Calendar Contest Winners (yes, that word is plural)

I specifically chose NOT to select one word as a theme for this year. I’m terrible at following through with things. And yet one message keeps sticking with me regarding my writing and ministry (if you want to call it that)—generosity. I cannot only promote myself. I can’t do things that are simply to further my own brand. So ...

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I specifically chose NOT to select one word as a theme for this year. I’m terrible at following through with things. And yet one message keeps sticking with me regarding my writing and ministry (if you want to call it that)—generosity. I cannot only promote myself. I can’t do things that are simply to further my own brand. So much of the writing business is about tooting your own horn and staying in front of your readers. I feel uncomfortable every time I do that, and yet I keep trying because I feel like that’s what I’m “supposed” to do.

However, in a Bible study a few months ago, I was introduced to the concept that we don’t need to keep coming up with new plans, asking God to bless them. We need to watch and see where God is already working—and then get on board.

So that is what I’m doing.

Do you realize how many amazing ministries there are out there? Some causes are close to my heart; others are new to me. Some people have far-reaching audiences and some have no more than a handful of friends. And yet the love behind each of their efforts is genuine and enthusiastic and passionate. I’d be honored to work with these women (not meaning to generalize, but all of the entries came from women) to reach new people—to help people focus their thoughts and pray, whatever the particular circumstances. To give them hope to hold onto, no matter what is going on.

Almost immediately after I announced this contest, I felt such regret. Not because I had second thoughts about designing a calendar for someone else, but because HOW ON EARTH CAN I DECIDE?! I received SO MANY amazing ideas. Well over 30 of them, most well thought out and intriguing. I’ve read them again and again, printed them out, thought and planned and made spread sheets and prayed.

But I couldn’t make a decision.

Until I realized that the only person limiting me to just one winner was me. This is my blog… this is my contest… and I can do what I want :-).

So this is what I’m doing:

The winner of the prayer calendar for March is, well, two people. It’s sort of a combination of the ideas entered by Michelle Nietert and Dr. Michelle Bengtson.

Michelle Nietert sent me this:

I’m a professional counselor and March is our busiest season especially for children and adolescents as well as their families. It begins the first month of the season of the highest suicide attempt rates in the country for adolescents. Also increased teen pregnancy and psych hospital admissions occur in the spring. I would love to see a calendar about praying through emotions and themes that combat these struggles. Prayer prompts for things like experiencing joy instead of depression, hope to combat discouragement, replacing fear with courage, confidence to combat doubt, energy to replace exhaustion, etc.

Dr. Michelle Bengtson, author of Hope Prevails: Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey through Depression, wrote this:

I’d love to have a prayer prompt calendar centered around some of the themes in my book, Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression. Prompts could include (but not limited to) praying for those who are currently struggling in the valley of depression, as well as prompts that coincide with the chapters in the book: recovering our joy, reclaiming our peace, re-establishing our identity, knowing our worth in Him, remembering our secure destiny, being confident that nothing separates us from His love, being thankful that God uses our pain, etc.

Michelle Nietert brought my attention to the appropriateness of the timing, but I’ve been wanting to read Michelle Bengtson’s Hope Prevails, so I’m kind of merging the two entries into one calendar. I plan to pull many of the prompts from ideas in the book. I’m excited to bring this to you next month, particularly because in this part of the country, March can be pretty blah. And we can all, always, use some hope.

But then again, why stop there?!

In May, I’m teaming up with Sarah Philpott for a topic I feel passionate about—a movement to honor all women on Mother’s Day. I haven’t miscarried or lost a child or had fertility issues, but I have lost my mom, and it made me realize how many people experience mixed emotions while the rest of the world is celebrating mothers during that whole month.

In October or November, I’m planning to do a calendar based around the themes of a new novel—historical fiction about the Oklahoma Land Rush—being released by Jayme Mansfield. I think it will be a fun challenge to create a calendar around ideas in a novel. I picked this simply because I thought it would be fun.

And all those other months? Well, you just never know. So if you aren’t mentioned here, that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t hear from me later! Honestly, the only thing keeping me from promising to pick one a month for the next year is the fact that, while I love to plan, I’m terrible at follow-through. I don’t want to overcommit and then disappoint people (and myself). Not to mention the fact that I need to leave some room for creativity—whatever floats my boat at that particular time. I like to leave some room for inspiration and whimsy. While writing this post, in fact, I came up with yet another idea I am dying to do for April!

Please know that if I move forward with any of your ideas, I will give you credit, link to your blog (if you have one), and seek your input as I create the calendar.

So, to all of you who entered, I want to say thank you. Besides inspiring me in general, your suggestions also inspired me to branch out.

Many of the ideas submitted were important but not necessarily universal needs—things like pregnancy loss, being in the sandwich generation, facing cancer, dealing with grief, and so on. A few months ago I created a calendar for Laura Polk, who writes for Christian single moms. (If you’d like to know how to pray for a single mom (or if you’re one), click on over here to sign up for her newsletter and get your copy of it for free.) As I read the contest entries, I decided to expand on that idea and develop a series of undated “30 days of prayer for ___” calendars to make available for people whenever they’re facing a specific situation.  I plan to slowly add to my downloads page with more of these as I can find the time.

In a few weeks, I’ll send the new hope-themed calendar to my newsletter subscribers, so if you’re not already signed up, now would be a good time. (Click here and then subscribe in the purple box in the upper right part of the page. The teal colored “never miss a post” box on the blog page subscribes you to blog posts but not my monthly newsletter.) When you sign up, you’ll have access to the February calendar right away.

Thank you all for the excitement surrounding these calendars, for your passion for the people you’re connected with, and for your belief that prayer matters!

They’ll know we are Christians by our love

READ ON TO GET YOUR FREE FEBRUARY PRAYER PROMPT CALENDAR DOWNLOAD! February is arriving at the perfect time—we all need a little more love in our lives. Maybe you’ve been disillusioned by the meanness on Facebook lately, or disappointed when people in your lives seem to be showing their true colors (and they’re not very ...

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READ ON TO GET YOUR FREE FEBRUARY PRAYER PROMPT CALENDAR DOWNLOAD!

February is arriving at the perfect time—we all need a little more love in our lives. Maybe you’ve been disillusioned by the meanness on Facebook lately, or disappointed when people in your lives seem to be showing their true colors (and they’re not very pretty). Maybe you keep hearing about hate and want to be intentional about choosing love. Perhaps you’ve even wondered how on earth we’ll ever convince another person to want to embrace Christianity when the image put out there by so many doesn’t look like the Christ we’re proclaiming.

I hear ya. Unfortunately, I’m right there with you.

And now it’s nearly Valentine’s Day. Normally I groan a little on the inside at that. I have a wonderful husband but this holiday has always felt like one geared more towards infatuation than permanence, so it hasn’t meant a lot to me (and as a redhead, I’ve never been a big fan of red or pink).

But LOVE? Now that is something I can celebrate. And so it’s an easy step to turn this holiday into one that’s not about two people—but about our True Soul Mate. It’s about God, who taught us about love, practiced love, advocated love, and IS love.

Because one thing I believe is that love is always the answer. I’d rather err on the side of love—give too much rather than not enough. Welcome everyone in and let God change their hearts, not me. The other thing is that people do watch us to see how we treat people and whether we live what we preach. Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:37 NLT).

And that’s what I want to do: Love people so completely, so well, so unswervingly that no one can question whether I love God—because that will be abundantly clear. So I put together a prayer prompt calendar for this month that is all about love—about feeling compassion, stretching those boundaries, and loving even when it’s difficult or uncomfortable. Normally, these monthly calendars are available only to my newsletter subscribers, but in the spirit of (you guessed it!) love, I am offering this to all of you. Print it out, tuck it in your Bible or on your fridge, tape it into your prayer journal, tack it on the wall by your mirror, or distribute copies to your church—whatever you can do to remind yourself to practice love.

ProductGraphic_Feb 17 prayer promptsClick here or on the image above to go to the high-res PDF file. At the top of that page, click the disk icon to save or the printer icon to print. If you enjoy this, check back next month (or subscribe to my newsletter while you’re here) and you’ll get them every month. But if not, that’s okay, too. I just want to share this one with all of you right now.

Pray with me, and then enjoy this song :-).

Dear Lord, when people look at me, I don’t want them to see division or strife or discord. I don’t want them to feel judgment or exclusion or hate. I want them to see You. To feel the kind of love—the power of it, the mercy and kindness and generosity and stability and permanence—that can only come from You. Open my mind and soften my heart so that I can love like You do. And help me to love You more freely, openly, and passionately, because Your Love remains forever. Amen.

How to speak out—without losing all of your friends

Full disclosure: I am wary of offering this advice (for lack of a better word) because I am far from perfect, and I am afraid someone will show me examples of all the times I’ve failed to follow my own guidelines. Offering opinions is a difficult thing to do, especially now with the heightened emotions ...

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Full disclosure: I am wary of offering this advice (for lack of a better word) because I am far from perfect, and I am afraid someone will show me examples of all the times I’ve failed to follow my own guidelines. Offering opinions is a difficult thing to do, especially now with the heightened emotions and the overall weariness people feel for politics and current events. But if you follow me on social media, you probably know that I keep speaking out.

I’ve probably inadvertently offended people along the way, in spite of my good intentions. Through it all, though, I have followed some pretty strict guidelines for my own behavior. I have intentionally worked to keep my comments aboveboard and kind, and I think it is paying off. I keep hearing from people who thank me because even though I disagree with them, I do so with kindness. People have told me thanks for being brave enough to say things they’re afraid to. For not backing down but not being mean. I’ve even been praised for showing restraint. Well, the last one might be a stretch, but I do feel passionately about things and I’m not afraid to speak up when I feel the whole truth isn’t being told—it’s not so much about changing people’s minds as it is that I don’t want people to be unaware, blindly aligning themselves with a position based on in accuracies. Or ignoring a critical component that could change their point of view.

So, keeping in mind that I have certainly failed at times, and that there are other ways to accomplish the same goals, I thought I’d share some of my personal guidelines with you.

Always start with empathy. There is likely a reason for someone’s passion—maybe their child had an abortion and then couldn’t have children, and they mourn the loss of grandchildren, so the idea of someone being pro-choice is abhorrent to them. Maybe someone was sexually abused and they’ll never stop fighting for people to stop blaming the victim. Perhaps they have a friend who is at risk of deportation, and although she came to this country illegally, they don’t want to see her family’s lives disrupted because of the good they’ve also done here. Try to figure out, when possible, what’s below the surface, and give people the benefit of the doubt that they have reason for their passion. Always acknowledge the validity of someone else’s perspective, if you can, or at least their right to believe what they believe. (This means not adding a dig like “you can believe lies if you want.”)

Find common ground. In order to come to a mutual conclusion, we must build it on the same foundation. Granted, that isn’t always possible. But chances are we agree on something. For instance, one day I talked to a super-conservative friend of mine about politics. He and I have always good-naturedly disagreed on all things political. But when I started asking questions—why does this matter to you, how do you think we should accomplish that—I discovered that in most cases we agree on the desired result. We simply disagree on things like whether it’s already being accomplished or not, or who should pay for it, or which way we lean regarding when we’ve done enough and when we’ve enabled less-than-ideal behavior. Seeing that helps me understand his perspective, which makes it feel less personal and offensive. Even if I still disagree.

Say we, not you. This isn’t always appropriate, but if I say, “You don’t pray as often as you should,” it’s an accusation. If I say, “We don’t pray as often as we should,” I’ve included myself, and it becomes more of an observation than a condemnation, bringing people along with me rather than separating myself from them. As I said in the previous point, look for commonalities, not differences. When you can start there—using we, not you—you’re in a good spot.

Stick to the issues. I’ve watched—and I’m sure you have, too—countless arguments online, which quickly devolve from “I see it differently” to “that’s what’s wrong with people like you” to “you are ignorant and stupid.” And from there it just gets uglier and uglier. When someone is attacked or called names, sparks are going to fly. Don’t get derailed. If you’re discussing one thing, stick to that one thing and don’t bring up what someone said or did twenty years ago or every single thing they’ve ever done wrong. It hurts your argument and ensures that they won’t listen.

Know what you want to speak about, what is off-limits, and when to speak. I’m not afraid to say so when a political position does not match the way I read the Bible. I won’t hesitate to offer an alternative point of view when I think I have a fact or insight that might help another. But when I read earlier comments on a post and see that people are getting ugly, or when the conversation turns to something controversial that I’m not comfortable taking a public stance on, I let it go. I try hard not to simply add fuel to the fire. If I don’t have something new to say, I may not say anything. If I know a person’s friends will start a big firestorm in response to my comment, I might send an explanation in a private message to someone who gets me. There may not be a need to say those same words to everyone. However, there have been times when I defended someone, fully aware that what I said would not change the mind of the original poster but might influence others who read it. (Don’t deceive yourself—people are reading. And watching. And wanting to see the best from those of us who call ourselves Christians, even if they’re not Christians. They often don’t see it; what we say and do matters more than you know.)

Don’t stereotype. See the point above about sticking to the issues. When you tell someone they’re part of a bigger group and then say that group is ignorant (or racist or sexist or whatever it is), you’ll offend that individual. I know from personal experience that it’s hard not to take these comments personally, whether they’re meant that way or not. So just remember that when you lump everyone into one category, you’re denying the truth that there are countless nuances of belief and feelings and that there are other factors you may not have considered—which makes it an unfair assessment. It kind of pains me to say this J… but not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist or misogynist. It took me a while to figure this out (I offer a blanket apology to all Trump supporters for this) because those were aspects that I could not see past. My first instinct was to think that because the racist or sexist comments and actions didn’t turn them against him, they must be for that. But the reality is, in many cases, there was something about Hillary they couldn’t get past or else they simply believe more in the traditional Republican platform. Every person’s opinion is a result of numerous value judgments (which issues they are passionate about—and why), so everyone will come to a different conclusion. It doesn’t make them bad people.

If you don’t know something, admit it. Don’t keep arguing when you haven’t read the article in question or you are basing your opinions on someone else’s comments—or you truly just don’t know details. The quickest way to defuse an argument is to say, “I wasn’t aware of that,” or, “I know my logic may not make sense to you, but based on what I know, this is where I land.” Lots of the anger out there stems from people professing great insights when it’s clear to others that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Along the same lines, recognize flaws in your arguments or in the actions of fellow supporters. Admitting that there are aspects of an issue you do not support—or that the behavior of others supporting your cause doesn’t line up with what you believe—doesn’t undermine your position but makes it more credible. And opens the door for others to think, hey, maybe I can support this after all. (For instance, I’m a Christian, but some behavior I see feels inconsistent with Christian values. If I refuse to acknowledge that, non-Christians may judge all of Christianity—and me—and not want any part of it. If I admit that I, too, see what is obvious to them, and do it with the least amount of judgment possible, I’m showing people that you don’t have to take the whole package. You can love Christ without doing ___ (fill-in-the-blank). Because the reality I want people to see is that the authentic Jesus, and genuine faith, are so good that it’s worth fighting for—even if the way others do it isn’t always perfect.)

Know that it won’t always be easy and you won’t always be popular. I act like it’s simple, but it’s not. Every comment I make requires careful consideration—and prayer, and wisdom, and discernment. I don’t want to upset people, nor do I like to be attacked. As hard as I try not to, I often take things personally. It hurts and it’s not fun. But when I can look back at my own behavior and feel relatively confident that it is consistent with my personal ethics, that it is done with respect and kindness, and that I have spent my time on issues and positions that are important to me, I see that as a win.

You may have found different ways to navigate these waters. I would love to hear them. I love stories about lessening the divide between people, about bridges that help people cross an intimidating chasm. I love seeing how God can be revealed in surprising places, how relationships can be strengthened through respect, and how we can love each other better through understanding and empathy. I want to maintain the right to speak my opinion and not cause others to feel silenced.

I just want us all to be friends :-). If you’re still reading this, we must be—so thank you.

A prayer for today—because I trust in You, God.

People who follow me on Facebook know my political leanings (and it’s a safe bet that about half of my readers feel differently than I do), but this isn’t about politics. It’s about trusting God when things don’t go as you hoped. Here’s a prayer I posted on Facebook today. Join me in reaching out to ...

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People who follow me on Facebook know my political leanings (and it’s a safe bet that about half of my readers feel differently than I do), but this isn’t about politics. It’s about trusting God when things don’t go as you hoped. Here’s a prayer I posted on Facebook today. Join me in reaching out to God, whether you are happy or sad (or somewhere in between) about today?

Because here’s the truth. I don’t want to live in fear. I don’t want to be defined by hate. I don’t want to feel constantly disappointed. I don’t want to constantly criticize. I also don’t believe in staying quiet when I think something needs to be said. But my brain isn’t sure how to process current events… So I’ll do what I do when my brain doesn’t know how to process… I’ll pray.


Dear Lord,

You and only You know the future. You and only You know the possibilities for the days and weeks and years to come. You and only You have the potential to effect significant positive change and to bring good out of any situation, whether originally intended for good or not. You and only You can forgive us for our mistakes and give us strength to live for You, and in the ways You have commanded.

You are the God who said, in effect, “Let the children come. Let the weak and the poor and the outcast and the lost come to me. Love like I love and the poor will be clothed and the hungry will be fed. Obey your rulers but change the world by sharing my message. Don’t ever give up—because I hear you and answer. I know what you need. I’m with you. And I’m already victorious.”

So, Lord, when words and ideas and fears and disappointments battle for dominance in my brain, I have to lean on You. I have no other choice. When I feel like I know some of the answers—but they don’t match everyone else’s—I turn to You for comfort and hope and wisdom. When I don’t know what is going to happen to my country, my world, my life, I stand firm in my faith. I stake everything on who You are. I have to believe You are in control. I have to believe that You have already prepared answers for the questions I don’t even yet know to ask. I may be struggling with all sorts of things, but thank You that I do not have to struggle with the assurance that You are my God. You are good and merciful and compassionate and just. You are forgiving and redeeming and healing and hoping. And You are the author of love. You are the giver of love. You are the inspiration for love. You ARE love. And there is NO ONE who is not loved by You. Help us, God, to show it, live it, feel it, and believe it.

Amen.

Spiritual makeover challenge

I’m a sucker for before and after photos of makeovers. I love seeing the changes, recognizing how to enhance the beauty that’s already there and bring out what was formerly hidden. As I was trying to fall asleep one night last week, I thought about all the ways I want to change spiritually, and I ...

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I’m a sucker for before and after photos of makeovers. I love seeing the changes, recognizing how to enhance the beauty that’s already there and bring out what was formerly hidden. As I was trying to fall asleep one night last week, I thought about all the ways I want to change spiritually, and I prayed, “Lord, make me over in your image. I need to be transformed by you.”

Then I knew just what to do. I hopped out of bed and sat at my computer and promptly made this list of characteristics that I’m asking Him to make over for me.

That’s the key: not trying to do this ourselves, but leaving it to the Expert. I think we can safely trust that He will answer these prayers because of what the Bible says about us being made in His image:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. ~2 Corinthians 5:17

And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. ~Colossians 3:10

So, here’s my idea: Read through these scriptures with me, and pray these prayers, and download the worksheet at the bottom of the post. Then spend some time reflecting on your spiritual beauty (and imperfections), and go to God in prayer, asking Him to transform You to be more like Him.

Lord, give me Your eyes to see — let me see through eyes of compassion, not ones of judgment; let me see the beauty I might otherwise miss, let me notice the needs all around me

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. ~Psalm 119:18

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. ~1 Corinthians 13:11-12

Your ears to hear — let me hear cries for justice, pleas of the lonely, calls for help, the needs of the heart that aren’t articulated or even always understood, and let me hear Your voice over all others

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. ~John 10:27

Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. ~Isaiah 55:3

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. ~Psalm 85:8

Your arms to reach — let me help someone else who’s down, let me embrace someone who feels alone, let me be the safe place someone else needs to come to for shelter

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. ~Hebrews 13:2

Your hands to touch — let me treat people gently, competently, surely, and let my hands be instruments of healing

Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. ~Mark 1:41-42

Your words to speak let my words build people up, not tear them down; let me share Your truths with kindness and accuracy

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. ~Ephesians 4:29

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ~Hebrews 4:12

Your mind to reason and solve problems help me distill problems and learn to frame them through the lens of your word, and help me formulate unexpected and perfectly appropriate solutions that could have only come from You

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. ~Romans 12:2

Your legs so I can stand firmly, with stability, on a solid foundationstrengthen my faith, planting it more deeply inside me, so that I will not be toppled by strong winds or easily shaken

When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever. ~Proverbs 10:25

So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. ~1 Corinthians 15:58

The Lord’s plan stands firm forever. His thoughts stand firm in every generation. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. Blessed are the people he has chosen as his own. ~Psalm 33:11-12

Your heart to love without limit show me what love really looks like, and teach me how to say “I love you and,” not “I love you but,” because is it truly love if it comes with criticism or judgment? Open my heart to feel new depths of compassion and to love generously, mercifully, and with

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. ~Psalm 51:10-12

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh. ~Ezekiel 11:19

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. ~Matthew 5:43-45

Amen!

P.S. Don’t give up. It may take some time for God to reveal His ideas to you or to give you the chance to practice these traits. But rest assured that He does want to transform all of us to become more like Him. We just have to be willing to let Him! Click here or on the worksheet image below to download the PDF file.

Philippians 1:6 ESV: 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.

You, my child, are my favorite!

I have one younger sister, Kerry. Our dad, who loves us completely and totally and with an unconditional love, has a standing joke when we call: “Is this the pretty one or the smart one?” After all these years, it still makes me laugh, and depending on how I feel that day, I give him ...

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I have one younger sister, Kerry. Our dad, who loves us completely and totally and with an unconditional love, has a standing joke when we call: “Is this the pretty one or the smart one?” After all these years, it still makes me laugh, and depending on how I feel that day, I give him a different answer. We both know he thinks both of us are pretty and smart. My dad has found a way to always let us know we’re special to him. If you would ask Kerry, she’d claim she’s his favorite. I, of course, know better. (Because I’m pretty and smart.)

One night, when my friend Sandee and I were talking, she said, “Don’t you ever, sometimes, imagine that you are God’s favorite—just for that moment?” At the time, I couldn’t say that I did. I wasn’t important enough. I didn’t know Him well enough. The only thing I knew was that I was jealous. I didn’t even know I wanted that special distinction until I heard her talk about it.

And yet, in spite of my actual qualifications, God looks at me and says, “Is this the pretty one or the smart one? The faithful one or the prodigal? The one who’s with Me all the time or the one who just found her way back?” And whatever the answer, it doesn’t matter. He already knows. He holds out His arms in welcome and says, “You, My child, are My favorite.”

How can that be? It makes no sense to us, particularly as women who are conditioned to compare ourselves to others (usually finding ourselves lacking in the ways we measure up). We’re too fat, too short, too insecure. We’ve become conditioned to expect the reward to be commensurate with our abilities. If we’re talented, we will succeed. If we’re pretty, we will find a man.

It’s a short step to apply that concept to “if we’re faithful, God will like us.”

God wants us to be more like Him, but He takes us just as we are—and multiplies what we have into something more. I love color and words and design. To me, there’s nothing more exciting than hearing people’s stories about God, but I’m an introvert. So God has filled my life with clients who have become friends and provided opportunities to talk about Him. He’s used my love of design and writing to allow me to tell people about Him without having to stand in front of crowds on a stage. Of course, He’s given me opportunities to do that, too, because He sees potential even when I do not.

Romans 12:6-8 says, “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.”

See? He doesn’t want to make you into something you’re not. He wants to make you into the most-fully-you possible. Don’t shy away from that. Figure out what you’re good at, what you love, what you need, and embrace it. It is only when we fully express ourselves, pouring it all out for Him, that we become fully alive. When we operate from that place, God becomes visible. Removes obstacles. Relieves fears. Opens doors.

And shows Himself to be more than we ever hoped.


Pray with me? Heavenly Father, as we’re starting a new year, help us embrace who we are—who You made us to be. Let us relinquish control and let You lead. Help us to humble ourselves and step back to let You shine. You can take what meager things we have to offer and make something spectacular. You’re the one who can change lives—but we pray that You will use us as instruments of that change. Thank You for the individual, personal, unique gifts You have given to each of us; help us remember that they’re all gifts from You, and one person’s gifts aren’t better than another’s. Let us be content in the way You made us and know You love us just as we are. Help us to love others with the kind of unconditional, generous love You show us. And let us believe that we are all that You say we are. That we are pretty, and smart. That we are loved. That we are yours. No matter what we do or don’t do, no matter how outstanding or inadequate our abilities are.

Together, Lord, we will do amazing things. Thank You for letting me walk with You. Amen.


This is an excerpt from my book, Designed to Pray, with a new prayer added. 

CONTEST: Let me design a prayer prompt calendar just for you

I love to design my monthly prayer prompt calendars. I love the colors, the quirky connections, and coming up with the themes. There are more ideas than time to produce them. The hard part is narrowing it down and selecting a direction. That’s where you come in. Because you know what? I think there are lots of ...

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I love to design my monthly prayer prompt calendars. I love the colors, the quirky connections, and coming up with the themes. There are more ideas than time to produce them. The hard part is narrowing it down and selecting a direction. That’s where you come in.

Because you know what? I think there are lots of you out there with great ideas, too. And there are a lot of online ministries I’d be honored to help in this small way, so I decided to run a contest for bloggers.

Submit your idea for a theme for my March calendar before January 31, and if I select your idea, you win! You’ll get a calendar designed around that theme that you can give away on your blog (either free when they subscribe to your blog, or just as a free download for everyone—your choice how to promote it). I will also use it as the March calendar on my website, but I will publish it on my blog, linking to your blog, along with a brief introduction to you and your message.

You don’t have to be a designer to participate—in fact, I hope you’re not, because then I have more leeway! 🙂 Your idea does not have to be completely thought through, nor does it have to look like one of mine. The sample calendars throughout this post are provided to help you start thinking. Many of mine so far have centered on that month’s holidays, like Christmas or Valentine’s Day or summer, but even in those cases, I’ve gone in a certain thematic direction (love, thankfulness, etc.). Let yourself be creative! At the same time, know that I’ll choose one entry based on the possibilities I see to be creative with it, so you don’t really need to provide the creativity—and you never know what idea will intrigue me the most. Here are some examples of what I’m looking for. Your submission does not have to be any more detailed than the samples below.

Sample idea based on a graphic concept:

Chalkboard—calendar can look like a chalkboard with hand-drawn graphics and type, with the prompts themed around people who use chalk (teachers, kids, sidewalk artists, seamstresses, or what have you)

Sample idea based on a ministry topic:

A real example I created for a friend—she writes about being a single mom and the issues she faces, so I designed a calendar with prayers specific to her audience (your ministry may be about hope, or forgiveness, or renewal, or marriage, or love…)

Sample idea based on a scripture or Biblical theme:

Fruit of the spirit—prayer prompts might be about people who exhibit specific fruit and prayers for us to manifest those things (example: pray for someone who consistently shows joy; help me practice kindness) —OR—

Psalm 91 (“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”)—calendar would include prayers about shelter (giving thanks for it), prompts related to things like protection, security, steadfastness, leaning on God, etc.

Sample idea based on book content (I’ll use my own because that’s an easy example):

Upside down—graphically, the type could be oriented in many different directions, and the prompts would be centered on unexpected people to pray for, ways to look at your own prayers differently or from a new perspective

or, say you write fiction:

Prayer prompts associated with your book, like people who share names with your characters; people who share professions or hobbies or quirks of a character; prompts about adventure or history or a specific place; and so on

Sample idea centered around specific people to pray for:

Prayers for children (infants and their parents; preschoolers; teens; athletes; someone struggling in school; kids whose parents recently divorced, etc.)

To enter, leave your ideas in a comment below or email me (kellyostanley@me.com). I need your website/blog URL and a brief description of your idea (doesn’t have to be any more detailed than the examples above) and how that relates to your site/ministry/message/book. You may include a sample prayer prompt or two, or not. If you have a certain style in mind, you can mention that (or show me a sample image)—or leave that part up to me.

If I select your entry, I will be in touch to learn more about your ministry and theme and to ask if you’d like to submit some of the specific prayer prompts as well. (Totally up to you; I am glad to come up with them myself, if you’d like.) Remember: deadline is January 31, and I’ll design the calendar by Feb. 20 so you have some time to promote it before March 1. Good luck! Can’t wait to hear your ideas!

P.S. I won’t use your ideas if you are not selected as the winner; they’ll remain yours, I promise. If you want to keep the ideas confidential, please submit to me by email with the subject line “prayer prompt contest.”

P.P.S. If you happen to be a man, I promise not to make the calendar look feminine or frilly. Don’t rule out this opportunity based on how my calendars have looked in the past. It just so happens that the majority of my readers are women, so I let myself be girly sometimes.

 

Reclaiming my voice

You’ll notice that this makes three posts from me this week! Have I been inhabited by aliens? Sheesh! I’ll never be able to sustain this pace, nor will I try to. But here’s the ironic thing: I may have published three posts in a week, but this is the first one in which I have something new ...

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You’ll notice that this makes three posts from me this week! Have I been inhabited by aliens? Sheesh!

I’ll never be able to sustain this pace, nor will I try to. But here’s the ironic thing: I may have published three posts in a week, but this is the first one in which I have something new to say. My first post was an excerpt from Designed to Pray and a coloring page. The second was a guest post. In the midst of putting those together, and uploading a post for Internet Café Devotions, I realized a truth I’ve been hiding from. Well, that’s it, I guess: I’ve been hiding. But now it’s time to come clean.

I feel like I’ve lost my voice.

I want to bring hope and encouragement, not despair and criticism. And over the past few months, I’ve struggled. What I’ve had to say hasn’t been popular, and knowing that several people will unsubscribe as a result of each of those posts has silenced me. (I’m not kidding: while I typed this post a few days ago (just after posting a different post), I received a notice of four new unsubscribes.)

I’m not complaining, I promise; I’m just being real.

I’ve struggled through the election and aftermath, knowing that my opinions are not popular ones, including among many within the Church. I’ve wrestled with what to say and how to say it. I’ve tried to stay focused on God and not politics, to only voice opinions if they’re backed by the Word of God. To only talk about it if there’s a bigger issues—living as a Christian, and what Christianity is about—not about a political issue. I’ve wondered if I have an obligation to use what little “platform” I have to try to effect change, or if I should just shush.

I’m certain that I’ve offended people, in spite of very sincere efforts not to. If you’re one of those people, please accept my apology.

The unfortunate consequence of it all is that now I feel as though who I am, what I think, and how I try to live my faith are not acceptable to a bunch of people I like and admire. (Please know that I’m not asking for affirmation. Truly, I regularly hear from people expressing gratitude for what I do and say and I’m moved by every one of those messages.)

But I’m human, and I want people to like me. Even more than that, though, I want to write and remain true to my God and my faith. And I’ve let myself go silent.

So consider this my public confession. What is kept secret often holds a kind of power over us and brings shame, but I want God’s light to fall on this. So I’m revealing my insecurities to you, trusting that this is a safe place for me to be real. I’m asking God to start fresh in me. To ignite new passion and point me in the right direction.

I’m asking Him questions like: What do I write next? What do people want to hear from me? And more important even than that: what does He want me to say?

Now I’m bringing this to you to ask for your prayers. To thank you for walking this road with me. And to admit that I don’t have it all together.

Yet I know who does have it all together—and in spite of my cynicism and disillusionment and lack of direction, I’m entrusting this to God. Because His will is my deepest desire. I don’t want to do anything if I’m not doing it with and for Him. And I’m not accomplishing anything of value on my own.

Pray with me? (And then leave a comment to let me know how I can pray for you, or what struggle you want to reveal in order to let God prevail over it.)

Dear Lord, I find that I’m withdrawing into myself, even though I’ve experienced firsthand the truth that healing is found in the company of friends, in the sounds of laughter and tears, in the breaking of bread together and the sharing of lives. Expand my view, Lord. Let me look beyond myself, reach past my emotions and opinions and ego and instead lean on Your truth. Let me remember Who You are… All that You are… All that You have been to me—and all that You want to be to me. Give me the desire to embrace it, and let me be willing to change. Even if it’s painful or embarrassing or complicated. Because I don’t want there to be a wall between You and me. You came to remove those barriers, to give us unlimited access, to build intimacy with us and to share our lives. This is one gift that I don’t want to throw away—or leave in a gift bag stacked in a corner. I want to use every gift You’ve given me to its full extent. I want to come alive again, to be used by You, to be revived by You, and to be Your instrument, fully obedient and passionately dedicated and weary from overuse, not lack of use. I offer my life to You, again, fully surrendered and releasing control. I walk forward in obedience, not sure yet where I’m going, but doing my part to keep moving forward until I get clear direction. And I feel my hopes rising up as I anticipate finding You on this path in a deeper way. I am Yours, Lord, in every breath, every thought, every dream, every hope. Yours and Yours alone. Because there is no One else like You. Thank You for wanting me. Thank You for hearing. And thank You for the answer I know You have for me. Amen.

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. ~1 Peter 2:1-5, NIV

A victory in the battle against fear

Today, I’m happy to feature a guest post from Kelly Balarie for her new book, Fear Fighting. I got the privilege of reading this early and endorsing it. This is the really short summary of what I had to say: In spite of everything—our failures, our fears, our worries, our attempted control of our own ...

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Today, I’m happy to feature a guest post from Kelly Balarie for her new book, Fear Fighting. I got the privilege of reading this early and endorsing it. This is the really short summary of what I had to say:

In spite of everything—our failures, our fears, our worries, our attempted control of our own lives—God loves us. He adores us. And if you don’t believe me, read Kelly Balarie’s Fear Fighting. You’ll walk away believing that God is on your side. That you’re not in the battle alone. Kelly is known as a “cheerleader of faith,” but she isn’t just standing there shouting “Yea, God!” This is a woman whose stories are exuberant and passionate and hopeful—because she knows what she’s talking about. She has lived with fear, faced countless challenges, and learned that God is the answer to it all. I think every single one of us can benefit from her encouraging insights and practical tips. In fact, as I was reading, I kept jotting down the names of people who should read this. And you might as well add your own name to the list, because there’s something in here for you. I’m sure of it!

And now, here’s a post from Kelly (because ya gotta love another Kelly, right?). The book releases today and I hope you will hop on over to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or your favorite bookseller and buy it right now. This is going to make such a difference to so many people. It was even featured on the Today Show recently as one of their favorite things! But even if you don’t pick up the book today, please pray for it to end up in the hands of the right people, for people to face down the fears that are holding them back.

Also, before you go, please leave a comment below to enter a drawing for one a copy of this book. Just give a shout-out to one person you know who is brave, who faces their fear in any large or small way and inspires you or other people. If you want to share basic details about a fear you’re facing, that works too, and know that I will pray for each one of you who leaves a comment below. I’ll do the drawing one week from today. Thanks. Enjoy!


I was SO angry at myself. Again, I was not trusting God. While I had prayed and prayed, I just couldn’t believe He’d help me move this massive barrier out of the way. I couldn’t imagine how He’d do the impossible – for me. Sure, I wanted to believe that things could change – and I knew I should believe – but, when I saw the reality of everything around me – I couldn’t. I just kept doubting things would end okay.

And, then began what I like to call the Fear Cycle. It goes like this, in a mind: I’m doubting -> I’m not faithful -> Now God will leave me -> I won’t do well if he leaves -> I will certainly fail -> Now I am even more doubting -> Now I am even more not faithful -> And now, even more he will leave me…. (you all get the picture). It keeps circling until you find yourself in the barren dry tundra of Alaska, cold and without any comfort. Alone, and ready to die. Afraid, and feeling anything like a Christ follower.

This is where I found myself one evening. I sat at the dinner table hunched and chomping on a salad, one I was certain was missing something from it – maybe fried onions??? Either way, everything looked bleak. Still, trying to be a good mother, despite feeling like a bad Christian, I whipped out my tried-and-true nightly question. It’s my way of getting my family to talk about their day, so I have some iota of what is going on.

“Tell me the best part of your day and the worst part of your day?”

My husband went first. “The best part was…and the worst part was when I used an overly ‘stern voice’ with you, son.”

Thank goodness, I came up with the idea to ask this question, because no longer than a split-second after my husband’s response, breakthrough arrived. It sounded like a 5-year olds’ voice. He said, “Daddy, that should actually be the best part of your day. Because it’s a big celebration that Jesus forgives you.”

And, Boom! It hit me.

What is the deep fear that I am a horrible mom, Christian, woman, writer, sister, daughter or (fill in the blank), is instantly healed by the letters – G.R.A.C.E.

My sons’s words remind me – every time I am at my worst I can celebrate Jesus is always at his – B.E.S.T.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Cor. 12:9

I love this! If we fall into his best gift, His forgiveness, He resurrects our mindsets again in our true identity – Him.

Where do you need celebrate that Christ is always at his best, even when you are at your worst?

We don’t have to go alone, wandering to some far off tundra where we sit in our anxiety and worry, but we can choose to receive God’s best and move to a place of new found freedom. We can go to the place where faith begins to return.


 

About the book, Fear Fighting, Awakening the Courage to Overcome Your Fears: Author and speaker Kelly Balarie didn’t always fight fear – for a large part of her life, she was controlled by it. Yet, in her book, Fear Fighting: Awakening Courage to Overcome Your Fears, with God, Kelly charts a new course. Join Kelly on the journey to go and grow with Christ’s bravery, the Spirit’s counsel and God’s unending love that squelches fear. This book reads like a love letter from God, while offering practical heart-calming prayers, anxiety-reducing tips, and courage-building decrees that will transform your day. www.fearfightingbook.com

 

About Kelly Balarie: Kelly is both a Cheerleader of Faith and a Fighter of Fear. She leans on the power of God, rests on the shoulder of Christ, and discovers how to glow in the dark places of life. Get all Kelly’s blog posts by email or visit her on her blog, Purposeful Faith. You can also find a variety of resources for your fight against fear here.

 

Dreaming in purple

As we head into the new year, most of us spend some time thinking about the past year and dreaming about what the new year could be—what we want to accomplish, what we hope for those we love, and how we will rededicate ourselves to spending time with God. Today, print this coloring page and ...

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As we head into the new year, most of us spend some time thinking about the past year and dreaming about what the new year could be—what we want to accomplish, what we hope for those we love, and how we will rededicate ourselves to spending time with God. Today, print this coloring page and let yourself dream by writing your dreams, hopes, and prayers in the sections around the coloring image. If you’ll share some of your hopes in the comments below, I’ll pray with you.


PURPLE: With the energy of red and the integrity of blue, purple (also called violet) represents imagination and dreams, a link between the physical and spiritual. Ambitious and self-assured, violet shows creativity and imagination, inspiration and originality, and traditionally has been used to depict royalty.

Ruler of All, Your originality and creativity are unending. You’ve given me the ability to dream big and without limits. But no dream I have will ever fulfill me if You’re not the One inspiring it, the driving force and the creative energy behind it. Help me to see that You really are in all things. Just as purple is the combination of these two colors, You are both the passion and love of red and the stability and strength of blue. You provide imagination and desire. Help me dream, Lord, with the magnitude and vision befitting of a child of the King of kings. Let Your dreams for me become my own. And provide all that I need to make them come true. Amen.

(Purple info excerpted from Designed to Pray.)

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