Going deep in times of transition

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

Painful in process. Beautiful in outcome.

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

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

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

Embracing Transition is Difficult, But Not Impossible

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

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

So, I get it. Transition isn’t fun. 

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

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

I wanted God to hurry up and give me answers. 

What I got instead was:

– a deeper love for Jesus

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

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

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

Commit Your Plans to the Lord 

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

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

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

I needed to go deeper. 

I needed to learn to be still. 

I needed to embrace the changes taking place. 

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

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

I needed to work through areas of brokenness and forgiveness. 

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

Transition Ushers in
The New

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here, there is no need to fear. 

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

Removed from the former; from all familiarity. 

Here, she is protected. 

Here, she ceases from her striving.

Here, she is safe to just be.

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

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

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

Unearthed. Uninhibited. Unbound. 

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

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

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

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

Friend, are you in a place of transition? 

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

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

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

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

Allow him to make all things new in your life. 

God is with you. 

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

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

Elizabeth Duncan Stretar, (Cleveland, Ohio) is the mother of 8 married adults, grandmother to 16, and enjoys spending her empty-nest time with husband, Frank. She is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary (MACL), Young Life’s first national director and currently working as an airline Flight Attendant. Stretar’s passion is to help others live an above and beyond kind of life, by encouraging them realize their untapped potential, discover their life-purpose that strives to make a difference in the lives of others. She’s a published author of ‘Acorn Gert & Brother Bert’ & blogs at Elizabeth Duncan Stretar: Above and Beyond Mid-life (betsystretar.com)
iola magazine even in the deep

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

Seeking hope in deep sorrow

We got the call we didn’t want. It seemed to catch us from behind – in the comfortable normalcy of everyday routine. My cousin, with his full head of hair and port still intact, has cancer again. 

As my mother stood in the kitchen and delivered the news, I took the words in slow, divorced from emotion. Whatever I expected her to say, it wasn’t that. Only later, in the solitude of a morning drive, frost still evaporating off my windows, would the emotion match the message – tears reluctantly falling and wiped away as soon as I could manage. 

It was a weary sadness when the bad news came back. Anger and confusion mixed in as well, but the prevailing emotion was a haggard tiredness – a fresh healed wound broke open anew just when we thought the pain was over. 

With the wound open before our eyes, the emotions of the first diagnosis trickled back in. The fear and the sadness and the rush of unanswerable questions all sat in our minds. At the crux of it, we want to know that he will be okay. We want assurance that the story ends well, despite the darkness of the valleys. 

We can’t have answers to those questions. And that drives the pain deep.

Life can be so senseless. I can remember receiving a phone call a few years ago, hearing that my roomates’ family had been killed in a crash – a car flying down off the overpass as they rode to celebrate their first-generation college grad. It made no sense. There were no words to pad the blow. At the funeral, I didn’t have any to say. What could be said? What could ease her pain or give her comfort in the midst of the deepest, wracking grief a person can feel? She read a Psalm that day. Braver than I could ever be, she read Psalm 139:13: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” Her voice caught when “mother” passed her lips, too deeply grieved to fully say the word. 

There are no words for these deep grievances. And I offer none here.

We have all felt pain. Death, cancer, family division. Words from a loved one that cut deep. Family members who walked away from God, and walked away from us, too. 

It’s in these painful, disillusioned moments that the word “hope” feels like a bitter pill. Hope seems to mock us – a pure desire stained by a wretched reality. Hope, our greatest encouragement, seems to set us up for failure.

And it can. It does and it has. We know that “hope deferred makes the heart sick,” Proverbs 13:12, ESV. And too many painful things can make us never want to hope at all. 

We know, through our collective, painful experiences, that setting our hopes on a certain outcome may let us down. It might even be the ruin of us. Though we struggle to come to terms with it, we’re not promised good earthly outcomes. We suffer at the hands of a cursed earth, and we wordlessly cry for a better world. This is what we know, and what we rave against in our most raw moments: God doesn’t promise us cancer-free lives, death-free families, pain-free marriages.

We also know that we have to have hope.

The Bible speaks of it endlessly, and even the most downtrodden one of us knows we can’t live hopeless lives. So what do we do? Faced with the deepest pain, where do we turn? 

I can only say what He says. That our hope has to stand on a solid foundation. Earthly things can’t carry the weight of our hopes. They can’t sustain us.

It is Who we place our hope in that makes the difference. Placing our hope in God is not a platitude. There is a real rest there, which leaves us assured that our hope will not be in vain. Not ultimately. This hope doesn’t diminish the pain or dismiss the deepness of our sorrow. If anything, it validates it. It says – you were made for a redeemed life, and this senseless pain is the deepest reality of sin. 

Our God is faithful and constant. Though this life may let us down and leave our hopes deferred, He will not. We won’t always understand this. There may be long stretches of time where we won’t even believe it for the trauma of the pain.

But there is a certainty here that nothing else can give us.

There is, when we can receive it, a sweet cove to rest in, while the wind whips wild and tears our surroundings apart. He remains. He is our rock, our defense, our refuge.

Our hope in God fulfills us, satisfying our deepest longings. This broken time is filled with waiting. This world is cursed and thorn-stricken, and we’re left longing for the day when Jesus will return. When life gets heavy, when it’s confusing, when anger courses through us, it’s okay to mourn. We can sit with our grief. Our Savior sees us. It’s okay to be angry. Angry at the effects of sin and longing so deeply for restoration that all we can offer are white-knuckle prayers. We know He is eager for redemption. He weeps beside us, longing to wipe away our tears and give us eternal life. To fulfill our hope.

We wait, fighting to hope, knowing that in our deepest pain, He is there; in our deepest sorrows, He is with us. 

Mary Jackson lives in the little town of Lebanon, Ohio–home of the Golden Lamb, the Apple Festival, and the Horse Drawn Carriage Parade. Her favorite mornings are slow ones, sat in the wicker by the window, that melt into quiet times. Most often pegged as the shy girl, she’s found that it’s okay to be quiet, to listen, to speak up with love and gentleness. To sit in the tension of the quiet and the spoken. Though she fought it, she believes deeply that community is for the quiet folk, too. You can find her sharing thoughts at stilltraveling.net or on Instagram @maryreneejackson.
www.stilltraveling.net
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 

Going deeper is a lot like coal mining

I asked God to take me deeper. I didn’t know what I meant in asking that, exactly, but I had heard others who were far more spiritual than I ask it, so I thought I should, too.

“Take me deeper, God.” 

I suppose I was asking for a closer relationship with Him, one that was more intimate and included more revelations about who He is and how He’s involved in my life. Perhaps I meant a different-looking journey with Him; a place of increased trust and reliance.

But I asked for depth, and that’s exactly what He gave. Perhaps I should have asked for smiles and laughter, because when you ask for depth and He gives it, you get everything that comes with deep places.

Darkness.

Isolation.

Increased pressure.

Disorientation.

Loneliness.

It makes me think of a documentary I saw once about coal miners in the heart of West Virginia. Men with soot-covered faces walk into a tunnel that leads to the mouth of a mine, carrying paper bag lunches and the prayers of loved ones that this won’t be the day of disaster. They travel thousands of feet down into the bowels of the earth, doing back-breaking labor that’s among the riskiest on earth.

Depth for them isn’t beautiful. It’s not a place of ease and rest, and it’s not a place without risk. Depth is hard. It’s dirty, risky, dangerous, and dark. It’s not a job many people want. 

Depth with God is very much the same.

I don’t know why I picture my walk with God like the one Adam and Eve had before the fall. I don’t know why I think it will be in the midst of lush beauty with unbroken fellowship and pure innocence.

I don’t live in the garden, and I do live in a world riddled with sin. I can have fellowship with God, yes, but fellowship with depth looks a lot more like coal mining than living covered by fig leaves.

When I asked God to take me deeper, I didn’t know His yes would mean everything changing. I didn’t understand that when I asked for more of Him, I was granting Him permission to take away anything that was less.

It meant losing relationships. Changing churches. Seeing myself for who I was and how that girl wasn’t truly following Jesus. It meant walking through the process of forgiveness – not just going through the motions of it.

It meant facing difficult truths. Realizing the gospel that governed my life wasn’t the gospel of the Scriptures. Asking how I needed to change and giving myself grace to do it. It meant stepping away from what I knew of the Holy Spirit and limping towards the truth of who He is.

The addition of depth also means the subtraction of shallow, and this is what we can fail to understand – shallow is comfortable. It’s manageable. It’s predictable. It’s less dangerous.

But it’s also, well, shallow.

God did not call us from death in order to live half-alive. He did not save us for safety and  predictability. He did not sacrifice everything for us to remain in shallow places.

When we ask for depth – and really mean it – he will take us deeper. And it will be far different than what we imagine.

Coal mining is, by nature, a dangerous profession. Men are often injured, and if a mine collapses, death is virtually guaranteed. Why, then, do miners go back day after day? More than that, why do they go back generation after generation?

They go back because it’s who they are. It’s in their blood. They are miners. 

Why do we believers ask for depth when we’re not even certain what that means? Why do we continue to chase closeness with God when it’s dark, isolating, and full of pressure? Because that’s who we are. We’re depth-chasers. Depth with Christ is built in to our spirits, and even though we don’t understand it, it’s a necessity for us. We instinctively know there’s more for us than just shallow places.

It’s in our blood.

I didn’t know when I asked God to take me deeper what it would look like. Now, on the other side, I know. 

Yes, it was dark. It was disorienting. It was not a place of safety.

But there in the depths, as in the mines, there was treasure. It was hidden, and I had to dig, but with time and tenacity, I found it. There in the mines, I found exactly what – Who – I needed.

We find treasure in deep places, and that’s why it’s worth it to ask, even when we’re not sure what it means. 

Jennie G. Scott is a former high school English teacher who now uses her love of words to share the hope of the Kingdom. A writer, speaker, and runner, she is a self-described deep thinker who can spend way more time than she should choosing the just-right word. She is a mom of two who has journeyed through single parenthood into marriage with the most patient man on the planet. She writes online at www.jenniegscott.com and encourages women to be OK with being themselves on her weekly Podcast, In This Skin.

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.

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
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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

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)

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