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I have a depth perception problem

When I moved from Canada to the UK, I was terrified to drive. Not because it was on the opposite side of the road, or because of roundabouts or traffic signs that were foreign to me, but because roads felt barely wide enough for my one car yet they were all operating as two way streets.

Eventually, I faced my fears, signed up for driving lessons and gingerly took to the streets with my instructor. Did I mention that next to nobody in London has driveways? As a result, cars park on both sides of the street, which only added to my driving claustrophobia. When I expressed my fear to my instructor, she asked me to stop, and she climbed out of the car. She then proceeded to open both car doors to show me that the space wasn’t as tight as I thought. It turns out I had a depth perception problem – my fear relayed one message to my brain, but the facts were quite different. 

While the above instance was an issue of literal depth perception, I’ve realised I also struggle with depth perception on a spiritual level.

I didn’t grow up in church, so I feel like I’ve always been playing catch-up in the spiritual depth department. There is so much I still don’t know, and for a long time I had the skewed perception that knowledge deficit determined my spiritual maturity, or lack thereof. I thought that serving and knowledge were the keys to achieving spiritual maturity. Looking back, I now realise that this striving ironically showcased the shallowness of my spiritual understanding, which was evident from my attempts to define growth on my own terms. While there was an undeniable emptiness to this Christian checklist way of living, there was also a safety in the shallowness that appealed to me. I knew what to expect, and didn’t have to face the uncomfortable prospect of letting go of control.

Yet I found myself longing to experience a deeper closeness with God, and simultaneously fearing it. If I released my tight grip, would God be there to meet me? Logically, I knew that he would. His Word says, “…I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20) and “…I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). But just like with driving, my fear can make me doubt the facts. The depth of vulnerability required for a genuine relationship with someone can feel like a risky chasm that’s too wide to cross. But I’m learning something about depth that’s changing my perception: it’s not arrived at in giant leaps, it’s something that incrementally builds;

– Through each word of Scripture I allow to soak into my soul that cements the certainty of God’s character.

– With each new care that I release to him, rather than cling to.

– Through recognition of the times I allow God space in my life to move, and through the growing pains I experience when I fail at this.

All of these daily decisions revolve around trust. We sell ourselves short if our perception of spiritual depth is measured through the false lenses of comparison to others, or by the merit of our own actions. Spiritual depth isn’t determined by what we do, but is experienced through the extent to which we trust that what Christ did for us was enough.

I’m finding that spiritual depth is less of a destination to be aimed for, and more of a continuous journey as I learn what it means to abide in Christ. Like any relationship, extending this type of trust feels vulnerable, and even awkward at first, but showing up for awkward beginnings is a precursor to familiarity and feeling more at home in someone’s presence.

May we be willing to show up for that awkward beginning.

May we be content to be present as we learn more of God’s character, valuing this getting to know you process one day at a time, rather than feeling the need to rush ahead.

And may we not let fear define our lives, but be rooted in the fact that the depth of God’s grace is sufficient.

Alicia lives in London. She writes at aliciaunger.com, documenting her journey as she learns to let go of perfect and embrace progress, and seeks to recognise God in the everyday moments of her life, not just the momentous ones.

Alicia Unger lives in London. She loves to talk all things faith, books and travel (bonus points if there’s brownies + good coffee involved). She writes at aliciaunger.com, documenting her journey as she learns to let go of perfect and embrace progress, and seeks to recognise God in the everyday moments of her life, not just the momentous ones. You’ll also find her on Instagram @navigatingnormal, sharing snippets of her current musings, her latest travel adventures, and last but certainly not least, her favourite reads.

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Season of fruitfulness

Summer will soon become a distant memory, as we once again get out our winter clothes ready for the colder days and darker nights. The change of the seasons in nature is like a mirror to the changing patterns in our own lives.

Sunset through the trees from Nadine Haigh @thegildedleaf
Nadine Haigh @thegildedleaf

You may not know this but data collected from years of population statistics show that September is the most popular month for birthdays. A number of reasons for this seasonal baby boom have been suggested; it could be that Christmas spirit generates a rise in feelings of goodwill (or maybe it’s the after-effects of the festive mulled wine and mince pies!) Perhaps it’s the long, chilly, winter days which mean more time indoors – leading to early nights? For whatever reason, alongside the “mellow fruitfulness” of September, the fruit of God’s first spoken blessing over everything He made; 

God blessed them: Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth!”
(The Message) 

is evident.

Our experiences of the seasons are affected by and dependent on where we live, but God planned these changing rhythms of the world from the very beginning of time. 

‘Then God said, Let bright lights appear in the sky to give light to the earth and to identify the day and the night; they shall bring about the seasons on the earth, and mark the days and years.” And so it was.’
Genesis 1; 14&15. (NIV)

God’s blessing of fruitfulness and growth continued through history. His desire for an intimate, deep relationship with His creation remains exactly the same today as when He spoke into life the beauty of Eden. In spite of our desire to go our own way, separate from God, Jesus is our way back to that relationship with our Creator and His promise of life in all its fullness. Jesus is a blessing for fruitfulness and growth.

season of fruitfulness iola magazine
unsplash

Jesus spoke to His disciples about the way to fruitfulness. 

If you remain in me and I in you, then you will bear much fruit’ John 15;5 (NIV)

Whilst spending time with others as a birth and postnatal Doula, event organiser and in church, it’s been my privilege to hear many women share their personal stories of how even in the changing and sometimes painful, seasons of life, remaining in Jesus has born fruit. God’s love, joy, peace, and hope has brought them to a place of new life and growth. As a woman, I also see these changing seasons in my own life as I experience the hope of the promise of spring, the drought of summer, the changing harvest of autumn, and the long, cold days of winter. There are seasons of excitement and anticipation, doubt and loneliness, joy and celebration, and heartache and loss for all of us. In God we can experience fruitfulness and growth, regardless of the season we may be in.

We will see God’s fruitfulness in our lives bringing hope out of despair, joy from sorrow and peace even in the midst of the most violent storms of life. Jesus’ final spoken words to His followers before He returned to heaven;

And surely I will be with you always’ Matt 28. (NIV)

This is the unchanging good news. Whatever season we may find ourselves in today, 

He is with us. 

Thank God.

Charlotte Osborn

Charlotte Osborn 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

iola magazine the bloom issue

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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.

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White Scarf Story

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

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

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

This was my crossroad reality.

Mwangi Gatheca

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

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

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

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

“While we were yet sinners!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was undone.

My friend and God’s Word.

But Jesus did not stop there.

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

Pivotal moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessing me with the task of raising eight kids.

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

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

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

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

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

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Company’s coming (The horrors of hospitality)

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

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

Alexander Mils unsplash

The horrors of hospitality.

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

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

Where, oh where, is the joy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By thinking of our guests MORE than thinking of ourselves.

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

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

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

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

laurathomasauthor.com

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

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From aching to expectant heart – learning to hope again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Finding myself beloved: an everyday story

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then.

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

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

But the thought makes me curious.

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

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

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

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

Don’t ask me how I know.

I just do.

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

And I would be helped.

I would be cared for. I would know kindness.

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

Late Fragment

by Raymond Carver.

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.

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

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

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

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Finding place

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

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

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

Hil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hilary Hyland

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

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

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

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

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

iola magazine articles

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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

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Choosing Brave

At the end of every day, I collapse onto the couch and make the most of my evening with Netflix and a glass of wine or warm cookies or salty, buttered popcorn, glad to waste brain cells and time until I crawl into bed and fall asleep. My husband died three years ago, when my son was two years old and I was still pregnant with my daughter; being a single mom is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Quite often when someone finds out I’m a widow, the conversation comes to a grinding halt. I watch as their eyes glaze over and they enter the foggy land of “what on earth do I talk to her about when my hard stuff could never compare to being a single parent of young children, grieving the loss of a partner?”.  I really wish we would stop comparing hard stuff; the challenges you face in life are daunting for you, just as mine are for me, and nothing gets any easier when we insist on making life the saddest type of competition.

In the last five years, I’ve lost my dad and my husband, given birth to two children, and learned to live with my chronic anxiety and depression. It has been incredibly challenging and tremendously rewarding. I have learned what it means to live bravely.

Ten years ago, if you asked me what it meant to live a brave life, I would have described something along the lines of giving up worldly possessions to live in the deepest, darkest jungles like the Swiss Family Robinson. Or to join an elite military squad, risking my life just to do my job. Or to escape a human trafficking or other abusive situation. But I never would have used the word brave to describe what happens after a loved one dies.

I would never have said it’s brave to keep living.

As I explore what it means to practice courage, I realize that brave and heroic are not the same thing. Parenting my children when I’ve lost the person I built a family with is brave. Getting through my daily routine when I’m in a brutal depressive spell is brave. Breathing through a panic attack and remembering it will end is brave. Celebrating another life milestone without my dad or my husband to cheer me on is brave.

Going food shopping when we could have cereal for dinner, but we’ve already done that for a few days is brave. Maybe not, but that last one sure feels like a giant accomplishment.

Grief and anxiety pull my thoughts towards the past and depression makes survival seem impossible. But I’m learning to dream again because loss and mental illness don’t mean my life is over. There are more good things to come. Dreaming and hoping are brave.

Anyone can be brave. Courage doesn’t require an extra chromosome or special coursework. It simply (but not easily) requires the choice to be brave. Maybe your brave thing is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Maybe you need to say no to something. Or say yes. Brave can be admitting life is hard, but choosing not to give in. Or acknowledging the broken parts of your heart and pursuing healing.

I wasn’t born brave and neither were you, but we can choose to live bravely, together.

Becky McCoy

Becky L McCoy lives on the Connecticut coast with her two precocious and hilarious children. She once enjoyed teaching high school physics and now tells her story of loss, grief, and joyful living on her blog. Having struggled with depression and anxiety and experienced several seasons of grief and struggle, Becky is passionate about creating an online community where people share their stories and encourage one another to choose to live bravely and authentically through disappointment and discouragement.

You can find Becky on all forms of social media @BeckyLMcCoy, on her blog at BeckyLMcCoy.com, and her podcast Sucker Punched.