Rippling Waters

It was my third grade year, and I was the awkward, sad, frizzy-haired little girl in need of a friend. I found one in Mrs. Eldridge. I don’t know if she was a Christian, but I suspect she was. That’s the only way I know to explain the love that radiated from her whenever she looked at me, the gentleness that blanketed her words whenever she spoke to me, and the consistency with which she reached out to me.

And I’m almost certain she had no idea the impact she had on me, but when we get to heaven, man is she in for a massive hug!

Passing the Baton
by Mary Bowen

As ripples in water spread outward in ever-widening circles, each of us influences many others. Even the famous evangelist Billy Graham stands on the shoulders of five men in his past. On a Saturday in 1856, Edward Kimball decided to follow up with one of his Sunday school teenagers and talked to Dwight Moody about Christ’s love in the back of a Boston boot store. Years later, under Moody’s preaching, Wilbur Chapman became a believer and then a pastor.

Under his ministry baseball player Billy Sunday was saved. He started preaching, and Mordecai Ham found salvation. Later, as Ham shared the gospel near his high school, a teenager named Billy Graham responded. Through him, nearly 2 billion people have now heard the message of salvation.

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Billy Graham 

I also owe certain people a tremendous debt of gratitude for their spiritual investment in me. The first person to pass the baton of faith was my remarkable mother. She embraced life with both arms, loving people freely and initiating many family adventures. My brothers and I felt enjoyed, even celebrated, in our unique talents. Like the “giving tree” in the popular children’s book, she gladly sacrificed for us in so many ways. For six years she led my Girl Scout meetings, and always cheered with Daddy at my brothers’ football games and wrestling matches.  At the University of Louisville, Mother’s geology students would often seek her out for counsel. I remember lively dinner conversations with Nigerian students she invited over. Mother stayed involved in my life later on when things got hard. Her tenacious prayers and fasting over several years led to agods-intentions-toward-us-are-always-good transformation in my life. Through her I felt God’s unfailing love.

Someone else from my family has also profoundly influenced me for God. My brother Bob, like Mother, believed in me and always saw the best. Bob put his heart into whatever he did, and loved people well.

“Only two things in this life will last — God and people,” he would say. Bob delighted in his family most of all, lavishing time and energy on them. Whether he was designing machine parts at work, seeding the lawn, or kayaking with his boys, he gave it his best effort. Joy percolated just below the surface, often emerging as a smile or joke.

This inner abundance didn’t disappear when he learned he had stage 4 cancer. “God‘s intentions toward us are always good,” he assured us. “Whatever happens, don’t blame God!”  Through an agonizing year he clung to his faith like a life raft. At home or in his hospital room, we often reminisced about family times and shared our favorite Scriptures with one another. The Lord was very near. Bob especially liked Isaiah 40:31. The last day we talked, he told us he’d be experiencing that verse first-hand, his strength renewed like an eagle.

hawk-1535127_640God arranged an air show in October to remind me of Bob. Resting after hiking up a mountain, my husband and I gasped in wonder as a hawk gracefully curved and soared above us. Catching a ride on a column of air, or thermal, it hovered motionless in perfect calm a few moments. Then a sun dog appeared, a rainbow-colored patch in the clouds. Instantly I was back with Bob at his hospital window, marveling together at those ice crystals refracting the sunlight.

Life is unpredictable, and precious. How grateful I am for those who passed the baton of faith to me. They loved me so much I’ll never be the same.

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dscn1905Mary Bowen writes and edits for Grace Ministries International in Marietta, Georgia. For many years her articles and poetry have been published in newspapers, magazines and anthologies. She has worked as a reporter and freelancer, and served as an editor with the North American Mission Board.

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livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about it: Mary shared how key people in her life were so influential in her relationship with the Lord. Who has been influential in your life? And how are you intentionally pouring into someone else’s life so they, too, may experience the joy of salvation? Leave your thoughts here or over on Living by Grace. We’re here to surround and pray for one another through this life!

Sheltering Our Kids (And a Giveaway)

If only we could keep our children in a bubble, point them to only the best resources and influences, and saturate their brain with nothing but truth. And yet, that would drastically stunt their growth and likely get in the way of all God wants to do in and through them. There’s a fine line between sheltering our kids and shielding them. So where do we draw that line? My guest today, Tessa Emily Hall, writes a helpful post that encourages us to point our children to Jesus. Read on–and be sure to enter Tessa’s giveaway at the end of this post!

Is Sheltering Teens More Dangerous Than Exposing Them?
by Tessa Emily Hall

unwritten-melody-quote01Is sheltering kids the answer to keeping them safe from the sin and danger that lurks in our world today? In effort to explore this question, I wrote a YA novel, Unwritten Melody. The protagonist in this story, Cassie, is a 17-year-old who has been raised by her overbearing grandmother. As a result of the strict rules, she develops a hunger to ultimately go against her grandmother’s wishes.

We all need rules and guidelines to follow, but could too much of this potentially lead to more harm than good?

Let’s look at the possible dangers that could result from this:

  1. Kids might long to break free from their bubble as they become desperate for “freedom”.
  2. Their walk with God could become based on rules and regulations (“religion”) rather than from a pure adoration for Him, wanting to obey Him, and an understanding of His Son’s sacrifice.
  3. They might not know how to witness to unbelievers since they’ll have no way to identify with them.
  4. If the kid is raised believing that being a Christian consists of all rules and no fun then Christianity might leave a bad taste in their mouth.dad-909510_640
  5. They might not have the chance to walk out their own faith without having to rely on the faith of their parents’.
  6. If the kid is resentful toward their sheltered lifestyle, when they’re given their first taste of freedom, they might rebel in attempt to make up for “what they’ve lost”.
  7. It might cause them to believe their parents sheltered them out of spite rather than love.
  8. They could become resentful toward their parents for keeping them from being “normal”.
  9. The lack of life they experience might cause them to experience depression. They might feel as though they’ve become a slave to rules, have no purpose in life, and aren’t worthy to live the life they’ve longed for. (This is a lie Cassie believes in Unwritten Melody.)
  10. It might cause them to develop a low-self esteem. (In Unwritten Melody,Cassie believes the reason she’s shy is because of the way she was raised by her overprotective grandmother. It’s this temperament that makes her feel as though she doesn’t measure up to other teens and has few friends.)

Since Satan is the ruler of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), we should be careful not to become influenced by the ways of the world. So how can Christians strike a balance between shielding and sheltering?

Encourage children to establish a personal relationship with Jesus. When they fall in love with their Savior and are lead by the Holy Spirit, they won’t have a desire to live a life cross-423157_1920that displeases Him. Show them that the rules set by authority are there to help them, not to keep them from having fun. And remember to always lead and discipline in the spirit of love.

Proverbs 22:6 (NIV) says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

Parents should introduce their kids to Jesus. When it’s time to let go, they should trust that the Holy Spirit will lead, guide, direct, help—and yes, shelter their kids from the danger that threatens to put an end to their faith.

Even when kids do become exposed to the world, they’ll remain much safer in the hands of Jesus than they could ever be if sheltered only by their parents at home.

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Enter for your chance to win the Unwritten Melody Prize Pack! Two winners will be selected and announced on Tessa’s blog the final day of tour (Friday, December 9th) and will be notified via email.

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This prize pack includes…

  • E-copy of Unwritten Melody
  • Signed paperback copy of Purple Moon
  • Unwritten Melody mug, filled with goodies
  • Unwritten Melody swag, including a bookmark, pen, and poster
  • Starbucks mocha flavored instant coffee
  • Free Unwritten Melody: Page-By-Page Secrets PDF
  • Handmade journal
  • Typewritten thank you note

*This giveaway is open to the US only 

Enter here:  a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Unwritten Melody:

Does breaking free require breaking the rules?

unwritten-melody_webCassie Gilbert lives every day in the shadows of her deceased mom’s rebellion. But now that she’s seventeen, she finds herself longing to break away from her grandmother’s suffocating rules, experience what it’s like to be a regular teenager, and fulfill her songwriting dreams.

James Russo, former American Spotlight contestant, escapes to small town Willow Creek, SC hoping to flee from his tarnished past. When a school project pairs him with the shy principal’s granddaughter, he’s determined to get to know this Emily-Dickinson-obsessed and typewriter-using girl. His plan? Convince Cassie to co-write songs for his demo album.

As Cassie gets to know James over “project meetings” (more like opportunities to match her lyrics with his melodies), she becomes intrigued by his sense of adventure and contagious passion for music. But soon, his past becomes exposed. Cassie’s left to wonder—did she make the same mistake Mom did by falling for the bad boy?

Then, Grandma’s control pushes her over the edge. Cassie must choose between remaining in the chains of yesterday, or delving into her own freedom by completing the melody her mom left behind.

Buy it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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tessa-emily-hall_headshot1Tessa Emily Hall writes inspirational yet authentic YA fiction to show others they’re not alone—and because she remembers the teen life like it was yesterday (or a few years ago). The debut novel she wrote at 16-years-old, Purple Moon (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas) was a Selah 2014 Finalist. Her second novel, Unwritten Melody, releases with Clean Reads November 2016. She’s the Founder of PursueMagazine.net, a magazine that inspires teens to embrace their calling. She also enjoys helping writers achieve their dreams through her internship at Hartline Literary Agency.

When her fingers aren’t flying 116 WPM across the keyboard, Tessa can be found making healthy homemade lattes, speaking to teens, decorating her insulin pump, and acting in Christian films. She writes in a small town nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Southeastern coast. Her favorite way to procrastinate is by connecting with readers on her blog, mailing list, social media (@tessaemilyhall), and website.

Connect With Tessa on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

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livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this: When our daughter was young, we sheltered her–in numerous ways. We homeschooled, and I was very careful about who she spent time with and what I allowed her to experience. But I didn’t do this on a whim. I knew this was how God was leading me. Fast forward to her seventh grade year, and suddenly, God turned the tables on me. He told me it was time to release her–to the public school arena. Again, I followed His leading, though I was terrified her innocence would be shattered along with her faith. The opposite happened–her faith and reliance on her Savior grew, and God gave her clear vision into her encounters. In other words, she began to see a clear distinction between good and evil, light and dark, and she was drawn to shine with the love and truth of Christ.

The key then–prayer. Momma’s, make prayer the most important part of your day. Pray for your kids regularly, and pray for yourself–that God would reveal their hearts to you and give you clear wisdom as to how to raise them. Because only He knows what they’ll face and what they’ll need to experience to prepare them for that. (If you and your group would like to hear more, ask me about my Parenting to the Heart talk. I’d love to come share what God has shown me with your Bible study/women’s ministry/moms group. Contact me at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com to find out more.)

Your turn! How have you achieved a balance between shielding and sheltering? Do you believe over-sheltering kids could lead to more harm than good? Share your thoughts in the comments below or over on Living by Grace on Facebook.

Visit Sarah Ruut’s blog (scroll down) to learn where else Tessa will be on her blog tour. 

Walking In the Wilderness

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I hate being stretched, prodded, and poked. At least, emotionally. But I’m learning to view my struggles and frustrations differently—through the lens of grace. I’ve shared before, but our family has been called to a challenge, one that, at times, takes every ounce of our energy and endurance. One that often leaves us feeling uncertain and one that also brings every selfish and un-surrendered thought to the surface.

This morning, after a particularly trying day the day before, I opened my Bible to James 1:1-3. And was challenged. Inspired. And invited to participate with God in the growth He is initiating in me. 

Then I open my computer and begin reviewing today’s post, and received yet an extra dose of encouragement to stay all in. And to lean hard on Christ. My struggles are nothing like Julie went through, but maybe that’s what makes her post so encouraging–to see faith and strength in the extreme.

 

Don’t Despise the Wildnerness
by Julie Arduini

It was 2003. I lived in Upstate NY and the financial consequences from 9/11 hit our small city hard. The main corporation in town, Corning Inc., let go 20% of their workforce. At the time, their stock was worth less than a slice of pizza at the local shop. Most businesses in town were somehow connected to Corning, including my husband’s employer. His work dried up to the point that the employer left the business and told his employees to keep it baby-1178539_640running—without salary or benefits.

Our baby came into our lives that August and I thought for sure my new role as a full-time mom would be the needed turn. Not long after her birth my husband realized he had to get another job. Our health insurance alone was a huge amount per month plus a 20% co-pay. On paper, we never had the amount. In reality, God provided. Yet, something had to give.

Once my husband started working as a temp to help make ends meet, we received news that our daughter’s newborn tests were abnormal. After hearing all was fine, we later learned the office made a mistake and our daughter was not fine. They sat me down and told me that because she lost 8 weeks of needed medicine, we were to prepare our child for mental retardation.

The hits became relentless. Our daughter got sick before Thanksgiving. Although we were changing doctors, we still hadn’t found one, so we went back. He prescribed a medicine with codeine, something I questioned for a three-month baby. He assured me he’d prescribed this for years.

Our daughter nearly died on Thanksgiving Eve.medic-563425_640

As she recovered, we learned my dad had lung cancer. I refused to believe it. He looked so good. They didn’t want anyone to know for fear he’d be treated differently. As Hannah battled RSV and pneumonia and my husband learned his second job was ending and that a company five hours away wanted to hire him—my dad wasn’t getting better. Three weeks after my husband moved to his new job knowing no one in an apartment the company found for him, my dad passed away.

I was grieving while taking care of two small ones, including a chronically sick baby. My mom was beside herself losing her husband and her daughter’s family. Once I sold the house and reunited with my husband, I remember sitting in Ohio, shell-shocked.

I felt completely abandoned by God.

It was in Ohio I found mentors and Bible studies that helped me. One day I was reading Beth Moore and she mentioned Hosea 2:14: therefore-i-am-now-going-to-allure-her-i-will-lead-her-into-the-wilderness-and-speak-tenderly-to-her-hosea-2-14-niv

That verse made this season almost feel like a gift.

A blessing.

As the grief subsided, I realized there were lessons I learned in the wilderness I never could have grasped in the clearing. I was introduced to opportunities that I never imagined I could have been prepared for. Those excruciating times were when God drew me close and taught me things. Showed me secrets and strategies. Most of all, loved me in an intimate way I’d never known.

The wilderness is scary and no one would voluntarily sign up for it. However, I don’t resist it anymore. I know a lot of fruit comes out of the wilderness. I wouldn’t be writing without those times. I hope my story encourages you. Don’t be afraid of your Hosea 2:14 wilderness.

***

“You need to leave me alone. It’s the least you can do.”

entangled2_editedCarla Rowling has been given her dream of attending cosmetology school. The gift is so generous she feels unworthy because of choices she made as a teen. The pressure mounts as Carla juggles school, is a single mom, helps her best friend Jenna plan her wedding, spends time with boyfriend Will Marshall, and deals with the fact that her son’s father is back in their lives.

Will Marshall is the one Speculator Falls resident everyone can count on. His truck deliveries are reliable. He’s the first to help friends like Ben Regan with boat work or be a card partner with Bart Davis. Will’s ready to settle down with Carla, loving her is natural. He’s bonded with her son, Noah. But when Carla starts cosmetology school, she puts emotional distance between her and Will.

Can Carla release her past and create a future full of highlights, or, will she burn her options worse than a bad perm?

Buy Entangled on Amazon.

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profileJulie Arduini loves to encourage readers to surrender the good, the bad, and —maybe one day—the chocolate. She’s the author of the  re-release, ENTRUSTED: Surrendering the Present, as well as the sequel, ENTANGLED: Surrendering the Past. She also shared her story in the infertility devotional, A WALK IN THE VALLEY. She blogs every other Wednesday for Christians Read. She resides in Ohio with her husband and two children. Learn more by visiting her at http://juliearduini.com, where she invites readers to subscribe to her monthly newsletter full of resources and giveaway opportunities at JULIE ARDUINI: SURRENDER ISSUES AND CHOCOLATE and the weekly e mail. SUNDAY’S SURRENDER AND CHOCOLATE.

Connect with Julie on her websiteFacebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

 

 

No Longer Alone

 

We’re taking a brief break from our For the Love series to center ourselves in Christ.

I’ve heard it said one doesn’t truly understand that Christ is enough until He is all that they have. When Jenna Victoria’s world came undone, God showed up. Read on to see how, and may her story encourage you to hold tighter to the God who never leaves nor forsakes.

Going It Alone ~ Not Quite
by Jenna Victoria

When our world gets crazy busy with interruptions or requests, we might envy the many species God created that choose being solo over one-of-a-crowd. From red cross-1448946_640panda to platypus, sloth to skunk or eagle to armadillo—these creatures revel in their solitude.

Frustration with crowds aside, there’s a lot to say in support of seclusion. Especially Christian solitude, as this partial verse in John’s Gospel attests.  For when we are alone, we are not actually alone. Our Savior, our Father in heaven, is with us. How magnificent it is to grasp this truth.

In 2012, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer. After a long road of prayers, chemo, a right mastectomy, and radiation, my family, friends, coworkers and I celebrated my being cancer-free in early 2013. Five weeks later, that was no longer true. The cancer spread to the scar tissue of my mastectomy site, and to the left side breast and lymph nodes. Re-radiation, a lumpectomy and more chemo followed. In 2014 and 2015, as treatment continued, friends and family started to draw back. Close relatives and friends who had formerly been by my side, returned to their own lives and commitments – and rightly so. My rock, my one special knight-in-shining-armor then decided at the end of 2015 they had enough and essentially walked away. I was alone, I thought.

As the days and weeks of early 2016 drew out, I clung even more tightly to the One who book-1209805_640never leaves us or forsakes us. I downloaded more than 1000 Christian podcasts from preachers all over the world, and listened to the Word being taught every night. I soaked every drop of wisdom into my brain. I listened to praise & worship songs, studied the Bible and let God’s thoughts fill my thoughts.

In time, that head knowledge became heart knowledge. In my loneliness, I heard the whispered words of my Savior, “I am enough.”  As the cancer is now staged as metastatic, I will always be on some type of IV chemotherapy, but I don’t sit in the infusion suite alone. God is with me. I have contentment and, unbelievably, unshakeable joy in the midst of my circumstances and my solitude. The words “I am enough” wield great power. This sense of peace is not of my strength and ability; it is 100% from God and it did not happen overnight. I chose to embrace God as being enough, and He has become my portion.

It is comforting to know that John, our “companion in tribulation,” was given the words of the book of Revelation to write down, while he was alone, in exile on the island of Patmos.

I’d like to believe he, too, heard those same words from our Lord.  “I am enough.”

It is my prayer that those of us in desert places and filled with loneliness also receive grace to hear them too.

***

war-of-the-heart-2

When a vintage snow globe sends Boston dress designer Louise Martin & British B&B owner George Walker back in time to London, December 1940, they race against the clock to reconcile a feud between their families and solve a 75-year-old mystery. As Louise relies on God; and on George for guidance, friendship then love, will the future George envisions strangle her own dreams? Will their love survive generations of mistrust, the Blitz and being stranded in wartime 1940, possibly never to return to their former lives?

***

jennavictoriaEver since her grandfather co-created Twinkies, Snowballs & Hostess cupcakes for Intercontinental Baking Company, circa 1959, Jenna’s yet to taste a cake she hasn’t liked.
Jenna is the author of  “fiction that feeds your faith” – Happily-Ever-After romance & romantic suspense stories with a Christian world view. She also writes clean, wholesome romances. Her stories emulate those she enjoys reading…with a heroine who is in grave danger & a hero who is smart enough to get out of her way as she kicks butt & takes down names… and those that feature the sweetest of fairy-tale-ending love stories.

She writes romances that glorify God and His sacrificial love through His Son, Jesus Christ and show how He gives us hope & peace amidst unbearable situations. After her first breast cancer diagnosis in 2012, several reoccurrences and metastasis, Jenna continues to praise God and trust His oversight in her life; and continues to write more books.

Connect with Jenna on her website and Facebook.

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this! First, do you have any words of encouragement you can give Jenna? I cannot imagine going through what she is, and to turn such heartache into an opportunity to proclaim God’s goodness–wow.

Can you share a time when you discovered, in a deeper way than ever before, that God was enough? Share your thoughts, questions, and examples here in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace, because we can all encourage and learn from one another!

Dominated

I’ve heard people say religion is about control, and although I’ve always thought that was an absurd statement, perhaps it holds a nugget of truth. The more I learn about myself, God, and the Bible, I realize it’s not so much a question of control but instead, of who’s controlling you. Because there’s no neutral ground. A battle’s being waged and you’re on one side or the other.

According to the Bible, we’re either controlled by our sinful nature or God. If you’re controlled by God, He’ll lead you into goodness, joy, peace, patience, self-control–in reality, freedom. Freedom to rise above your circumstances, tapping into the joy bubbling within–a joy that’s unhindered by the day-to-day.

If you’re controlled by your sinful nature, you may think you’re calling the shots, but most often, you’re held captive by your emotions and your emotions are held captive by your circumstances. Chances are your days are dominated by anger, fear, moments of hopelessness and lack of fulfillment. That’s not freedom. That’s bondage of the worst kind–the kind of bondage that leads to destroyed relationships, isolation, and death.  Read more.