite for the Caregiver

Chronic illness, disease, and long-term injuries are an incredible burden for the one experiencing them. Sometimes, so much so that we forget to care for our caregiver. Today, my guest, Kelly Irvin, shares her perspective on what caring for her own caregiver–her spouse–looks like and why it’s important.

Matthew

The Gift of Respite
by Kelly Irvin

My husband recently bought a 2016 Charger with a Hemi. You’re thinking, “What does this have to do with anything other than debt management or the lack thereof?” It has to do with the fact that he has learned in the last year that his wife has a chronic degenerative surgeon-1049534_640disease and a life-threatening disease. He’s been suckered by a one-two punch and he’s reeling. Yet, he’s still standing.

In October 2014 I had spinal fusion surgery to correct severe scoliosis. In November 2015 I received the diagnosis of primary lateral sclerosis. In January 2016 an oncologist informed me—us—I have Stage 4 ovarian cancer.

Through it all, my husband has rolled with the punches, at times serving more as a caregiver than a husband. When I thanked him, he said this was where the “in sickness and in health” vow came in. When I found out about the PLS—which eventually results in use of a wheelchair and sometimes the inability to use arms and to talk—he said, “If I have to carry you, I will.”

He has sat by my side waiting for biopsies and scans to be done and again when the results were shared. Work from home became work from the hospital during the early rounds of chemotherapy.

supermarket-732279_640He does the laundry, the grocery shopping, takes out the trash, changes the litter box and cooks. In addition to all the chores he did before. He takes care of the finances and deals with insurance. And he works full time.

For twenty-eight years, I did most of those chores, worked full-time, and took the lion’s share of child-raising duties. The weight has shifted and it has changed our relationship. It can’t not change it. Our love has changed in this new season in our lives and our marriage.

When he called me to say he was picking up our son to go car shopping, I said okay. Did I auto-1291491_640think it was a great idea, given my retirement and my uncertain future? I didn’t. But I also know my husband. He did his research and made financially sound decisions.  He drives an hour to work each way so that I don’t have to move away from my church family. Driving in a car that feels good under him relieves some of the stress of dealing with massively congested traffic five days a week. For a minute he’s not thinking about chemo and hair loss and CT scans and what a murky future will bring.

So when he asks if I mind if he goes out with his friends on Saturday night to shoot pool, I don’t hesitate. Go, enjoy, be silly, tell jokes, rib each other, live in the moment. I know he’ll come home to me.

Caregivers need respite. Give your spouse that gift. Sometimes that respite comes in the form of a trip to the outlet malls or a paint night or scrapbooking event. Sometimes it’s a hunting or fishing trip or a basketball game. Sometimes it comes in a night of racking billiards-548359_640them up and sinking the eight ball. Sometimes it’s blowing smoke about being able to do zero to fifty in sixty seconds (something I’ve specifically forbade him to do!). Whatever it is, if you’re a caregiver, find it. Turn tomorrow over to a gracious, caring God. These light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. Health challenges change our relationships with our spouses—making them deeper and stronger. I find joy in that. I hope you do too.

***

Saddle Maker FinalRebekah Lantz feels betrayed and abandoned. Tobias Byler is bound by regret. Can two young runaways from a world away teach them the healing power of a true family?

Rebekah isn’t like her sister Leila, but no one seems to believe that. Ever since Leila made a decision that has haunted her family and their small Amish community, Rebekah has been held to a higher standard under her mother’s watchful eye. Boys avoid her. She simply longs for the chance to be a wife and mother like the other girls.

Tobias Byler only wants to escape feelings for a woman he knows he should never have allowed to get close to him. Moving with his family to isolated Bee County, Texas, seemed the best way to leave his mistakes behind. But even a move across the country can’t stop the past from accompanying his every thought.

A surprise encounter with two half-starved runaway children forces both Rebekah and Tobias to turn their focus on others far more desperate.

In doing so, they discover the key to forgetting the past may open the door to the love and the future they both seek.

***

ChemoDoCroppedKelly Irvin is the author of The Saddle Maker’s Son, the third novel in the Amish of Bee County series from Zondervan/HarperCollins. It follows The Beekeeper’s Son, which received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, calling it “a delicately woven masterpiece.” She is also the author of the Bliss Creek Amish series and the New Hope Amish series, both from Harvest Housing. She has also penned two romantic suspense novels, A Deadly Wilderness and No Child of Mine.

A former newspaper reporter and public relations professional, Kelly is married to photographer Tim Irvin. They have two children, two grandchildren, and two cats. In her spare time, she likes to read books by her favorite authors.

***

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this: We heard from Kelly about how difficult it is for the spouse of a chronically ill person, and how that spouse needs to be supported. Do you have a caregiver for yourself? If so, how do you support that person? If you don’t have a caregiver, do you know one you might be able to support by offering some respite? What are some ways you find respite in God? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below or over at Living by Grace. We can all learn from one another!

***

breakingfree_n1664109Book news! My latest release, Breaking Free, is on sale (paperback version) for $4.60! Get it HERE! Aaaaannnnnd, Intertwined is on sale (paperback version!) for $6.68! That’s 58% off the regular price! Get it HERE and read the first 2 chapters for free HERE.

 

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

Confidence in Uncertainty

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Photo by Geralt taken from pixabay.com

“I’m quitting my job.”

It was the last thing I expected to hear from my ultra dependable, hard-working husband. And yet, looking back, I should’ve seen this coming. He’d been beaten down and overworked for far too long. I should’ve responded to his statement by wrapping him up in a giant hug.

Instead I hit freak-out mode. He was our sole bread winner. We were living in an expensive suburb of California. I stayed home with our daughter, homeschooled her in fact. And had zero desire to change our education plans.

Fast forward a few months, and my husband handed our house keys to our realtor, in essence declaring to her, our neighbors, our friends and one another that we didn’t plan on returning.

He’d turned his work keys in the night before.

My husband still hadn’t found a job, though we were hopeful. And I was panicked, like ready to vomit panicked, though I largely kept my emotions in check–to Steve and my daughter. My prayers, however, were another matter entirely:

Help us, Lord! Fix this! Give me just a hint that all this will work out. 

Then, we packed our van, and headed for the Grand Canyon. For a family vacation.

Photo by Unsplash taken from Pixabay.com

Photo by Unsplash taken from Pixabay.com

Because everyone goes on vacation when unemployed right? Made perfect sense to me.

Not.

Long story short, God came through. My husband received a job offer that very day. Our house sold for full asking price. That very day. We went on our vacation and the Slattery family lived happily ever after.

Not. So not. Because life is full of upheavals, uncertainty, set-backs and gut-churning panic moments. But over the years, having made it through numerous free falls and winding hikes, I’ve learned how to find peace in times of uncertainty. All I needed to do was follow–cling to, believe in, and live out–God’s Word. Because His promises will never, ever fail. 

The next time you’re facing a panicked moment, follow the steps laid out in Psalm 37:

TrustVersepic3 Trust in the Lord and do good.
    Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you your heart’s desires.

Commit everything you do to the Lord.
    Trust him, and he will help you.

Be still in the presence of the Lord,
    and wait patiently for him to act.

23 The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.
24 Though they stumble, they will never fall,
    for the Lord holds them by the hand. (NLT)

Trust. Not in our circumstances, our spouse, our savings account or that job, but trust in the Lord. Remember His character. He is always and only faithful, loving and true. Remember His promises and how He has proved them true for you in the past. Center your mind on truth–what you know from God’s Word, and refuse to engage negative, fretful thinking.

Do good. God has a good, eternal work for us to do each day. Some days that ministering to a neighbor or serving the needy. Other times it’s building up our family and pointing them to Christ. Consider that God may have put you in the position you’re in, as uncomfortable or frightening as it may be, to touch a heart or reveal His grace through you. So do good. Serve Him in the hard and the easy. And take joy in knowing your purpose extends beyond you and your circumstances. 

Delight in Christ. Draw near to Him through prayer, music, and Bible reading. Soak up His presence; let His Holy Spirit fill you completely, knowing He will be strong on your behalf. Don’t let the uncertainty of the moment rob you of the sweet treasure of resting in His presence.

Commit everything to Christ. I could likely write an entire book unpacking this one but I’ll sum it up with one word: surrender. Surrender the moment, the situation, yourself, your heart and plans, to God. Leave it all in His hands, knowing He’s working at this moment on your behalf.

Be still and wait patiently. He will fight for you. He is working out a plan for your life, for your family, for your marriage–for whatever you’re facing. You won’t move things along any faster by fretting, but you may when you take the time to be still in His presence, soaking up His strength and listening for His direction. At least, when you do that, there’s a much better chance you won’t do anything to make matters worse through a panicked reaction.

Follow. If you belong to Christ, your spiritual ears have been quickened so that you can recognize His voice (John 10:16). Scripture promises God will and does speak to us (Isaiah 30:21). Psalm 16:7 says, “Even at night my heart instructs me.” So listen. Then obey.

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this! What are some ways you grab hold of peace when life feels crazy and uncertain? Do you have any go-to verses you like to pray or meditate on? Any songs you find especially helpful?

I’ve been listening to the song below again and again. And again. It’s so beautiful, and a great reminder that no matter what we face, it is well. Because God will never leave us nor forsake us and all of His promises prove true.

For those in the Des Moines area, you can join me for the following:

May 13th: The Power of Grace

Time: 6:30pm

Location: Radiant Church located at 1300 Metro East Drive

Des Moines, IA

May 14th: Book signing, Barnes and Noble, Des Moines, IA. BooksigningposterforDesMoinesB&N-page-001

1pm-4pm

Where: 4550 University Avenue, West Des Moines, IA 50266

(Is it me or does the signing jpg to the right appear blurry? Hm … might need to fix that!)

I also invite you to join me in prayer. On Thursday the 12th, after an interview with “I’ve Been There Ministries,” I’ll be speaking to the men at Bethel House shelter. Please pray that they will sense God’s deep love for them and they’ll draw near to Him in saving faith.

The next night, I’m speaking at Radiant Church, also in Des Moines. We’re hoping women served by Jericho Ministries, a ministry that reaches out to women working in the adult entertainment industry in the Des Moines  Metro, will attend my talk on Friday. Please pray that they will be moved to come and that through my talk they’ll sense God’s deep love for them and will be driven to grab hold of the freedom available through Christ.

Get Satisfied

ContentmentVerse“But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6 NIV).

And discontentment? That will make you plain miserable. When I encounter the same theme again and again, I start to take notice, because chances are, God’s trying to teach me something. If we’re connected on Facebook, you likely saw my Internet Cafe post yesterday on how discontentment stole my joy. (Read it HERE.) Then I open my inbox this morning to begin formatting Angela’s devotion, and bam! Another devotion on contentment.

Kinda makes me wonder if God feels this is an area I need to grow in. Uh… yeah. Of course it is, because the moment I turn my eyes of Christ and all He’s done, my inner monster begins to grumble. Making everyone miserable, myself most of all.

As you read Angela’s thoughts on how to remain satisfied–deeply pleased–in all circumstances, ask God to show you how you can do the same.

But first, some housekeeping stuff. Starting in March, I’ll be launching two blog series, one here and another, well, everywhere. (Or wherever I guest post.) On Mondays, here, I’m implementing Momma-Mondays where I’ll be writing about ways we can parent (or grandparent) to our children’s heart, Brainexperimentjpgpartnering with God as He perfects that which concerns them and molds, trains, and equips them for their future calling. I’m also launching a series humorously titled the Brain Experiment, where I’ll invite readers to saturate their thoughts with Scripture in order to replace the lies with truth, fear with faith, and insecurities with confident hope. I’ll start that here on the 25th and will list where and when I’ll be sharing follow-up devotions. I hope you’ll join me! (Note to other bloggers, if this sounds like something you’d like to do as well, email me and we can chat.)

Get Satisfied

By Angela Ruth Strong

french-quarters-589004_1920On one of my first dates with my husband, we went to the mall and ate Cajun food. It was greasy and delicious, and I really should have saved half of it to take home rather than shovel it all into my mouth. But it was sooo good. As I got back into his truck, I said, “I am satisfied.”

For some reason, he thought that was the cutest thing ever and he laughed so hard he couldn’t even get into the truck. He kept repeating, “I am satisfied.” Now we say that phrase as a joke whenever dinner is really good.

The thing was that we weren’t only satisfied with the food, we were satisfied with the company. According to the MacMillan Dictionary, we were “pleased with what had happened.” We were in a place where we were so comfortable and happy we could laugh about nothing and simply enjoy life. It’s a great feeling. So good I want to remind myself of this feeling even when I’m not pleased with what is going on around me.

My word for the year is “satisfied.”

But that doesn’t mean I’m going to keep stuffing my face with Cajun food. That means that no matter what happens, I will remind myself of the gift God has already given me. Whether my furnace goes out (ahem, we had the repair guy here today), or my car decides not to let me pump gas into it anymore even though it’s empty (does this stuff ever happen to anybody besides me?), or I get another painful rejection from a publisher who expressed interest in buying my work, I can still be satisfied.

“When I awake, your presence will satisfy me” (Psalm 17:15b, ISV).

He is enough. I know this because I told him to test me once and then I lost everything. But it wasn’t because God wanted to test me. No, He’d lovingly prepared me for heartbreak. So when I had nothing else, He was able to remind me, “You know I’m your all, Angela. You know it.”

The great thing about having nothing is that when God restores what was taken, you are more grateful than ever. You are satisfied. Which is how I want to live not only this year, but the rest of my life.

“Like a baby content in its mother’s arms, my soul is a baby content” (Psalm 131:2b the Message).

***

Angela Ruth Strong studied journalism at the University of Oregon and published her first novel, Love Finds You in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 2010. With movie producers interested in her book (Read about that HERE), she’s decided to rerelease it and write sequels as a new series titled Resort to Love. This Idaho Top Author and Cascade Award winner also started IDAhope Writers to encourage other aspiring authors, and she’s excited to announce the sale of her first romantic suspense novel to Love Inspired Suspense. For the latest news or to contact Angela, visit www.angelaruthstrong.com.

Finding Love in Sun Valley CoverFinding Love in Sun Valley Idaho:
Actress Emily Van Arsdale has returned to her Idaho hometown – with an entire film crew in tow! With its stunning scenery and reputation for hosting celebrities, Sun Valley is the perfect setting for Emily’s newest romantic comedy. Tracen Lake is happy to work as a stunt consultant for the movie but not as thrilled to deal with a bunch of high-maintenance Hollywood types. But Tracen is surprised to discover in Emily a down-to-earth Idaho girl who does all her own stunts and loves the outdoors. As filming wraps up and Emily heads off to her next gig, will she be able to leave Sun Valley – and Tracen – behind?
Let’s talk about this! Pause to evaluate your life. Are you content? What have livingbygracepic.jpyou allowed to steal your contentment (and therefore, your joy)? What are some steps you can take, this week, to find contentment? Share your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions with us, because we can all encourage and learn from each other. Join the conversation here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.
Resources you might enjoy:
A Still and Quiet Soul by Cathy Messecar (I contributed a story to this one.)

The Key to… Everything!

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Photo by stock images found on freedigitalphotos.net

Do you feel frazzled, confused, anxious, defeated? Like you’re running in circles, wearing yourself out without getting anywhere? Are you spending your days and nights stressing and angsting over everything from your children’s spiritual health to your job security?

Whatever we fear, whatever the struggle, there’s one answer: Fear of the Lord. Because fear of the Lord and fear of the world cannot coexist. At each moment, we’re fearing one of the other.

One depletes us, the other, like Proverbs 3:7-8 promises, nourishes us. “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones” (NIV).

Fear of the Lord, which is the act of surrendering to God in reverence and awe and resting in who He is, what He’s promised, and what He’s done, changes everything!

Duffey_Myers300In the following post, today’s guests Betsy Duffey andLaurie Myers reminded me of this life-encompassing truth as they shared their thoughts on a pack of stupid, smelly animals. Read her thoughts then share yours. But first, I wanted to let you know, there’s still time to enter last week’s book give-away drawing. Go here to learn more.

AND… We’re launching another give-away today! The Writing Sisters are giving away a copy of their latest release, The Shepherd’s Song, to one of you (in the continental US), randomly selected from the comments left on today’s post.

Learning from The Shepherd by Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers 

Have you ever thought about yourself as a sheep? In the Bible people are often compared to sheep. As we wrote The Shepherd’s Song we needed some firsthand IMG_0398experience with sheep so we found a farm in North Georgia and set up a visit. See if you can find yourself in what we learned.

The Shepherd prepares good things for us

As the shepherd filled up the feed buckets, he explained the importance of the formula of the food. Sheep cannot eat regular feed because it contains copper, but the feed he prepares is safe.

Carefully, the shepherd measured the quantity. “Sheep don’t know when to stop eating,” he explained. “Their appetite is bottomless. They will eat anything and they will eat until it is unhealthy.”

IMG_0380The shepherd poured out the healthy food into troughs so that each sheep could get to the food without crowding or leaving out the weak ones. The food was for all.

Our heavenly Shepherd knows what we need. He gives spiritual food that will satisfy, not like the world. And He gives the right amount and He gives to all.

The Shepherd protects the sheep

We were leaning over the wired enclosure to get better photographs when the shepherd called, “Be careful that’s an electric fence!” Quickly we jumped back. It turned out that only the bottom wire was electric. The electric fence may shock the sheep at first, until they learn to stay away, but it also keeps out predators that can kill them.

Our heavenly Shepherd protects us in ways we do not know or understand.

The Shepherd lets the sheep experience consequences.

Ultra, one of the bigger sheep ate too fast. The dry food caught in her throat and she began to gag. The shepherd shook his head. “She eats too much, too fast, and then can’t swallow it all. She has to work it out for herself.”

It was painful to watch her struggling to heave up the dry oats in her throat. She coughed and jumped and strained. But the shepherd could only watch. He was with her, but let her work out the problem caused by her own actions.

Our Shepherd may, at times, let us work out our problems, but He is always there with us.

Gratitude pleases the Shepherd.

The sheep’s pen was bare of grass, but we could see the meadow adjacent where the shepherd had planted rye grass for the winter. “What I love,” he explained, “is when I take the sheep to the grassy meadow to feed. They have all the food they want, they don’t need me, but some of them still come to me.”

Our Shepherd loves it when we come to Him in gratitude.

Time with the Shepherd makes the sheep love Him more.

Amanda was the oldest sheep, and older sheep have acquired wisdom. Amanda was a stabilizing force in the flock, and the most savvy about dangers. She was also the most grateful. She never misses an opportunity to spend time with the shepherd. “Even when there’s no food involved she’ll come out to see me,” he said.

Time with our Shepherd helps us love Him more.

Our field trip to learn about sheep and shepherds turned into a rich learning experience, one that we will not forget. God always grows us and teaches us sometimes in unexpected ways! Did you see yourself in any of the examples?

The Writing Sisters, Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers were born into a writing family, and began critiquing manuscripts at an early age for their mother, Newbery winner Betsy Byars.  They went on to become authors of more than thirty-five children’s novels. Their first book for adults, The Shepherd’s Song, is being released in paperback April 2015.

You can connect with Laurie and Betsy on their monthly newsletter where they send out updates and their popular free devotional books. Contact them at WritingSisters.com and find them on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

Grab your copy of The Shepherd’s Song here.

Grunge ornamental cover for an album with photosThe Shepherd’s Song:

Follow the incredible journey of one piece of paper—a copy of Psalm 23—as it travels around the world, linking lives and hearts with its simple but beautiful message.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures…

Shortly before a tragic car accident, Kate McConnell wrote down the powerful words of Psalm 23 on a piece of paper for her wayward son. Just before she loses consciousness, Kate wonders if she’s done enough with her life and prays, “Please, let my life count.”

Unbeknownst to Kate, her handwritten copy of Psalm 23 soon begins a remarkable journey around the world. From a lonely dry cleaning employee to a soldier wounded in Iraq, to a young Kurdish girl fleeing her country, to a Kenyan runner in the Rome Invitational marathon, this humble message forever changes the lives of twelve very different people. Eventually, Kate’s paper makes it back to its starting place, and she discovers the unexpected ways that God changes lives, even through the smallest gestures.

With beautiful prose evocative of master storyteller Andy Andrews’s The Butterfly Effect, this story will touch your heart and remind you of the ways God works through us to reach beyond what we can imagine.

Let’s talk about this! Besty said, “God always grows us and teaches us sometimes in unexpected ways! Did you see yourself in any of the examples?”

What are some unexpected ways God has grown and/or taught you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Cultivating a Thankful Heart

WhiningThat noise! It grates on our every last nerve and sets the hairs on our neck on edge. It’s worse than nails scraping on chalkboard or our spouse grinding their teeth at night. It’s that high-pitched, face scrunched, body slumped whine. Parents, you know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you?

God does, too. Only He gets it not from one child but from oh, a few billion. Nonstop.

Kinda makes you cringe, huh?

We’re all guilty of this. We have times, more than we’d like to admit where, surrounded by blessings, we zero in on the inconvenience or struggle and soon our heart’s a mess of frustration and discontentment. Even in our greatest struggle, we’re surrounded by blessings. Always. We just lose sight of them, is all.

This is why we are to thank God with ALL of our heart–every last nook, cranny, and crevice. Leaving no room–nada–for angst, frustration, or discontentment.

This has been my focus this week, and to help with this, I’ve posted Psalm 111:1-3 throughout my home:

“Praise the Lord!gratitude-2

I will thank the Lord with all my heart
    as I meet with his godly people.
How amazing are the deeds of the Lord!
    All who delight in him should ponder them.
Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty.
    His righteousness never fails” (NLT).

I will thank the Lord with ALL my heart. Every last crevice and fiber, pushing the discouragement, worry, fear, angst, frustration–everything other than gratitude–away, choosing to praise.

And I will surround myself with people who do the same, because gratitude and praise is contagious. (v. 1b)

In fact, since gratitude and praise are contagious, I will determine all the more to cultivate a thankful heart, so that my words can build up and strengthen others.

When I am tempted to fret or fall into a rut of negative thinking, I will ponder the deeds of the Lord.

This week, I’ve been doing just that, and I’ve found, if I were to attempt to list all God has done, I’d never finish!

Perhaps that’s the point. 😉

Finally, as I’m contemplating the deeds of the Lord, I’ll pause to reflect on who He is, for everything He does, big and small, reveals His glory and majesty.

This week I challenge you to cultivate a thankful heart, pondering all God has done in your life, then consider what each deed reveals about God’s character. At our house, we’ve made a list. During dinner, we reflect on Psalm 111, sharing two things God has done–one from the past and one more recent–and then we discuss what this tells us about God. Through this, we’ve seen His incredible faithfulness, noting even our times of greatest struggle turned into wonderful blessings.

Because as Ephesians 4:6 says, God is over all and in all and living through all.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this. How have you seen that to be true in your life? Pause to reflect on the past year. In what ways has God been faithful? How has He revealed His glory and majesty to you? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

Other resources, articles, or posts you might enjoy:

Are You a Complainer or a World Changer

Joyful Living by Rhonda H. Kelley

True Contentment by Rhonda H. Kelley

Trust Amidst Chaos

Sometimes you pray and pray and pray for something to come about, only to be led in a different direction. Or maybe that moment that seems so perfect for a dream, goal, or long-desired outcome to occur comes and goes. And were left wondering, why? When? We know intellectually that God’s ways are quite different from ours, but moving that knowledge to our hearts can be a different matter.

twitterToday Jessica Everingham, author of Open Your Eyes talks about all those questions that mill through even the most faithful of believers, bringing hope and peace to our chaotic hearts.

But first, let me announce the winner of last week’s book give-away! Heather Day Gilbert, congrats! You won a copy of Saving Yesterday by Jessica Keller! I’ll be contacting you soon to get that intriguing novel to you. 🙂

Trust, by Jessica Everingham

Me to God:

“I don’t believe Your timing is right.”

“I don’t believe You can accomplish Your purposes through my life and writing.”

“I don’t think You can reach the hearts that are ready for You.”

“I don’t think You can take care of my financial needs.”

Have you ever caught yourself saying this to God?

Probably not. Few people say these things out loud, or even in their heads. But the other day I realized that I was saying all that to God through my actions.

It started with a meeting of my local writers’ group. Our topic this week was offline marketing. We shared our ideas and experiences for about an hour, but as I drove home I felt more stressed than when I’d arrived. The whole marketing thing freaks me out—it’s just so hard.

Apart from grabbing someone by the ear and marching them into a bookstore, I don’t know how I’m going to create an effective marketing strategy. I picture my beautiful book, (once it gets published), languishing on the bottom shelf of a bookstore. The publishing industry is difficult, and it scares me that I can’t control my own success. Even some bookstore-2-359139-mawesome books just never quite break out.  And so I stress that I’m not writing fast enough, I’m not good at marketing, I’ll go broke,  and no one’s hearts will be drawn closer to God through my work.

When I got home from the meeting I flopped onto the lounge with my journal and thought about my fears. God’s been teaching me about trust lately, so I reflected on what my worries were saying about my belief in him. All those ‘’I don’t’s’’ are what I came up with.

When they were just fears floating around in the back of my head, they seemed so big and scary. But when I wrote them down I saw them for the silly lies they were.  I should know better than to believe them.  God’s timing is right—and always better than mine. He is certainly powerful enough to ensure that His purposes are fulfilled whether I have experience in marketing or not. He can reach all the souls He pleases. And if I’m “seeking first His kingdom and righteousness”, then my needs will be sorted. End of story. End of worry.

Stressing about things I can’t control has been a pattern throughout my life. But I’m sick of losing my peace of mind to worries that I can’t control. I don’t think God intended for us to live this way; in fact, I’m confident of that. Jesus came to give us “life, and life to the full”. I don’t think repeated freak-outs fit under that description.

So now I’m learning how to break that pattern of stress. God’s helping me grab the thoughts that aren’t from Him and throw them out the door, then replace them with His truth. He’s reminding me that He loves me, His purposes are greater than mine and I don’t have to rely on my own strength. And even though I slip up occasionally, I have more peace and joy than ever before

***

Jessica Everingham is a blogger, journalist, boarding school mistress, youth leader and aspiring author. She loves writing articles and stories that peel back our subconscious attitudes and reveal God’s truth.

Connect with her via Facebook at www.facebook.com/jessicaeveringhamwriting, Twitter (@JessEveringham) or her blog, Consumed By Him, at www.consumedbyhimblog.wordpress.com.

Official book cover image unavailable at this time

Official book cover image unavailable at this time

Open Your Eyes:

What if someone could see into your soul?

All your wounds. All your darkness. All your potential. All your beauty.
How would you react?

Nathan Scott’s eyes see more than most. Penetrating past flesh and bone, they slice down to the very soul.
So when he moves to the small Kansas town of Grangeville, Nathan sees that jealously, suspicion and fear are tearing the local church apart. What’s more, the minister’s intriguing niece seems determined to avoid him.
While the congregation knows about Nathan’s sight, no one is aware of his secret mission—to find his estranged father.
While tensions build and relationships grow more complicated, Nathan is faced with two of the greatest challenges of his life.
Can he love a father who has done nothing to deserve it? And can he unite his church before it self-destructs?

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! Forgive the cliché’, but they say hindsight is twenty-twenty. This has certainly been true in my faith journey. So many times a situation that seemed hopeless or a prayer that seemed to go unanswered later turned into a beautiful blessing. The trick is reminding myself of all those times when the next hurdle or period of waiting comes. I’m sad to say, when chaos hits, I often spend more time what-iffing than remembering, and I suffer for it! But praise be to God, He is ever faithful to lovingly and gently call me back to Himself, reminding me He’s ever-watching, ever-helping, always sovereign.

What about you? Are you in a time of struggle or waiting? Pause to remember a time when you felt broken, fearful, or as if things were hopeless. How did God bring you through? What did the time-table look like? What did He do in your heart and the hearts of those around you while you waited?

Maybe  you’re in a period of blessings. Record them! Write down what God’s done and ways He’s revealed Himself to you, then when the struggles hit (which they will), you’ll have something to remind you of that firm foundation you have in Christ.

Mercies in Disguise

Life is full of hardships; hardships that leave unanswered questions, perhaps the greatest of which are “Why?” and “How long?” I know many of you are dealing with extremely difficult situations: financial, health, loss of loved ones. Situations that can easily rock one’s world and faith.

Driving to church last Sunday, with me coming out of an extended and painful “flare”, my husband said, “You need to trust.”

Being in no mood to hear anything, I scowled, arms crossed. “Trust what?”

“Trust God. That He will protect you.”

Wrong answer.

Though my husband, in his amazingly patient and loving way, was trying to encourage me, I knew if my trust rested on God’s “protection”, there was a good chance it’d be broken. My trust needed to rest in His nature, sovereignty, and wisdom, and in my full and unconditional surrender. For that is where the peace and blessings come from.

Ginger picToday a dear friend who’s had her share of difficulties talks about one of the most poignant songs in contemporary Christian music. After you read Ginger Solomon’s devotion, I encourage you to listen to the song embedded below, and as you do, surrender and trust that God is good and loving and faithful.

Mercies in Disguise

The other day I heard the song “Blessings” by Laura Story. It’s been around for a while, but for some reason this time something about the lyrics struck me. It’s like reading that same Scripture over and over and then one day it comes to life in your heart.

I can relate to these words in so many ways. I know that blessings can come through raindrops – the first date I had yellow-leaf-1087751-mwith my husband it was raining. I know that healing can come through tears – I have cried to the Lord and felt a physical hug from Him that healed the broken places in my heart. I have doubted His goodness and His love, and I have spent countless nights awake and wondering what the next day would bring. And yet, through it all He has loved me WAY too much to let me stay in a place of comfort too long.

Through the greatest disappointments in my life I know God has been beside me. I may not have felt like it at the time, but feelings are fickle creatures and should not be trusted. It reminds me of the Footprints in the Sand picture. Sometimes when we least feel God it’s because He’s carrying us rather than walking beside us.

James 1:2-3 (NKJV) says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” This verse doesn’t say IF, but WHEN. We’ve all had trials, and we’re likely to have a few more before our time here on earth is complete.

In One Choice, my heroine, Cahri, is angry at God because her parents were killed in the country where they were missionaries. She felt God had abandoned her. Then she was summoned to participate in the Bridal March. She once again felt as if He had forsaken her. We all know God is always with us and will never forsake us (Heb. 13:5), but how often do we forget it when we’re in the dark places? Cahri feels God’s presence at various times throughout the book, and finally remembers how much He loves her later in the book – three long years after the death of her parents.

Will we allow God to turn our raindrops into blessings and our tears into healing?rememberings-675103-m

Will the sleepless nights send us to our knees crying out to God?

How long will it take us to remember that God always wants the very best things for us?

***

Pause to listen to Laura Story’s song titled Blessings:

Ginger Solomon is a Christian, a wife, a mother to seven, and a writer — in that order (mostly). When not homeschooling her youngest five, doing laundry or fixing dinner, she writes or reads romance of any genre, some sci-fi/fantasy, and some suspense. She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, president of her local writing group, and writes regularly for three blogs. In addition to all that, she loves animals, horses especially, likes to do needlework (knitting, crocheting, and sometimes cross-stitch), and loves to sing in the choir at church. Visit her online at A Bed of Roses…Thorns IncludedWriting Prompts & Thoughts & Ideas…Oh My!Inspy Romance BlogFacebook, Twitter @GingerS219, and Pinterest

OneChoice 453x680One Choice:

Cahri Michaels is American by birth, but Belikarian by choice. Being selected to participate in the Bridal March forces her to give up the independent life she’s created for herself. She’s not ready to be anyone’s wife, much less to a man she doesn’t know.

Prince Josiah Vallis despises the centuries old tradition—the Bridal March—that is forcing him to choose a wife from fifty women. Why does it matter that he’s twenty-five and still single?

When Cahri and Josiah meet, sparks fly. Will it ignite a godly love that can see them through or will they be burned, never to be the same? Buy it on Amazon, at Barnes and NobleAstraea Press and Smashwords

 

 

LivingbyGracepicLet’s talk about this. How have struggles deepened your faith and relationship with Christ? How has God walked you through moments of pain or fear? How has He revealed Himself through it or offered blessings that came through raindrops?

Looking back over my life, I’ve found my darkest moments have also led to my greatest growth. Living with chronic illness, most specifically, autoimmune issues, is a perfect example. There’s an inherent uncertainty that comes with health struggles, an that uncertainty, for me, keeps me centered in the cross and focused on eternity. On my good days, it spurs me to action, motivating me to make the most of every ounce of energy and health, because it could be gone tomorrow. On my bad days, it draws me to Christ’s feet where I experience comfort and love. Ultimately, it’s deepened my relationship with God in a way I know wouldn’t have occurred otherwise.

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

Fussing, Fretting, Fiddling

Oh, to learn to be still. To take each day, each task, one at a time. To find the balance between doing and restfully abiding! I’ve heard we all need a bit of Mary and Martha, and I’d agree. Although I think I’d like to be able to work like Martha *while* abiding like Mary. If you want to know what I mean by that, check out Grabbing Hold of God Moments. 🙂

Christine Lindsay Author picToday Christine Lindsay, author of Captured by Moonlight, shares her thoughts on taking time to rest. I hope you’ll find her post encouraging.

FUSSING, FRETTING, FIDDLING, JUST LIKE A WOMAN

By Christine Lindsay

Lately I’ve been talking a lot about the fact that I am a workaholic. I think it’s because I’m a woman. Yes, of course there are men workaholics, but how many women do you know who just can’t stop working, fussing, fiddling, fretting, over getting it right—whatever ‘it’ is?

At the start of my fifties God allowed me to have a ministry—writing and speaking. And it’s all for Him. Each day in my prayers I yield it ALL to Him. Even if He wants to take it away from me, to do some other task to further His glory, I’m yielded, surrendered.

Wonderful sentiment…don’t you think? Downright noble…if you ask me.

Over this past winter I’ve been writing a great deal about how I felt the Lord say to me, “Slow down, spend more time with your husband.”

Apparently, I didn’t know how to take a day off, and my husband was paying the price. So I did the right thing and trailer in fallencouraged my hubby to buy us a travel trailer so we could get away just the two of us, for togetherness time. And oh how I love it.!!!!!

And the nicest thing is, my hubby is smiling too.  We’re having fun, just the two of us, ALONE.

It’s not that we don’t love our grown kids, grandkids, mothers-in-law, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, next-door neighbors, workmates, friends from church, siblings, and whoever else happens to call…but I distinctly heard the Lord tell me to get away alone with my husband.

I obeyed, and felt the reward of it.

Then I felt the second half of that whisper on my soul.

And who else do you need to spend alone time with, Christine?

You know, I’ve been a Christian a long time. There are not too many sermon themes new to me. I know I’m supposed to put the Lord first each day, spend time with Him, really listen to Him.

But am I always faithful? Have I really yielded? Did I truly surrender?

Sadly, no.

I’m too busy. And then, I’m ready to crack from overwork, and I sit down in prayer. Real prayer. Not just a bullet-list of “I Wants”, but prayer of thanking Him and praising Him, worshiping Him … slowly, I start to feel that I’ve given the Lord a tiny bit of joy. As if He smiled at me.

God doesn’t want just my bullet list prayers. And when I spend time with Him, I find that He helps me with all that other stuff that I fret and fuss over. All of a sudden, it all comes together as smooth as butter.

***

Christine Lindsay was born in Ireland, and is proud of the fact that she was once patted on the head by Prince Philip when she was a baby. Her great grandfather, and her grandfather—yes father and son—were both riveters on the building of the Titanic. Tongue in cheek, Christine states that as a family they accept no responsibility for the sinking of that great ship.

It was stories of her ancestors who served in the British Cavalry in Colonial India that inspired her historical series Twilight of the British Raj of which Book 1 Shadowed in Silk has won several awards. Book 2 Captured by Moonlight is so far a finalist in the 2013 Readers’ Favorite Award. Christine is currently writing the final installment of that series called Veiled at Midnight to be released August 2014.

Coming February 2014 is Londonderry Dreaming, a romance set in Londonderry Northern Ireland.

Her short Christmas story Heavenly Haven is available as an Ebook

Christine makes her home in British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada with her husband and their grown up family. Her cat Scottie is chief editor on all Christine’s books.

Visit her online at her blog www.christinelindsay.org, on Twitter,  Pinterest and Facebook

Captured by Moonlight Christine LindsayCAPTURED BY MOONLIGHT Book 2 of the series Twilight of the British Raj

(Best book 2013 according to Author April Gardner, in top ten of Diana Flowers 2013 picks, Finalist in Readers’ Favorite 2013 Christian Historical, currently nominated for INSPY 2013 award)

Prisoners to their own broken dreams….

After a daring rescue goes awry, the parched north of India grows too hot for nurse Laine Harkness and her friend Eshana. The women flee to the tropical south…and run headlong into their respective pasts.

Laine takes a new nursing position at a plantation in the jungle, only to discover that her former fiancé is the owner…and that Adam has no more to say to her now than he did when he crushed her heart years ago. Why, then, is she still drawn to him, and to the tiger cub he is raising?

Eshana, captured by her traditional uncle and forced once more into the harsh Hindu customs of mourning, doubts whether freedom will ever again be in her future, much less the forbidden love that had begun to whisper to her. Is faith enough to live on? Or is her Savior calling her home?

Amid cyclones and epidemics, clashing faiths and consequences of the war, will the love of the True Master give hope to these searching hearts?

Watch the book trailer for Captured by Moonlight

Buy it on AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo, and DeeperShopping

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! How long has it been since you’ve paused to spend a day, just you and Jesus? If it’s been a while, will you schedule some time in? I say schedule because if you’re like me, if you don’t schedule it, it likely won’t happen! It’s also important to take time to connect with our Savior and to unwind each day. For moms, this can be especially hard because everyone needs us! All the time! 🙂 (Or so we feel.)

But if we don’t take time, how will our kids learn to do the same. Moms, there’s nothing wrong with telling your kiddos, “I’d love to play with you/read that with you/whatever, but I need to read my Bible first.” By doing so, we show our children spending time with God is of utmost importance. 🙂 We also show them it’s okay to take time to refuel, and when they are parents, they’ll need to be able to do that.

Is it hard for you to slow down and take time for yourself? What makes doing so difficult? Would scheduling time help? What are some ways  you like to refuel? I love going for walks or even cleaning house. I know that sounds contradictory, but when I clean, I turn on Pandora and plug my earbuds in and use it as a praise and prayer time. (I’m one of those odd Christians that pray best when I’m moving.)

What about you? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

Some additional posts and resources you might find helpful:

Learning to Rest

Learning to Be-Do

Knowing When to Quit

Spiritual Wellness by Rhonda H. Kelley