“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself.”
(1 Corinthians 6:19 NLT)

By Valerie Sercu

With the New Year here, many people make resolutions to eat better and live a healthier lifestyle. My personal testimony is about how when I became physically healthy it directly impacted my spiritual development and relationship with Christ.

I am 37, married, and have two small children. I guess you can say I have always been “athletic.” I ran my first 5k at age 6, swam on swim team at age 7, made it to state in hoop shoot basketball at age 8, and ran track in high school.  So, I did have the mental training and dedication to strive to be better in whatever I was out to achieve.  That was all great and good, however during that time I was dealing with ugly realities in life that I had no control over. Sexual abuse as a young child. Moving to another state at 12 years old. My parents divorcing when I was 14, and my mother and my only sibling moving out of my daily life. 

Although always growing up in church, and accepting Jesus at age 6, I dealt with my pain through many years of various addictions. I smoked cigarettes for 17 years.  Yes, do the math; I started smoking at age 12!  And remember I said I ran track in high school?   Well I did, but during track practice when everyone was running down to the pier and back, I was running to my house, watching All My Children, puffing on a few Marlboro Light 100s.  I would then dab some water on my face to make me shimmer, pop in a piece of Wrigley’s double mint, then head back to the school  track, bragging on what a great workout I had!  I did that for YEARS!  

Not only did I struggle with my pack (or more) of cigarettes a day habit, but I had also a serious food addiction for 15 years. I grew up with parents who had a very unhealthy relationship with food, and I am sure I learned some of the impulsive obsessive behaviors that they had. The rest of the behaviors I took on as my own, and the beast lived in my head for too many years and could have taken my life more than once. 

I tell you these things so you will know that living a healthy lifestyle does not come natural to me. It is something I have fought for and I have learned to redefine as I live each day focused on how God desires me to live. I have always believed that what goes in is what comes out. Garbage in, garbage out.  Whether that is the food that we feed ourselves, the thoughts we allow in our head, or the people that we surround ourselves with. If we know where we want to be, we have to do the work and begin something, and see it through fruition. 

The turnaround in my life began when I saw other people in my life achieving great accomplishments. I wanted to stop being a victim and begin to be victorious.  I always had the dream of running in a marathon. I had that voice in my head that said, “You can’t. Valerie, you’re a smoker. You never follow through on anything. You will fail.” But one day, I CHOSE to tell that voice to take a long walk off a short pier, and I put my last cigarette out. The only logical decision then was to set the date for my first marathon. Which is what I did.

For me, when I began training, I would plug in my mp3 (this was before the iPhone, people), and listen to praise music while I ran.  Before I knew it, the tears were flowing and I had several miles behind me.  The burdens that I was carrying when I started were left on the pavement behind me. When I felt tired, I would chant to myself, “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.”

When you decide to live a healthier lifestyle and incorporate exercise into your routine, don’t be discouraged with its challenges.  Like my Italian grandma Rose would say, “It’s like making a lasagna…one layer at a time.” You may choose to have an accountability partner, friend or spouse to support you, or use your own voice for encouragement. This is such a magnificent time of year in Florida. A perfect time to get outside with your kids, ride your bike or walk with a friend. With small kids at home, I try to fit exercise in when I can. I will walk/run my son to school. Or when my kids are napping, I will use Exercise on Demand on the TV for an amazing workout in my living room. Just try to be creative and make it fun. There is a great program called Couch to 5k that can inspire you to get on track for living a healthier lifestyle. You may also be encouraged by running/walking for a cause.  Because of Ezra is one that touches me a lot, and motivates me. 

The Holy Spirit will find you and touch you wherever you are.  We just need to give Him our time and open our hearts to listen to Him.  His presence is so mighty and He can bring you healing from years of pain, even through exercise!

by Kristin Bonham

Goals. Resolutions. Opportunities. Experiences. 

Some people are goal-setting folks while others are not.  My husband, Chris, enters a new year thinking about what he wants to accomplish.  He always has a list of things he is going to do and gets excited thinking about them, planning how he will accomplish them, setting goals for meeting the goals, and sharing them with the family.  On January 1st… He’s off!

Me… I’m more of a “let’s see what this year will bring” girl.  I have anticipation about the season I’m entering and like to look for the themes happening in my life.   I am not completely without plans and dreams but I definitely approach things differently than my husband.  

I used to feel pressure to make a list of resolutions and promises for the year but now the pressure is off.  While I do not make a list of goals, I do set aside time to ask God for His direction and plans.  Sometimes I start the year with a fast.  Sometimes I start by reading a certain book in the Bible.  One year, I went on a prayer retreat starting New Years Eve.  Even though my method never looks the same, God always gives me fresh eyes to see where He wants me to go or what I need to pay more attention to.

As I look back over the past five years, I see areas of growth I never expected.  Each year had highs and lows but as I have been open to God in the midst of those experiences, I have changed.  Some highs: I started running triathlons, went on my first mission trip, read a book a month several years ago and one year, only read my bible.  Some lows:  the pain of loss, unexpected stress, and watching those I love go through trials. The point is that through all those things, God changed me.

So as you prepare for this New Year, take time to identify the themes of last year as you ask God to lead you in 2012.  If you are a goal-setter, keep in mind that it’s not about the goals as much as the journey and growth.  If you’re like me and focus more on the journey, make sure you pay attention to opportunities where God is challenging and stretching you.  No matter what your personality, remember that when you lean into God and yield to His plans, He can make more progress, help you see the needs around you, use it all to bring fame to His name and change you along the way.  Approach the New Year with expectancy and see what God does!

by Terri Owens Blanchard

As a little girl, all I wanted for Christmas was a pony. It was number one on my Christmas wish list. Oh, how I dreamed of having my very own pony.  I even imagined what it would look like. It would be a Quarter Horse, tall, sleek, strong and beautiful. We would gallop through meadows with my hair blowing in the wind and the sun gently falling on my face.  I would be gleaming with excitement as we dashed through the fields, hurdling fallen trees, and resting near brooks. I would share my secrets and dreams with my pony. We would be the best of friends as we were growing up together. We would ride through the forest where my horse would lead me to my prince charming. In his castle we would live happily ever after. If only I could get a pony for Christmas, surely I would be the happiest little girl in the world!

Well, much to my surprise I didn’t get a pony for Christmas that year. My hopes and dreams were shattered. I would never find happiness, let alone my prince charming. I would be stuck in reality instead escaping to my dream world.

As I grew older, my wish list would change. I wished for all the pretty clothes I could buy, a fancy new car, the biggest diamond ring a girl could have, a husband, a house, and 2.5 children.  I continued to search for that same happiness that was in my dreams. So I shopped for shoes, clothes and designer handbags until my charge cards were full.  I bought the new car that was fanciest on the showroom floor that in reality I really couldn’t afford. I struggled through one bad relationship after another searching for Mr. Right who would buy me the biggest diamond ring ever, a brand new custom built house and be the father my Ivy League children.

Year after year I did not get what was on my Christmas wish list.  Under my tree I never found what I thought I wanted that would fulfill all my hopes and dreams. After years of disappointments, convinced I would never find true love and happiness, I just gave up.  I was alone, empty and without hope.

Then one Christmas, as I sat quietly in the dark watching the glowing lights on the tree and listening to the Christmas carols playing on the radio, I found the truth about Christmas. I heard  the words of the song,  “Oh holy night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of our dear Saviors birth….oh fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices, oh night divine oh night when Christ was born.” I pondered this as the next song played, “away in a manger no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head, the stars in the sky look down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay…” and then I cried, ”be near me Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay, close by me forever and love me I pray…” Then the announcer spoke the words from the Bible, “And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord,” (Luke 2:10-11 KJV). That is exactly what I needed; no fear, great joy, and Savior that was born for me! More than anything else I needed a Savior.

I finally understood. Christmas was not about what I wanted on my wish list, but what I needed in my heart. Christmas was about a baby, in a manger, who came to be my Savior. He was God reaching down to show His love for me. He is what I had been searching for all those years to fill the emptiness and loneliness. He alone is what I needed. Only Jesus could give me peace, hope and joy. Christmas was about Him, not about me. My whole life was to be about Him and not about me.

Convicted that Christmas, I fell to my knees gave him my broken heart, shattered dreams, and a life full of mistakes and poor choices. As a result, He healed me, changed me, and gave my life new meaning, as well as a new Christmas wish list. As I sought Him first and His will for me, He has brought me not what I wanted, but what I needed.  I now have all the clothes I need, a ring that’s the perfect size, a safe car with no car payment, a comfortable home full of peace and love, a husband who is my prince charming and also my best friend with whom I can share my secrets, hopes, and dreams. And if that wasn’t enough, I have been blessed with a daughter and granddaughter that I love with more love than I ever thought my heart could hold.  

I never got that pony for Christmas, but in reality I don’t even want one anymore. Instead, I have received oh so much more. A Savior who is near me, stays close by me forever, and loves me unconditionally. He has made my dreams come true and I really can live happily ever after.

by Paige Eavenson

With Christmas only days away, the pressure to be ready can feel overwhelming. It’s often very easy to get a little “Grinchy” with our attitude, especially when things aren’t going quite how we might have planned them. Here are five things I’ve come up with to not let the Grinch in you steal Christmas:

1. Have high expectations. 
Let’s face it; we women can have some pretty high expectations when it comes to the holidays. We often want everything to look and feel like a Hallmark movie when in reality things get broken, life gets messy and those family members can drive us nutty.

shattered ornament
Poor ornament!

If the ornaments get shattered, the food isn’t hot and those people in your life drive you crazy, just remember this is only a season and it too will pass. Let the Lord meet your needs and fill you with his presence in the morning, then your cup will be overflowing and your joy contagious to those around you.

2. Criticize your family and your gifts.
Even if it’s only in your head, if you are critical of your family and the gifts you receive your joy is sure to be zapped out of you quickly. There is nothing worse than being around a negative and critical person, so do your best to make sure you’re not that gal. The opposite of the word critical is complimentary, so look to see who you can complement this Christmas.  It’s a whole lot more fun to spread some Christmas cheer and compliment someone. So be on the lookout for opportunities to give someone praise.

3. Compare yourself with other families.
If you spend too much time on  Facebook or reading blogs, you might start wishing you could just be adopted by someone else’s family. Don’t buy this lie. Every family has issues and junk in their family line.  When the comparison trap tries to lure you in, take a step back and make a list in your head or on paper, if you have time, of all that is wonderful about your family. Thankfulness changes our perspective while comparison just leaves us in a funk.

4. Spend money on things you don’t need to impress people you don’t even like.
With all the sales and ads for the latest and greatest gadgets, clothes and accessories it’s hard not to want it all. Just throw the ads away right now and turn off the TV and delete the emails telling you what to buy right now or else you’ll miss it. Save yourself the headache in the new year trying to figure out how to pay for all the stuff you didn’t need with the money you didn’t have to impress the people you don’t even like.

5. Forget Jesus is the reason for the season.
Christmas is a time for celebration of Jesus’ birth and all that it represents. When Jesus was born the angel said in Luke 2:10, “I bring you GOOD news of great joy , that will be for all the people.” Jesus is the good news and your job is to share Him with others and celebrate this Christmas season. 

May you all have a very blessed holiday and don’t let that Grinch in you sabotage your Christmas!





by Leslee Stewart

For the holidays, we often have overnight guests. I love to treat my visitors to a yummy breakfast while they’re here. The recipe below is always a hit, especially when paired with scrambled eggs, sausage and fresh fruit. And the best part is you can make it ahead of time.

One-Dish Blackberry French Toast
Makes 8-10 servings

1 cup blackberry jam
1 (12 oz.) French bread loaf, cut into 1½ inch cubes
1 (8 oz.) package low-fat cream cheese, cut into 1 inch cubes
4 large eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
Toppings: warm maple syrup, chopped pecans, whipped cream

  1. Cook jam in a small saucepan over medium heat 1-2 minutes until melted and smooth, stirring once.
  2. Place half of bread cubes in bottom of lightly greased 9×13 inch baking dish. Top
    with cream cheese cubes, and drizzle with melted jam. Top with remaining bread
  3. Whisk together eggs and next 3 ingredients. Pour over bread mixture. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Cover tightly, and chill 8 to 24 hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 325. Bake, covered, 20 minutes. Uncover and bake 10-15 minutes or until bread is golden brown and mixture is set. Serve with desired toppings.