When God Uses Christmas to Point us to Something Bigger

Image of woman holding cash
2002 started as a guilt-ridden Christmas but resulted in one our family will always cherish.

A month before the holidays, we feared our daughter would suffer the consequences of our bad choices. After years of careless spending, we’d depleted our savings and maxed out our credit cards. We knew we needed to make drastic changes but feared doing so would hurt our daughter.

Yet we could no longer ignore God’s prodding, not without becoming willfully disobedient. He wanted first place in our hearts Quote from postand asked us to purge those things, like materialism, that had occupied His rightful place.

And so, that November, we cut up our cards, tossed out our catalogs, and I set about making our daughter hand-made gifts.

A couple weeks later, my husband arrived home with a large, plastic garbage bag filled with stuffed animals—all with their tags still on. Through this, God provided the perfect gifts for our stuffed-animal loving daughter. But He did much more than that. He showed her that He sees her, loves her, and can provide for her through the most unexpected means.

As we sought to honor God with our spending, we experienced numerous miracles. Free plane tickets that allowed us to visit family when schedules prevented driving. Upgraded vehicle rentals when the economy car never would’ve been enough. Grocery sales when milk and veggies ran low.

For nearly a year, He helped us stretch every penny, so that we had neither too little nor too much. Here’s the interesting part—those miracles didn’t continue, at least, not to the same extent, once we had our finances managed. I’m convinced that’s because we no longer needed them. God continued to show up in our lives, but rarely in such obvious, material ways.

Honestly, I believe His purpose extended far beyond our financial blessings. With each stuffed animal and rental car upgrade, He taught us to trust in Him. He shifted our focus off our efforts and planning and onto Him, the One who held our future and our family in His hands.

God used our lack that Christmas and unexpected blessings to point us to the greatest gift of all, one that would outlast the season–Christ Himself.

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Some 3,500 years ago, God brought the Israelites on a similar journey. After centuries of oppression in a pagan land, He liberated them from slavery then led them on a forty-year trek through the wilderness. With every step, God taught this emerging nation to trust in Him for protection and provision. Their role was simple—surrender and obey. He took care of everything else.

Scripture tells us, each morning, He rained down cracker-like wafers from the sky, giving each family exactly what they needed for that day. Here’s the part I found cool: once they entered the fertile territory He’d long promised, the wafers stopped coming. Abruptly.

From that moment on, Scripture says, they ate the produce of the land. Daily, they discovered, they had more than enough. They saw, in a tangible way, God alone had the power to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Each day, through difficulties and blessings, He leads us through similar lessons. When life hits hard or provisions abound, it’s easy to focus on all the material objects that bring pleasure and security, but with every need and gift, God is pointing us to something greater—Himself.

I don’t know if God will provide for you in the same way that He did for us, but I do know He will always and only do what is for your best. We tend to focus on our immediate needs and desires, but God knows where true fulfillment and peace are found–in Him. Our relationship with Christ is a gift that will bring joy long after we’ve packed up our tinsel and decorations.

Let’s talk about this! Are finances tight this Christmas? How might focusing on God, your provider, help reduce your anxiety and give you peace? How has past difficulties increased your trust in Him? Share your thoughts and examples with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

For those who are local, fun news! Wholly Loved Ministries has announced their first live Bible study, written by myself, Susan Aken, Dena Dyer, and Cheri Cowell. Join me at Wildewood Christian Church in Papillion where I’ll be teaching live.

Location: 2081, 1255 Royal Dr, Papillion, NE 68046

Dates: Jan. 15th-March 5th (with Feb. 12th off)

Times: Tuesday evenings from 6:30pm-8pm

Can’t make it to the winter study but want to join us? No problem! I’ll be presenting the study again at an Omaha church starting in March. (Details pending.)

Becoming His Princess: A 7-week Study on the Life of Sarah

Bible study cover imageDo you ever feel insignificant or unseen? As if what you do or even who you are isn’t quite good enough? Does your confidence level vary based on who you’re around and what their bank account or how accomplishment list looks like compared to yours? If so, this study, based on the life of Sarah, a woman from the Old Testament Scriptures, is for you.

For seven weeks, we’ll follow her uncertain and at times terrifying journey from the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur to the land promised to her and her husband, and ultimately, the place of rest God beckons each of us toward. He met her in the middle of her pain, shame, and all her striving and rewrote her story—through grace. A grace bigger than her greatest failures and that proved sufficient for all her insufficiencies.

As we read about her experiences, we’ll learn to center our identity in Christ, recognize His power and presence through our most challenging circumstances, find rest from our striving, and live daily in His grace.

Want our team to come to you? Contact me HERE. 

Unpack Your Talents

“To not use a talent to the best of your ability is to stifle the thing that makes you most special. It is like plucking the wings off a butterfly.” ~Fennel Hudson, A Writer’s Year — Fennel’s Journal, No. 3

VanessaI met Vanessa Fortenberry at last year’s Catch the Wave Christian Writers Conference in Atlanta. As one of the presenters, she shared a devotion I found so encouraging, the moment the main session completed, I made a beeline for her, and having barely made self-introductions, blurted out, “Would you be willing to share the message you just gave with my blog readers?”

She said yes and here we are. She is such a lovely woman of Christ, I know you’ll be as blessed by her insight as I was, and am.

Unpacking Your Talents by Vanessa Fortenberry  

“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving

one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10 NASB). 

A few years ago, I received an email message from a former chorus student I taught in elementary school some 14 years previously. In college and pursuing a career in music as a singer/songwriter, this young woman took the time to thank me for instilling in her a foundation and love of music.

Grateful for this young woman’s message, I felt compelled to give all the glory and praise to God. Through God’s grace, He

Photo by PublicDomainPictures taken from pixabay.com

Photo by PublicDomainPictures taken from pixabay.com

afforded me the talents to inspire and serve this young woman and I hope countless other students. Matthew 25:15 says God gives us all talents or gifts according to our ability.

Fennel Hudson from A Writer’s YearFennel’s Journal – No. 3 is quoted as saying, “To not use a talent to the best of your ability is to stifle the thing that makes you most special. It is like plucking the wings off a butterfly.”

What special gifts do you possess? Perhaps, you are guilty of plucking the wings off a butterfly, as Fennel Hudson stated. On the other hand, you may feel you have no unique gifts to offer. In reality, we all possess a natural aptitude or skill or the ability to do something well. Once we recognize these abilities or talents, it is essential for us to plant the seeds, toil them, nurture them, and most vital, to harvest the fruits of our labor.

To start, what does your behavior say about your confidence level regarding your talents and abilities? Do you question your abilities? Maybe, you believe you lack the needed skills to accomplish your dreams. Let go of negative attitudes and study your craft (or calling) to enhance your skills. Often times, we do not generate enough effort into improving our talents. Move forward, nurture and grow your God given talents today. The gift is yours! However, it takes determination, diligence, dedication, and self-discipline to develop your gifts. No matter your talent: homemaker, musician, writer, artist, actor, chef, baker, secretary, teacher, preacher, doctor, nurse, entertainer, salesperson, etc., commit yourself to do whatever it takes and for however long it takes to reach your desired goals.

When utilizing our talents, God considers us good stewards. In addition, God wants us to give Him praise for our gifts. He also wants us to serve Him, but not through our own accord; rather with the strength supplied by Him. (1 Peter 4:11) Furthermore, we should know one thing about our abilities and our gifts; they are not for us! God so graciously gave us these gifts to serve others.

Unpack your talents today to serve others and to glorify God and serve Him!

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything You gave me.’” ~ Emma Bombeck

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An inspirational author and speaker, Vanessa Fortenberry penned the children’s verse story, Mama, I Want to See God. Vanessa is also a contributor to the book, Relief Notes: Encouraging Letters for Tough Times written by the Christian Authors Guild. She also writes, “Connecting Readers to the Word,” a monthly e-newsletter. Vanessa savors the moments she spends with her family and friends. She is most relaxed when in her kitchen baking delicious desserts for her loved ones. You can visit her at www.vanessafortenberry.com, Twitter, or Facebook.

CoverHer book, Mama, I Want to See God:

Wanting to connect more with God, a child asks his mother countless questions in this rhyming verse book. In answer, the mother’s tender and patient responses model God’s love. At the story’s end, Mother has answered all of the questions, allowing the child a true connection with God.

Buy it HERE!

 

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this. When was the last time you paused to pray about your unique gifting and passions and how God might want to use them to further His kingdom? Are you doing that? Are you using every gift God has given you to its maximum capacity? Are you intentionally developing that gift? Where might God want to take you, in regard to your gifting or calling, in the next year? With 2015 coming to an end, now’s a great time to prayerfully plan 2016. Share your thoughts, dreams, and experiences with us here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook, because we can all learn from each other!

Living–For Real!

Photo by edaly, taken from pixabay.com

Photo by edaly, taken from pixabay.com

When I come to the end of my life, when I stand before my Creator, I want to appear before Him with empty hands, knowing I gave my all and lived each moment to the fullest, utilizing every gift and talent He gave me to their full potential.

Because what good is a gift if it’s hidden, or only partially opened?

About a week ago, my assistant Hannah Burch wrote a beautiful, thought-provoking, and poignant poem I felt would speak to many of you. Many of us have those moments where God stirs us to do, and in that moment, we’re ready to jump in, to give our all… But then the next day, with all its stressers and demands, comes, and “logic” begins to take over, and slowly but surely, that spark of action begins to fade.

As you read Hannah’s poem, ask yourself: What would I do differently right now if I knew tomorrow wouldn’t come? Or perhaps a better question, what is holding me back from being the man or woman Christ created me to be? He gave His all for us, not so we could muddle through life, but so that we could live, truly live.

1am by Hannah Burch

I’m afraid to go to sleep
Because I know I will lose this nagging feeling my empty day has given me

Photo taken from pixabay.com by iWorksphotography

Photo taken from pixabay.com by iWorksphotography

This feeling that I did not wring out all that I had to offer
This feeling that I moved too slowly and not enough
That I didn’t shout enough
Or dance enough
Cry enough
Or laugh enough
I’m afraid to go to sleep
Because in the morning I know I will be afraid to do all those things

rsz_1hannah_bio_picHannah Burch is a sophomore in college who enjoys reading, writing, and watching Star Wars in her spare time. She is the oldest of five girls (excluding the dog) and is planning on majoring in either Creative Writing or English so her parents should probably not expect her to move out of their basement anytime soon.

(And to my writer friends looking for help with your blogs, newsletters, promotional jpgs, etc., let me know via email and I’ll connect you with her. She’s amazingly helpful! And routinely does all those things I’d rather not so I can spend my time doing what I love–writing!)

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! Back in 2008 and 2009, I clearly and strongly sensed God’s call to write but fought it, hard. One night at a mid-week church service, my former pastor talked about the parable of the tenants and I realized it was fear–self-preservation rooted in fear–that caused the evil tenant to hide his gifts.

I was doing the same. The answer? I needed to surrender, to die to myself and live, completely and fully, for Christ. It wasn’t easy or comfortable. Death never is! But the fruit of that initial decision, and countless times I’ve had to make it again and again over the years, has truly been amazing. Share your thoughts in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

Speaking of the fruits of surrender, I have news! Many of you have wondered if there’d be a book to follow my debut, Beyond I Do. The answer is YES! I signed a contract with New Hope Publishers Tuesday for book two in what I’ve tentatively called the Midwestern Romance series.

Here’s a preliminary blurb:

Three people held back by regret but one God to help them rise above.

Angela Meadows is ready for a clean slate, to launch a career, and to embrace her newfound freedom in Christ. But self-loathing and remorse for a life forever lost hold her back. When she encounters a single mom married to an incarcerated felon and her children, Angela’s shame becomes swallowed by something greater—compassion. Her past draws her to them, but will it drive away the only man she loves?

And, speaking of taking risks and dying to one’s self, you might enjoy the post I wrote for fellow ACFW member, Ralene Burke titled Confidence in Uncertainty. 

On Tuesday, I visited More to Life to share how a motherhood struggle drew my heart to single moms, and how this impacted my latest release, Intertwined. You can read that HERE.

And, speaking of books, for those of with book-lovers on your list…

Background photo by Unsplash taken from pixabay.com

Background photo by Unsplash taken from pixabay.com

Viewing Others Through God’s Eyes

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Photo by Marcisim taken from Pixabay.com

Seeing others, really seeing them, doesn’t come naturally. I think that’s because most of us, me included, have a strong self-obsession. Meaning, our thoughts most often are centered on we, ourselves, and us. This is an area God is really working on in me lately. I so want to be a blessing. To be the type of woman who brings out the best in others, points them toward Jesus, and helps them discover and grow in their calling.

It’s time I get more intentional in my efforts. It’s time I practice regularly dying to myself so that Christ might always, at every moment, live through me.

Today’s post by women’s fiction writer Brenda Anderson encouraged me this morning. I hope it does you as well.

BUT first, fun news. When Dawn Breaks is on sale for under $4! You can get your copy HERE. You can read the first three chapters for free HERE.

A Gem of a Gift by Brenda AndersonHead Shot (466 x 600)

I’m blessed to have been given the gift of writing fiction. Think about it. I get to create people, cities, or even whole new worlds. How fun is that? Even more exciting is that I get to share this gift with others, hopefully spreading the gospel in a unique way, just as Jesus did with the parables. What an awesome privilege.

God’s gifts are like precious gems: they’re multi-faceted. Until recently, I focused on spreading the gospel as the purpose for this gift of writing, but God has shown me an equally precious facet: learning to see others through His eyes, with His heart.

My stories tend to center around people who’ve experienced the darker side of life, many by their own choices. My hero in my Coming Home series killed a teen in an inattentive-driving accident. My heroine chose to abort not just one, but two children, and was a pro-choice advocate. In my current release, Hungry for Home, the focus is on a homeless teen who mugs a woman.

Honestly, my first reaction when I hear of someone who fits the above description is disgust. What was he thinking to be driving while texting? How selfish, uncaring are you to be pro-abortion? That teen needs to go to jail! How dare he mug that woman?

On the surface, they’re people I don’t really like. But God does. He not only likes them, He loves them, and through their stories He’s shown me the heart He sees.

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Photo by Foundry taken from Pixabay.com

He’s helped me realize I’m no different from them. He’s shown me why they behaved as they did, not excusing the behavior, but knowing the why helps me meet them where they’re at and love them there. God has said to me, “This is my child, and I love them. Help others love them too.” I saw them as broken and needing a savior.

Just like me.

So now when I’m watching the news or reading the newspaper that spotlights bad or horrible behavior, rather than judge, I tell myself that God loves them too, and I ask “What’s their story?” and pray to see the heart that God sees.

What an immense privilege it is to see God’s children in this new light, like the sun shining through a crystal prism!

I can’t wait to see what else God has planned through this gift!

Hungry for Home front cover (373 x 600)About Hungry for Home:

After a troubling encounter with a pregnant teen, Sheila Peterson-Brooks hurries from the crisis pregnancy center into the frigid Minnesota winter where she is mugged and left for dead. After a frantic search, Richard, her husband, finds her, and the police quickly nab the mugger …

A hungry, homeless teen.
The brother of the pregnant girl Sheila had just counseled.

The girl pleads for her brother, and Sheila and Richard choose not to press charges. Instead, they open their home to the boy, a move that could cost them their possessions, and their hearts.

And, in the process, teach them the true meaning of home.

Pre-Order Hungry for Home for Kindle: http://amzn.to/1VtIb8h

Brenda S. Anderson writes gritty and authentic, life-affirming fiction. She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and is currently President of the ACFW Minnesota chapter, MN-NICE. When not reading or writing, she enjoys music, theater, roller coasters, and baseball, and she loves watching movies with her family. She lives in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area with her husband of 28 years, their three children, and one sassy cat.

Readers can learn more about Brenda S. Anderson at www.brendaandersonbooks.com. You can visit her personal blog and the group blog InkspirationalMessages she participates in, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter or Pinterest.

LivingbyGracepicLet’s talk about this. In what ways do you try to view others through God’s eyes? Is that easy or difficult for you, and why? What has helped in that regard? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

Normally during book launch time I share links of all the places I’ve been, online, in the past week, but today… I’m getting ready to head to Lincoln to spend time with my daughter. Yay!

I hope you’re day is as happy as mine. 🙂

Who Gets Your Leftovers?

Today’s reading: Proverbs 3; Micah 3:6-15

Today’s focal verse: Proverbs 3:9-10

Today’s focus: Giving God our best

1381091_time_is_moneyThis week’s memory verse: Proverbs 3:9-10

Honor the Lord with your wealth
    and with the best part of everything you produce.
Then he will fill your barns with grain,
    and your vats will overflow with good wine (NLT).

Let’s face it, there’s only so much of us to go around. We’ve only got so much resources, so much time, so much energy. At any moment in your day, you’ve got to choose–who or what will you focus on and who will take a back seat? If you’re like me, you often feel like you’re running in circles chasing fires, always one too many steps behind.

So what do you do when your day spins out of control?

You stop, give it to God, and determine to do things differently, placing Him and the things of Him at the top of your to do list.

Proverbs 3:9-10 says:

Honor the Lord with your wealth
and with the best part of everything you produce.
Then he will fill your barns with grain,
and your vats will overflow with good wine.

Although this verse is talking about our material wealth, I believe the principle applies to all of our resources, including our time, gifts, and talents.

It can be quite easy to write a check to a ministry. Serving in that same ministry or carving out devoted time for prayer can be another matter.

I’ve been involved in children’s ministry for almost 15 years now. That’s fifteen years, 780 weeks, 2,340 hours of craft prep, snotty-nose wiping, mess-cleaning, game-playing, and yes, there have been times when I’ve felt burned out, when my flesh wanted to take the easy way out, to absent-mindedly go through the motions without fully engaging. But then God’s spirit within me pricks my conscious and reminds me, no matter what ministry I’m doing, I’m serving Him, and He deserves my absolute best.

Pause to prayerfully consider this week’s memory verse. Think of your daily Bible reading and prayer time. Have you set aside a time for God when you are at your best, most alert? If not, when would be a good time to do that?

Think of the ministry you serve in. How might your service be an act of worship? And how might viewing it as such change you how approach it?

Think of your gifts and talents. Are you using them to glorify God or to glorify yourself? For example, I believe God has gifted me with a desire to write. This week and last, the Proverbs Bible study has taken a large chunk of my time. Time I could’ve spent working on articles or my current manuscript, and yes, there have been moments when my flesh fought for dominance, inviting me to join it’s pity, “what about me!” party, but I chose not to listen. I chose to obey what I believed God had called me to do–engage in the Proverbs study, giving it my absolute best, trusting Him to take care of the other stuff.

I don’t regret it, for every moment I follow wholeheartedly after Him, I feel His peace, His love, His presence.

Let’s talk about this. Share your thoughts in the comments below or join the discussion in our online study group.


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Let’s take a moment to consider our progress. Don’t try to answer or contemplate all the questions below as often, when we attempt to do too much, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and lose effectiveness. Instead, focus on the one area you really want to see growth in.

I know many of you are following along with our Proverbs reading and Bible study.

How are you doing with your Bible reading and verse memorization commitment? Have you established a routine, and if so, has it helped you to be more disciplined? (You might find it helpful to review January 1st’s devotional.)

As you continue to read through Proverbs and store God’s Word in your heart, are you noticing a difference in how you approach and view your day? Are you consulting with God more throughout the day, seeking His wisdom? (You might find it helpful to review January 2nd’s devotional.)

How are you doing with your Bible reading time? Are you taking the time to really digest it and dig for God’s meaning? Have you tried using a lexicon? Reading verses and/or passages in different translations? Any new discoveries? (You might find it helpful to review January 3rd’s devotion.)

How has your trust level grown? Are you choosing to think about and focus on God’s truth and unchanging nature? And if so, has that helped you experience increased peace? (You might find it helpful to focus on January 5th’s devotional.)  

What’s *one* thing you choose to focus on today?