By Carrie Roden

 

 

What is it about January that makes it seem like a fresh start is actually possible? I mean, there isn’t anything magical about flipping the page on the calendar, and we are fundamentally the same people on January 1 that we were on December 1. But year after year, people who would never begin an exercise program, start a new diet, or finally try to get organized on December 1, resolve to start fresh in January.

 

There is just something within us that feels hopeful that when the old year passes, so will the old us. I love hearing friends’ and family members’ resolutions and those who choose one word to focus on for the upcoming year, and I love thinking about the possibilities of a new year. But we all know that almost as consistently as we make resolutions in January, most of us break them shortly thereafter. We lose focus or become discouraged, and too often February 1 finds us the exact same people we were on January 1, just feeling a little bit more like failures.

 

So what are we doing wrong? Why do we keep repeating the pattern of starting fresh, failing, giving up, and feeling discouraged? Maybe the way we make our resolutions isn’t working. For example, each year I typically think through which areas I am most dissatisfied with in my own life, and then “resolve” to become a completely different person in that area. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Maybe it starts with me being the source of the “resolution.” Maybe I’m not qualified to decide on my own what I need to resolve to be or do. So this year, instead of making resolutions based on what I dislike most about myself and trying to become someone else in that area, I’m asking the Lord to show me where He wants me to grow. I’m inviting Him into the process and then I’m going to respond to what He shows me.

Fresh Start

This process isn’t quite as simple as writing a list of resolutions, and it’s definitely a little scarier, but I also know I can trust God to help me do what He has asked me to do. Maybe I would like to become a well-organized, meticulous housekeeper, but the Lord is actually asking me to grow in the area of submitting my emotions to His control. Maybe I’ve decided to save for a dream vacation, but God is actually calling me to plan for regular date nights with my husband.

 

One thing is for certain, because God has purposes and plans designed just for me, He already knows how and where He wants me to grow. But true to his nature, He will not force His will on me, and I am free to spin my wheels on my own. But if I invite Him into my fresh start, He is sure to meet me there and invite me to grow where He purposes.

 

Maybe God has already shown you where He’s calling you to grow. Maybe you even have someone you look up to that excels in that area. If you’re like me, it’s easy to identify the change you need to make and then decide to simply become someone else in that area. For example, if I want to read more in 2017, I might decide I will adopt my friend Becca’s reading goals. I want to develop a more powerful prayer life, so I decide to become my friend Misty every time I set about praying. I want to improve my fitness level so I decide I will run just like my friend Kristin. I mean, these are inspiring women worthy of emulating. What’s the problem? By the end of the year, I should be the most well-read, powerfully-praying marathon runner around.

 

Except we all know it doesn’t work that way. When our resolution is to become someone else, even in just one area of life, we are automatically setting ourself at odds with the One who uniquely created us, so we are pretty much doomed from the beginning. God didn’t create me to become Becca, Misty, Kristin, or anyone else, but rather he has a specific purpose and plan for my life, so their standards and goals probably aren’t the ones He has for me.

 

So does “being who God created me to be” mean I get to prayerlessly watch TV on my couch guilt-free all year? Not quite. There is no doubt that the Lord wants all of us to grow up into the plans and purposes He has for us, and rarely does that involve living every day like it’s the week after Christmas. In fact, those people we admire can definitely provide inspiration and may be able to offer encouragement, support, or even accountability, but they cannot become our measuring stick. The only standard we are held to is His, and thankfully He measures us through the lens of grace and more grace.

 

So as you begin this new year, don’t forget to invite the God who made you into your new beginning. Lay down your own list of resolutions long enough to listen to and respond to His invitation to grow. Look for sources of inspiration and encouragement, but don’t let them become your measuring stick. He has a specific purpose and plan for your life, and He is willing and able to help you live it out.

 

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. “Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” – Jeremiah 29:11-14 (MSG)

 

By Kristin Bonham

 

best-daysI am writing this in my dark living room enjoying a quiet night with the soft glow from the Christmas tree lights.  My husband actually put our tree up this year and I have loved looking to see where he put my favorite ornaments. I have several but one of the gems for me is a stack of pancakes. It’s right in the front about halfway from the top and every time I look at the tree, I can’t help but see it first.

 

I bought it a few years ago because it takes me back to some very cherished memories. When our kids were growing up, we spent many family vacations camping.  One of our annual traditions was camping at Disney’s Fort Wilderness with our small group families.  Even long after our group stopped meeting regularly, we still camped together once a year.

 

 

Camping is bike rides, camp fires, late nights, pancakes, bacon, homemade donuts and chili.  We played kick ball with all the kids, roasted marshmallows, ran 1/2 marathons, worked puzzles and played games. But mostly, we talked.  We spent time catching up with each other like we couldn’t do when we were attached to life and work at home.  We challenged each other and prayed for each other.  Those were the best days.

 

As I reflect on 2016 and anticipate 2017, one thing I’m reminded of is that I can appreciate the past and the relationships formed there but I can’t live there today.  I can appreciate traditions and memories but if I try to hold on too tight to those traditions and memories, I will miss the new ones waiting to be formed.

 

I’ve taken a few mornings this week to think about what I want for 2017, what I am asking God for in the New Year.  I want to focus on the present and what God is doing today. I want to do hard things, the things I’ve been putting off, the things that scare me.  I want to take time to talk to people when the moment arises, I want to be flexible.  I want to connect with people like I did in those best days sitting around the camp site. I want more best days.

 

Reminiscing about those favorite memories has been so good for me this Christmas. I find they are pointing me to all the possibilities ahead. What are you looking forward to in 2017?

 

“Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.”
Isaiah 43:19

 

 

 

 

 

By Sue Nichols

 

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

It is Christmas time! Are you feeling the hustle and bustle? Lately, have you had any conversations revolving around how fast life is passing by, how busy you feel or how tired you are? I feel like most women can relate to having so many things to do on our plate. In fact, I’ve been surprised about some of the conversations I’ve had lately with women, of all generations, giving me the same sentiments. To be honest, I’ve been trying to decrease the busyness in my life for years.

 

The other day, I realized that God was asking me to give up something that I love to do. He was asking me to stop making jewelry. I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around doing what He was asking me to do. God gave me the inspiration to begin this business and the extra money was nice. Why would He ask me to give up something that means so much to me? I decided not to listen to Him.

 

Then, I found myself in a situation of “beyond busyness.” The kind of busyness that takes your focus completely off of God. The kind of busyness that is so distracting you can only focus on the task at hand. The kind of busyness that shows you, when you take a step back, that you’re letting important pieces of your life fall by the wayside…like your family. The kind of busyness that sucks the joy and happiness out of your life.

 

where-i-find-restThe moment I saw this, my heart completely sank. I did not want to live this way! I realized God was asking me to trust Him. I was praying for Him to help me decrease the busyness and I was not listening to Him. He was not asking me to give up my jewelry forever. It just is not the right season. This busyness becomes a burden on me and my family and leaves me tired and weary in the end.

 

Today, I have a profound peace to lay down my jewelry making in this season of my life. Actually, I feel an excitement of how He will continue to guide me.  I believe God does not want us running around in the distracting, tiresome busyness most of the world lives in. We can trust in God’s timing. When we seek His guidance and council which may mean we stop doing something we love to do, he gives us what we have been searching for.

 

I am praying that God shows me other ways to decrease the busyness and increase peace, joy and laughter in my life.

 

By Kristin Bonham

 

 

beautiful-teamThe Beautiful Team meets once a month for connection, prayer and to talk about the ministry.  This group consists amazing women who lead women’s ministry at GFC at all our campuses… high capacity women who are wearing many hats. Each one is unique in personality and I always look forward to this meeting for the fellowship and opportunity to learn.

 

We usually start with everyone sharing what’s going on in their world personally and in ministry.  Last week, the common theme was the wrapping things up and taking time to rest and recharge over Christmas.

 

There was also a sense of urgency with January coming and wanting to make sure things were set up to hit the ground running. We all find ourselves in a ‘hurry up, get everything done, get answers, so we can rest’ mode!  Can you relate?

 

As we went around the table that day, some key things resonated with us and we all agreed that if we are feeling this way, many other women must be too.  How do we as women really rest?  How can we be fully present with our family and friends during this very special time of the year?  We came up with this collective list of ideas to be intentional.

 

  • Journal – Take some time to journal about what the last 3 months have been. Or maybe even 2016 as a whole. Write about the highs and lows, the victories and sorrows.  Ask God to show you all that He has done and how He is working all things together.

 

  • Time Out – Put your phone, computer, tablet, etc in time out! It’s hard for me to be fully present when my phone is buzzing or I’m checking emails and social media at any given time during the day.  If possible, leave your phone alone for a designated time during the day.  See what happens!  Two things that have helped me are changing my text notifications to “message from _________” rather than a preview of the message itself and changing my email settings so that “fetch new data” is off.  I still answer my texts and emails but this is a huge help for me to stay present as much as possible.

 

january-is-coming-2

  • Focus – On Jesus. He is our Savior. He is our Hope. He is the reason for celebrating. Here are some key Bible verses to help:

Luke 1:26-38

Luke 1:46-56

Luke 2:1-20

Isaiah 9:6

 

The fact is, January is coming whether we rest or not.  January is coming whether we slow down and enjoy family and friends this Christmas or not. January is coming with all its possibilities and opportunities!  Let’s decide to slow down, focus on and enjoy the people in our lives during this Christmas season.

 

What are some intentional things you do to help you stay focused during Christmas?

 

By Dawn Smiling

 

 

The angel, Gabriel, went to Nazareth to visit a virgin named Mary and declared “Greetings, you are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The Angel said to her, “Mary do not be afraid, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Mary asked “how will this be since I am a virgin?” The angel answered “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

 

great-expectationsMary’s response to Gabriel is priceless as she says “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

 

I am moved by this conversation between Mary and the Angel, Gabriel because this has been a year of great expectation for me. I have experienced ups and downs this year that forced me to believe God before I could see the outcome. I found it very painful and it felt like I was actually giving birth with real contractions. It takes faith over fear to believe God for the outcome before the manifestation appears. To believe God for healing while you are still in pain. To believe God to deliver a family member who is still in bondage.

 

As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus, we can learn from Mary’s example and her response to God when things did not make sense. You may feel troubled in your state of expectancy, but don’t remain in that place. Psalms 56:3 tells us “when I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Remind yourself that you are favored just as Mary is and as a child of God, no opportunity that God has prepared for you will pass you by.

 

As the angel advised Mary to name her expectation Jesus, your faith requires you to name your expectations. As the Holy Spirit gives you courage to move in faith towards your dreams, goals and desires, it’s okay to tell God you feel unprepared for your experience.  Be encouraged to take the response of Mary.

 

To live a life of great expectation is to believe that God will allow you to see guidance for your children, health for your family, and prosperity in your finances. To see the end at the beginning knowing God will honor your faith. Expect it!

 

Enjoy this season of celebration expecting miracles for those you love.  Extend an invitation to those who still have not met our Savior, Jesus Christ, with great expectation.

 

What are your great expectations?