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2020: The Year of New Beginnings

2020: The Year of New Beginnings

By JENNY SEYLAR

At midnight, 2019 passed uneventfully into 2020, a new decade, and it presented a blank canvas on which to paint my story. So many times people (me included) make resolutions for the New Year, only to leave them beside the road by the end of January.  I have sought to approach 2020 as I did in 2019, and that is by setting intentions instead of resolutions.

An intention is an aim, plan, or a purposeful way to approach something that is desired. I claimed 2019 as the “Year of Discernment.” To make sure I had the necessary space and time for this internal spiritual guidance, I set aside space in my day almost daily to sit quietly in the early morning and listen for the voice of God speaking to my heart. Through reading, journaling, and prayer, I found the needed insight to face the specific things I intended to sort out. These were life changing things that are at the core of who I am. I kept them safe within my soul, save for a few close friends and family.

As 2020 moves into February, still ripe with the opportunities of the New Year, I now speak these private things out to the Universe for you to know. There were three things in need of discernment in 2019: 1) Vocation- Should I stay within the local church doing ministry or was I being called outside the confines of church ministry to bring light to people living in the dark places? 2) Housing- After almost 13 years living in the house with my late husband and kids, was I being called to close this chapter and downsize? And 3) New Love- I desired to have a significant relationship with a new life partner, which became more and more coveted as my heart began to heal in earnest from the unexpected death of my husband in the fall of 2017.

So, you might be wondering how my year of discernment played out. In August I left church ministry in Cedar Rapids and began serving God as Chaplain at Mercy Hospital in Iowa City. In late December I closed on a townhouse nearby and made the move in early January, after the Christmas celebrations were done. As for finding a new life partner, I have been on a few dates with men, and I have developed friendships with others. It’s the start that I needed, and it will continue to unfold, as I am certain God is working on this for me.

One of my most listened to songs after my husband’s death was Danny Gokey’s “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again.” (Here is a link to a YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azYK8I2uoog) It is a song that still speaks to the deep places in my heart. “Yesterday’s a closing door; you don’t live there anymore.” I have finally come to grips with this reality, and I am ready to move on. Another meaningful line is, “In this moment heaven’s working everything for your good.” In my quiet time each day I have developed a trust of God that makes this a reality for me. A Bible passage that emphasizes this for me is “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:12) “Thus far” speaks to the many ways that God has spoken to my heart in these past few years. It also resonates with the grief healing that I have experienced. “Thus far” also points toward the future that I trust God is working on for me. “Thus far” is not the end of the road, but it is a mere rest stop on the journey that is my life; a chance to evaluate and celebrate.

So, as I continue walking through 2020 I claim, with new intention, this to be “The Year of New Beginnings.” I claim the new opportunities to be found in ministry both in the hospital and the community. I claim the new memories and traditions that are unfolding in my new home. I claim the hope of new found love that will be the beginning of a journey with a new life partner. I claim the strengthening of old relationships and the building of new ones. In this Year of New Beginnings I hope to grow in creativity, compassion, strength and love.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT
Friends, what will you claim with intention for 2020? Will you seek out new opportunities for growth or will you continue to be content with the status quo? “Heaven is working everything for YOUR good” as well. I, for one, desire to drink in the abundance of what life has to offer instead of returning to the lonely, dry desert life of these past couple of years. Much healing has occurred in my heart and in my life, and for that I praise God. What healing needs to be happening in your life, in your heart? It takes work and intention to move forward, and God wants to journey with you.

PRAYER
God of Grace and Glory, I praise Your presence in my life and thank You for being on this life journey with me. Forgive me when I seek to go it alone. Guide me in what I claim for my 2020 intentions, for I cannot do it on my own. Help me to grow personally, to expand my faithfulness to You, and to mend and strengthen my relationships with loved ones. Amen.

ABOUT JENNY SEYLAR
Jenny Seylar is a woman with a deep faith in Jesus Christ. She serves in hospital chaplaincy and community ministry in Iowa. As a pastor, she is passionate about walking with all ages as they journey in their faith. She believes in creating authentic relationships in order to walk alongside folks wherever they are in their faith journey.

In 2017, Jenny’s husband of 28 years unexpectedly died while on a training bicycle ride. In the aftermath, Jenny and her 3 grown kids, daughter-in-law, granddaughters, and close friends, have sought ways to find joy in the everyday miracles that make up this life. You can read more about Jenny Seylar at her blog “Journey From Despair to Hope” at https://journeyandstrength.wordpress.com/2018/09/12/through-the-lens-of-grief/

Embrace Simplicity

Embrace Simplicity

The air conditioning hummed in our comfortable minivan as we travelled down a small, dusty road in Mexico.  Each of us in our small group had wanted to get off of the beaten path of tourist trinkets, resort areas and the mediocre Tex-Mex often served there.

My eyes were fastened on the lush scenery we were quickly passing by, mile after mile of damp jungle and tropical rainforest.  Our guide, an elderly gentleman named Miguel with kind eyes and a broad grasp of English, talked as we drove.

The tour of the Mayan ruins was behind us.  Now, we were heading toward a sleepy little village where the modern-day descendants of the Mayans lived.  Miguel began to explain how the Mayans had not only survived but flourished within the dense jungle for many hundreds of years.  But what he shared next caught my attention, tearing my eyes away from the many shades of green flashing by.

“Three seeds,” Miguel began, holding up 3 tanned, slim fingers.  “That was all the Mayan people needed.  They would dig a hole, and place in a corn seed, a bean seed and a squash seed.  The corn would grow up sturdy and tall, providing the bean a pole to grow up on.  The squash would grow out, providing shade and protection for the tender roots just below the ground.  The three plants worked together in harmony to repel natural pests and keep the ground fertile because they each gave off different nutrients that benefitted the other.  The Mayans gained 17 of the 20 amino acids the body needs to function well from those three plants.  The rest they augmented with fruit, nuts and game from the forest.  But that was all they really needed: three seeds.”

The van finally turned into a residential area with tiny homes on either side.  Many were colorful, painted in vibrant turquoise, emerald green and cobalt blue with murals of blooming flowers and smiling people adorning them.  But several were falling down upon themselves, clearly forlorn and neglected.

Miguel continued, “You will notice several abandoned homes in this neighborhood.  Electricity changed everything here.  Before, the people in this village didn’t need to work.  They planted their gardens using the 3 seeds method in their backyard.  They spent time tending to their garden, crafting and spending time together as a community.  Families were very close and [spend] much time together.”

Miguel paused, gathering his thoughts. His features changed ever so slightly then, a heaviness creeping in that hadn’t been there moments before.  “Electricity has been both a good and a bad thing for the people.  Obviously it brought convenience.  But it also brought TV.  Suddenly the boys and girls learned about Cheetos and restaurants.  They heard about all different kinds of food.  They wanted cell phones.  They didn’t want to wear the traditional embroidered clothes anymore or eat the squash and the beans and the corn; they wanted jeans and t-shirts so they could look like the people on the TV.  So now the parents have to go into town to get a job.  The children grow up and they leave so they can go work hard to make money to buy stuff.”

He looked at us with a small, sad half-smile.  “I don’t know that the electricity was worth it.”

I sat in silence in my comfy artificial environment, stunned.  The deeper truth behind Miguel’s words hit me at my core.  The people had been happy, self-sufficient.  They had family they loved and a community where their lives had been welcomed and celebrated.  Ancestors, long since passed, were remembered and honored.  They were healthy and well fed.  Their lives had meaning, dignity.  And they left it for Cheetos and blue jeans simply because someone told them their lives weren’t enough.  Just like Adam and Eve in the garden.  Just like me.

Please know I am not saying Cheetos or blue jeans are bad things.  I happily lick my orange encrusted fingers whenever I go through a bag, and blue jeans are my go-to most days!

What I am pointing out is how tricky the enemy is.  We can have everything we need before us–a home, family, enough food, our needs met–and still feel like we’re missing out on something because the deceiver of our souls is constantly whispering, “It is not enough.  You are not enough.  You need more…”

Now, what the “more” is varies from person to person.  For some, it’s money or possessions.  Until they have a certain number or a certain quantity of stuff, they don’t feel secure.  For others, it’s appearance.  If they don’t look a certain way, wear a certain size, or lift a certain weight at the gym, they see themselves as lacking.  There are many, many more ways this world tells us we are not enough, as I’m sure you and I could attest to.

At the end of the day, Jesus makes it very clear our security doesn’t lie in what we have or even what we do–all the things we tend to worry about.  He tells us quite plainly, “This is why I tell you to never be worried about your life, for all that you need will be provided, such as food, water, clothing—everything your body needs. Isn’t there more to your life than a meal? Isn’t your body more than clothing?  So then, forsake your worries! Why would you say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?  For that is what the unbelievers chase after. Doesn’t your heavenly Father already know the things your bodies require?  So above all, constantly chase after the realm of God’s kingdom and the righteousness that proceeds from him. Then all these less important things will be given to you abundantly.  Refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at a time.  Tomorrow will take care of itself” (Matthew 6:25, 31-34 TPT).  I am challenged and reminded of my “three seeds,” the essentials in my life that most matter: God, family, friends.  I am challenged to give my best effort at work and at home to honor God, not line my pocket or make myself seem important.  To take care of myself not so I can look a certain way but because my body is God’s temple, worthy of being cared for.

Most of all, I am challenged to keep my relationship with God front and center.  He alone will chase away the worry and remind me I am indeed enough. He whispers confidently into my ear that I am more than a conqueror because he has me, he loves me well (Romans 8:37). How about you?

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  What are your three things?  What most matters to you in this world?  How are you investing your time, talent and treasure in relation to those three thing?  This week, look for ways to celebrate what really matters in your life, ways you can embrace simplicity.  And make time to remember and thank God that you are, indeed, enough!

PRAYER  Papa, how worldly my thoughts can be sometimes.  I get so caught up in the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth and forget what truly matters.  Would you help me to put first things first today, to focus in on what you would focus in on in my life.  I count my blessings before you and thank you for each one.  Amen.  

BARBARA LOWNSBURY is an author, entrepreneur, and single mother of three.  She serves as the Executive Director for The Dented Fender ministry.  Follow Barb and The Dented Fender community on Facebook and Instagram.

LIKE WHAT YOU READ?  Buy Barbara’s book by clicking HERE

Asking God the Right Questions

Asking God the Right Questions

By MARLA WALDRON

Scripture: Luke 1:26-56

Focus Passage
But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  (Luke 1:29)

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with theHoly Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:39-42)

Learning from Mary
Mary the mother of Jesus is often depicted as serene, meek, mild, and  is often commended for her exemplary discipleship, her willingness to say yes to God. However, Mary’s story tells us that we may expect our encounters with the Holy to include feeling perplexed. It also reminds us that we should take “time to ponder”, and that real engagement with God can include asking some questions. Of all the questions to consider, some questions are more fruitful than others. We sometimes ask “why” questions of God; why me, why this situation. But, those questions, although natural, are less helpful and often bring us to a dead end. There are other questions though, which tend to open possibilities and new avenues for understanding, exploration, or action. Notice that Mary does not ask “why me?” She asks, “How can this be?”

 Take a moment to ponder
Think about the questions you most often have for God. Do you have any questions you are asking right now? If you have “why” questions, could you change them to “where,” “what,” “how,” or “to what end” questions? What are some fruitful, open questions you could ask the Holy One?

“Mary’s story tells us that our lives with God may mean a journey toward clarification. After all the pondering and questioning, Mary visited her cousin, Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Mary shared their experiences, listened to each other, and they helped each other toward greater awareness, courage, and joy. When the Holy comes to us in the small, and the ordinary, we might need help to see it and to have faith in it. Mary and Elizabeth were spiritual community for each other,” says author Becky Bosarge.

Take a moment to consider
How is spiritual community different from other types of community? What kinds of conversations create spiritual community? Do you have a place or people with whom you can share your sacred moments and have them affirmed and even clarified, as Mary and Elizabeth did with each other?

Pray for clarity
Ever-Coming One, guide me into fruitful, life-giving questions:

  • Where do you want to use me and my talents God?
  • What does God want me to do? Say? Spend my time; money on?
  • What good have I learned from this experience?
  • What unrealistic expectations have I had and how can I better manage?
  • How do you want me to share the light of Christ with others? Share my story? Share your love? Conduct myself in professional situations, relationships, spiritually?
  • What do I need to do to boost my courage to seek future opportunities to share the gospel with others?

For Further Thought
Set some time aside this week and write down your answers to some of these questions.  Prayerfully ponder them before the Lord.  I’d love to hear how it goes so please post on our FACEBOOK page!

Prayer
Lord, always you are good.  Help me to see you in new ways, and to look at you differently.  Teach me the lessons you are striving to instill within in.  Thank you that you take every circumstance and work it around for my good when I’m looking to you.  Would you allow me to see with fresh eyes all that you are in and around me.  I love you Papa.  Amen.  

MARLA WALDRON lives in Wyoming, Ohio with her husband and three grown children. She has been a public school teacher for 34 years. She is active in mentoring new teachers, Bible study, coaching Girls on the Run, and is honored to serve in the Dented Fender Ministry.

GET A SPIRITUAL BOOST AT OUR MONTHLY POLISH (as in come get spiritually polished up!) SATURDAY FEBRUARY 22nd from 9:30-11:00.  Breakfast provided.  See you there!

LIKE WHAT YOU READ?  CHECK OUT the BOOK THAT STARTED IT ALL:
USING WHAT’S BROKEN TO BOLDLY SHINE by BARBARA LOWNSBURY

New Adventures Ahead, No Instructions Included…

New Adventures Ahead, No Instructions Included…

On our wedding day I gave my husband a card that said, “New Adventures Ahead … No Instructions Included.”  We were facing uncharted waters together, jumping in to blending children, families and life histories together.  Our wedding was magical!  It was beautiful, fun, meaningful–everything you would want it to be.  The next day as we boarded the plane for our honeymoon we were full of deep joy.  Our new adventure had begun!

With wide grins we reached the travel counter for our cruise.  Little did we know the plans we had carefully crafted together were about to be yanked forcefully out of our hands.

“May I see your passports please?” the kind woman at the counter inquired.

Dutifully David handed over our documents.  We could see our ship floating majestically right in front of us, glistening in the Miami sunshine.  Distracted and excited, it took us a moment to notice the woman had stopped checking us in and was waving a supervisor over.  To my horror, the passport I had asked a friend to pack for me was an old expired one that was no longer valid.  We would not be permitted to board.

In one moment, all of our special plans evaporated before our very eyes.  Exploring the ship and grabbing lunch on the deck, gone.  Breaking open the chilled champagne and Pellegrino that waited for us in our room, gone.  Toasting our new marriage and sailing off into the sunset, gone.  Overwhelmed with anger, frustration and self-loathing, my head dropped into my hands and I started sobbing.  My honeymoon was ruined.

You know you’ve married the right guy when in the midst of the disappointment a gentle arm reaches around your shoulder, pulls you in close and tells you it’s going to be alright.  Before I knew it, he was on the phone moving mountains, changing arrangements, and shifting plans.  Within an hour my passport was being shipped (God love my parents!) and we were flying to another port the next day to meet our ship.  Never once did he try to make me feel bad.  He was reassuring, reminding me it was all going to be okay.  My tears begin to subside.

We prayed.  We both got re-centered.  Then David recalled that card I had just given him not even 24 hours earlier, the words taken on newer meaning.  “This is our first adventure together as a married couple, honey.  And if this is the worst that ever happens to us in our married life, we have nothing to complain about.”  He was right.  No one was dead.  Nothing was destroyed.  We still had each other, and it was still our honeymoon.

He continued, “Our focus shouldn’t be on a trip.  It’s just a trip.  Our focus should be right here,” he said, waving his arm gently between the two of us.  “And this…this is all good.  We don’t need a trip together to experience joy.  A trip is just one moment in time, and life is full of many, many moments.  This moment with you is all that matters.”

He pulled me in and held me close.  My shoulders began to relax; the stress started to melt away like a light snow on a sunny day.  Joy crept its way back into my spirit as I realized yet again this guy by my side is exactly the kind of person I want to be able to continue my life’s journey with. God was able to snatch away the victory from the jaws of defeat.

It’s crazy how hard life can come at us sometimes.  When I think of all I’ve experienced in my life—loss of loved ones, tragedies, financial challenges, broken bones and broken hearts—those are not the moments that jump out at me.  Instead, it is the presence of God’s steadying influence.  Whether it’s through prayer, the Bible, other people or worship, God is there holding me close.  And when I’m ready, he reminds me of all the joy I have also experienced—the birth of my children, the triumphs and victories, the love and the friendships, the growth and the blessings.  It’s already been a rich life!  It’s my choice what I choose to focus on with the rest of the moments I have.

So if, like me, you hit a rough patch (or two or three), remember: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning it’s shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful people so you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3).   God still has you!

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT: The race we are running is a marathon, not a sprint.  We will hit many obstacles along our path.  But God is bigger than any and every obstacle, even death, and He does give us instructions.  The Bible is packed with wisdom about how to handle our challenges when they come (because they always do!).  Read them to allow your spirit to shift your focus away from the negative and grab a hold of hope.  I’ve included a few of my favorites here for you to click on:

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Isaiah 43:1-4

Romans 8:26-28

Romans 8:31-39

PRAYER: Papa, always you are good even when things go wrong.  I know every good and perfect gift comes from above, and that you promise to use even the challenges we face in life for the good when we trust you.  Thank you that it is never your heart to hurt us, and that Jesus gave his very life to redeem us from those hurts.  You are a good father, and I am so deeply grateful for the joy you set before me even in the midst of the trials.  Thank you, Papa.  Amen.

BARBARA LOWNSBURY is an author, entrepreneur, and single mother of three.  She serves as the Executive Director for The Dented Fender ministry.  Follow Barb and The Dented Fender community on Facebook and Instagram.

WANT TO LEARN MORE?  Buy Barbara’s book by clicking HERE

Marking the Moments

I sit here a little in awe.  A year ago, I didn’t see this coming.  All I knew was that God had revealed quite clearly to me that somewhere in 2019 he would bring the man he wanted for me into my life.  I fought him at first.  It seemed selfish to really focus in on my personal life in that way for whatever reason.  But with a sigh, I submitted to Him and put bridal imagery all over my vision board for 2019.

Now, here I sit.  It’s my wedding day.  And I am in awe of all that has transpired this year, all the miraculous ways God showed up and moved pieces perfectly into place for this very moment.  I feel His joy for me today.  I feel His presence.  I feel His rich blessing and tender mercy and yes, even parental pride.  He is celebrating with me today, and I am celebrating with Him.

The man I am marrying is amazing in so many ways. I feel like God is showing off every time I see a new way we’re so perfect for each other.  It’s easy.  It’s fun, and he’s running after God as hard as I am.  My eyes well with joyful tears as I write this.

But why I share this, why I write this for you today, is because I want you to believe.  I want you to realize God has miracles of beauty and joy available for each of us.  Out of the ashes of hurt and heartache, He brings redemption and joy.  Out of a place of feeling lost and hopeless, He brings purpose and vision.  He has victories in store for you, amazing victories that will take your breath away.  Victories that may come when you least expect it, or when you’ve about given up on finding that breakthrough.  As you keep praying and keep pressing on in faith, those clouds will dissipate and joy will flood into your very soul.

When these moments happen, both big and small, mark them.  Do something that reminds you that God showed up for you.  It can be a moment, a special dinner, a card, a journal–anything really.  But mark that celebratory moment with God, thanking him for his gentle mercies.  Then when the next tunnel in life comes your way (because we all know they will come), you have your touchstones, your memories and badges of glory of how God has blessed and been faithful to you before.  He will have your back again.  Claim His promises and cling to them, using scriptures that speak into the goodness of his nature to infuse you with faith.  “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

So today I mark a moment, a profound god-given moment in my life that will change it forever.  And I am reminded of how amazing the Father we serve is.  How much his heart is to bless us–to bless you!  May all of our faith grow through the journey.

Searching for Significance

I have always wanted to have significance from the time I was young.  As a child, I used to put a blanket on, cape style, and hold a spoon in my hand like a scepter, pretending to be Miss America as I waved to my adoring fans.  My free time would occasionally consist of playing “office” where I would hire and fire people, write pretend checks and sit at a desk trying to feel important.  I would rehearse my Oscar speech and thank all my young friends in the neighborhood for their early influence on me.  I must have been convincing because afterwards they would say with solemn sincerity, “Don’t forget me when you’re famous.”

Why did I play that way?  I guess the list could be long.  But at the end of the day, I think each of us want to have a sense of power and significance.  We want to know our lives matter, that what we do with our limited time here on earth has made an impact.

What the grown-up version of me has come to understand is that the search for significance in what we do is an illusion, a temporary fix that doesn’t fully satisfy the soul.  It tends to come with a constant demand for what’s new and next.  Now, I don’t care so much about what I’ve achieved.  Yay, I have a list of atta-girls.  Don’t we all in one form or another?  But my list interests me far less than the difference I can make in someone else’s life.  I love getting to give someone the right word at the right time, the hug they didn’t know they needed until they received it, or the wisdom and insight to take that next step forward on their life’s journey.  I love empowering others to faithfully step into all that God has called them to be.  That brings me deep joy.

Still, even blessing others isn’t the truest source of my significance.  Think of the synonyms surrounding that word “significant.”  Words like powerful, compelling, momentous, important, rich, eloquent, weighty, and having meaning.  I find all of these things and more naturally flow out of my relationship with God.  See, my significance comes from knowing the creator of the universe chose me.  He didn’t have to.  It’s not like heaven and hell were picking sides one day and somehow God got the short end of the stick and had to take me on his team.  I was his first choice, his number one draft pick, the one person he most wanted to have on his side.  And the amazing thing is so are you.  He feels that way about each one of us.  How profound is that?!  It’s hard to feel like you don’t matter in light of the fact that Jesus literally gave his life to save you.  Not just everyone, but you.  Specifically YOU.

And the more we step into who God crafted each of us to uniquely be, not comparing ourselves to others but embracing the lane he placed us in, the more significant we begin to feel.  I don’t need to have this huge impact.  I just need to be who God has called me to be, and God will do the rest.  Ironically, the more I embrace this attitude, the greater my impact becomes.  It’s like the more I learn to be God’s conduit and the less I make it about myself, the more he is able to move and flow.

Nowadays, I don’t dream of making a big splash in this world.  Whether I do or don’t doesn’t really matter.  What I do dream of is walking closely with God, growing in my ability to discern his voice and grow in his wisdom, and to live out my life as only I can because there is only one me.  No one else can run the lane God has placed me in except me.  I am Plan A for my life and the people around me.  There is no Plan B.  The same is true for you.  That’s where my significance comes from.  That’s where my worth comes clearly into view.  And if you’re willing, that’s where you will find yours, too.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  Are you ever tempted to feel like you don’t matter?  Like you have no worth?  Do those feelings come from what you perceive to be a lack of achievement or influence?  In those moments, remember your significance before the Lord.  He reminds us of our value through the prophet Isaiah: “I took you and choose you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you.  I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.  So do not fear, for I am with you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (41:8-10).

Replace the lie that you don’t matter with his truth–you are incredibly significant to God.  He has plans to make an impact through you in the lane he’s placed you in, whether it’s with your husband, your kids, your co-workers, your friends, your book club or your spiritual community. What you do is significant to God and he finds you worthy.  And that’s something to smile about!

PRAYER Lord, thank you that I find true significance and meaning for my life in you.  All I need to do is look around me and see that the world’s ways don’t work.  You have destined me as your child to live a life that is full of joy and peace, not one that is fractured or ineffective.  When I start to get sucked into thinking it’s all up to me and what I do, help me to remember your sovereignty.  When I begin comparing myself with others instead of remembering that before the cross we are all the same, remind me of your truth.  Would you empower me today to remember how much I am cherished by you.  Thank you for a love that is so sweet, so powerful and deep, it literally transforms me from the inside out.  May I experience more and more of you within me.  Amen.  

BARB LOWNSBURY is an author, entrepreneur, and single mother of three.  She serves as the Executive Director for The Dented Fender ministry.  Follow Barb and The Dented Fender community on Facebook and Instagram.

 

Take Back Your Holidays

Take Back Your Holidays

Nothing like the holidays to make you question your own sanity.  Why did I overspend?  In fact, why do I always over spend?  Why can’t I ever have a “normal” Christmas without all the drama?  Add to the mix running yourself ragged, trying to find that perfect something, earn that holiday bonus, shine at the office Christmas party or make that perfect meal—ugh!  This is not the stuff Christmas dreams are made of.

This Christmas, change your reality.  Let go of the Hallmark Christmas story you have running in your head and embrace what really matters:  LOVE.

“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).

Love should be the secret sauce in all we do, but especially at Christmas time.  We all know what Christmas is really about: Jesus.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16 is famous for a reason.  So why do we lose that focus?

This year, I’ve made the decision that every dollar I spend, every task I do, every meal I make, every cranky, challenging person I come into contact with (yes, that includes other drivers and family members) will come from a place of love.  For God didn’t just love the world, he loved me, despite my mess and brokenness.  And it wasn’t just a token gift.  It was a transformative one!  He came to give me true freedom.  Freedom from debt. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from perfection.  Freedom from the judgement I deserve, replaced by a grace I can’t deplete.  My response is to choose to give this love, this deep well of grace, to those around me.  That’s the reason for the season.  That’s what Christmas is all about.

Jesus didn’t just give us second chances.  He gave us a love that is unshakeable, a faith that never waivers, and a destiny that is mighty.  This Christmas, I choose to live like it.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT What gets in the way of embracing Jesus’ love for you during the holiday season? Verbalize it out loud or write it down.  Be clear with yourself before God about what your challenges are.  Consider lifting them up in prayer to him and asking him to not only strengthen you in these areas, but to heal you and allow you to overcome them in his mighty name.  Remember, the Bible tells us “God does not want us to be shy with his gifts, but to bold and loving and disciplined” (2 Timothy 1:7).  Be bold.  Take your holiday season back to a place of worship in whatever way God shows you.  The outcome will be joy.

PRAYER Papa God, thank you for the gift that is Jesus Christ.  There is so much to be learned from how you sent him to us, an infant born in the humblest of circumstances, yet who literally changed the world forever.  Would you help me this Christmas to make a difference in my world today?  Would you empower me to love when it’s challenging, to give from the heart regardless of how it’s received, and do the tasks that most embrace what you’ve called me to?  Thank you that you’ve promised me a disciplined spirit that flows from a loving gratitude from all you’ve done for me.  Let me remember that at the end of the day, it’s all about a cross and the incredible love you continue to shower on me through Jesus because of it.  How amazing!  How incredible is your love!  Thank you, Papa.  Let my life reflect that love today and always.  Amen.

BARB LOWNSBURY is an author, entrepreneur, and single mother of three.  She serves as the Executive Director for The Dented Fender ministry.  Follow Barb and The Dented Fender community on Facebook and Instagram.

 

Pivotal Moments

By JENNY SEYLAR

I finally feel like I am turning the corner in my grief, yet it is a slow rotation around the bend. While attending high school and college, I participated in the marching band. In both bands there was street and field marching. Street marching was fairly simple if I attended to the row and column to which I was assigned. I just had to glance left, right, and forward so that I would keep myself in line with the rest of the musicians around me.

The challenge in street marching, however, is when the band must turn the corner. To successfully navigate the turn, the band closes ranks, bunching up the lines, and then each row enters the pivot point for the turn. The pivot point is the place where the person on the inside of the turn stands. This person has the responsibility of marking time in one place while slowly rotating their body ninety degrees. The rest of the line, from pivot to the end of the row, each take larger and larger steps, with the end person stepping the full length of their stride. Eventually the row makes the turn and then resumes the marching gate on the new street. From the vantage point of the pivot, the person gets a view of the new terrain up ahead.

As I navigate my grief, I discover that I am the pivot person. I am slowly turning the corner, leaving behind the past and looking ahead to the new landscape that is my life. It’s a snail’s pace of a turn. I have yet to complete the pivot and step into the new stride that I am confident awaits me. I am nearly there, and am eagerly awaiting the opportunities that lie just ahead. I know there will be new responsibilities, relationships, and landscapes to explore.

From the vantage point of my pivot, I cannot see too far ahead, and that is okay. God only shows me a glimpse every now and then. There are doors up ahead; some are open and others are closed. When I reach them I will look inside and see if they are the ones in which I am to go. In the meantime, my role is to trust the future that God has in store for me. God will send people into my life that will guide me in this new realm, and I will journey with them for a time.

In this pivotal moment of entering into my future, it is unsettling to be going so slowly. Yet I know that the pace of my progress is all a part of the healing growth that is the journey of grief. To rush this journey is to mess up the important work that is happening in the present moment. Were I to jump too quickly into new things that I am not ready for, it would leave me too vulnerable and exposed, and I would likely be skipping critical parts of my healing. So instead I will seek to have faith in the pace God has for my life. The wisdom of Proverbs 16:9 speaks volumes to me: “People plan their path, but the Lord secures their steps.”

As a person who likes to control my environment, it is difficult to let go and let God guide and secure my steps. Still, I am trying to do so. I spend my quiet time with God each day so that I don’t miss out on what God is offering me. All around me God is sending signs and reminders of the direction that I should go, and I am seeking to be in tune with them. When I get out of step or move too quickly to what’s ahead, God gently nudges me, reminding me to put my trust in the plan God has for my life.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  To trust in God’s plan is to surrender my own plans. This is no small task some days. Dear one, what do you need to offer to God so that your life aligns with God’s agenda? How often do you sit quietly with God so that you may move in a direction that will provide you with the “Lord’s secure steps?” Take a moment right now to see where you are in your relationship with God. Does God feel distant from you or do you feel God’s presence with you right now? This is a pivotal moment for you, because you may choose to continue to be distant from God OR you can choose to invite God into all aspects of your life. God wants to be an integral part of YOUR plans, and God will guide you into YOUR future.

PRAYER  Creator God, I thank You for the wonders of creation and of my life. In the face of hardship, You show up and provide comfort and guidance. Forgive me, Lord when I seek to make my own way, forgetting how You have always had my best interests at heart. My life is changing as I grow and heal from the traumas of my life. Help me to not rush the healing work that You are doing in me. I praise You, God, in all things. Amen.

ABOUT JENNY SEYLAR

Jenny Seylar is a woman with a deep faith in Jesus Christ who serves in ministry at a United Methodist Church in Iowa. As a pastor and youth director, she is passionate about walking with all ages as they journey in their faith. She believes in creating authentic relationships in order to walk alongside folks wherever they are in their faith journey.

In 2017, Jenny’s husband of 28 years unexpectedly died while on a training bicycle ride. In the aftermath, Jenny and her 3 grown kids, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter, have sought ways to find joy in the everyday miracles that make up this life. You can read more about Jenny Seylar and her ministry at www.lovelylane.org or her blog “Journey From Despair to Hope” at https://journeyandstrength.wordpress.com/2018/09/12/through-the-lens-of-grief/

Fragrance of Thanks Giving

Fragrance of Thanks Giving

by Karisa Moore

“MMM. You smell like coffee,” my son said after I returned from a local coffee shop. I pick up the scent because I spend a lot of time there. Similarly, my daughter picks up the scent of horses and anything else that moves because she loves animals.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I am supposed to have His spiritual fragrance, and thanksgiving is a part of the formula. My circumstances are complicated and constant, but God is faithful to give abundant life in all I experience. 2 Corinthians 2:14 says, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere” (NIV). I see God’s hand so clearly on each of my circumstances, and thankfulness helps me to record those victories, remember them rightly. and share Christ with others.

Thankfulness is remembering the truth about who I am and whose I am. I study and express thankfulness through poetry and as I thought of thanksgiving, this is what emerged.

Fragrance of Thanksgiving

Breathe in the fragrance of thanksgiving.
An intentional scent plugged into living. Remind
Stale troubles they do not remain. Fill home
with the scent of hope.

I am getting to know God’s character as I study scripture, and I trust what he is doing and believe he reveals truth through us. At the end of a battle, the victor is doused with sweet fragrances. My fragrance should be Christ because he is the source of my victories. I have had many. To claim victory I have to remember His faithfulness:

  • He chose me when I was broken and in sin
  • Delivered me from despair
  • Equipped me with scripture to fight the devil’s schemes
  • Made me a prayer warrior
  • Caused me to delight in others
  • Gave me friendships to strengthen and support me
  • Gave me a desire to share his love
  • Crushed the enemy’s attempts to destroy me through abuse and fear!!!
  • Defeated the grave long before I had to place my son in it
  • God loves me forever and my salvation is secure

God has anointed me with the truth that life has value, no matter how hard that life is. May that be the sweet fragrance you smell on me, and may it be the fragrance that envelopes you.  Life has value and God loves you.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  Breathe deeply. What current fragrances do you smell?  Your spirit gives off a fragrance as well, to family, coworkers, and strangers. Are your words lifting others up? Do you have a thankful heart? Create a list of things you are thankful for. What does the fragrance of Christ smells like? If not, here is a scripture you can start with: Ephesians 5

PRAYER Today I allow you, Father, to wash away my sorrow. Lord, infuse me with the scent of understanding your ways. Discipline my brokenness. May my life become a beautiful fragrance of glory in the midst of a world filled with the dank scent of despair. Amen

KARISA MOORE is a writer, speaker, and hope warrior for those battling depression. As a survivor of suicide, Karisa saw the need for a raw, passionate, and Christ-centered voice in the depression conversation. She began blogging Turning the Page on Suicide in 2014, after the suicide of her teenage son. Her followers include church leaders, those actively struggling with depression, and fellow grievers. Utilizing her skills as a devotional writer, gift for conversing with readers through poetry, and scriptural insights into the darkness of despair, she listens, encourages, and challenges her readers to find hope amidst depression.

Every story is worth writing!

Follow her at:
http://www.turningthepageonsuicide.org
Twitter: @moore_karisa
Facebook: Karisa Lynn Moore

Bittersweet Joy

Bittersweet Joy

By JENNY SEYLAR

With my phone at the ready, I am excitedly awaiting the birth of my second grandchild. Preparation for the big event is much more subdued for the grandparents than for the parents. Yet, I still have a few things to do so that the little one will have a safe place to be when not being passed from adoring family member to another (which at first will likely not even happen). So I find myself dusting off the cherry wood cradle. This was lovingly made by my husband more than twenty five years ago for the arrival of this grandchild’s daddy. While cleaning the smooth wood there is a catch in my throat, and I realize that the joy of baby’s arrival is also bittersweet. I am preparing for the fifth child to sleep in this cradle (our three children and now the second grandchild) since its creation so long ago when my husband and I were just starting our life together.

When baby’s big sister arrived 2 years ago, my husband and I drank in the joy of the blessed event. We could hardly grasp the pure joy of being grandparents. Scattered around the house are pictures in frames of grandpa holding his first grandchild. It marked for us the jubilant passage into the next phase of life, and we were celebrating well! It was a mere six weeks later that my husband died, and I was left to parent and grandparent alone. This grandparenting gig is awesome; it’s just that I miss doing it with my life partner, now more than ever. The joy that permeates so much of life is often bittersweet when shrouded in grief.

The resurgence of my grief hits hard in these times of momentous life events. The sorrow comes upon me as if I am a wave on the sea, violently crashing into the rocky shoreline. Then I am dragged back out to sea, only to have it repeat again and again. Being slammed with grief these two years later takes its toll on me. I must learn once more to cope under this new siege, and I cry out to Christ for comfort and peace. In these moments, Christ speaks to my heart, reminding me that calmer seas are coming soon.

The trouble is, I sometimes forget to cry out to the Lord, seeking instead to try to go it alone. I realize I am not so different from the disciples who think all hope is lost when the boat they are in is being tossed about in a storm. The disciples believed that because Jesus was asleep, that He didn’t care what happened to them.

‘They came and woke him, saying, “Lord, rescue us! We’re going to drown!” He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you people of weak faith?” Then he got up and gave orders to the winds and the lake, and there was a great calm.’ (Matthew 8: 24-26, CEB)
Just like the disciples, I too eventually call out to Jesus saying, “Rescue me!” When I am drowning in my sorrow and trying to work through it on my own volition, Jesus responds saying, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

Yet, Christ does not leave it there. Instead, Jesus rebukes the waves of my grief, and I am much better able to withstand the hardship and get through it. Sheltered in His love and care, the grief subsides a bit.

The resurgences that are my grief seem to be getting farther and farther apart, and the duration is less. Yet I did not get to this point on my own. I have been doing the hard work that is grief. Sitting with the Lord in my daily quiet time includes a bit of grief work. I have surrounded myself with people who lift my spirits. And, I have been gentle with myself, allowing housework to slide a bit, and finding time for those things that bring me joy.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT
Dear one, what waves of sorrow and hardship are pounding on you? Do you repeatedly try to handle it on your own? It’s not too late to call on the One who calms the waves and brings comfort to your struggling heart. Merely call out His name and allow the gentle water of Christ’s calm touch to bring you peace. He will not take away the hard things you are dealing with, but Christ will walk with you. I have found that to be true time and time again, especially when my grief disrupts the tranquility of my life.

LET US PRAY
Holy Lord, thank You for coming alongside me when I call out to You for help. Some days it seems like all I do is cry to You. I am so glad that You never leave me stranded, even as I am tossing and turning on a turbulent sea. Guide me to calmer waters where I can catch my breath and step once again into the challenges I am facing. In these times of bittersweet joy, allow my heart and mind to cling to the joy so I don’t miss out on gifts of this life. Amen.

ABOUT JENNY SEYLAR

Jenny Seylar is a woman with a deep faith in Jesus Christ who serves in ministry in Iowa. As a pastor and chaplain, she is passionate about walking with all ages as they journey in their faith. She believes in creating authentic relationships in order to walk alongside folks wherever they are in their faith journey.

In 2017, Jenny’s husband of 28 years unexpectedly died while on a training bicycle ride. In the aftermath, Jenny and her 3 grown kids, daughter-in-law, and granddaughters, have sought ways to find joy in the everyday miracles that make up this life. You can read more about Jenny Seylar at her blog “Journey From Despair to Hope” at https://journeyandstrength.wordpress.com/2018/09/12/through-the-lens-of-grief/