By Madelyn Littles

 

 

Can you believe that the Christmas season is upon us again? I certainly can’t. 2016 has gone by in an absolute blur. I’m absolutely thrilled to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but sometimes the joy of the season can get cancelled out by the craziness that inevitably manifests during this time of year. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by holiday preparations that pile up in addition to all of the daily responsibilities calling my name. Sometimes I feel like everything is moving in fast-forward and I’m stuck on pause.

 

I’ve been feeling run down lately, a little overwrought, and definitely striving for balance. But the one thing that I’ve been trying to be very intentional about is looking to God, first and foremost, and seeking him through, around, and above the chaos. In the hardest moments, the moments where I can feel myself hanging by my last thread, I’ve started saying a simple, “Thank you, God.” But don’t be mistaken – the feeling behind those three simple words goes much deeper.

 

I thank Him for that specific moment. I thank Him for the current challenge, and for the growth in my faith that will surely result from it. I thank Him for the reminder to turn my face to Him – and ultimately for the knowledge that He holds this moment, no matter how imperfect, ugly, or challenging it may be.

 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

 

 

in-focusI’m finding that these moments are the most incredibly blessed moments. When I’m at my ugliest, my most fickle, my most stressed – its in these moments, if I just remember to turn my focus to Him, I’m better able recognize the blessings that aren’t so obvious, the moments He has ordained for me to recognize that He is good, no matter what my circumstances might be.

 

How incredible is it to know that we have a Sovereign Lord who not only knows us and loves through our craziness, but that He knew these moments would happen to us before we were even born – and he loves us anyway!

 

My goal during this season is to spend more time intentionally reading and meditating on His word, and steeping myself in His truth. There will always be crazy seasons in our lives, but if we can just thank him for those challenging moments, for the opportunity to focus on Him and His incredible love and mercy for us, then our entire perspective will shift and the craziness might seem less crazy after all.

 

Will you join me this week in focusing on God – especially in the most difficult moments – to recognize when He is blessing you?

By Chrissy Mayer

 

This year has been quite a year.  There have been many mountain tops and many valleys. But as Jennie Allen once stated, “we can grow to not really know the difference.” I never really knew what that statement meant other than I knew it held something very deep. This year I’ve seen and experienced much fruit and much favor but have also felt great fear and experienced much doubt. Yet I still found peace.

 

peace-for-the-fight

 

Today, His lovingkindness has little old me, just a girl who said “Yes!” sitting in for the Senior Chaplain at Hernando Correctional Institution as volunteer Chaplain for the day. Exactly one year ago, I took my first steps forward with the passion and a vision that God had placed in my heart for those who are incarcerated. My obedience mixed with His favor places me in unbelievable and unexplainable positions of influence.

 

As I look around at where I am and the journey it took to get here I am overcome with gratitude and have unspeakable peace concerning the future – praising Him in all things. Friend, no matter where you are at today or what is going on around you, you can have peace for the fight. You can stand tall in the storm. Maybe it’s the loss of a job or a loved one or maybe the loss of a relationship or a dream. Maybe you feel stuck or maybe you feel like you’re taking giant leaps backwards. I’ve found that although there are moments on the mountaintop and moments in the valley, typically our days are more a combination of the two.

 

If you are in the middle of it, facing doubt, or waiting for your miracle, may this help you as you pursue peace in the fight.

 

Choose to reflect on what He has done.

“O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all of your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.” Psalm 40:5

I gain new perspective as I begin to see things through Heaven’s eyes. When I am reminded that He is good and that He is for me, I begin to see my circumstance as an invitation to an opportunity instead of as an obstacle or a setback.

 

Choose to recognize what He is doing.

“I love you Lord, you are my strength. The Lord is my Rock, my Fortress, my Savior in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me and my place of safety. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised and He saves.” Psalm 18:1-3

When I am able to celebrate every victory no matter the size of the advancement, I am able to hold my head higher and throw back my shoulders. I am able to stand taller and step forward with a boldness.

 

Choose to rejoice in what He will do.

“You light a lamp for me. The Lord my God lights up my darkness. In your strength I can crush any army, with my God I can scale any wall. God’s way is perfect and His promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to Him for protection. Who is God but the Lord? Who is God but a solid rock. He arms me and makes my way perfect.” Psalm 18:28-32

 

I must learn to live beyond what I see or what I feel. Christ says that though we live in this world we are not to be of this world. Therefore, when everything I sense tells me that hope is lost, when I find myself empty of words, I can call on His Spirit living in me. His Spirit, in me, empowers me to fight even when everyone else says that I should just sit down and throw in the towel. His word tells us that “He tunes His ear to our cries. He bends down to hear us and He is pleased.”

 

The longer I remain standing and the more boldly I march forward in faith, the more the enemy retreats and hopelessness begins to lose its grip. So I don’t tap out! I choose a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving! For it is with the weapon of worship I find the peace to fight whatever may come, knowing that it is all so dearly held by my Savior.

 

“Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

By Ashley Kuczynski

 

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. “
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

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For the past several weeks that line from the Elton John song “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” has been on repeat in my head because, well… someone did. About six weeks ago I suffered from a nearly fatal health condition and if it were not for my close relationships with family, friends, and coworkers, I would not be perfectly healthy today and sharing my story.

 

In short, when my parents, peers, and colleagues were unable to find me and I appeared to be missing, a “mini search party” went looking for me. This sobering and life-changing experience has turned my thoughts to the invaluable quality and priceless importance of… COMMUNITY. Had it not been for my relationships with other people and my connection to them, my absence would have gone unnoticed.

 

During the weeks that accompanied my recovery, the phone calls, text messages, conversations, visits, and more that I received made me feel extremely loved and valuable. I have pondered the place these people have in my life and realized that their significance goes far beyond simply people that I know or mere acquaintances. We are a part of the same community. For years we have gone to church together, served together, studied God’s word together, and been a part of something that is bigger than anything we could have accomplished separately.

 

At Grace Family Church we are constantly encouraged to get connected, be a part of a small group, and to serve. While I have done these things for years I had largely underestimated their worth and impact.

 

Jesus modeled the example of community by establishing a group of individuals that were his family. He led them, loved them, trusted them, and confided in them. What’s more is that collectively they served, loved, and ministered to others together while also supporting one another. Where one was weak, another was strong.

 

We get to be a part of a community just as Jesus and his disciples were. In the midst of a most helpless time, it was my community and my group of people who stepped in and loved and supported me. I am in awe that we not only get to be the hands and feet of Jesus but that we also get to experience it when others are too.

 

With them the fun never ends

Being rooted and established among a network of trusted friends has been life altering. It has created a place of freedom, acceptance, and rest… a place where we share and support in each other’s struggles and sins but also in one another’s celebrations and triumphs. There is power in knowing that I’m not alone. This has spurred me to love others better, to bring them into my community, and aide them in establishing their own.

 

I am now more intentional about giving away love, kindness, and a helping hand. The love of others towards me has increased and propelled a love for others from me. God created us to need each other and with an affinity for love and support from one another. When we have this, we thrive.

 

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”
(Author Unknown)

By Debbie Altman

 

 

I don’t know about you, but as the holiday season approaches, our family can sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed and frustrated with trying to figure out how, when, where and with whom we will celebrate.  215_christmasvacationConsidering immediate family, extended family, friends, work schedules, multiple church services, in-laws, young children’s bedtimes or naptimes, varying traditions and values, etc…one of the most sacred of holiday seasons can be tainted with tension.  Surely not your family Debbie?!  Yes, our family.  Just trying to keep it real!   So, there we are talking about Christmas and there is tension, and that just feels so wrong!

 

Well, I don’t have any perfect solutions, because human relationships are not perfect.  But good relationships are possible, and so I remind myself of some of the principles of healthy conflict resolution that I’ve learned and continue to practice at.  They are so simple, but not always easy…and they are not just valuable for navigating the holidays…they are Biblical and work all year long!

 

  1. Initiate open conversation

We have to talk about it.  Avoiding the conversation does not make it better.  Start talking about it early in the season so decisions are made before things get even more stressful.   Allow each party to share their desires, traditions, and feelings involved. Hear each other out.  This is not necessarily a group conversation, but individual conversations need to occur.  Each person’s opinion is valuable and should be heard.

 

  1. Truly listen to each other

We can always think we are right and our way is best until we sincerely hear another perspective and value the person that it’s coming from.  Empathizing with the history or feelings involved with another’s tradition or expectation helps to soften our hearts.

 

  1. Pray

There’s no one like Jesus to add the oil of the Holy Spirit to help things run more smoothly!

 

  1. Compromise

Hopefully, everyone can give in a little, and remember that the important thing is loving each other, and being together somehow, some way, some time.  Keeping the focus on the “spirit of giving” that is Christmas, has to translate into our holiday planning.  It’s funny how hard that can be!  It can be so much easier to give a gift, than to give of ourselves!

 

  1. Have fun anyway!

If you find yourself alone for a holiday, fight the urge to sit around your house and feel sorry for yourself!  I did this once and decided I would not do it again!  Find something non-traditional to do…go to a movie, go to the beach, go away, eat Chinese, or really get crazy and look for some friends or families who also find themselves alone…trust me, they are out there…and do something together.

 

Getting along and having healthy relationships is something we always have to work at, and the holidays can really stir the pot!  But make it a goal as we head into this season with its many stressors, to do our best to live out the scripture,

 

“Work at getting along with each other and with God.”  Hebrews 12:14 Message

 

What do you do to ease the pressures and truly enjoy the holidays?  I can’t wait to hear your stories!

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Nancy Strackany

“Trust in the Lord and do good, then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  Psalm 37:3-4

 

what-my-heart-wantsWhen I was around five I wanted to grow up, be a wife and mom and live in a pretty little house. God granted me that desire and I began my marriage knowing Him and following His ways. Genesis 3:16b says, “in pain you shall bring forth children; yet your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” If I read that scripture then, I’m pretty sure I rebelled against it.

 

When Eve disregarded the authority of God and let the sin of pride, rebellion and independence rule her we know how that ended. It didn’t take long for the enemy of my soul to creep into my new Christian family and convince me that desiring the fun of the world was better than any man ruling over me. Years of chaos and unhappiness and shame were the result.

 

God knows that when we disregard his will and follow our own we will not achieve the plans and goals He has for us. He will never force us to do as He asks, as He has given us free will.

 

I sought happiness in my own way, I rebelled against the authority of my husband and I made mistakes that have taken years for my family to heal from. Psalm119:67 is the abbreviated version of my story. “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep thy word.” I had to humble myself before God and my family, seek their forgiveness and choose to do things the way God wanted me to.

 

Even though I chose to do the right thing, the desire to change, to love, had to come through a changed heart, a work of the Holy Spirit, and that took time.

 

When my husband does something he is very tenacious. Last weekend he decided to explore the music from the group Abba. He played their music, watched Mama Mia, and later we watched a documentary about them. Somewhere in the middle of this music festival I mentioned to him that Abba means father, and it was in the Bible.

 

A friend had just told me she calls these “coincidences,” God kisses. I saw it as a sign that God can speak to us in everything. My husband and I went about our activities while the music played. As I was leaving the bedroom, he was coming across the living room and instead of passing each other as I expected, he reached out for my hand and pulled me in to dance with him.

 

As I we danced I looked at his face and saw the young man I married 46 years before. Tears came to my eyes as I realized in that moment, that my desire was for my husband; that God had changed my heart.