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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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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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Desert Blooms

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

I sensed the Holy Spirit draw me into the desert.

My soul was longing for Him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In short, we are blessed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These promises are enough to keep me walking in faith.

In this dry desert, my soul is blooming.

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

Carly Thomson

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

www.carlythomson.com

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iola bloom playlist

The new issue is coming this September 2018! We are so excited! This issue will have the theme of bloom. Like last issue we have a themed playlist that goes along with this iola Bloom issue, and whilst you are patiently waiting for the next issue to be available, we thought we would release this playlist suggestion to get you excited about the coming issue. Now you have a playlist to listen to through August while you have the kids home from school or whilst on one of those long road trips, or relaxing by the pool or on the beach! Introducing the iola magazine  bloom playlist.

iola magazine bloom

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

So if you have Spotify you can listen to this playlist here:

If you don’t have Spotify just search out these songs on your favourite player and create your own playlist – we are sure you will love them!