Raising Children Who Reveal Christ

JohnStudy1

 

I had a very difficult pregnancy, one characterized by the constant fear that I would lose the precious child I’d prayed for, that I’d grown to love so deeply, from the moment I knew she existed. One night in particular, everyone–myself, my husband, our doctor–was certain I had. I was awakened in the middle of the night by a strong, rapid, and continual trembling and rolling in my abdomen followed by significant bleeding, and my husband rushed me to the hospital. As I lay on that cold, hard table, all I could  pray was, “No. Please Lord, no.”

I went home that night with my sweet Ashley, still very much alive, but my prayers took on a desperation after that. A bit of bargaining*. “Lord, if you’ll just help me keep this baby to term, I’ll give her back to you.”

I remembered that promise often in the days and years ahead: When I was tired and table-rock-943215_1920-1tempted to forgo our nightly Bible reading. When I was frustrated and tempted to take the easy road, parenting wise. When my heart was breaking over something she’d endured and I was tempted to focus on fixing the situation rather than helping her grow in Christ.

All I can say is, 19 years later, as I see the young woman God’s molded our girl into, I’m oh-so-grateful for that promise and how God used it to help me raise a child who does her best to reveal Christ.

This is our focus this week in our For the Love Bible study, and my special guest author Candee Fick talks about what this looked like for John the Baptist’s parents and how we can follow their example.

Raising Children Who Reveal Christ
by Candee Fick

It’s not everyone who gets a supernatural birth announcement or a miraculous baby after years of infertility. Personally, I think Zechariah and Elizabeth might have needed the baby-179378_640overly-dramatic beginning to give them the stamina and dedication to prepare their child for his destiny—to prepare the way for the Messiah. Every day they saw John’s face they had to remember that God was intimately involved in their lives, and then remember that John was born to tell others about the coming Christ.

Can you imagine the stories shared around the fire? John must have grown up surrounded by village tales of a heavenly voice in the Temple and a temporarily-speechless father not to mention an entire hill country wondering what he would grow up to become.

John’s life was the stuff of legends and the angel even said he would be great. Being told he would be filled with the Holy Spirit and go before the Lord in the power of Elijah could have led him to believe that he was something special.

And he was.

Except he wasn’t the greatest. Somewhere along the way, his parents not only raised John with the skills he would need to fulfill his personal mission of bringing the people of Israel desert-1197972_640back to God, they had to teach him to deflect the attention toward God. Huge crowds gathered to listen to John’s message of repentance, then one day John looked up from baptizing folks on the banks of the Jordan River and knew the time had come for his audience to follow Someone else instead. Between the Holy Spirit and the training he received from his parents, John obviously recognized the pivotal moment for what it was and transferred the crowd’s fickle attention with his announcement for them to “Behold, the Lamb of God.”

How did John’s parents raise a child who pointed others to Christ?

  • First, Zechariah and Elizabeth lived a personal example of faith. Between their priestly lineage and the gift of prophecy at critical moments, John couldn’t help but be raised with a solid foundation of truth and the knowledge of God’s power through history.
  • Second, they obviously also set up some behavioral boundaries to keep him on the right path and not derail his future. The angel told them to keep him away from the wine and fermented drinks (a cultural sign that he was set apart for God’s work) while later in the first chapter of Luke it states that John lived in the wilderness before he began his public life.
  • Third, I have to believe that every time John did something great or had some amazing insight thanks to the Holy Spirit in his life, his parents pointed out how that was an example of God working in and through him. Always pointing John back to person-371015_640God so that he could in turn point others to God.

I’ve got a son who is gifted with some serious athletic talent. In fact, he lettered in four sports his senior year of high school and is now in college with a basketball scholarship. All that to say, it would have been very easy for him to get a big head and strut his stuff down the hallways.

While this isn’t on the scale of a John the Baptist, as a mother I have tried to constantly remind my son of the Gift-Giver and his responsibility to use those gifts in a way that points people back to God. I strive to keep the presence of God in the middle of our family through prayer, devotions, and natural testimonies of what God is doing in my own life. To identify examples of God’s hand at work in the lives of others. Ultimately, my hope is that my oldest son will use his platform as an athlete to be the right kind of example for younger boys to model as he deflects attention heavenward.

Consistently pointing back to Christ is a difficult lesson to learn and even harder to live. Yet aren’t we all called to do the same, to use our gifts for God’s glory and then become less so that God’s message can become more? Thanks to the influence of his parents, John learned to to do just that.

***

danceoverme-500x750-1Danielle Lefontaine, a fledgling actress raised to the lullaby of Broadway, searches for her long-lost brother and her place on the stage, but a jealous cast member and numerous fruitless leads threaten to drop the curtain on her dreams and shine a spotlight on her longing for a place to belong. Meanwhile, Alex Sheridan is living his dream except for someone to share it with. When Dani dances into his life, he hopes he’s found the missing piece to his heart but fears the bright lights of a bigger stage could steal her away.

Will the rhythm of dancing feet usher in their deepest desires or leave them stranded in the wings?

Find Dance Over Me on Amazon in ebook and paperback.

And for a funny, more lighthearted post by Candee, visit my alter ego’s blog to read how she lives in continual weather-confusion. (You can read that HERE.)

***

candee-fick_headshotCandee Fick is the wife of a high school football coach and the mother of three children, including a daughter with a rare genetic syndrome. When not busy with her day job or writing, she can be found cheering on the home team at football, basketball, baseball, and Special Olympics games. In what little free time remains, she enjoys exploring the great Colorado outdoors, indulging in dark chocolate, and savoring happily-ever-after endings through a good book.

Connect with Candee on her web site, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, and Google+.

Let’s talk about this! If you’re parenting now, what are some ways you try to raise your children to point to and reveal Christ? What makes this hard? If your children are grown, what were some ways you did this while they were growing up? Can you see the results of your efforts now that they’re adults? Share your thoughts with us here in the comments below on Facebook at Living by Grace, or join our Facebook Bible study group For the Love to discuss this further. Because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

john12-24versejpgAnd for those following our Bible study, here’s this week’s memory verse, one God intends for each of us to live out, daily, and to teach our children to do the same.

*Note: God’s will cannot be “bargained” nor does this post intend to support that or encourage one to even try. Rather, it shares a moment of heartache and terror and my human response, and how God later used that, because He truly can use it all–our successes and failures, our steps of obedience and our regrets and weaknesses.

Advertisements

When the Wait Is Over

JohnStudy1

 

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

When the waiting ends
by Susan Aken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 3 memory verse

Week 3 memory verse

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

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

She went from shame to rejoicing.

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

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

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

***

Amazing Hope:

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping It God-Centered

Merging two people with different personalities, ideas, thoughts … and sins … can make marriage hard. Today, my guest, Karen Pashley, shares with us the hope and foundation we have in God to make our marriages not just work, but thrive.

We love because He first loved us.

The Trials and Triumphs of a God-Centered Marriage
by Karen Pashley

Let’s face it, being married is not easy.

Pair up two individuals with different personalities, energy levels and tastes, ask them to pair-707506_640manage a household, children, social  commitments, and their careers on a daily basis and you have a recipe for friction.

Throw in the fact that we are sinners—and at times our sin will hurt, disappoint and anger our spouses.

Small irritations, like hogging the remote or continually leaving wet towels on the bed are not so hard to overcome.

But what about the biggies? What if your spouse has an affair? Struggles with an addiction? Or develops a nasty temper? That’s when the vows you declared on your wedding day actually become your reality.

To love, honor, and cherish. Through good times and bad, For richer or poorer, in sickness and health.

Without the grace and mercy of Christ, marriage doesn’t seem like a logical idea at all, does it?

Falling in love is the easy part. Loving our spouses for a lifetime takes commitment, determination, and disciplining our minds to trust in God.love-699480_640

1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.”

Conjuring up love when our souls are weary, or stressed, or hurting is virtually impossible without the love of Christ flowing through us.

God designed man and woman to be uniquely and wonderfully different, yet He planned for us to come together and become partners in marriage. He knew this would not be an easy task for us—His first couple blew it big time, yielding to the sin that so easily ensnares.

We’ve been blowing it ever since.

But, the Lord is good, and kind and merciful. He did not haphazardly concoct this scheme called marriage and then leave us to our own feeble means to make it work.

Jesus gave us the gift of His Holy Spirit so that we could experience His perfect love for us (1 John 4:13). And when we embrace that unfathomable Love—despite our frailties, shortcomings, and sins—we can love our spouses, in spite of their frailties, shortcomings, and sins.

What a wonderful, thoughtful God he is! He has equipped us to receive and give love to one another through His own Spirit!

christ-776786_640We can love our spouses in and through anything, if we embrace the love our Father has for us.

I like the way the Bible spells it out for us in 1 John 4:10-12:

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

My new novel explores how a Christian family deals with the consequences of the husband’s infidelity. Each character wrestles with their own flaws while searching for the answers to their pain. Only when they yield to the love God has for them can they begin the journey towards forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.

Readers and reviewers often contact me to share how this story profoundly affected them and their approach towards situations needing healing and forgiveness in their own lives. I hope you’ll consider reading—may your soul be refreshed with the living water of Jesus’ love.

***

Precious in His Sight:

The story of one determined wife, her guilt-ridden husband, and the other woman, whose struggle may set them all free . . .

PreciousinHisSight_CVR2What if your husband was cheating? What would you do?

Feisty, tenacious, and adorably flawed, Sugar Brennan is fiercely committed to her family, her traditional Christian values, and her spotless reputation in her affluent Southern community. When she discovers her husband Clay has been unfaithful, Sugar is determined to right the wrongs in her life.

Then Clay’s former mistress returns to Westfield with devastating news, posing a heart-wrenching dilemma that challenges Sugar to rethink all she’s believed about faith, family, and the healing power of forgiveness.

She’s been raised in a preacher’s home, taught to love her enemies.

She’s got the fish sticker on her car and a collection of good works under her belt.

But . . . reach out to the woman who nearly destroyed her marriage? Surely God wouldn’t ask her to go that far.

“This book will stir your emotions, warm your heart, and ignite a longing in your spirit to know the One who loves us unconditionally . . . no matter who we are or what we’ve done.”   —Denise Jackson, NYT bestselling author and wife of country music superstar Alan Jackson

***

IMG_8533-Karen Pashley writes and speaks with wit and candor about relevant, often gut-wrenching topics that resonate with women of all ages. Her Amazon best selling novel Precious in His Sight is hailed as “a story of betrayal, heartbreak, and reconciliation with unrelenting themes of grace, forgiveness, and Christian duty” by Publishers Weekly. Karen lives with her husband and youngest daughter in Nashville, Tennessee, where they enjoy the rich culture, glorious landscapes, and the occasional celebrity sighting. Read more at  http://www.karenpashley.com

Order Karen’s inspiring novel at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Walmart.com.

Connect with Karen on her websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this: Loving our spouse is an ongoing, deliberate choice we make, but it’s only possible because of 1 John 4:19: “We love because He first loved us.” How do you show and act out your love for others? How have others shown you love? Share your thoughts, ideas, and encouragement in the comments below or over on Living by Grace.

All Things Renewed

Some decisions will affect the rest of our lives. What happens when, years later, you worry you chose incorrectly? My guest today, Christine Lindsay, shares a vulnerable story of how one of the most emotional, most important moments of her life went all wrong … and what God showed her through that experience.

desert-663053_640

He Takes Away and He Gives Back
by Christine Lindsay

Do you ever wonder if God is cruel? At certain times I’ve curled my fist tight and shook it wedge-1471409_640under the very nose of my creator, blaming Him for my heartache.

In 1979 I was an unmarried mother and when my baby girl was 3 days old I relinquished Sarah to adoption. Twenty long years of prayer later, I searched for and was reunited with my adult birth-daughter. Though I was happily married by then to a wonderful man and we had 3 children of our own, I yearned to see my firstborn. But the reunion I prayed for all those years was not the reunion I received.

I was so sure that because the adoption was done through a Christian organization, and the adopting parents were also Christians (like myself) that our reunion would be easy, filled with laughter at finally meeting each other. But people are made up of such different emotional stuff.

Here is an excerpt from Finding Sarah Finding Me:

The kids hear me sobbing, the three of them stay in the living room out of the maelstrom of my unleashed emotions. David pulls me into the kitchen and holds me close. I’ve kept a woman-1006102_640lock on my disappointment all day, having hoped for so much more closeness than Sarah has been able to offer. Now it unleashes, a wounded tiger uncaged.

“I’ve prayed for twenty years,” I yell at David as I pull away, “prayed for twenty years that God would prepare their hearts so that no one would feel hurt. And this is the best he could do! This… this is the biggest disappointment of my life!” I cry out, “and God knows I’ve had enough of them.”

David takes hold of me again. I resist, but he holds tight while my mind fights to sift through the avalanche of my emotions. I want to get to know my beautiful birth daughter, but my dream lies at my feet like shattered glass. She is my daughter, but not my daughter. I’m not a part of her family, nor have Sarah or her parents ever considered such a thing. Her mom and dad don’t even want to meet me.

One of the greatest lies the enemy wants the followers of Christ to believe is that God is The Clan 2014out to steal our joy. That God is out to torment us and make our lives miserable. Remember that our enemy is a deceiver, a liar. I discovered this a number of years later, when the Lord resurrected my old dream to have a special relationship with my birth-daughter Sarah. Instead of impatiently shaking my fist in His face, I should have waited in peace for the new beginning that He would devise in His timing. My life is a walking testimony to the resurrection of old dreams.

The next time you are tempted to believe that God is cruel, remember that He is the God of resurrections and new beginnings. Joel 2:25 (NIV) “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you.

***

Small size Finding Sarah Finding Me girl (1)Sometimes it is only through giving up our hearts that we learn to trust the Lord.

Adoption. It’s something that touches one in three people today, a word that will conjure different emotions in those people touched by it. A word that might represent the greatest hope…the greatest question…the greatest sacrifice. But most of all, it’s a word that represents God’s immense love for his people.

Join birth mother Christine Lindsay as she shares the heartaches, hopes, and epiphanies of her journey to reunion with the daughter she gave up…and to understanding her true identity in Christ along the way.

Through her story and glimpses into the lives of other families in the adoption triad, readers will see the beauty of our broken families, broken hearts, and broken dreams when we entrust them to our loving God.

FREE Chapter One of Finding Sarah Finding Me by clicking HERE

PURCHASE FINDING SARAH FINDING ME on Amazon (paperback and ebook) and Barnes and Noble (coming soon).

***

ChristineLindsayChristine Lindsay is the author of multi-award-winning Christian fiction. Tales of her Irish ancestors who served in the British Cavalry in Colonial India inspired her multi-award-winning series Twilight of the British Raj, Book 1 Shadowed in Silk, Book 2 Captured by Moonlight, and the explosive finale Veiled at Midnight.

Christine’s Irish wit and her use of setting as a character is evident in her contemporary romance Londonderry Dreaming. Her newest release Sofi’s Bridge also features a dashing Irish hero.

Aside from being a busy writer and speaker, Christine and her husband live on the west coast of Canada. Coming August 2016 is the release of Christine’s non-fiction book Finding Sarah—Finding Me: A Birthmother’s Story.

Please drop by Christine’s website www.ChristineLindsay.org or follow her on Amazon and Twitter. Subscribe to her quarterly newsletter, and be her friend on Pinterest , Facebook, and  Goodreads.

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this: Christine opened up to us about part of her journey as a birth-mother, and how the reunion wasn’t what she’d hoped or prayed for. What in life have you come up to, hoping and praying for one result, but receiving something different…something hard? Did you believe, at the time, that God was cruel? Were you able to overcome that belief? If you have any Scripture you’d like to share with us, please share in the comments below or over at Living by Grace. And know that I’m praying for each of you.

 

 

breakingfree_n1664109Before you go! My newest release, Breaking Free, is now on sale! Visit Amazon to buy the paperback for only $3.58 or the Kindle version for only $2.99!

Making Marriage Work

divorce-908743_1920How can a couple go from googly-eyed in love to utter hatred within a few years? Why is it so many adults who once pledged to love and cherish their spouse “till death do we part” stomp on their vows, toss in their wedding ring, and walk away?

Maybe the better question is, what does it take to make a marriage work? Today, my guest Mary Hamilton shares her experience in doing just that when her son comes home from college. Read on and be blessed and encouraged.

wedding-322034_640

What Makes a Marriage Work?
by Mary Hamilton

Upon his graduation from college, our son noticed how many friends from both high school and college were getting married. But considering the number of troubled marriages he’d seen and the number of friends who came from homes scarred by divorce, writing-1209700_640he wondered how many of these relationships would succeed.

So, he gave his dad and me an assignment. Based on our 34 years of experience, we were to prepare a list of 5-10 bullet points on what makes a marriage work. While the following are not necessarily in order of importance, here’s the list we came up with.

    • A common faith, and a similar maturity in that faith. Without our personal faith in God, our marriage might not have stood the test many years ago. Faith provides accountability to a higher authority. It humbles us when pride gets in the way, provides hope in troubling times, and deepens the joy of victory over self.

     

    • Agreement on money—both spending it and saving it. Like most couples, one of us likes to save every penny and one likes to spend them. We need each other for balance so that the spender learns to save for a rainy day (and retirement) and the saver learns to enjoy the benefits money provides. Appreciate each other’s “bent” and cooperate to achieve maximum benefit from your finances.

     

    • Communication skills. Are you willing and able to talk with each other about anything and everything, revealing your deepest, darkest secrets? Can you broach a touchy subject withoutnails-1420329_640 fear of rejection, ridicule or punishment? Can you argue without making personal attacks on each other? Communication involves listening as well as speaking. Marriage requires both skills.

     

    • Some common interests. Couples should have activities they enjoy doing together. But allow room for differences as well. Varied ideas and interests keeps both partners growing in ways they wouldn’t achieve on their own.

     

    • A strong sense of humor. Laughing together is fun and builds the relationship in positive ways. When used properly, it can also defuse tension whether pressures come from outside the relationship or within.

     

    • Commitment to each other and the marriage. Make your spouse and your relationship a priority over other family, friends, work, etc. Keep complaints and disagreements between the two of you, speaking only good things about each other to friends and relatives and guarding your spouse’s reputation and integrity in front of others.

     

    • Respect each other. Show gratefulness and treat each other with kindness—even when you’re tired and grumpy, even when you’re disappointed with your partner, even when you’re angry and arguing. (Yes, this will happen!) Attack the problem, not each other.

 

All of these might be summed up in the word “Attitude.” Are both partners in this marriage more interested in having their own needs met or meeting the needs of the other? Are both willing to humble themselves in order to lift up their mate? Are both willing to compromise for the good of the relationship? An attitude that says, “We’re in this together and divorce is not an option,” lays a solid foundation on which to build a strong and vibrant marriage.

Would you add any suggestions to our list?

***

HNEmodifiedcoverHere No Evil:

A mother’s rejection. A bully’s taunts. Summer camp isn’t supposed to be like this.

Thirteen-year-old Brady is stunned when his mother drops him off for a week of camp and says she doesn’t want him living with her anymore. His pain only deepens with the cruel taunts and teasing of the camp bully. But is it possible his mother’s rejection was for his own protection?

Find out when you read Hear No Evil, Book 1 Rustic Knoll Bible Camp series, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Christianbook.

***

Alt. headshotMary L. Hamilton grew up at a youth camp similar to the setting for her Rustic Knoll Bible Camp series. Her experiences during twenty years of living at the camp, as well as people she knew there, inspired many of the events and situations in her novels.

Two of those novels have been named Selah Award Finalists.

Mary also enjoys knitting, reading and evenings spent bird-watching from their back patio with her best friend and marriage partner for 34 years. She and her husband make their home in Texas.

Connect with Mary on her website, Facebook, and Pinterest.

***

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this: Marriage should never be entered into without prayer and great thought. Mary’s son was wise to ask those with strong marriages for guidance! What are some suggestions you would add to Mary and her husband’s list? Share your thoughts in the comments below or over on Living by Grace.

 

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