Young plan sprouting from the ground with a quote pulled from the post.

When my world was coming undone and I wondered the streets of Tacoma, Washington, trying to numb my pain, I felt alone. I thought for sure God had turned His back on me, and honestly, I expected Him to. I certainly wasn’t doing anything to draw Him to me. To the contrary. My behavior had given Him every reason to walk away.

When my marriage was struggling and my husband quit his job mere months after moving our family across the country, far from the close-knit community we’d grown so attached to—I felt unseen then as well. Abandoned.

I told God, quite clearly, all about it. Actually, more accurately, I cried out, “Don’t you see, Lord?”

I’ve hurled that accusation at my Father numerous times throughout my life, only to later realize how inaccurate my perception was. In fact, more often than not, it was during those frightening and heart-wrenching moments that God was doing His greatest work. He was lovingly, carefully creating beauty from my rubble.

He saw me in my pain, in my mess, even in my rebellion. In each instance, His compassion moved Him to action and His action brought life.

This has always been Christ’s way. When others reject us, He seeks us out. When we’re betrayed, He stands beside us as our most loyal and ever-present friend. When life feels chaotic, He remains a firm, immovable rock beneath our feet. And He comes to us when we’re overwrought with despair.

Before we can even speak the word, He’s there.

Quote from post with sunrise background.

Just as He was, some two-thousand years for a poor widow who’d lost her only son. As a parent who adores her daughter, I can’t imagine the pain this woman felt as a mom. Agony exacerbated by her utterly destitute state. In her male-dominated society where the majority of women were completely dependent on men, her situation probably felt hopeless. Today’s equivalent of losing a child, a job, all resources, and your ability to work in one day.

Did she cry out for God’s miraculous intervention, His presence—prior to her son’s last breath or after?

Did she feel abandoned in her pain?

Or was her heart too broken for her mind to even form a cohesive thought, let alone for her to utter the words, “My God, please help.”

We don’t know how she did or didn’t respond, did or didn’t pray. And that is precisely why this account is so powerful.

Luke 7:11-13 states, “… Jesus went to a town called Nain, and His disciples and a large crowd went along with Him. 12 As He approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, His heart went out to her and He said, ‘Don’t cry’” (NIV).

Notice, the woman didn’t ask for His help. So consumed with her grief, she might not have even known Jesus had come to town. But He knew her and felt deep compassion for her pain. The original Greek literally means to be moved in one’s bowels. When was the last time something hit you so strongly, you experienced a gut reaction? As a mom, I’ve felt that way numerous times—times when my intense emotions for my beloved daughter elicited a physical reaction.

If you’re a parent, you can probably relate. Our hearts are intricately tied to our kids, am I right?

Just as, I believe, Christ’s heart is inseparably tied to ours.

This story assures us Christ sees and He cares. Our pain does much more than stir His emotions. It moves Him to action as well.

“Don’t cry,” He said. 14 “Then He went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother” (V. 14-15, NIV).

He met the woman in her pain, in her need, and brought life to what she and everyone else deemed irrevocably dead.

This story reminds me that no situation is so bleak that God’s light can’t break through.

Is there an area of your life that feels beyond hope? How does Jesus’s response to this grieving widow from Nain help breathe fresh life into your circumstances today?

Share your thoughts in the comments below, and make sure to connect with me on Facebook and Instagram.

For those following the chronological reading plan:

Week 16 Chronological reading plan

Before you go, make sure to listen to the latest Faith Over Fear podcast:

Breaking Body Image Shame With Rachael Gilbert Faith Over Fear

Do all the parties, cookie exchanges, and holiday meals this time of year prick your insecurities and create anxiety? Do you find yourself simultaneously enjoying home-baked treats and calculating how many hours at the gym each bite will cost? More importantly, do you ever long for the day when you don't stress about your body? In our photo-shopped, filtered, social media culture, is that even possible? Faith Over Fear guest Rachael Gilbert, author of Image Restored, says yes and shares her inside out approach to learning to feel comfortable in our skin, whatever shape it encompasses.  (Scroll down for discussion/reflective questions.) Resource Mentioned: Image Restored: Tear Down Shame and Insecurity to Experience a Body Image Renovation.  Connect with Rachael Gilbert: On her website On Instagram On Facebook On her Amazon Author Page Find Jennifer Slattery: On her website Instagram Facebook Amazon Find Wholly Loved: On their website Join the private Faith Over Fear Facebook Group  Join the Private Wholly Loved Community Facebook Group Discussion/Reflective Questions: What resonated with you most in this episode? What body image messages have you absorbed from your social circle? What body image messages have you received from generations before you? How often do you put your thoughts "on trial"? How often do you check your negative thinking against the truth of Scripture? In what ways might a negative body image be impacting your relationships How might your life change were you to feel confident in your skin? What is one action step God might be asking you to take, having listened to this episode? Discover more Christian podcasts at and inquire about advertising opportunities at
  1. Breaking Body Image Shame With Rachael Gilbert
  2. Facing Opposition – Experiencing Jesus
  3. Strength to Thrive Despite Opposition
  4. How God Prepares Us to Face Opposition
  5. When Obedience Leads to Hostility – Standing Strong Amidst Opposition P. 1

Nail polish bottles of different colorsI felt ill-equipped and insufficient. Actually, I wasn’t supposed to be there at all. I planned to pop in, make sure all the volunteers had arrived and were good to go, then head off to another project I’d set up for the weekend.

But God had other plans, and it started—and perhaps ended—with my lack.

It was “Big Live” weekend, a time where the church I attended mobilized hundreds of people throughout the Metro to serve. As part of the leadership team organizing the event, I’d arranged numerous projects, one that included facilitating a “spa” night for women at a local shelter while other volunteers watched their children.

The idea seemed like a good one in the beginning, back in the planning stages when I envisioned a sizable group from my church, sitting around a table, giving mani-peds to these poor, broken women who were fighting addiction, healing, and learning how to parent.

But as the scheduled night approached, I began to worry. We were short on help. In fact, in the most crucial area, the actual spa portion, we didn’t have anyone.

Zero manicurists. Zero women who even felt comfortable pretending to be manicurists.

Simply myself—who routinely makes a mess of my nails whenever I attempt to paint them. And three others who’d come to watch children.

In other words, who also felt completely ill-equipped to paint other people’s fingernails. But as the women from the shelter began to arrive, one of the volunteers stepped up and said, “I’ll stay” (in the spa room). “I’m not very good at it, but I’ll stay.”

I could’ve hugged her. I may have squealed. But then, watching yet more women trickle in, and eyeing my very meager supplies, my moment of joy was replaced by sadness. I’d so wanted to spoil these women, to make them feel special. To give them an evening of pampering that would make them feel, but for a moment, as if they were truly at a spa. Or at the very least, beautiful.

And all I could think of was my lack. I didn’t have those smelly scrubs one rubs on women’s hands after they’ve soaked in rose-scented water. I didn’t even have the rose-scented water. I had dish soap. (And soon even that ran out.) I didn’t have nice-smelling lotion, emery boards or pumice to sooth their cracked and tired feet.

These ladies had been looking forward to a luxurious spa night, and I soaked their feet in plastic bowls filled with generic dish soap then dried them with whatever hand towels and dishrags the staff had managed to scrounge up.

I couldn’t paint beautiful designs. I could do base coats—though I messed that up. I could do simple flowers using toothpicks, but yep, I messed that up as well.

I was failing. And as I sat across from one of the ladies barely four months out of prison, having just rubbed her feet with an old tattered rag, I was ready to apologize. For the night, my blunders, the disappointment I know I must have caused her.

But before I could, she looked me in the eye with a grin so large it was contagious and said, “I feel like I’m at one of those fancy spas.”

Tears filled my eyes as I realized how little it took to make these women happy. To make them feel special. I’m sure they would’ve enjoyed the fancy lotions and hand massages. The pumice stones would’ve been nice. They would’ve oohed and ahhhed, had I known how to make fancy nail polish decorations.two women standing together

But none of those things trumped what they needed most—love. Someone to look them in the eye and say, “I see you. You have value. God loves you.”

That is how God makes much of our little.

Let’s talk about this! When have you stepped out to serve or help someone and felt insufficient and ill-equipped? How did you handle that? What was the end result? When has God shown you, perhaps through your insufficiency, that your role was simply to love? Share your thoughts and examples in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

Visit John 6:1-14 to read another “When God Makes Much of Our Little” stories–this one told in Scripture.

If you enjoyed today’s post, I encourage you to sign up for my free, quarterly e-mailing! Subscribers receive image of cover for study based on 1 Timothygreat, free content sent directly to their inbox along with a free, 36-lesson study (ebook form) based on truths presented in 1 Timothy (sent separately). (If you signed up and haven’t yet received your free study, please contact me through this website so I can get that to you!) You can sign up HERE.

ContemplativeIf only… Oh, the things I could do; the joy I’d have; the love I’d display! We’ve all had those days, times where we look at our hurdles, raise our eyes to heaven, and remind God of how different things could be if only He’d do X or Y.

Like we need–or even have the right–to tell Him anything. True, He could do X and Y and A through Z, but many times, He chooses not to. And we are left with two options: grow bitter or draw closer.

Really, it comes down to surrender.

Just this morning I had such chat with God, then I began working on today’s post. And remembered last week’s. I believe God might be trying to tell me something. Maybe He’s telling you the same thing.

Today Elizabeth Maddrey, author of Hope Deferred, shares a deeply painful longing she prayed God would fulfill, and what she learned–how she grew–from the experience.

ElizabethMaddreyHeadshotFor all those women struggling to conceive, I won’t even pretend to know what you’re feeling. But God knows. He sees every tear, hears every desperate cry. And He cares, intimately and passionately.

When Our Longing’s Remain Unmet by Elizabeth Maddrey

I never expected to struggle with infertility. I don’t think many people do. When my husband and I realized something was wrong, it was a punch in the gut. This wasn’t something I’d planned on. Nor was it anything I thought I could handle. The years that followed were some of the darkest of my life. I questioned everything—from God’s goodness to the purpose for my life. Everything became a struggle.

Gradually, as option after option failed to help us conceive, I felt God’s peace. It wasn’t an instantaneous thing, but a slow, subtle and almost sneaky deliverance from the constant questioning and heartache—even though I still had no answers.

Shortly after this, I began to run into people here and there and they’d mention infertility in one way or another. I’d compassionnever been particularly open about our struggles – my family knew and maybe one close friend. So to have these conversations occur felt random. And yet, as they shared their own struggles and questions, I was able to share with them my experiences from a little further down the path than they were. Though the pain was still raw, it helped me to see God using my experiences to encourage others.

Now, many years later, opportunities to share my journey have once again been cropping up. And I’m finding that I’m able to look back and clearly see God shaping and molding me through these trials. I don’t think we always get to see those results—we just have to trust that they’re there. I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to see the results of Him working in me and that He’s seeing fit to use my journey to help others. But I’m also grateful because it’s a reminder that even when we don’t see His hand clearly, He’s still there and He still has a plan to use me if I’ll get out of the way and let Him.

HopeDeferredFrontHope Deferred:

Can pursuit of a blessing become a curse?

June and July and their husbands have spent the last year trying to start a family and now they’re desperate for answers. As one couple works with specialists to see how medicine can help them conceive, the other must fight to save their marriage.

Will their deferred hope leave them heart-sick, or start them on the path to the fulfillment of their dreams?

Buy it here!

Elizabeth Maddrey began writing stories as soon as she could form the letters properly and has never looked back. Though her practical nature and love of math and organization steered her into computer science for college and graduate school, she has always had one or more stories in progress to occupy her free time. When she isn’t writing, Elizabeth is a voracious consumer of books and has mastered the art of reading while undertaking just about any other activity. She loves to write about Christians who struggle through their lives, dealing with sin and receiving God’s grace.

Elizabeth lives in the suburbs of Washington D.C. with her husband and their two incredibly active little boys. She invites you to interact with her at her website or on Facebook: @elizabethmaddre, Pinterest:  and Google Plus

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this. We all have times where our prayers appear to go unanswered and our struggles appear to mount. We all, daily, have to choose between self-centeredness (focusing on our trails, struggles, worries, longings, and concerns) and surrender (giving all we are to our Christ to be used by Him for His glory). One leaves us empty, the other brings joy and peace.

What will you choose?

On a lighter note, I have fun news to share. Yesterday I signed my third contract with New Hope Publishers. Here’s the unedited, preliminary back cover blurb:

Intertwined (working title that will likely change):

Abandoned by her husband, an organ procurement coordinator fighting to keep her job and her sanity encounters an old flame facing an unthinkable tragedy.

For Tammy Kuhn, being an organ procurement coordinator is more than a job. It’s a ministry. But when her husband of sixteen years leaves her for another woman, struggles with childcare, her absentee ex-husband, and an altercation with a doctor threaten her job. Embittered and overwhelmed, she fights to maintain her sanity when a late night encounter with an old flame stirs emotions long since buried but the ICU is no place for romance.

Much thanks to Ami Carr Koelliker for inspiring me to write this novel and for all the help she offered along the way! You rock, girl!

And as long as I’m naming books, I can’t remember if I mentioned my second book, When Dawn Breaks, which releases in 2015. In case not…

When Dawn Breaks: (I should be able to reveal the cover soon. 🙂 )

Jacqueline wants purpose and restitution, but must she relinquish her chance of love to find it?

A hurricane forces Jacqueline to evacuate. Looking to begin again—and reconnect with her embittered daughter—Jacqueline heads north. Reconciliation is hard, but she has a handsome new friend to lean on. Most importantly, she knows God is standing beside her.

When her daughter rejects her, three children abandoned by their mother open their hearts. But can God use a woman who dashed the hopes of her own child to bring hope to someone else’s?

Finally, if you haven’t purchased Beyond I Do but want to, now’s the time as the preorder discount (26% off) won’t last too much longer.

portraitI think we’ve all had times where all we can pray is, “Lord, why?” Why me? Why now? Why this? Unfortunately, I don’t believe God always gives us answers this side of heaven, but every once in a while, we catch a glimpse of God’s glorious, loving plan. And when that happens, all we can say is, “Amen!” Today my sweet friend Jodie Bailey, author of Freefall, shares such a moment and the heartfelt praise that ensued. As you read her account, pause to praise God afresh, knowing He truly does work all things to good, that He never wastes a tear or heartache, and that His plans are always, always loving and good.

Because I’d Been There by Jodie Bailey

I don’t know about you, but it seems like, at least around here, Satan is mad about something.  He’s kicking and screaming right now, and it seems like there are a lot of people taking hits.  I’ve seen division, hurt feelings, illness, crazy left-field things happening to families, churches, schools…  Maybe his time is getting short and he knows it.  I don’t know.  I just know it seems to be amping up.  Anybody else seeing it?

And I just realized that’s a tie-in to what happens to Joseph in Genesis 40.  Honestly, I didn’t see it until just now.  But Joseph knew a thing or two about situations getting worse, about hope appearing and disappearing.  Favored son to slave.  Favored slave to prisoner.  Favored prisoner to, perhaps worst of all, forgotten.  It’s one thing to have little hope.  It’s another to have hope brush your fingertips then evaporate.   In Proverbs 13, it says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…”  I wonder how sick Joseph’s heart was after this?

Genesis 40:23 (GW)–Nevertheless, the chief cupbearer didn’t remember Joseph. He forgot all about him.

Some time after Joseph is falsely accused and imprisoned, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and chief baker land in prison and start dreaming dreams that Joseph–by God–correctly interprets.   In gratitude and, wholeheartedly, the cupbearer promises to remember Joseph before the king… then immediately forgets.

How long do you imagine Joseph sat in prison waiting to get his say?  How much hope do you think he had when the cupbearer headed into freedom?  How long did he sit on the edge of his bed, jumping up at every sound, just knowing this was the moment, unable to sleep for the anticpation?  How long before he sank into dejectedness and came the day he didn’t even bother to get out of bed?  From Joseph’s view, it was hopeless.

I’ve been there.  See, when I was mired down in fear for nearly ten years, I knew God could heal me.  I knew he was 100% capable.  Yet time after time after time, prayer after prayer after prayer, the healing didn’t come.  I begged.  I cried.  I raged.  I gave up.  I hoped.  I lost hope.  I hoped again.  Yet healing didn’t come.  Until my birthday, eleven years ago tomorrow, when He freed me completely, healed me totally, in a moment.  Over.  Done.  Free.

A few months ago, I sat with a student in the throes of a panic attack… and I knew what to say.  I knew how to respond.  And sitting there with 584970_untitledher, it came over me.  It was worth it.  Nearly ten years of crying out prepared me to sit with a hurting child.  And I finally, finally, finally saw why God waited.  He had a reason.  He had a purpose.  And even if it was just to help one heart, it was worth it.

It was the same with Joseph.  God waited.  He had a purpose for allowing Joseph to suffer.  No, I can’t explain it totally, but I know all Joseph went through prepped him to save thousands of lives later.  I know God knew what He was doing, even when Joseph thought he’d been locked in a dark, black, hopeless box.

We can’t see the whole chess board.  God can.  As hard as it is–and believe me, it’s hard to say it even–but that’s when trust happens.  That’s when we have to believe that we believe that we believe that God knows what’s coming, and none of this is wasted.  In the end, it’s going to be glorious beyond anything we can possibly see coming.

Jodie Bailey is Tarheel born and bred. After fifteen years as a military spouse, she’s proud to be a retired military spouse settled back in North Carolina with her husband and daughter. She is the author of the military suspense novel Freefall and is a contributor to Edie Melson’s devotional for military families, Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home. When not working on her next novel, she teaches middle schoolers to love writing as much as she does (if she’s lucky that day and they’re actually listening…). Jodie loves to bake, ride the Harley with her husband, and fish the Outer Banks with their daughter. You can find her on the web at

Her debut novel, Freefall, has been called amazing, awesome, and explosive:

9780373445691With one accusation, army officer Cassidy Matthews’s name, reputation—and life—are on the line. A Special Forces soldier insists that Cassy’s Fort Bragg-based unit is smuggling drugs. And the accuser? It’s Cassy’s handsome, stubborn ex-husband, Major Shane Logan. Shane knows Cassy is innocent, which is why he’s sure she’s being set up to take the fall. Proving it, though, means working together…and trying to ignore the feelings they still share. The closer they get—to the truth and each other—the more the danger grows from a ruthless criminal who’ll stop at nothing to destroy them both.


Have you ever encountered someone going through a trial you once endured, and if so, how did your previous experience help you minister to them? Do you believe genuine compassion deepens with understanding? How might pain and struggle help us further God’s kingdom?

Let’s talk about this!

Share your stories with us in the comments below, on Living by Grace, or join our online Bible study. We’d love to have you!

This morning as I swung through my local grocery to buy food items for Taking it to the Streets, numerous parental thoughts swept through my mind. Of what’s worked, what hasn’t, and how God has multiplied Steve and my efforts, molding our daughter day-by-day.

I’ve got a lot to say, but little time to say it, so I’ll leave you instead with a catchy slogan, hoping you’ll chew on it and that perhaps God will use it to direct and strengthen your family.

A family that serves together stays together.

Tonight we will go as a family–united in purpose and love–to share God’s grace and truth with Omaha’s homeless and working poor. While there, I will get to see my daughter’s faith and character blossom as she sits with “the least of these.” I will get to see my man humble himself to serve others. United, we will get to experience the incomprehensible love of Christ pouring through us.

The drive over gives us a chance to talk about heart issues as we talk about who and what we might encounter. The drive home provides an opportunity to discuss all that God did while we were there.

Our Fridays have become special–priceless. A glue that binds us. It’s also become a training ground for our daughter–an opportunity for her to put her life into perspective, to develop compassion, to be part of positive change. This inward development has spilled over into every other area of her life.

Each week, we give but a few hours of our time, but a small portion of our resources, yet we gain so much in return. As a mom, my greatest blessing is seeing my daughter live out her faith–not just at Taking it to the Streets, but where ever she goes, seeing others through a lens saturated with compassion. (Because you can’t spend time among the broken and leave unchanged.)

So, to those parents out there, here’s my challenge.

Family time is crucial. Our kids need it, crave it. Each interaction is an opportunity to connect with our children’s heart, but it is also a time to mold their heart.

What if, one Friday a month, instead of spending say $50 or $60 going out to eat, you visited a soup kitchen and used that same money to help provide a nutritious meal to a family in need. (It’s not just the alcoholics and druggies who frequent these places. Each Friday, we see young families–mom’s with kiddos, pregnant ladies.)

What kind of memories might that create? What kind of training might that provide?

And for those living in the Omaha, NE area, come join us! We’re there almost every Friday. And bring bananas or a jug of milk. 🙂 Tonight I’ll be doing a monologue of the Samaritan woman–a woman riddled with shame who found love and acceptance in the Savior.

As I look around my house, wrapping paper strewn across the floor, packages lined on the shelves, and shopping lists still waiting to be fulfilled, a twinge of conviction nabs my heart. Each present, each tinsel, each afternoon shopping spree has the capacity to send our daughter a message–to train generosity or materialism. Each holiday celebration can either draw her heart further to Christ or center it more firmly around herself.

A while back I realized if I truly wanted to train compassion, I needed to pull her out of middle-class suberbia once in a while. It’s easy to long for X-boxes and other trinkets–to feel entitled and deprived–when you’re surrounded by friends who have those very items you lack. But surrounded by extreme poverty, by those who have little if anything to call their own, those wants begin to fade as something else rises in their place–compassion. Realizing this, my husband and I started to make determined efforts to place her in serving roles, around those who had far less than her. And we’ve noticed a definite change–less of the gimmes and a stronger desire to give.

What about you? What will you do to actively train compassion and contentment this year? Don’t buy into the lie that your children need one hundred gifts under the tree. In fact, those gifts you fought for, stood in line for, scrimped and saved to give them, could very well do more harm than good. Our children don’t need more cause to think of themselves, but instead, encouragement to look beyond and into the hearts of others.  

As parents, may we remember our greatest call is to train not the next CEO but instead, a fully-devoted follower of Christ. With each activity we plan and conversation we initiate, may the lofty call outlined in Philipians 2:1-8 burn fresh in our minds as we remember this call is not for us alone, but for our children as well.

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

 5In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

 6 Who, being in very natureGod,
   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
   by taking the very natureof a servant,
   being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
   he humbled himself
   by becoming obedient to death—
      even death on a cross!

Lord, this Christmas remove materialism from my heart and home. Remind me to demonstrate it’s true meaning in how I spend my time, the things I buy, and the words I say. Prevent me from spreading the cancer of materialism into the lives of others and may I instead encourage radical obedience and full surrender.

Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about ways to show our children the true meaning of Christmas.

Whenever I hear another parent share about their children’s struggles, I’m reminded how important it is to train compassion in our children. I don’t believe compassion comes naturally. Oh, we may feel empathy on occasion, but it seems our first nature is to judge, hurt, point fingers, and exclude. As parents, we must be diligent about encouraging our children to look beyond the surface to the heart and to assume the best, not the worst, in others.

Today Julie Arduini, the Surrendered Scribe, shares a story about her precious little girl and a time in her life when she really could have used a friend.

How would you handle it? by Julie Arduini

Our daughter is in general good health now but as a baby had chronic multiple issues. Since she’s been 3 months old, weight is one of them. We’ve been to a dietician and work with an endocronologist. We have seven plus years of files, appointments, therapies and oh yes…the comments.

I worked a decade with a certain segment of population, senior citizens. I learned so much from them, good…and bad. Every single time someone has had something to say about our daughter’s appearance it has been a stranger and a senior citizen.

I had one physically grab me and tell me I was killing my child. It was one of the top ten worst moments of my life. This person not only had no idea our whole story, she scared my other child. I will never forget.

This time around a frail looking woman in a walker stops me as I make sure my daughter and I give her plenty of space. She smiles and says “Oh your little girl reminds me of me at that age. I ate everything in sight.”

What do you say to that?

Me, I smiled and said nothing. Because this has happened so many times by women over the age of 70 that one day I’m afraid I’m going to just go off. I’ve even had people at church meet up with me in public and say oh you know her, she’s the mom to the fat girl.

So….how would you handle it?

One thing I can say, I’m a huge advocate for invisible illness loved ones. Forgive me for the times I sized up a situation with zero information.

Julie Arduini is a writer and speaker residing in NE Ohio with her husband and two children. Her work is included in such works as the Peculiar People Project’s Delivered and Guideposts Incredible Answers to Prayer series. She’s editing her contemporary romance, Spectacular Falls. She’s a webinar presenter through Christian Women Affiliate and is a team blogger with Christians Read. Her passion is to encourage audiences to find freedom through surrender, but knows it has to start with her. She’s surrendering the good, the bad, and—maybe one day—the chocolate. You can contact her through her website.

**If you loved this message as much as I did, consider casting a “vote” to get it into my top 3 of 2011. Simply FB share it, tweet it, leave a comment, or like it. At the end of the month I’ll tally up each share, like, comment, and tweet to determine your favorites of my faves! I’ll announce the top three posts on Dec 31.

As I’ve mentioned before, we tend to move frequently. As a result, we’ve visited numerous churches, from the tiny one room steeple to the multi-level mega church. In many ways, I’ve become a “church student”. I’d like to think this is due to the evangelist in me, but perhaps it’s my insatiable curiosity. Regardless of the reason, when I enter a new environment, a new sub-culture if you will, I want to know what works. When you walk into some churches, it’s like you’re returning home after an extended absence. Others leave you cold and prickly. And it seems like what is experienced in the Sunday morning pews trickles into the Wednesday night youth gathering.

I’ve been involved in childen’s church for over twelve years, and I’ve always said you can tell the health of the church by the behavior of the students. Now, this might be a tough concept to wrap your head around. You might even strongly disagree. I mean, seriously, kids are about as predictable as a curve ball on a windy day. They go from giggles to tears to all out war at the slightest provocation, and there’s no holding back. If it enters their brain it’s gonna spill out. Likely at the most inconvenient of times. Which is why they are such great litmus tests, because not only are they emotionally sporadic, they’re also insatiable sponges, ever absorbing the attitudes, ideas, and thought processes of others, primarily their parents.

For years when I noticed a rather self-centered youth group I held the senior pastor responsible. My reasoning was, if it’s taught on the pulpit, it will be taught in the home. But then we spent time in a biblically accurate, love-focused church (on the pulpit, anyway) with the most active, coldest, cliquish youth group I’ve ever seen. I watched week after week as the pastor tried to combat this lack of love in his sermons. I listened to the youth intern talk about how “bad she felt” watching it happen. And yet, despite all these good intentions, nothing changed.

Fast forward a few years. Now we are part of one of the most loving–genuinely loving–churches I’ve ever been to. At every level. It’s like there are a bunch of eyes scouring the place looking for that newbie, that person sitting by themselves in need of prayer. And if you happen to cry? Whew! Watch out, chances are you’ll be enveloped in a hug before you even realized the tears are falling. But what impresses me most is the youth group. They are the most outreach-focused youth group I have seen. They go on mission trips, visit homeless shelters, cook meals for the residents of these shelters and for the church body as a whole, and consistently work as a group to bring Christ to their schools. In a nutshell, they’re others focused. (Normally I try not to talk about my church, but hey, if it’s working, I’m going to share it.)

At first, their behavior shocked me. When I watched a large herd of kids surround the youth group newbies with smiles and introductions.

“Hi, I’m Stacy.”

“And I’m Jenna.”

“Oooh, I just love your hair! Can I touch it?” (This is the teenage equivalent to, ‘let’s be friends.’)

The new girl, used to being shoved aside, put off, and ignored, stares at the floor, not quite sure how to respond. Her eyes dart up briefly, long enough for her to mumble a quick, “Hi.” Then they’re back to the floor, zeroing in on that tiny loose thread being worked over by her big toe.

Watching this interaction over time got me thinking–what made this youth group so compassionate when other youth groups were so self-centered.

This morning as I got ready to join our youth pastor at a local grocery store to buy food so that his students could cook dinner—using money donated by the youth—for a local family shelter, it hit me.  Compassion is both taught and caught. Our kids do more outreach than any other youth group I’ve known. In fact, most youth groups are all about the fun. And I think the intentions are good. Maybe if we’re a bit more exciting, have better, louder music (okay, so our youth has some pretty loud music, but that’s beside the point.) whatever, more kids will come.

Maybe. But what’s more important—to have a gym packed with kids learning to be more self-centered or a small class room filled with kids learning to love.

I’m going to play a video that I found very touching, and challenging. I disagree with the stated goal of being happy. I don’t agree that happiness should be our primary focus. For the Christian, holiness is our ultimate goal. But I do agree that compassion can and should be taught. I also believe that compassion is a holy emotion. It was compassion and love that drove our Savior to the cross.

Children Full of Life

There are so many hurting kids in our world. Are you part of the solution or part of the problem, because every casual word, every momentary choice has consequences. Choices. We make a million a day. To buy that Big Mac or donate a buck or two, to go to a movie or spend time at a youth center, to pause and smile or hurry by—choices.

I heard this song for the first time yesterday, and even though it’s not my style, the words really resonated. Looking For Angels.

Want to teach your children/students to be givers, not takers? Want to help them get their eyes off themselves and onto others?

1) Find organizations that reach out to others that they can get involved in. Sunday a highlighted a wonderful movement that has transformed participating teens into passionate, compassionate givers all across the country. You can also take them to your local food pantry or shelter.

2) When you see a homeless man or woman, stop and engage. Shake their hand then watch their face light up as you demonstrate the love of Christ and let them know that no, they are not disgusting. They are children of God in need of a Savior.

3) Pray for others, out loud and invite your kids to join you.

4) Jump on their bandwagon, even if it seems to be wobbling down a dead-end road on three wheels. (In plain language, if they come up with an idea on how to bless others, help them make it happen, focusing more on the process and the lesson learned then the result.)

5) Pray for their heart. Wow, this is a biggie.

6) Actively and consistently combat negative attitudes, words, and judgments. I have been known to jump up, grab my Bible and a computer (to educate against the misconception) in the middle of dinner and you’ll frequently hear me spout Ephesians 4:29 followed by the question, “Now did that statement you just made build up or tear down?” Yeah, I’ll get an eye roll, but her reaction is temporary. Her mindset is long-term.