The Elusiveness of Rest

Why does rest seem such an illusive state to many of us? How is it that we somehow keep pushing ourselves, sometimes to our absolute limit, without even realizing it? Why do we feel guilty if we take a break? Why do we drive ourselves so ruthlessly?

For most of my adult life, rest was a foreign concept to me. In my late thirties, my chiropractor asked me what I do to relax. I looked at him blankly and couldn’t think of a single thing. My friends used to ask me what I did for “alone time” (since I homeschooled my kids), and I would respond with something to the effect that “alone time” is more a selfish, popular notion.

I constantly ran at full tilt, thoughtlessly adding more to my already overstuffed life. It seemed my yes’s were as prolific as my state of perpetual motion. It’s not surprising that at my breakneck speed, running was one of my great loves. My mantra was, “Why walk when you can run?”

Me crossing the finish line the Casino Niagara International Marathon in 2002. I ran my first long-distance race at ten years old and won and continued running and racing until 2006 when my back pain no longer allowed it.

There was never enough time in the day, and I would drop into bed at night, my brain full of all the things I had to do the next day while berating myself for those I hadn’t managed to accomplish—or not accomplish well enough. My to-do list regularly filled an 8 1/2 x 11 page! What an exhausting and chaotic way to live!

Fortunately for me, two things made a huge impact on my journey toward rest. One arrived about about thirteen years ago when my body rebelled and forced me to a literal standstill. The other was an intentional “Year of No” where I cleared my life of every single one of my commitments except those I needed to keep for family or friends. The first decision was forced on me, the other I chose as a result of how my life had so easily refilled a few years after the first.

Our front porch has become a favorite respite of mine. It’s where I enjoy my morning coffee and soak in the beauty of the waking day, the dew-soaked garden, and the chirping birds.

It’s humbling to ponder the reasons I chose to live my life at such a frenetic pace. I suppose for different personalities, the reasons we over-extend ourselves will look a little different, but perhaps there are some common threads, some of which you may recognize below.

A lot of my harried pace was linked to performance, striving, and people-pleasing. It wasn’t enough for me to take on a project or goal, I had to accomplish it to the absolute best of my ability. While there is nothing wrong with reaching for excellence, the way in which we do has much to say about our motives. Are we doing a project to garner accolades? Competing with others to be the best? Saying yes to please others? Constantly driving ourselves with unreasonable expectations or goals?

Lack of boundaries, saying yes without restraint, and not being intentional about taking time to rest lead to burnout. Some indicators of my maxed-out state were depression, anger, anxiety, resentment, forgetfulness, feeling overwhelmed, joylessness, and trouble falling asleep. Everything grew much more difficult. The smallest request felt like an enormous burden. Simple tasks such as answering an email took special effort and responding to friends attempting to choose a date to get together was daunting.

I’ve always loved plants and gardening, but during the years my life was over-stuffed, its upkeep became a chore and I had little time to sit and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

After my intentional “Year of No”, I discovered a sense of spaciousness in my life. This more balanced, simplified pace made room for stillness and space to recognize the beauty that was always present but which I had often overlooked. I began to appreciate the little things like sitting on my front porch, the first sips of my morning coffee, actually listening to the birds chirping, and enjoying my garden.

This uncluttered approach to life meant I could also more fully partake in the big things like time with my family and friends, and the found time to reach the goals and dreams I had often pushed aside for the sake of others’ demands and expectations. I was surprised to find that this slower pace was infinitely more fulfilling.

I learned that much of the striving and people-pleasing came from “fear of people” meaning that I cared too much about what others thought of me and drove myself in an effort to coax people to think well of me. The opposite of this is being secure in your identity, being present in truth, and loving others without abandoning yourself.

I’m slowly discovering what I should have known all along—I am loved by the One who made me, who loves me no matter how much I do or don’t do, and who is infinitely kinder to me than I am to myself. In Christ, I lack nothing and am fully accepted. In this, there is great security, peace, joy, and… rest.

It’s never easy to make room for rest and you may have to fight for it. It’s not a bad idea to schedule periods of rest into your day and into your calendar. Part of doing so ensures that you show up for yourself, are kinder to yourself, and are present and fully engaged in the parts of your life that really matter. If you’re not sure what those parts are, sit down and make a list of what is most important to you. Are you living in such a way that reflects the things that made the list? If not, adjust as necessary. Life is too short and too precious to not live intentionally!

Intentionally clearing space in my life created room to fully engage with my kids and ensure I don’t miss moments like these… swimming with my grandson.

“God loves you more in a moment than anyone could in a lifetime.” ~ Author Unknown

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. ” ~ Matthew 11:28

Kids Coming & Going

Is it just me, or do other parents feel their heartstrings yanked apart when their kids leave? I know I’m not the only mom to experience that definitive ache when a child leaves for university, or moves into their own place, or gets married. But what about the incidental visits? You know, the ones that last a few days or a few hours? Why even then does my heart feel hollow after they leave?

It could be the whole enneagram four thing… I feel EVERYTHING. A LOT. It could be that we homeschooled for a bunch of years and became rather close-knit. Or it could be that somehow, despite that we homeschooled that long, my kids and I still get along shockingly well. Whatever it is, the dragging feeling that arrives on their departure can be difficult to shake.

Keira enjoying the company of her big brother.

It happened again this week. Elanna had a few days off and came home for a visit, and Konnor dropped by after a hair appointment in town. Whenever the big kids stop by it warms my heart more than I ever thought possible, and I drop everything. When we were in the thick of homeschooling, I used to dream of all the things I would do once they were launched. Hours of writing, painting, gardening, and tea-drinking floated around the fringes of my thoughts about my future. But now, when they come home, all of the things that seemed so shiny, pale in significance.

At the height of COVID, I could have chosen to begin my next novel, painted several paintings, or spent time thoroughly beautifying the garden or further decluttering, but all I really wanted to do was drink in these precious, unexpected, live-in moments with my adult kids. I mean, when was this ever going to happen again, and why would I waste it locked in a room plucking away at my computer or sorting stuff when they were once again under our roof?

Front lawn visit with Elanna, Kurt, Mariana (not pictured), and Monty.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, about four years ago I embarked on a serious decluttering of my life, both my physical possessions and my use of time. The result was beautiful, wide-open space to breathe in all the blessings and truly soak in what mattered most to me—my family, my friends, and my God.

As if it were possible, COVID ushered in a further decluttering, an even fuller simplification of life. Despite the darker reason behind the need to make our lives smaller, we learned that we can do without many luxuries and still be okay. Our siphoned-down lives forced us to find beauty in simplicity and a slower pace. In our case, and maybe yours too, that more gentle period allowed precious time with each other.

One of the most beautiful feelings in the world, cuddling my grandbaby.

And so, between that extended, unanticipated ‘COVID’ regrouping of our family, and these sporadic visits, I find my heart sighing in its attempts to both embrace and release the comings and goings of my grown kids, like inhaling and exhaling without missing a breath. But in truth, hasn’t it always been this way at every stage of our kids’ lives? The gathering in and letting go to allow them to grow? And so, I find myself struggling to do so even now. My heart turned inside out with the welcoming embrace and tucked neatly right side ’round as they drive away.

I hazard that’s just how God feels about us. We show up for a time, have a chat, then go on our way. I can’t help but think that God is delighted with those visits, that they bring him such joy. That he gives us his undivided attention as he listens intently to all we have to tell him. That he anticipates the next time, and that his heart may somehow ache a bit when we are gone too long—like a parent longing for the presence of their child again.

Us grandparenting.

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
    I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;

~ Isaiah 49:15-16

Looking for some uplifting and romantic summer reading? Find my novel One More Tomorrow at: Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, Word Alive Press, and wherever fine Christian books are sold. eBook Availability: Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, and in Adobe PDF format for additional vendors.

We Were Made For More Than Getting By

Although these past few months have been challenging, living with the colossal changes COVID-19 have brought, they have also offered us perspective. They have provided us with numerous opportunities to either recoil in fear or remain in faith. To succumb to turmoil or tread in trust. To bolster own reserves or receive respite. To grow callous or proffer kindness.

COVID-19 brought the unexpected blessing of having time with our grown children at the cottage. That also meant plenty of cuddle time with our new grandson.

In the enveloping waves of life’s storms, it’s easy to become fearful, tread harder, and grow weary. With water lapping at our ears, we cry out for help amid the deafening swells. We glimpse our safety and provisions sinking and attempt to salvage the loss. In our panic, we grab for flotation devices yet sometimes fail to grasp hold of the One who answers our cries and holds us secure through every storm.

Though the water surrounds us, and the swells threaten to swallow us alive, Christ encircles us with His intimate care and love. He makes a way in our hopelessness, our fearfulness, and our exhaustion by offering us his ever-extended hand. He believes we are worth rescuing.

You can see how thrilled I was to have had extra time time with our son Konnor…
…and our daughter Elanna.

We were made for so much more than drowning in adversity or garnering little gods of our own devising—manufactured forms of strength—to keep us afloat. Once we’ve felt the touch of His hand, the security of His love, the fullness of His mercy, the waves begin to recede. The storm of our inner turmoil is quelled. Faith folds around fear, and darkness is distilled as He stills the waves.

With Christ, we don’t merely weather the storm, we watch the waves of our anxiety shrink. We no longer clutch for the nearest aid, the various pacifiers we use to get us through, we firmly take hold of His help. We grow buoyant, floating in greater freedom, filling up with His peace, fixed in His love.

Our son, Kurtis, with our grandson Montgomery, enjoying some peaceful time on the porch.

The turbulent waves of fear, oppression, doubt, guilt, and shame are pressed to the side—held back—furnishing a path through the unknown, dark waters. Such things as lockdowns and limitations, disease and distancing, and finances and freedoms aren’t as daunting. Life’s disruptions are overtaken by the swells of God’s comfort, peace, love, and an increasing desire to serve others and choose joy despite the struggle.

It isn’t that our conditions have fully changed, it’s that our perspective has. And that’s often enough, isn’t it? The storms don’t always subside but can be stilled inside of us. Life in Christ isn’t a fix-all, but a life fixed in thankfulness, palms open to receive both sunsets and storms. Like a full intake of breath. A life drenched in grace and soaked with mercy.

Ralph and I out for a hike back in May. During these past 3 1/2 months, I have spent tons of time outdoors, running, walking, and hiking daily.

It’s a miraculous transformation—the result of a transfer. One life willing to suffer wreckage for countless others—Christ’s life in place of ours. His death a ransom that bought our freedom. May we not take it for granted, neither the love offer nor the invitation to live fearless, floating freely in the cresting waves of Christ’s love.

Whether pandemics or peace, storms or safe harbors, heartaches or hope, turbulence or triumphs, we can be assured that Christ is with us through it all, helping us do more than just get by. Helping us to instead reach for the more of which we were made.

Enjoying a walk today with my grandson, daughter-in-law, and daughter.

Blessings to you and your family as we weather this storm. Stay safe. You are loved. xo

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)

To All Parents Who Found Themselves Homeschooling

It’s not every day that our kids come home from school for March Break and never return. With the swift arrival of COVID-19, our collective worlds were turned upside down. Teachers and parents quickly pivoted to learning at home. Now, three months, untold meltdowns, countless tears, and numerous naggings later, we’ve crossed the finish line! It wasn’t easy, but we did it! Or at least we survived!

Looking back on my prayer journals from 2010-2011, I came across several prayers I had written as a homeschool mom. Between reading the entries and recent chats with other moms, I realized that we could all use a little encouragement. At the end of this post, I’ve included an entry from my prayer journal and a link to a video where my daughters and I offer a few tips to both parents and kids about homeschooling.

Whether you’re a full-time homeschooling parent, or you were thrown into it this spring and are dreading the possibility of potential part-time homeschooling for the fall, here are a few thoughts from our eighteen years of homeschooling to quiet any fears of inadequacy or worries of how you might cope.

kids-hike
On a hike with our three eldest, Kurtis, Konnor, and Elanna circa 2003.

The following is some practical advice that I hope proves helpful. I wanted to tear down some beliefs and dispel fears that may surround homeschooling and offer some benefits to the process. Yes, boundaries need to be in place, and I’ll highlight a few, but much beauty can occur as a result of schooling at home.

Beliefs

During the years we homeschooled, I often struggled with fearful thoughts about the process which had the propensity overshadow our experience. I often felt inadequate, like I could never quite do enough (as you’ll see in the excerpt from my journal below). I had vague thoughts that I was failing my kids in some way or another. Did all the other mom’s really have it all together?

Many nights I fell into bed exhausted from doing too many things. Running the day over in my mind, instead of celebrating what we had accomplished, I bemoaned the ways I felt I had fallen short that day or the things that remained incomplete. I worried my kids wouldn’t know all they needed to know.

Years later, I see that I didn’t need to worry, and you don’t either. It is unlikely your kids will fall behind learning at home. Their education isn’t composed merely of the things they learn during this time. Learning is a life-long endeavor. You have the unique opportunity to model learning and curiosity not just for now—or for grades—but for their lifetime.

During the years we homeschooled, I was often asked about the socialization of my kids. Wasn’t I worried they wouldn’t be adequately socialized? If my idea of the socialization of a person was based solely on peer socialization, I should have been concerned. But homeschooling afforded my kids the opportunity to engage more fully with all different types of people and all different age levels.

Occasionally, I was asked if I had a teaching degree. I did not, but I do have a university degree—not to say that you need one to teach your children. If you are committed to the process and foster and facilitate a healthy learning environment, they will learn. You have strengths, gifts, and skills to extend to your child’s education regardless of whether you have a Bachelor of Education.

Don’t expect perfection. Go easy on yourself and your kids. Be patient both with them and yourself. Allow for bumps and bruises. Talk about what you can do better when you or they make a mistake. Alter your mindset or attitude, if needed, and your kids will take your cue and rise to your expectations.

kids-snake
Discovering a snake.

Boundaries

While learning at home allows for fun and flexibility, it also requires some structure, routine, and boundaries. It’s helpful to start school at a set time each day, structuring in time for breaks and lunch, and an assigned ending time. Consider designating an area where most of the schooling takes place and remove as many distractions as possible. Setting clear expectations and an agreed-upon consequence for failing to meet those expectations is invaluable. Equally important is follow-through. This will prevent untold hours of infuriation and nagging.

Once you have clearly stated your expectations (consider making timelines for the completion of schoolwork), expect your child to deliver. If they don’t finish their work, first uncover why they haven’t. Were you unavailable for a time, or does your child’s schoolteacher have yet to reply to a question to finish? If they could have completed the work but chose not to, consider how to address that behavior.

Resist nagging. If you were clear on your instructions and expectations, and they could have completed the work, calmly inform them of the consequence. Consider asking your child’s opinion ahead of time what you should do if their work isn’t completed. Often their choices are harsher than you’d pick! If they don’t finish, when it comes time for play with friends or screen time, you can calmly say, “I’m sorry, I’d love to let you play but you chose not to finish your work.”

This works well for teens too but be sure to pick something that offers enough of an ouch-factor for that child. Then, whatever you do, don’t give in to begging! In this way, you help your kids learn the concept of reaping what they sow. In addition, you’ll be encouraging them to grow in self-discipline and gain responsibility for their choices.

Remain positive and hopeful. Avoid scolding or belittling, and gently correct undesirable behavior. You want to reach your child’s heart instead of training them to be a mere rule-follower. Whenever possible, use positive, encouraging words and praise your child when you notice a job well done or work completed in a timely manner. Celebrate mastery and milestones. Use sticker charts to track achievements, or rewards such as a special treat, a trip, or a party from time to time.

As you set boundaries, consider how your child will fill their free time, especially the amount you allot for screens and phones. It’s so easy to allow the extra time to be swallowed up on devices. Instead, schedule intentional pockets of screen time, such as during a break or for a limited time after school.

Benefits

Homeschooling holds the potential to create valuable memories and close family connections. By virtue of being together, you have the opportunity to connect and speak into your kids’ lives in a way you might not have otherwise had. Be intentional about how you use this gift of time and the things on which you choose to focus the most attention.

Time spent learning at home allows space to adjust to your kids’ needs and learning styles. In the elementary years, I found I could squeeze more out of our school day when I changed locations for different subjects. They sat at a desk for subjects such as Math, Writing, and Spelling. For Bible, History, and Reading, we would move to the couch. Science would happen at the kitchen counter, and crafts might take place on the floor or at a different table.

dad-kids-reading
Ralph reading to the kids at bedtime in 2003.

In the early years, during read-aloud, the kids would often sit on the couch snuggled beside me. If they wanted to play Lego while listening, I allowed for that, occasionally checking in for comprehension. I let them choose books of their choice for free-time reading, even if they were above or below their reading level. If a certain curriculum or method of teaching wasn’t working, I changed course and tried something new.

Since schoolwork can usually be completed more quickly at home than in a classroom, the extra time affords your kids room to deeply explore an interest. If you notice curiosity toward a subject, you might consider providing materials or equipment to further engage their intrigue.

Avoid taking over or forcing the continuation of a natural bent or interest. Doing so may cause them to reject their natural curiosity. The extra time at home offers a spacious environment to independently sample various interests for the sheer joy of learning without any pressure to succeed.

Don’t feel you must fill your kids’ schedule with countless activities or endless amounts of work. Boredom fuels creativity and allows quiet space to process and refuel. There’s no need to stimulate your child’s learning at every turn, which can exhaust them or make them anxious with the never-ending flow of work. Instead, make space for free time, independent decision making, creative projects, play, reading, and relaxing.

Take opportunities to learn on the go. Hands-on experience is priceless. Get outside. Go for a walk or hike in nature. Take field trips or have a picnic in the park. Our kids loved our family trips and dedicated time apart from structured study.

Beauty

The beauty of homeschooling is the ability to be flexible, the joy of learning together, the increased time as a family, simpler moments, and the capacity to a deep dive into interests.

When our kids were little, for our morning break I used to spread our teddy bear blanket on the floor and sit on it with them to enjoy milk and cookies. I loved the hours we spent cuddled up beside each other while reading picture books and then classic literature. Sometimes I played classical music or an audiobook during art. There was ample time for extra reading and creativity.

birthday-party-teens
My son Konnor’s 16th birthday party included his homeschool and public school friends, and his siblings. The fake cigarette my son, Kurtis, is holding was a prop from their homeschool co-op play!

To make life easier, I tried to choose activities that the three eldest kids could participate in at the same time such as swimming, skating, gymnastics, and music lessons. We met with a local homeschool group for soccer, baseball, cross-country running, and field trips. We joined a homeschool co-op and for many years enjoyed learning with other homeschoolers one day per week. We played learning games, made crafts, or cooked together. We also cleaned together each week and each child was responsible for a level of the house.

Once the three big kids graduated from homeschooling, our youngest and I continued homeschooling for one more year until she enrolled in a Christian private school. During that one-on-one time, we enjoyed lunchtime picnics at the park and occasionally set up a fort in the backyard where we read together. Another homeschool mom and took turns teaching a subject to one another’s child for a semester.

family-dock-Easter
Our family – Easter 2020.

What did I hope our kids would glean from our homeschooling journey? Apart from academics, I hoped to inspire intrinsic motivation, self-confidence, compassion for others, and a life-long love of learning. If they, in addition, carried fond memories of our time together, an understanding of God, and a secure knowledge of how entirely we love them, I had fulfilled what I set out to accomplish.

Whether you are a full-time homeschooler or schooling at home is temporary, there are untold ways to make this time as joyful and memorable as possible. Even though homeschooling requires much hard work and dedication, you will never regret the time you intentionally spent on your kids and the relationships that were strengthened as a result.

Click here to watch a video of my daughters and I offering tips and encouragement for homeschooling.

Prayer Journal Entry – May 2020

I see all the years of teaching, of asking them to write (even though they disliked it for so long and often moaned), of having them read great literature and reading aloud to them so much has definitely had an impact. I praise you Lord, because it is a joy for me to see what you have done in spite of all my inadequacies, and often lack of faith, that I was doing a good job—though always feeling it was never enough, good enough, or long enough. 

So could you, Lord, level the path before us and make your way clear [concerning homeschooling for highschool]. We need you. I desperately need your wisdom to do this. Show us the way. Help me to trust you (not look too far ahead), and go your way, not mine. I am very thankful for what you have done and are doing in their lives and mine. May they be a blessing to you (as you love them so much). May they know this intimately, deeply, thoroughly. 

Amen

Best Canadian New Author of the Year!

This past weekend, we watched the Word Awards Celebration where Christian writers are recognized and celebrated. Originally, I had thought that if I could be nominated in just one category I would be thrilled. So, you can imagine how ecstatic I felt when, between my novel One More Tomorrow, my devotional Soul Focus – Trials, and my blog site, my work was nominated for five categories!

writer

The spark that prompted One More Tomorrow arrived unexpectedly one evening while waiting for a flight home in Milwaukie Airport with my husband. A scene sprung into my head, and I reached for my hubby’s laptop (I didn’t have my own back then) and wrote, what is to this day, the first page of One More Tomorrow. 

We were in the thick of raising and homeschooling our three small children, and I hardly need to explain that time was at a premium. Monday nights became my writing night. I would make a run to a local coffee shop and grab a giant latte and sandwich. Returning home, I would steal away to my little office at the back of our house and shut the door in preparation for several blissful, uninterrupted hours of writing. My husband would make or take the kids out for dinner and some sort of activity and then return home to quietly put them to bed so that I could continue writing.

Those nights were magical. Ideas and words filled my mind and flowed through my fingers with such fluidity that my meager keyboard skills hardly kept up. Since ideas are such slippery things, I often wrote into the early hours of the morning to ensure all of them were captured. One morning, my second-born son peeked his head in the door of my office at 6 AM, wide-eyed in disbelief, and exclaimed, “Mom, are you still up?” It was already morning, and I hadn’t made it to bed.

I finished the novel within a year but had no idea what I would do next. Like most moms with young children, my life was already stuffed full. I decided that I couldn’t possibly publish and homeschool well, so I set the novel aside… for about fifteen years. Over those years, my firstborn son, Kurtis, would ask, “So, Mom, when are you going to publish your book?” He wouldn’t let me forget it or give up on my dream.

I recall going to a few writer’s conferences over the years—feeling anything but a writer—and listening to published authors talk about the craft. As they spoke about the writing and publishing process, I recall feeling bewildered and overwhelmed. I once sat at a table with an author who had just won a Word Award for her work and marveled at her accolades. Little did I know, just a few years later she would be my editor! But at that time, I still wasn’t able to even begin thinking about publishing. Though it was a huge goal of mine, at times I wondered if I would ever reach it.

In the fall of 2018, my youngest daughter went off to a “real” school. That same fall, my oldest son got married. The year prior, my second-born son had left home to attend post-secondary school, and my third born had completed high-school. After eighteen years of homeschooling and non-stop shuttling my kids to numerous activities, suddenly several unclaimed hours stretched out before me. For the first time ever, I had seven hours each day entirely to myself! I immediately set to work.

By the fall of 2019, I had two books to present to the world. One More Tomorrow launched in September, and Soul Focus – Trails was published just two months later. We held two glorious book launch celebrations with family and friends that I will always hold dear. I had reached my goal and felt that my “Part Two”, the bit after the years dedicated to homeschooling, was well underway.

Click here to purchase a copy of my books!

Fast forward to this past Saturday—the 32nd Word Awards and our 28th wedding anniversary!  Under normal circumstances, the awards celebration would be a formal gala complete with dinner and an awards presentation. Due to COVID-19, I instead sat in casual attire on our couch surrounded by a small group of friends and family to watch the awards broadcasted live. Though I wasn’t draped in an evening gown, I was wrapped in the love, excitement, and support of those dear ones in the room.

To learn that One More Tomorrow, the book I had begun in Milwaukie Airport all those years ago, won the Romance category was a marvel to me. To hear that I had also won Best Canadian New Author of the Year was truly overwhelming! When I learned of the news, I couldn’t help but cry. I cried from the shock and wonder that I was receiving an award at all.

fiction-romance-award-word-awards

The awards represent so many things. The obvious is they are the first awards I’ve received for my writing. They represent time and much-needed discipline dedicated to the process, and the often-unpopular choice of saying no to other pursuits to make room for this worthy goal. They also stand for overcoming obstacles, scaling numerous hardships and desert places, but refusing to give up until completion.

These awards also represent all the people who cheered for me and helped me throughout the entire process—all the ones who believed I could and told me so. They represent the readers who bought and enjoyed the book and cared enough to give me that feedback. They represent the countless writers who went before me and those who continue to give of their time because they believe the craft should be celebrated. They represent my relationship with God, His gift of words, and His power to overcome and love.

Since Saturday night, I have been immensely humbled by the countless well-wishes. Moments like this shine brighter when shared. My son and daughter-in-law called after the awards show to congratulate me. It was no surprise when, near the end of the call, Kurtis asked, “So, Mom, when are you going to publish your next book?” I guess I better get started!

best-canadian-new-author-award

Click here to watch The Word Guild Awards Celebration

 

Church Hurt – Sorrow Over Unjust Treatment Part 3 (The Journey Journals Excerpt #6)

God gave us free will. Often, we see this used for acts of kindness, selflessness, and love. Other times we are horrified to the degree some have used it to inflict harm.

The reason for this post is not to discuss the plethora of ways we hurt and sin against one another, but specifically how that hurt can happen within the church. I don’t come to speak about this difficult topic lightly but was encouraged to do so in light of this being an experience many have endured but few speak about. 

shutterstock_522286855

First, I need to say that I was profoundly hurt within the church. I only divulge this to impart that I have some measure of understanding. More on that later, but if you have been hurt by someone within the church, I am incredibly sorry. I can affirm that it is painfully difficult to heal from and forgive this kind of harm.

I want to be clear that I do not broach this topic to cause division or stir up strife. Neither can I pretend that a single blog can repair the harm done to you by what you may have experienced within the church. It is, however, my desire that it provide a small measure of understanding, solidarity, or healing. 

A 2010 Barna Group poll indicates that 4 out of 10 people no longer attend church due to a negative experience with the church or from church people. Church abuse or mistreatment can occur in a number of forms. It can trickle down from leaders who are operating from a place of insecurity or out of a desire to control their adherents. It may infiltrate others who need to feel important or remain part of an inner group. This can blind or silence participants or bystanders to call out wrongdoing.

We have all heard heartbreaking and sickening stories of hurtful behavior or abuse exacted on others at the hands of those who attend church or leaders within the church. This behavior should not be overlooked and should be called out.

Unfortunately, there can be great resistance when you step into the calling out. Sadly, those who have caused harm but have power and wish to keep it, aren’t comfortable when asked to face or be accountable for their misbehavior. This is not the example demonstrated in the Bible.

In our situation, despite our repeated efforts to reconcile with leadership, and as a result of their unwillingness to recognize their sinful part in what occurred, we made the difficult decision to leave the church.

shutterstock_136384466

The greatest displays of anger we see in Jesus were directed toward the religious leaders who were busy rule-keepers upholding the law with misdirected hearts. Believing that they were superior, they were ruffled by Jesus calling them out. So much so they wanted him killed.

The religious leaders would not stoop to associate with “rabble”. They were jealous of Jesus’s popularity with the masses and loathed his propensity to associate with the marginalized. And who did he think he was forgiving their sins? Jesus exposed the leaders’ counterfeit faith and their backward theology.

Here is a portion of the strong language Jesus used to describe some religious leaders: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” (Matthew 23:27)

I mentioned earlier that God gave us free will. The trouble with free will is that God often suffers the blame for the sins of mankind, including the egregious behavior some have experienced within the church or at the hands of its leaders. In such cases, God may be seen as endorsing the abuse or that the leadership is representing God’s perspective, but in truth, both the behavior and the resulting separation it may cause grieves God’s heart.

Jesus described the behavior some experience from religious leaders this way: “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” Matthew 23:4

There are times when a leader may believe they are acting righteously and that their actions align with God’s will or word, but their behavior reflects blatant sin enacted against you. The pain and resulting dislocation of faith can be deeply painful and confusing.

I don’t wish to linger on the harmful actions or abuse but what can happen in the aftermath of such harm. Out of the intense pain of the experience suffered at the hands of people, especially those in authority/leadership, we can misdirect the hurt we endured. There are 3 reactions I have witnessed:

  1. Retreat. We decide that if that’s how people in the church behave, we want nothing to do with it. We may still believe in God but decide we will no longer attend church.
  2. Reject. Based on the mistreatment, we broadly ascribe that behavior to God painting him with the same brush as those who harmed us. We run from God and our faith.
  3. Reason. We mistakenly believe we somehow deserved the mistreatment and that God must feel likewise. 

As if the hurt wasn’t devastating, damaging, and bewildering enough, these responses can further dismantle our faith. 

What makes this even more grievous is that often God shoulders the blame for the sins humans commit. 

In my own experience, I needed to understand that despite the devastating mistreatment and resulting pain, this was not God’s heart in the matter. The treatment I received was not a reflection of how God felt about me, nor would he have treated me in the manner I experienced within the walls of the church. I know beyond a doubt that the Pharisaical treatment poured out on me grieved his heart, and although the resulting pain could have undone my faith, I recovered by the truth of God’s love, by relearning how he behaves toward me, through the love and care of other Christ-followers, and forgiveness. 

The main thing is, whatever you suffered isn’t a reflection of God’s posture toward you. God doesn’t mistreat his children. His heart is for you and he loves you. You are precious to him. What you suffered at the hands of people grieves him. Like a dear friend who is deeply saddened when you move far away, God desires you to be near to him again. Perhaps even more so when we are hurting, God longs to gather us closely to Him so that He can heal our hurts.

The God you may have run away from as a result of this painful experience is the very One who is able to heal you. In my experience, God is the one who can provide us with the strength to forgive those who hurt us and to move beyond this deep pain.

shutterstock_1466116211

We understand that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) and that includes ourselves and those within the church. We mustn’t allow the sin of people, or our own sin, to cloud God’s true and perfect character and dictate how we relate to him, or others, going forward. God always forgives and always loves. “He will never leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) He weeps with you in your pain and understands it through his own suffering.

God is able to redeem everything—even the hurt you experienced. He can help you to heal and move forward in freedom and forgiveness. Get to know his heart toward you anew, and understand that following God is not following a religion, a religious leader, or religious rule-keeping, it’s following Jesus and letting Him transform you into his likeness.

My family and I have since found a church where we feel safe and loved. God has redeemed that experience and allowed us to fully appreciate this church family and its leaders. There are many church leaders who love God and seek to lead like Jesus—the Good Shepherd—with great tenderness, humility, and grace, but however gracious they may be, they are a shadow of the graciousness of God.

I encourage you, don’t give up on God or the church. There is still much love, joy, and beauty to be found within the church, in relationship with others, and with God.

Click here to watch this week’s chat about church hurt.

Excerpt from my prayer journal:

prayer-journal-excerpt #3

April 29, 2016

Lord, I see many evidences of how great your care and love is for us, how intricately you have been involved, and have met our needs, yet I find I need more. There is still the nagging doubt attached to the sorrow that lingers in my thought life. Still the insecurity that came with the treatment we received at the hands of the church leaders. It is ready condemnation, whispering that you are displeased, distant, and that I am on the outskirts of your affection. It seems to keep me stuck. I exist aware of your goodness and care, but not saturated by the assurance or confidence a child might have in the tender love and care of her father. Do I lack trust, faith, love? Probably. I’m just not sure what to do with… is it shame? Rejection? So I’m partly closed off; a protection mechanism, I suppose.

So I ask you to repair what is so broken within my spirit, soul, heart, mind, and even body. Make a way so that I can be renewed to love and be loved, not just exist, to get by one weary day after the next. Pull me out of the pit, push back the enemy. 

“But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the LORD with my voice, and He heard me from the holy hill.” (Psalm 3:3-4)

Click here for more on how to forgive and recover from hurt: 7 Steps to Forgiveness. 

The Journey Journals Excerpt #5: Sorrow From Unjust Treatment – Part Two (7 Steps to Forgiveness)

“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” ~ C.S Lewis

Last week, we looked at some reasons people hurt others and how we can choose to respond. In my Instagram post, I asked you to imagine your hurt as an anchor. That anchor is attached to a rope and that rope is tied to you. Everywhere you go, you drag that heavy anchor around. Its weight is depleting and exhausting.

Now imagine what it would feel like to cut that rope. How free would you feel?

Forgiveness is the scissors that cut the rope and set you free.

shutterstock_1085164181

The bitterness that settles in as a result of unforgiveness may seem innocuous, but I’ve experienced it as an insidious poison that chokes out love. The side-effects of bitterness— hatred and anger—affects us, our responses to situations, and all those in our proximity.

We might think that by hanging onto an offense we claw back control and hurt the offender. In truth, the only one we continue to harm is ourselves by repeating the cycle in our mind and heart.

When we forgive and “cut the rope”, our offender’s actions lose its power over us and we break the harmful pattern of reliving the event in our thought life. We are now freed from that repeated cycle of hurt and the person who caused it.

Forgiving doesn’t mean that you forget the offense, it means you choose to offer undeserved favor. It means you go against your natural bent to stay bitter and choose God’s way.

Remarkably, Jesus told us to, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28) In doing so, we not only echo God’s treatment toward us, but this behavior sets us free. 

Here is a powerful and sobering reason to forgive. Jesus says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

shutterstock_1707077935

God forgave us everything. Can we not, with his help, do the same?

How will we know if we have forgiven an offense? We’ll know the work is complete when we can think of the person who hurt us without being triggered. We’ll know it’s a finished work when we can pray for them and even bless them. Forgiveness may take time, God’s help, a concerted effort, counseling, and much prayer, but it is possible.

Forgiveness does not mean remaining in harm’s way or repeatedly enduring mistreatment or abuse. We may never see our offender again, and it may not be wise to do so, but we can forgive all the same.

Forgiveness is God’s upside-down way to peace and freedom. It’s the same unmerited forgiveness and freedom purchased for us on the cross and the forgiveness he asks us to extend to others. In doing so we become “children of the Most High.”

It is my belief that we are closest to the heart of God when we forgive.

As a helpful tool, I have included 7 Steps to Forgiveness below. If you would like to be lead through these steps, click here to watch the 7 Steps to Forgiveness video.

7 Steps to Forgiveness:

  1. Make a list of all the people you have never forgiven.
  2. Choose one person on that list to forgive.
  3. Repent by asking God to forgive you for holding onto this offense and bitterness.
  4. Ask God to help you forgive.
  5. FORGIVE.
  6. Forgive again—as many times as needed. This maintains our freedom! We can forgive but we don’t forget. The memory of the offense may return. It doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven, but at that moment we can choose what happens next. We can stay in peace and adjust the former way of stewing about or reacting to the offense. Here, we change our thinking. Instead of rehashing it or falling back into the habit of bitter thinking, we choose to take our thoughts captive or forgive again if needed.
  7. Bless them. This completes the cycle. If I can wish my offender well and pray for them, I know I have forgiven them.

After you have completed these steps, do the same for the next person on your list until you have forgiven each person. You may need to ask a friend to pray with you through this process. I’ve also included a video here to help you through this process.

If you are having trouble forgiving, you may need to separate the person from the sin. They are not what they did to you. You may also need to first forgive yourself or God to free up yourself to forgive others.

Join me next week as I tackle the difficult topic of church hurt.

Much peace and freedom in your forgiveness journey. xo

The Journal Journey Excerpt #5 Click here to watch this week’s video

March 16, 2017

Lord,

I have felt disrespected and disregarded, and have been struggling to not grow bitter.

This morning I read how even as Jesus hung on the cross he said forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing. Being reminded of that was massive, it also helps remind me that they don’t know what they are doing either. But it is so easy for me to feel hurt due to the repeated behavior. You know I’m not great at forgiveness and have a tendency toward bitterness, so please help me to do what I know you would have me do: forgive.

This verse is a good reminder right now: “Walk worthy of the calling to which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” ~ Ephesians 4:1-3

Amen

 

 

 

The Journey Journals Excerpt #4: Sorrow From Unjust Treatment – Part One

They say hurting people hurt people. I’ve seen this to be true in my own life. Maybe you have too. We have all experienced unjust treatment in some form or another. Sometimes we are the recipient of that dump truck of muck and sometimes we pile it on others.

Some of the behavior we experience at the hands of another is disarming, some is mildly hurtful, while other acts against us are profoundly difficult or damaging.

woman-smiling
Visit instagram @melaniestevensonauthor to hear me share how I am learning to overcome the pain of unjust treatment.

For the next three weeks, as I continue the Journal Journeys with excerpts from my prayer journals, I want to take a look at how we can heal from hurt inflicted by others.

There is a myriad of reasons why one may suffer mistreatment. People may hurt others in response to their own insecurities or feelings of worthlessness. Some belittle or humiliate others to feel better about themselves. Some may hurt others in a desire to be accepted by a group or to please a crowd.

Conversely, some are imbued with self-righteousness that feeds the lie that they are superior to everyone else and therefore fit to mete out judgment. Some may hurt others out of a fear losing their position of power or authority and may manipulate them due to their need to maintain control.

Some neglect or harm others due to deep-rooted bitterness and hatred that is rotting their capacity to love. Anger, often a fear response, can cause one to lash out with harsh words and harmful behavior.

Others suffer from entitlement, ignorance, or greed. Still, others struggle amid their own inner pain or mental health issues, or have themselves been mistreated and are repeating the cycle.

We can be hurt by assumptions that aren’t based on fact, or when others believe lies or judge us based on gossip or appearances. We ourselves may be harmed by being over-sensitive, assuming a victim mentality, or failing to set clear boundaries.

There is no shortage of ways we can experience hurt at the hands of another. Our natural response to mistreatment may be to recoil in pain or shut out others for fear of further hurt. We may experience feelings of shame, worthlessness, disillusionment, anger, loss, grief, or fear. We may hurt back or grow bitter, but Jesus says something astonishing which goes against our natural impulses…

He tells us to forgive.

forgiveness-offense

If anyone experienced unjust treatment it was Jesus. He understands mistreatment because he endured it in every form. Even as he hung on the cross he said of those who crucified him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Even though the degree to which we suffer mistreatment may vary from person to person, the way in which we overcome it does not. If we want freedom from the pain inflicted by another, we must forgive. The idea is simple, the act is difficult, but the result is profound.

Here are the incredulous words Jesus used to instruct us how to treat those who harm us:

“…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

When I am mistreated by someone I try to remind myself that their behavior has more to say about their character than it does of mine. I also tell myself that the manner in which I respond to this treatment provides insight into my own character. Whether I stay in peace or are triggered can also act as a signal to let me know if there is work to be done.

It is natural to feel sorrow over unjust treatment and can be an indication that we are being sinned against. We may not forget the offense, but we are instructed to forgive. In fact, our freedom depends on it.Forgive and be free

Are you struggling to forgive someone? Next week, I’ll look at some steps we can take in the forgiveness process. How can we forgive? How can we know when we’ve completely forgiven someone? How can we be free of bitterness?

Until then, I’ll leave you with this entry from my prayer journal. This entry was written during a time when I was suffering mistreatment from a person who I was working with on a particular project. I’ll let you know the outcome of our relationship next week. Suffice to say there was work to be done and I struggled hard to forgive.

Click here to hear me read the excerpt from my prayer journal on this topic and share how I am learning to forgive.

Prayer Journal Excerpt #4: Sorrow From Unjust Treatment

November 7, 2016

Lord,

I need wisdom. Please help me in this situation. Please lead me as I feel like there is a struggle there and I ask you to provide insight. Please also help me to not worry about how I might be treated. Let me not get angry or bitter. Sorry that I already have. Please forgive and restore me.

Thank you for showing me that I have a pattern of taking offense. I know I can be sensitive, but I don’t want to be easily hurt or let myself feel slighted. Could you please work with me in this area so that I am stronger in my thought life when it comes to these things?

Amen.

 

 

The Journal Journeys Excerpt #3 – Does Prayer Make a Difference?

Ever wondered if your prayers make a difference? Does it matter if you pray at all? Why does it seem that there are so many unanswered prayers? Is prayer even necessary?

Over the years, I have come to believe that all prayer is answered prayer.

woman-rock-beach

Often in prayer, we ask for a specific resolution to a problem, plead for a circumstance to alter or a person to change. We wish to be quickly rescued from discomfort, airlifted out of a trial, and have peace in our relationships.

But God is after the best. The trouble is that his idea of best doesn’t always match ours.

God is present in every situation we face. He says he never leaves us or forsakes us (Deut 31:6), and we can be sure he hears all our prayers. We may misinterpret answers when a situation fails to improve as rapidly as we’d like, appears to fail altogether, or we don’t see a specific answer to our supplication. At such times, I choose to believe that God loves us too much to give us all we pray for, exactly when we pray for it if he knows it isn’t his best or isn’t best for us.

nothern-road-nature-walk
Over the past six weeks, I’ve been enjoying prayer walks in nature.

Perhaps other times God remains quiet, or delays answering, in order to produce something of great value within us—increased faith and trust, perseverance, repentance, deep inner healing, and a character that reflects his.

What if the no’s are really delayed yes’s for something far greater and more beautiful than we could have asked for or imagined? A more complete work? At times it appears God holds back and allows something to die so he can beautifully resurrect it (see John 11:1-44). Though we may regard this as silence or unanswered prayer, it is an incredibly loving act on God’s behalf that allows room for the miraculous and God to be glorified. Though he’d rather we trust him, God can handle our disappointment, disillusionment, frustration, and fear for his greater purposes.

family-kids-mom
Our family in 2016, the year this week’s prayer journal entry was written.

Could the no’s also be God’s loving protection, keeping us safe from sure disaster? God knows the beginning from the end, knows every detail about us, our hearts, and the situation. He alone knows whether or not our desires will cause us to prosper, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’m sure there are times he lovingly withholds what we think is good for our own good.

The no’s, or delayed answers, also give us the opportunity to align our will with his and gain a Godly perspective. They give us time to adjust our hearts to a posture of thankfulness.

There are also times when our troubles reflect our choices, and God allows the natural progression of cause and effect as a result of our sin. He also shows mercy and comes to our aid when we repent and pray. To hear the story of how God answered my prayers when I was in physical pain see Moving Mountains.

It’s easy to forget that prayer isn’t just asking things of God. In prayer, we seek God and acknowledge his presence like we would anyone we desire to spend time with. Since he is holy, we praise him and declare him worthy. We acknowledge our failings and ask for forgiveness. We trust him with our troubles knowing he is all-powerful and in control of all that appears chaotic. We hand over our fears and concerns to him for safekeeping.

When I first became a Christian, I learned a helpful acronym—ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  Though I don’t always follow this guide, it can be a useful tool to aid prayer.

Over the years, I added meditation, which for me is a time of quiet, a chance to rest with God and listen. Perhaps I should change the acronym to ACTS+M. This part of prayer allows silent space for God to awaken me to his spirit, whisper into my own spirit, refuel me with his joy, spark an idea, enliven or a verse, or alter my perspective or my heart.

All prayer is answered prayer. It may not arrive in the form we imagined, but it will be in the form God desires.

This week in the Journal Journeys, I read a few thoughts on prayer from my prayer journal. Click here for a video of this week’s excerpt. You can also read an abbreviated version below.

jounal-excerpt
Excerpt from my prayer journal from February 28, 2016

Feb 28, 2016

“At the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved…” (Daniel 9:23)

“Then he said to me, ‘Do not fear Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words.'” (Daniel 10:12)

Lord, 

This is such a beautiful segment of scripture, reminding us that God hears our prayers, and is working on our behalf. Our prayers—our words—are powerful. God hears them. 

Some may wonder, as I have at times, why pray? God will do what he wants anyway. But here (Daniel 9:20-23 & 10:12) we see illustrated that prayer makes a difference. Daniel is confessing his sin, has a repentant heart, and is asking God to forgive them. These kinds of prayers shift things. 

The angel was caused to fly swiftly and the command went out at the beginning of his supplications. And notice that the angel says, “I have come to tell you, for you are greatly loved.” It is a beautiful affirmation to know that we are loved, even though we grapple with sin. Our sin may distance us from God, but it does not change the truth that we are greatly loved by him.

Lord, thank you for showing me this. It is a poignant reminder that you hear my prayers. And though I may not ever see the spiritual forces acting behind the scenes, I can rest assured that you are working all things for good.

Thank you.

Amen

For more reading on prayer, see Un)Answered Prayers

 

The Journal Journeys Excerpt #2: God Restores

This week, I’ve taken an excerpt from my prayer journal that refers to a lengthy trial in our lives where we were praying for God’s help and intervention. The prayer records my thankfulness to God.

Through this struggle and many others, God deepened my faith and trust in him. So often He has been my only hope. I have faced countless situations that rose before me like an impenetrable mountain, but God, my great navigator, forged a path and lead me as he has time and time again.

So often I marvel at the way he does this. In the thick of the trial, I cannot fathom the outcome. My emotions bully my outlook. My circumstances appear hopeless. I clutch at my fragile faith attempting to hang on to the truth. Doubts descend, yet God promises to be with me and never forsake me, so why do I fear? And why am I surprised when he works the miraculous?

When I jump for joy and praise God at his answered prayers, is he disappointed with my lack of faith or does he take pleasure in my wonder and thanksgiving? Whichever the case, his love is greater than my fears and faithlessness. His arms are always open. I have full assurance of his unfailing love no matter in which state I come to him.

prayerjounal2

And so I keep showing up, keep writing and speaking prayers to the One who wraps me safely in his arms and makes all things not only possible but beautiful in their time. The same God can do likewise in your difficulties.

Bring your impossibilities to God. Release them to him, and watch what he will do.

“With God nothing is impossible.” (Luke 1:37)

Click here to hear me read excerpt #2 “God Restores”

January 31, 2016

Lord,

You are greatly to be praised. You have done marvelous, mighty works on our behalf, so surprized us—I am still trying to absorb how thoroughly you have restored things. Despite all the odds, you alone can be praised for this complete turn of events. It is a miracle—something only you could do.

Thank you for your gentle, lovingkindness, so sweet towards us. Despite my deep disappointment, you remain the same. You don’t change. Your love is not dependant on our behavior. You can handle us being disappointed or doubtful because you were up to something better and know I don’t fully understand your ways.

I’m sorry. Please forgive me for all of that. I thought I had faith, but I suppose it was on my terms, as in, as long as my prayers are answered and things go my way, I’m good. But again I see that you lead us to deeper faith. You ask us to trust you when we cannot see any way before us. Look how you provided so entirely and completely! At every turn, every bleak moment. You gave us all we needed.

“You have done great things; O God, who is like you?” Psalm 71:19

Thank you, Father, for all you have done, the many ways you have tenderly cared for and carried us. You are greatly to be praised! I love and trust you. Thy will be done.

Amen.

Listen to song: Yes I Will

fam2020
Our family together on Mother’s Day 2020

Click here to purchase my 31-day devotional Soul Focus