Posts tagged faith
Celebrating our Children's Spiritual Birthdays

It’s no secret that I like to have fun (always). I love to celebrate life, creating a space for making memories regardless of life circumstances or challenges. As a living life-to-the-fullest kind of gal, life is short and yet such a beautiful gift from God, our Creator, that making each day count is really important to me. Celebrating our spiritual life as well as our physical life is a gift we can give to our children.

Today is Reagan and Jordan’s spiritual birthday…13 years old!! They are 13 year old teenagers as daughters of the King! Monday is Riley’s spiritual birthday when she will turn 10…double digits!! January is a big month of celebrating God’s incredible gift of salvation, our redemption, and being reminded of who and whose we are in Him!

Why is it really important to celebrate our children’s spiritual birthdays? Personally, I think it reminds them of who they are in Christ. It reminds us all that this is not our home and that the things of this world pale in comparison of our eternal home. Our days are numbered and one day we will all spend eternity…somewhere. Being able to remind our children of their eternal home and that our days on earth are for God’s glory not our own, is really important to me. We celebrate our daughters physical birthdays in a variety of traditions we have created (I’ll share those another another post), but every January I want my 3 Princesses to be reminded they are royalty! They are daughters of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. They are created in the image of God-image bearers. They have been created to bring God glory and reflect Him in their words and actions…not just when they are adults but NOW as children and teens! When we remember who we are and whose name we bear and represent, it reminds us that our words matter, our actions, and behaviors mean something. I could not be more proud of my double digit (on Monday) Riley, and my two teenager daughters Reagan and Jordan and how they shine Jesus well!

Here are 3 practical ways you can celebrate your children’s spiritual birth:

  1. Remember! It seems easy, but just remembering to write down the date they ask Jesus to be Lord and Savior of their lives is a big deal. The Bible is full of reminders and admonitions to His people to WRITE things down, TELL them to your children, CREATE stones of remembrance so that you will not forget! Every year, for us January 17 and January 21 we tell our girls Happy Birthday and celebrate their new life in Jesus. (If you or your child does not remember the actual date they asked Jesus into their lives, pick a date close to the time of year it was within the year it occurred, and celebrate that date each year.)

  2. Encourage! Find ways throughout the year to encourage your children spiritual. Make sure you are creating a time and space for them to have Jesus time. For my daughters, they do their own Jesus time independently, but sometimes I like to ask them what they are reading and learning. Make your home a place of continual conversation about Truth (Jesus), life from a Biblical worldview, and a peaceful place of worship with worship music as we point our children to Jesus in our 24/7.

  3. Memorize! Hiding God’s Word in your heart as a child is essential. The verses we know best as adults are the ones we memorized as children. Knowing God’s Word in our hearts will help convict and remind us of His truth in tough and challenging situations.

New Year Resolutions

As we enter a new calendar year, this often compels us to an eager anticipation for a sense of newness—a fresh start.  Whether it is driven by an urgency for change or a comfort in new beginnings, many people use January as a way of re-setting lifestyle choices or patterns they want to implement. The calendar gives us a natural transition into new beginnings. 

I love the distinction I recently heard Senator Ben Sasse offer between habits and addictions. The only difference between habits and addictions is that if it’s something good that we want or desire it’s a habit, but if it is something we don’t want or is bad for us then it is an addiction.

Many of us begin a new year with good intentions for a fresh start with a bold determination for building new muscles of habits we intend to keep, but often we fall back into old patterns and addictions.

The word resolution (n) is a firm decision to do or not to do something; the quality of being determined or resolute. The word resolute (adj) is a firm determination to do something or (v) decide firmly on a course of action. Both words come from the same meaning with a resolve to take a new course of action. But in order for us to build the muscle of “habit” we must be resolved to follow through with a resolution.  Resolutions technically are more than just goals, it is a resolve for action. 

Moms, what does this look like practically in our lives, in our homes, and for our children?

The Bible uses the word resolved on three occasions. All three references refer to a resolve to know Jesus and walk in purity and obedience. 

Psalm 17:3 “Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.”

Daniel 1:8 “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.”

1 Corinthians 2:2 “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

David resolves to keep his mouth from sin. “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” which tells us this is more than just watching the words that come from our mouth, this is a heart transformation of a life that seeks to know God and reflect the image of God.  Daniel resolved to not defile himself although his place of life and work provided him essentially anything he could have wanted.  He created space and boundaries to look different from the world and honor God. And finally, Paul is resolved to know Jesus fully. He dedicated his life to bask in the presence of the Almighty to know God and make Him known. He was resolved to not let distractions (although probably good things) get in the way of knowing Jesus. 

Moms, I think there is a lot we can learn when it comes to resolutions and how we teach our children about resolutions in life. While healthy eating habits and exercise or ridding our life of addictions is good and keeps us in balance, where we put our resolve each year (each day) should be like the examples set before us.  If I resolve to do anything in life, my resolve is to know the Father heart of God so that my heart and mind are transformed into His likeness. My deepest desire for my daughters is that they are resolved to know God and make Him known living out their purpose in being created. 

As we begin a new year, may we challenge one another to be resolved to know a Father God who loves us and sent His Son to die for our salvation. When this becomes our primary focus in life, and we like Paul, are determined and resolved to know Jesus and make Him known, this allows us to maintain boundaries, protect our homes, and our time as we point our children to Jesus. 

Reflections on Father’s Day: 40 Years as a Child of God

Everyone is called by a name, but few get the honor to call someone by such a personal, intimate name like father or daddy.  It does not require a personal relationship to call a man by their given name such as David, Paul, or Michael. But calling someone father or daddy, this is personal. This is reserved for a special relationship, a unique privilege for a son or daughter. 

Contributing to “the act” of a baby coming into this world can be relatively easy, fun, and enjoyable. It doesn’t take necessarily a strong man to make this kind of contribution. But fathering a baby is not being a father. Fatherhood is an honor. Fatherhood is a responsibility that requires great sacrifice. 

This year, Father’s Day is particularly meaningful and personal for me. Today, I celebrate 40 years of calling God my Father—having a personal relationship with God as my Father and being His child. As a young six year old girl on a Father’s Day Sunday afternoon, I knelt beside my parent’s bed with my parents on either side of me, and gave Jesus my life and entered into the family of God. Calling God, the Creator of heaven and earth, father or daddy is extremely personal for me. It is not a formal relationship, but rather a father/daughter relationship with on-going conversation that is 24/7. A lot of people refer to God as God, but they do not have a personal relationship to call Him Father or Daddy.

Father’s Day can illicit a plethora of emotions ranging from an extraordinary appreciation or deep love to an indescribable pain or hurt. One’s relationship with their father in many ways has a direct impact on who we are today. The father/child relationship influences all relationships we have in life. The significance of this relationship colors the world we live in and how we see life and others. Whether you were deeply hurt by your father or were held by loving arms of a father, we see the world through the lens of this relationship. Over the last 25 years of doing ministry, one thing I have observed is the fact that many men “father” children, but not all are committed to the sacrifice and honor that fatherhood requires.  

Our society does not value the family. And fathers walking out on their families is rampant. While it doesn’t take a strong man to contribute to birthing a child, it take an extraordinary strong man to stay and embrace the sacrifice of fatherhood and commitment to one’s family. My heart is broken to watch men walk away from the commitment of fatherhood. 

Fatherhood provides a tangible visual for us to embrace the father-heart of God. Although imperfect in our humanity, there are distinct ways we can get a glimpse of God’s love in the gift of fatherhood. Fatherhood is an honor. It is a sacred relationship that has the potential to reflect the image of God as Father. While there are many qualities that fatherhood embodies, there are 5 that I think are essential and allow us to see God as a Father: Unconditional Love, Protection, Discipline, Faithfulness, and Forgiveness.

Each and everyone of us long to be loved with an unconditional love. We will never measure up by our actions or behaviors. We will all make mistakes. A good father will love us when we mess up. His love will never be conditional. It won’t matter what kind of grades we make, how we perform on the field, or how successful we are in our profession. A father that loves unconditionally gives the gift of loving us because of who we are, not what we have to offer. Unconditional love celebrates who we have been created to be loving us no matter what—regardless of our failures. 

We live in a world of good vs evil, strong vs weak. A father that provides protection and defends his sons and daughters teaches his children that there is safety at home. There is safety in a father’s loving arms. That protection and security a father can provide allows his children the carefree freedom to explore and thrive knowing their father will rescue, defend, and protect them at all cost.

Love provides discipline. Discipline is a gift given to those we love and want to see successful in life. It is nurturing correction that allows a child to learn right from wrong. It is a way for a child to feel safe and loved because there are boundaries in place to keep them from harm. Discipline is not done in anger, but rather love. No correction is enjoyable at the time, but a child that has been provided loving discipline will thrive and be confident able to discern right from wrong. A child that is disciplined is blessed. 

Faithfulness is the gift given to a family of not giving up or walking out when times are hard. Faithfulness provides a stability and safety for children to experience in the home. Faithfulness is a picture of a love that never ends. All families will experience hardships. In a broken world, it is impossible to live together as a family and not experience pain, brokenness, and heartache. But a father who never leaves and withstands the storms of life holding hands with his bride and children by his side is a man of courage.  A man of strength never leaves or abandons those he has been entrusted to keep safe in the midst of life’s storms. A good father never leaves. 

Life is riddled with choices from the moment our eyes open in a sun-lit room to the time we drift off in slumber at night. With every decision there are consequences. When we make wise decisions, there are blessings that fill our lives. And likewise, when we make the wrong decision, we have to live with the consequences of our choices. A father that navigates and helps guide his children with wisdom, but is there to hold and comfort, teach and correct a child when poor choices have been made is the epitome of forgiveness. There is not a person who is alive and breathing that does not need the gift of forgiveness. We all are desperate for forgiveness because we all mess up. A father who can calmly teach and correct a child through their painful mistakes is a father who loves deeply. Forgiveness does not eliminate consequences or discipline. Forgiveness is a beautiful gift a father can give recognizing that we all are in need of grace. 

It is in our humanity that we are all reminded that the best of us struggle with providing any of these five qualities with excellence. Our selfishness and pride often stand in the way of articulating and executing any of these qualities successfully. There are many who read through a list like this and are reminded of all the ways their father has failed them. Walking out on their mother and siblings, remind them of the hurt they can’t seem to move past. Estranged relationships leave so many in pain due to abuse and mis-management of the role of fatherhood. However, many of us do have fathers that have loved us well and modeled many of these traits with excellence. There are fathers, while not perfect, who do strive to provide these qualities to their families. 

And there is hope. Regardless of the kind of experience you had with your father, there is one thing for certain—no father is perfect. That is, all but one. God’s love is unconditional. He has given us the ultimate gift of love by giving His Son, Jesus, as the sacrifice for our sin which separates us from His perfection. He is a Father that loves us as sons and daughters. He is our protection. He is our defender. He is our shield. He is there to pick us up when we fall down. He is there to hold us tight as the Father who lovingly embraces and holds as His child. He is perfect, without sin, and yet it is His loving discipline that calls us to repentances and relationship with Him. God’s faithfulness is the promise of never leaving us or forsaking us. He never walks out or abandons us. It is His faithfulness that is always standing with open arms to receive us, welcome us, and hold us despite our shortcomings. 

And because of His great love for us, it is His forgiveness that creates the bridge of reconciliation from our humanity to the family of God. It is the sacrifice God offered by giving His one and only Son to become sin and the sacrifice for mankind to enter into the loving family of God. That kind of sacrifice can only be offered by a true, loving, and perfect Father. This is the gift of fatherhood that only God Himself has the power or authority to offer. 

It is the chasm of selfishness and pride that we find ourselves, which prevents us from receiving this gift of true Fatherhood He offers. Regardless of the relationship we have had with our earthly father, we are all offered the gift of a perfect Father that offers unconditional love, protection, discipline, faithfulness, and forgiveness. Today, I celebrate Father’s Day honoring my earthly father, and father of my daughters, but most of all 40 years as a daughter of the King. A Father’s Day that provides us a home in eternity offering us unconditional love and forgiveness because of the gift of His Son, Jesus. The gift of calling our Creator, Father, is the ultimate celebration of Father’s Day. This is Fatherhood. 

Hope-Filled Brokenness

Romans 15:13 “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  

When we had first moved to Houston, I was struggling to adjust to my new normal and the Lord gave me a word picture of how He wanted me to live my life. It was a very broken and cracked vase, which had definitely seen and experienced a lot of life.  It was so cracked that it could not hold water.  As water was poured into the vase, it would begin trickling out of some smaller cracks and gushing out of the larger cracks.  This vase appeared quite useless and without a real purpose, other than as a new décor piece for a mantle.  This was not really the look I was aiming for however at this point, I definitely felt like that broken vase.  I felt quite tired and useless being placed here in Houston far away from family and friends.  The easiest thing would be to stay on the mantle and reflect on all the wonderful memories but the Lord wanted me off the shelf to be used once again.  This is always easier said than done.  

So I allowed the Lord to take me off that shelf and begin to use me in little ways as I stepped out here and there.  The more the Lord chose to use me, the more water would leak from my cracks.  So I found myself beginning to try to patch the cracks in my vase with various things.  I felt like if I looked prettier on the outside, perhaps my cracks would not be noticed.  New hairstyles, new outfits and a newly decorated house only ended up making me fall deeper into a pit of comparison and broke my vase in additional places.  My increased insecurities welcomed in some emotional eating, where food became another coping mechanism to help distract me from the loneliness that was filling my heart.  The additional pounds that I added to my waistline only created more cracks in my shell of insecurity, causing me to want to jump right back onto that shelf and hide.  But the Lord kept pulling me off that shelf and showing me the things I had filled my life with in order to “fix my brokenness”.

Situation after situation came into my life, which brought additional brokenness into my heart.  Emotions, which I thought were placed behind me, came reeling back to me again.  A few dreams that I once held dear needed to be let go and grieved which required me to fully trust the Lord’s plans for me and my family.  The only thing I could really do was spend extra time really filling myself with His truths.  I prayed fervently, I read His Word voraciously and I cried out to the Lord for answers to how to walk in this brokenness, which I was feeling.  Over time as I sought Him, I began to sense that He was not asking me to walk in brokenness but instead was showing me that He wanted me to walk in HOPE FILLED brokenness!  Just two simple words with ten letters but that made all the difference.

When I walk in this type of brokenness, His hope is pouring out of me, rather than my emotions, my sadness or my despair.  Jesus is my true and lasting hope.  He is the One who shines in my life and enables me to love others despite how I may be feeling. I want my heart to overflow with the hope of His return, I want to cling loosely to the things of this world and I want to be filled with the hope of Christ and all that entails.  When this hope is filling my heart, my focus is on Christ and not on myself.  This is the hope He is asking to walk in and to be filled with so when He chooses to uses me, as I am … a broken and worn vase…. His hope would overflow from me by the power of His Holy Spirit.

Are you feeling broken and unable to be used by the Lord?  Know that Jesus desires to shine His light brightly through your cracks as you cling tightly to Him and choose to walk in His hope.  Christ is our lasting hope and He desires that we live our lives hope filled even on those days when we are feeling broken.

Guest Contributor:

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Mary and her college sweetheart, Matt, have been married 27 years, have lived in WI, VA, TX, and they currently live in Ann Arbor, MI.  She is learning to embrace the “empty nest” years along with the travel which goes along with having her three grown children on both the east and west coasts. Mary enjoys spending time with her family, wherever and whenever they can gather, as well as reading, studying the Word, and spending time soaking in the beauty of God’s creation.

 

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.

Sherry Fischer-HeadShot.JPG

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.  

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.

 

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)