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Happily Ever After, One Choice at a Time

cropped-wedding-groom-and-bride2.jpgWith the words, “I do” we make a choice. And then we make a zillion choices in the ever-after which will determine our happiness or our not-so happiness.

Viktor Frankl said that “between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” Each day is full of those spaces to choose.

I wonder, when I married my husband, if you would have shown me a movie of the coming years of his job-loss related debilitating depression and the downward spiral of 10 years coming after, during which Jeff tried to help start a business, how I would have responded. Maybe I would have passed out cold. I am thankful life it has been one day at a time.

The other day, I looked through some of my prayer journals from these 12 1/2 years. I saw how God had helped me through each crisis of faith. Many times, when I needed wisdom to make wise choices, I asked God. God gave it.

It is God’s wisdom that helps a despairing wife hold on to her commitment and stay by her struggling husband when the world shouts the easy answer, to run away. It is God’s wisdom which helps her see that often the pain she is experiencing is not caused from outside her, but inside her.

You cannot run away far enough, when the problem is inside of you. So much of what we wrestle with as wives has to do with not being fully filled with God. It’s as if our hearts are empty vacuums. This sucks the life out of our marriages.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit a hurting wife can choose to go so deep in her love relationship with God that her marriage relationship to her husband is not a vacuum of expectation but a wellspring of deep joy.

Here are some power verses which have helped me. Personalize and turn these into prayers, especially during feelings of hopelessness.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” *

“We … exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope”. **

Through God’s wisdom, I’ve been empowered to choose to let go what doesn’t really matter, and hold on to what does. It’s been my experience that growth and freedom are sure to follow!

*Romans 5:3-4 **Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

Persevering in the Wilderness of Time…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave you ever said this – “I can’t wait until…”? What I’ve learned through heart wrenching times of persevering is – I can wait and as I wait, God teaches me how to trust. Here’s part of what I mean by trust.

T ake God at His Word
R ealize God is in no hurry, and rules over time
U nderstand God is with you and often uses time as a tool to shape you
S aturate yourself in God’s Word
T urn the situation completely over to God and take the steps He asks

Take God at His Word. The Bible is full of promises such as God’s love will last forever (Psalm 136), God will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:36), and the fact that God is at work in all things using them to work together for our good and spiritual maturity, and making us more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29).

Realize God is in no hurry and He is sovereign over time. The Old Testament Joshua-story found in chapter 10 of that book finds Joshua fighting a war. Joshua was so desperate he asked God to make the sun stand still. And God did it. Is there anything God can’t do? God is the same God today as He was then, thou He works in different ways; He is capable of helping you and me in ways we cannot even imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

Understand God is with you and often uses time as a tool to shape you. Clock watching gets us nowhere, God-watching does. Watch for what God is up to in the processes. The great Old Testament God-follower Moses learned how God shapes us through time. Moses’ life is divided into three forty year periods where he waited for God. I do not think Moses would have been ready to progress to the next place with God, without the lessons he learned while waiting. When you’re waiting remember the Psalm that says God will fulfill his purpose for us (Psalm 138:8).

Saturate yourself in God’s Word. A sponge soaks up whatever it is in. We are a bit like sponges. We can saturate ourselves in worry. We can saturate ourselves in frustration. We can even saturate ourselves in bitterness. It doesn’t always feel like we have a choice but really we do … it is a choice what we choose to do as we persevere. Sometimes the discipline of getting into God’s Word and studying feels as if it’s the last thing we want to do when we want something to happen. But I’ve found perseverance pays, and studying God’s Word can yield the richest learning… because God really does want to communicate with me and you.

Turn the situation completely over to him and take the steps He asks. Worry is one of the most destructive tendencies we have but worry can teach us how to meditate. Worry trains our minds to mull over OUR problems. When we meditate, we can choose to train our minds to mull over Scriptures and to let go, making it GOD’s problem. Trust is a choice but in the process the choice makes us… if we don’t give up.??????????????????????????????????????????

9 Ways to Take Hold of Hope

sunrays blog picMy friend Amy and I caught up on our progress over dealing with our husbands’ depressions. Smiles lit our faces as we related with one anothers’ feelings of relief–our husbands’ depressions were lifting! We praised God together. We both agreed it felt like sunshine was coming back in our lives. As I have dealt with my husband Jeff’s depression and my own subsequent depression over his depression, I realized a lot. I understand depression is a very complex issue, but here are some ways I learned to take hold of hope when my husband was in his valley of depression and I felt helpless to do anything.

1. Reach for Real Comfort-A cookie fresh from the oven can bring comfort for a moment. So can two or three. But I know from experience after munching down a few too many comforting cookies, my waistband begins to pinch on those pants which used to fit so nicely. The real comfort of God’s life-giving Word makes even the most delicious cookie crumble in comparison.

Take Hold of Hope: Find a book study with lots of Bible application questions. Or try a Bible study on a favorite book of the Bible (Philippians for example). As you study, ask questions. “What does this say?” “What can I learn?” “What can I apply to my life and circumstance right now?” Write these questions down along with the answers. Keep a prayer journal where you write out your prayers like letters to God. Just be yourself, and tell God every single thing on your heart.

2. Reach for Real Friends-For a time, when Jeff’s depression was worst and it rocked my soul to the very foundations of my faith, I and several friends took part in a book study by Stormie Omartian called “Power of a Praying Wife”. I felt their support. We grew together as we studied. It helped so much to have Christians emotionally close and in tune with my struggles. It helped to pray for one another.

Take Hold of Hope: Pick up the phone and call or message one or several real Christian friends today. Schedule that time on your calendar when you can get together. Join an area Bible study. Bible Study Fellowship International offers a great support mechanism. Find a class near you at https://www.bsfinternational.org/

3. Reach for Real Discipline-It will seem counter-intuitive to fight depression with self-discipline but, from experience, God has taught me it’s important. 2 Timothy 1:7 in the NIV says “For the Spirit God gave us… gives us… self-discipline”. The KJV uses “sound mind” in place of “self-discipline”. I’ve found there is a real connection between these two. I know depression is a complex issue, but discipline does help. It helps to take my vitamin D and B12, limit sugar, and get up at the right time. Exercise also stimulates the serotonin levels in the brain. Another area of self-discipline is upkeep. This may be as simple as doing a spa day from time to time—condition your hair and wrap it in a warm towel. Do a pedicure or better yet, have your friends over for a spa night. It doesn’t have to be expensive. You can use things like brown sugar, for a revitalizing facial scrub or mayonnaise to condition your hair. Drinking enough water is also an important discipline. About 48 ounces is my goal, although I feel good to get in my 32 ounces with my morning treadmill workout. And one of the important areas I don’t want to neglect is disciplining the thought life and the mouth. Philippians 4:8 says, “… whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them]” (AMP). What we think flows from our mouths. But it can also work the other way around. When we say something negative, we cement it further into our minds and magnify the negative thought in the other person’s mind. Thinking faith filled thoughts takes effort. But Matthew 9:29 seems to indicate that God rewards faith when he says “according to your faith let it be done to you”.

Take Hold of Hope: Select one area discussed in this section and take action today.

4. Reach for Your Real Potential-What are your gifts? Are you using them? No? No wonder you’re depressed! I know the feeling of un-fulfillment and dis-satisfaction. Not using our gifts stems from several issues. For one thing, many don’t know what they are. If that’s you, I urge you to find and take a spiritual gifts survey. This will help you identify your gifts and boost your faith that God has indeed gifted you. Everybody has gifts. Some are behind the scenes. Some take center stage. Once you know your gifts you can start developing them.

Take Hold of Hope: Ask your pastor to administer a spiritual gifts survey to you. Then from the results, ask him where you can use your gifts in the church and beyond.

5. Reach for Real Mentors-With giftedness comes development. You may know how to sing but need to build your stage presence. You may have a lot of talents for songwriting but you may have a lot to learn and you need a better understanding of the process and discipline involved. Someone very wise once said, “When the student is ready, the teacher shows up”. Pray for mentors, not people who you admire from afar, but people who will get into the nit-grit of your life and guide you over the rough spots where they’ve already been. In my case I felt God’s strong leading into music, songwriting, and writing for publications. I had already written a drawer-full of songs and self-published CDs. I had a decent sized clip-file of published ministry materials, yet there was still much I didn’t know. As I turned my worries into prayers and asked God specifically for mentors, mentors came into my life. Talk about bright rays of sunlight! They saw my hurt, my pain of underachievement and underdeveloped gifts. Taking my hand, they led me to needful resources and organizations. My writing mentor Arlene urged me to develop my public speaking skills through joining Toastmasters International. She also supported my leading an area writers’ support group, she helped me learn new skills, she provided emotional help along the way, as well as prayer. My music mentor Laura helped me get to my first songwriting conference and this led to meeting people in the field and learning under their wise counsel and godly leadership. I actually attended my second songwriting conference, bringing CDs to sell in order to pay back Laura for hotel bills and gas. I sold a lot of CDs at the conference. I gave many away and just offered them for a donation. A leader in the music world actually bought a copy of each of my CDs. I wept as I told him my story of trying to pursue my gifts when my husband had lost his job and was uber depressed. It was so humbling to have this great leader in the Christian music holding my songs in his hands. I can’t even describe the feeling in words.

Take Hold of Hope: Pray for God to send mentors into your life.

6. Reach for Reality-Row-row-rowing your boat through life without stepping out on faith hurts. That kind of life is not a dream. It’s closer to a nightmare. Your life-span, if you’re blessed, may be ninety years. When you get halfway to that point, mid-life may seem daunting if you haven’t started to live and really started to give of your life and talents to help others. Why is realizing the brevity of life so important? Because with this understanding comes courage. You and I aren’t guaranteed one more breath, one more heartbeat, or one more welcome-home kiss for our spouse.

Take Hold of Hope: Ask yourself what’s the scariest aspect of using your gifts? Now ask yourself, “how would I want to live if this were my last opportunity?” This always gives me courage to take the stage and sing my heart out for Jesus! It can give you courage to use your gifts too.

7. Reach for a “Life’s Really not About me” Attitude-Ouch! This hurts. I knew this in my head, but my heart didn’t understand “it” wasn’t about me until later in life. Often society teaches us to be “me” centered and to look out for number one. That’s not reality. My life is not about me. My gifts aren’t about me. My words aren’t about me. They are about others, and God. When I began to learn this, the magnifying glass shifted from my needs to others’ needs. I could be happy with the blessings God had given me.

Take Hold of Hope: Find someone in need and meet that need for them by using your God-given gifts.

8. Reach for the Real God Who Loves You with an Everlasting Love-One of my favorite verses is “…We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Depression has helped me see how fragile I can be—an “earthen vessel”. How humbling yet how beautiful to know that God’s all-surpassing power is available to me, through every moment of life, for better or for worse, God is mine and I am His!

Take Hold of Hope: I challenge you to flip to the topical index in the back of your Bible, locate several verses about God’s everlasting love. Write them out and place them on your mirror. Start memorizing them today.

9. Reach for real Hope from God, not Circumstances-Expectations are like a balloon. If you lose hold, expectations fly away, leaving you empty. Hoping in God, our Rock is solid hope. Sometimes doubts come to our faith because we expect certain things from God. We expect him to check the yes box. When he says no it can feel like he’s betrayed us. But God goes deeper than our unmet expectations. I remember praying to receive certain things that I never got. However, later down the path, I saw that when God said no, it was the best thing ever.

Take Hold of Hope: Sometimes in order to take hold of hope you need to release your expectations. Ask God for strength to let go.

10. Reach for Heaven in our Real World-The word heaven gets tossed around. I know the title promised “9 ways to take hold of hope”. Ten is a number symbolizing perfection. The world has never perfect since Eve bit the apple in the Garden of Eden. Yet fairytales seem to live in our hearts. Why? Our hearts were not made for this sin-tainted existence. We were not made for this broken world… we were made for heaven. When we feel disappointed from unmet expectations, we can choose to reach our hearts toward heaven. As we, by faith, take hold of the hope of the perfection only heaven will bring, we can let the broken pieces of our life fall into God’s hands. And the wonderful thing is, as God comforts us, he can use the most painful trials to help others find hope. This is a little bit of heaven in our real world.

Take Hold of Hope: Place scripture around the home. Hope verses are taped on my calendar, written on chalk boards in my kitchen and laundry room, even inside my bathroom cupboard. Here’s one for this one this week: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of sympathy (pity and mercy) and the God [Who is the Source] of every comfort (consolation and encouragement), Who comforts (consoles and encourages) us in every trouble (calamity and affliction), so that we may also be able to comfort (console and encourage) those who are in any kind of trouble or distress, with the comfort (consolation and encouragement) with which we ourselves are comforted (consoled and encouraged) by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, AMP).

If you reach for real hope, and take hold of it, you’ll find real hope has a name. His name, Jesus.

Letting Go…What to Do When Your Expectations POP!

Revised Version of "Congrats bqt" by Photographer: Warren Denning. Creative Director: Stan Weir. Marketing Director: Tim Vlamis - Pioneer Balloon Company. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://bit.ly/1xq3jTw
Revised Version of “Congrats bqt” by Photographer: Warren Denning. Creative Director: Stan Weir. Marketing Director: Tim Vlamis – Pioneer Balloon Company. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://bit.ly/1xq3jTw

There’s something so cheery about clutching colorful balloons… that is, until they deflate or pop. Four years into marriage, Jeff, my charming husband lost his 12 year career position. I tried to hang on to all those high floating dreams I had attached to my marriage. Doing so just tangled my life in knots.
Slowly, as I’ve learned how to let go of my expectations, God has set me free more and more. Here are some things I learned that have helped me let go.
L – Let go. Letting go. It sounds simple. But sometimes it’s really hard to release your grip on the things you have assumed you would have. In my book I go into more details of how to let go if you’re struggling hard like I was. One of the most important lessons is to recognize your expectations for what they are, deflated, done, yesterday. I had to ask myself, “Don’t you want to live?” Life is too short to hold on to all the strings of those old deflated dreams. What I began to realize as I let go, was that I could place all of it in God’s hands. He knew what was best and he knew how to untangle the mess I was in.
I – Identify what’s behind those expectations. I had to ask some personal and scary questions as I let go. Questions like, “why is this so important to me?” When I brought these to God he helped me identify issues like, fear, needing the approval of others, lack of a good firm identity in God, lack of trust that God knew what’s best for me, and even believing lies of entitlement that I somehow deserved all my dreams to come true.
F – Fight through flighty feelings. Our own Feelings will victimize us if we let them. Mine had me so tangled in a mess that I was despairing of my life. Myopia set in and I lost sight of my purpose in life. But hadn’t God’s Word said somewhere that I could take captive every thought? What I learned as I spent tearful moments in prayer and honesty with God who the Bible describes as “wonderful in counsel”, “magnificent in wisdom” (Isaiah 28-29) –was that it was in fact possible to fight my own feelings. As I identified why I was feeling the way I was, I realized it didn’t line up with my life as a daughter of the King. As a child of the King, I was in fact a real life princess, heir to all God desired for my life! As I got up out of the tangles and understood how to attach my hope to God, he gave me new dreams. As I gave him my hurts and confusion, God helped me write about them and reach out to others with the comfort he gave to me. Do you know what pure joy feels like? It’s when God transforms your deepest hurts to help others heal (See 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
T – Thankful – Gratitude is a choice. It might feel like a stretch, but right now, before you do anything else, I want you to think of 1 thing you can feel thankful for… one for every finger on your hands. If you can, hold up your fingers and put them down when you speak aloud each “thank you God for _____”. Do you feel a lift? Not yet. Do this again, making lists on your fingers until you begin to sense the lift.
Focusing on fragile temporal expectations, it is a little like depending on a bunch of balloons to sustain our happiness. When we learn to place our hope in God, more and more, our life becomes secure. Here’s a great verse to memorize. “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” Lamentations 3:24 NLT.