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Have You Checked Your Equipment Lately?

Have You Checked Your Equipment LatelyI’ll be back in a few days to collect the equipment. Try to run the fans and dehumidifiers as long as you can stand it,” he said as he nodded reassuringly and left my house.

Seven air movers, two dehumidifiers, two walls, two ceilings, one floor, two bathrooms, and two vanities later, we are drying out a freak flooding incident that greeted us when we returned from church a week ago.

And his parting shot was:

We’ll be back to get our equipment.”

You know what? The equipment, while loud enough to have to shout to be heard over it, is not bothering me. Sure, I have to move the air movers to get to my cabinets. Yes, two bathrooms are currently unusable. Accessing the laundry machines is a challenge.

But I actually like the equipment. It makes me feel safe, in-process, moving forward, working toward a remedy. I dread its removal, to be honest.

Pro-vaccine or not, my whole family volunteered for flu shots this past autumn so we would be healthy and ready to see Read the rest of this entry »

 

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10 Strength Training Exercises of Faith

10 Strength Training Exercises of Faith“You’re getting stronger. I can see that about you. I can tell that you realize what isn’t in your control, and there is a peace about you.”

That was her assessment of me as I sat across from this professional who walked me through an emotionally difficult time.

Stronger? Really? You can see that?

See, the thing is: I feel stronger. I didn’t realize, however, that it was evident to anyone else.

But where does my strength come from?

Sure, the squats, lunges, and planks (one of my warrior princesses told me to add a “dead bug”) I do a few times a week are toning my physical body, but what about my spirit? How do I exercise that?

How did I build my spiritual muscles during a time when staying in bed, perseverating on what was out of my control, and escaping through other means were tempting alternatives?

Sometimes it was a minute-by-minute battle, but the choices were critical in determining if I ended up character-toned and feet planted more firmly in God’s amazing grace.

God’s Word offers me solutions and truth in every circumstance.

1. “Work out” according to His Word Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Passionate: Inviting God to Unlock Our Talents and Purposes

PASSIONATE-Inviting God to Unlock Our Talents and PurposesMy week consisted of my high school sophomore son’s history paper on the negative influences of social Darwinism on society and my third grader’s Wampanoag mishoon (canoe) project. The older one wrote an intense analysis that squeezed every brain cell I had just to follow it (although it was wonderful to be reading a paper like that again—especially one written by my offspring!). His paper flowed so well because of his passion for the subject, unlike last year’s history paper around the Indo-China Wars, for which he had no enthusiasm or interest.

My third grade son’s mishoon project required patience and varied approaches to focusing his ADHD superpowers long enough to remember the information he needed to communicate in a video presentation. I tried note cards with prompts. I tried rehearsing. Then I took a deep breath and left the room. I am pretty good at offering strategies to help his mind slow down a bit and order itself, but I was fresh out of patience and ideas. I wasn’t mean about it, but I took a break.

Enter my extremely calm husband, who decided to write out all the information Little Man (my third grader) spoke to him. Having it completely written out on cue cards, Little Man felt free to look up and let his full personality out during the video. Solving the logistical, executive functioning problem made a way for creativity to flow. It was as if we watched a door unlock and the real person come through. He instantly went into newscaster mode and ended up with such a charismatic presentation, he could run for president—oh wait, let’s not make that connection this year! [Smile.]

So, I’m just curious:

What gets in our way of letting our God-given personality and passions come out? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Last 5 Signs of a Healthy Christian Church (Part 3)

Last 5 Signs of a Healthy Christian Church

 

We continue this week with the last installment of a three-part series on healthy Christian churches. The goal of this series is not population growth in a church but to give our churches a “check-up” to see if they are healthy or suffering from dysfunction: toxic dynamics, wrong teaching, or unbalanced leadership.

The first 10 signs can be found at 5 Signs of a Healthy Christian Church and 5 More Signs of a Healthy Christian Church (Part 2).

At the end of this list is a “bonus” sign listed, but really it is essential in the same way as Number One (Christ is the center of conversations, preaching, teaching, programs, prayer, worship, and all decisions.) Be sure to check it out because we begin and end with who God is, and really, isn’t that upon whom our faith is built? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Run Like Holly

Run Like Holly

I had just finished reminding my children to be careful with my cousin’s beagle Holly. She has some spinal issues that give her pain once in a while. We’re used to being rough and tumble with our ornery Shih Tzus, but around Holly, we aim for being more delicate.

Imagine my surprise when, outside, Holly suddenly took off in a beagle dash across the side yard, giving chase like there’s no tomorrow.

I got the distinct feeling she was giving us her best, showing us what she could do, impressing us.

How does a fragile dog suddenly pick herself up and run like a strong, youthful puppy?

Motivation. Who is she running for?

Where does she get the sudden strength when she’s otherwise a bit weak?

That’s an interesting question, isn’t it?

How about you? Who are you running for?

What motivates you to be your very best?

Like Holly, I’ve been a bit Read the rest of this entry »

 

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5 More Signs of a Healthy Christian Church (Part 2)

5 More Signs of a Healthy Christian Church, Part 2

Last week we discussed 5 Signs of a Healthy Christian Church in an effort to take the pulse of our churches and discern whether they are healthy or suffering from dysfunction: toxic dynamics, wrong teaching, or unbalanced leadership.

This series is not intended to determine metrics for church growth. It serves more as a checklist to measure the heart, practice, and biblical integrity of our individual Christian churches.

Be sure to revisit our starting point in last week’s blog post, but here’s a quick recap of the first five points covered:

 

  1. Christ is the center of conversations, preaching, teaching, programs, prayer, worship, and all decisions.
  1. Conviction (repentance) and grace are both present.
  1. The church welcomes and includes children, individuals with special needs and disabilities, and the mentally ill. This takes place from the top down.
  1. There are sinners, still working through their sanctification, in the church.
  1. The pastor is not a solo act. He is accountable to his denomination and/or affiliation.

Picking up where we left off, let’s examine five more signs of a healthy church. How is your church doing? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Our Journey For Joshua

Our Journey For Joshua

Once again, it is my great delight to share a piece from Tammie Wommack’s beautiful heart here at Espressos of Faith. Tammie lost her son Joshua in 2008 to suicide. Ever since, she and her husband Rick have been slowly healing and are passionate about sharing their journey, hope, and paths to finding peace and joy again with other grieving families. They are also fiercely committed to suicide prevention. Their story is an amazingly redemptive one. I hope your heart is encouraged and loved on by her sincere words.

Tammie and I first crossed paths in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, where we were both living at the time, rocked by different circumstances in each of our lives. God has reconnected us, and I’m so thankful for her courage, vulnerability, and willingness to be used by God to help others. May God continue to bless you, Tammie (and Rick)!

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As Rick and I travel around this beautiful country, moving from one destination to the next, we eventually find ourselves heading back to Clarksville, Tennessee, for many reasons: our precious grandchildren who keep us young, our friends who have been a lifeline and anchor for us on this grief journey, business matters that must be taken care of so we can stay on the road, doctor appointments, etc.

Our arrival to Clarksville is always mixed with so many different emotions. My heart, mind, body, and soul begin to prepare days before we get to what I call the “Joshua Zone.” I brace myself for the overwhelming rush of emotions that I know I will experience.

Grief is truly a very rough and long roller coaster ride. For me, the emotions are always followed by the temptation to drink alcohol so that I cannot feel that rush of emotions I know await me as I enter the city limits. I feel like I have to be constantly on guard.

The length of time we stay and the number of our visits has varied over the years, but the feelings are still just as strong now as they were the first time we had to travel back there after Joshua died. It seems I am never really able to let my guard down until we are heading out of the city of Clarksville, Tennessee.

While I write about my grief often, I don’t always talk about my temptation to Read the rest of this entry »

 

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5 Signs of a Healthy Christian Church, Part 1

5 Signs of a Healthy Christian Church, Part 1I think from time to time it’s good to do a “wellness check” on our churches. Over decades of church participation, I’ve been able to reflect on unhealthy congregations from the vantage point of safe, healthy ones.

With some regularity, I watch hurting folks crawl out of churches, still strong in their faith, but damaged and limping from the psychology of unhealthy leadership. Twice in my life, I, too, had to detox from churches that damage.

Why is that? How did well intentioned, theologically sound, God-fearing pastors and ministers of the Word end up being instruments of harm?

And really, no church is going to be perfect, so what’s the big deal?

To be clear, I do not have a theology degree. I do not currently have a paid staff position of ministry (although I have in the past). I have been merely an observer of brokenness within the church and have studied what it is that leads faith-filled, humble people to run for the exit ramp after years of trying to make it work.

I prefer to take it from the positive side. If you find your church has most of these elements, then I would say Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Healthy Boundaries: Loving People With “No”

HEALTHY BOUNDARIES- Loving People With %22No%22Recently, I’ve found myself saying “no” more frequently. Admittedly, when we go through difficult seasons, we definitely draw more inward and limit our interactions and involvement. That’s a normal response when we need more mental and emotional energy to process the harder parts of life.

Even so, I’m becoming more comfortable with “no” and finding it to be another way to love people. For one, it’s being honest about ourselves instead of making false promises. Good intentions are a beautiful thing, but when we regularly can’t carry them through, we become people who disappoint.

In child-raising or managing employees, “no” can be a friendly word that clearly delineates where the guardrails and boundaries are before they are accidentally (or intentionally) crossed. Children tend to feel secure when they know expectations; this is also true in the workplace.

So why are relationships so difficult?

Why do we struggle at times to place down a healthy “no” in our closer relationships?

Is it because: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Dental Shaming: Dear Pediatric Dental Hygienist

Dental Shaming-Dear Pediatric Dental HygienistI wrote the following to my children’s pediatric dental office. I did not want to mention their name, as a courtesy, because overall I’ve had a great experience there, and it takes a lot for me to put down someone’s business. We all need grace and second chances.

But I had to write it. And I had to share it. Because I know other parents out there deal with this. I know you struggle to get your child comfortable with going, and there can be something so subtle as tone and attitude that make or break the positive experience for a child.

I left the office before I spoke from my anger. I consulted friends, slept on it, prayed about it, and decided to send this. I measured each word carefully. I hope they take my advice and use it as a learning tool. If nothing else, I helped Little Man’s voice be heard. I don’t care how someone makes me feel, but he walked out of there feeling completely defeated, and a pediatric dental hygienist with a bad attitude is not someone we base our self-esteem on. Shake it off, Little Man. I got this. You worry about chasing butterflies and checking on your cabbage plant.

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To the attention of the office manager, the dentist, and the hygienist who treated my son yesterday:

I wanted to discuss my poor experience yesterday at the 4:30 PM appointment for my 10 year old son. What I’m about to share with you will hopefully be used as healthy feedback for your staff. We all have bad days now and again, but when I see a consistent problem that can drive people away from your business, I would like to share with you my experience in hopes that you use it constructively for the future.

First, let me say that I have had mostly wonderful experiences over the years with everyone in that office, from front desk staff, to all dentists I’ve encountered, and every dental hygienist, except for one, the one who did follow-up with us, alongside the dentist, around 5:20 PM yesterday.

We have had her before, and I was less than pleased by her tone and attitude toward both child and parent in several experiences, but my older son is a teenager and could blow it off. Not everyone is going to click. I don’t have to like someone to have them do a great job with my child’s teeth.

Fast forward to yesterday. My anxious/special needs child (10 years old) was reasonable and compliant. I even expressed some of his concerns and needs to the first pediatric dental hygienist who greeted us (different from the one who cleaned his teeth). When I came back for the report: no cavities. The dentist and I were having a lovely conversation when I asked about how well he was doing brushing. The dental hygienist interrupted and spoke in an inappropriate shaming tone, something along the lines of this:

“We called his bluff, Mom. He did a good job preparing today right before the appointment, and so now, Mom, we know he can do it, and there’s absolutely no reason he can’t take care of his teeth like this all of the time. That was far too much plaque for him. He shouldn’t have to be cleaned to that extent. There’s no reason he can’t do better. He proved it today that he’s capable so you need to hold him accountable.” 

This all was said in front of my son, by the way, as if he were an object in the room and it was her job to give him a lecture.

Let me just say that I don’t mind honesty, but the delivery was insulting and shaming to a child and a parent.

I sat there, stunned at the tone (not the content….I don’t mind honest content). It’s not the first time she’s left me ruffled in her lack of bedside manner and condescension.

What she doesn’t know is he spent 20 minutes brushing his teeth 3 times, flossing, gargling. 

What she doesn’t know is he was desperately afraid of displeasing her based on a previous experience.

What she doesn’t know is the toothpaste flavor is difficult, but he didn’t complain.

What she doesn’t know is he chews his toothbrushes for sensory feedback.

She doesn’t know I had already done a lot of work to get him comfortable coming in to the office to be less anxious in seeing her in the first place. I was already exhausted trying to make it a good experience for both my child and the hygienist ahead of time.

After taking a deep breath and composing myself, I said something like this:

“You know, what you just said may be important, and I agree that it is, but with this particular child I see so many specialists for so many things and get told difficult things all the time, that what you just said isn’t as important to me in light of that right now.”

When the dentist asked if I was okay, I said:

“I’m overwhelmed, to be honest, by this. I’m going to need to leave now.” 

My only requests:

1) My children’s charts get flagged so that none of them have this hygienist ever again. If that requires rescheduling future cleanings, I’m happy to be flexible about that.

2) Please make sure those involved read this. I believe every bad experience can lead to greater understanding and personal and professional growth. I would like to think the office staff involved in my situation feel the same way.

The moral of the story is: Yes, he does need to brush his teeth better. But, my son is a child with multiple issues. He was compliant. He did what you asked. He didn’t take up extra time, really. But you do not know his personal battles, and teeth do need care, yes, but so does the whole person. I have bigger battles right now.

There are ways to communicate truth about how to have better dental health to parents without shaming and embarrassing both parent and child. Her response was offensive and completely inappropriate. This is a pediatric dental office. You never know what someone is dealing with in the “whole child” when you express concern over the dental piece. The dental piece is one piece of a whole child. Instead of shaming, try encouraging and graciously communicating the concern. It goes a long way to build trust and understanding. These are children.

Best,

Bonnie Lyn Smith

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Dental Shaming- Dear Pediatric Dental Hygienist2

*This blog has been shared at any link highlighted here: Mom 2 Mom Monday Link-Up, Make a Difference Mondays, Pick Your Pin Tuesday, Women With Intention Wednesdays, Grace & Truth, A Little R & R, RaRa Link-Up, Me, Coffee & Jesus, Dance With Jesus, Blessing Counters, Coffee & Conversation, Saturday Soiree, Tell His Story, Find Stability, So Much at Home, Faith-Filled Fridays, Reflect His Love and Glory Link-Up, Bonbon & Coffee Linkup, and Christian Mommy Blogger.

More of my personal story of uncovering my child’s special needs can be found in Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day (includes Book Club Discussion Questions).

 
 

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5 Reasons to Lick a Shut-up-sicle (and 5 Reasons Not To)

5 Reasons to Lick a Shut-up-sicleEcclesiastes 3:1,7, ESV, King Solomon speaking

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…

Years ago, a dear friend, trusted mentor, and fellow editor introduced me to a word with which I simply cannot part ways: shut-up-sicle. Once I wrapped my mouth around that powerful little descriptor, I was on my way to any and all usage possible. It fits so many situations, doesn’t it?

“Why don’t you lick a shut-up-sicle already?”

“Oh, man, I might need to pass out the shut-up-sicles today. Everyone is talking at once.”

“Sure wish I had brought my shut-up-sicle with me. I said more than I had planned to.” 

Yeah, such a beautiful word. I’ll admit some possible uses can be a bit unkind, so I’m not recommending them. [Smile.] Today, I’m really thinking more in terms of my own need to grab one and lick it at a slow pace. When we have nothing left to say and/or whatever swirls through the filter of thoughts is better left unexpressed, the most challenging approach to a perplexing situation or problem can be to simply

shut up.

Several times in different scenarios in my life I had reached a point where I did all I could do, and God was not telling me to move forward. He was calling me into a period of shutting my mouth. I know it was Him because He confirmed it with Scripture, sent godly counsel to affirm it, and gently put my mouth to sleep.

What I mean by that last part is that, Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Exchanging My Sackcloth for Gladness

Exchanging My Sackcloth for GladnessSometimes we think if our pain isn’t instantly taken away, God has somehow left us. God doesn’t abandon people. People abandon people.

And people walk away from God.

Despite my heart’s desire, I wasn’t able to see my father as he lay dying for about 10 days between Thanksgiving and the beginning of December. The choice was made for me.

The wreckage that has left in my heart and mind in the days since, just three and a half short months ago, cannot even be adequately described. Pain like this does not even have a name or definition. Grief doesn’t quite describe it. Trauma comes close. It’s like three elephants sit on my chest every day. Sometimes they get off to go get something to eat, but they usually wander back without warning and sit back on top of me again. It’s paralyzing.

Maybe you have made it through or are currently facing something similar.

I don’t know much right now, but I do claim this: I know more than I ever have how near God is to the brokenhearted because when the elephant sits on me, the panic that ensues only calms down when I remember Christ is holding my hand.

Please understand: I don’t stop hurting. It’s not a rescue.

It’s a presence, and it’s one I can fully trust.

Why? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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In-Between Ministry and Miracles: The Purpose of the Wilderness

In-Between Ministry and Miracles: The Purpose of the Wilderness

I took a deep breath and carried out my plan. I had prayed about it for a week, wondering if it was the right thing. I read the Bible, poured out my heart to God, and then quieted myself to listen for a response. What I heard as confirmation came from several trusted sources speaking in unity.

It was very difficult and painful, but it was very important. I didn’t treat it lightly. I was incredibly afraid to act on anything without God speaking into it. It’s not that I thought a lightning bolt would strike me down in a moment of acting solo and impetuously. I simply knew that not consulting God did not yield good fruit. I had to remain in the Vine as my source.

John 15:1-9, ESV, Jesus speaking

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”

Before I made a big move, I went to my own personal wilderness to pray. I’ve learned the hard way over time that I tend to be rash and make hasty decisions. I needed situations, trials, and heartaches to discipline me in self-control, patience, and seeking counsel. Oh, and chipping away at that whole pride thing. There’s that.

This wasn’t something that came to me on my own. I found it while teaching our Junior High Sunday School class about Jesus’s miracles.

We discovered that Read the rest of this entry »

 

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A Necklace and the Intimacy of God

A Necklace and the Intimacy of GodIt was December when I received this text: “Hey, Bonnie: Did you happen to get any mail from me this week?”

Oh, wow, mail. I hadn’t gone to my mailbox in days. I usually love Christmas cards, but I had just lost my father, and I knew the mailbox was either filled with Christmas cheer or sympathy cards. I treasured both, but some days I simply couldn’t read any.

I sent my daughter to the mailbox, and she brought back a few advertisements, some bills, five cards, and a small package.

Great. Mission accomplished. I tossed everything else in a pile on the floor and eagerly opened the package.

Oh my goodness!

Inside was a necklace with four charms: The Lord’s Prayer, a heart, a cross, and an angel.

The note read something along the lines of: “I thought you could wear it to remember your Dad.”

My heart caught in my throat. I had not told my sweet cousin about my wish, my regret. I had not shared with her that just that week I had told my husband to get our daughter some jewelry because I wished my father had bought me just one piece that I could wear to remember him by. It just wasn’t Dad’s thing. And yet, my heart ached to Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Is That God Waking Me Up?

Is That God Waking Me Up

I woke up in the middle of the night. An old wound reopened. My mind was rushing, and I could not for the life of me understand why certain memories were flooding back upon popping one eye open.

Didn’t I take care of that business, Lord? Why am I awakened by this?

Truth be told, I was having a hard time sorting out whether I was being tormented (which isn’t God) about something in the past just to derail me and disrupt my peace, or if God had woken me up to sort through something.

I was aware of the small trigger that had set off the memories, but I felt I had dipped them in His amazing peace, prayed them down, and stepped off the memory platform.

Apparently not so.

Ever have something come back and revisit, and you’re not sure what to do with it?

Yeah, me too.

Whenever this happens and old tapes play in my head, I have two choices (because ignoring them doesn’t work): Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Take It to the Healer

Take It to the HealerWe drove to the Deep South for post-Christmas fun with my husband’s sisters, their families, and his Dad. As I looked out over the Alabama fields, I told God:

“My heart hurts. What healing do You have for me here?”

I believe He always wants to heal our wounds. It’s part of what He went to the cross for.

You know what? I found His hugs, warmth, and love in watching young cousins have light-saber battles and in playing rowdy games of “Nuts” with my nephew and nieces. I watched each God-given personality interact and shine. I saw their faces as once-babies now in mostly/almost adult form.

And I thought of this verse:

Psalm 27:13, KJV, King David speaking

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

We must see God’s goodness in everything He gives us because death, disease, addictions, injuries, and sin are thieves we can become embittered hating if we don’t focus on the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. At times, it’s a minute-by-minute choice, or else we’d lose our minds and hearts to deep grief, shame, or disillusionment.

Sometimes, seeing His goodness is so hard for us because of our incredible pain. He knows this, so we can ask Him to help us. We absolutely should.

John 15:7, ESV, Jesus speaking

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Our family of five, along with two rather compliant Shih Tzus, began our road trip back from Alabama and traveled as far as Knoxville, Tennessee, when the text came in that my 26 year old cousin Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Redefining Unconditional: How Our Son Completely Changed Our Lives

I was so honored to have the opportunity to write a very personal piece at Rosevine Cottage Girls a few weeks ago. Cheyenne asked me to join their series on the “unconditional love of a special needs parent.” Oh, yes, please! You see, I believe this article is for any parent. Our children transform us and chip away at selfishness and pride, if we’re willing to let our parenting experiences shape us into better people. Parenting of any kind is saying “yes” to the changes that happen within us when we welcome the possibility of unconditional love into our lives.

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For two years, I would sit at his basketball games and silently sob.

Not because Little Man (our youngest son) wasn’t as good as the other kids were. (He wasn’t at the time.)

Not because I was embarrassed to be the only parent with a kid on that team not keeping up.

Redefining Unconditional_ How Our Son Completely Changed Our LivesI would weep because he was cognitively stuck. Like a computer sluggishly trying to process a hard drive full of information, he would stare. The game went on around him, and he lagged 30 seconds behind. He would run down the court just as the team was turning around to head the other way down the court. Then he would remember, briefly, to “guard his man” before getting lost in the loudness of the gymnasium, the overstimulation of the ball bouncing around him, the fast pace of the kids racing past, and the pure anxiety of being in slow-motion when everyone around you is on pace. He would peel his hangnails and wear a perpetually worried look on his face.

My heart would ache and shatter not because he was different but because it was an indication that once again, he was suspended in that time and place called dysregulation, for whatever the reason, and we would need months to partly climb back out again.

Join me over at Rosevine Cottage Girls to read how Little Man changed our lives for the better.

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Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Love Knocked: It’s Time to Answer

I opened the door to find her standing there in thepouring-down rain, hand outstretched toward me with a Peppermint Mocha and Salted Caramel Square just waiting to delight me inside a paper bag. I greeted her with bedhead, three-days-worn pajamas, and a defeated face. Not sure when I had last showered. She doesn’t even drink coffee from my café of choice, but she had the barista handcraft a beverage just for me. She didn’t come in. She took her soaked self back to the van, having delivered friendship in a cup. And it was the real deal in every way:Love Knocked

friendship

and

good coffee.

Before that knock came, I got an email:

“You home right now?”

Me: “Yes, upstairs resting.”

Nothing mattered to me right then. I had tried to drag myself out all day to get a coffee just to be somewhere and exist outside my own grief, but I couldn’t. I listlessly made three breakfasts, packed three lunches, sent three kids out the door to three different buses, and went back to bed. All I knew was that Dad was dying several states away, and that phone call was coming in any minute. I was in some kind of nightmarish limbo—stuck and free-falling.

Then, that knock!

I wanted to but could not in any way will myself to answer it. I simply couldn’t leave my bed. I didn’t know it was raining. I wasn’t even sure who it was. But the knuckles rapped a bit stronger and then my phone burped. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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When You’re Stuck, Like Me

When You're Stuck, Like MeThis article was first published at Your Tewksbury Today, where I wrote in real time as I processed the loss of my father during Advent 2015. While this was two months ago, to the day, I feel it is important to revisit it; it is part of an ongoing series I am writing on grief. Sometimes it is a stuck place, and we need a little help to get unstuck, but it’s not just grief that leaves us feeling this way. We can land with legs up in the air, unable to find our ground during any kind of loss: relationship disappointment, abandonment, betrayal, a crushed dream, etc.

I hope you find something in it to bring you or someone you know peace and comfort as you/he/she experience/s the inevitable: mourning what was and adjusting to the new normal.

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I was stuck—a stuck mouse to a glue trap in my grief. Arms and legs flailing in perpetual motion but no ability to move forward. My sweet father lingered in a place where peace was promised ahead, but he had to cross the precipice by himself, and there was nothing I could do about it. The push-pull of those last days brought such conflicting feelings that penetrated my very marrow. Waking or sleeping, all I could do was picture the glory ahead and a sweet man with fingers gently reaching up to wait for the hand of Christ.

When I look at my youngest son’s limbs, hands, and feet, freckled and long, I see my father. The auburn wisps around his face? Another genetic transfer. For years, when we lived in the Marshall Islands, we would send his hair clippings to Dad to show him that beautiful autumn fire that successfully lived on in the gene pool.

Last week I found myself holding my breath just looking at my son. I was grateful my father was so evident in his appearance. I walked around half-completing tasks, afraid to be in public when the phone would ring, immobilized in my favorite IKEA chair with both dogs on my lap, and unable to fully clear a table, finish a load of laundry, or make a meal. Time. Stood. Still. I was waiting for the crossover with a grief that engulfed me for what would be—a fearful anticipation of life without Dad. I could not move on.

What about you? Have you found yourself stuck in grief, fear, disappointment, shame, or disillusionment? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Dear Dad: A Letter to God

Dear Dad- A Letter to God

Do you ever write letters to people in your head—things you wanted to say, unfinished business, sentiments that pressed on your heart and didn’t let you go?

Sometimes I wake up at night and have a three-page letter downloaded straight into my heart.

Right now, for my father who is living* through cancer and chemo hell, parts of my letter would look like this:

 

 

Dear Dad: 

I hate that you are struggling. If I could be with you in person more frequently, I’d just want to hold your hand. Pray silently. Sit at your feet. Watch you sleep. Bless you. Read you Scripture. Share a few memories. Make you smile.

I’d say I didn’t always respond the way I should have, that I often was too quick to react in my youth. I’d tell you if I had to do it all over again, I’d talk to you about your “corny” country music and be willing to discuss the different jazz artists you grew to appreciate.

I’d tell you I’m sorry I stuck my tongue out when I was 3 years old, that spitting out my peas onto your dinner plate wasn’t nice. I shouldn’t have made eating and the dinner table such a scene of drama.

I might state that I could have been more gracious when you taught me how to drive and more grateful when you would pick me up from a late theater rehearsal. While we were generationally farther apart than the parents of many of my friends, I wasn’t really embarrassed by you; I was just a teenager who thought that I was.

I would share with you that I watched you healing on that couch from radiation many years ago while you let me put barrettes in your amazing hair because that’s what you do when you have daughters. You play barbershop. I’d be less angry that you won UNO sometimes. I’d be more mindful of the times I got to “camp out” on the porch with you in the summers and wouldn’t make comments about your snoring.

I wrote a book, Dad. It wasn’t everything it could have been, but it was my first attempt. It was about God. I hope you could see the Presbyterian roots deep within my theology, Dad. How I really did understand Christ, the propitiation for our sins.

If I could just lay my head against your robe, Dad, like I used to rest it on your lap during the sermon, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

I can be a spoiled brat, but my heart is trying to be more like Jesus, Dad. I hope you can see that in me. I hope I make you proud.

My letter would say so many other things, but I’ll stop there. You get the idea.

What about God, though? What about our Father in Heaven? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Top 10 Healthy Ways I Am Grieving

Top 10 Healthy Ways I Am GrievingMy father recently passed away, and while I knew it was heading in that direction and he certainly had fought a good fight against what turned out to be seven cancers over 30-some-odd years, there was more to grieve than just his death. Death has a way of putting what is unhealthy under a microscope and forcing it up to our eyeballs to view it whether we wish to take a close look at it—or not.

If you are grieving a person, a relationship loss, or even a shift in the plans you had for your life, some of these may work for you. I am not an expert on grief. I share this as a layperson going through the motions in real time.

10. Color!

Say what? Huh? My therapist handed me an adult coloring book. If you need one, here are some examples at my friend Mary’s site (which is fun to check out anyway): inspiredbooksguide.com. Some similar books can be found at Walmart for $5. I spent the holidays coloring through visits with family, a funeral trip, and some relationship dynamics.

I almost laughed out loud when my therapist recommended coloring, but I gave it a try, and I have to admit: It is so grounding. I often pray as I color. It causes me to be still, so I can hear and not just talk when I pray. I use twistable colored pencils so I don’t have to keep sharpening.

I even color through my children arguing! We all have to usher the peace in any way that we can, right?

9. Rest, Be

As Dad was passing and even afterward, I found it difficult to focus. Everything moved in slow motion. The rest of the world seemed to be moving at a swift pace while meanwhile I floundered between stunned and weary. I gave myself permission to go to bed earlier, whenever possible, and to catch a catnap here and there.

I also expected less out of myself for a while. I didn’t want my days to be spent escaping between the covers, which can be its own red flag after a while, but I also didn’t try to take on the world. I lowered my expectations for each day and focused on the few things that had to be accomplished, like feeding and driving family members to activities. I didn’t write a lot or even keep my blog marketing schedule going.

One of my favorite songs is “Be Still” by Selah. I needed someone to record this concept for me because I am usually resistant to Be Still. I have been attempting to get to know Be Still for a while now. Read the rest of this entry »

 
18 Comments

Posted by on January 21, 2016 in Grief and Loss, Ministry Moments

 

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Elizabeth: “To Take Away My Reproach”

Elizabeth- To Take Away My ReproachLuke 1:5-7, ESV, Luke the Physician narrating

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.

And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.

But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

A barren woman getting up in age. One who waited for a motherhood yet to happen. A womb that yearned but ached so empty. A husband, though a priest, himself filled with doubt.

But then—then a Savior’s story ushers in. God uses her swelling belly to send a message in utero that later hit the Judean wilderness.

She was not forsaken.

She was not to be scorned.

Her womb was chosen to host a Holy Spirit-filled messenger.

With her story, came a Messiah who gave His life so that we too may host the Holy Spirit. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Top 10 Ways to Keep Kids Regulated and Engaged During the Holidays

Top 10 Ways to Keep Kids Regulated and Engaged During the HolidaysWhether or not you have a child with special needs during the holidays, everyone in the house—adults and teens included—can get ramped up and a little “off” during the lack of routine, irregular eating and sleeping patterns, and increased social interactions of the holidays.

As facilitator of a FOCUS Group for Special Needs Parents at my church, I brought in a 20-year public school occupational therapist within our congregation to do a parent workshop on “De-Stressing the Holidays.” With Linda’s permission, I share some helpful tips for all families at a particularly stressful-yet-fun time of year. Perhaps there are some last-minute stocking stuffer ideas you can find here as well.

10. Social Stories (to help with emotions, disappointments, fear, anxiety, etc.)

The holidays often come to us as a mixed bag of expectations and emotions. Children are excited, perhaps nervous about a family get-together, have pent-up energy and frustrations, and have trouble staying regulated among the extra sugar intake, late nights, and unpredictable schedule. “Social stories” can have pictures and words; they walk through holiday-time scenarios so kids know what to expect and that feelings can be unpredictable and very normal. Here is a great web site I found for social stories on everything from anticipating blood draws to the dentist.

9. Calendaring

Children need a sense of what to expect when the normal routine is disrupted by holiday events and time off school. A simple printed-out calendar with pictures or words (depending on the child’s developmental age) can be a great way to take away the “What are we doing today?” question that visits us twenty times a day and give kids a sense of knowledge and control; they could even express “wants” on it (like “see a movie” or “play a game”). They feel a part of the family calendar when they can see it. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Dear Parent of a Child With Special Needs

Dear Parent of a Child with Special Needs:Dear Parent of a Child With Special Needs

I have something to say to you.

I want you to take a deep breath.

I want you to stop blaming yourself (if you do).

I want you to know that on a day that demands much emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual energy to advocate or meet the needs of your child, if that’s all you do, you’re a rock star!

I used to tell myself my child’s disabilities were because I was depressed for a short period of time when he was young.

That I didn’t stimulate his brain enough.

That we didn’t color and do puzzles as much as I did with my other kids.

That I was to blame. I had a lack. I brought this on.

That I should have fed everyone more organic food and cleaned with natural cleaners—and lived on a farm.

That my few piles of disorganized mess were to blame for all executive functioning problems in all family members through several generations.

My if onlys?

If only I read up on all this during the early intervention years. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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When Thankful Changes the Atmosphere

When Thankful Changes the AtmosphereShe had just put a huge meal on for tourists and was about to reload the table for her family of 9. It was almost 8 PM, and they were coming in from the harvest. The corn had to be collected before the rains came. Her youngest child, a boy of 7, had helped late into the evening the night before, but they still had some work to do. She had a twinkle in her eye, but there was a shot of weary and concern as well as she turned her bonneted head toward me and chirped happily in her heavy accent:

“I have so much to be thankful for. God has given me many blessings.”

Her words grew feet and scurried right into the center of my heart.

It was the Amish way, and yet, as tired mothers: one the “worldly English” and one with the “plain life,” the only thing separating us in our common mama sighs was our lifestyles. Otherwise, the weightiness of our hearts beat to the same sound. We shared the same God. We each wanted to express love into the other’s world, if only for a few hours, without making her world become fully ours.

And yet those penetrating words. Despite the fact setting the table for her six-course meal was on its second round, she was grateful.

Counting blessings—

—with another sinkload of dishes in the almost-dark.

I grew up not far from this community. We regularly came “up the country” to Lancaster County from Chester County, Pennsylvania. Horses and buggies were part of my childhood tapestry. But now, with my parents living amidst the Amish community in surrounding farms, I have come to pay greater attention to my Christian brothers and sisters in solid, dark colors.

And as I left her house that day, this 39 year old mother of 7, with worn hands from many years of caring for her family, gave me a gift I can never exercise enough. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Responding With Honeycomb and Health

Responding With Honeycomb and HealthI read it right before finishing preparations for a talk I was going to give to a group of moms at a local church. I was also in the middle of praying for my father and seeing how his cancer treatment went that day.

It was an unnecessary and petty distraction, a message sent with absolutely no other purpose than to make trouble where, as far as I knew, there wasn’t any to date. In my own personal book of boundaries, it crossed several lines, but more than that, there was no recognizable good intention within it. I’m limited in my perspective, obviously. I don’t have God’s eyes. From where I was sitting, however, it was right up there in the Book of the Absurd or Ridiculous, and it could have flamed old fires of aggravation.

Know that familiar scenario?

The one where other people want to stir our pot?  

Where they can’t leave well enough alone? 

Where they insert themselves somewhere they don’t belong?

This same scenario, with a few changed details and characters, has played itself out several times over my life. I’m sure from time to time we all encounter: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Why We Gather

Why We Gather

I was in the middle of preparing for a new focus group at church, one that would offer support to parents of children with special education needs, physical disabilities, and mental health struggles. This plan had been on my heart for a year. I had prayed about it, researched it, pitched it to church leadership, and then let it fall into place bit by bit. With each step, I could see God’s hand in the go-ahead: the flyer, verbal announcement, sign-ups, parent survey, and soon, the first gathering.

As I watched this dream of mine take shape, I asked God which Scripture He wanted us to operate from as our starting place.

This is what He led me to:

Hebrews 10:23-25, ESV, anonymously written 

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (emphasis mine).

In the middle of my planning, I realized that this is what should motivate us in any endeavor—Christian-faith-based or not.

Isn’t it a beautiful mission statement for all groups, gatherings, meetings?

To stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another?

How many times do you think about this when you go into… Read the rest of this entry »

 
 

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Hanging in the Balance

Hanging in the BalanceAs ridiculous as this may sound, I recently prayed for a free caterpillar for my youngest son, Little Man.

Little Man is an outdoor kind of guy. Anything that grows, crawls, or breathes completely fascinates him. Considering his not insignificant focus and anxiety struggles, nature has become his personal sanctuary. If there’s a snake or chipmunk, a locust exoskeleton, or deer prints (in the snow) to be spotted, he likes to investigate, research, and track results. We’ve grown a sunflower and planted many things in our soil. They’ve all been their own special brand of therapy.

Four days ago, he found a small caterpillar, Smiley. We had no idea where it was in its life cycle, or rather, how close to the chrysalis stage, but we were about to find out.

I did my research and kept it in an appropriate container with leaves and a stick. After getting a little fatter and crawling around as a happy green color, he scrunched up and turned black one day. Little Man assured me this was the chrysalis phase, and sure enough, he was right, only Smiley never made it up the stick to hang in a J shape. Without the proper “hanging position,” all my sources told me he’d have lopsided wing structure/ability. What’s a girl to do?

To no avail, for 15 minutes, I chased a wiggly chrysalis around the table trying to tie a string on a stem at the end, dutifully following Chrysalis Rescue instructions to string it up so it could develop “balanced wings.”

It then occurred to me that this must be what happened to me years ago. I didn’t hang my chrysalis correctly.

Ever know that feeling? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Removing Unwanted Layers

Removing Unwanted LayersIn light of the recent “National Dog Day,” I was reflecting on my newly shorn Shih Tzu Samson. Like his namesake in the Bible (Judges 13-16), he is strong and very hairy.

(If you’re not a dog fan, hang in there…I’m going somewhere with this—and as a sidenote, how can you not be a dog fan? Wink.)

My daughter and I spent an hour and a half one day out in a doggie-gated area of our backyard taking the clippers to our resident fuzzball. It was mother-daughter bonding time: many laughs over our mild-mannered but fed-up Samson. He was mostly patient as we practiced our haircutting skills, trimmed a little more beard here and there, gave him a manly tail shape, and assessed where we missed and he still looked a bit shaggy.

But under all that hair was a robust dog, strong and youthful, playful and now much cooler. Our home isn’t air-conditioned, so I could almost see Samson breathe a huge sigh of relief, pant a little less, and feel a bit more spry with the weight of his “wool” off. He looked like a lamb, fresh from the shearing.

Oh, Samson, Buddy! We forgot how unencumbered you are without the heavy weight of your hair! How free! How cool! How lovely!

I thought about myself and others carrying around burdens. Maybe you are too. I considered what we look like—even feel like—when we take a few layers off, when we start stripping off the layers of worry and care.

Granted, we cannot always do that. We all have responsibilities and commitments, right? We can’t simply “drop hair” like Samson and now run about footloose and fancy free in the yard.

Or can we? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Power Over Mind Games

Power Over Mind GamesToday, Espressos of Faith is delighted to have guest blogger, Bonnie Sue Beardsley of More Than Just Coffee. If you pay even a little attention to me, you can see we are not only name but also coffee twins, joined at the hip by our love for God, and secondly, writing.

I drew so much wisdom from this post of hers. It somehow reached into an old, rusty wheel that turns once in a while inside my mind and heart and oiled it with God’s Truth.

Don’t we all resurrect those old negative voices now and then? See how Bonnie encourages you to follow Scripture to shut out the self-talk that holds you back. She shares what lies just ahead of pushing through. Blessings!

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“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

I’m sure when Paul wrote Philippians 1:21, he was talking about physical. What I learned is this verse is one of the most powerful truths to ending the negative self-talk. We let it run amuck in our heads everyday.

For to me to live is ChristA couple weeks ago a good friend and I had an argument about me being able to write fiction. I felt like there was no way I could do it. He just told me to get out of my head and do it. Yes, I have a BIG problem with listening to the voice inside saying, “You can’t do this,” or “You wouldn’t be good at that.”

It doesn’t matter if I know Philippians 4:13 says that I can do all things in Jesus. It is when I let the voice get in my way and stop me from even attempting to try to do something, like write a fiction piece.

This week there was a challenge in a post to write a spontaneous piece to a picture in the post. My first thought was there is no way I could do that. Then as I sat looking at the picture thoughts of what was going on in the scene started popping into my mind. I pushed past the negative thoughts and wrote down what was going on in my mind about the picture.  When I finished it, I could not believe what I wrote.

Did you notice what happened? I had to die, put to death the negative self-talk to do what I thought I couldn’t do.  When I died to my thoughts of not being able to write fiction, then I became alive to new God was working in me.

 

What are some of your mind games you need to die to, so you can live what God has planned for you?

 

 

Here is my spontaneous piece (the picture that inspired it can be found here):

 

The ship is back!  She threw open the sash.  Leaned out, with hope that she could see the face she long to see once again.  She scoured over every face on the deck until finally her eyes met his.  Her heart leaped to her throat and tears started flowing down her cheeks.  He’s home!  She couldn’t wait to hear his stories of the trip.  She wanted to run as fast as she could down to the ship but she couldn’t stop looking into his eyes.  The fear of if she stopped he would be gone again.  How her mind raced; “How was her appearance?  Did she have everything needed for his favorite meal?   How much longer until she would be in his embrace?”

 

Bonnie Sue Beardsley

 

For years I have been comfortable serving in women’s ministry behind the sound booth.  When we move to Texas,  I lost that hiding place.  Soon after we moved God placed  on my heart to write devotions for women.  I fought with God over that.  I was a busy wife and homeschooling two boys.  Didn’t God know I didn’t have time to write.  Ten years later several friends asked me to start my own online study.  He never gives up on us.  Now I write for Him.

 
 
*This blog was first featured at More Than Just Coffee. Join Bonnie at her Bonbon ‘n’ Coffee Link-up Party each Thursday!

**It has also been shared at any link highlighted here: Mom 2 Mom Monday Link-Up, Make a Difference Mondays, Pick Your Pin Tuesday, Women With Intention Wednesdays, Grace & Truth, A Little R & R, RaRa Link-Up, Me, Coffee & Jesus, Dance With Jesus, Blessing Counters, Coffee & Conversation, Saturday Soiree, Tell His Story, Find Stability, So Much at Home, Faith-Filled Fridays, Reflect His Love and Glory Link-Up, Bonbon ‘n Coffee Linkupand Christian Mommy Blogger.

 

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Subway Vision

Subway VisionRecently, I was sitting on the Boston T staring at the feet of many people. Wow, her toenails need painting, just like mine. Cool wedges…wonder where she got them? He is dressed to the nines. I wonder what he does? Does he like himself at the end of the day? Oh my, that child needs a new pair of sneakers for school; I hope his family can manage that.

I’ll admit I wasn’t looking at the whole person. I just was gazing at feet. I wasn’t trying to make assumptions. As a writer, I visually see things and then have a nonstop ongoing dialogue with myself in my head.

I also receive snippets from God throughout the week as to what to write about, and “subway” came through crystal clear.

The next day, at the suggestion of a sweet mentor, I was listing so many questions I have for God. I truly have more questions than answers. I don’t imagine He was exhausted from my list, but I sure was. And then an area I had been praying about for a while came into focus on a day when I was troubled that my father was so knocked down by chemo that he couldn’t continue the treatments that week.

I was so scared to carry out the actions I felt God was telling me to take with regard to another person. It was an area of constant rejection and pain. Am I tough enough for the response, God? Maybe we should try this at another time?

And there it was, plain as day: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Waiting on God in the Valley

Ever feel like screaming:Waiting on God in the Valley

God, where ARE you? It’s the eleventh hour, and I’m beyond impatient waiting on you to show up!”

In a crisis situation, that desperate plea sounds pretty reasonable, right? We’re frantic, and we cry out. There’s nothing wrong with that. David did this repeatedly in the Psalms. God isn’t afraid of our honesty. In fact, He welcomes it.

Even so, there are four fundamental misconceptions with these statements, and believe me, I’m guilty of wrong belief myself!

  1. God is not with us.
  2. He might not respond, so we have to get His attention again.
  3. It really is the eleventh hour.
  4. It’s about us.

As for Number One, can I just say here that Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Why Listening Is Part of God’s Repair

Happy September! I’m not sure where August went! Espressos of Faith is belatedly celebrating a Blogiversary! We opened up the site on August 3, 2014 and started posting August 15, 2014. I’ll never forget it because I was on vacation, and my web site manager and I said: “Okay, ready or not, here we come!” (I’ve since learned to put better margin in my life and not attempt huge undertakings while away to relax.) Not long after, by the amazing grace of God, Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day was published on October 1, 2014, a day shy of my birthday.

This summer, I’ve been keeping a weekly faith column at Your Tewksbury Today and slowed down in terms of adding content to the blog site. Personally, we had a challenging summer on several counts, and rest became a must.

In honor of a year of faithful readers, engaging conversations, and much-needed personal growth, Espressos of Faith will aim to post twice a week this month, hopefully posting a few guest bloggers along the way.

Thank you for coming alongside me and reading what my heart wants to communicate. I dedicate each post to the Great I AM, Whose hand I never want to let go of—not in the stormy seas and not even when the skies are clear and the air about me dancing with dragonflies. It’s the best hand I’ve ever held: The Warm Hand of Jesus on Cold Days of Doubt.

Blessings to you this September,
Bonnie

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Why Listening Is Part of God's Repair

Summer: A time when the family spends significant amounts of quality time together, regroups from the busy school year, checks every item off the year-in-the-making to-do list, and catches up on each other’s lives.

Sound good? Yes, yes it does.

But summer can also be a time when all problems shoved to the side by our busyness the rest of the year come rushing into that empty space like an angry brook moving so swiftly, it polishes pebbles along the way.

Only I’m the pebbles, and no matter how smooth I think I am, the water continues to force its way in and demand my attention.

Know what I mean?

We glided into July with a few weeks of calm. It was good to sleep in, not worry about schoolwork, and follow our whims about the schedule.

And then, like a gigantic, threatening, visible but still-out-to-sea tidal wave, suddenly every issue that had been building—some unbeknownst to me—piled on top of my head. When I thought maybe I had a handle on one area, another person in the family would point out another flaw in our relational dynamic. Not fun.

Pretty soon I was seeing not just the frayed edges, Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Why My Child Is Sad—And Why He Isn’t

Why My Child Is SadYou may relate to the food allergy piece of this—or the part about a child with special needs. Maybe you understand the mental health bit. Perhaps you struggle yourself. This is just one tiny scenario in our family’s journey. It may seem trivial, and when looked through the lens of one small moment, perhaps it is, but the message drawn from it is hugely significant and important. We all struggle with assumptions and forcing our good intentions, as well being misunderstood. It’s universal.

Today, one tired, squeaky, sometimes defeated little voice comes through in my experience. I believe his voice rings out, joining many others along similar paths. Little Man and I want you to know:

You are not alone.

—————————–

As she bent over to adjust the blood pressure sleeve, she asked him three times:

“Are you looking forward to school starting?”

She had to ask him three times because the first two times he looked down and wouldn’t answer. She had the best of intentions. She wanted to make my son comfortable.

I know the “goal” here is to have a 9 year old make eye contact, smile, act engaged in and enthralled by conversation with an adult, and respond appropriately with all polite words tacked on.

On his best days, he’s charismatic and very articulate.

I’m well out of range of the goal line right now, however. I really am.

Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Where Is God When Your Child Dies?

Where Is God When Your Child DiesToday, I am very excited to once again feature guest blogger Tammie Wommack. She is a dear friend of mine and has regularly contributed to a series on Espressos of Faith: Guest Bloggers: Sharing More Stories of Hope and Courage.

Her continuing message of hope, healing, and even joy as she wades through the wreckage of losing her son in 2008 ministers and encourages in such significant ways. I’ve decided to dedicate an entire category to her story: Tammie’s Story: Child Loss and Suicide. My heart’s desire is that others in pain discover Tammie’s story and find healing in her words.

Yesterday was the 7th anniversary since her son Joshua left this world. I met Tammie right as these walls in her life came crashing down. God’s purposes for Tammie continue to be lived out as she and her husband Rick submit to being willing vessels of healing and ministry to others. The road has not been easy, but I love that Tammie asks the hard questions—the ones nobody wants to admit they ask—and she does it in writing for all of us to see how she works through them and how her faith informs her with an inexplicable peace amidst an unimaginable sorrow.

We post this blog today in honor of Joshua and all who suffer with suicidal thoughts. The internal battle is real, and the devastation they leave behind is significant. They are not forgotten. We also post this today to reach the hurting family members trying to make their way. May your pain find a voice in Tammie’s honest and vulnerable words, and may you know the healing balm she has found in her faith in Christ.

And now, here’s Tammie. May her words bring you peace, encourage faith in Christ, and/or offer a breath of help to your shared journey of repairing shattered hearts. Feel free to leave her a comment. She wants to connect with you. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Opening the God-Designed Gift in Each of Us

Opening the God-Designed Gift in Each of UsMy kids and I have been participating in a local Vacation Bible School this week. As a group leader traveling around with a group of 14 third graders to all of their various centers (music, missions, craft, Bible, and recreation), I’ve had a very close-up view of not only each child but also the way in which they interact. While it’s a fun and loving environment, when you spend 17 hours of your week together, I can tell you that not every moment is smiles and lollipops. Character development is hard work!

As with family, we see our best and worst qualities. I can see how hard it is for some to fight temptations of pride, self control, or negative thinking, while others face the internal battle of putting others down, not taking turns, having to be the best, or bulldozing over others to get attention. Sound like adult qualities too? Um, yup! I see a few of those in myself daily!

But the amazing thing is:

I can also see the potential gifts and strengths hiding behind the areas of struggle.

Whether we’re 8 or 80 years old, Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Dragonflies, Lily Pads, Bullfrogs, and Faith

Dragonflies, Lily Pads, Bullfrogs, and FaithLast weekend, I found myself drawing in heavy breaths from the weighty, humid Pennsylvania air, almost fighting against it with every inhale as the mugginess climbed my limbs and threatened to swallow me whole. We arrived at 80-something degrees and were leaving at 90-something. How did I ever live in the South Pacific for two years and bike 80 extra pounds in kids around in the trailer? When did I become so intolerant of the humidity?

These thoughts swirled around in my mind as I watched my 9 year old Little Man, the happiest he’s been in months, darting from one flagstone to another trying to find a bullfrog willing to reveal itself for a moment among the lily pads in the pond at my parents’ retirement community. It’s not for a lack of trying that he did not find an amphibian friend. We heard their throaty cries. I believe our cold-blooded friends didn’t want to raise half an eye above the cool water and shade of the lily pads to greet Little Man. And who could blame them in this heat?

As I let my eyes soak in the serenity of the calm pond water and marveled at the dragonflies dancing freely, living in the moment, I also envied the lily pads—anchored, yet fluid on the surface of the water. While I want to tango with dragonflies on my more adventurous days, as we wait out my father’s prognosis, I think I much prefer the safety of roots in the pond bottom, with only slight, gentle movements away from my anchor in small steps of trust: lily pad living at its finest!

The funny thing is: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Calibrating Our Pressure Gauge

CalibratingOurPressureGaugeI don’t know about you, but I set many goals for myself this year that were unmet. Partly to blame was the overachiever in me. Also, I have no crystal ball to tell me how my year is going to go, so I wrongly assume I have 18 hours free in every day to accomplish tasks.

I lay my plans out as if I wear a cape and boast superpowers, and then I privately whine to myself (and sometimes to others—okay, often to others) when they don’t happen. Meanwhile, my crazy ambition starts hissing a slow leak all year, and I fold under my unrealistic expectations into a heap of frustration.

If you can relate to this in any way, then this post is for you.

Maybe you don’t feel like you’ve failed work projects, but you regret not having more one-on-one investments in people, especially close loved ones in declining health. Maybe you wish you would have spent more time on home repairs this year, or you wanted to go back to school but didn’t.

At any point in time, whatever we keep busy with, we often feel something else is passing us by: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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From Lighthouse to Lighthouse: Facing Fears and Trusting God

From Lighthouse to LighthouseSince our return to the Boston area in 2009, every other year my family vacations in a different Canadian province. We started off at a KOA cabin near Niagara Falls, then two years later spent a few days in Québec City, and this year we are in a tiny cottage on Covehead Bay, which is fed by the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the beautiful Maritime province of Prince Edward Island. Currently, we are looking for Anne of Green Gables.

Board games, bike rides, drives through potato farmland marveling at old countryside churches, grilling steak tips, and walking long trails with the dogs are how we unwind. Vacations don’t have to be frantic, expensive, or fast-food unhealthy. I’m so glad we made a deliberate choice to get our serenity on and breathe in the salty Atlantic water as we walk around the bay.

This week has been a time of getting reacquainted with the kids, reminding them we are more than just taxi drivers, moneylenders, and activity cheerleaders. The best of ourselves is reinvesting in the best of ourselves. It’s so good to replenish and fill up again. I hear that still, small voice whispering into my heart lessons to take away from breathing in deeply and not being busy.

And sometimes, it’s when we’re in vacation mode that we feel freer to Read the rest of this entry »

 

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The Very Best Kind of Freedom

The Very Best Kind of FreedomI grew up just outside Philadelphia. The Liberty Bell and, for that matter, the Statue of Liberty, were important visuals to me of all that America stands for. As I’ve been walking through stores and seeing red, white, and blue adorning every aisle, I’ve had a lot of opportunity this week to consider what freedom really is.

I could focus on so many different topics: what our soldiers uphold for us every day, the Constitution, freedom from religious persecution, opportunities to receive an education, safe harbor within our own borders, and even our leisure, which is completely unheard of in so much of the world.

While I love my country and appreciate everything about it that protects my liberties, I celebrate my freedom in Christ every day because Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross (and resurrection) makes all of the following possible (and more!): Read the rest of this entry »

 

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My Master’s Feet

My Master's FeetThe other morning I thought I’d start work early so I could spend most of my
day with the kids, who are now on summer vacation.

As I sat down on my IKEA chair, my Shih Tzu Delilah jumped up to sit at my feet on the ottoman. Her barrel-chested brother Samson, a few pounds heavier and a bit more awkward, couldn’t leap up to join her, so he pawed my arm and whined for several minutes until I heaved him up. This time he didn’t want her company. He wanted to be close to me.

He immediately resituated so he could lick my bare feet and then laid his soft, teddy-bear head against them.

I believe this was Samson’s way of snuggling in, receiving reassurance, tapping into my “master love.”

Oh, Samson, Buddy, what a parallel I draw here. Thank you for being my morning muse.

[Samson’s sister likes to lick laptops. Yeah, dogs are weird.]

How much I am like Samson! When I wake and know my Master is with me, Read the rest of this entry »

 

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A Father’s Love: Defender and Servant


This blog was first a featured column at Your Tewksbury Today on Father’s Day.

A Father's Love, Defender and ServantAs I sit here waiting on news from my father after a three-month check-up, CAT scan, and blood work were performed to let us know if the beast that is cancer is keeping its nasty little talons out of his body, I watch another father patiently brushing his son’s limbs, back, and extremities. He follows it up with joint compressions and rolls the yoga ball onto our youngest son’s back.

I am sandwiched in life by two fathers:

  • One still on guard against a disease that has launched pathological assault weapons at his body multiple times in different places over the span of about 35 years
  • One who helps with the five-times-a-day occupational therapy at home for a child with sensory integration issues, anxiety, and ADHD

My father has never backed down in the face of a nonstop onslaught on his organs, muscle, and tissue. He knows prayer (in the name of Jesus) is a powerful weapon.

My husband will never stop serving my son—not until he sees a settled, healthier version of him.

I am struck by the fact that my Father in heaven sent Jesus to do both of these things for us: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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The Last Goodbye

The Last GoodbyeEspressos of Faith is excited to have Tammie Wommack back in our continued series on “Stories of Hope, Healing, and Courage.” Tammie has joined us several times to share her journey from the incredible pain of losing her son Joshua to finding moments of hope, healing, and even joy again.

What I love about my friend Tammie is that she is not afraid to be raw and real. She wants to take parents who have lost a child through the real phases of healing, letting them know that their experiences/feelings are normal, they aren’t alone, and peace can be found despite the ongoing ache left when a child is no longer here. I have been on the other end of this—the desperation of depression—and because her story ran parallel to my own and I knew her when her loss was new and raw and I was lost and broken, I believe she can truly minister to those left behind grieving with her beautiful words of encouragement. Our stories coincided in 2008 in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and through God’s grace and despite moving away to different locations, we are still heart-connected.

Please share this with anyone you know who needs her words as a soothing balm, and feel free to leave a comment for Tammie. She would love to connect with you. She is making a deliberate choice to live in intentional ministry. Please feel free to reference her other articles at the end of this blog as well as the resources (suicide hotline) listed there.

And now, here’s Tammie…. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Hallway Smiles, Healed Hearts, and a Love That Always Covers

Do You Know the Love That Covers
I watched my young son walk by her on his way toward me at dismissal time. She waved a tiny wave at him, and he waved sheepishly back, giving a quick smile.

It had been a year since she was his teacher. They were both broken in their own ways that particular year. Nobody could have predicted it. Seeing them tentatively offer each other a quiet reassurance this week taught me something so profound. I’m not sure I’ll ever forget that scene: The one where my son had a stockpile of grace from somewhere deep within. The one where he got in the car and told me, when I asked: “I made sure to smile so she knew I was smiling at her.”

What? Oh, dear Jesus, please tell me. I want to know where that supply of grace is. Little Man seemed to tap right into it and out of the overflow, he worried about the feelings of someone who shared a sad year with him—someone who was just as stuck as he was that year. Don’t we all have moments, seasons, years like that?

Because I feel so protective of our beautiful school community and the teachers and other staff within those walls, the details of their sad year don’t really need to be told here. Suffice it to say that sadness was matched with unrelated sadness, and it made it hard for Little Man to climb out of his own lack of functioning and depression.

My mama heart was all over the map that year because Read the rest of this entry »

 

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What’s Growing in Your Soil?

What Is He Planting in Your Soil?-2There is truly nothing about me that has a green thumb. I’m really proud of myself if I can keep a few hanging baskets alive two-thirds of the way through the summer. I’m not outdoorsy garden girl by any stretch of the imagination. I take my Vitamin D in a pill and sit outside only when I have to watch my kids in the pool. Summer sunlight does horrible things to my fair skin (trust me, I used to live in the South Pacific!), and pollen makes a beeline for the inside of my nose as soon as I exit my house to walk the dogs.

This is why it made absolutely no sense to me when a few weeks ago I felt a strong prompting to buy some pots, potting soil, and various seeds. I had no idea why I drove to Walmart one day with those items on my list, but I felt compelled to have them, as if someday in the near future, God would fill in the blanks for this assignment.

I went about my usual business for weeks, not doing anything about those pots—wishing I suddenly became Grow-It Jane but knowing I really was Read-and-Drink-Lattes Bonnie. Even my husband and children were puzzled when they saw the potting soil, but they know me well enough by now to just nod and move on with their day.

You would think that I would have learned how much I do not actually know after last year’s sunflower seed episode.

(After I finished rolling my eyes up in my head that my son came home with a sunflower seed to plant on the last day of first grade, we watched that 6-footer grow all summer—trusting it was more than a weed but not really sure for about 9 weeks. Know when it bloomed? First day of second grade. Yeah, it took a lot of trust not to toss that thing from its pot into the woods and assume it was another loss before it actually gave us beauty.)

God’s promises are just that: Ones we can’t see fully until they bloom. They are there, climbing toward heaven as if to give a holy nod to the Big Guy in the Sky until they reveal themselves to us.

Sometimes it feels like we go on blind trust, doesn’t it?

Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Review of “Not Just on Sundays”

I’m very honored that a new review was written for “Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day”! Thank you to Amanda at “The Nerdy Bookworm” for your lovely description and for so beautifully capturing the heart behind this project. Amanda’s book reviews are a great place to check before you start your summer reading. I enjoy receiving her reviews emailed directly to me.

For more reviews of NJOS, feel free to check out the Amazon.com page.

Blessings to my “Espressos of Faith” readers for letting me hone my craft and share my heart lessons so intimately with you on such a regular basis.

Blessings!
Bonnie Lyn Smith

the nerdy bookworm

frontcover Image courtesy of Bonnie Lyn Smith

When I first got an email from Bonnie Smith asking me to review her book, Not Just On SundaysI was excited. Not simply because I enjoy reading and reviewing books, but because she sounded like such a kindred spirit.

When Not Just On Sunday arrived a few weeks later, the subtitle excited me: “Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day”. Yes! That sounds like what I desire to do with my life!

Not Just On Sunday might appear daunting with 312 pages, but don’t let that intimidate you. Filled with Scripture, and reflections on faith and life drawn from Bonnie’s personal journey, you will laugh, cry, and be refreshed.

Simply written, Not Just On Sunday is an easy read, and I felt as though I was reading Bonnie’s journal, or sitting with her in a coffee shop discussing what God is teaching her…

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When Light Shines Out Dark

When Light Shines Out DarkWe walked hand in hand down Wright Avenue headed toward her home after a visit to the Five & Dime. I treasured my visits with Grandmom. Her hand was gnarly and warm, securing me somehow in decades of wisdom and life lived that I would not understand for many decades of my own. I guess on some level I knew her street of row homes was unsafe now, that her longtime homestead where she raised her family had become a place that sold dark—filled with poverty, broken families, addictions, violence, racial tensions, and a lack of hope.

But when Grandmom walked down that street, heads of all colors looked up and spoke reverently: “Hi, Mrs. H!”

And her response? She’d know them by name and say: “Hey, Willis, how is your mother doing?” She showed them respect.

From what I remember, she absolutely felt confused and disheartened by the changes on her street—maybe at times even a little scared (she’d been mugged twice in her elder years). But she absolutely chose to stay, to not tremble or cower, and…

…to love.

As we started approaching a scene of a young teen couple arguing, and the boyfriend was punching his pregnant girlfriend in the stomach, I remember my grandmother not shying away from it. She didn’t move to the other side of the street. She walked us right past them. I honestly can’t recall if she had words in those moments or not. She may have. But as she approached, the Light of Christ she carried with her was enough to settle down the violence going on. He looked as though he had been caught in something and wore a look of shame. I had never seen anything like it. I was not more than a 10 year old child at the time, but

that scene has never left me.

I have no idea what happened after we passed. He could have gone after my grandmother for witnessing that, but he didn’t. He could have justified his own behavior by continuing to beat his girlfriend. I really don’t know. What I do know is that he could not keep offending when my grandmother was on the street.

Could not.

Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Finding Advent

Finding AdventIn my book Not Just on SundaysI share a story about how one year, I secretly laughed my way up to do a family Advent reading in church—not because Advent is funny, but because I felt like a hypocrite telling the congregation to take rest in the anticipation of Advent when I hadn’t found rest that particular season. Not one ounce of it.

And ever since then, I’ve been in pursuit of Advent. Unlike the pursuit of finding Nemo, the orange clownfish that needed his friends and father to locate him many years ago in the infamous Disney film, Advent doesn’t need to be “found” in order to be rescued. It is there whether or not I choose to observe it. But if I looked for it, paused for it, and asked God about it, I just knew I could find it in more meaningful ways.

And I figured out a few things along the way. It’s been a journey. There’s been a learning curve, and I’m often a slow learner.

1. I give myself permission to not put up all decorations. I don’t even have to decorate each room. Twenty-one years of accumulating decorations and traditions pile up and start demanding to be followed. I can’t keep up. It’s okay to let some of those go. What I did as a newly married 20-something decorating those first few Christmases does not have to define how I choose to make the house merry today.

This year, we are minimalists: tree, some candles, advent setting, wreath, stockings.

I do not have to set up a Biblical times village or Thomas Kinkade-like warm scene of a street and candle shop in ceramics to usher in Christmas. Jesus did this for us. A simple baby in a manger, a humble birth, among the animals in a barn.

2. Advent observations can be few and still incredibly meaningful. The LEGO Advent calendar is fun. So is a box of pop-open windows with chocolate inside. Starbucks has even joined the Advent celebration with a chalkboard of tins dating through each day of December. Reading the Christmas story each day on a book ornament is sweet. So are lit candles each Sunday, with a time of songs and Scripture. We like reading through a Bible times Advent book (see these awesome Advent books by Arnold Ytreeide).

What isn’t fun is feeling like we have to do all of these. Legalism. Bah! So we got smart this year and chose about three of those.

3. I do not have to be a Christmas card overachiever. If writing 100 cards puts me in a Jesus Love frame of mind, then awesome! I love to write personal messages to folks. But if it’s a year when life is frenzied, and meeting that self-imposed or societal obligation will cause me angst, which takes me away from dwelling on why my Savior came, I don’t need to do it that year. Striving is never our goal. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30 that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. If we are doing something that feels like striving, we are not finding His true rest. And Advent is about resting in the gift of Him.

Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus speaking, ESV
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I also can enjoy Christmas cards other people wanted to send me and not experience self-condemnation for not sending them out—or not sending them quickly enough, or on time. (I have to admit the first one to arrive in the mailbox Thanksgiving weekend always taunts the overachiever in me and fills me with angst all at the same time, even though I love reading handwritten notes.)

4. I am avoiding the mall from December 1st on. For me, crowds of people drain me. Others are energized by them, but for me, Advent rest means escaping the retail scene in December. What is super fun for one person is someone else’s dread, so I’m just agreeing not to stress out over traffic, parking lot spaces, and massive amounts of people (especially the ones coming out of their kiosks to approach me if I want this hair extension or that flying helicopter—I know it’s their job to do that, but the introvert in me always wants to run).

5. I do not need to throw a cookie exchange, attend The Nutcracker, visit three living nativities, or attend five Christmas parties to mean the season is important or here. It’s already here. It’s important with or without me. I can jump on and grab what I’ve found, or I can let it pass me by because I’m getting dolled up or food-prepping for too many December events on the calendar. (Don’t get me wrong: Those events are all fun. It’s more about choosing a few wisely than stressing out our family calendar and feeling forever frenzied, thereby missing the point, despite our good intentions.)

6. What That Other Mom Over There does has nothing to do with my Advent. Comparison is a holiday slasher. It sucks the joyful spirit out of festivities and celebration like a thirsty kid getting every last bit of that Blue #1 food coloring Icee out of the paper cup. [Even though it has nothing to do with Advent really, don’t even get me started talking about Elf on the Shelf! I’m not morally opposed to it; it’s a cute idea. Many of my friends have so much fun with it. I’m just afraid to start myself up yet another Mombligation I will fail or that will take years off my life stressing about achieving.]

7. The reverse of No. 6, Advent is not about my expectations on other people. It’s not about whether we were included in the neighborhood white elephant party, were invited to Aunt Nancy’s for Christmas dinner, received gifts from a certain family (because after all, we give their kids gifts every year for 17 years), and “can you believe the tacky blow-up Santa across the street? And she didn’t even put up her window candles this year! She’s really slacking. At least we’ve got those!”

Advent is actually the opposite of that. It’s everyone coming to the baby in the manger from the same humble position: bowed low. When we are bowing low, we are only looking at the position we came from—our own stance—and we cannot be concerning ourselves with what those around us are doing.

That’s the position of Advent.

8. Advent worship might look different every day. Today, I might be able to read my kids part of the story of Jesus. If we can’t sing around the table that week, we might enjoy “O Come All Ye Faithful” while riding in the car. Prayers might be geared toward children around the world needing to know the gift of Jesus. One day it might be a mention of thanks for Christ, or a journal entry. It could be sharing why and what our hearts celebrate with a friend who is curious but doesn’t share our faith.

Advent is every day in remembrance, but it is not a huge project or effort. It’s living from what Jesus has transformed inside our hearts.

9. No matter what, I don’t “do” Advent. It’s not an action verb on my part. It’s not something I achieve. God did this. Advent came to me. In a manger. Crying like me. Feeling pain and joy like me. Tempted like me. Dying for me.

10. Jesus wants me. The person. The relationship. The conversation. The yielded heart. The lover of His truth. He doesn’t care if my tree is up, my presents wrapped, if I’m a last-minute panic-shopper or the most organized mom on the planet. How many Christmas services/recitals/plays I attended or participated in make no difference in our relationship. He loves me right where I am, and stopping to spend time with Him, being still, listening for Him to lead my life, telling Him everything like a Holy BFF, coming to Him like a child: This, this is what He wants.

What do you think? What does Advent mean to you?

Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah the Prophet speaking, ESV
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Jeremiah 23:5, Jeremiah the Prophet speaking, ESV
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” 

 

*This blog has been shared at any link highlighted here: Mom 2 Mom Monday Link-Up, Make a Difference Mondays, Pick Your Pin Tuesday, Women With Intention Wednesdays, Grace & Truth, A Little R & R, RaRa Link-Up, Me, Coffee & Jesus, Dance With Jesus, Blessing Counters, Coffee & Conversation, Saturday Soiree, Tell His Story, Find Stability, So Much at Home, Faith-Filled Fridays, Reflect His Love and Glory Link-Up, Bonbon & Coffee Linkup, and Christian Mommy Blogger.

 

 

 

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