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”.

God!

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

God!

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.
www.brimdesign.com
iola magazine even in the deep

Walking home in the snow

I’m going for a walk,” I announce to my family, as I scrape bits of noodles and lettuce from our plates into the compost bin. I’m not sure the kids hear me; they have already scurried from the dinner table, and are now running down our short hallway, sliding into the living room in their sock feet. My husband nods as he fills the sink with soapy water. He knows that I need to get out of the house for a bit, knows that the day has worn me down. I stack the dishes next to the sink and gently lean into him for a moment. 

Minutes later, I slip my feet into my black, furry boots, the ones I splurged on a few months earlier in one last attempt to keep my toes warm when I walk my kids to school. I tug on my mittens, slip on my coat, and step out of my warm, brightly lit bungalow into the winter evening.

The dark sky is tinged with the grey, almost purple, hues that roll in with the snow.  As I walk down our front steps, the laughter and high-pitched squeals from my three young kids fade, absorbed by the quiet night.

The neighborhood is cloaked in fresh, fluffy powder. The hard-packed ice and the old, dull grey snow that has greeted me for weeks is now hidden, buried under this new blanket. 

My boots sink silently into the snow. With each step further into the neighborhood, I feel the quiet of the night seep into my body, into my very bones, hushing my mind, whispering, “quiet now” to my busy heart.

After the first few blocks, I let myself slowly surrender to that whisper, giving the frustrations of my day less and less space.

The houses I pass spill light from their windows and boast of life inside: a family gathered around a table, a couple reading in front of a fireplace, a man walking across his front room.

I cross the empty street, creating tracks where traffic hasn’t yet left its mark.

I lift my eyes to the streetlights, casting their warm yellows and pushing against the darkness. A twinge of joy weaves through me. This place, nestled on the cusp of the river valley, with its heritage Green Ash trees lining the streets, this place is beautiful. 

It has taken me thirteen years to think those words, to feel them, to believe them. Most days I fight against being here, fight against noticing any beauty this city might offer. Most days I compare the starkness of winter here to the breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains where I once lived, and this place always comes up short.

We aren’t supposed to still be here. 

As I walk, I let my mind wander back over the decisions that brought us to this place. 

We would live here for one year. That’s what we told ourselves. It would be an adventure, early in our marriage. That year would give us time to figure things out, decide what’s next, make a plan. But after a year, we decided to stay one more. Jobs were offered; babies were born. And now it’s been thirteen. Thirteen years. Thirteen years in a place I have never loved, a place I have always believed I am on the verge of leaving.

That first year we didn’t hang many pictures. Why bother when you aren’t staying? If I’m honest, that’s the way I’ve been approaching much of my life here, always thinking that we will probably move soon, hesitating to commit to things that would signal otherwise. 

It finally began to sink in a few months ago that we aren’t moving any time soon, if ever. One cold afternoon, I confessed all of my disappointments about being here to my spiritual director. 

“Have you told God how feel?” she asked. 

I blinked, then fumbled for a response. Surely God already knows, I thought. But I knew her question was more about my willingness to lay bare my heart before God, than it was about God’s knowledge.

A few days later, I sat on our plush, grey chair, alone in the house, and finally admitted to God that I was disappointed. Disappointed that we were still here, that God seemed to have forgotten that we hadn’t been planning on staying. I hoped, in that moment, that I would hear an answer from God, something along the lines of “Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten you. I have better things planned for you.” 

Instead, I heard nothing. No sense of peace washed over me. No whisper of assurance.  Eventually, I stood up, threw away the crumpled tissues, and folded the pile of laundry that was staring at me.

It begins to snow again, and big, feathery flakes settle lazily on my lashes. I stop to pet an energetic puppy. While his person and I marvel together at the loveliness of the evening, he tosses the snow with his nose. After we say goodnight, I push my hands deeper into my pockets and notice how enchanted the spruce trees appear when they are frosted with snow. This place is beautiful, I think again.

On the heels of that thought, comes another: This place is loved by God. 

And then another: Who am I to declare it unloveable? 

I let these thoughts roll around in my mind for a few minutes, and they bump up against hard edges: my long held resentments, my stubborn determination not to love this city.

“Seek the welfare of the city.” Jeremiah’s words come back to me suddenly, and I feel myself smile as I remember how that verse ends: “where I have sent you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:7, NRSV)

I am not in exile, I remind myself, not even close.

I want to walk further, to drink in as much of this serene night as I possibly can. But I know there are kids to tuck in and kiss goodnight, a phone call that needs to be returned, lunches to pack for the morning. I turn around at the next corner, and find my own footprints stretching before me, deep wells in the snow, inviting me back.

I breathe deeply, filling my chest with the cold air. I silently celebrate that the air doesn’t burn my lungs, my eyes don’t immediately water, my fingers and toes don’t scream in pain from the cold. It is still winter, but the harsh deep freeze is over for now. My body feels lighter than it has in months, no longer needing to clench my jaws and hunch my shoulders against the biting wind.

As I head toward home, I feel a shift inside of me. Maybe it’s more of an opening than a shift. An opening to the depths of the beauty around me. An opening to be willing to see and name the goodness of this place. An opening, really, to God and God’s invitation to be present with Him in this place He has called me to be.

Linda Berkery

By the time I turn the corner onto my street, I find myself grateful. Not yet in love with this place, but grateful to be here.

I push open the door to our house, and the kids stop jumping on the couch to run toward me, throwing their arms around me like I’ve been gone for weeks. I pull off my boots, hang up my coat, and find I am glad to be home.

Julianne Gilchrist is a spiritual director, speaker, and blogger. She worked in campus ministry for over a decade, and now creates online spiritual retreats. A mom to three kids who keep her laughing, she lives in Edmonton, Alberta and tries not to complain too loudly about the cold. You can find her at juliannegilchrist.com 

Cultivating courage

In the civil affairs office in Zhengzhou, China, they handed us our daughter. After fifteen months of paper chasing and the agony of waiting, we finally had her. With four layers of clothes on, she was huge. So heavy. I tried to look into her face, but she wouldn’t focus or make eye contact. I handed her to my husband, and we studied her. Smiling with relief, I thought, “It is over now, right?”

A horrible feeling crept into my soul while we waited to fill out more paperwork. The room with no heat felt suffocating. She would not look at us. Her body was limp, like a rag doll. The weight of her head was too heavy. Only a soft meow sound escaped from her parched lips. In that moment, I realized our lives would be different. Our normal life at home would change forever. Her medical needs were more significant than we had anticipated.

We had anticipated her to be minor-special needs. Her only diagnosis was “high muscle tone.” When she arrived to us with extremely low muscle tone, I knew something was wrong. In fact, she could barely sit, crawl, or even hold her head up. The drool poured from her mouth. While playing, she never looked at the object, she only used her peripheral vision. While we were in China, I struggled. My plan for our family was slowly coming undone. Fear began to plant a seed in my heart.

After arriving home, I was just trying to survive with four children seven and under. Our new daughter needed as much help as a newborn. I had to struggle through the pain of losing my dreams, the guilt of attachment struggles, and the crying. She would scream for hours in grief, frustration, and for reasons I never knew. I felt so helpless. Was I supposed to be her mother? I felt like a stranger and the babysitter. Fear turned to grief and I wept through the pain. When I thought about the past, it brought guilt and shame. The future only held uncertainty. What would her quality of life be? Who would take care of her when we were gone? I hated myself for resenting the whole situation, but God showed me that all of my grief, anger, and frustration stemmed from fear. My mother bought me a little sign from Hobby Lobby a few weeks after returning home. It said: Practice Courage Every Single Day. I wept in exhaustion and maybe a little jet lag. Courage was the very farthest thing I felt, and it seemed utterly impossible.

A seed of fear was planted in my heart which led to a season of debilitating anxiety. Before fear grows into a weed, I needed to learn the daily process of cultivating courage. The secret to growing courage? God’s Word.

Through the process of studying God’s Word, specifically the Psalms, I found a seed of faith to plant in my heart instead of fear. By cultivating this seed, through daily Bible reading, a sign of new courage has bloomed in my life. Many of our fears are mirrored by the authors of the Book of Psalms. Daily reading can help us find God faithful, even in fear.

Do you struggle with finding peace? Does your life feel crazy? Circumstances out of control? Life won’t slow down to let you breathe? Join me as I dedicate ten minutes a day to pray over a verse, answer some questions, and write out a prayer for peace.

I have a seven-day challenge that walks you through a journey to peace. When you join me, you will receive a free workbook, pocket truths from psalms, and prayers to pray each day. Sign up here: sarahefrazer.com/prayer

Sarah E. Frazer writes and lives in a brick house at the end of Thomas Road with her husband, five kids, a cat, a dog, and five chickens. Motherhood is her calling but her passion is to inspire focus and encourage deep-rooted Bible study for the busy mom. Life is full of seasons, but every season can be made more peaceful when time is spent in God’s word. Join Sarah on her favorite social media space: Instagram. Or you can find her on her blog, www.sarahefrazer.com.

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)

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.

iola magazine articles

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

iola magazine articles

For those who live in a land of deep shadows

Having been a school nurse for a number of years, I was well aware of the increasing rise in the number of children and teenagers struggling with incredibly complex mental health issues.

However, I was totally unprepared when we found ourselves facing this issue in our own family.

I remember the feelings of total helplessness when I was called into school because my own precious child had caused physical damage to themselves through extreme self-harm.

I felt that somehow, I’d failed as a parent. How could I, as a trained nurse, have missed this? We had known that they were struggling with some issues, but we had put it down to hormonal teenage mood swings.

Having not experienced any mental health issues myself, I struggled to really understand how my child was feeling. I had prided myself on having a good relationship with all our children and being a family who could talk openly and share our problems. Yet during this time, I felt totally unable to reach my child.

They were completely trapped in a dark prison of despair and isolation and I was powerless to help them.

In their desperate search for a way out, their behaviour and life choices became very destructive and caused us all more heartache and sadness.

We spent many hours at difficult doctors’ appointments and counselling sessions, but nothing seemed to be changing. To my shame, I often resorted to angry outbursts and very unhelpful comments and suggestions. My frustration was overwhelming as I grappled with my desire to ‘fix’ them.

Out of protection and care for them, we found ourselves carrying a huge burden which we were only able to share with a very few people. However, our family and close friends really did an amazing job of consistently standing with us and supporting us during the darkest days.

Living with someone who is battling mental health issues really does affect the whole family. We felt like we were walking through a minefield every day. The pressure on us all was exhausting, as we never knew what might happen next.

I went through a range of emotions each day as I faced the reality of our home life.

Ultimately, I was angry and frustrated at God. We had read all the ‘right’ Christian parenting books and followed their advice as we had brought up our kids. This was not part of the plan and it wasn’t fair. I ranted and railed against God; why us, why my family, and ultimately, why me?

Although I had been a Christian since my childhood, what I really wanted from God was this;

‘It means no worries
For the rest of your days
It’s our problem-free philosophy Hakuna Matata!….
(The Lion King 1994)

However, I was finding following Jesus didn’t mean that our lives were a fairy tale story. In fact, Jesus said that we will all encounter the storms of life as we journey through it.

‘In this life you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.’
John 16 v33

I had read these words, spoken by Jesus to his disciples many times over the years. But it was only during this time, I felt that I came to understand what they really meant.

In the times when I felt I was losing faith in my heart, I discovered a greater depth of God’s love and He met me in my brokenness and pain.

He was and is my Saviour. He healed my heart and He gave me new hope and strength to face another day.

It was during this time that we first heard about Karis house.

This amazing place was to be part of God’s healing for our precious child.

The God centred holistic Xchange programme at Karis house combines counselling and prayer ministry alongside medical care & practical support.

God gives us this promise from these words of truth in Isaiah 9;

‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—light! Sunbursts of light! 
The Message.

God broke into the land of darkness and shadows where our child was trapped.

His light shone and we saw a miracle happen- our child who had been paralysed by fear and despair was released into a new freedom towards health and wholeness.

Our family journey continues; often the roads can be unfamiliar and at times very hard to navigate. My story is that we never have to face it alone; regardless of how difficult the path.

Jesus is the light of the world and His love can reach us wherever we are no matter how dark it is.

Charlotte Osborn

Charlotte is an evangelist at heart and she’s passionate about sharing the good news of God’s love & hope with the world. She is a speaker & event facilitator who seeks to encourage others to find creative ways to share their own stories.

As a qualified nurse, she runs her own home care business, supporting people through the many changing seasons of their lives. She has 3 fantastic grown-up children who she counts as friends and she lives in the beautiful Cotswolds UK with her equally fantastic husband!

www.livemovebe.org.uk

Motherhood. One season of many

At age 32, I gave birth to the last of my eight children. I can honestly say there is nothing I have loved more, than being a mother.

But like most moms, I did not always love everything that came with it. For me, laundry was one of those things I dreaded most.

 

I can laugh about it today, but my most memorable pathetic mom moment was the day my husband found me crying in twenty+ loads of laundry. He most-likely interpreted my pathetic-mom-moment as a desperate-mom-moment. So being the macho coach that he was (and still is) he took action and went for the game-winning point. He helped me up and said, “I need to get you out of here.” “I don’t think there’s anything more life-giving to a worn-out and wrung-out Mom than the gift of time.” I packed my weekend bag, got in my car, and drove to a bed and breakfast about an hour away from our home. It was an unexpected gift that my soul desperately needed. And although a get-away is wonderfully helpful, the reality is that the mundane is where we live out most of our parenting days. What I wish someone would have said to me during those early years are these three things:

1. Hang in there, Momma! This is but one season of many.

2. Be careful that you don’t neglect your own soul while caring for everyone else’s.

3. Don’t you know that you are more than a mom?

One Season of Many

As a young mom, the days are long indeed when you’re knee deep in mounds of laundry and other daily demands. There seems to be little time left to do anything else. I remember thinking “someday” my creative “other” life will return to me. In my mind’s eye, I envisioned a carved wooden sign sitting on a shelf, high out of reach, gathering dust that read:

my life

“One day.” I thought, “I will be able to bring her back down, dust her off, and help her get back to doing those things she never had time to do.” But that day seemed far off in the distance future. I was a restless creative and I felt as though I was neglecting her. I wanted to do other things besides laundry and cooking and cleaning. In the life of a mother, every mundane moment counts. And because it counts, it’s imperative that we make sure we are giving from a full cup and not an empty one.

Care for Your Soul

One thing that saddens me greatly is the number of women who struggle with their personal identity and worth. By the time their children leave home, they don’t know who they are or what their purpose in life is because they neglected the whole person God made them to be. I so appreciated the act of kindness my husband showed me that day in my laundry room. But there were many days when relief could not be found. I’m thankful for my mentor friend, Andrea, who encouraged me to create space in my life to do those things I enjoy. It’s not a matter of finding the time, it’s a matter of making time in our lives to do those things that God wired us to do. caring for your soul is a gift you not only give to yourselves, but to your entire family. Our children (and husbands) deserve healthy, balanced moms (and wives) who give from a full cup, not an empty one. As women, we must discover what that balance looks in our lives so that even in the mundane, we find joy, and fulfillment, and purpose.

You’re more than a Mom!

May I gently remind you? You are more than a mom! You were designed to glorify God with the gifts he has entrusted to you. There are things hiding inside you that must come out because that’s the way God wired you. Find a way in your hustle and bustle momma life, to feed the part of your soul that makes you come alive. Don’t do it at the expense of your family – do it around your family. Make it a priority because it will help you be a better mom and it will help you prepare for your empty nest life after kids. My life was not on a shelf…this was my life. I needed to learn how to become more of who God made me to be in the mundane of everyday motherhood.

What about you lovely lady?

You…who stand right there in the thick of it and persevering in the mundane of it. How will you become more of your true self in the midst of the mundane of motherhood?

Betsy Stretar

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 www.betsystretar.com