Today someone asked me if I tend to fall into a rut during the winter. I paused to consider my answer, suspecting the person’s question went deeper than weather humdrums. I wondered, if perhaps, this friend was wrestling with the melancholy that hits many this time of year. If you can relate, I hope you’ll gain comfort from today’s post, written by my guest Tanya Stowe.

Light and Darkness

by Tanya Stowe

My husband took a new job which required leaving our home in California for training in New Jersey. We left our family in October and headed to our rented East Coast apartment building. It was a long winter without much sunshine for this So Cal gal and I was very homesick.

As soon as the days turned warm, I started taking long walks, more than ready for summer. I could stand on the hill and look across the Hudson River to the New York skyline. I loved the sun and the Garden State’s flowers, especially its giant blue hydrangeas.

Nearby was a synagogue and my daily walk ended just about the time the boys finished their religion classes. As a mother of three grown sons, I loved to watch the little guys come tumbling out. They’d run to the sidewalk, pushing and shoving, boisterous as boys are. But they had shiny baby–like curls on the sides of their heads and backpacks bigger than their bodies. They never failed to make me smile.

So when I heard that one little boy, coming home from religion class, was kidnapped and murdered, it broke my heart. I found myself angry, bitter and full of hatred for the man responsible for such tragedy. He had sucked all the sunshine from my summer. Not just this summer but all my summers going way back to my childhood.

Like a picture book flipping through scenes, I remembered summers past. A four-year-old girl, not much younger than I, climbed in an abandoned freezer. The lid closed and she suffocated. A man trapped nine nurses in their dormitory. In another sizzling summer, a man held San Francisco captive with murder, rhymes and astrological signs. I questioned why these horrors crept into our lives on the coattails of the most beautiful season of the year.

In my own area of Los Angeles, the Night Stalker prowled the streets, broke into secure homes and did terrible things to his victims’ bodies. I was a young wife with two babies and I felt particularly vulnerable. I lay awake night after night, listening to every creak of the house, wondering how this man got in—and sweltering in the heat because I was afraid to crack the window even a little.

That was also the summer I found God. I don’t know if so many sleepless nights finally broke my hard head and pride or if in fear and desperation I ran into His arms. I’m not sure, but I do know my Christian friends exuded calm. They were frightened and sleepless like the rest of us, but there was a peace about them I could sense but not explain. I wanted that peace for myself so I went in search of my God.

I found Him, patiently waiting.

That was many years ago and I like to think that sometimes, I’m that island of calm for someone else. So it made it particularly difficult that summer in New Jersey when an evil man brought such a heavy shadow into my days.

Within one week, I received news that three of my acquaintances were dying of cancer and we were called to pray. Cancer was another shadow, threatening to darken my beautiful summer. In my mind’s eye, I saw it like a black, sticky glob, oozing across a white map, eating up states and lives, leaving behind nothing but days of black misery.

Then I heard that our prayers had been answered. One tumor had shrunk. One tiny pinprick of sunshine broke through in my dark closet.

I knew there must be other shafts of light so I went searching again. I found one in a picture my son sent to my cell phone. His pregnant wife was cleaning house. Their baby grew fussy so my daughter-in-law sat down in the middle of the mess to rock her and they both dozed off. My son walked in and snapped the picture. His love for them glowed from that captured moment.

My daughter called and I heard laughter in her voice as she told me of her family’s vacation adventures.

 Even in my busy apartment building, I was friendless, but suddenly, I found one poolside. We stood in the water chatting until we grew cold. We talked about our homes, our children and oh, by the way, she was a Christian. I laughed out loud and said, “We always manage to find each other, don’t we?”

Silently, I thanked the Lord.

It was a sweet reminder, a gentle nudge in the right direction. So I’m passing it on to you.  Enjoy your summer…no matter what time of year it might be. Walk down the beach hand in hand with your love. Sip tea with a friend under an umbrella. Listen for the shouts and laughter of children. Count your many blessings. Thank Him for them and keep them close to your heart.  Praise Him continuously because he is our hope, our joy and our comfort.

Should that black ooze come to surround you with darkness, reach out. Search for the switch plate and flip on the light.

He will will be there … patiently waiting.

Get to know Tanya:

Tanya Stowe is a Christian Fiction author with an unexpected edge. She is a Publisher’s Weekly Bestselling Author who fills her books with the unusual…mysteries and exotic travel, even a murder or two. No matter where Tanya takes you…on a train down a mountain or a suspenseful journey packed with danger…be prepared for the extraordinary.

Check out her novel, A White Christmas in Arizona:

Can White, Arizona’s bountiful Christmas spirit heal Chad and lead him to a happy ever after?

After his very public break-up from his fiancé, Chad Fletcher is convinced that a healthy marriage and his rising political career won’t mix. Christmas at his Aunt Nell’s home in White, Arizona is a great way to forget. Political watch dog, Tessa Conway, plans to spend her Christmas enjoying her grandparents’ ranch before they must sell it. Neither Chad nor Tessa are pleased with Grandma Sophie and Aunt Nell’s matchmaking efforts…until they accidentally bump into each other and the feisty redhead charms Chad. Is Tessa the perfect antidote to his unhealthy relationships? Can Chad really be as perfect as Tessa thinks or is she just caught up in White’s Christmas pageantry?

Grab a copy HERE.

Breaking Body Image Shame With Rachael Gilbert Faith Over Fear

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

Quote from Anonymous regarding strength.

What do you do when you feel bombarded on every side? How do you stand when it feels as if life has kicked you in the gut and you find it hard to breathe? My guest today, a woman I adore and greatly admire who serves with me on the Faith Over Fear podcast has been there and shares some insights on how we can remain standing when hardship threatens to knock us flat.

Overcome or Overwhelmed by Ava Pennington

It had not been an easy week. An anniversary of loss I’d rather not remember, yet it’s impossible to forget. A reminder of my husband’s greatest season of victory in the face of what the world would call a season of deepest defeat.

After receiving a terminal prognosis five years ago, Russ determined to use his final months to remind Christians to look up in the midst of their difficulties. That’s easier said than done. Yet, for the final months of his life, Russ shared his testimony about a different kind of healing. He encouraged believers to look beyond their trials and suffering.

How do we do that? How do we find the strength to see beyond our circumstances? To not be defeated by a diagnosis or beaten by a broken relationship? How do we become conquerors instead of one conquered? To be an overcomer instead of overwhelmed? Victorious instead of vanquished?

The answer is found in how Russ lived out these four principles in the face of death: 

Remember who we belong to:

The early church in Ephesus needed to be reminded of who they belonged to. So the apostle Paul wrote:

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13-14 ESV).

Living in a sin-sick world can make it easy to forget who we belong to. Our situation may cause us to think God has forgotten us or doesn’t care, leading us to lose faith. We can let our circumstances define our relationship with God or we can let our relationship with God define how we view our circumstances.

Quote from post on light blue graphic.

Maintain an eternal focus:

Difficult circumstances have a way of capturing our focus to the exclusion of all else. But the Bible reminds us that our circumstances are temporary:

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV).

We’re often consumed with making this life easier. More comfortable. While those goals are not bad in themselves, they often become obstacles to what God is accomplishing in and through us. We become focused on making this life our best life, rather than remembering the best is yet to come.

2 Cor. 4:17 on teal graphic

Stop trying so hard:

The world has convinced us that with just a little more effort, we can fix anything that’s broken and bring it to a state of wholeness. But the apostle Paul reminds us the work of completion is not in our control:

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV).

Living a victorious Christian life is not about willpower. It’s not about trying harder, working smarter, and doing better. It’s about drawing on the strength of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. Our job is to surrender to the Holy Spirit. He is the one who will bring the results. 

Do the next right thing:

Ongoing crises and turmoil can wear us down. That’s when we need this reminder:

“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9 (ESV).

Painful circumstances often cause us to feel overwhelmed. Russ battled a sense of his own body betraying him as the cancer grew. And even as I watched helplessly, I also wondered what his prognosis meant for my own future. What would life look like without my spouse?

But the Lord promised to care for His children’s needs. Our job is not to worry about the future, but to obey, one day at a time. And when that seems too difficult, then one hour or even the next five minutes at a time. Don’t ask what will happen a year from now. Rather, ask what has the Lord placed in front of me today? Then do the next right thing.

Fast forward to today . . . the anniversary week of remembering also brought reminders that God is still providing. Within a few days, several people came into my life to bless me by meeting new needs I didn’t have a clue about how to handle.

We can allow this broken world to overwhelm us or we can be overcomers. The answer is not found in our circumstances, it’s found in our relationship with Jesus Christ. We’re victorious when we remember our situations are temporary, but our life in Christ is eternal.

As you face your difficulties, how can you maintain an eternal focus? What is the next right thing your heavenly Father has placed in front of you to do?

*  *  *

Ava Pennington is an author and speaker. She’s also a freelance editor and certified coach for writers, a Wholly Loved Ministries podcaster, and a Word Weavers Intl. mentor. She teaches a weekly Bible Study Fellowship class, is trained as a Precepts Ministries instructor, and received an Adult Bible Studies certificate from Moody Bible Institute. 

Ava Pennington's author photo.

Ava is the author of Reflections on the Names of God: 180 Devotions to Know God More Fully (Revell Books), co-author of 2 picture books and has contributed to numerous magazines and 35 anthologies including 28 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Find her at

Check out her book, Reflections on the Names of God: 180 Devotions to Know God More Fully:

Every name God calls Himself and every name His people have called Him holds clues to who He is, how He relates to His children, and the promises He has made – and kept.

Cover image for Reflections on the Names of God: 180 Devotions to Know God More Fully by Ava Pennington

This devotional offers you a wonderful opportunity to spend time each day getting to know God more intimately by exploring His names and attributes. Perfect for both new Christians and longtime believers, these life-changing devotions will help you discover something new about who God is, who you are, and how you relate to others.

Sometimes obedience comes easily, other times it can take every ounce of strength and courage to push forward and step out. But when we surrender to Christ and allow Him to love others through us … Today my guest Clarice James, author of Party of One and Double Header, shares how God used her obedience to turn the sorrow of widowhood into joy.

The Blessings That Come With Obedience

by Clarice James

Selfies here, selfies there. Selfies, selfies everywhere. It’s hard to see others if you’re focused on self.

I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior at the age of 32 and returned to church. Being spiritually single for the next ten years was a lonely time. I waited (not so patiently) for my husband to join me. Once he did, we were blessed to worship together for eight years before he lost his battle with cancer.

You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy”  (John 16:20, NIV).

With my children grown and gone, for the first time in my life I had no one to consider daily but myself. I was grieving and bored, which made it easy to fall into a self-centered, poor-me mentality.

One Sunday, back in the pew my husband and I had called ours, I noticed a woman sitting by herself … then another and another . . . as if the Lord was shining a spotlight on them. I was amazed at the number of single adults in attendance and ashamed I had never taken the time to get to know them.

But here we were, all alone, together.

This sparked a passion for those who’d fallen between the cracks of families and couples. I suddenly saw single people everywhere: in church, at the grocery store, in study groups, at the nail salon, in my writers’ groups, and at restaurants. I began to reach out to them.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27, NIV).

Once a week for a few years, I hosted a dozen plus young adults for Tuesday night supper. Two of the attendees got to know each other well around my table and later married. A couple who rented my apartment asked to join the group and was introduced to Jesus. Seeing these two couples now, raising children themselves, reassures me that my efforts were fruitful.

At one time or another, four different women shared my home: a young Canadian woman, trying to make ends meet on a teacher’s salary from a small Christian school; a middle-aged woman, taking over as principal of that same school; a Brazilian woman, working two jobs so she could send money back home to her family; and a nanny for eight children, spending her days off with me “to keep her sanity.”

My empty nest soon became the go-to spot for women’s Bible studies and get-togethers. I even toyed with the idea of starting a singles supper club at a local restaurant.

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:1-2, NIV).

Each time I blessed someone, God blessed me back. Not with money or material things, but with joy and fulfillment. Parents of the young adults thanked me for providing a safe place for their children to socialize. Many of my tenants and house guests became friends. The cross-section of people who have shown up at my author signings is confirmation that God was and is in the middle of it all.

God’s ultimate blessing came eight years after I was widowed when He gave me a new husband in Ralph David James. About five years into our marriage, I finally got around to starting that singles supper club. (It takes a special man to let his wife start a singles club!) I named it Party of One: A Fellowship for Those Tired of Dining Alone.

Put self on the shelf and focus on God. He is faithful to show you ways to bless others.


Let’s talk about this! When have you stepped out in obedience to bless someone and found you were the one who received the blessing? This past weekend, my church facilitated our annual Big Live celebration–where we mobilize our church family out in the community to love on the broken, feed the hungry, clean up messes, unite our community, and more. Mid-day Saturday, incredibly tired but immeasurably full, I thought, “If I could only do this full time.” Of course, I can’t, but to feel God’s love reaching through you as you step out into someone else’s darkness; that has to be part of the abundant life Jesus promised.

For when we lose our life for the sake of Christ, that’s when we find it.

We will never be fulfilled, never truly find peace and joy, until we begin to live as we were created–viewing ourselves through God’s eyes and living out the mission He’s assigned. This is Wholly Loved’s message in a nutshell. This is why we exist–to help women discover, embrace, and live out who they are (or are meant to be) in Christ. Because life’s not meant to be endured; it’s meant to be lived. We’ve got a conference coming up this Saturday! I’d love to see you! Find out more HERE.

And before I go, have you signed up for my quarterly newsletter! In the next edition, which releases at the end of next month, I’ll be sharing some fun info on a contest (give-away, actually), available only to subscribers. You can sign up HERE! (You can check out my last edition HERE.)


Clarice G. James writes smart, fun, relatable contemporary women’s fiction. Her first two novels are Party of One and Double Header. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, encouraging fellow writers, or involved in a home decorating project. She and her husband, David, live in New Hampshire. Together, they have five married children and ten grandchildren. Visit her online HERE. 

Party of One:

One Woman, A Great Idea—Party of One Inspires and Delights. When widow Annie McGee breaks through grief, she falls flat on her face into loneliness. In a bold move, she founds Party of One, a communal table for single diners. Outside of these weekly gatherings at a local restaurant, she has no intention of getting involved in the diverse lives of the people who join her. Set in her ways and critical, Annie believes she has all the answers she needs for her life and some left over for others. When confusion and curiosity chip away at her pride, she asks God for a sign, then gets way more than she hopes for. Her self-assurance continues to falter when she realizes the only thing weirder than the quirks of her eclectic tablemates is her fear of losing their company.

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