Cultivating courage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White Scarf Story

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

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

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

This was my crossroad reality.

Mwangi Gatheca

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

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

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

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

“While we were yet sinners!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was undone.

My friend and God’s Word.

But Jesus did not stop there.

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

Pivotal moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessing me with the task of raising eight kids.

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

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

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

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

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

From aching to expectant heart – learning to hope again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iola magazine articles

Motherhood. One season of many

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

One Season of Many

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

my life

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

Care for Your Soul

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

You’re more than a Mom!

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

What about you lovely lady?

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

Betsy Stretar

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

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