Why Your Child Needs a Counselor

In light of the most recent school shootings, I have come to the conclusion that our schools need less teachers and more counselors. As a teacher who is around children from ages 10-18 all day long, I can tell you without a doubt- your kid needs counseling. Even if he is not going through his parents’ painful divorce, a relationship break-up, struggle with pornography or a thought of suicide- he certainly knows someone else going through difficult times, and is trying to process it with them. Our kids need someone with clarity and insight to help them process through everything that is coming in and happening to them. Not only do our kids need it, they are desperate for it! School counseling offices across America are so booked that there is not enough time in the day to meet with all the kids that want help. Our kids are crying out for help. 

It is striking how desperate our culture is for counseling. Even as far back as 2004, one study from the American Psychological Association stated that over 50% of the people polled said that someone in their family has received or is receiving counseling, and 9/10 people said that they would go to or recommend a counselor to a loved one if a problem came up. A follow up article from 2014 shows that the trend has only been increasing year after year. 

Why are people so desperate to find a counselor? I think it is because they are realizing they do not have within themselves the answers, freedom, and healing they so desperately desire. American culture is beginning to come out of the “just look within yourself” fad, and finally coming to the realization of its inadequacy.  

The problem is, our kids need way more than an hour a week with a counselor to help them handle what is coming at them every day- in fact, even an hour a day is not enough. What our kids really need is a counselor who will be on call every second. When they are in a moment of panic, they need to be able to call a counselor immediately for the advice and wisdom they need. So where do we find the money and enough counselors to sit with our kids and help them process through everything at any given second?

We can’t do it. America is building a flawed system. No matter how much money we put into providing counseling or how many counselors we train and send out, we will still never be able to fully meet the need out there. 

But there is another option: 

 “It is to your advantage that I go away, for it I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you”. – John 16:7

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever- even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14:16

“When the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”-John 16:13

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you”-John 14:26

“His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor…”- Isaiah 9:6

The reason that people are so desperate for counseling is because we were actually created to desire and need counseling in order to survive. This is why Jesus said that it is better for him to leave, so that he can send us the Helper, which can also be translated as Counselor. Jesus died so that we could have access to him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We were not meant to figure this out on our own!

The reason America is quickly becoming such a counselor desperate culture, is because so many people are disconnected from the personal counselor Jesus died for us to have. Without knowing the Holy Spirit, people are left completely on their own to try and figure it out. Yes, our children need to see a counselor- but more so than just paying a stranger to advise them, why not also teach your children to know the Holy Spirit- the only counselor who will give them perfect and flawless advice? He alone can be with them every second to teach them, guide them, equip them and lead them into abundant life. Not only is he our guide, but he actually has the power and tools to equip us and empower us to do things we could never do in our own strength. He is so much more than just a comforter or friend- He has all the resources of heaven at His disposal! 

I am not saying that human counselors are not incredibly important and beneficial. I have benefited from counseling myself, and have many amazing friends who are counselors and see people walk into freedom every day. However, what I am saying is that there is so much more available to us. How much greater would that freedom be if we also had access to the Holy Spirit in addition to amazing counseling? 

Parents, I beg you. For the sake of your children, for our country, and for the world- teach your children not just to know about the Holy Spirit, but to actually know Him as their friend, helper and counselor. It is in doing so, that we will see this world begin to look a little more like heaven. 

Here are some tips on how to teach your children to know the one true counselor: 

  1. Teach them to pray daily that God would help them to hear and know the Holy Spirit. The first step to hearing God’s voice is always inviting Him to speak. He will find His own unique way for every individual to answer that request, but it starts with an invitation that He is eager to answer! 
  2. Read scripture to your children, have them memorize scripture, play worship songs and immerse them in God’s truth so that the Holy Spirit can bring those truths to mind at the right time. 
  3. When they are struggling with an issue, have them pause and ask God to put a piece of wisdom in their mind regarding the situation. Then, ask them to share with you what came to mind. If it does not line up with scripture, you can help use that to correct them, however, more often than not, you will be amazed at the wisdom God gives them!
Am I Distracting my Child from Their Purpose?

Sitting in church on a cold February morning, the Pastor was making his way through the book of Ecclesiastes.  And then it hit me. As I was listening to a message on things that distract us from the meaning of life, I was convicted.  Before I share with you what specifically I was challenged with in my life, let me first be honest. 

I am enamored with "things." I struggle with wanting a bigger house, more furniture, more clothes, more jewelry. In fact, these are things I deeply desire and even can justify why I should have.  Maybe you can relate? And "things" aren't bad. Living a lavish lifestyle and having plenty, in and of itself, is not bad. Abraham, one of the most prominent men in the Bible, was just one of many whom God blessed with "stuff." Wealth is not bad. God Himself pours out His blessings and provides not only essentials, but abundance for His children.

But something struck me in a new and fresh way that wintry Sunday morning.

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As the snow softly fell outside the window, I heard an ungodly statistic fall on my ears. The amount of excess that is disposed of and thrown away by American families is insane. American children have more toys than all of the other children in the world, and yet we don't even value the surplus and abundance we have. So not only is there a gratefulness issue of not appreciating and valuing what God blesses us with, there is a distraction issue. Again, let me be honest. Truth be told, my children have abundance when it comes to things. Their toy room has looked like a freaking toy store at times. Each one of my girls has always had a heart of gratitude and they appreciate and value what they have been blessed with. They go to great lengths to take care of and not destroy the toys they have been given.

Toys serve a great purpose. Independent play and imaginary play are born with dolls, action figures, or stuffed animals.  Sensory skills, coordination, and manipulation, as well as creativity, are mastered when playing with Legos or play-doh. My conviction has less to do with the abundance and more to do with the heart. 

The first challenge is obvious. Are we giving our children an abundance out of our desire for them to live lavish lifestyles to the point that we are not teaching them gratitude? Are we filling their rooms and closets with so much stuff that we neglect to teach them to be grateful and to be stewards of what they have been entrusted with. Do we teach them to take care of their belongings and to have hearts that are thankful, recognizing that they are not entitled to a plethora of toys, books, clothes, or electronics?  We have a generation that is demanding because our children have been taught to be entitled since birth.  We feed their sense of self and then wonder why they are so entitled, selfish, and ungrateful. This leads to my bigger concern as a mother. 

Am I distracting and hindering my children from their intended purpose? Am I contributing to their demise? You see, if I actually believe that my children (and myself) have been created for a purpose, then I must know what that purpose is. I believe the Bible clearly states that God has created each and every one of us with a purpose.  And while each of our individual skill sets look differently and our gifts vary, our purpose is the same. The Bible tells us that ALL of creation was created for the glory of God. God's desire in creating mankind was to bring Him glory and for us to have fellowship with Him. My purpose, and my children's purpose, is to know God and to make Him known--to bring Him glory. That is when it hit me. 

At what point am I contributing to distracting my children from their intended purpose in being created?  Am I giving my children so much that I am feeding their desire to serve self? Am I giving my children in abundance to the point that they are not lacking, but are instead feeding pride, and a sense of entitlement that they deserve what they have? Do I keep my kids so busy, so distracted, surrounded by so much "stuff" that I am actually contributing to their demanding that self is put on the throne of their lives instead of God?  By giving them abundance, am I teaching them that the world revolves around them? 

We are all at war. We are at war and in constant battle to fight for who will win control of our heart. Where is our affection? Satan would love nothing more than for us to stay distracted. Because when we are distracted and are feeding self, we are not making room for God.  We are placing ourselves on the throne of our lives, serving self, and making ourselves gods. But we cannot serve two masters. As a mother, I am challenged to make sure I am feeding what I want to actually want to grow.  I am convicted in areas where I am contributing to teaching my children to feed self, rather than living out their purpose for which they have been created. 

Adoption: Welcoming Sons and Daughters

I remember sitting on my couch during a 6-week recovery from major surgery.  It was summer of 2003 and there was no Facebook, so I was limited to daytime TV since I could not drive or keep my eyes open to read a book due to the pain medications.  I soon filled my mornings by watching 2 back-to- back shows on TLC:  “Birth Days” and “Adoption Stories”.  I was drawn in by the emotional and happy moments these reality TV families experienced; tales of how they came to love the babies they bore the first hour and adopted the next.  I cried happy tears for those families I did not know, but I also knew deep down that they were tears for my own longing to get married and have children of my own.  

I was 37 at the time and had always wanted to be a wife and a mother.  I had a successful career as a medical social worker for 15 years, and for many of those years I enjoyed the perks of being single.   As I started to close in on my 40’s however, worry set in that marriage and becoming a mother would never happen for me.  The medical world backed up my fears, telling me that I was running out of time for motherhood.  Sometimes it was difficult to see so many of my friends get married and then welcome all the new babies that soon followed.  My weekend social calendar was full of both bridal and baby showers for years.  During my quiet times with God, I sensed Him telling me He would work it out, that I just needed to wait a little bit longer.  Walking closely with God during those times gave me hope.  

As I thought about it years later, those TV reality shows were a part of the hope He gave me and they left a lasting impression on me.  I believe they were placed in my life at that time to prepare me for what God had planned to come.  I remember loving these 2 reality shows because either way those babies joined their families, biologically or through adoption, both were wonderful and special.  Those reality families loved their babies whether they birthed them naturally or adopted them.  I also realized that it was then, during my recovery from surgery, that God planted the desire in me to experience both a “Birth Day” and an “Adoption Story” of my own.  

At ages 41 and 38, Karl and I were married and we knew that since we both wanted at least 2 children, we needed to get started right away.  I was a little sad that we would not have some carefree time as newlyweds, but I also knew the urgency of our situation.  The road to having our children was relatively short, but rocky.  Our daughter, Emily, was born after the heartache and anticipation of 4 back-to-back IVF cycles.  After a spontaneous miscarriage and some more infertility treatments a year later, we knew the final chapter of our Birth Story was written and we were ready to start our Adoption Story.  

Adopting was indeed, a very different story.  There was a mountain of paperwork, interviews, and fingerprints to be examined.  And then there was the waiting.  Throughout the whole experience there were a lot of questions, some that we did not see coming or know how to answer right away.  We had not anticipated the level of detail that the adoption application itself would entail.   Would we accept a child or any race or ethnic background?  If not, which ones?  What if the biological family had a history of cancer?  How about mental illness?  What if the mother smoked, drank alcohol, or took drugs while pregnant?  And if some drugs were ok, which ones weren’t?  What if the child was the “product” of a rape?  How about multiples?  Some of these questions were “easy”, and others stopped us in our tracks and caused us some considerable thought and discussion, as we wanted to make sure we were equipped to handle any situation that might come along—as if that’s even possible!  

Other  “interesting” questions came from the people around us.  Perhaps they meant well, but their questions indicated to us that they were leery of adoption.  “Do you think you will be able to love both the children the same even though one is yours and one isn’t?”  “Why would you want to raise someone else’s kid?”  Wow.  It was hard sometimes to not be defensive since we knew this was the plan for our family, and we had little doubt that we would love our adopted baby just as much as Emily.  

The reality is, we are ALL adopted by God, or at least have the opportunity to be adopted by God.  Galatians 4:4-5 says, “ But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under that law, that we might receive adoption to sonship”.   God walked with us in some amazing ways through our adoption of Abby because He reminded us that we are all adopted by Him and that was the whole purpose of sending His son, Jesus.  

God welcomes all of us who believe in Him to become his adopted sons and daughters.  There are no limits when He adopts us. He doesn’t require an adoption application and if He did, it wouldn’t matter which boxes we checked and which ones we didn’t.  He already knows all there is to know about each of us and He accepts us right where we are.  His love is unconditional.  He loves ALL and wants ALL to come to know Him and become part of His family.  His love is vast and beyond anything we can fully comprehend as humans.  He loves us fully and equally.  

Eight, almost nine, years later I can tell you with certainty that we love our Abby just as much as Emily.  She is ours, no matter how she came to complete our family.  We can’t imagine life without her and firmly believe that she is the child God planned for us.  We don’t even think about her being adopted, unless we are talking about adoption (which I love to do!)  I like to think of Emily as the gift God gave us, and Abby as the treasure He lead us to.  

Abby sometimes doubts that she is loved as much as Emily because she knows she is adopted.  When she expresses her doubt, we do our very best to convince her with hugs and every “love word” we can think of.  Still, sometimes she isn’t quite convinced.  In those times we tell her she needs to make a choice to believe us, even though her inner voice still tries to make her think otherwise.  It’s that way sometimes with us too; we wonder how God could love us enough to adopt us.  But that’s the whole reason Jesus came- so He could welcome each one of us into His family, in spite of our imperfections. Sometimes, in the midst of doubt, we just need to step out in faith and believe.  And when we accept His love for us, He will always be there to welcome us as His sons and daughters.

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Sherry Fischer grew up and still lives in Northern Virginia.  She obtained her Bachelors Degree (James Madison University) and Masters Degree (Virginia Commonwealth University), both in Social Work.  Sherry worked in a hospital setting as a Medical Social Worker/Case Manager for 20 years.   Sherry married Karl when she was 38 and is now a full time stay at home mom to Emily (12) and Abby (9).  When the girls were preschoolers, Sherry was an active participant and eventually served as a leader for Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS).  Once both girls were in school full time, Sherry joined the Passion4Moms team, where she is currently the Director of Hospitality and enjoys writing periodic blogs. For fun, Sherry enjoys making cherished memories with family and friends at Deep Creek Lake in Maryland.  

Becoming Truly You

Motherhood has been a wild journey for me as an individual. And honestly, I’m regularly surprised at my ability to even think of it as an individual’s journey. After all, motherhood is such a communal calling, sacred moments constantly shared (sometimes unintentionally). But somewhere in all of the beauty and chaos, there remains a single woman who used to be a normal human being with normal needs and desires, who communed with Jesus alone, who had deep passions that included having babies one day but wasn’t limited to that. And in a season of pregnancy, infants, and toddlerhood, it’s hard for me to think beyond simply desiring to thrive in motherhood. But that’s what I want to write about: how to thrive in motherhood by finding that individual woman again.

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There are layers to this journey of becoming Mama. For me, motherhood has been a constant cycle of death and rebirth; with every developmental period my son conquers, a new strength, understanding, and grace is birthed within me. And I don’t know if you’re imagining the golden-lit halo of mother Mary smiling serenely when you read this, but let me tell you: these rebirths are akin to actual labor and delivery. I remember, before I was even pregnant with my firstborn, Anchor, I made some pretty massive commitments to myself. I had babies smack in the midst of all of my friends (not the first to get pregnant and not the last). I watched as beautiful, passionate, talented, independent women began to disappear and drown- not in motherhood, but in society’s expectations of them, as if they had suddenly given up their rights to the life they lived before. It wasn’t a conscious transition, and every one of them experienced it to varying extremes; but I heard it in their conversation, in the way they spoke about the past and future, in the words of advice given to new mothers (advice that really sounded more like a warning of what was to come). I saw an incredibly selfless, strong, but beat down woman in front of me who legitimately didn’t see her youthful dreams as possibilities anymore. This was my unexperienced perspective before having children; and, to be honest, I was terrified of becoming that woman. So, I made a list of promises to myself. The top of this list was: “I will fight for myself.”

And if you’re like me now, I smile fondly and I kiss that younger naive me on the forehead and promise to be there for her when the $#!@ hits the fan a couple years from then. Looking back, I love that me; the me that was determined, passionate, and not remotely ready for motherhood. But isn’t that how we all enter into this new role and season of life? None of us has any clue of the total rebirth and revolution of motherhood. 

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A couple years later, I gave birth to my firstborn son, Anchor Joshua, in Thailand, and my world exploded in a trillion colors and emotions and melodies. I cannot even begin to list the encounters of Heaven I have in that boy; he is God’s goodness on earth, hope incarnate. He is the product of years of prayers and tears as we walked the road of miscarriage and infertility for three years waiting for him to come earthside. He came exactly opposite of what I had planned (non-emergent cesarean), and was born screaming so loud that the nurses were startled. Everything about his birth went against my ideal, and I grieved the experience I had lost; all the while, guilting myself for not feeling only bliss at having a healthy baby boy. I started motherhood feeling like a failure. I struggled coming off of morphine and took a steep downward turn into postpartum anxiety for months. I faulted myself for everything, tried to manhandle my heart and emotions; motherhood was kicking my butt and I began to question my determination, my ideals, my passions. I lived to survive those first weeks, panicking at sundown every day as anxiety crept up my throat to suffocate me. 

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Now, this is where grace saved me. And let me tell you, I needed a Savior. God met me in that season in such unexpected ways. I remember someone telling me once that motherhood revealed to her how selfish she truly was…But for me, motherhood has revealed how capable I am of immense sacrificial love without limit. I feel like I’ve gone from being a fresh, plump, grape to wine in just a matter of two years. The process has been both painful and extraordinarily wonderful. Many times, still, I feel I’m under insane pressure, like pressing a flower to draw out its fragrance. Seeing someone become a mother is a miraculous, glorious, excruciatingly beautiful sight; it’s one of Heaven’s hidden gifts to the world. We celebrate the new life of a child, but often we overlook the new life of the woman who bore him. She is radiant with life and love, clothed in the fragrance of her entire being poured out. 

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God began to remind me of my promises I had made to myself. I had made them in secret, I thought, never uttered aloud to a soul outside myself. He began to show me how he chose Mary to mother Jesus. Can you imagine the life of this young, dear girl who had literally no clue how to be a mother or even a wife? This girl went through intense social pressure and persecution, had no intimate connection with her husband, took a long trip on a donkey to have her baby in a barn because there were no hotel rooms left in the city… Plus, hello, she was giving birth to God’s son (no pressure, Mary, you’re just raising the Messiah). But the Father knew she was the perfect person to mother his son. She (in spite of her imperfections and mistakes) could raise him into understanding his identity and destiny by simply being Mary. God didn’t choose Anna who spent the majority of her life in the temple praying… He chose the young virgin with no life experience, the one most likely to be in over her head. He chose Mary to mother Jesus.

He chose me to mother Anchor and our little 32-week baby boy. He chose you to mother YOURS. It was in the middle of my drowning that I realized, I was given Anchor because God knew Anchor needed me and my husband in order to become who he is. It was only in being myself that I would raise the boy into the man he needed to be. Before he was born, God told me Anchor needed to be raised in the wild and dangerous places to grow into his own destiny. God didn’t make a mistake in placing this babe in my arms; he didn’t make a guess either. Our children are purposefully born to us. God is an intentional Father. 

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That revelation is what caused me to finally resurface. In the midst of my fighting this newfound anxiety, intense exhaustion, and my complete lack of experience with things like umbilical cord stumps and breastfeeding, God began to present invitations to find myself again. I honestly didn’t even see myself in this mother of a newborn. But she was in there, still alive and wanting to be heard. It started with small steps towards the things I previously loved. We took a short weekend away to rock climb on a neighboring island. And I have to be honest: I cried packing my bags because I genuinely thought there was no way I could do this. I legitimately thought I wasn’t able to do it and that I should stay home and send my husband without me. It took extraordinary courage and effort to take my four-week-old baby on a wooden long tail boat across the bay to stay in a hotel for a weekend (which, in the context of our current life, is fairly normal and easy to do). But that trip was powerful and life-giving for me. After arriving, I found it was exactly what I needed at a deeply personal level. That first risk revealed to me that my biggest enemies are my own limitations of myself; the war is largely in my own mind. We often don’t try because we don’t believe we are capable of success. I learned I can do a lot more than even the world around me expects of me! That trip was just the beginning, and two weeks later we took our 6-week-old to a conflict area in the desert, where he breastfed on horse-drawn carts and slept through camel rides down sand dunes. And this is the story of our wild Anchor boy, living his life on the road, in the jungles, in the distant mountain towns. This is a part of him and who he’ll grow up to be. 

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We have reached a rhythm now, still often disrupted by some new change or development, but the lessons learned in the first months of mothering have carried me through every new season with my kids. And while that naive and inexperienced non-mama Laci made some pretty radical promises to herself before having babies, God knew that those promises would actually come full circle to make her into the Mama she was always born to be. Because, for God, there are no accidents in making you Mama to your babies. 

So, I ask you: What does it look like for YOU to be yourself in motherhood?  What have you allowed to hold you back from fully living and thriving in your role as a mother, what lies have you believed about yourself? Ask the Father why he gave you the children he gave you, and why he chose you to Mama them. Receive from him the grace that is sufficient, the strength perfected in your weakness. You were made for this!

Guest Contributor:

Laci Hill is a Mom, wife, adventurer, missionary and fiery lover of Jesus. She travels the world sharing her heart, life and the love of Jesus with anyone and everyone she meets and is currently based in Thailand.

The Task of Neighboring
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I’m a task driven person. I like ‘to do’ lists. I like checking things of my ‘to do’ lists. I sometimes add things to the lists so I can have the pleasure of literally checking them off. Because tasks are usually straightforward, I find them to be generally easy. You have a task, you work hard, you finish the task and then you get to check it off. The task is done and then you move on to the next one. 

People, however, are much different from tasks. People are complex. They can sometimes be complicated, needy and intricate. They require attention, relationship, and time. So how does a task person like myself prioritize the people around me? I kind of hate to admit it, but sometimes I think of people as tasks. I put them on a list, make a goal of relationship and am slowly checking them off as they turn from people into friends, and alter from tasks into life. This has been something I’ve been pursuing particularly with those who live nearby, my neighbors. 

I live in a very kid concentrated neighborhood where my kid's classmates are my neighbors. As a result of my oldest daughter entering the corner elementary school three years ago, I’ve been launched out into the neighborhood more and more. Walking her to school, greeting parents at pick-up, attending book fairs, volunteering at the school and of course SO MANY birthday parties!! These events can sometimes feel a bit obligatory. Rather than avoid or dread them, I’ve been trying to embrace this stage and use these occasions as opportunities to work on my people list.

Because I prefer lists to paragraphs, here is a little list of ideas I’ve found in my task of loving my neighbor.

  1. The purpose must be obedience. Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as ourself (Matthew 22:39; Galatians 5:14). We’re created and intended to love. If your motivation for loving your neighbor is obedience, there won’t be room for disappointment if your method of love isn’t reciprocated. Your neighbors may not love you back, at first or possibly ever and you have to be ok with that. Whether they wave back, say thank you or return the favor is irrelevant. The command still stands. Love your neighbor because He directs us to, not because you want to be a good person.
  2. Pray for your neighbors. Pray they’ll be healthy, happy and open. Pray that God softens their heart toward you and ultimately toward Him. Pray for God to soften your heart too. Pray for opportunities to help, serve and love them.
  3. Don’t miss an opportunity. Once your eyes and heart are open to trying to love your neighbor, you’ll be surprised at all the ways you can show love. Try to intentionally interact with them. Drop off Valentine treats, host an Easter egg hunt, grill all summer long, fire pit throughout autumn, trick or treat at their house, walk instead of drive when possible. It’s a little crazy to consider during an arctic blast but, get outside! If you’re waiting for them to come to you, you may be waiting forever. Go scrape their windshield, shovel their walkway, or bring up their trash can for them. There is no shortage of ways to show love. Google it. Seriously, “how to show love to your neighbor”, about 8,970,000 results.
  4. Don’t be too busy for them. Make time to love your neighbors. Leave margin in your schedule for the people who live closest to you. This can sometimes be the hardest part. Even harder than walking up to a strangers door to deliver goodies, is creating time in your ever busy life for someone you may barely know. For me, this isn’t about trying to be a people pleaser and always saying yes. It’s out of my obedience to His command that I make myself available to my neighbors as much as I can. There are things and events I say no to, sometimes even church events (Gasp!). This makes it possible for me to say “yes” to my neighbors. Most recently, neighbors have asked….“Can you walk my child home from school?” YES! “Do you have a yard tool I can borrow?” YES! “Do you know of any area preschools” YES! “Would you like to attend my event?” YES! There are many ways to show love. My best way in my current life stage as a stay at home mom of 3, is by saying yes and giving my neighbors a little bit of my time. If they're willing to ask, I’ll say yes as much as I can.

During the winter of 2009 while living in MD, my husband and I experienced a huge snow storm. The kind where it snowed heavy for two straight days, which resulted in us waiting nearly a week before seeing a plow truck. We had lived there maybe a year. He was in the Air Force, and I worked at our church. We loved our church. We had great friends there and it basically was our only social circle. We were so preoccupied with church services, planning meetings, special events, small group gatherings that we had no time for our neighbors. And this was pre-kid life! That snow storm forced us outside to shovel out our cars and our street, with our neighbors. Turns out, the people across the street were also a young married Air Force couple, that we had never met. They moved away just a few months later. Even though I may have felt like we didn’t really “need” more friends at the time, I sometimes wonder if they may have needed us. What a total missed opportunity!!

It’s a new year, which means 365 new days and 365 new chances to reach out to your neighbor. Whether you’re new to your street or have been there for some time, most people, even strangers, are at least somewhat open to their neighbor. Aren’t you? Wouldn’t you love for your neighbor to randomly knock on your door and offer kindness? If you’ve been hurt by a neighbor, pray for God to heal that wound and try again. If you’ve hurt a neighbor, ask for forgiveness and move forward. 

At this point, neighbor encounters have become unavoidable for me. My neighbors are everywhere I go, that’s due mostly to motherhood. As moms, like it or not, we are pushed out the doors of our comfort zones. Embrace the strangers around you. If you’re a mom and they’re a mom, you have an instant connection and immediate commonalities. Start there and see where it takes you. 

My neighbors are no longer tasks, they are my life. And I haven’t checked them off my list, because I’m not finished yet. I’m so humbled that God has placed me at my current address and chosen me to show love to my neighbors.

A Mother's Christmas Gift

Christmas season is now under way and excitement is in the air. Homes begin to light up the night with all the beautiful decorations.  With tummies still full from turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, the shopping begins.  It is gift giving season and the search is on for the perfect gifts for those we love.  If you are like me, I enjoy thinking about and planning for the perfect gift for all on my list, especially my children.  What would excite them?  Surprise them?  Wow them?  What have they been keeping their eye on that would make their face light up when they unwrap it from under the tree?  Oh, it is so fun to give! 

Material gifts are fun to think about, shop for and give, but have you given any thought to what eternal gifts you might give your children this Christmas, gifts for the heart?  If we only spent as much time investing in eternal gifts as we do shopping for material gifts, our homes would be calmer and more meaningful at Christmas time.  Jesus tells us not to store up treasures on earth but in heaven, because where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:19,20)  One eternal gift is spending time with kiddos; baking cookies, retelling the story of Jesus' birth, sharing stories of your childhood Christmas memories, celebrating Advent together and other similar Christmas activities.  I think as moms we do tend to make time to give these special “gifts” to our kids at Christmas time, no matter how busy the season.  But could there be a gift that will give over and over, day after day this Christmas season that could impact them for eternity?

I'm glad you asked.  What about giving the gift to your children of a mom spending daily, intentional time with the Lord Jesus this entire Christmas season?  I believe that is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.  Amidst the hustle and bustle, the hanging of decorations and Christmas lights, the shopping and wrapping...give your kids devoted time of their mom sitting at the feet of Jesus.  This December, make it the top priority of each day to make time for Him.  It will change your stress level, your shopping, your heart, your own Christmas experience this year, and it will overflow into a gift for your children.  

One of my favorite things to do each December day is get up before anyone in the family is awake, go downstairs and in the dark, turn on only the lights of the Christmas tree.  While sipping coffee and my Bible in my lap, with just the twinkling of the Christmas lights, I spend time with my Savior.   It is such a sweet time.  I look forward to it all year long.  There is just something about staring at the lights of the tree and pondering the God of the universe who chose to come down from heaven Himself, in human flesh, to show us how much He loves us.  Morning after morning, this renews my focus.  This intentional and special time with Jesus fixes my eyes on Him, encourages me to lean in to Him, fills me with His Spirit and helps me keep this season about Jesus and not what the world has made it to be.  This time with Jesus overflows into the rest of my day and becomes a gift to my family.  My heart is full.  My focus is clear.  My joy is real.

My family gets to experience this gift of me spending time with Jesus because what He has taught me that morning often spills into my conversations with them that day.  Taking the time to study the Christmas story from different perspectives teaches us new things and then we want to share.  For example, two years ago a friend of mine gave me the Christmas devotional The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp. It was a fresh way of reading and studying the lineage of Jesus through the Advent tradition of the Jesse Tree.  Walking through Old Testament passages and being reminded of truths each morning from scripture and Ann's devotional made me want to share these Christmas treasures with my kids.  Continuing to point our own hearts and our children's hearts to Jesus during the season of Christmas is a gift that truly is eternal.  It changes how we live each day.  Maybe you want to find a new way to spend time with Jesus in His word this December and allow God to fill your heart, so you can pour into your family the peace and light of Christ.  Psalm 119:130 reminds us "The unfolding of Thy words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple."

Time with Jesus is life giving.  A mom walking with the Lord daily is a mom filled with the Spirit and being led by the Spirit.  A mom spending time with Jesus is ready to give to her family.  Why not give this gift to your kids this Christmas season?  Oh, they may not be able to physically grab it out from under the tree and unwrap it on Christmas morning, but they will unknowingly experience the eternal gift you are giving them...a mom who has put Jesus at the top of her own Christmas list and gives of herself out of the overflow of Jesus, Immanuel, God with us.

 

Heart of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, it conjures up images of pilgrims, pumpkin pie, football, and maybe even family you only see a few times a year. Whether you are looking forward to Thursday, or attempting to wish it away, I want to pose a challenge. Is it possible to view Thanksgiving, not as only a holiday, but as a choice of our will that directs our attitude? It is easy to forget that thanksgiving is mandated in Scripture. In Philippians 2:6-7 Paul writes, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Colossians 3:15 reads, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

Some of you may be thinking, “that is easy to recite or type, but you have no idea how difficult my situation is!” No, I don’t, but He does. He knows all of our situations and needs, and He wants to be invited into them. At times, we can be so overwhelmed by our circumstances the thought of being thankful for them, knowing that He sees the end from the beginning, when we can’t, is repugnant to us. I challenge you; I challenge me, to start by bringing our needs to Him. If you can’t yet see anything to be grateful or thankful for in your circumstances, start with transparency and honesty before the One who knows all anyway. He says in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it shall be given unto you; seek and you shall find…” So, this Thanksgiving, ask. Ask to be shown things in your life to be grateful for, ask for Him to bring good out of situations where you have yet to see any good, and ask for strength and faith to trust Him more.

One of the definitions of thankfulness is to be conscious of benefits received. Let’s ask Him in prayer this Thanksgiving season, whether things are going great or you are in the hardest season of your life, for a greater awareness of things for which to thank Him. Then do it; thank Him, remembering also that with thankfulness comes the peace of God. Reread those verses from above. God’s own peace will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus when we come before Him and ask for what we need with a posture of Thanksgiving. 

May you enjoy the Thanksgiving season all year long, from your friends at Passion4Moms.

Why Just Reading the Bible to Your Kids is Not Enough

I recently read an article talking about the growing popularity of witchcraft among teens and millennials in America. The article said that while interest in Christianity and religion is decreasing every year, belief in horoscopes, tarot cards and palm reading is increasing. Not only do more and more people feel that it is ok, studies show that over 50% of millennials believe that astrology is a science and read their horoscopes daily. I believe that part of this acceptance is due to the normalcy that modern culture puts on New-Age references. Board games, computer games, children’s-fiction, video games, TV shows and other forms of entertainment make the occult seem normal and permissible. 

However, I believe that there is a much larger reason as to why so many teenagers and millennials are leaning towards witchcraft (or other similar mediums) for guidance. I believe it is because we are created to look to the supernatural for direction, and many are not finding it in the Church. 

As human beings, we have a deep sense that there must be something beyond us. Even though many Americans would say they are not religious, a recent study said that 89% of Americans still say they believe in a god or a universal spirit.  It is in our very DNA to long for something beyond us, and we crave a connection to the supernatural. Almost every person still prays to something when her or she is about to get into a car accident or a close friend is dying. All humans are desperate for something beyond them, and yet, so often in modern churches, people go to a church service and leave without ever connecting to the supernatural. Christianity to many people is a good, moral worldview, but in reality, seems absent of any sort of real power. 

It makes sense that people who are actually desperate for a real power beyond themselves may have gone to a church and left because they didn’t find it there. It may not be that they like the idea of Satan over God, but more so that they see the evidence of something beyond them in witchcraft and just a bunch people doing “good things” church. If they are already struggling with how to get through life in their own power, a worldview comprised primarily of a list of rules is not what they need. They need something real.

So how, as Christians, do we help prevent our children from falling into this same trap? Do we try to scare our kids into obedience by forbidding them to interact with anything associated to the devil or the demonic? I don’t think so. In fact, in many ways I feel that this approach does more harm than good, because it is giving off the impression that Satan is stronger than God. 1 John 4:4 says, “For he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world!” Instead of just telling our kids to avoid Satan, we have to show our kids an even greater power-- the power of Jesus Christ. Once they actually encounter the greater power, they will be able to recognize the counterfeit power that the enemy offers as fool’s gold compared to true gold.

John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.” Light is always stronger than darkness. You cannot turn on the light in the room and have darkness decide to stay--it must leave. We should not be afraid of Satan, but rather, he should be afraid of us! The problem is not whether God is more powerful than Satan, but whether we are actually giving God opportunities to show his power.

Our churches need to be places where people come in and encounter something that is beyond themselves. We have to start asking him to speak and learning how to listen. We have to start praying and expecting God to answer. We have to start asking for miracles and sharing testimonies-- and this will only become real in our churches when it becomes normal in our homes. True encounters with God start around your dinner table, in your car while driving to soccer practice and in your kids’ bedrooms at night when you pray.

Some practical ways to lead your kids to actually encounter a real and living God are as follows: 

1. Pray for real things and share testimonies around the dinner table about how God is actually responding to your prayers. All too often we pray for things at night with our kids but don’t report back on how God answers or how He is responding to our prayers. This makes God look like an unresponsive statue-- when in reality he is more real than anything around us! We need to teach them how to listen as they pray and look for answers to their prayers over the next few days and weeks. 

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”- James 5:16

2. Read Scripture together as a family every day, and teach your children how to hear God’s voice through it. All too often we just study the Word like a textbook, but don’t learn how to let God actually speak to us through it. Have them ask God questions, and then as you read scripture together, have them share what God was putting on their heart in response to the passage.

“Direct my footsteps according to your word…”- Psalm 119:113

“For the word of God is alive and active.”- Hebrews 4:12

3. Teach your kids how to encounter God during worship. All too often our children think that worship is just singing songs about God-- when in reality it is so much more. Teach them how to actually connect their hearts to their Creator and respond to what He is doing in their lives with an overflow of worship. One way you can do this is put on worship music at home, give them some crayons and have them draw what comes to mind as they hear the words of the song and share what they felt God was speaking to them through the lyrics. You can also have them write out a list of things they saw God do in their life over the past week before they enter into worship so they actually have something to worship Him about. Another idea is to ask and encourage them to write their own worship songs, or write out prayers during worship rather than just singing someone else’s lyrics. 

“Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory. Because Your love is better than life, my lips will praise You.”- Psalm 63:2-3

4. Teach them to ask God for ideas. When they are struggling with something, have them ask God to put an idea in their mind and share that idea with you so that you can help guide them with whether the idea lines up with scripture. If they don’t learn to ask God for ideas, they will begin to want to go to other sources such as horoscopes, tarot readings and astrology for guidance. God loves to speak to his children, and loves to respond when we ask Him for wisdom!

“As soon as I pray, you answer me; you encourage me by giving me strength.”- Psalm 138:3

5. Teach them how to walk with God. Take time regularly to pray as a family, and have each person ask God to put someone on their mind or heart to reach out to as well as what they should do for that person. They may have an idea to call a grandparent, or feel like God wants them to write an encouraging note to the homeless guy on the corner. Once everyone shares their ideas, go out and do them and then report back what happened. By teaching them how to live in response to the urgings of the Holy Spirit, they will learn that life with God is so much more exciting and real than just living a life trying to make themselves happy. 

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it."- Isaiah 30:21

Most of all, pray for your children. Pray that they will encounter the presence and power of God in a real way. Pray that they will get to know his voice, follow his promptings, and be a light in the darkness. Pray that they become a force to be reckoned with, and that whenever Satan hears their footsteps, he will tremble and flee. Knowing the reality of a powerful God not only means that they can resist the temptation of a lower power, but also that they will be the ones charging the darkness with the light of Christ. Parents, do not be afraid, but instead, lead your kids to experience the reality of the truth that our God is stronger!

Coffee and Fellowship

As I sat to write this blog this morning, writer’s block over-whelmed me. I certainly have plenty of things I could write about. My life has been a flurry of activity with a multitude of trials and tribulations as of late.  Should I write about contentment, prodigal children, mental illness, spiritual warfare, marital communication? The potential topic list went on and on in my head.  So, in utter frustration, I prayed that God would give me a word, that He would show me what He wanted me to share, that He would use me as His conduit.  Then, in such an unexpected way, low and behold, He answered my prayer in a mighty way!  

I decided to take a break from the computer and get a bite to eat. After eating my frozen meal (quick and easy so I could get back to “writing“), I went outside to bring in my Amazon delivery and saw an unexpected bag from another store. What was in that bag brought me to tears, gave me the topic for this blog, and reminded me of what God wants us all to remember. In it was a new coffee maker, given in love from dear friends, secretly delivered by them to my front porch.  Why? Because my existing maker has decided to be temperamental, and won’t always work.  And, my friends know me…they know I don’t function well without my coffee… they know what is going on in my life and want to help in any way they can… they care… they love as Christ loves.

Dear ones, we were made to be in relationship, with Him and with others. I know that sounds simple and not very profound, but I can attest to you that it is of utmost importance. It is critical that you surround yourself with people that love you, that are walking in the ways of the Lord, that not only speak the truth, but live the truth. I am not at liberty to share about the events going on in my family’s life right now, but suffice to say that we are experiencing first hand what can happen when you do and when you don’t surround yourself with Christian friends and fellowship. Also, it is so important to be that Godly person for someone else, to share the love of Christ with others, to be a person who is a doer, not only a hearer, of the word. (James 1:22)

When you don’t surround yourself with loving, Godly friends, you leave yourself exposed and vulnerable to the enemy. The enemy is real and he delights in isolating you from your friends, family, and faith. He wants to have you to himself so that he can devour you. 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us that “…Your adversary the devil prowls around like a lion seeking someone to devour”. Even Jesus was alone and isolated when He endured the temptations of the devil, and after that time, He was attended to by angels (Matthew 4:1-11). Like Jesus, we need angels to minister to us in times of trial, and those angels, metaphorically speaking, are our friends and family.  We can not endure without them.

What my friends did for me was so much more than feeding my coffee habit, they fed my soul.  Although their great kindness and generosity made me feel so loved, by them and by Jesus, their prayers and support are even more priceless to me. If you don’t have a community of believers supporting you, may I encourage you to seek them... join a small group or a Bible study, get involved at church, invite others for fellowship, sign up for the P4M discipleship program, do something to get connected.  And if you do have a circle of believing friends, don’t forget to give, not just receive!

 

Growing Pains

One lazy Sunday morning I walked into my son’s bedroom and noticed he wasn’t there.  When I entered my daughter’s room, the scene that I saw would touch any parent’s heart. Emma was gently cuddling her brother so that he could fall back asleep, as he was still sleepy. My husband and I later commented on how sweet our children were with each other and how we were so blessed that they got along so well.  We may have spoken too soon that day as later that morning they had a huge fight that led to many tears and hurt feelings. When I heard the fight begin I did what I usually do which is to try to let them figure it out on their own before I intervene. However, this time the feelings and voices were escalating pretty quickly with no nearsighted resolution.  One child was red with anger and the other was crying inconsolably. I decided everyone needed a “time out” to process their feelings and calm down. After everyone had some alone time, we came back together to talk about what had happened. Elam’s feeling were hurt because he felt that Emma had blamed him and judged him for not building the right roof in Minecraft. Emma was mad because she felt that Elam was blaming her for the fight. 

After I dealt with the children and we came to a resolution, I realized something about the situation. I saw my own actions in the root of this fight, which is being quick to judge.  My sweet children were replicating what they see in me. Ouch!  I reflected back on times in which my first response is often a judgment statement instead of a question to clarify behavior. If I’m talking to my daughter about something and I see her make a face, I will say, “Change your bad attitude” without first inquiring what she is experiencing. On many occasions it is not a bad attitude it might be that she is feeling bad about what she did. 

One of the many challenges of parenting is observing your children replicate your faults and weaknesses. It’s so hard to witness that.  So what is a parent to do when this happens? Well, the first step is admitting and acknowledging that there is an area for growth and even confess it to your children.  During our talk after the big fight, I confessed to the children that I had been so guilty of judging their behavior on many occasions and they had learned that from me. I strongly believe that being a perfect parent is not attainable and being a parent who admits when he/she fails it is far more impacting on a child’s life that the ideal of unattainable perfection. Admitting our need for growth in a certain area is an essential point in growing into a better parent and a godly person. It is amazing how God can use parenting to help us see areas in our lives that don’t honor him. Admittance is an important step to growth.

When I observe an incident with my children and see my own behavior in theirs, I often feel guilty. I feel so bad and often think that I have scarred my children for the rest of their lives. How could I let this happen? Those are often my initial thoughts, but then I am reminded how God’s grace is always sufficient. An important step in growing as a parent is allowing you to feel God’s grace and to forgive yourself. Being hard on yourself will not promote change like the way grace does. Grace prompts us and empowers us to change. Guilt helps us realize there needs to be a change but the guilt itself will not change anything. When I am too hard on myself or am constantly apologizing to my children for the same offense, I am essentially teaching them to be hard on themselves. It is another behavior that I am emulating to them. I don’t want my children to grow up being hard on themselves so I need to show them to have grace on themselves by showing grace to myself. The feeling of guilt itself will not lead to growth, but it can prompt us to want to change. Ultimately, it is through God’s grace that we can find everything we need to be able to change.

I have learned I am more apt to change when I have a game plan. When I see my children behaving like I do, I realized I need an action plan so that I don’t commit the same mistakes. That day my kids and I memorized James 1: 19 that reminds us to “be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” Reminding myself to listen first before placing judgment on one’s actions would help me in growing in that area.  I went back to God’s word. What does God say about this issue and what honors Him? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves when we are seeking to grow in a certain area. I now ask questions before I make statements.  For example, when my daughter is making faces when I am talking to her, instead of stating you have a bad attitude, I ask, “Can you tell me what you are feeling?” or “ You are making a face and I am not sure what it means.” My action plan has helped me in taking the right steps to change and grow into a better person that honors God.  You may also find it helpful to do some research by asking other parents on how they handle certain issues or behaviors. Your area of growth may be the same as mine or it may be different. Whatever that area is, determine an action plan so that when you are in trigger situations you will react differently.  

Ultimately, growth comes from God. It is through His grace and His word that we can change. Ask God to help you grow. Ask Him to help you listen to His gentle reminder when we aren’t honoring Him. Remind yourself that you will make mistakes along the way but with the help of God you can become the mother that God has destined you to be. 

A Single Mother Watching God Redeem the Story

In the spring of 2002, I was finishing my junior year of college at a notoriously hippie-dippy party school in the mountains of North Carolina. At 21 years old, I’d spent years looking for something to numb the hurt of a messy and damaging childhood. Even though I’d grown up in the church with a mama who loved me well, I couldn’t escape the adverse effects of my family falling apart when I was in middle school. My heart was like a stew with meaty chunks of trauma and four varieties of immaturity floating in a soup of survival mode. College life introduced me to the flavors of drugs, drinking, and attention from men as everything came to a boil.

In the sunshine of a crisp April morning in the Appalachians, I smoked my last cigarette. I knew it was my last cigarette because I knew I was pregnant and once I took a test, that was it. I’d been in denial for weeks, convinced it was only PMS. I couldn’t remember my last period, but it seemed long overdue. My boobs were so huge and sensitive that putting on a bra was a production of wincing and moaning. As acceptance set in and I looked at the evidence, a test seemed like a necessary formality.

I walked across the highway to the drug store and bought a pregnancy test. I played it cool with the clerk. I told her the kit was for a friend—that she was too embarrassed to come in and buy it herself. When I got home I peed on the stick and then couldn’t bring myself to look at it for nearly 20 minutes. My roommate was asleep in the next room, but once I got up the nerve to turn the thing over, she was startled awake by a shrieking F-bomb. 

“What!? What’s the matter?!” She stumbled into the room, brushing the hair back from her sleepy face. I threw the stick on the floor and started crying, 

“No! No, no, no, no, no!” 

She hugged me and didn’t say much. What was there to say?

I called my older sister to get her advice on how to tell our mom. She told me to come to her house in another town. She said she’d take me home to Charlotte the next morning and we’d tell our mother together. That evening my sister and her husband made sure I knew my “options”. I told them that my options were parenting or adoption. End of discussion. 

“Just hear us out. You’re only 21. You have your whole life ahead of you. You have to be sure about this.” 

As I listened to them talk me through the reality of my situation and tell me that this could all be over if I wanted it to be, I sobbed and pleaded with God for answers. For a split second I did just want it to all go away. As quickly as the thought entered my mind I became nauseous with indignation. Abortion was NOT an option.

“I’m having this baby.”

The drive to my mother’s the next morning felt eternal. At first I was completely stoic. We were almost to Charlotte when the tears started flowing. I couldn’t stop crying. As we got closer to home my sister called our mother. 

“I’m bringing Tia to the house. Can you meet us there?” 

My mom sped home from work at 11:00 am on a Tuesday. She came rushing in the door and the instant she laid eyes on my tear-stained face, she knew. “You’re pregnant, aren’t you, Sweetie?” All I could do was sob in her arms. 

“It’s okay, baby. We’re going to take care of this. Everything is going to be great, you’ll see.” She reassured me until we both fell into bed, emotionally exhausted.

After finishing the last few weeks of the semester I moved back home with my mom where I encountered a loving reception from the Church I’d grown up in. One special friend of my mom’s who had known me since I was nine years old gave me card that read, “Be happy, Tia. Your baby is already loved.” I think that card was from Jesus himself. The words wrapped me in acceptance. Knowing her stance, and hearing words of support from other families in the church took the sting out of the humiliation of my growing bump that lacked the legitimizing left hand accessory.

For a few weeks I talked and prayed through whether or not I would parent the baby. My gut had told me I would be his or her mother from the moment I knew I was carrying. The catch was how I would be able to support myself and a baby without any involvement from the father. After some discussions with family friends, I decided to go to nursing school. Nursing had long been an option in my mind and my mom had always encouraged me to pursue it. Until that moment I’d never had the motivation or incentive to put in the hard work. Now it seemed the secure career path that would provide options for shift work and keep childcare simple as long as I lived with my mother.

While I awaited acceptance into a clinical program, I got started knocking out the few prerequisites I lacked. My due date fell over Thanksgiving weekend, so I negotiated with my professors to be allowed take my exams early. I wanted to be finished before I delivered. Little did I know, my baby girl would not arrive until mid-December! By the time she was born, Thanksgiving was long past and Christmas was coming quickly.

That time of waiting was incredibly sweet as I imagined poor Mary, in my condition, riding on a donkey. Just… ouch! Each morning as I sat in my rocking chair reading and praying, I began to understand the anticipation of Emmanuel like never before. The thrill of Hope took hold in my heart and I knew that we were going to be alright. 

When my daughter was 6 months old I entered a nineteen-month clinical rotation that would earn me the right to test for a license as a Registered Nurse. During that time I worked the night shift as a technician in the hospital pharmacy. On the days I wasn’t in the hospital doing clinical rotations, I studied and catnapped while my daughter napped or played in her playpen. I could only afford to have her in daycare on the days when my mom was working and I had to attend clinicals. I would often go up to 30 hours without sleep. When we become mothers we become capable of enduring far more than we could have ever imagined for the sake of our children’s wellbeing.

I made it through those 19 months by the strength of God alone. Nursing school was the most stressful time of my entire life. I was dependent on my Father for my every need. And He never failed to provide. Subsequently, that season of my life brought the greatest intimacy I’d ever experienced with Jesus. He was my partner, my best friend, my confidant, and my provider. Jesus became my everything. When I crashed into bed each night (or day), I could feel my Savior resting there with me, so close and so sweet.

In September of 2004, three months before graduating from nursing school, I sensed God giving me permission to think about men again. My daughter was one-and-a-half and I really needed to focus on my studies. Besides, I’d been so wrapped up in a romance with Jesus for the previous two years that I hadn’t thought much about dating or finding a mate. After hearing a success story from a close friend in my Bible study, I quietly joined match.com and met a man I couldn’t have even dreamed of. He was cute and outdoorsy, he loved Jesus, he played music, he loved kids, and the list of amazingness went on and on. The moment I saw his profile I knew he was my husband. We married six months later.

It’s now been more than 15 years since that April morning in the Appalachians. In that time my husband adopted my daughter and we had another little girl not long after we married. I spent five years working as a maternity nurse where I fell in love with women’s health. That love was fostered even further by a shift in my career in 2009 when I began working for a family non-profit based in rural Kenya.

Deeply motivated by my own experience, I’m now leveraging my position of privilege to help start a new organization called Flourish Kenya that prevents and supports unplanned adolescent pregnancy in rural Kenya. This new endeavor comes after working for 8 years in the global development sector and never finding any education or prevention oriented programs in an area where the pregnancy rate is as high as 40% in 11-16 year olds.

I was given every opportunity in my hour of need, but in the most remote areas of Kenya, girls are driven into child marriage, unsafe abortion, and even suicide. I'm using my story to help change theirs. God has used my most dire moments to craft a vision and purpose for my life that I never could have conceived on my own. As I work on the board of directors for Flourish Kenya, I’m also launching live events for women called COLLECTED. These events are crafted to create space for women to move forward in their own unique assignment.

No matter what our circumstances may be, we must always remember that God is going to leverage our every moment for His glory. We are each strategically placed and called to boldly promote the Kingdom of God in whatever role we’re assigned to, season to season. May we stay submitted to His authority in our lives and step boldly into our calling as mamas, servants in our communities, and ministers of the Gospel to the nations.

Guest Contributor:

Tia McNelly lives in North Carolina with her husband and two daughters. Her little piece of the internet can be found at tiamcnelly.com where she blogs about hearing from God in everyday life. Tia is also the featured speaker at Collectedcustomized workshops for women. These live events empower communities of women all over the world to walk in the fullness of their identity with purpose and passion. With a background in maternity nursing and non-profit management, Tia is honored to have a seat on the board of Flourish Kenya, a non-profit organization that prevents and supports unplanned adolescent pregnancy in rural Kenya. (Photo credit: allisonkeel.com)

A Mother’s Sabbath Rest

Don't you just love your kids?  Aren't they one of the very best gifts God has ever given you? As much as we love our kids, they do wear us out.  Now let me ask you this, how is your energy level?  When was the last time you stopped to take some time of rest for you?  No, I'm not talking about a nap, or asking your husband or friend to watch/carpool around your kids so you could get a break, but a true rest, a sabbath?  If you can’t remember, read on.

One of the best things I did as a young mom was to begin taking a Sabbath rest.  Did I have time for it?  No.  Was it a necessity?  I learned the answer to that question was YES!  When my third child was about 12 months, I was overwhelmed.  This wasn’t the first time I was overwhelmed as a mom, but this time I was about ready to give up.  My temper was getting short, my patience low and my energy level was below zero! Have you ever been there?  Don't get me wrong, I loved being a stay at home mom, but I was EXHAUSTED.  What could I do?  I couldn’t see an end in sight where I could refuel.

Guess who had the answer?  My sweet and thoughtful husband.  He said to me one night when he could see my desperation, "Hon, why don't I book you a hotel room next weekend?  I'll set it all up, watch the kids and you go take a break."  My immediate response was ”What? Really?  Oh, that sounds like heaven, but I can't do that." My husband said, “Why not? I'm booking it for you right now.  You need this.  Let me do it for you.”

So, after praying and getting over the guilty feelings I had for leaving my kids and husband for the weekend, I was out the door and off on my very first two day/two-night mommy Sabbath rest.  It was a bit of a strange feeling at first walking into the hotel room, alone.  How would I spend all this free time?  Free time had now become foreign to me, but here is a glimpse into my weekend.  I got to sleep (uninterrupted), eat (uninterrupted), shower (uninterrupted), enjoy a TV show (uninterrupted), shop (uninterrupted), go to the bathroom…are you starting to see a pattern here? It was amazing!  All the simple things I used to take for granted before kids now felt like heaven. Can you sense my spirit changing from exhausted, impatient, and short tempered to peaceful, restful, and thankful?

Without a doubt, the most meaningful part of my weekend was the sweet (uninterrupted) time with my Savior.  I was in the middle of a Bible study called Captivating with my close girlfriends. Being away from the kids, I could spend as much time as I wanted working on this study which led me into reading my Bible, singing praise songs, praying, and just hanging out with Jesus.  It was AWESOME!  While using the Captivating study to direct my God Time that weekend, the Lord met me right in my current struggles of motherhood of exhaustion and feeling like I was not enough for this overwhelming role as a mom and wife.  Jesus encouraged my soul in the most personal ways.  My homework for Captivating that week was to ask God why He thinks I am beautiful.  As I asked God that one question and began to journal, the result was page after page of encouragement to my soul from what I sensed was the Holy Spirit putting thoughts in my heart and mind.  He spoke loud and clear to me (not audibly of course) through His Word, my prayers and my journaling.  He told me ‘Laurel, you are enough just as you are.  You’re beautiful.  You’re Mine.  You’re enough.”  The truths He taught me that weekend have been a source of strength for me in my role as a mom ever since.

A Sabbath is not a set of rules to keep, but it is a reminder of our dependence on God.  We need Him, and we can find rest in Christ amidst the chaos that our world can bring.  Jesus even gave us a personal invitation in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  Sabbath is a reminder to abide daily in His rest and His Spirit.  Jesus Himself IS our Sabbath rest.  Sabbath is not only when you take extended times of rest, but can also be the intentional act of pausing in your day to rest, to spend time with Jesus whether in prayer, reading the Bible or worship.  The Hebrew word sabat means “to rest or stop or cease from work”.  God even modeled this rest for us. “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” (Genesis 2:2)   Remember, we are made in His image.  God knew we would need a time of rest as He did, and commanded us to build it into our lives not only for physical needs, but also for spiritual needs.

My Sabbath rest at the hotel renewed me, refreshed me, gave me physical rest, lifted my spirit of perseverance, and gave me a longing to be back with my family when my rest was over.  Ultimately though, this time reminded me that Jesus Himself is my source for rest.  Have you made time to stop, get alone for a few days and rest?  Maybe this would give God another opportunity to encourage your soul right where you are at in your current stage of motherhood and get some much-needed physical rest?  Why not? 

Several thoughts might be running through your head right now:  *I don't have the time?  Be intentional in making time for rest, it will almost never just appear.  *I have no one to watch my kids?  Pray and ask God to provide a way for a mother’s Sabbath rest for you.  Ask your husband if he will watch the kids or swap kids with a friend, each providing an extended rest for the other.  *We don't have the money to go to a hotel.  You do not have to go to a hotel.  Be creative, you can spend the day at a park, a lake, Starbucks, the library, your church, shopping, meeting a friend, etc. and return after the kids are in bed and then repeat the next day.  Or better yet, ask a friend if you can stay in her guest bedroom and tell her to pretend you are not there! I know you are creative and you'll think of some great alternatives.  Ask God to show you.  He will!

Ever since my first mother’s Sabbath rest I have taken many more.  They have all looked a little different.  Some were alone, just Jesus and I all weekend.  Some were taken with special girlfriends.  Sometimes I didn't feel like I really needed it, but my husband encouraged me to do it anyway, and I was glad I listened.  God has used these extended Sabbath rests to speak truth into my life, touch my heart in personal and unforgettable ways to strengthen my faith, and refresh my spirit and attitude.  This reminds me, I'm ready for another one!

So, are you ready?  What are you waiting for?  

 

Staying in the Lane God has Assigned Us

From a very early age, I trained as a runner. As early as first grade all the way through high school, I ran every track meet, from sprints to long distance.  One of my favorite races was the relay races which allowed us to move from competing individually to competing as a team. Regardless of the race being run, one thing was consistently drilled into our heads as competitors: STAY IN YOUR LANE.  

The moment your foot steps across the white line and you veer into someone else's lane you would be disqualified. Why was it so important to not step across that little white line on the hot Texas asphalt? Stepping across the line interfered with the other runners, potentially cause them to trip and fall. Staying in our own lane provided a safe place that allowed us the freedom to do what we had been trained to do, run our race to the best of our ability. 

One thing I learned quickly is that my eyes had a tremendous amount of power over the rest of my body.  By glancing to the left or right or looking over my shoulder to check the distance of the girl in the lane next to me, I would cause my feet to stumble and risk stepping over the line, disqualifying me from the race. My coach would always say to us, "NEVER look over your shoulder, run your own race."  By keeping my eyes straight ahead, I kept my eyes on the prize of that finish line. I was not distracted by those around me; I was motivated, but not distracted. 

I don't know about you, but often times I struggle to keep my eyes on my own race, more often than I would l would like to admit. I take my eyes off of my own race as a mother. I begin to look at how other moms parent their children, or how successful their life appears juggling and multi-tasking the demands of a busy family.  It is particularly hard when I see someone a few steps ahead of me in a season of life; I begin to unfairly compare my life to hers.  

Social media and the world of comparison we live in with "selfies" and documenting the highlights of each day taunts us constantly. It is as if the runners around us flaunt the fact they are running the race better and faster. We become distracted and consumed and our eyes begin to wander. 

Fearing that I am not measuring up to those around me, comparing my parenting to another, and shrinking in insecurity that I can't "do it all," I take my eyes off of my own race. I risk my own race by looking at those around me. I must stay in my own lane. 

Living in the world of comparison paralyzes us from living and living well. The insecurity and comparison tend to fade away when we realize the calling we have before us in the assignment of our own children. My job as a mother becomes my own priority, and I can’t compare myself to you and how you are doing as a mom. I must begin to learn to navigate how to stay in my own lane. I must stop comparing, and begin running in my own lane and own it.

Fear breeds insecurity. Insecurity breeds comparison. Comparison takes our eyes off of Jesus. When I can keep my eyes on my own race, I become consumed with running my race well. I keep my eyes on the finish line when my life is over and I hear my Father say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." My eyes are on eternity. I have a place of influence in the lives of my three daughters and an opportunity to point them to Jesus cheering for them to keep their eyes steady on what God has placed before them. As a family, we are running life as a team, not as individuals.  One day, I will pass the baton off to my girls as they are the next generation. When our eyes are on the finish line and our eternal home with our Savior Jesus Christ, we no longer are distracted or worried about where we are in the race.  Our goal is just to run our race well. Comparison leaves. As I learn to stay in my own lane, I can cheer for you as you run your race. 

Excerpts of this post are from The High Calling of Motherhood by Chimene Shipley Dupler.

Leaving Your Nets and Your Boat: Finding True Peace and Rest

As I have studied the book of Matthew, I have walked alongside the disciples trying to get a glimpse into their hearts.  

I have learned that when Jesus asks me to follow Him I will have to leave my nets, leave my boat and possibly leave my family to follow Him.  Sometimes I may need to leave them immediately!  When Jesus called the disciples, they immediately left their nets and followed Him.  It was the “leaving their nets” that allowed them to walk alongside of Jesus daily, learn from Him and learn about Him.  Leaving their nets enabled them to develop a strong, deep and personal relationship with Jesus.  Doesn’t Jesus want this from each of us?  Sometimes those nets which we tend to want to cling to can distract us from Him.  These nets at one time may have started out as a really good thing however over time even good things can become a hindrance to our walk with Christ.  Is Jesus asking you to leave behind your nets and follow Him more closely? 

Earlier this year, I was asked to leave my nets, my boat, and my family and follow Jesus to a new place to call home.  Our family moved from Virginia to Texas in order for my husband to take a new job.  This always sounds exciting at first, a new adventure and chance to explore as a family a new part of the country.  But I really felt comfortable with my nets and I really enjoyed my boat.  I felt purpose in my ministries, I enjoyed being with my friends, and I loved being close to my family.  I liked living in Virginia and basically I was happy and feeling very content… 

But I kept hearing the word immediately spoken again and again to my heart. Really – now? Shouldn’t I finish up my commitments and join my husband in June?  Immediately, the Lord kept whispering in my heart.  Shouldn’t Matthew finish his school year so he can start in a new school in the fall?  Immediately!  So that is what we did – and things moved very quickly.  Needless to say, I was humbled and stood back in amazement at how the Lord removed obstacle upon obstacle to move us to Texas as tightly fastened doors kept flying open and we just kept walking through the thresholds of opened doors.  There was such blessing experienced in following immediately.  The ways in which we experienced the Lord working on our behalf early on in the move strengthened our faith in preparation for some days of doubt, which would lie ahead.  Trust His perfect plans for you, even when He speaks the word immediately to you.

There were days when I wanted to ask the disciples if they ever looked back, if they missed just being a fisherman or if they missed their friends and families?

Then I hear Jesus’ words from Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

I have learned that sometimes Jesus asks us to leave our nets and follow Him and learn to depend upon Him and only Him.  It is in this dependence where the sweet blessing is found.  It is in the dependence, when we take His yoke upon us and learn from Jesus that we find true rest for our souls.  Isn’t that what we all are truly looking for? True rest which is found in Christ alone!

 

 

The Summer Bucket List: Making the Most of the Last Days of Summer

No time during the year flies as quickly as summertime.  It seems school lets out and we feel the freedom of summer for only a few short days before we are back to packing lunches and managing homework.  I am primarily a stay at home mom to our 2 girls, currently 11 and 8.  During the school year, we spend our afternoons and weekends running from one activity to the next, so when summer rolls around, we are ready for a break!  We typically enjoy lazy days at the pool and spend a good deal of our time at Deep Creek Lake with family and friends.  Soon enough however, the first day of school comes and I start to wonder where the summer went and what we did with our time.  Did we make the most of it or did we squander it?  Will I look back in 10 years when the girls are gone and wish I had spent the time differently, if I can even remember how we spent the time at all?  

As Emily, our eldest, started progressing through elementary school, I came to the realization that not only did each summer pass quickly, but the summers would soon, in the not so distant future, look different as well.  The girls would become more independent, and start making their own plans that sadly, wouldn’t always include me.  Realizing that both the summer days and years were moving much too quickly, I decided that I needed to become more intentional with how we spent this time together.  I also wanted to remember these carefree days without regret, both at the end of each summer and years down the road.   I didn’t want to just “coast” through another summer.  

I’ve always found “to do” lists helpful. Writing down everything I need/want to do helps calm me when I am overwhelmed, and also helps me structure and prioritize my time.  Quite simply, “to do” lists help me get stuff done!  (And few things feel as satisfying as checking another item off the list!)  And so, out of my desire to be more intentional with the girls, combined with my love of lists, the Summer Bucket List was born!  It started as a spontaneous idea – one in which I jotted ideas down on Post-It Notes.  I just happened to have a block of 3 different colors of Post-Its, so as I wrote down ideas for summer activities, I mixed the colors and started sticking them up on the wall next to my desk in the kitchen.  The girls loved the idea and started contributing their own ideas.  

As a family (dad included!), we had a great time that first summer picking and experiencing activities on the list.  As we “checked” another item off the list, we removed the corresponding Post It Note from the wall, so we could easily assess which activities were left.  When the first day of school came around that year, I didn’t feel the same angst I had in the past; I could look back at the picture I had taken of the original list and remember all the things we had done.  I was still sad that summertime was over, but I felt a certain satisfaction, knowing we had made the most of our time.    

Over the last 4 years, our Summer Bucket List has evolved.  While there are still plenty of fun activities on the list, the girls will tell you there are some new “work items” on the list as well.  Going to the pool with friends is coupled with setting a reading goal for the summer and sometimes earning a coupon book from the public library. This year we added reading a book together.  Learning Something New, like how to dive into the pool or riding a 2-wheeler, is always something we include on the list.  Purging and re-organizing the girls’ bedrooms is another new activity that we added this year.  I’m not sure it’s a “fan favorite”, but I think at the end of the day (and it did take the larger part of the day!), we all felt that together, we had accomplished something good.  Another one of our other favorite bucket list items is volunteering our time and helping someone in need.  This year, we are donating school supplies and helping to pack the backpacks that will go to the kids in our area who need them.  

Do we always accomplish every item on the list?  No.  And that’s ok.  The list is not meant to create stress.  Frankly, we usually end up with too many items on the list that we can realistically accomplish in our short summers, but I don’t want to dampen anyone’s spirit by not including all of their ideas.  Sometimes the things we don’t get to do carry over into the fall or the following summer.  Do we have some days when we don’t do anything on the list?  Of course! And we enjoy these days and don’t feel badly about not crossing something off the list every day.   

The point of the Summer Bucket List is to inspire me, as a mom, to be intentional with block of unscheduled time that summer naturally brings.   The Bible tells us in James 4:14 that life is short.  The New Living Translation puts it like this:  “Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here for a little while and then it’s gone.”  Wow.  That is a powerful reminder of how quickly our time on Earth passes by.  And here we are, just a few short weeks away from summer’s end.  If you feel like you’ve made the most of this summer, fantastic!   Keep going!  If you are feeling a bit discouraged, it isn’t too late to make a mini bucket list.  Gather your family, jot a few ideas down, and go for it!  Make the most of these last few weeks and enjoy the time together!  

Sherry Fischer-HeadShot.JPG

Sherry grew up and still lives in Northern Virginia.  She obtained her Bachelors Degree (James Madison University) and Masters Degree (Virginia Commonwealth University), both in Social Work.  Sherry worked in a hospital setting as a Medical Social Worker/Case Manager for 20 years.   Sherry married Karl when she was 38 and is now a full time stay at home mom to Emily (12) and Abby (9).  When the girls were preschoolers, Sherry was an active participant and eventually served as a leader for Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS).  Once both girls were in school full time, Sherry joined the Passion4Moms team, where she is currently the Director of Hospitality and enjoys writing periodic blogs. For fun, Sherry enjoys making cherished memories with family and friends at Deep Creek Lake in Maryland.     

Boundaries with Social Media

If you are like me as a mom, you have seen all of your friends amazing vacation pictures of the summer, and you are holding your breath knowing all the first day of school pics are coming.  Social Media is an amazing tool to stay in touch especially with friend's and family who live far away, but sometimes it feels like this new way of connecting, social media, becomes more divisive than connecting.  Often times, I find myself comparing to others and feeling inadequate or insecure, especially as a mom. 

Social Media pretty much feels like middle school all over again. Why do we do this to ourselves? The drama of who has more likes, who can post the best vacation pic, who has the most creativity, who has the coolest VIP encounter consumes every post. I mean, seriously, it feels like social media is the perpetual state of living out middle school drama no matter how old we are! Social media has many positive opportunities to engage with people we would normally not be able to keep up with in life.  There are many pros to the tools we have available at our fingertips today. However, like anything in life we can take something that is good and create extremes that become a negative or have some downsides.

If your like me, I have noticed a couple of things that have happened over the last few years of scrolling social media. I have noticed that we not only put up our best moments that are well edited to enhance a perception of a perfect life, but we have also created a platform of comparison. It becomes an unspoken competition or need to feel valued or have an identity by posting our daily lives especially those moments that make us look successful.  We begin trying to “out-do” one another. This is filtering down to the next generation and we have kids that are looking for accolades by how many “likes” they get on an IG post rather than interacting face to face. Again, I love the benefits of social media. However, I am also seeing some negative effects on families, not only for moms, but for kids as we are looking to keep up or find our identity by someone clicking a like on our edited photos.

The question becomes am I longing to be more like Jesus or am I longing for “likes”.  We are being consumed as moms, and even as kids, with a pressure to compete which only leads us to feelings of depression when we can’t keep up. We are putting an undue burden on ourselves and our kids to measure success by edited highlight reels of moments rather than who we really are as a person.  This is not reality and can be really emotionally damaging.

We need boundaries when it comes to social media. There are times I can become discouraged or depressed by just seeing someone else appearing to be more successful because of pictures they post. We must create boundaries by limiting who we follow and how much time we spend on social media.  If you know a particular person is a trigger for feeling depressed or inadequate, don’t follow them. If you don’t have the self-control to limit how many times you go on social media or how much time you spend on it, then further measures need to be taken such as removing the app from my phone or having some accountability for how much time we spend on social media. And finally, to be honest, I do think we should think through the WHY behind our post.  Are we creating a place to make us feel valuable and important searching for worth and identity through how many likes and comments we receive or are we finding our worth and identity in our Creator? It is important that we as moms understand we are modeling for our kids where to find our identity.  Again, social media is an amazing platform, but we must not let it control our mental and emotional outlook on life or our identity which should be rooted and grounded in Jesus.