11 Bad Ways to Study Your Bible

I struggled with this piece, because really, I could write it in one sentence: The only bad way to study your Bible is to NOT DO IT. See? Easy and simple. Done. But nothing in life is ever that simple, is it? And studying the Bible is a complex and often intimidating endeavor. Just like ...

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I struggled with this piece, because really, I could write it in one sentence: The only bad way to study your Bible is to NOT DO IT.

See? Easy and simple. Done.

But nothing in life is ever that simple, is it? And studying the Bible is a complex and often intimidating endeavor.

Just like with any practice of our faith, and no matter how good our intentions, we will fall short. I don’t say that to discourage you, but to assure you that it’s normal and that no one (including God) expects perfection. If I can be real for a minute, I’ll confess that I have approached reading the Bible with a bunch of attitudes that have prevented me from getting the most out of it. Somehow, probably because God is more generous than I can fathom and because there’s such depth to the word of God, I’ve walked away, nearly every time, with a nugget of wisdom or a deeper sense of peace. I bet you have, too.

Read on and see if any of these thoughts have passed through your mind, and then let’s pray together for help overcoming and understanding.

“I’ll take this… and this… but not that.” (Picking and choosing individual verses)

You can find a verse to support nearly any opinion you want to express. But the truth is, this only works if you take the verses out of context—if you neglect to look at who the author of that passage was, who he was speaking to, and how the verse fits into the scope of the whole gospel story. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on one verse or finding related passages as you study a topic. But there is danger in pulling it all out of context, because that’s when we can accidentally assign meaning that wasn’t originally intended. Our search for God is a search for truth-with-a-capital-T, and deceiving ourselves by not looking at the whole story won’t get us there.

“What she said.”(Relying only on other people’s teachings and interpretations)

I love a good Bible study—workbook pages with blanks just waiting to be filled in. Busy-work of copying verses, videos that set the stage, lay out the story, and lead you to the desired conclusion. There’s value in that—but will you remember it in six months or six years? When we learn something on our own, it stays with us longer. The Bible is one of the ways that God speaks to us today, and we have to interact with it personally in order to hear God’s voice and direction. Trust your instincts and look for meaning on your own. I promise you, it is there.

“I’m smarter than that; what does he know?” (Ignoring other people’s teachings and interpretations)

On the other hand, it’s arrogant to believe that we have a deeper understanding of these complex stories than men and women who made it their life’s work to study what God said about those gold-edged pages. When you want to go deeper, or when you’re struggling to make sense of it, turn to other sources to enrich what you’ve found on your own.

“Abracadabra…” (Randomly opening to a page for a “message”)

Don’t get me wrong: at times, I think that God leads me to a certain verse for a particular time. But we cannot expect that whenever we ask God a question, the first verse we see will be a direct answer, tailored to our situation, from the God of all eternity. God’s Word has unfathomable power, but it’s not magic and it’s not a lottery. We can’t treat the Bible as a buffet—picking and choosing whatever sounds good, leaving behind what doesn’t. God’s answers aren’t always easy, and sometimes the hardest thing to digest is exactly what we need.

“I’ve got this.” (Reading the Bible without benefit of prayer)

The Holy Spirit—the Helper—gives us understanding. The Bible’s pages only have meaning when viewed through the lens of prayer. We cannot come to an accurate interpretation or their meaning in our life until we allow God to lead us there, and when we forget to bathe the whole experience in prayer, we’re missing the most valuable thing: God’s presence and guidance. Faith is not a solo experience—we cannot have it without inviting God to be part of it. To get the most out of your study time, pray before, during, and after.

“Ain’t got time for that.” (Reading it just to be done with it)

Those year-long Bible reading plans don’t work for me, because I find myself treating it like homework—hurrying through so that I can say I’m done. When we rush, we’re cheating God, because in effect we’re saying, “Hurry up, God, I don’t have time for you.” Slow down. Ponder what you read, and listen for God to reveal meaning.

“God had better bless me for doing this.” (Reading the Bible resentfully)

Reading the Bible can be incredibly fulfilling—or a dry, laborious task. It all depends on your attitude. If you’re only doing it because someone said you had to, you’re not going to get much out of it. Reading the Bible does not earn our salvation, but it’s important because it strengthens our faith and encourages us to stand firm.

“I don’t think this part matters.” (Forgetting that God inspired every bit of the Bible)

Whether you take it all literally or figuratively, and whatever version of the Bible you read, it’s all important. We’re tempted to skip over the “boring” stuff—the genealogies, for example. But did you know that the meanings of the names, even in those long, dry lists, often tell a deeper story? Expect there to be more than initially meets the eye, because there usually is.

“I’ll show them.” (Reading to get “ammunition” against someone)

Ask anyone who’s ever been “beaten over the head” with Scripture—some people use God’s word as a weapon, wielding these holy words to prove you wrong, to back up their prejudices, or defend their sins, or (somehow) to make themselves appear more holy. God’s word should be used to guide our lives, strengthen our faith, and to teach us to live as Jesus did, not to allow us to say “gotcha!”

“That’s old news – irrelevant.” (Ignoring the Old Testament)

We now live under grace, right? The Old Testament no longer applies—or so many people think. The truth is that the New Testament is all about Jesus and the sacrifice he made for us to give us eternal and abundant life, but that doesn’t negate all that came before. The gospel story is rich in its heritage and history. The Old Testament is filled with references to the Messiah, situations in which Jesus is foreshadowed, and revealing the problems for which the only answer is Christ. Getting a grasp on the whole story can deepen our faith and enrich our understanding, revealing even more to us about the Messiah.

“Been there, done that.” (Assuming you already know everything there is to know about a passage)

I’ve read that the most-skipped parts of any book or article are Bible verses, because if we spend much time in church or study, we’ve heard so many of them before. Our gut response is to skip a familiar section, but even the most-studied passages can often yield an unexpected, insightful nuance if we approach them with an open mind. Slow down and you may be surprised what you discover.

A Prayer to Start Your Bible Study

Dear Lord, You are the author of this book, the author of our fates, the author of our lives. Give us a passion for hearing from You through the Bible, and open our understanding. Let us approach the Bible with belief that it is true, You are real, and Your Word will add meaning to our lives. Thank You for this gift and opportunity to get to know You better. Amen.

 

This article first appeared on Crosswalk.com.

10 powerful quotes that will change the way you live

Have you ever looked at a familiar verse in an unfamiliar Bible translation? Most of us have a preferred version, but reading it in a different translation often sheds new light on its meaning. It may reveal nuances, clarify details, or otherwise point us towards a deeper understanding. As Christians, we view the Bible as ...

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Have you ever looked at a familiar verse in an unfamiliar Bible translation? Most of us have a preferred version, but reading it in a different translation often sheds new light on its meaning. It may reveal nuances, clarify details, or otherwise point us towards a deeper understanding.

As Christians, we view the Bible as the ultimate authority on life—but sometimes, a fresh way of wording it is like having a new translation, providing additional revelation. As you ponder these 10 powerful quotes (and related Bible references), let them change the way you live your faith.

Prayer requires more of the heart than of the tongue. ~ Adam Clarke

How many times have you thought “I have no idea what to say” in prayer? When situations wear us down or circumstances make us weary, it may be difficult to put our thoughts into words in prayer. Lucky for us, words aren’t necessary. God knows what’s in your heart, even if you can’t find language to express that. Simply be still, and know that He is God. (Psalm 46:10)

Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them. ~ Elisabeth Elliot

Faith is not the absence of doubt, but a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). God is big enough, powerful enough, and certain enough to withstand our questions and lead us to the answers. His gift of faith takes the pressure off us. Our role is to simply accept it, use it as a tool to navigate life—and know Who to turn to for answers when we inevitably have questions.

Those who have never rebelled against God or at some point in their lives shaken their fists in the face of heaven, have never encountered God at all. ~ Catherine Marshall

A friend once asked me, “So when I yelled at God and said I was mad at Him, was that prayer?” Without hesitating, I answered, “Absolutely.” Think about it: if prayer is simply communication with God, then isn’t any kind of expression of feelings—whether loving or angry, gentle or harsh—a form of prayer? Authenticity touches the heart of God and reveals just how merciful and generous He is. Honestly, whether we admit anger or not, He already knows what we feel (1 Samuel 16:7). So talk to Him openly and freely.

If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others. ~ Brennan Manning

I once heard someone say that having all our sins broadcast on the 5:00 news would be the best thing that could happen. Can you imagine the shame and horror of everyone knowing it all? Terrible, right? Until you realize how that would rob shame of its power over us. When our sins are exposed, they can be healed. Until we’re healed (and forgiven), we won’t be effective at shining God’s light into other peoples’ lives. You never know who might need to hear how God rescued you, so don’t be afraid to share your story. Nothing in your past is too dark to be overcome by God’s light. (1 John 1:5-7)

No one has ever become poor by giving. ~ Anne Frank

You hear words like faith and love and peace mentioned in relation to God all the time. A word we use less—but which is no less important—is generosity. God gives abundantly, beyond what is required, and Jesus taught us to do the same. You can’t out-give God, and you can’t lose. Give cheerfully and not grudgingly, out of the overflow of gratitude in your heart for all that God has done for you. The gifts He gives us in return far surpass anything we had to offer in the first place (2 Corinthians 9:6-8, Luke 6:38), and, along the way, you’ll find that you have more than enough.

Whatever you do, He will make good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed him. ~ C.S. Lewis

We have free will. Even though God is present everywhere and nothing happens without His awareness, He doesn’t cause the bad things to happen. There are natural consequences and ramifications to our actions, and we often make poor decisions. What is amazing is the way God can take any situation—betrayal, grief, loss (of health, relationships, security), despair—and bring something good out of it in spite of us. But just imagine how much better life would be if we didn’t get in His way in the first place. (Romans 8:28)

Prayer trumps panic every time. ~ Rachel Wojo

Worry about nothing; pray about everything. Sounds good in theory but it’s harder to hold on to this when panic sets in—when the disconnect notice is waiting on your door or the test results make your heart sink or the person you love turns their back on you. But panic gets us nowhere, and in fact, it keeps us from being able to see the truth of who God is. Jesus told us to ask, to seek, to trust, and to have faith. Panicking isn’t the most productive (or fun) way to live out those ideas. (Matthew 6:25-34, Philippians 4:6-7)

Prayer is not monologue, but dialogue. God’s voice in response to mine is its most essential part. ~ Andrew Murray

When I find myself babbling nonstop, it’s either because I’m extremely excited—or I really don’t want to hear what the other person has to say. Perhaps I’m afraid of their response, or too self-centered to care about their opinion. Think about the ramifications of that in a conversation with God. No good conversation is ever one-sided—but if there was ever a time that it would be, it would be when God is the one doing the talking. Many of us approach prayer as our chance to tell God what we think, but in humility, we should recognize that His words carry much greater weight than ours. I believe He wants to hear from us—but because He loves us, He also wants to teach us, guide us, and comfort us. In order to receive those things, we have to stop and listen. (John 10:27)

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. ~ Brennan Manning

Jesus said in John 17 that the world would know that His message is true when they see the unity of His followers. If I am a walking advertisement for God, do I want to be responsible for misrepresenting the God of the Universe? Not only that, but if I truly welcome Jesus into my life, the reality is that people will see Him in the way I live. If you don’t see Him in your life, or if you think others would not have a clue Who you belong to, take a step back. Ask God to become real to you, and be willing to let yourself be changed by Him. (1 John 3:16-18)

All you need is love.~ The Beatles

In the end, love is all that matters. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God with all our hearts, mind and strength—but, second, we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The Bible says love covers a multitude of sins. It is the hallmark and very genesis of our faith, and our faith is a response to the enormous love God offered to us in the beginning. If all the other concepts overwhelm you, if you can just handle one at a time, focus on this one. The Author of love will be more than enough—all that you need. (1 Corinthians 13:13, 1 John 4:7)

Dear Lord, speak to me. Live in me and instruct me. Guide me and help me to honor You, so that when the world sees me, they ultimately notice You. Amen.

This article first appeared on Crosswalk.com.

Should You Feel Shame for Missing Church?

If we could read people’s minds on Sunday mornings, we’d see all kinds of interesting thoughts… I’m tired. This is my only day to sleep in. People at church are hypocrites. They won’t even notice I’m not there. The ceiling would cave in if I walked through those doors. I know I should go, but ...

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If we could read people’s minds on Sunday mornings, we’d see all kinds of interesting thoughts…

  • I’m tired. This is my only day to sleep in.
  • People at church are hypocrites.
  • They won’t even notice I’m not there.
  • The ceiling would cave in if I walked through those doors.
  • I know I should go, but I don’t feel like it.

Sound familiar? I’ve been there. This article is for you, whether you attend regularly but feel guilty when you need to miss a week, or whether you do not go to church at all. I do go to church on Sunday mornings (but, I’ll admit, not to every service our church offers). I love it and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without it—but I’ll be the first person to say that you should not feel shame for missing it.

Because here’s the truth: God doesn’t exist only within the walls of a church.

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NIV)

That’s right. The Holy Spirit dwells within us. We can—and should—have a relationship with God that extends outside the walls of church, beyond the formal times of praise and worship, and even when we’re not around other believers.

The reality is that church can be complicated. And the words “church” and “God” are not interchangeable.

Countless people have been hurt by others in the Church. People have been judged, chastised, and abused in the name of religion. Some have been taught false beliefs about God and faith. No matter how well-meaning we are as a whole, the Church will hurt people and lose people. It’s inevitable.

The Bible instructs us to devote ourselves “to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42)—in other words, to gather with other believers for times of fellowship. It also teaches us to “not giving up meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25) and to worship God. You can do that outside of church, too, so why does going to church matter?

According to Ephesians 4:11-13, the purpose of the church is to build up believers, to equip God’s people for works of service. The church exists to teach us how to interact with others, to grow deeper in our faith, and to hear the Word of God (which instructs, teaches and convicts us). Why would the disciples tell us that some are appointed to be pastors and teachers and evangelists and prophets, if we weren’t supposed to gather together somewhere to learn from them?

1 Corinthians chapter 12 explains that all of us who have placed our belief in Jesus become members of one body. For the body to function correctly, all parts are necessary. In order for the Church to function as God intended, it needs all of us. Does that mean you have to go to church to be “saved”? No, because we cannot earn salvation—God offered it freely. Nor are we saved by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Doing what the Bible tells us to do doesn’t save us from our sin, and nowhere does the Bible say “attend church diligently every Sunday or you will go to hell.”

God calls our hearts to obedience, and the concept of church fulfills all of the instructions the Bible gives us. Personally, my faith has been formed in large part due to the people within my faith community—by hearing good teaching, by witnessing changed and faithful lives, by walking alongside others trying to live for God. Is my church perfect? No, and neither am I. Any time people interact with others, there’s a potential for strife and misunderstanding, for discord and hurt feelings. I’m not trying to downplay the very real damage done by some people within the church, and sometimes there are legitimate (and wise) reasons for people to leave their church.

But all in all, going to church can be valuable. What we stand to gain is so much greater than what we miss if we do not go.

So that settles it—we should feel shame and guilt when we don’t go, right? Nope. Because shame has no place in a relationship with God. We live under grace, which means that Jesus came to pay the price for all of our failings, all of our sins, all of our mistakes.

If we fall short (as we all will do), we don’t have to fall into despair. Instead, all we have to do is tell God that we know what we’ve done and want to turn away from that behavior. When we ask God to forgive us, He does. And then we can let go of it, and all related guilt and shame and remorse, because that is exactly what He will do. Let it go.

Honestly, if I thought God would beat me up every time I turned back to Him, I’d never do it. And if I believed He held Himself back and only made Himself known within the walls of the church, I’d start asking what kind of God He is.

When we ask these questions, though, we discover something amazing. He’s magnificent and holy and omnipotent—and yet He chooses to dwell inside us. If we are the temple, we don’t need church in order to find Him. He’s already everywhere we are.

As Christians, we can show our love for God by trying to live as Jesus taught his disciples. This includes having fellowship with other believers; encouraging, serving, and honoring one another; and hearing, reading, and studying the Word of God. Each of these things can be done outside of church, but the reality is that if you’re not gathered together with like-minded people, it’s more difficult to reach spiritual maturity. I know that in theory I can have a strong relationship with Christ on my own, apart from church, but in practice, my faith deepens and strengthens the more I am around other members of God’s Church. If, for whatever reason, you can’t be there (on a given week, or for a specific season of your life), then be intentional about filling your life with the things the church can provide.

But that pesky guilt? Those feelings of shame or embarrassment you feel when you don’t go? Let it go, and instead hold tight to the God who created the Church. The One who wants to capture our hearts. The One that is with us no matter where we are.

Please pray with me:

Heavenly Father, help me to let go of my shame and to trust in the reality of Your deep and abiding love for me. I want to honor You and know You better, both within and without the walls of the church. Help me do that in the place where You want me to be. Thank You for not hiding Yourself but for dwelling in me. Please show me how and where I can serve You best. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

This article first appeared on Crosswalk.com.

When prayer loses its meaning

Dear sweet girl, You lie there in the angle of light bent around the door, in that sheltered, private spot where the light illuminates your papers, but your parents, in the living room downstairs, can’t see you from where they are reclining. The white-painted posts from the stairs in the hallway outside your door cast ...

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[Excerpt from Designed to Pray]

Dear sweet girl,

You lie there in the angle of light bent around the door, in that sheltered, private spot where the light illuminates your papers, but your parents, in the living room downstairs, can’t see you from where they are reclining. The white-painted posts from the stairs in the hallway outside your door cast striped, curvy shadows across the carpet, and you hear the faint noise of a laugh track from the television below. You can’t see her, but you know your mom is wrapped in a soft blanket, quietly turning the pages of a book until she yields to her yawns and goes to bed.

In that sheltered place, you make charts on graph paper, carefully checking off each prayer as you pray it daily and transferring your prayer list to a new sheet of paper when you’ve filled every box. Maybe your prayers aren’t prompted by passion. You’ve never seen that before and don’t know to aspire to it. You’re not sure what your mom would think of you praying, but you’re certain that it’s wrong to be up past bedtime.

At the same time, you’re strangely determined to master this prayer thing. To do it right. You feel your way through. But you’re on your own. This isn’t a lifestyle you’ve witnessed yet. Your eyes slide down the list, praying lofty wishes—that God will heal the sick and handicapped. That He will help you stop all your bad habits and become a better person. That He will forgive you of all your sins and help you follow all the rules.

You don’t know yet that religion is not what you want. What you want is Him. But all you know are the words you’ve heard a handful of people say, so you mimic them, offering big, general, dutiful prayers.

You pray the same words, night after night. Over time, they will lose their meaning.

One day prayer itself will lose its meaning.

You’ll run out of words when your mother is no longer downstairs—or anywhere on this earth—because you aren’t entirely sure who you are without her. As a teen, you haven’t experienced God speaking to you personally yet—but later, when you stop hearing Him, you’ll feel the loss deep in your gut. As an adult, you’ll stare at the occasional lines printed in red ink in your Bible and fight an internal war. A part of you has always believed, has always yearned for the balm that those words might bring. Something drew you to these words long before you knew why, but eventually the time will come when you begrudge every spark of hope you felt reading God’s promises because now you know that there isn’t always a happy ending.

Thirty-some years from now—when the house you grew up in has been sold, and your dad has moved south to a warm climate and a new relationship, and Mom’s Lands’ End bathrobe has been donated to Goodwill and her contact deleted from your phone—you’ll ache at the memory of the young girl who was so sheltered and naive.

You’re no longer tiptoeing around the shadowy edges of your room, avoiding the squeaky floorboards. Now you’re tiptoeing around the edges of your faith. Wanting God, but not wanting to be caught wanting Him. Wanting to hold tight to promises that sometimes seem to be false.

But yet? You’ll marvel at the fact that God saw fit to plant those tender shoots of faith in the stripes of light falling across your bright blue carpet. That in the silence between the creaking floorboards, He whispered into your soul a desire for words that you wouldn’t need for many more years. The funny thing is, through all the changes over those three decades, one thing never changed.

What you need now is what you needed then. And it’s not a cute boy. A flirty look. Or straight As on your report card.

You feel a bit of desperation, wanting to exist in that world again, the one where the worst thing that can happen is that you’ll be caught out of bed at 11:00 p.m. You want to go back to wherever it is that Mom yawns in her bathrobe and prayers can be mastered with nothing more than graph paper and colored inks.

But sweet girl? That sheltered place? It still exists. It doesn’t reside in the house your family no longer owns. It’s not to be found only in a church. Because even if you don’t always like the words you hear, God still whispers. He still holds you close.

And you’ll find that even in the midst of pain, God’s presence is the only balm. When you hurt enough that you’ll finally fumble through the words to ask God to fill your soul, to smooth over the gaping wounds of loss and disappointment and loneliness—well, that’s when He will pick you up in His arms and hold you in the shelter of His heart.

And you’ll know that you were never alone. That you were never abandoned. That when you face the crippling sorrow, when you let God back in to feel it with you, you’ll find something new. Reminiscent of the past, and not always easy, but in some ways better.

Because along the way, you’ll discover that you’re safe in your Father’s arms, and that you’ve found your way home.

10 Things Christians Get Wrong about Loving Their Neighbor

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus said (Mark 12:31). Who among us wouldn’t agree with that statement? When I’m sitting in a pew on Sunday and my pastor teaches that concept, I nod my head in agreement. When I’m having quiet time and I happen upon that verse, I feel confident and slightly proud. Of ...

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“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus said (Mark 12:31).

Who among us wouldn’t agree with that statement?

When I’m sitting in a pew on Sunday and my pastor teaches that concept, I nod my head in agreement. When I’m having quiet time and I happen upon that verse, I feel confident and slightly proud. Of course I love my neighbor. God told me to.

It’s easy, right? Well, yes—until it’s not.

Because reality is rarely as simple as the theoretical. I love the idea of loving my neighbor, truly. I profess love and try to live in such a way as to practice it. I want to offer to others what God gave so freely to me.

But when I look, literally, around my neighborhood, what do I see? Houses I pass every day filled with people I’ve never seen. People to nod at as we drive past, but whose names I do not know. Houses that are suddenly empty, and I can only assume someone passed away because my impression is that an elderly man once lived there, but I’m not even sure.

What kind of neighbor does this make me? I’m not wanting to beat myself—or you—up, but the truth is, we all make mistakes when trying to love our neighbor. Even if we mean well, even if we’re intentional about reaching out, there are likely things each of us could do better. Let’s look at 10 of the mistakes every Christian makes when trying to love their neighbor.

1. We forget that loving our neighbor is the second most important commandment, and we skip the first one.

 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

In order to love our neighbor, we must first love God with our whole selves. It is this kind of love that equips us to reach outside of ourselves to love someone else—because once we have personally been on the receiving end of the love of God, we can’t help but share it.

2. We think we’re going above and beyond, when actually this was a basic, foundational instruction.

It feels good to help someone, and it’s nice to get recognition. But just like a student doesn’t get extra credit for merely completing the original assignment, we don’t get bonus spirituality points when we show love to our neighbors. Jesus didn’t say this was graduate-level work; he just said to do it. None of our excuses matter.

3. We pick and choose which neighbors to love.

Have you ever thought, Sure, I love my neighbors—but not that one. Not the one who is difficult to love. Not the one who lives in the bad neighborhood—or a mansion. Not the one who worships another God (or none at all). Not the one who makes bad choices. Not the one who doesn’t like me, or makes me feel inferior. 

If the Bible gives qualifiers like that, I’ve never seen them. Jesus continually leveled the playing field. No one sin is greater than another. If we think it, we have done it. The least are the greatest. The poorest are the richest. In God’s economy, it all balances out—and it all comes back to one thing. We cannot earn God’s love, and He withholds it from no one. So who are we to think we get to stipulate who should receive the love we have to give?

4. We assume “love” equates to “help” or “rescue.”

We think of our neighbors as projects rather than people, or we enter into the relationship with an ulterior motive—if I help them, they’ll have to come to church. But as a friend pointed out, “Jesus didn’t heal the blind man and then say, ‘You’re welcome! And hey—I’d love it if you came by the shoreline later to hear me preach.’” When we make our love conditional, it ceases to look like the love of God.

5. We think that loving someone involves voicing all of our convictions about their sinful life.

God is the one who will convict someone of a sinful lifestyle or need to repent. It’s hard to convince anyone our love is genuine if it’s phrased, “I love you, BUT…” Live your life in a way that shows the generosity, kindness, mercy, and compassion of God; if you do, people will see that and will want to find what you’ve found. Live for God yourself and let the Holy Spirit work in people’s lives.

6. We ignore a need because it looks too big, or hard, or time-consuming, or complicated.

We resist entering into someone else’s life because our own lives are messy and it’s not a convenient time. The problem with that line of reasoning is that problems don’t wait until we have time for them. And people need us now, even if it’s inconvenient.

7. We think we have nothing of value to offer.

It’s easy to be paralyzed by the thought that we aren’t qualified, don’t have enough, or can’t do enough to make a difference. Often, what people need is simple: to be seen, heard, noticed. To find a safe place. To share a fleeting moment or two of a life. To have a friend. We attempt to quantify and solve a situation before we step into it. But if God has something for us to do, He will equip us. The commandment to love our neighbors doesn’t mean we need to identify and solve our neighbors’ needs, just that we should show up—and pay attention to what He asks us to do.

8. We do it with our own power and forget to seek God’s direction.

We don’t need to ask God if we should love our neighbor; He made that clear. But beyond that, we can show love by lifting our neighbors to God in prayer. By interceding in a way that can make a difference in even the most impossible situation. It’s not our job to guide our neighbor’s life and decisions, but we can—and should—pray about the extent of our involvement and what God is asking us to do.

9. We convince ourselves that someone else will step up if we do not.

One day as I prayed for a woman at my church, I said, “Lord, surround her with people who can help her.” I felt God’s reply: “You’re a person.” True, maybe someone else is better equipped or has more free time. But that doesn’t get us off the hook. If we feel that love is an obligation, we’re not truly loving. Ask God to help change your heart so that you’re connecting authentically and without reservation.

10. We think loving our neighbor is about us, or even about our neighbors, but really, it’s about God.

 “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). The most effective way to witness to someone is to live it, not to preach it. God changes lives, and the most powerful way to tell that story is to let other people see how He has changed you into someone more like Him.

Please pray with me: 

Dear Heavenly Father, “love one another” is such a simple command, yet we make it complicated. Release us from the biases and judgments and insecurities that keep us from obeying. Open our hearts so that we may love our neighbors freely and without reservation. Equip us, guide us, and shine through us as we show others the love You already gave us.

This article first appeared on crosswalk.com.

 

 

 

How to pray without ceasing

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV). Impossible, right? Maybe in the olden days, when every task directly affected your family’s survival—of course they prayed, because if the crop died, they’d starve. If someone got sick there ...

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“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV).

Impossible, right? Maybe in the olden days, when every task directly affected your family’s survival—of course they prayed, because if the crop died, they’d starve. If someone got sick there was no medicine to help. Life was dangerous and fragile, and people weren’t distracted by social media and cell phones. But today? Who could be expected to keep their mind on God at all times? Surely God wouldn’t expect that of us, because He knows more than anyone how flawed we are, and how short our attention spans are.

Except that nowhere in the Bible is there an asterisk after that verse that says, “*unless you’re really busy.”

Here’s the good news. Not only is it possible to pray without ceasing, but it’s possible to do so without making any significant changes to your schedule or time commitments. It’s all about shifting your thought process and turning everyday moments into prayer. My friend Lisa gave me the best explanation I’ve ever heard: it’s like keeping the radio playing in the background. Keep that connection open and talk to God as you go through your day. Here are nine ways to pray without ceasing:

1. Begin with gratitude.

Psalm 100:4 says “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”

In other words, start by telling God what you’re thankful for. Prayer doesn’t have to be asking for something; it can simply be thanking Him from your heart for what He has already done.

2. Get real.

If prayer had to be a stiff, formal language—“our most holy and mighty God, we beseech ye…”—first of all, we’d be bored and feel out of our element most of the time. And secondly, we would find it hard to keep that up for an extended period of time. But prayer is simply a conversation. Talk to Him the way you would talk to a friend. Sit down with a cup of coffee and just let the words pour out, casually, simply. Just be real.

3. Incorporate prayer into everyday chores.

Let your everyday tasks become acts of worship by turning them into times of prayer. As you fold laundry, pray for each family member—and then if your laundry piles are as high as mine, and you’re done praying but not done folding, branch out from there. Pray for your child’s soccer teammates, for the teachers standing in front of your children’s classrooms, for the partner who works hard to pay the bills, for health to stay active, for the workplaces where the clothes are worn. Or simply give thanks for the warmth of the home where you relax in those pajamas.

4. Tell Him what He already knows.

When my first child was in kindergarten, I realized that although I had a pretty good idea what she did at school, I didn’t need to know the details. But when she told me about how she and Jacob played at recess, or laughed as she tried to tell me the story her teacher read that day, it deepened my connection with my daughter. I got to see her life through her eyes and I reveled in her unique perspective. Of course, God already knows what’s in our hearts—but when we offer our thoughts to him, it turns what might be a solitary life into a richer, more meaningful relationship. And I think God delights in this.

5. Pray while you wait.

Most of us waste a lot of time while we wait for our daily grande nonfat mochas—or whatever. A quick online search reports that we each average two years of our lives waiting in line, and the average commuter spends 38 hours a year in traffic. Turn your car into a prayer closet, or let your mind take you someplace else while the person in line ahead of you buys her drink using four nearly-empty gift cards and then empties her coin purse of pennies.

Transform that “wasted” time into something meaningful—pray for the people you expect to encounter that day or the tasks you need to accomplish. Give thanks for your day, for the job paying for your favorite caffeinated beverage, for the young man working as a cashier to pay his college tuition, for the extravagant blessing of a giant store stocked with more products than we need. Count your blessings—because they’re everywhere—and make those minutes count.

6. Sing a song of praise.

“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise” (James 5:13).

Often, we think of prayer as what to do when we need God to fix something or when we’re unhappy. But the Bible encourages us to pray at all times. Remember the idea of prayer being like a radio playing in the background all the time? Make that literal by listening to worship music. As you sing along, offer it to God as your prayer. Or, better yet, make up your own song along the way. Nobody is listening but Him, so don’t worry if you’re out of tune.

7. When you mess up, admit it.

I don’t know about you, but I could spend most of my praying-without-ceasing time simply confessing a litany of my sins and failings: I just yelled at my kids; I’m jealous of the perfect little family one my friends posts about daily on Facebook; so-and-so is a real jerk and I don’t like him… and so on. Luckily, when we confess, God forgives us, so we don’t need to dwell there. That in itself is another reason to praise Him.

8. Give up worrying.

Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

We’re not meant to worry, and we waste too many minutes doing just that. Next time something weighs heavy on your heart, envision yourself extending it up to God and letting Him hold it for you. Ask Him what your role is and if there is something you need to do; if so, do it. But don’t take back the weight of the worry. Then start thanking God for who He is and what He has already done for you, and you’ll feel the weight lifting off your shoulders as the words come.

9. Stop talking once in awhile. Instead, just listen.

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7).

The number (or quality) of words you use in prayer doesn’t matter, because prayer is about God, not about us. Allow yourself to contemplate the nearness of God. Trust that He is your constant companion. Don’t monopolize the dialogue, but spend some of your time just being, simply sitting and resting in His presence. And keep in mind that the best conversations are two-sided, but you won’t hear anything if you never stop to listen.

Start Praying Now

Dear Lord, I believe that prayer matters, but I also think that we shortchange ourselves by limiting our definition of prayer. Open my mind to all that it can be. Help me become aware of Your nearness and abide in Your presence. Teach me to talk to You—and remind me to listen. Overflow my heart with gratitude for all that You’ve done and who You are. Let my life become a never-ending prayer to You. Amen.

This article first appeared on Crosswalk.com.

When the joy is hard to find

Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, right? Except that, if we’re honest, it’s not always. If you’ve followed me for any length of time you already know this: I lost my love for Christmas about the time I lost my mom. And then when I lost Dad seven years later, ...

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Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, right? Except that, if we’re honest, it’s not always.

If you’ve followed me for any length of time you already know this: I lost my love for Christmas about the time I lost my mom. And then when I lost Dad seven years later, well, let’s just say whatever wisps of joy I’d managed to salvage fizzled out too. Nothing was the same, and I didn’t feel like celebrating. Not a big surprise, but also not something I had much desire to change.

Along the way, a little over a year ago, I met this sweet, sunny, vivacious woman named Jodie at the Suzie Eller Retreat. Loved her right away, and enjoyed her even more the second year we attended together. She’s all about prayer and spreads love, genuinely, wherever she goes.

Last year I discovered that she had hit upon a meaningful way to celebrate Christmas. It was all about meeting God under the tree in prayer, and she had written prayer prompts for each day of Advent—kindred spirits, right? When she asked me if I’d put together a prayer calendar to go with the release of her new Advent devotional, of course I said yes.

And then the unthinkable happened: Jodie’s 22-year-old son died suddenly in a tragic incident. Every time I looked at my own son, I could barely hold it together. I saw pictures she posted online with her son, and the way they interacted in those photos reminded me so much of my son and me that it completely broke my heart. A group of us who were brought together by this retreat have been praying our hearts out for her and her family, feeling the loss so deeply that it can only be explained by God’s intercession. That’s one of the most beautiful gifts of praying for someone else—I can’t explain how it happens, but I’ve experienced firsthand how God allows us to experience some of the love HE has for that person. It changes your connection to them, and it expands your awareness of the loving character of God. It’s a beautiful thing—even when the prayers are initially prompted by sorrow.

I haven’t written about what happened to Jodie anywhere because it felt too private. I don’t want to attempt to co-opt her tragedy for my own purposes, nor do I want to suggest that what I feel in any way compares with what she feels. But today I’m telling you about her for one important reason. Watching Jodie’s faith, seeing how deeply rooted she is in the truth of God’s goodness and love, even when it’s hard, even when it’s impossible, even when she is hurting and angry… well, it has changed me. I now have witnessed first-hand what it means to have a sustaining, life-giving faith. I’m watching her feel her way forward, spending time with God in prayer, feeling compassion for others affected by this horrific accident, always looking for God in the midst of the sorrow and pointing people towards God without fail.

Jodie inspires me tremendously—because she reminds me that the joy God offers is not dependent on circumstances. But this is not something new. She’s having to live out her faith in a way she never wanted to, but it didn’t just start right here. Rather, the roots of her faith go deep, and they were planted in joy.

Jodie’s brand new book, Jingle and Joy, just came out last week and popped straight to #1 in Amazon’s prayer category. I had the privilege of reading it before it released, and what struck me the most was the joy filling the pages. It’s full of deep insights in short devotions, just right for busy women during the busiest time of the year. And to make it even better, it’s all about finding that joy through time spent in prayer. Prayer is where we can find peace, and it’s where we grow closer to God.

I look back now at my stubborn refusal to enjoy Christmas because it wasn’t on my own terms, and I see how immature that response is. We all have situations and people and losses and sorrow that interfere with our ability to celebrate sometimes. But I think this book is a great first step towards finding our way back.

So today I am honored to be able to offer you my free December prayer calendar with Jodie’s prayer prompts. To download it, click here.

And since this is a season of giving, I’ll also be giving away a free copy of her book. To enter, leave a comment after this post (or on my post about this book on Facebook) sharing what your biggest struggle is with keeping your thoughts on the meaning of the season. I’ll pray through your responses, because prayer can change things we can’t, and because this time of year can be especially hard. I hope that you will consider grabbing a copy for yourself, and one for a friend. As another friend said, this book is a great addition to your nightstand this season. 

More than that, though, it’s about what it will do for your heart… what God longs to do, if you’ll just slow down and sit with Him. He’ll show us, individually, personally, the abundant gift we have to celebrate at Christmastime—and always.


One quick note: you’ll see that this calendar looks different than my usual ones. For one thing, it’s vertical, and for the other, it was designed as a perpetual calendar, which is meant to be used year after year, and therefore does not have the prompts in a calendar grid under headings for each day of the week. I was going to create a version of this in my usual format for use by my subscribers, but honestly, I liked the one I did for her better. So if you’re someone who collects these and is aggravated by the inconsistency, please forgive me. It’s a one-time thing, I promise :-).

Pop Quiz: Evaluate Your Thoughts

Happy to welcome Kelly Balarie back to my blog with a guest post about her new book, which releases TODAY! Leave a comment below to be entered into a drawing for one of two copies! Just list your go-to Bible verse that encourages you when you’re struggling. I’ll draw the winners on July 14. Ever ...

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Happy to welcome Kelly Balarie back to my blog with a guest post about her new book, which releases TODAY! Leave a comment below to be entered into a drawing for one of two copies! Just list your go-to Bible verse that encourages you when you’re struggling. I’ll draw the winners on July 14.


Ever felt that panicked feeling?

It’s that oh-no sense you get when you ram your car against the one behind you. Or when you smash a heavy door right on your baby’s 10-month-old toe (yes, this did happen to me). Or when you speak what should have remained the unspeakable. Or when your deepest fear is about to come true.

Panic steals peace. You cannot have both. Which is why, about a year-and-a-half ago, I decided I needed to learn how to be Battle Ready. I was tired of the same old trials and tribulations tumbling me to the floor with stress, worry, and panic. Something had to change.

Are you in this place? Do horrible things keep on happening to you? Do those same feelings of angst, trepidation and fear keep coming? Do you easily lose faith in God’s ability to come through for you?

It doesn’t have to continue. Just because you’ve always done something, doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it. Just as we love to see our children grow and learn, so does God love to see us forge a new direction with Him…

…especially with our thoughts. How do you think? Consider…

Scenario 1: You trip over the shoes that you left in the hallway last night. Your chin hits the floor with a loud thud! You mean to move them earlier, but you forgot.

Do you say to yourself:

  1. I’m so stupid, I am so forgetful,or I am always doing dumb things?
  2. Or, It’s okay. Everyone forgets things sometimes.

Scenario 2: You blurt out, “When is the baby due?”, or some other statement that you immediately wish you could take back. You know you shouldn’t have spoken like you did, but it is too late. The words are out.

Do you say to yourself:

  1. I am such an idiot, I am rude, I am always making a fool of myself or I am horrible.
  2. Or, I am learning how to use wisdom with my words. God will be faithful to teach me.

Scenario 3: You share a lot one evening when you’re together with a group of friends. You talk about things you’re excited about. You tell people about some things you are going through.Do you say to yourself:

  1. I over-talked. I take up too much space. I come across too (smart, much, arrogant). People think I’m annoying.
  2. I can be who God created me to be. I don’t have to fear what people think of me. God made me just right.

How we think in specific scenarios says a whole lot about how we think in life. Begin to observe your thought-life patterns. Thoughts are usually clear-cut: you’re either hard on yourself or full of grace, full of God’s truth or dwelling on lies, standing in faith or faltering in doubt.

You either think: God is for me or God is against meGod is with me or God is abandoning meGod will never…or God will certainly….

But know this: how you think can change.

People who are walking full of God have to work on it. It doesn’t come naturally. They renew their mind in Christ Jesus, they filter their thoughts, they consider the strategies that work so that they walk with God continually. These are the attributes of a person who is Battle Ready.

There are, in fact, specific strategies to stand strong and firm with Christ. Did you know them? Do you know how to respond proactively, rather than reactively? How to change bad habits? How to renew your mind in Christ?

Many people think it starts with these 5 steps…

  1. Think about what you are thinking about.
  2. Check to see if aligns with God’s truth.
  3. Replace the lies with truth.
  4. Take action based on that new thought.
  5. Notice the better outcome.

…but a life full of faith, full of peace and joy, transcends this. This is a good start, but not the finish line. The finish line is a life that stands on God’s Word as if it is the ground it walks on. It is a hope so secure it feels it is as though it is already won. It is belief so strong, that no man can shake it. It is a life so on purpose, it does with no regrets.

You can get there. You can be full of faith, strong in battle, sure when challenges hit and unwavering when enemy forces come up against you. You can be Battle Ready. There are scriptural tips, biblical stories, practical wisdom and scientific studies that will help you seize new habits, forge new thought patterns and change your life.

Why not proactively prepare your thoughts today to seize great faith?

About Battle Ready: Train Your Mind to Conquer Challenges, Defeat Doubt & Live Victoriously

“The best time to be strengthened against the Enemy’s tactics of doubt, disappointment, and devastation is before he makes his first move toward us. We all desperately need the biblical guidance and preparation found in Battle Ready!” ~Lysa TerKeurst, New York Times bestselling author and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries

Battle Ready is a hands-on scriptural plan that teaches you twelve easy-to-implement, confidence-building mind-sets designed to transform your thoughts and, therefore, your life. You’ll gain practical wisdom, like how to

· make new habits stick in just five steps
· disarm the seven most common attacks that plague women
· exchange self-limiting thoughts for purpose-driven, love-releasing thoughts
· implement thirty-second mind-lifters that deliver peace
· create boundaries so you live life full of what matters

Buy Battle Ready here: https://amzn.to/2l5qQrw

To get Battle Ready freebies – printables, devotional reminders, a customizable daily Battle Plan and the “Find Your Battle Style” quiz, visit: www.iambattleready.com  

To order the companion Battle Ready Daily Prayer Journal that will help you practically change your thoughts, then your life, click here. 

 

Kelly Balarie, an author and national speaker, is on a mission to encourage others not to give up. Through times of extreme testing, Kelly believes there is hope for every woman, every battle and in every circumstance. She shares this hope on her blog, Purposeful Faith, and on many writing publications such as Relevant, Crosswalk, and Today’s Christian Woman. Kelly’s work has been featured on The Today Show, 700 Club Interactive, Moody Radio and other television and radio broadcasts. When Kelly is not writing, she is chilling at the beach with her husband, a latte, and 2 toddlers who rightfully demand she build them awesome castles.

And Then I Blinked

My dear friend Terri DeVries agreed to let me use one of her posts on my blog. It’s been ten months since I lost my dad, and I’m still deep in the valley of grief. Terri lost her husband five years ago, which is a completely different thing—and yet I draw such solace from her ...

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My dear friend Terri DeVries agreed to let me use one of her posts on my blog. It’s been ten months since I lost my dad, and I’m still deep in the valley of grief. Terri lost her husband five years ago, which is a completely different thing—and yet I draw such solace from her wise observations and the truths she’s learned. I hope you do, too.


I’m not the same person I was five years ago. There are the obvious reasons, such as the fact that I am five years older, and my energy level has changed. But those things are not the real reasons. Five years ago I was one-half of a couple. Five years ago all the major decisions were made by two people. Five years ago we were both working; my husband full time and me part time. Five years ago we went on vacations and planned new ones to places we wanted to see. Five years ago I was grudgingly picking up socks and underwear and towels and papers and dishes…

And then.

It was a phone call. And a whole string of what-ifs. Followed by a thousand why, why, why, whys. It was a thundering of blood pumping in my ears, my heart beating so fast I thought I might pass out. It was my body shaking so hard I couldn’t imagine driving myself anywhere. And it was the end of normal as I knew it.

March 17, 2013. St. Patrick’s Day. Beautiful, sunny, deceptively peaceful and perfect. You can’t imagine such a thing happening to you on a day like this. But it did. Life as I had lived it for almost forty-seven years came to a halt.

It was entirely the fault of the widow-maker, that type of heart attack that kills quickly and surely. My husband was healthy, in great shape, training for his third marathon, eating well and doing everything right. Then I blinked, and he was gone.

Reality is like a sharp knife. It cuts your past from your future with an accuracy that stuns. Like magic, what was is gone and what is to be is hidden behind a curtain of grief, the sorrow weighing you down so that you find it impossible to stand. And then in that weak moment come the henchmen; anger, denial, depression.

Wow. So where was my faith in all of this, you ask? Great question. And I’m not sure I have a clear-cut answer. Looking back over these five years since I became a widow (a word I hate with all my heart), I’ve searched for the threads that lead back to that day. Five years ago I was indescribably angry. I spent day after day ranting at the God who took away my husband. Betrayed, let down, disappointed, heartbroken, so alone, discouraged, weary, and feeling deserted, I was certain God had left me. I couldn’t find Him or feel Him anywhere. What kind of God leaves you like that? Consequently, I lost the faith I’d had in Him my whole life, or so I thought.

But here’s the thing. Anger is black, opaque, un-see-through-able. And necessary. God stood beside me, watching, loving, and protecting all the while I was ranting at Him. As the anger diminished, His presence gradually became obvious. He’d never left my side as I thought He had. In fact, He had spent much of that time carrying me as He allowed the anger. And although my faith took a real beating in those weeks, it was always there. The result of my loss was to learn that no matter what happens in your life, no matter how bad it gets, if you believe in the same God I do, He will stay with you always. ALWAYS. Especially in the hard times. Even when you can’t understand the why of it all.

The best way to explain it is to refer to an old story describing our lives as a tapestry we see only from the back side. There is a dark and ugly mass of strings in varied colors, some cut and woven back in and others continuing on. It’s messy, with knots and jumbled threads. None of it makes sense. It isn’t until we see the finished workmanship on the right side of the tapestry that we realize what a magnificent masterpiece it is.

This is what I take from that; I’m still seeing the underside of the tapestry, and for the past five years I’ve been trying to follow the threads that run consistently through the it. The thread of faith can be hard to find because it’s hidden for a time under other threads, but it always reappears at some point. It always reappears. Imagine someday seeing the right side and saying, Oh, look what the Master Weaver did with my life!

I am not the person I was five years ago. I’m older, yes. But that’s not the point. I have learned so much about trust in God, a God who loves me more than I can fathom; I have learned about my own faith, a faith which has grown and blossomed and become the center of my life. I have learned about dependence, a complete surrender to the God who planned out every second of my life before I was even born, and who knows exactly what will happen every second of the life I have left. I have learned how strong I am. I have learned how hardships and difficult circumstances molded me. I have learned how much I still have to learn.

That thread of faith that seemed to disappear right after my husband’s death? It was there all along, and now I’m learning to embrace it, holding it close and letting go of all the doubts and fears, and yes, the anger, that I used to allow free reign.

Because I don’t have the ability to see what’s ahead for me. But I know Who does.


If you’d like to read more about her journey, or know someone else who’s on this road with her, check out her book. It’s wonderful (and so is she).

A letter to the woman who hates Mother’s Day

I woke up on May 1 to an inbox full of emails: Stitch Fix—Want to Give Mom Something Special? Walgreens Photo—Get Mom’s Gift in Time with 40% Off Apple—Show Mom your <3 with gifts she’ll <3 Lightstock (stock photography)—Celebrating Mothers And they just keep coming. It’s out of control—they really think I should buy lamination ...

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I woke up on May 1 to an inbox full of emails:

  • Stitch Fix—Want to Give Mom Something Special?
  • Walgreens Photo—Get Mom’s Gift in Time with 40% Off
  • Apple—Show Mom your <3 with gifts she’ll <3
  • Lightstock (stock photography)—Celebrating Mothers

And they just keep coming. It’s out of control—they really think I should buy lamination supplies to celebrate? Don’t get me wrong, I love office supplies more than the average bear. But still.

The thing is, Mother’s Day is the holiday I like least. It’s never been a particular favorite anyway, but since Mom died almost seven years ago, I’ve really loathed it. Some days I feel as though I must be totally alone in this. After all, when someone at church mentioned that this is the month of Mother’s Day, people cheered. Apparently, I’m an anomaly—but I don’t think I’m alone.

So I just want to say a few things to some of you who might be reading this.

To the woman who loves her kids but is exhausted and just wants someone else to clean up the kitchen for once…

To the woman who had to somehow walk away from the grave of her child, or spend months in hospitals watching her suffer, and lives in fear that they’ll find themselves back in that place again…

For the woman who has felt lost ever since her mom left this earth…

To the one whose mother really screwed up her head…

To the one who misses the grandmother who essentially raised her…

To the one whose child has cut her out of his life for reasons she cannot understand…

To the one who wonders if she’ll live long enough to finish raising her child…

To the woman who quietly mourns the child she miscarried, that no one wants to talk about…

To the mom who chose to let another family raise her baby but never stops thinking about him…

To the one who’s overwhelmed by all that her kids demand…

To the mother whose teen is out of control, who lies awake at night wondering what she did wrong…

To the one who always wanted a baby but the timing was never right…

To those who went through crazy amounts of medical intervention (or months of ashamed silence) waiting for the stripe on the pregnancy test to finally show up, but it never did…

To the woman whose mom means well but drives her crazy…

To the woman whose mom doesn’t mean well and is just flat-out mean…

For the one who is watching her mom (and her memories) gradually fade away…

To the one whose body aches from the hard work of being her mother’s caregiver…

For the one who has a dysfunctional relationship with a mom or step-mom or mother-in-law…

For the one whose mom lives halfway around the world wearing a soldier’s uniform…

To the one who raised a strong, independent child whose career took her far away from home…

For the woman whose mom disapproves of her…

For the one who struggles and fails to make the right choices…

To the woman who chose not to become a mom, but no one seems to understand…

To the one whose mom wants nothing to do with her…

For the one who has no help at home and no one to remind the kids to celebrate you…

To the one whose memories of her childhood bring sadness rather than joy…

To the one who never had anyone show her what it looked like to be a good mom…

For the one who doesn’t know why, but just feels ambivalent about this day…

To all the women who struggle to celebrate, for whatever reason…

I acknowledge you. I see you. I feel for you. I hurt for you.

And I want you to know this: in spite of your pain, because of your pain, I celebrate you today.

Even if people don’t seem to see what you do. Even if your wants and needs and actions are overshadowed by everyone else’s. Even if you feel as though no one else understands. Even if no one acknowledges you today. Even if there is nothing about this day that makes you happy.

Because you are wonderful. I am praying for you to find the strength to get through this holiday. The good humor to endure. The grace to forgive those who hurt you. The ability to smile, and someone with whom you can trust your true feelings. The faith to believe that God can heal whatever is broken inside—and for you to believe me when I say you are worth celebrating.

I see you today—and God sees you every day. You are not alone.

And you are so very loved.

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