When pain runs deep: 10 self-care practices

In the shadows of the confined closet, with my face wet from tears and my heart broken open, I awkwardly braced my body against the palms of my hands as I collapsed onto the ground. My crumpled body found a home amongst the crumpled clothes pile that hadn’t yet made its way to the laundry. A sweatshirt that my head had found its rest upon soaked up my tears. The chaos of pain and sorrow running deep and rampant through me had reached a point of paralysis. I felt stuck, glued to the carpet, lost in the darkness.

Unfortunately, unexpected suffering and grief and betrayal and other events caused this scene to become a familiar one in my life over the years. Each time old pain was triggered or new trauma occurred, the pain ran so deep through my being that it felt like a toxin coursing through my veins. And each time, as my soul felt trapped and darkness abounded in the depths, I sought out spaces with the same characteristics, dark and confining, like my bedroom closet.

As I struggled with deep emotional pain, I wrestled, lamented, and prayed to God for rescue. I proclaimed the Scripture promises I knew to be true. But there was never a swift and miraculous rescue like I wanted. What I discovered was an invitation into the Lord’s loving presence and to join Him in the work of transformation and healing. 

The ugly truth is that suffering is part of the human condition, and at times, the pain runs deep through all of us. The beautiful truth is that this invitation of the Lord’s that I mentioned is for all of us as well. And, as Corrie Ten Boom famously wrote, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

Wherever we are, whatever our struggle, when we encounter a pain that runs deep, God’s love is deeper still. And it’s here, in the depths of pain, when the rescue hasn’t come yet, when silence fills our ears and the darkness blinds our eyes, where we especially need to hold tight to the Lord and live in expectation of His Promises. 

And we need not wait idly by. We fight back and find our way through the depths and the darkness. We can use practical tools to do this and take care of our souls. 

The following is a list of 10 self-care practices that can nourish our spirits and help bring us out of the depths: 

1. Visualize a Screen Door

Whenever I begin to feel “stuck” or “caught” by pain that runs deep, it helps me to imagine myself as a screen door instead of a sticky fly trap. I visualize emotions and thoughts passing through me. I also tend to do this with the next activity.

2. Breathe Deep

When we’re in deep with our pain, we often forget to breathe. Inhaling and exhaling deeply is one the simplest yet most profoundly helpful practices I have discovered. Breathing intentionally (i.e.: a certain number of breaths over a specific length of time or a specific meditative practice) has all sorts of emotional, mental, and physical benefits and is truly one of the best ways I have found to calm my soul and take back control of what seems to be out of control in me. 

3. Preach to Yourself

Read and speak affirmations and truth. Remind yourself of what you know to be true because emotions can disorient us and lies like to attack us in the dark and lonely places of pain. Bring light to the darkness. Turn to God’s Word to remember the truths that God says about you. Make a list of your positive qualities or write a letter to yourself. Have “I am” statements at the ready when the battle in the depths comes to remind yourself the truth of who you are.

4. Breath Prayers

This practice combines ideas #2 and #3. This essentially involves choosing a truth from #3 (a short scripture or phrase), using deep breathing from #2, and joining them in a prayer. As you inhale, begin your short prayer, as you exhale complete it, repeat. Maybe start by trying this for a minute, work your way to five, maybe even use this form of prayer for 20 minutes. You can use Google to search for samples of breath prayers if you’re looking for a place to start. 

5. Get Outside

Inside, in physically confining and dark spaces, we’re stuck in an environment much like where we’re stuck in our pain. But when we step outside, literally, we also begin to step outside of our pain. Get outside. Breathe in cool fresh air and fill your lungs. Notice the vast blue sky and the world around you. Be mindful of the smells, the sights, the sounds, etc. you observe. For me, when the weather cooperates, I like to walk barefoot on the cement sidewalk in front of my house and then step onto the cool earth feeling the damp, scratchy grass against the soles of my feet. Feeling the hard ground under me makes me feel grounded and strong when I had felt lost and weak. 

6. Move Your Body

Find a way to move. Maybe while you’re outside using tip #5, you can take a walk or ride a bike. Physical activity and moving our bodies is another great way to help us move through our emotions and thoughts and get unstuck. Yoga is one of my favorite ways to move that I incorporate regularly into my life for this reason. The data behind the mental and emotional and psychological healing benefits of yoga (especially in trauma survivors) is fascinating. Find what works for you and get your body moving. 

7. Have a Cup of Tea

I have always been a tea lover, but as I drank a cup of hot tea in the throes of deep emotions once, I unexpectedly discovered relief for my soul. The aroma stimulates a calming effect within me. The warmth of the liquid fills my body and spirit in all the aching places. I continue to be amazed by the soothing affects a simple cup of hot tea with a touch of honey has on me, but it works. If you’re not a fan of tea, maybe try a cup of warm milk, but steer clear of anything caffeinated or alcoholic which can exasperate your emotions more. 

8. Write

Writing is a wonderful and proven therapeutic practice. Take your deep emotions and write them onto paper—get them outside of yourself. Write it all out. Everything. Imperfect and uncensored. As the words flow out of you, some of the pain will follow.

9. Create

Whether it’s grabbing your Crayola markers and coloring in an adult coloring book, chopping fresh veggies for soup or kneading dough in the kitchen, or something else like knitting, – engage in a creative practice. The act of creating can be extremely calming and beneficial as it provides another opportunity for processing, releasing, distracting, and cultivating positive thoughts and feelings of peace, productiveness, joy, and more. 

10. Phone a Friend

Have someone in your life who is a safe place and who can hold space for you. And then, when you’re struggling with hurt that runs deep, reach out to this friend. Simply speaking our struggles out loud to someone who knows how to listen and walk alongside of us can disarm the power of the pain. There will be times when they will simply listen and other times when they will speak those truths and affirmations in love mentioned in tip #3—we need both. Find that friend who will get down on the floor with you and give you time there, but who will lift you up when it’s been long enough. Make a list of 1-3 people you can go to when needed.

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed mental health care professional. If you’re struggling with emotional or mental health issues, first seek advice from your medical doctor and/or a licensed therapist. I have done both and many of my self-care tips have come from what the professionals have taught me. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Line (U.S.) 1-800-273-8255. UK Samaritans: 116 123

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 & cultivate their own expectant hearts. You can find Kristin at: www.anexpectantheart.com.
iola magazine even in the deep

Book introductions with Laura Thomas

Contains affiliate links to purchase books on Amazon.

The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers

I’m a huge fan of Francine Rivers, and I devoured this book with relish!

Roman Velasco is an unbelieving, wealthy, successful artist with a gigantic chip on his shoulder and a troubled past. Grace Moore, his new personal assistant, is a Christian single mother with her own heartbreaking story.

Neither have any intention to fall in love, and both try to deny the attraction they clearly have for one another. Walls are erected and secrets are deeply hidden. But when Roman has an unforgettable encounter with the demons he is fighting, everything changes. A story of conviction, redemption, and forgiveness—aptly named The Masterpiece!

Beneath Copper Falls by Colleen Coble

From the Rock Harbour search-and-rescue series set in Michigan, this book weaves a complex, action-packed web. For Dana, a new beginning is a priority after escaping the clutches of her abusive ex-fiancé, but she soon discovers there is more to her past than she ever imagined. Healing, grace, grief, and new love intermingle as she finds herself caught in the middle of something unbelievably sinister. This author is a master in suspense enjoy! 

Camino Island by John Grisham

As a writer, I was initially intrigued with the notion of stolen priceless manuscripts, and enjoyed how Grisham developed the characters of several published writerly types in a quirky beach town in Florida. I cringed and nodded in agreement with many of their discussions and identified with their worries and woes. The plot thickens when it becomes apparent the stolen manuscripts could be in the possession of an eccentric bookstore owner, and it takes several turns as we follow the investigation and get sucked into the mystery. My only slight disappointment was the somewhat abrupt wrap-up at the end, but that probably means I didn’t want it to finish and it certainly doesn’t stop me from highly recommending it! 

The light between oceans by M.L. Stedman

This was the perfect book for me to enjoy whilst researching all things lighthouse in the Oregon Coast. I have only praise for this novel—it gripped me emotionally and transported me to a lighthouse in the middle of obscurity, where a heartbreaking story was allowed to unfold. Truth, secrets, desperation, and consequences are all involved in this tale of a young couple longing to live a “normal” family life in an incredibly unique location. I thoroughly recommend it! 

The great alone by Kristin Hannah

“All this time, Dad had taught Leni how dangerous the outside world was. The truth was that the biggest danger of all was in her own home.” I always enjoy Kristin Hannah’s writing, and The Great Alone ticked all the boxes for me. Set in the 1970’s, the allure of a fresh start in Alaska draws the Allbright family to a brand-new life. But for thirteen-year-old Leni, it’s the beginning of a nightmarish existence balancing her father’s rages as he battles the aftereffects of returning from war, with the brutal yet beautiful harsh realities of living in the wilds of Alaska. Raw emotions and unthinkable survival skills culminate in a riveting page-turner. Heartbreaking, always with a sliver of hope. 

The Guernsey literary and potato peel society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows

“Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.” A female writer in post-WWII London paired with a quirky book club on the charming island of Guernsey is the recipe for a captivating read. Add the fact that the entire book is written as a series of letters, and you have something truly unique and compelling. The protagonist has a quick wit and is utterly fearless. She navigates romantic relationships, new and old friendships, and devastating revelations with strength and a writer’s curiosity. This is one of my new favorites!

Laura Thomas 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
iola magazine even in the deep

Journal through the deep

In my office at home, I have a giant storage bin full of colourful journals. The journals themselves tell a superficial story, painting a picture of the ages and stages of my life over the years. Hardcover floral prints and patterns popular in the 90s characterize my youth, energy and sense of whimsy. Foolscap in discarded folders was all my meagre budget could afford for a time. Gifts from friends and family over the years are varied in colour and pattern, and in more recent years, a slightly larger format, lined Moleskin fits the bill. 

Looking at the stack gives you a glimpse into the girl who’s scrawled a life’s worth of stories, reflections and prayers into those pages in messy, slanted script. 

Twenty-three years and counting.

I thought they were important, those journals. I’ve kept them tucked away thinking that maybe, at some point, they’ll provide the impetus or starting point for a memoir. That my story might end up being something that God uses to help and encourage others going through something similar. That He had given me a story and someday I would write it. 

And though I’ve revisited that stack of journals on occasion over the years, my story remains mostly tucked within those pages. 

Twenty-three years ago, my story was that of a young woman who had been rejected by her husband, a mother to two young daughters suddenly facing a divorce. It was not a story I would have chosen for myself. It was not a story I wanted. But isn’t that the way with God? We don’t get to choose the story he writes for us. 

What we do know is this: we do get to choose what we do with the story we’re given. We get to choose how we walk the road we find ourselves on. In short, whatever story he gives us is always an invitation to dive deeper into relationship with him as he walks us through it. 

When faced with the rejection and betrayal of the man who had promised to love me ‘til death do us part’ just six years earlier, God picked me up and put a pen in my hand and saved my life word by word, page after page, prayer upon prayer. 

Journaling became the avenue by which I learned to process life, talk to God and listen to Him.

Taking in the information and events swirling around me and reflecting on them, turning them over and around in my head and then laying them down on the page. Journaling became a kind of offering: the pouring out of a million thoughts and emotions at the feet of the Father who promised to be my husband in the absence of my husband. (Isaiah 54:5) 

I have to be honest though, when I read those early journals now, I physically cringe. Rather than inspiring me to recount those times autobiographically, everything in me wants to burn the pages. And I’d like to slap the silly girl who spent the majority of the early months and years lamenting—in a tone that is nothing short of simpering—for the loss of her marriage. Bemoaning her sad, rejected, broken heart and feeling infinitely sorry for herself. Pleading desperately for God to answer her prayers in the way she had determined would be best. 

Which, of course, He didn’t.

The divorce papers eventually came anyways. 

In her memoir, ‘Hourglass: time, memory, marriage’, author Dani Shapiro pens a similar—comforting—sentiment about her journals. 

The journals—I understood at once—were dangerous. If I read further, I might never write the memoir. I had no sympathy for the girl I once was. She was boy-crazy, insipid, ridiculous. I was certain she didn’t deserve a book. I didn’t want to capture her voice. I packed the whole lot of them back in the box, taped it shut, hauled it down to my car. I pushed her as far away from me as possible.” (p.100) 

I didn’t haul my storage bin to my car, but I certainly put the lid on tight and ignored it for many years. Lifting the top just enough at one corner to shove the next completed journal in, but never enough to allow any memories out. 

Going deeper

What has occurred to me in recent years, as I’ve made stutter steps on my memoir—starting and stopping and stumbling over the words—is that perhaps God didn’t bring me to journaling in order to provide me with content. 

Maybe he brought me to journaling in order to provide me with Him: to simply remind me of His presence and His provision at a time when that was what I needed most in life.

Maybe instead of me writing the story of my rejection, separation and subsequent divorce—as I initially thought it would be—perhaps God was writing the story of my salvation through the gift of simply writing down the words. 

More than being a daily diary entry, I realize now that my journals are a love letter from God to me. If I can manage to wade beyond all the day-to-day drivel of that frantic and desperate 27-year-old girl, I can actually see the way God wooed me deeper into relationship with Him at a time when I had lost the only relationship I thought mattered. 

It occurs to me now, all these years later, that maybe the point all along was never about the words. Maybe it was always about the process.

The Spiritual Discipline of Journalling

In the twenty-three years since I began journaling, it has become a spiritual discipline for me—a bodily habit that engages my heart and mind with God. For me, it is my first-thing-in-the morning meeting with God to set the tone for my day and check my spiritual pulse. It’s interactive: I bring to him the things on my heart and in my mind. And I spend time in the Word, listening to what he has to say to me in return.

These days, my journals are less a play-by-play of my life’s events—although there is still a bit of that; kind of a highlights reel, mostly to help me remember people and situations, both of which tend to move through our lives in different seasons. Primarily though, my journals contain heartfelt prayers: both the cry of my heart and intercession for others. Their pages are peppered with scripture and occasionally the writings of other people that strike me as profound or relevant and speak to me. 

My journals are still the means by which I process the things swirling around me. Turning them over and around in my head and laying them down on the page, an offering to the loving God who promises to never leave or forsake us, no matter what we’re facing. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Because, let’s face it, life happens. 

My separation and subsequent divorce was certainly a major event and story theme in my life, but it is by no means the beginning and end of what God has done in and for me since then. God continues to weave the tapestry of my life with surprising threads, colours and fabrics. Story after story, chapter by chapter; He knows it all. 

You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” ~Psalm 139:16

And throughout every up and down and twist and turn of the road He has me on, the spiritual discipline of journaling has helped to keep me grounded when life threatens to open up and swallow me whole. 

Cries from the heart.

For me, there is no better example of this discipline than the Psalms. Though many of the psalms were written as hymns, they effectively capture the innermost thoughts and prayers of King David and their other writers. Many of which still resonate with seekers today.

I can just imagine David with his quill and parchment, trying to make sense of the events of his life. Pouring out his heart to God on the page: wrestling with deepest sorrow, restless anxiety, fear for his very life. Posing the hard questions about suffering and injustice, crying out to God or shouting joy before Him. The psalms offer no magical formulas to make troubles go away, but they always circle back around to the faithfulness and character of God. 

When David was penning the psalms, I’m sure he wasn’t considering the spiritual disciplines of putting his heart to the page. But it is clearly evident that God met him on that page and time and time again. And he’ll meet you there too.

Here are three suggestions to help get you started on your own journaling journey. 

You don’t need to be a writer to keep a journal. Journaling requires no expensive classes or lessons. All you need is a notebook and a pen and the willingness to dedicate some daily, consistent time to it. Whatever time of day suits you best. However much time you have to give.

1. Start with God’s words. 

Scripture is a great place to start. I especially love the psalms because they beautifully echo the sentiments of the human condition. You can choose randomly or start with Psalm 1 and work your way through the book. Ask God to speak to you through His Word as you write out the chapter (or specific verses of a long chapter). Re-read what you’ve written and spend some time penning a reflection. 

One of my favourites passages is found in Psalm 5.

Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. In the morning O LORD, you hear my voice. In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”

2. Start with someone else’s words.

There is no shortage of ministries with websites and apps that offer daily encouragement and reflections on scripture, usually—though not exclusively—for free. Pick one or two and subscribe to receive them directly to your inbox. If you can visit your inbox without getting sucked into the rest of your email, it can be a great way to turn your mind toward God for a time first thing in the morning. 

If a message resonates with me, I’ll often jot down the scriptures provided and a few notes and quotes along with a paragraph or two explaining why. Believe it or not, someday down the road, you won’t remember what you were thinking or feeling or struggling with at that time in your life and you’ll need some context

Suggestions for women: www.proverbs31.org; www.incourage.me
Suggestions for everyone: www.faithgateway.com; www.jesuscalling.com Apps: First5; Pocket Fuel Daily Devotionals (small membership fee applies)

3. Start with your own words. 

Staring at a blank page, pen in hand, can be daunting. We put so much pressure on ourselves to come up with the right words and weave them into beautiful sentences. Consider this your invitation to take the pressure off. Your words don’t have to be articulate and poetic. Your handwriting doesn’t need to be perfectly slanted and evenly spaced. Scripture tells us that when we don’t know what to pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans mere words cannot express (Romans 8:26-27). 

Your journal is just that. Yours. Just start writing. Don’t worry if it doesn’t read like a bestseller. That isn’t the point. The point is that you’re creating an opportunity to go deeper with God. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” Maybe He’s closer than you think? 

Janine Dilger is a Canadian writer who loves Jesus, her family, and a steaming mug of coffee in a quiet kitchen before the day begins. God wired her with an eye for beauty: nature, art, photography, design and words—these things whisper refreshment into her soul. She is as broken as they come and has way more questions than answers. But after a life’s worth of hard lessons, she is realizing the trick is to just keep her feet moving. To that end, she’s doing her best at navigating the twists and turns of this life with faith, hope and humour. You can Janine blogging about her journey at janinedilger.com
iola magazine even in the deep

Creativity: conduit of the deep

Humanity bears a distinct signature mark upon us that no other living thing in all of creation has. It’s the imagination. This inner sanctuary is given to us as a sacred place of communion with our Creator. No one else can see into this sanctum except Him and you.

Along with this imagination, we were given an incredible tool to communicate these things of the inner soul. Creativity. It is the conduit to bring the deep things from the inside to the outside and gives us language for conversations with God. Creativity can help us discover and reveal things about the human condition that are hard to express like lament, sorrow, loss or even the question of our identity. It is the language God gave us to communicate these things of the deep. Through his own of acts of creativity in the creation of the world, he communicates the deep things of himself and invites us into the relationship. There’s a reason the ocean waves seem to call us or a mountain view calms us. It’s the song of creation singing back to it’s Creator and we’re invited to join in. One of my favorite quotes is by pastor Tim Keller. He says, “The observer of beauty always receives a passion to share that beauty with others.”

Creativity allows us to participate and share that beauty and also reminds us why beauty matters. We are giving worth to whose image we bear when we reflect and appreciate the beauty around us and in us. To be creative is to be human by divine design. No other living thing on earth bears this mark. It is the highway where heaven and earth meet and these two realms intertwine to open a portal for us to experience God in vivid, tangible ways. Through creative acts we can communicate the heavenly things we carry in our imaginations, this inner sanctuary that communes in the deep places with God. Creative expression recalls and reminds us of our divine identity as image bearers, fearfully and wonderfully made, and that life is precious and worth celebrating.

Each creative act embodies our purpose and echoes the good news of the gospel to the world that there is hope

In the Old Testament, King Solomon lamented that there was nothing new under the sun. However, when Jesus came, he said he is making all things new. As we sow seeds of beauty into the soil of this earth, we participate in this restoration process. With our time here on earth we are to be celebrating this one sacred life we’ve been given by responding to the deep calling out to us and the eternity set in our inner sanctuary. Our very lives are a restorative, creative act designed to be in deep communion with our Creator as he moves us toward being made new each day.

Libby John is a creative artist. As a singer/songwriter, she debuted her first EP in 2016 and first album in Oct. 2017. Libby is also a choreographer who works for universities and high school musicals and she teaches hip hop & 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 & 3 daughters. Libby can be found sharing her creative journey and songs at www.libbyjohnartandsong.org
iola magazine even in the deep

Up from frozen ground

Although the sun is warm and shining, I can feel the cold front approaching. I draw inward, moving slower. I focus solely on the beautiful, tiny tasks in front of me. They get the best and the worst of what I have to give.

Words swirling in the fog of a sleep-deprived brain, remain un-typed on a computer screen that was turned on, but never sat with.

It is no longer my passions or callings that keep me up at night.

Instead, it is a newborn, pink bundle with rose petal cheeks and erratic bowel activity.

I take my dreams, gifts, callings and plant them deep into freezing earth with a promise of, “in time…”

There they will go dormant.

In moving to the South, I was sad to notice the absence of lilacs. What were once my favorite flower of Spring in the Midwest, can’t exist in the land of magnolias, crepe myrtles, and azaleas.

Apparently, lilacs require over two thousand hours of temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit to be healthy. A Georgia winter won’t come close to that.

There are times that things MUST go dormant in order to bloom.

They must wait for Spring.

“Lord, multiply our sleep.” These words, my Dad often prayed as he tucked me in at bedtime. My young ears were used to hearing this familiar prayer. Perhaps praying this faithfully was one of the reasons that during his healthy years, my Dad had the energy of ten people. I find myself praying the same words over my own kids now, as well as pleading them on my own behalf.

“Multiply my sleep.”

Sleep. Quiet. Dormant.

Some things need to go dormant in order to grow and multiply.

Deep. Under frozen ground they wait.

I am learning not to resent dormancy. My gifts and talents that lie unused. Waiting for Spring.

My dreams. Callings.

They are only gathering strength as they steep in experience, resilience, and patience.

As some of myself sinks into the depths of dormancy, other parts of me rise to the surface.

Now is the time to invest in three of my greatest dreams. I get to help them discover what gifts and talents have yet to wake up inside of each of them. Funny. So much of what is emerging from each of them casts shadows of  that which I have buried deep.

As I walk in this maternal calling, I am taught lesson upon lesson of selflessness, bravery, and prayer.  There are stretch marks on more than just my belly. My soul contains the stripes of someone who has been pushed to her limits.

My roots reach down deep into cold earth.

In the quiet of the nursery, I keep my post as I rock in sleepy darkness.

I have hopes for my future. Gifts I want to use. Things I want to do. Words I want to write. Callings I have heard but have yet to walk into…

Mark my words, I am not losing myself.

I am submerged in life.Steeping in inspiration.

Do not mistake that which has gone dormant for death. It is multiplying.

Don’t be fooled by that which appears to be sleeping. This deep sleep is far from dreamless.

The thaw is coming, and with it will come a flood.

In my weakness, I will gather strength.

With my exhaustion comes revival.

The most beautiful blooms must come from a frozen place.

No, I will not resent the dormant.

In these depths I will rest and wait.

Knowing that the most beautiful things begin in the deep.

Laura Fox lives in Georgia with her husband of 14 years C.J. Although they began their marriage in vocational ministry in Kansas, they have spent the last six years full time in the Georgia Air National Guard. Laura stays home with their two school aged children, and a newborn. She began writing as a way to process the loss of her father to cancer, and has continued to use writing as a medium to express her heart in regards to her motherhood journey, and her savior whom she needs so desperately. In her spare time Laura enjoys daydreaming about a full night’s sleep & an uncluttered countertop. https://dandelioncenterpieces.wordpress.com/
iola magazine even in the deep

Going deep in times of transition

‘Transition’ -An often painful, yet beautiful word.

Painful in process. Beautiful in outcome.

Concerning various life-changes we face as women, wives, and mothers, we sometimes fail to understand the bigger plan of God for our lives. And therefore, we fail to embrace the various life-transitions that come our way. 

Major life-transitions often entail some level of loss such as losing a spouse, divorce, kids leaving home, role changes, career changes, physical changes, etc. 

The journey that follows seasons of such transitions can cause enormous stress on even the strongest of she-hero’s. The impact of these changes when infused with worry, fear and anxiety will most certainly prevent us from going deeper and exploring the beauty that seasons of transitional change offers.  

Embracing Transition is Difficult, But Not Impossible

For those who find themselves facing some type of life-altering transition, be encouraged. There is good reason to be hopeful! And there is much goodness to be discovered within your journey though transition. 

I know for certain that I would not be who I am today apart from my various life-transitions. Three major life changes (that happened simultaneously) entailed a major career change, physiological (midlife) change, and the finality of my parenting role as the mom of eight, and entering The Land of Empty Nesters. There were other changes that coincided with these changes, but these were the big three. 

So, I get it. Transition isn’t fun. 

I cried for months and experienced a level of depression I had not previously known. My roles, relationships, career, and body were all changing in drastic and profound ways. And there I was. Like a sailor lost at sea, all alone in my lost-ness. Struggling to know how to navigate my way through my new normal. 

I wrestled with issues of identity, worth, and purpose. I asked the questions that perhaps you find yourself asking, “Now what? God, what are you up to? What are you doing? Where are you leading me? What’s next?  

I wanted God to hurry up and give me answers. 

What I got instead was:

– a deeper love for Jesus

– a deeper awareness of God’s sovereign care over my life

– and a deeper appreciation for the many ways my transitions have lead me closer to the heart, plan, and purposes of God. 

Although it was often difficult to embrace the new realities taking place, I look back on this season of my life as a precious gift.

Commit Your Plans to the Lord 

Committing your plans to the Lord is as easy as pie,” said no one ever.

Learning to embrace my season of transition was a process journey that took months, and even years.

A process that taught me much about resisting and embracing. About letting go and letting God. About taking risks and learning to rest. 

I needed to go deeper. 

I needed to learn to be still. 

I needed to embrace the changes taking place. 

I needed to grow in my understanding of God’s providential hand over my life. 

I needed to surrender to the process of change taking place within me.  

I needed to work through areas of brokenness and forgiveness. 

But most of all, I needed to yield to God’s transforming work in my life to make me more like Jesus and more of who he created me to be. 

Transition Ushers in
The New

The journey through transition is meant to be a journey toward transformation. Another way to think about transition is the idea that I’m no longer ‘this’ but I’m not yet ‘that’.

Although it may be overused, a better example is hard to find. Consider with me, the secret life of a caterpillar.  Though seemingly insignificant, she is one of God’s uniquely created works of art that holds within her, his mysterious and glorious power and potential. 

She crawls along day by day, inch by inch, munching and crunching away on delicacies to sustain her vulnerable, but simple existence. Finding her way through her mundane existence, something within her calls her into the deep, the unknown. At the proper time, she begins to yield herself to the process of becoming.

A becoming that is much more than she could ever imagine. 

After a season of much activity and preparation, she is summoned into the deep, dark, unknown. She must go in. There is no other way to fulfil her purpose, her life-calling, her destiny. 

There in the dark, she settles into her new reality. No more, same-old-same-old.

Here, in the deep, there is nowhere to go. 

Here, there is no need to fear. 

Here, she hides in the waiting room of waiting rooms.

Removed from the former; from all familiarity. 

Here, she is protected. 

Here, she ceases from her striving.

Here, she is safe to just be.

The covering woven around her allows the miraculous to take place. 

Silently she lies in wait. Patiently she yields. Quietly she undergoes a complete transformation.

And then. It happens. Ever so slowly, she emerges. Shedding the old and embracing the new. Eager to break into the light, she comes forth and her new identity is revealed. Her beauty though hidden for a season, is now on display for all. She discovers she has been made new and with wings spread wide and face held high, she takes flight. 

Unearthed. Uninhibited. Unbound. 

She celebrates her new life and allows herself to explore God’s creation from an entirely new perspective. Everything has changed. Her view is different. Her life is different. Her former life made way for the new. 

As she pauses to take it all in, she sips on the sweet nectar of the flowers that now hold her and gives thanks for the darkness that once held her. She is grateful for them both. 

For it was there in the deep that she discovered who God made her to be in all her fullness. 

For old things are passed away, behold the new has come.”

Friend, are you in a place of transition? 

What part of your season of change do you need to commit to the Lord’s leading and care?

May I encourage you to not be afraid of going into the deep? 

There is life beneath the ground. And it is good.

Don’t be afraid. Go into the secret, sacred hiding place of God and allow him to prove himself faithful to you. 

Allow him to make all things new in your life. 

God is with you. 

May these winter months allow you to consider the beauty that awaits the season of newness that will follow. And may the Lord himself lead you through your transition to a new life of great freedom and endless hope.

Feel free to join me on the journey through midlife change. I’d love to connect with you and learn more about your transition story.

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 an 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 ‘Acorn Gert & Brother Bert’ & blogs at Elizabeth Duncan Stretar: Above and Beyond Mid-life (betsystretar.com)
iola magazine even in the deep

The depths of despair

The depths of despair
Does anyone care?
Can’t see the way out
I am in the deep now
Too far down to get back up.

Only way out is to go through,
Into the depths with you.
Down but never alone
Your love is deeper than the darkness.

Undertow of grace
In the absence of light,
You are the flicker in the night.
Getting through is not as scary
When we journey with you.

Carry this heart and mind
In the valley of bones,
Death beats longer than life.
Keep me still in the doubt,
Rain down
Help me root down
In the heart of truth.

The lies they tangle,
At my ankles they climb
Taking over the mind.
Overcoming you come
To the darkness and tangles
The depths of webs.

Darkness is real, but
Not void of the light.
Journeying with love
Through the void of night.

Despair no more dear heart,
God is holding you even in
The depths of the valley of night
His light shines brighter in the darkness.

Hannah Cox is a student, cat mom, blogger, avid reader, coffee drinker, book reviewer and budding artist. She lives in Frisco, Texas with her family and ever-growing collection of books and mugs. She openly shares her struggles and lessons as a young adult while growing through it all at okgypsy.com and posts on Instagram @okaygypsy.
iola magazine even in the deep

And if not, he is still good

January means something different to me this year. It is a reminder of the loss of my mother one year ago. It is also a reminder of something much more life-changing than loss. Loss is one of those things where we never know how we are going to respond when it comes. The anticipation of loss is nearly as cutting as when it finally arrives. We learn much about ourselves and our spiritual status when faced with it. We can become angry and halted by suffering or become strengthened and deepened. When my family and I were introduced to my Mama’s cancer, I was uncertain which of these I’d be. Would He heal her? If not, would I still praise him? Would I still call Him good?

After my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the next couple of years were full of ups and downs in her health. She gradually declined physically while maintaining her devotion to her Savior, there was no one she loved more. By 2015 Mama’s cancer was in her lungs. On December 9th, 2017 I got a call. The call I prayed would never come.

“It’s time to come home”.

When I got there, everyone was already gathered. I walked into my Mama’s room as they were preparing her for the ride to the ER and then later to hospice house. She looked beautiful, but she had always been remarkably good at keeping up appearances for her children, no matter how she felt. The last couple months she had been cared for, day and night by my brother and my dad. Her body had limited her to only moving from the bed to the recliner, while being aided by an oxygen tank. She was in constant pain and often would sleep for long periods of time. There she sat and her face told us she was ready for what was next.

That night in the ER the Lord started a work in our lives that my family came to call “Daily Grace”. When you go through something like this there is a strange marriage between the moments that you are “ok” and the moments where you struggle to just simply breathe. Every single moment was orchestrated by our Lord. Every time we would “lose our breath”, something amazing would happen. God would happen. The Lord would send a friend, family member, and even strangers to surround us with Love. They brought us food nearly every day, they made gifts and cards and came to say thank you and pray with the woman who lived life for her Savior in front of them. 

Many people followed Mamas story, pouring the love she had once shown them – back into her and her family. During these last weeks, like every week she lived before, Mama’s main concern was telling everyone about her Savior. To make them aware she knew where she was headed, and she that was ready to go. She made everyone else her ministry in whatever way she could. Mama would refer to the nurses at Hospice House as her “angels”. The closer we got to Christmas she insisted I find them each an angel, so they would know she was grateful and loved them.

The first night I spent with her there, she gave me a list of what she wanted to get the family for Christmas. I still keep it on my phone and look at it from time to time. Though her mind had started to fade, she was determined to leave us all with something special.

Looking back, I find it significant I could help fulfill these wishes. Beyond the gifts she had chosen for each of us, she wanted to get us shirts that said, “Nani’s Tribe”, and to leave us all each a clay cast of her fingerprint. My sister and I were both carrying her grandsons, and though she would never meet them, she left them each a stuffed animal with a recording of her loving voice inside.

Over the course of nearly a month, my family and I took turns being with Mama. She asked that each of us spend the night with her alone and it was a time my siblings and I will treasure. She was careful to have moments with each of us. To forgive us for the past, to hold and love us now, and encourage us into our future. This became such a time of redemption and beauty. Mama had weeks where she seemed like “her old self”. We laughed and cried but mostly she used the time to pitch us toward the Lord.

On Christmas Eve we went over to Hospice House and brought her “special gifts” from her to the grandkids so she could see the joy she had brought them through one more holiday. Truth be told, she was losing what little stability she had left and didn’t recall much of this night or the next day. We gave them the gifts we had for her and dad and for the first time in thirty or so years, they spent Christmas in a house apart from their kids. 

I knew this would be the hardest night, not just because it would be their last Christmas Eve together but because of the beautiful thoughtfulness that had gone into each of their gifts. My dad had prepared a photo album of every single year they had spent together. On the cover was a metal heart that read “fairy tales do come true”. The book started with their very first family pictures and closed with a beautiful collection of the last family photos we took of her first full day at Hospice House. For my dad, Mama had made him a metal print of her favorite photo of them with the quote “I wouldn’t have missed this dance for anything”, scribed on the side. It was so important to her to have done for him. I can’t imagine the tenderness of that night but I suspect it was the most beautiful depiction of selfless love. 

Christmas morning, our church family had prepared us an entire Christmas feast that warmed our stomachs and our hearts. There is something so remarkable about the love of God through his children.

New Year’s came and went. Mama was noticeably close to home. The Doctors told us that now Mama had lost consciousness, she wouldn’t wake again. But they were wrong. Mama had been different the last week or so. She developed a characteristic called “terminal agitation”, where unfortunately the person who is ill becomes angry and irritable. They develop ideas that the people around them are there against them somehow. This broke our hearts. We wanted her to know we loved her then and would always. Even though we were told it “wasn’t her” it was hard not to take to heart. Still the Lord was good. Despite the doctors saying she wouldn’t, my Mama woke up in clarity one day from a nap. I was holding her hand and talking to her with my oldest sister. She looked at us and said.

“I love you!” 

In the next moments the room was filled with the sound of Mama going down the list of “her people” and saying she loved them. We promised we would tell everyone, and we did. That was the last time my mother was conscious.

The next several days were bittersweet. We took turns sitting with her, rubbing her hands, reading her scripture and talking to her about the snow that kept falling. She loved snow. What a strange thing it was to get so much snow in North Carolina at that time and I remember thinking it had come to usher her home.

The night before Mama had passed away, most of us stayed over. It was like the Lord had given us a special insight. My oldest sister, my dad, and my brother and I took turns sitting with her. I had the first shift this night and I couldn’t seem to let it go. The Doctor said she couldn’t speak but there was a possibility she could still hear. I painted her nails, held her hand, and told her “I love you” a thousand times. I prayed all night.

The next morning, I woke to dad coming into the waiting room. Moments later my sister sent my brother in to tell us Mama was doing something different. Mama’s breathing was staggered. Sometimes several moments would go by before she took a breath. As the doctor came to my side of the bed and my brother returned to the room, Mama drew her last breath.

The Lord had taken our Mama into his presence and were honored to “usher her home”.

I find this part hard to write because my nature fumbles over the visions of my mother’s final moments. But my spirit rejoices because her story doesn’t stop here. There is hope because of Jesus and she is with Him, so very alive!

Our pastor walked into the room only minutes after Mama’s passing. 

He had no idea of his timing.

This was God!

The songs playing in the background for her last breaths were “Jesus I love thee” and “It is well”.


An unexplainable peace overwhelmed us as my family huddled around her bed and thanked the Lord for her life.


Always God!

God was in everything through this time in our lives. He still is. Nearly a year later, my family has not stopped feeling the ripples of His love. And more than ever we can see that they were there all along.

I don’t know your story. Your story may be nothing like this. Your story may be living this out right at this moment. Whatever the case, here is what I’ve learned.

He is still good.

He turned a time that should have been the worst in our lives, into a something incredibly beautiful. Every single day, God was there for us and He will be there for you too. Through loss, illness, and even death. Trust that He is there and still good.

Billy Rae Whittaker, a blessed child of the King, daughter, wife, and mother, lives in central North Carolina. Lover of people, all things design, and who spends the majority of her time dreaming big and planning her next family adventure. At the age of 14 she started her own business BRIMdesign. She specializes in branding, web design, and photography where she focuses on helping small businesses, organizations, and entrepreneurs realize their dreams by creating their professional image. When she isn’t building up her community of professionals, she enjoys partnering with churches and missionaries to create an online presence that glorifies the Lord and gets His message out.
iola magazine even in the deep

From deep to still

It is one of the most beloved and well-known passages of scripture:

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” Psalms 23:1

Conjuring up an image of tranquility, comfort, and assurance, it speaks to the Father’s love and care of his children. But it also makes me wonder: if God is leading me to still waters, then why am I so often in deep waters? How did I end up there?  

Instead of lying down in lush greenery next to the softness of a babbling brook, I am more prone to find myself treading water while a storm rages around me. I feel more like Jonah awaiting the arrival of a monstrous whale than I feel like Peter walking on the waves.  

We were not made to live in the deep waters, you and I.

In fact, our human bodies can only skim the surface of the ocean’s depth; an experienced diver may go as deep as 130 feet, but that is miniscule when we realize that the ocean is over 12,000 feet deep!  

Genesis 1:2 uses the Hebrew word, tĕhowm, to describe the ocean as a deep place, the abyss, the grave. “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep….”  

The same term is used in Job when God berates him for his arrogance in Job 38:1 

“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” He carries on in verse 16, “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep (tĕhowm)?”

As the Creator, only God understands what mysteries the deep holds and has walked among its subterranean stage and its vast array of amazing creatures. This place is not for man. Our bodies were not designed to live in its cavernous space – we would be crushed long before we would reach our destination. The tĕhowm was a place mankind was not designed to live in or likely ever to see. 

Therefore, God does not call us to live in deep waters. When He calls us into the water, He either intends for us, like Peter, to walk on water, or, as He did for the Israelites, He parts the water so that we might walk on dry land. We may go over it; we may go through it, but we are not to go under. We were not created for the deep waters and to the deep we do not belong.  

We belong on the green pasture beside the water. So how do we get there? 

Katie Gamble

Firstly, we must follow. God can’t lead us to still waters if we are not following Him. Sometimes we are more like the prophet Jonah, than we care to admit: determined to follow our own path in direct opposition to what God has called us to do. When we wander off on our own, we inevitably wander into trouble. At some point, we find ourselves having gone further than we thought we would, our feet having drifted deeper into the wrong direction. The water seemed calm at first….the sun was shining…the waves were gentle and soothing…

but suddenly, the weather shifted, and we found ourselves caught in the middle of a furious storm without a life preserver.  

In these moments, the deep waters are a consequence of our foolish choices, and it might get worse before it gets better. A whale might not look like an answer to prayer, but it just may be exactly what God sends to rescue you. When we repent, God forgives. When we invite Him to lead us once again, He takes back the reins and leads us to safety.  

But we can’t assume that every difficult situation is a result of our disobedience. Sometimes we find ourselves in deep water with the best of intentions.

In Matthew 14, we read the story of Peter. After feeding a crowd of five thousand, Jesus dismissed his disciples and went to pray. The disciples gathered in a boat to take them across the sea. They had already sailed a good distance against the wind when they saw Jesus walking on the lake. They were terrified, but Jesus called to them, 

“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” Jesus said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. (verses 27-29)  

It is in these rare moments, when our love and trust of Jesus outshines our fears, that we attempt to do the brave and the impossible. So focused and intent are we on gazing upon our Saviour that we forget who we are and where we are: we see only Him and He is enough. We step out in faith, forgetting for a moment that we are treading on dangerously deep territory, and for a split second, we are walking on water!  

Then, just like Peter, we notice the wind howling around us – the overwhelming set of circumstances we face – and we begin to sink.  One moment we are sailing above our circumstances and the next we are crashing in defeat.  

We cry out to God. And once again, He reaches out to pull us toward safety. He who walks among the deep also walks on the waves and knows we are unable to without His mighty hand.  

If you find yourself thrashing in deep waters of difficult circumstances, know that God is in the business of rescuing. He may part the waters, or He may enable you to rise above your troubles, but rest assured that when we call on His name, He will answer. 

 “The Lord will rescue his servants; no one who takes refuge in Him will be condemned.”  Psalms 34:22 

Maria Dyck is passionate about helping women stand on the Firm Foundation that is Jesus Christ. A writer, musician, wife, mother and occasional chicken farmer, you can find more of her writing at www.whenwallstumble.net
iola magazine even in the deep

Awestruck, Wonderstruck, Lovestruck

Niagara falls

I was utterly overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by my smallness and God’s greatness. Deluge of water above and below, deafening roar in my ears, pummeled by pellets of moisture, and blinded by the glory of it all. Awestruck. Wonderstruck. Lovestruck.

As a couple hundred poncho-clad spectators huddled under hoods to experience Niagara Falls up close and personal, I was curious as to their reactions. In the moment, floating precariously beneath the avalanche of water, all were amazed. All screams and laughs and merriment. But was anyone else awestruck, wonderstruck, lovestruck? On dry land, on reflection, did anyone else consider the Creator and how He loves each tiny person in that tiny boat under His extravagant show of majesty?

I’m sure some did consider. How could they not? And yet…

What does it take for God to catch our attention? 2,600 feet of cascading water falling before our eyes? He caught my attention. It caused me to humble myself under His mighty hand, relishing the truth that He is God and I am not. He is Father, I am child. And oh, the comfort that brings. The warm blanket of peace that truth pulls over us, His children. The relationship between Creator and created, Potter and clay, King of Kings and his princesses—this is ours to treasure. How can we not be awestruck?

Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power

   and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,

   for everything in heaven and earth is yours.

   Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;

   you are exalted as head over all.” 1 Chronicles 29:11 (NIV)

This surreal experience beneath the falls reminded me that His mercies are never-ending—just as the overabundance of water at Niagara showers over the edge in torrents, so He showers us with His grace daily, never running dry. Looking up and knowing that powerful stream of water is endless, ceaseless, is a given. Such is the grace of God. He was, is, and ever will be. He is extravagant with His gifts and how can we not be wonderstruck?

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

  his mercies never come to an end;

  they are new every morning;

  great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

Sometimes, God calls to us in the roar of the waterfalls. Sometimes He whispers in a still, small voice. Regardless, HE SPEAKS. But are we too busy to incline an ear? Too self-absorbed to even notice? Too fearful to hear the answer to our prayers? Think ourselves unworthy, unlovable, untrusting…? Friend, HE SPEAKS. Because He loves us. Not because of anything we have or have not done, but because He IS love. He loves us at our darkest when the waves are washing over us, and He loves us in our finest hour when all is rosy and right. His love is limitless. Our lifeline. How can we not be lovestruck?

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;

   all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

  By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—

  a prayer to the God of my life.” Psalm 42:7-8 (NIV)

What does it take for God to catch our attention? May our ears be inclined to hear His voice amidst the deluge of whatever is falling around and about us in our lives today. We can rest in the promise of His peace, and lift our eyes to see that everlasting waterfall of grace. It will leave us utterly awestruck, wonderstruck, lovestruck.

Laura Thomas 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, mmiddlegradenovel, 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
iola magazine even in the deep