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White Scarf Story

When you find yourself tangled up in a mess you cannot free yourself from, or in a place of utter despair and hopelessness, it’s good to remember that you are not alone.

It’s even better when that truth becomes a reality.

She was 17. A junior in high school. Wrapped up in an unhealthy dating relationship that went awry. Dreams of graduating from high school and becoming a fashion designer were replaced by abuse, fear, guilt, and shame.

This was my crossroad reality.

Mwangi Gatheca

And yet, my sin and brokenness became the very instrument God would use to demonstrate his above and beyond grace in my life.

Grace, mercy, and love came to me through various acts of unconditional love shown to me by a loving mother and father, and friends who genuinely saw past my shame and celebrated the life I was carrying inside me.

My struggle of personal torment prevented me from seeing the future God had planned for me. My personal failure held me in a place of hopelessness and despair and unworthiness.

But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners,  Christ died for us.” Rom 5:8

“While we were yet sinners!”

While I was clueless of God’s plan of grace for my life – he had already put his redemptive plan in motion; to rescue me from a life of pain and regret.

God used the kindness of one particular woman in my life to show me what unconditional love and grace looked like.  As a very young child, she had suffered at the hands of an abusive father. And there she stood in front of me, extending the sweetest kind of kindness and love – the one that Christ had given her in her own story of faith, grace, and healing.

In her kindness, I felt as though I was being adorned with a white scarf of beauty and grace.

God’s personal love also came through his Word in a place of desperation.

Betsy…sweetheart…I wrote these words for you beloved daughter:

“I know the plans I have for you (my daughter). Plans to prosper you.

Not to bring you harm. Plans to give you a FUTURE and a HOPE.” Jer 29:11

I was undone.

My friend and God’s Word.

But Jesus did not stop there.

I was learning to trust the One who made me and the child within me. I began to embrace and trust God’s plan for my life not knowing what the future held…but trusting the One who held it. I was learning to walk in the hope and forgiveness I had found in Jesus.

Pivotal moment.

I was unmarried and two weeks away from marrying the father of my child. A relationship that was marked by drugs, alcohol, and abuse. Through a series of events, I knew God was telling me to let go and that he had something better in mind for me. By God’s intervening grace, I broke ties with this person and put my life, my unborn child life, and my future in God’s hands.

During my pregnancy, I began to gather things I would need.

One day, I went to an old fashioned church “rummage sale” and spotted a small white silk scarf that I fell in love with. It was a custom made child’s scarf that had an “S” monogrammed on one side near the bottom.

The only problem was that my last name began with a “D”.

I almost left the scarf on the shelf where I found it because it didn’t have the initial of my last name.

But I loved it. So I bought it. And I took it home and tucked it away.

I imagined myself bringing it out and placing it around my little-one’s tiny neck on the very first, cold, Cleveland, winter day.

Fast-forward a year and a half later. Through a blind date, I met the man I would marry.

We married the winter my son turned two years old. My new last name, of course, begins with an “S”.

This scarf is one of my most treasured earthly possessions because of what it represents. Little did I know then, how God would use this white scarf of grace in my life.

Blessing me with the task of raising eight kids.

Leading a ministry for teen moms. And now, at this season of life as an empty nester, writing to offer the gift of grace to midlife women experiencing a major season of change.

Who is that woman that God has brought into your life to offer his White Scarf of grace? Or has God placed someone in your life that has made a profound difference in your life? Why not offer them a gift of the white scarf of gratitude?

It’s just one small way we (who were once found, lost, hurting, and hopeless) can bless and serve the beautiful hurting women God brings into our lives.

Elizabeth Duncan Stretar, (Cleveland, Ohio) is the mother of 8 married adults, grandmother to 16, and enjoys spending her empty-nest time with husband, Frank. She is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary (MACL), Young Life’s first national director and currently working as a major airline Flight Attendant. Stretar’s passion is to help others live an above and beyond kind of life, by encouraging them realize their untapped potential, discover their life-purpose that strives to make a difference in the lives of others.

She’s a published author of children’s book, Acorn Gert & Brother Bert (Halo Publishing, 2016) and blogs at Elizabeth Duncan Stretar: Above and Beyond Mid-life (betsystretar.com)

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Company’s coming (The horrors of hospitality)

Company’s coming. The doorbell rings out the dreadful confirmation. Your blood pressure soars as you realize the frozen dessert is still rock solid in the freezer and the dog just threw up under the dining table. You ignore a balled-up sock mocking you from beneath the sofa as you scurry to the door, plastering on a welcoming smile for your guests. Who are five minutes early.

Side note: Why do people do that? Don’t they know how much is accomplished in those final precious five minutes?

Alexander Mils unsplash

The horrors of hospitality.

Most of us have been there. We have a moment of “Why do I put myself through this?” amidst thoughts of simply going back to bed and leaving everyone else to figure it all out. And then possibly becoming a recluse forevermore.

We know it’s the right thing to do, this inviting people into our homes. We aren’t supposed to care too much about the dust bunnies or the super-dry chicken, but we do care. The Pinterest-perfect images we torture ourselves with are emblazoned on our retinas and we simply can’t keep up. It’s overwhelming and it’s exhausting.

Where, oh where, is the joy?

Isn’t there supposed to be joy in giving? In serving?

One of my favorite Bible verses is found in Nehemiah 8:10 where it says, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” But I only recently paid attention to the verse in its entirety, because sometimes I’m a slow learner:

Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’” Nehemiah 8:10 (NIV)

Did you catch that? It’s actually talking about joy in the realms of offering food and hospitality. It’s a thing.

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” 1 Peter 4:9 (NIV)

So, we really are supposed to be hospitable with an attitude of joy and “without grumbling”. A double-whammy. Interesting how Peter actually has to put that little caveat in writing. It’s as if he anticipated a little push-back from some of us on the notion of opening our homes! But how do we actually get to this dreamy place of joy in our hospitality house of horrors?

It seems that in recent years, we have managed to overcomplicate the concept of hospitality. Hospitality is not a home décor competition or an opportunity to display our culinary skills (or lack thereof.) It’s actually a heart issue. It’s a way for us to love others, just as Jesus commanded. Strangers or friends, in homes or at the park, offering a bed for the night or with a batch of cookies, over a quiet cup of coffee or around a noisy dinner table, as a listening ear or with a warm hug.

By thinking of our guests MORE than thinking of ourselves.

More than our reputation, our cooking abilities, and our spotless house. By putting our guest first. By being fully present. By focusing on them. By loving them.

They won’t care what’s on the menu if they are simply seen and heard and appreciated. They won’t notice your mugs don’t match when they are able to truly relax. The pressure melts away. The horror is replaced with joy. And love is literally put into action, just the way Jesus intended.

Company’s coming. And it’s going to be okay. Exhale and enjoy…

Laura is a published Christian author with a heart for inspiring and encouraging readers of all ages. She is a multi-genre writer with a published Christian teen fiction trilogy, marriage book, middle-grade novel, children’s stories, devotionals for Union Gospel Press, articles in magazines and online, musings on her blog, and currently has a three-book deal for her Christian romantic suspense novels. Living in Kelowna, B.C. as an empty-nester, Laura is a mom of three, married to her high school sweetheart, and is passionate about faith and family—and chocolate.

laurathomasauthor.com

Company's coming. The horrors of hospitality a pep talk. iola magazine

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From aching to expectant heart – learning to hope again

I never would have expected a child’s tantrum to bring a grown, intelligent, and capable woman to the ends of herself and question whether she was actually any of those things.

But there I was, like a child myself, sitting on the plush carpet of my bedroom closet with my arms wrapped around my knees, and my mind swirling with emotions, doubts, and questions.

Upstairs in his bedroom, my little boy endured an ungluing of epic proportions and shrieked at levels that pierced my ears, and my heart, and threatened my sanity.

My mothering soul longed to soothe the chaos in my child’s small spirit, but I couldn’t. His emotions raged and my efforts failed. I knew my emotions would rise to meet his if I wasn’t careful, so I did the only thing I could to not make it worse. I retreated to my closet where I poured out silent tears and prayers and waited helplessly for my son’s storm to pass.

For several years this scene played out in our home daily, and for several years I prayed and prayed and tried every parenting strategy, method, tool, trick, and tip suggested to me by friends, mentors, a licensed therapist, and even my son’s pediatrician – but nothing seemed to work.

I couldn’t figure out how to help my little boy through the torrent of emotional meltdowns he was experiencing, and I felt like I was failing him as his mom. My “mother’s guilt” became discouraging, oppressive even. And my son’s meltdowns left me exhausted, frustrated, and on the verge of hopelessness. My prayer life and faith gradually grew into a reflection of these feelings — and stirred up old emotions from what seemed like a lifetime ago.

You see remaining hopeful had become painful and difficult for me after walking through an agonizing season of suffering six years prior. A week after giving birth to my first child, my little girl, her NICU doctors discovered she had a fatal condition. She died in her sleep four weeks later.

From the moment we learned her life would soon be stripped away to the days and years after her death, I wrestled with God, struggled with disappointment, and found myself haunted by the countless prayers I had cried out and prayed over her. My grief brought me a profound intimacy with God as I drew near to Him, and yet, as my faith became restored, wounds healed, and pains redeemed, hope remained difficult, even though I didn’t want to admit it.

But God knew – and He wasn’t about to leave me there…

And so a few hours after this particular meltdown with my son, I found myself gathered with other women and mothers at a local church event. I was desperate for the reprieve and for the fellowship that reminded me I wasn’t alone in the mothering or faith journey. But more so, I was desperate for an encounter with Jesus. My soul felt emptied and parched, and I knew He was the only thing that could satisfy my thirst.

The entire room stood to their feet as the worship team sang a song I had never heard before (turns out it was Tasha Cobb’s “Put a Praise On It”). The lyrics praised God for what He was going to do. We sang out: “There’s a breakthrough in this room and it’s got my name on it. So I’m gonna put a praise on it.”

The boldness of praising God for future things caught me off guard and shocked me. It felt like someone pushed pause. The room praised on and yet I couldn’t hear a thing. My body stilled, my own voice quieted, and my spirit leaned in.

Right then, unexpectedly, through an unfamiliar song, after years of struggling with my son’s behaviors and my own frustrated emotions, God’s voice fell over my spirit, “Do you believe I am who I say I am? Do you believe My promises are true?”

My soul responded adamantly, “Yes. Of course I believe.”

And then the thought appeared, “If I really believe, then I need to pray like it – and ‘put a praise on it.’”

A switch flipped in my perspective that night. It released revelations and sparked a courageous hope within me.

Hope doesn’t come from believing that God will fulfill our expectations. Hope comes from trusting that God will fulfill His promises. Hope comes from knowing, praying, and living in expectation of God’s Word to us.

Fears, worries, and other emotions had been strangling me, and suddenly their suffocating grip vanished. I could breathe. Hope filled my lungs and brought peace to my anxious heart (even as those meltdowns continued to plague our lives for many more months).

God was transforming me. I became expectant. I no longer expected or prayed according to my desires and timeline, but I learned how to expect and pray with God’s perspective, with a heart aligned to His Word, and to boldly praise Him for what He promises, even in the waiting.

In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” (Psalm 5:3 NIV)

When we pray and live and wait with expectant hearts, our hearts release fear, anxiety, frustration, and doubt and fill with gratitude, peace, and… hope. Our eyes open to the unexpected ways in which God reveals His promises and presence, gifting us with an incredible sense of wonder and joy right there in the pain, in the trial, in the waiting, in the unknown.

Life is hard and circumstances may lead us to do the ugly cry on the floor of our closet a time or two (or maybe more), but when we align our messy and hurting hearts with the One who created them and pray expectantly according to His promises, God transforms us, breathes hope into us, and we witness His faithfulness.

Kristin Vanderlip is an Army wife, a bereaved mom to her little girl in heaven, and a stay-at-home mom to her two rainbow boys (ages 3 and 6). A decade ago you could find Kristin teaching English in a middle school classroom, now she is a writer and freelance editor. Kristin follows Jesus with an expectant heart as she navigates both the ordinary moments and the unexpected trials of life. She is passionate about seeking God and holding onto hope, especially when it’s hard, and encouraging other women to do the same and cultivate their own expectant hearts. You can find Kristin sharing her struggles, victories, and encounters with God as well as His gifts of beauty and truth over on her blog, which she writes at regularly, www.anexpectantheart.com, and on Instagram @kristinvanderlip.

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Blooming in the dark

Thrown into the most exhausting and painful time of my life – I’d just had a baby – my third child, our business had gone bust, we had sold our house and had to move, a family member had been diagnosed with cancer – all within weeks of each other. It was all too much. I felt spun around and unsure of which way was up, let alone the next step to take.

I felt like a tortoise, upside down on her shell, wiggling her legs in the air, trying to turn over, but the shell just sliding around on the floor. Eventually, all I wanted to do was hide in that shell and not face pain and disappointment ever again.

It was a struggle to do anything, even the former things that I loved to do. I had worked as a designer and loved to be creative with design and layout, and in making a home for my little family. It had all been taken from me and I had no resources, no outlet, no inclination or energy to be creative at all.

As I travelled the path of depression and learning about my mental health, re-discovering creativity was an essential part of healing. Learning how to restart my creativity against the odds, learning how to rest and finding out what brought me joy. Silencing my inner critic’s voice, creating from a place of vulnerability, and chasing down truth and beauty.

I had to learn to come alive again.

Creative practice helped me to move through disappointments, it helped me focus on the things that mattered, it helped me find meaning in life and feel valued again. Not valued for what I could do, but in knowing the presence of God and him moving me alive.

Creative is the essence of who we all are. Every action you take is a creative act. When we who were made in God’s own image, move into our identity, foremost we are creators. Overwhelmed with life, it is possible to forget who we are. We can lose our voice and courage and as Brene Brown says:

“Unused creativity is not benign, it metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgement, sorrow, shame”

Our unused creativity eventually destroys us. Feeling dis-empowered by life threatens to take away our identity. We can believe the lies that we don’t have anything to offer, we can’t move forward. I had to make a tiny first small step to be creative again and in doing so I discovered more of what I loved to do and what made me feel more like me. The me I was created to be. It’s not always been easy, but I have found ways to keep going.

I have come up with small ways that keep me exercising my creativity and help keep me flourishing. This is good for my soul, it is life-giving. When life is full of boring tasks or lists of chores, then I know I can take just 10 minutes a day to do one thing that will connect me to my creative essence. Maybe these will help you too:

3 tips to start creativity when overwhelmed

1. Carry pen and paper for notes, thoughts, doodles, lettering and more.

2. Make a practice of doing one thing a day even if you only have 10 minutes.

3. Remember that every act is a creative movement and you are creative.

 

 

Abi Partridge is a designer and writer living with her husband and three children in Oxfordshire, on the edge of the beautiful Cotswolds in the UK. She is passionate about good coffee, encouraging others in creativity for wellbeing, and the soulful pursuit of beauty in nature. She has self-published three books and publishes iola magazine on a mac and a prayer.

She writes at abipartridge.com and posts on instagram @abipartridge.

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iola deep playlist

iola magazine deep playlist

We are excited to let you know that the new issue of iola is coming in January 2019 and this is the playlist we have made to go with the theme of the issue.

iola magazine: living life well – even in the deep is an issue that explores how we live when we feel stuck or buried or when we want to go deeper with God and what that means. Now you have a playlist to listen to when you are thinking about this new year, plans and dreams. Maybe last year was not what you hoped it would be, maybe you have a change coming, perhaps nothing feels like it will ever change. This issue will treat you kindly with articles from women that have travelled similar paths to you.

We love these songs by these artists and think they suit the themes of articles coming in iola: deep but the inclusion of these artists in the playlist doesn’t suggest they have endorsed the magazine!

You can listen to the playlist on spotify here:

iola magazine playlists

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Finding myself beloved: an everyday story

When I arrive at the station the train is already in despite there being twenty minutes before we leave. I buy a cup of tea and check my ticket: Coach D, seat 32.

 

When I find my seat it is at a table already occupied by two people. The woman is dressed smartly in a navy blue dress which fits her form perfectly. She is the personification of a business professional. Across from her sits a man in a suit and tie, his jacket hung on the hook by the window. The woman has to move to allow me to take my seat, next to her by the window. I can sense her frustration. She had placed her bag on my seat hoping beyond hope that no one would claim it and she wouldn’t have to sit arm touching arm with another human.

It is hot on the train and it takes me a few moments to settle. I try and take up as little physical space as possible. I remove my phone and headphones from my bag alongside my notebook, pen and the book I am reading.

And a banana. I place a banana on the table. I can almost hear the disapproval of my fellow passengers.

Before long the train fills up. An Indian woman and her son take the seats across the aisle. He is three or four years old and full of energy. His mother takes an iPad out of her bag and puts a programme on it for him. He has no headphones. We are all now also listening to his superhero cartoons. We momentarily unite in our disdain. A glamorous older lady takes her place behind them making a loud phone call about where she will meet her friend later.

Behind us, passengers I cannot see talk in a language I don’t understand, an animated conversation about I do not know what.

Finally, the fourth occupant of our table arrives. A boy-man aware of his own attractiveness. He pulls large wireless headphones from his bag and places on the table a large coffee he has brought from one of the stations’ coffee shops. He holds in his other hand a bag containing a sausage sandwich. He takes two ketchup sachets from his pocket and squeezes them liberally over it. How he eats it without spilling sauce down his black Adidas jacket is a miracle. We look away.

Fellow travellers in this small enclosed space avoid eye contact and interaction by all means possible. We long for solitude and silence, to travel without the inconvenience of others touching us, talking in outdoor voices, eating and drinking in our personal space.

I think, if only this train wasn’t so loud, so crowded.

I think, I wish I could afford to get the quieter, earlier, more expensive, train.

And then.

(A hang over from my more anxious days.) A slight shooting pain up my left hand side momentarily gives rise to the idea I could have a stroke.

I dismiss it immediately, no longer held hostage by this kind of intrusive thought.

But the thought makes me curious.

I take a moment to consider what would happen if I did.

If, here and now, I suffered a stroke. (Go with me).

I imagine the woman next to me jumping up, calling for help. From somewhere a traveller with medical expertise would appear making sure I was in the recovery position in the aisle. Someone would find my phone and call a loved on my behalf. Someone else would alert the train manager. The nearest hospital would be rung. The glamorous lady would put her cardigan under my head and my train neighbour would hold my hand. Someone would distract the young Indian boy with sweets, or conversation.

I would not be alone. I would be cared for.

Don’t ask me how I know.

I just do.

For all our masks and indifference and desire to remain separate and private something deeper would call out. Our humanity. Our humanness. My fellow passengers would make eye contact with each other. They would work together.

And I would be helped.

I would be cared for. I would know kindness.

As I look up at the people who sat with me, travelling through the rainy English countryside, my heart warms. What amazing people I get to travel with. What a privilege to be among fellow humans today.

Late Fragment

by Raymond Carver.

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.

Elli Johnson has been blogging at thehippochronicles.com for over 4 years. She writes about mental health, creativity, beauty and the chaos of family life. She is a professional child wrangler, (over)thinker, and tea drinker.

Elli lives in Liverpool with the river Mersey at the bottom of the road.

To find her newest and most exciting work, check out: patreon.com/thehippochronicles

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Peace Playlist

I’ve been thinking about peace lately and what it really means to live a life knowing “sweet peace” like the title of one of the songs in the playlist refers to. Jesus said, “Consider the lilies, they don’t labor or spin” to become what they were already designed to be. (Matthew 6:28)

Jesus suggested we should be taking our cues from them on living a life of peace and surrender. The cycle of nature has a surrendering season. In order to regenerate, the trees and the flowers must completely give themselves away. The seed pods fall and blow in the wind to multiply and the petals of the tulips eventually float to the ground to return nutrients to the bulbs buried beneath the soil.

The blooming season is beautiful and glorious and causes us to stop and linger a while but the blooms are the result of the surrendered work that had been done in a resting, dormant season. God designed transformation to occur in these dark, unseen places. A caterpillar’s cocoon actually becomes its tomb as it dies to what it once was. Yet there are no words to explain the transformation that occurs when a glorious butterfly emerges from what looked like a death trap the caterpillar had wrapped itself in.     

Watching this transformation take place over and over again in nature is starting to make me wonder…maybe peace IS in the surrendering to resting in these dark, dormant seasons. A tulip cannot force its flower to emerge before its undoing takes place underneath the earth’s surface. It does not worry or strive, it simply allows the undoing and transformation to occur and then eventually, we see it bloom.


Libby John is a creative artist of many forms. As a singer/songwriter, she debuted her first album in Oct. 2017. Libby is also a choreographer who teaches hip hop and modern dance classes. She has a passion to spur others on to be an influence on the culture through their faith & artistry which led her to create the podcast “Art & Faith Conversations”. Libby is a lover of small beginnings and finding beauty in the ordinary. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her husband and 3 daughters. Libby can be found sharing her creative journey and prayerful devotionals through songs at www.libbyjohnartandsong.org.

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Finding place

I remember sitting at the counter of the diner, a narrow wooden plank with squeaky chairs. The gas station turned restaurant was much smaller four years ago. But the smell of fresh biscuits, flaky croissants layered with ham and pear, and smoked meat remained the same. I watched life unfold outside the window, wondering how I fit into the scene here too. It all resembled an old movie playing in slow motion with the sound turned off.

I didn’t know much of Winchester, the town my soon-to-be husband had moved to for a job.

I only knew it was quiet and slow. Less hurried and rushed. Strangers looked up as they passed and small talk was woven into the culture. It felt rude not to engage in conversation with the person in line beside you.

Hil

Like most people my age, I was living and working in Washington, DC. It seemed customary to move to a big, trendy city after graduation. That’s where you would find yourself, climb the ladder of success, and build your dreams. I got used to looking down or straight ahead during the week, walking quickly to work or weaving in between cars on my bike. Getting from place to place was more a race rather than a leisurely stroll.

I’d visit Matt on the weekends, where in-between holding hands and sitting real close, we’d chat with locals at the one coffee shop in town. The one he used to live above. The owner of the shop was one of his dearest friends.

I always left visits feeling filled up in places I didn’t know were empty. Deep, slow breaths came easier as we drove further out of town towards the valley. I learned how the Blue Ridge Mountains got their name, a bluish tint kisses the tops of each slope as you inch closer. The mountains are like a quilt, various shades of grey and blue overlap each other and on certain days, it’s hard to tell where the mountain ridge ends and the clouds begin.

These weekends served as a moment of selah and rest from my life of performing and hustle during the week. And while I loved the way this small town made me feel, I never actually considered building a life there.

Once we got engaged, I considered all the places we could live. Should we embrace culture and move to a big city? What about quitting our jobs and heading overseas as missionaries like I had always wanted?

We were young and limitless. We could do anything. My heart was restless, still holding on to places I had lived before and countries I longed to explore. I prayed God would call us to a village in Africa or a city with good food and rich culture. I figured to nestle in Winchester, a town I had never even heard of before, was to settle. And while I found it quite charming, I wanted to write a more interesting story.

And yet, the arrows kept pointing us back to living right here, as much as I fought against it.

“One year” I said, “That’s all I’ll give. After that we are headed somewhere new.”

It didn’t take long for the loneliness and wrestle with purpose and calling to settle in. I was unemployed and without deep, rich community. My days were spent cooking elaborate dinners, keeping the house clean, and applying for jobs I wasn’t getting. I’d be invited to interview, only to be told I lacked experience and all the gaps in my resume weren’t intriguing but flaky. My mornings were slow and meditative but also uncomfortable. I’d wake up anxious, jealous, and insecure – frustrated at God for being so quiet, begging Him to just tell me where to go and what to do.

And yet, He was there each morning, handing me a blank canvas and paintbrush I refused to embrace, cupping my face in His hands to say – Sweet girl, look. Look at all I’ve offered you. This is your Africa right now. This is your great adventure. Join me in making this place even more beautiful.

With time, patience, and tears – community was slowly built and I finally got a job. I actually got a few jobs. Only to fully step away from all of them last year to pursue my dreams of becoming a writer.

Friendship grew around tables and floors and lingering after yoga classes. Through inviting folks over and feeding them food I made with my hands. It took intention, time, and hard work. Trust was built on front porch swings, long walks through the park, and coffee shops. We ate in each others homes, rather than meeting out, so meals lasted as long as we wanted. We carried our friends’ hardships and suffering as if it were our own.

We ate at that diner we loved again and again. You still have to show up early if you want homemade biscuits. We bought a pass to explore the National Park, reminding me that beauty and adventure is only a short drive away.

Suddenly a whole year had passed and instead of buying a one-way ticket to Africa, we bought a house. Suddenly leaving felt harder than staying. The house we found was all the things and more we prayed it would be. And we were anxious to stay long enough to see how this gift God had loaned us, could be used for good.

Hilary Hyland

Our street became my Africa. Friends became our family. The one coffee shop in town turned to four. We joined a small church we could walk to. It meets in a school cafeteria, the place our future baby boy might eat his lunch and make new friends. All we ever hoped for was right here, in a town I didn’t know existed four years ago.

That’s what community does, it changes us from the inside out. We find abundance rather than all that is lacking.

Our town is teaching me that I don’t need more shiny, interesting things to do. I just need a few tables to sit at. I don’t need a plane ticket each time restlessness kicks in, I just need to look to the three feet in front of me and call it holy. I don’t need an interesting job in a fancy office perched way up high, I need a barista that remembers my name and order. And a front porch for greeting my neighbors and mountain tops kissed with blue.

Most importantly, I need to root myself where I am, hang a few things on the wall, lean in hard to community and take care of my people well. Because as we offer and receive – peace, contentment, and joy will follow.

Maeve is a writer, kitchen dweller, and people gatherer. She believes in building a longer table and make room for one more. Most often you’ll find her in the kitchen (because she loves to eat) or on her porch (because she loves people). She believes the art of neighboring, living and loving right where you are, could actually change the world. Her heart is prone to wander, though lately she’s learned the joy in abiding, of keeping close to the vine, and of staying. She shares more about hospitality, friendship and finding significance in the ordinary over on her blog: maevegerboth.com and instagram: @maeve_gerboth. Come say hello!

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Desert Blooms

“Who is this one? Look at her now! She arises out of her desert, clinging to her beloved…” – Song of Songs 8:5 (TPT)

I sensed the Holy Spirit draw me into the desert.

My soul was longing for Him.

The hiddenness of the desert seemed to me like the perfect place to follow Him.

Little did I know this desert season was going to be far harder than I could have imagined and more restorative than I could have ever dreamed.

Just before Christmas my husband had hit his usual post go, go, go slump after the teaching year comes to an end and without so much as a word I could see he was heavy in spirit.

I wrapped my arms around him and asked if he was ok.

Through tears, he shared that he was deeply sad and he didn’t know why.

Now let me give you some context. We are an ordinary family, raising our three young boys, working in jobs that are challenging but meaningful and we work with some of the greatest people on earth. Our wider family are good and kind people. We have some financial struggles but nothing so drastic that we’d be in over our heads, and this is simply the cost of me having been at home with my children for the last nine years without a second income. We are paying off a small mortgage in a nice area, with a lake we can walk to. Our boys are challenging at times, whose aren’t? But mostly they are really sweet.

In short, we are blessed.

And that’s why he was struggling to put his finger on the deep sadness.

Now I had my suspicions and had left another job to be able to be more available to support him. So it wasn’t a surprise when he realized he had depression. It was more like a, “FINALLY! Now you can seek healing!”

Can I be really honest; this wasn’t what I thought my desert would be like. I pictured Jesus and I learning and growing together in the secret and hidden spaces. What I had really imagined was an oasis, lush and rich and dense and flowing with Living Water instead of a desert.

I didn’t expect that it would be dry and that my thirst would grow by the hour.

I didn’t expect that I would need to be the strong one, the supportive one, the one researching, and learning and be seeking answers and prayers, the patient one and let’s be honest, some days I’m not…

I’ve had to let go of some dreams for this season to walk with him through this. I’ve had to let go of resentment and bitterness. I’ve had to rely on God in my weakness like never before when I see him sitting broken, and there is nothing I can do.

Some days I don’t have the energy to ‘deal with’ his sadness, and in those moments God whispers that I don’t have to because He alone is enough.

And this place of deep trust and wild faith is right where my soul blooms. The pressure and the hard things are all a part of this little soul seed pushing down deep roots into the nutrient soil and growing upward toward the Giver of Life.

And it’s healing me in ways I did not know I needed healing physically and emotionally. Still, some days hurt like crazy and I’m trying to sit in my pain instead of run from it because Jesus is right there with me. And I’m waking up, over and over again to more of His love…

This desert season is far from over. The journey through this desert wilderness is long and hard. But I hold to two of God’s life-giving promises.

One. I’ll arise out of this desert clinging to Jesus. Song of Songs 8:5, TPT

Two. He will stay close to me and will guide me along the pathway of my life Psalm 32:8-9, TPT

These promises are enough to keep me walking in faith.

In this dry desert, my soul is blooming.

I pray that as you seek Him in your desert journey, your soul will bloom too.

Carly Thomson

As a wife and mother of three boys, a teacher, and an author, Carly’s life is always full of adventure, be it the every day ordinary moments of life or the high energy fun, she chooses to remain present and connected to Jesus and the world around her. Carly is the founding director of the She Collective movement helping young women discover their identity and self-worth. If Carly is not writing, you’ll find her playing, exploring and adventuring with her family OR completely lost in a good book with a cup of tea and a cookie.

www.carlythomson.com

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To the mum who feels constantly needed and rarely seen

While our kids played in the next room, my friend and I stood in her kitchen, sipping coffee and talking about our dreams in hushed tones peppered with nervous laughter, as if the very topic was somehow taboo.

Frivolous.

Indulgent.

Maybe even selfish?

“I feel like I’ve lost pieces of myself since having kids…” She spoke quietly, almost to herself, but her words echoed loudly inside my own heart.

I knew exactly what she meant.

I think in an honest moment, many of us would admit we do.

Motherhood, especially in those early years, can be an engulfing experience. It’s a deeply beautiful, life-giving (literally), and fulfilling role that some of us have always dreamt of, but there can be moments when it feels as if motherhood and the minutia of the day might swallow our identity whole. Like we’re constantly needed yet rarely seen.

We’re busy doing those million and one little things that we worry don’t matter, even while knowing, deep in our hearts they do. We teach, we train, we pray, we worry, we kiss, we rock, we soothe, we comfort, we’re filled up and emptied clear out 100 times in a day. We lose sleep and gain access to chambers of our hearts we never knew existed. We’re driven to the edge of our sanity and then pulled back again in one suddenly tender moment.

We ride that rollercoaster of fear and worry, pride and dismay, wonder and bafflement, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

We love our life.

And yet…

We wonder about those pieces of ourselves that seem to have disappeared. Our audacity, our playfulness, our ability to dream. They don’t call. They don’t send flowers. They just slipped unceremoniously out the back door.

Will they ever come back?

As mothers we gladly make room for our children to play, to discover who they are, to explore their creativity, to try and fail. We tend and grow their dreams, teach gumption and courage, and we speak life over them…

So often forgetting that God still longs to do the same for us.

Even now.

Especially now.

A common theme I hear from every single mother I talk to, one I was once painfully familiar with myself, is the feeling that we’ve “lost” pieces of ourselves somewhere along the way since having children.

It feels bittersweet.

It feels disorienting.

It feels final.

As much as we love motherhood, we quietly question if it’s become our main identifier, if it’s the only important work we’ll ever do, or if it’s the final act in the story God is writing for us.

We go through our days vaguely aware that there are dreams hidden away in the corners of our heart, but we aren’t sure if they’re big or too small and to be honest we don’t have the time to figure it out.

We’re afraid to look closely at those dreams, to name them, or to bother God with them. He’s busy… WE’RE busy. So we let fear and doubt keep us from chasing them down.

We learn to live with an ache.

A longing.

Not for a different life, but a deeper life.

One where we’re fully awake to our unique gifting. Where we allow ourselves to believe that our dreams actually matter, and not just to us. Where we bravely pursue them in the middle of motherhood and our right now life, knowing that we don’t need permission, or a formal invitation, we need only to begin.

Five years ago I stood in my kitchen (because apparently the kitchen is where all my meaningful conversations take place now?) and I blurted out to a friend that I “wanted to write a book one day.” And then I laughed. I LAUGHED like it was some kind of hilarious joke. Because at that point in my life, as a stay at home mom with very young children and no “free time” to speak of, it honestly felt ridiculous, like I may as well have said that I wanted to move to Hollywood and be famous.

What a joke, right?

I wasn’t even blogging yet at the time, but my offhand “joke” struck a chord somewhere deep in my soul, shaking the dust off of a very hidden, very real dream to write. A dream that had always been there, but that I’d been too afraid to acknowledge.

It’s easier to leave those things safely tucked away in the peripheral of our consciousness, right?

Pursuing any dream is going to require quite a lot from us- it asks us to step out of our comfort zone, embrace risk, be vulnerable, put ourselves out there, learn humility and gumption, and to sit patiently within the tension of the creative process instead of struggle against it.

The thing is, I think God longs to partner with us in all of that.

This might seem obvious and trite to you, but for me it was nothing short of revelatory. I never would’ve admitted it aloud, but somewhere along the line I subconsciously decided that God didn’t really care about woo-woo stuff like “chasing dreams” and “making art”, or even beauty for the sake of beauty. (What can I say, sometimes I’m not very smart.)

Emily Freeman once said, “I believe, deep in my bones that we can’t separate creative work from spiritual formation.”

I’ve found this to be profoundly true of my own experience. In the last few years as I’ve woken up to my creative self and the dreams tucked away in my heart, as I’ve taken my place in the creative arena, every part of this process has been inexorably linked with my inner spiritual life.

I think that’s because God actually cares about this stuff, and when we start to care about it too, there’s an intimate fellowship with the Holy Spirit at work within us.

Moms, what would happen if we leaned in to those places that ache because they feel unimportant?

What if all those pieces of ourselves that feel “lost” or shoved away in a drawer marked “Inconsequential” are the very key to our own unique brand of creativity?

What if we allowed ourselves to believe that God cares about the dreams tucked way in our hearts even more than we do, because he put them there, on purpose and for such a time as this? What if we found the gumption to walk towards them with boldness and an unflagging joy?

How different would our story be?

Take heart today, mamas. If you find yourself in a season of feeling more needed than seen, know that you have not been left on the shelf. Know that you are doing important work.

Did you hear that?

You are doing important work.

Right now.

Every diaper change that turns into a tickle fight. Every moment you linger on their cheek. Every nap-time showdown. Every trip to the grocery store that takes twice as long and is half as productive. Every tiny, tender sacrifice of yourself. You are doing important work.

If you find yourself in a season of limited time, opportunity, or energy when “pursuing your dreams” and “exploring your creativity” feels impossible, just remember that the thing about seasons is they always change.

And whatever season you find yourself in, there’s always meaningful work for you to do, because you are always you.

Amber Salhus is a wife, mom, blogger, house-flipper, comedy lover, and burgeoning farmer. She lives in the Oregon countryside with her husband, their two kids, and their ever-growing list of animals. She openly shares the adventures of dreaming big in the middle of motherhood, navigating the creative process, and finding the humor in all of it at ambersalhus.com.

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