Hope Women's Blog

THE GATHERING

Our theme for our upcoming Spring/Summer Gatherings is Seasons of Life. We are in many seasons of life....college, young moms, old moms, tired moms, grandmas, working women, retired women, grieving, celebrating, recently married or widowed or divorced, women with financial burdens, or family heartaches or healing physically or emotionally.

The longer we live the more seasons we go through and realize that it’s just that...a season, which by definition means a time characterized by a particular circumstance or feature.  Change is always just around the corner isn’t it?  I think all women everywhere can relate to the Bible verse about change in Ecclesiastes 3:1 that describes this...

There is a time for everything, and everything on earth has its special season. There is a time to be born and a time to die. There is a time to plant and a time to pull up plants. There is a time to kill and a time to heal. There is a time to destroy and a time to build. There is a time to cry and a time to laugh. There is a time to be sad and a time to dance. There is a time to throw away stones and a time to gather them. There is a time to hug and a time not to hug. There is a time to look for something and a time to stop looking. There is a time to keep things and a time to throw things away. There is a time to tear apart and a time to sew together. There is a time to be silent and a time to speak. There is a time to love and a time to hate. There is a time for war and a time for peace.

See even in Biblical times there were seasons of life.

As I look back on my life a number of Bible verses came to mind that helped me in different seasons. I have to admit I don’t have a lot of verses memorized but these I do and during the particular season they were my mantra.

In College Romans 8:38 For I know that neither death nor life nor angels nor demons, nor the present or the future, neither height nor depth or anything in all creation  (not even  mean girls or parties or grades or mistakes or homesickness) can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ.

In my season of infertility Habakuk 2:3 Slowly, surely, steadily the time approaches when the vision will be revealed.

In raising our child Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper and not to harm you.

Mission Trips-  Esther 4:14 and who knows that you have been put in this place for such a time as this.

Surgery and times of stress Romans 15:13 May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him.

As I look back I realize HE is always faithful by giving me HIS hand and a verse to cling to. But this verse is the one I have built my life around.  Romans 12:12 Be joyful in Hope, patient in affliction and pray at all times.

 

This month we are concentrating on the verse a Time to Speak / a Time to Listen

In April our focus will be on a Time to Laugh / a Time to Cry.

In June we will talk about a Time to Hurt / a Time to Heal.

And in July - we feature Dr. Eli Morris on a Time to Love / Time to Hate

Remember our Gatherings are on the last Monday night and Last Wednesday morning of March, April, June and July.

Written by Pam Bramlage

Posted by Women's Ministry at Tuesday, March 21, 2017

God is here with us in...Rest

Last week, I celebrated my birthday (insert party hat emoji).  It was virtually perfect in that it involved people, coffee, good food, rest, and a mani/pedi.  I loved every second of it (Thank you to everyone who made it so special!).

But as I’m sitting in those glorious massage chairs enjoying my birthday pedicure, I couldn't help but notice a ridiculously cute little girl (probably 5 or 6 years old) and her mom walk in.  The daughter wanted to get her nails painted and it was possibly the cutest thing ever.  But as I’m people watching, I'm caught off guard by this mom.  She was constantly getting distracted.  Work called.  Then emails. Then text messages.  She was glued to her phone.  And her sweet little girl sat all alone getting her nails painted.

 & Her mom had missed it.

Missed the conversations that could have been had with her daughter.  Missed sitting next to her and discussing the day.  Missed laughing and engaging with her daughter.  She missed it. Completely.

Now, I have to pause for a minute and confess; I am NOT knocking this mom.  I’m not judging or forcing my life rhythms on their family dynamic.  & Here’s why; there are a million different explanations to this scenario.  What the calls were about, why they were getting a manicure, or that this was just “one of those days” for this mom.  I get ALL OF THAT.

But, it was through witnessing this (somewhat hypothetical) experience I felt God nudging my spirit… BE PRESENT.  Be intentional. Stop getting distracted by your phone/emails/text message/tasks.  Ouch.  This lesson hurt... a lot.

Honestly, the reason this scenario resonated so well with me is because time and time again… I AM THIS MOM.  The distracted mom.  The busy mom.  The checked-out mom.  The tired mom.  The short-fused mom.  The "no-patience-left-at-the-beginning-of-the-day" mom.

Far too often, that’s me.  & I hate admitting this to you all… but it’s true.

Walking the fine line between work and motherhood has been challenging for me.  At times, I love it and am energized at the callings God has placed on my heart.  While other times, I am flat worn out from it all.  I’m tired of being pulled in a million different directions.  I’m tired of racing from one place to the next.  I’m tired of being yelled at by a 3 year old.  I’m tired of negotiations and food battles and the 5 hours it takes to leaves the house…

I’M. JUST. TIRED.

Insert Psalm 62:

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

What powerful words… “My soul finds REST in God.  He is my rock, my salvation, my fortress. I will not be shaken.

We’ve had a busy few weeks.  And I found myself desperately needing a day to do NOTHING. And that’s all I desperately desired for my birthday.  Well, that and really cute pair of clogs;) (just being real).  Fortunately, the stars aligned and I was blessed with such a day.  A day to sleep in and drink hot coffee and go on a run.

And on this day to do NOTHING; God gently reminded me that this day of doing “nothing...” Of rest.  Of prayer. Of reading. Of fully enjoying a day… yea, it’s in the 10 commandments.

Exodus 20:8-11 (NLT)

Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.

Sabbath. Rest. God mandated it.  He knew we (desperately) needed it.

To be honest, I've had some incredible role models/mentors that have set the bar high for this practice.  And it is something I’ve tried to protect and live.

But that’s the thing about the enemy.  He is sly and conniving and knows how to weasel his way into our most sacred times.  And he did on mine.  Slowly and steadily it started with a few emails I’d answer on my Sabbath.  And then a phone call or two.  Then it was a sermon I needed to tweak.  And then it was cleaning the house or grocery shopping (which are my top 2 Sabbath “NO’S”).

You get the point.  The next thing I knew I had a “sort of” day off.  And it slowly trickled into my personal life leaving me exhausted, checked-out, and short-fused.

So, rest, we need it.  We were designed for it. & God commanded it.

This week of Advent I am reminded of this importance practice and dwelling on PSALM 62:

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

I am allowing margin and space for my “soul to find REST in God.”  The breathing room needed to refocus and rest fully in God’s presence.

Over the years I’ve ebbed and flowed with how rigid or relaxed my Sabbath looks. And what I’ve landed on are a few practices that I try to do and not to do.  I don’t know what REST or Sabbath looks like for you but I encourage you to establish some rhythms of rest.  To begin practicing the art of stopping and tuning into God. 

My prayer is that our souls find REST in the Lord this season.  In the practice of slowing down.  In being still.  In tuning our hearts and minds to hear God’s voice.

& Ultimately, in letting the words of our heart cry, "Truly my soul finds rest in God."

by Jessica Morris
If you would like to read more from Jessica Morris, visit her at http://www.jessicahmorris.com

Posted by Women's Ministry at Thursday, December 22, 2016

God is with us...Even when the Excitement has Subsided

Her eyes sparkled as she ripped open the red paper Santa’s elves had so carefully wrapped around the box. The American Girl doll she’d been asking for all year sat waiting inside the clear, plastic covering and watched my daughter's expectant smile release excited squeals of happiness upon revelation of the gift. Butterflies the doll set flight in her stomach continued fluttering for a few minutes as she lovingly combed the silky, brown hair and set her up for a tea party.

That is … until the next, unopened gift was handed over and excited squeals escaped her lips when other gifts pulled her attention away from the doll.

Sure, since last Christmas, the doll has been loved and played with many times … however, more often than not, it lays abandoned in the bedroom corner in exchange for the latest and greatest toy crossing my daughter’s path.

I see the (expensive) doll laying carelessly in the corner of her room and think about the excitement it initially brought her this time last year, and how now … well, it has become normal … even boring to her. I vow to not let “Santa” provide such an expensive gift this year that will be so easily discarded.

I think about how perfect the doll was - no, is - for her.

She loves playing “mommy” and it is the perfect baby to pretend to feed with a bottle.
She loves playing fashion designer and AmericanGirl.com offers a wide variety of clothing options.
She has fair skin and thick dark hair and the doll was picked out specifically to match her complexion and hair color … created in her image.

But now it lays mostly abandoned, used only when it fills a need for a game she just happens to be playing. Her immaturity and distracted nature leave the poor doll laying in the corner most days. The joy it brought has subsided and she moves around from toy to toy, knowing she can always go back to the doll … when it suits her.

As I stare at the doll, it strikes me I often treat Jesus this way.

The giddiness of an answered prayer, the revelation of His presence, or the newness of our faith subsides, and Jesus becomes … well, normal and our faith eventually dull.

Though when I think about it, He was - no, is - so perfect for me … for us.

I think about how He is the perfect parent, feeding us with bread from heaven. (John 6:32)
How He clothes us in not just physical clothing (Genesis 3:21), but also in strength and dignity. (Proverbs 31:25)
How He created us to match Him … in His image. (Genesis 1:27)

He perfectly fits every need, every want, every crack or hole in our lives.

So how have we let him lay abandoned inside our Bibles on the corner table, only reaching for Him when we attend a church service or grabbing at Him when He can fill a need or want?

I think about my daughter’s immature and distracted nature with her toys and that American Girl doll. I am no different … we, as sinful humans are no different. We are Jesus’ daughters, who, as much as we hate to admit it, are often immature and distracted, only remembering what is so Perfect for us when it’s needed.

Our busy lives, filled with so many blessings and gifts, often distract us from the best and most expensive Gift of all, even during the time we are supposed to be celebrating it.

 …you were bought at a price…” (1 Corinthians 6:20a)

The excitement of Christmas is often short-lived, but the thrill of God is forever. He is still there, as beautiful and exciting as He was when we first unwrapped our gift of salvation from Him.

“For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” (Psalm 100:5)

Let’s bring this thrill back to our everyday lives. When we recognize Him laying in the corner of our room with us, let’s invite Him back into the game of life and allow the thrill of His perfectness to fill us with joy.

“Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” (Psalm 47:1)

by Kristin Funston
If you would like to read more from Kristin Funston, visit her at www.kristinfunston.com

Posted by Women's Ministry at Wednesday, December 21, 2016

God is with us in...Our Singleness

Scrolling through some of my old text messages, you might or might not find this, “Hey Friend! Today is November 1st, I’m laying down for a nap. Will you please wake me up on January 2nd?” Hahah!  You’re probably wondering why would I want to take such a LONG nap? Well, the truth is, the holiday season can be really hard on a single woman. Whether you’ve never been married or single again, the holidays can be a constant reminder that you’re living life without “a partner.” And, that can be painful. So, to remedy that, you can either take a really long nap (as I’ve considered) or choose to act in your singleness.

Here are some mind shifts that help me.  

#1: Sometimes being single is lonely….and that is OK!

Often times, we feel lonely so we fill our schedules with people and things to fill that void. And/or we’ll look to married couples and romanticize being in a relationship. Instead, I have learned that when I am lonely the best thing I can do is say, “I feel lonely” and sit in it for a second (not a few seconds, but one.) When I finally accept how I am feeling, I turn to God and tell him. “God, I feel lonely. I feel alone. Will you please remind me that You are ALWAYS with me and send me people to be your physical presence?” In those moments, I am reminded that I am not at all alone and God is with me. And often times I find that there are people there with me, too.

#2: (This is mainly for my never married friends.) There is a purpose for your singleness and it is not solely to prepare you for marriage.

God uses EVERY part of our lives to sanctify us; to make us like Him. That means, God is using your time as a single woman to refine you to show you that He loves you and is with you. Therefore, your singleness is really for your good and God’s glory. Here’s the deal- God uses both singleness and marriage to make us like Him and He has never said that He loves one process or one stage (married or single) more.

#3 Take Romans 12:15 Seriously!

Romans 12:15 says, “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” I long for a husband and children. However, the Lord has not yet given either of those to me. As I pray and wait, I have learned how to be happy for those who have gotten those gifts. I know it is VERY hard, but it really helps. I have learned how to put myself in the shoes of a new mom or a newlywed and think of how it would feel to be in that position and praise God with them for their blessing. When a friend shares that she is expecting, I have learned how to thank God and rejoice with her. In doing this, I am focusing on God’s goodness not just to me but to His children and reminded that He blesses. It also helps me to build closer bonds with those around me because we are celebrating together. That is the gift we get as single women. We don’t have the pressure of marriage, but we do have the ability to share in others’ joys. It’s up to us if we wish to accept the gifts that God has given us or if we want to send it back for someone else’s. God loves us and God is with us even in singleness. It’s our choice to welcome Him in.

by Tori Griffith

Posted by Women's Ministry at Tuesday, December 20, 2016

God is with us in...Transition and Change

I once heard, “living things grow; growing things change.

Transition or change doesn’t just happen. It’s usually a process. As much as we hunger and cry out to God for or against it, when transition comes and change begins, it can be unsettling.

You see, Jesus’ entire life was all about transition. While His ministry grew, people’s lives changed. He continually witnessed an altering world to those who followed Him.

After the crucifixion and the resurrection, Jesus’ disciples knew what it meant to live life daily in transition and change. In scripture, Jesus leaves His devoted men He had been teaching to the past three years. They too were filled with anxiety. They had gotten through Jesus’ crucifixion; then they had to get through the resurrection; then He presented himself alive over a period of 40 days. Finally, Jesus is taken away again, creating another moment of fear and frustration and yet another transitional moment.

But for Jesus transition wasn’t unsettling, it was an anointed process that only He could begin and finish. It involved the redeeming and final transition when He went to the cross. In fact, when we look at the word transition...we get it from the word “trans...meaning cross”.

The tree became the cross, the nails became the entry, His wounds became our sins, His blood became our cleansing, and then Jesus Himself, became the very transition that changed the world forever.

When we complain about changes in which we were not anticipating or unexpected news that shakes us to the core...we look to the Unchanging One. Jesus reminds us to honor the space between no longer, and not yet to be...

by Judy Hrubes

Posted by Women's Ministry at Monday, December 19, 2016

God is with us in...Embracing the Tension

As women, we will inevitably face tension in life.  The tension of being single, married, a mom, divorced, widowed, a grandmother… each of these roles involves an unbelievable joy but also carries with it some type of tension and conflict with our role and calling.  Whether it’s in our career, home, family, calling, giftings, or season in life.

I am a woman, semi-young, who is a pastor, mom of 2 amazing daughters (under 3 years old), working “part-time,” living in the city of Memphis and crazy about Christ.  Each of these roles involves a different type of tension. 

So often in my life I want to fight the tension. 

I want to run from where God is calling me because of fear, or what people say I should (or shouldn’t) do, or frankly because I am scared to death.  But time and time again I am learning to not run or hide or avoid the tension but instead to embrace it.  Embrace the tension of agreeing to disagree, of being a woman in ministry, and a working mom and all of the other reasons I have on why I am not good enough/qualified enough/anything enough for where God is calling me to go.

All of it is tough.  Really tough.  But in the midst of the tension I am learning more about who I am and really who Christ is IN ME. 

Because at the end of the day, it was and is never really about me.  It’s about Christ.  It’s about Christ working in me. 
It’s about Christ using me in my weakness and insecurities, and exhaustion to be glorified. 

So often when I tell people my story of being in seminary, pursuing ordination, having kids, and completing the ordination process while pregnant and then with a 6 week old they look at me like a have three eyes or an extra limb and ask “how on earth did you do all that?!” 

And my answer is always the same… I didn’t.  Christ did IN ME. 

And I feel like He had to take me through this impossible circumstance to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the only way I got through it was because of God.  And that’s how he wanted me to begin my ministry.  By shining through my weakness. 

What a powerful testimony of grace, sufficiency, and wholeness being not in our strength, ability, or power but in Christ alone.

And what a beautiful reminder this Christmas season

That it’s not about me, my power, my strength to hold it all together but about allowing Christ to shine through me in ALL I do.  So how is God with me in the tension… simple, he just is.  He walks though me in the easy, tough, complicated, confusing, and tension of trusting and yet living in impossible circumstances.

So take the step to simply embrace the tension of this life and know that no matter the circumstances, the challenges, the pain, confusion that Christ is WITH US. 

Every year that’s what gets me the most about the Christmas story… that Christ came down from a beautiful, safe, secure throne to be here with us. 

To do life with us.

To walk alongside us. 

& To pick us up when we don’t get it right. 

What an unbelievable tension; the God of the universe, entered into His creation, as an innocent child, who would grow up to be the savior of the world.

Amen for such amazing grace.

by Jessica Morris
If you would like to read more from Jessica Morris, visit her at http://www.jessicahmorris.com

Posted by Women's Ministry at Sunday, December 18, 2016

God is with us in...loss

I am SCARED of Christmas.

Yes, you read it right, I am sometimes scared of Christmas. Just the thought of the season can bring on pain. Now, to my Jesus loving friends that probably doesn’t make much sense, how could one who loves Jesus have fear surrounding the celebration of His birth?

Well, for me, Christmas was always my favorite holiday-family, food, and GIFTS! But, in 2008 my best friend and favorite Christmas season buddy, my grandmother, "grandma," passed away. She and I had so much fun and made so many memories during the season. S o when she passed away, every feeling about the season changed. What used to be a time of celebration and fun reminded me of one of the hardest things I ever had to face-- losing my best friend.  The season became less about Jesus and more about not having my her.  

I assume this fear is similar to that of King Ahaz in Isaiah 7. King Ahaz was heading into a battle against an army that he was confident would destroy him. To calm his fear, the Lord told Isaiah to tell him that He would give King Ahaz a sign to give Him strength to get through this time of fear. It is here that Isaiah gives one of the strongest Old Testament prophesies of Jesus Christ, "Therefore the Lord himself will give a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (God is with us)."

It is in the very mention of His name, Immanuel, that I am reminded that the pain of my loss is not foreign to God. This passages gives me strength, as it did King Ahaz, to fight the fear of pain that comes with the season. I have now learned how to accept the pinch of pain that I feel when I miss my grandmother and trust in God's promise; even though grandma isn't here with me- He is

If you’ve experienced loss and the Christmas season reminds you of the loss of a loved one, remember that God is with you. Feeling the pain of a loved one is good, it reminds us that our hearts still work. But as you embrace the loss don’t forget to accept what God has given you- a love that never fails and is always with you. That's the hope and promise in birth of Jesus Christ. God is with us, even in loss.  

by Tori Griffith

 

 

 

Posted by Women's Ministry at Saturday, December 17, 2016

God is with us in...Willing surrender

As Thanksgiving approached, I started looking for a book with an advent theme. I wanted something focused on the Christmas story to start preparing my heart for the season. I settled on Timothy Keller’s Hidden Christmas.  I want to share some of his ideas and the way that they have changed my view on Mary.

You see, we like to look on the story of Mary being visited by the angel Gabriel with the same eyes we have always seen it. You know, the story in Luke 1 - the angel appears and tells her what is going to happen, she is afraid at first, naturally. Then she asks, “how will this be? I am not married." Then the angel tells her the Holy Spirit will take care of the details. (Which would totally freak out most grown women, let alone a teenager. Mary must have been super mature. A good quality to have to be the mother of God born in the flesh.) 

Then we get to what I want to focus on - Luke 1:39.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Tim Keller makes these points, which rocked my view of Mary…

  • Mary’s response wasn’t blind obedience.
  • She wasn’t just giving in under pressure.
  • She wasn’t doing it because God holds all the cards.
  • She wasn’t saying, "Well God, you will win anyway and I guess I have no other choice.”

She was grounding her obedience in the reality that He is God and He deserves our service.

He goes on to say that to do His will and not our own you have to be able to answer yes to 2 questions:

1)      Are you willing to obey anything the Bible clearly says to do, whether you like it or not?

2)      Are you willing to trust God in anything He sends into your life, whether you understand it or not?

If you can’t answer yes to both, then you may believe in Jesus, but you have never said, like Mary,  “I am your servant.”

Ouch, Tim. That stings. But he may be right.

And that is where Tim Keller wrecked me and my view of Mary.

She didn’t just go along with the plan. She had willing obedience. She said yes because God deserves the yes. Whether she liked the circumstances or not (and I’m guessing she didn’t). It wasn’t just part of the Christmas story between the angel and the manger. Her willing obedience changed her life (and ultimately our's).

My prayer for you (and for me) this Christmas season is that we find the kind of faith Mary had. Faith that has willing obedience to serve God, not because we have to, but because He so deserves our service.

by Emily Matthews

 

Posted by Women's Ministry at Friday, December 16, 2016

God is with us in...There's Always Something

I stood in front of the book rack at the library because it’s where I can breathe.

I scanned the titles and the covers, lost in the possibilities of what lies inside a good book…the story, the characters, the setup-conflict-resolution. A perfectly constructed sentence that unlocks a new way of seeing something that I didn’t even know was important and it becomes the lesson my soul was aching to grasp.

I scan novels that promise gritty, dark plot turns and shifty characters and then my eyes well up because I can’t take any more, there’s enough hard in my world to make me not want any books to open up any other ideas, any more stories that will remind me that no matter who, no matter what, I live in the grown up world with grown up problems. So I follow my children into the kids’ section, my fingers grazing over stories that have always been a hiding place and a home base, and I long to get away from my real world because there is one thing that’s true of all of us:

There’s always something.

Right when you think you’ve got things figured out, right when you think I AM THE WOMAN WHO HAS FIGURED OUT BALANCE, right on the day when the outfit is perfect and your hair looks good and the kids smiled on the way to school and you aren’t fighting with your husband and you accomplish something at work–right on that day there will STILL be something.

I keep thinking, no matter how many times I learn, that I can avoid the something, that I can be strong enough or good enough or smart enough to sneak away from the grown up problems, that I can be Encyclopedia Brown or Ramona or Pippi or Laura in the Big Woods and there my something won’t exist.

I keep thinking the something is the obstacle and God keeps whispering that it’s my opportunity.

Choosing faith over worry.

Choosing surrender over bitterness.

Choosing to lean in rather than push away.

Choosing to live in this day rather than in the what-ifs that always, always tempt me down dark rabbit trails.

So friend, I know you are in your something right now. You are in it and you don’t know if you can make it through it. Maybe you, like me, are crying a little about the grown up world with grown up problems. Maybe you are wishing for your own Ramona story but you are stuck with a sink full of dishes, a desk full of bills, a family full of problems and a tomorrow full of doubt.

It’s your something. It’s my something

I came across this verse again this week and it struck me fresh:

Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that He exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. –Hebrews 11:6

In the midst of my something, the something that threatens to steal my joy, here lies this promise. God could not have set the bar lower for faith.

He wants us to believe in him, to believe him.

It starts with the lowest bar ever for a relationship: “live like I’m real.” He makes it the one-two punch of faith: believe I’m real and believe I want to love you. Believe I want to bring reconciliation to your life. Believe I want to make you whole in the midst of your something–not outside or after or around your something–right in the midst of your something.

Seek him. Earnestly seek him. Seek him with your first waking breath and your last evening sigh. Seek him in the night when you wake up with worry. Seek him when you are sitting at a stoplight, when you are folding socks, when you are eating lunch. Ask him to show himself to you. Tell him you know He’s real and that he wants to show you His love in your life–today. Seek him because he promises that you will find him, that you can know him, that he has been there, will be there and is right here in the something.

Go be brave.

Go be just brave enough for today.

by Nicole Unice

Posted by Women's Ministry at Thursday, December 15, 2016

God is with us in...Our Imperfection

The holidays can be a time when we tend to struggle with perfection.  We want to decorate our house just right, stringing up those Christmas lights and adorning the mantle.  We buy the perfect gifts for our friends and family and wrap them in the perfect packages.  We cook the perfect meal and set the perfect table.  It’s okay to find enjoyment in these things, but when the focus is on perfection and performance, we lose sight of what we are truly celebrating, God’s perfect gift to us, Jesus. 

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” 2 Corinthians 5:21

Every Christmas, I am amazed at how our loving Father sent his son to earth in the form of a baby, knowing full well that this child would grow to suffer and die one day.  As a mother, I can’t imagine knowing all along that there would be such grief ahead for my child.  He had to die so we could live, though.  He became the propitiation for our sins, which means He literally took our place.  Righteousness became attainable for us through his sacrifice.  We don’t have to be perfect because He is.  We are good because of the blood He shed for us, not because we’ve created a Pinterest-worthy Christmas.  Not because we’ve followed all the rules.  Not because we’ve done all the volunteering at church.  Not even because we’ve been benevolent, serving, or charitable.  We are good only because we are loved by the King.  And he loves us fiercely in our imperfection.

 “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves but our competence comes from God.  He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit, for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:5-6

There is no life in trying to be perfect.  But in embracing and understanding God’s great grace, there is unending freedom!  The grace of Christmas is this:  that God saw you in your imperfection and loved you anyway.  He loved you enough to send his only Son to be with you.  He loves you enough to call you His own child.  He loves you in your struggle to understand Him.  He loves you in the victories and the failures.

And He made you his minister.  YOU.  Imperfect you.  He has made you perfect at sharing His love, because His light shines through your imperfection.  I pray that you may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, who came down to be with you at Christmas.

by Misty Smith

Posted by Women's Ministry at Wednesday, December 14, 2016

God is with us...Even When Others are Not

My holidays don’t look anything like I thought they ever would.

Sure, there are the Christmas trees, the lights, the music, the food, my children and other loved ones. I’m surrounded by family, friends and, for the most part, a sense of peace and happiness.

But someone is missing.

Someone I always thought would be there. Someone who was a key piece to not just the holiday puzzle but the family one. It doesn’t feel right, but the holidays have continued on without them, and there is nothing I can do to stop it - nothing I can do to add them back into the mix.

Are you missing someone this holiday season, too?

It’s hard. When one piece of the equation is missing, it just doesn’t feel complete. The math just doesn’t add up, and the answer is obviously wrong without them. Maybe there’s been a death. Or an estrangement. Or maybe just the busyness of life - work, other family obligations - is keeping that someone from being with you this Christmas.

Even if we understand why it happens, it’s still hard, and it still hurts.

But Jesus.

Jesus came on Christmas morning to fill the missing void our souls need. He is the proverbial  “X” in the equation of the holidays … the equation of life. Everything always comes back to “X”.

When we have a hole, Jesus fits perfectly in that spot, no matter the shape of it. But, we must look for Him to fill it.

A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12, MSG)

Sure, it’s easy to find Jesus at Christmas time; he’s everywhere - in store windows, on mainstream radio holiday songs, laying in plastic, light-up mangers in the neighbors’ yards. But do we really see, even feel, His presence?

Luke chapter two says, “This is what you’re to look for…

Are we actively looking for Him when our souls are sad, lonely, or angry?

Because He’s already here. He’s waiting to fill that void. He gave Himself for this reason.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11, ESV, emphasis added)

Yes, He is in store windows, on mainstream radio and laying in plastic mangers. But more importantly, He is whispering love on our left while the empty chair to our right shouts silence. If we let Him, He will wrap His arms around us whole being as we wrap our heads around our pierced heart.

So when we’re grieving, understand the intensity of our pain is equated to the dimension of our love, and use it to draw us closer to others, who are still present, in a godly way. The best way to combat our ache is to look out at others’ needs. Let’s look around and be the answer to the needs, even the wants, of others.

Cook a meal for the person who always cooks.
Write a note of appreciation to the person always under-appreciated.
Invite someone else who is also aching to spend the holidays with us.

When we fill the proverbial cup of others’ lives, we will witness Jesus’ presence, and answer the missing “x” from our holiday equation.

            “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, ESV)

by Kristin Funston
If you would like to read more from Kristin Funston visit her at www.kristinfunston.com

Posted by Women's Ministry at Tuesday, December 13, 2016

God is with us in...a change of plans

Has God ever changed your plans?  

Maybe you’ve had your life interrupted with a situation outside your plan. 

Has anyone else ever wondered what God was doing in your circumstances? 

Perhaps you’ve doubted that God has a good plan for your life.

I can’t think of anybody who can help us answer those questions better than Mary.  Things didn’t go exactly as planned for her either. 

Let’s consider Mary’s circumstances.  She was engaged to be married and looking forward to her wedding.  She was 16 years old and was probably like most brides --day dreaming about her wedding ---- imagining her family and friends celebrating with her.  Like any bride, she had real emotions as she anticipated her wedding day.  In the middle of all her preparation an angel comes along and says, “By the way, God has a new plan for you.  Don’t be afraid - but you’re going to have a child before the wedding and it’s not going to be Joseph.  It’s going to be a miracle because it will be a virgin birth.  And by the way, you are going to give birth to the Son of God.”

How does Mary respond to her situation

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke 2:19 (NASB)

The whole idea of remembering was key for Mary when she responded to her circumstances. 

But it’s not just about remembering it’s more about how she remembered. 

She remembered by “treasuring up” and “pondering” the events of her life.  We don’t use the words “treasured up” or “pondering” very often in our everyday vocabulary, so we need to gain some understanding about what they mean.  When it says that Mary “treasured up” all these things it means that she was careful to preserve the things that happened to her.  The idea is that she carefully kept them close and safe by protecting and guarding them. 

To “treasure up” means to hold, or to savor in one’s memory.

The other thing Mary did was to ponder the things that happened to her.

To ponder in this context means to put one thing with another in considering your circumstances.  

Mary absolutely, carefully filed away each and every detail, about each and every event that had happened with Jesus’ birth.  It’s like she knew every aspect of what happened was incredibly special, so she protected each memory down to the last detail.   But Why? Because she knew there was a divine design to it all.  And so, she kept pondering and reflecting and considering what all these events meant.  It’s like she kept conferring within herself what it all could mean. 

Mary knew there was a divine design to all these events even though she didn’t totally understand what it all meant.

If you are in a season where your life has been interrupted with a situation outside your plan or if you are doubting that God has a good plan for your life, my prayer is that you will be like Mary.  May the Lord help you “treasure up and ponder” God’s work in your life as you trust God’s divine plan. 

by Mary Ann Ruff

 

Posted by Women's Ministry at Monday, December 12, 2016

God is with us in...Our Uncertainty

“The angel came to [Mary] and said, ‘You are honored very much.  You are a favored woman.  The Lord is with you.  You are chosen from among many women.  Mary, do not be afraid.  You have found favor with God.  See!  You are to become a mother and have a Son.  You are to give Him the name Jesus.”  Luke 1:28,30

Imagine the uncertainty of Mary after the angel Gabriel visited her and told her that God would perform a miracle to place his very Son inside her womb!  I’d imagine there were so many questions running through her mind.  Me?  Am I fit for this?  What will others think?  How will this happen?  How will I care for God himself?

But God was with her in her uncertainty.  And He provided for her needs before she could even ask. 

“For your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:8

He knew the fears that would run through her mind as the angel approached her.  He knew she would question her own ability, and to that he said, “You are honored, you are favored, you are chosen!”  He knew she would be afraid and feel alone and to that He said,”Do not be afraid.  The Lord is with you.”  He reminded her of who she was and of who He is.

We all face uncertainties, big ones and small ones, in the day to day and even in the long term.  Learning from how our loving Father encouraged Mary in her uncertainty, we can remind ourselves of who we are as new creations in Christ: 

Holy.

Beloved.

Chosen.

Favored. 

When we are confident in who we are, we have courage to face the unknown.  And even when we forget who we are, there is always who He is.  He is constant.  He never changes.  He is our Rock and Redeemer.  He is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

In the midst of uncertainty, we have a counselor to advise us, a Mighty God to fight for us, a Father whose love never ends, and a Prince who is working for peace in our hearts and in the world.  Today, I encourage you to remember who you are, who He is, and that He has already provided for your needs.  Indeed, He is with you in your uncertainty.

by Misty Smith

Posted by Women's Ministry at Sunday, December 11, 2016

God is with us in...His Word

Christmas is a magical time of year. But the thing about the "holiday season.” and I mean from Thanksgiving to Christmas, is that it highlights all problems we have. We may be able to stuff our feelings or ignore our hurts for the rest of the year but Christmas puts a spotlight on it. Family dysfunction. Loved ones lost. Estranged family. Loneliness. Regret. Helplessness to "fix" the people around us (or ourselves) who are hurting.

I don't have the solution to all of those issues, but I do have something you can do about it. Pray. And specifically pray God's word. When you don't know what else to do about a situation, a conflict, a hurt- pray. And I'm going to make this easy because the last thing we need to take on in the busiest time of the year is more "to do" on our to-do lists.

So I encourage you to spend some time in prayer for yourselves and those around you this advent season. Prayer has a way to lighten your load. 

*You may find it helpful to print this out and tuck in your bible or journal.

Lord, help ________, trust you with all their heart.  Proverbs 3:5

Lord, may ___________ not be anxious about anything and pray about everything and guard _________ 's heart and mind. Philippians 4:6-7

Lord, do not let ____________worry about anything. Just as you take care of the flowers in th field, you care for him/her. You know what he needs and if he seeks your kingdom it will be given to ________. Luke 12:27-30

Lord, when _________ feels burdened, give him/her rest.  Matthew 11:28

Lord, give _________ peace at all times and in every way, for you are the Lord of peace.   2Thessalonians 3:16

Lord, help ________ cast all his/her cares on you and sustain _________, for you will never let the righteous be shaken.  Psalm 55:22

Lord, help _________ to be strong and courageous and not to be afraid because you are with _________ wherever they go. Joshua 1:9-10

Lord, may your unfailing love be ________'s comfort.   Psalm 119:76

God of hope, may __________ overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13

Lord, I pray that ________ would be committed to prayer and not lose heart or give up.   Luke 18:1

Lord, clothe ___________ with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Colossians 3:12

Lord, along with a great company of heavenly hosts, may ________ praise God this Christmas, saying, "Glory to God in the highest and peace to those on whom his favor rests".  Luke 2:13-14

by Emily Matthews

Posted by Women's Ministry at Saturday, December 10, 2016

God is with us in...Grace Expectations

Christmas has a way of bringing out all the warm and fuzzy feelings, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s the music, or the cozy fireplaces and white lights from the trees, or the hot cider warming our insides. Love shines bright around homes and cities everywhere.

But often, I find feelings of disappointment, overwhelmed exhaustion and anxiety bookend the warm and fuzziness radiating from the season. The Holiday To-Do List shouts impatience at me from its permanent perch at the fore-front of my mind with gifts to buy, the cookies to bake, the holiday parties to attend.

You too?

There’s a fine line where those bookends smack face-first into the love of the season. This is the line we step over when we set, or maybe even just simply hope for, unrealistic expectations.

When we expect more than is realistic, that is the tipping point in our when Christmas turns from celebrating the birth of our Christ to commanding the death of our holiday spirit.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-39, ESV, emphasis added)

Relationships. Both of these commandments are about relationships - love God, love others. Though the “as yourself” part sometimes trips me up. It feels weird, selfish, even un-Christian to love ourselves … especially during Christmas, when we’re supposed to focus on others.

However, God doesn’t expect us not to love ourselves. In fact, I would venture to say, based on this verse, that it’s okay to love ourselves. However, if we love ourselves, we will not set unrealistic expectations for the season that easily set us up for failure and disappointment. And certainly, we will not do that to others, either.

Want to know why we shouldn’t expect much? Because Jesus doesn’t.

Christ wants us to celebrate with him, to simply recognize and relish in what happened on that first Christmas morning - that miracle He performed in order to be with us in the flesh.

And the last time I checked, a “celebration” doesn’t equal a “to-do list.” In fact, Jesus doesn’t expect much out of us … if anything at all.

He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world. (1 Samuel 2:8)

He knows we are nothing more than dust without Him. He is the one who raises us up, who lifts the needy and sits us with royalty.

If all He expects from us is to love Him and love others, then why do we expect so much more from ourselves and others during this season? Why do we expect we can do all the things, give all the gifts and be all the places for our families, friends and co-workers? We can’t do it … at least not without losing our joy in the Christmas season.

So what if the greatest gift we can give to that entire list - to God, to others, to ourselves - is grace. Grace to not live up to expectations. Because when we offer grace, we offer Jesus.

And He is the Gift of the season.

Here are two simple steps you can take to extend grace today, before the holidays bog you down:

1)       Identify one expectation you have of yourself this holiday season, then release it and give yourself grace.

 Is it to handwrite lengthy Christmas cards to everyone in your address book?

Decide now you won’t do it and maybe send a sweet picture instead via email.

Is it to attend both your spouse’s and your work holiday parties in one weekend?

Pick one (or none!) and send your heartfelt regrets today.

2)       Identify one expectation you have of someone else this holiday season, then release it and give them grace.

 Is it for your husband to string lights over and around all the bushes and trees in your yard?

Tell him you’ve decided to simply light a candle in the window instead.

Is it for your children and grandchildren to make the long drive to visit on Christmas Day? Tell them you’re okay with visiting during a less hectic time or maybe pushing the visit to a couple days prior to Christmas or even after.

Offering grace to ourselves and to others offers Jesus. Offering grace to not live up to expectations is exactly what Jesus did for us when He arrived on Christmas morning some two thousand years ago. Jesus did not and does not expect us to be able to save ourselves, so He offered His grace and did it for us. So instead of great expectations, let’s offer grace expectations this Christmas.

by Kristin Funston
If you would like to read more from Kristin Funston visit her at www.kristinfunston.com

Posted by Women's Ministry at Friday, December 9, 2016

God is with us in...Shopping!

God is with us in the...Shopping!

Let me just say it...I don't like shopping!  This may sound Un-american or you may be thinking I am putting on the appearance that I am completely free from the love of "stuff". But believe me our house is full of stuff, and yes, we do continue to acquire more. However, the process of going in and out of stores, of making decisions and then parting with my money is not fun for me.

But shopping IS part of our life. We need food, clothing and shelfter, right?! In fact, one of my stay-at-home Mom friends once told me that the main part of her job description was: Procurement Specialist. Costco and Target have helped me overcome some of my shopping stress. Food, clothing and shelter (well, furniture and the decorative parts of the shelter) are all under one roof, for a fair price and can be easily returned. I can now fulfill the family role of procurement.

Until Christmas comes around... Somehow I get overwhelmed again trying to think of perfect, thoughtful gifts, put together beautifully, wraped and mailed to family all over the country. I impose all kinds of expectations on myself. And I fall deep into the materialistic trap of what the entire month of December has turned into (and sometimes sooner... I felt a panic seeing Christmas decorations filling the Target seasonal section, the day after Halloween).

I need to take a step back and keep Jesus in the season with me. Cause He is the Reason for the Season, right?
In Romans 13:5 we are reminded:
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have...
Yes... I want to do this, I want to have this perspective, but it is hard!
The second part of the verse is so helpful to me...
because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

Yes!! God is with us! We are not alone. He will never leave us! I can admit my struggles and issues and He will not leave me.  And a couple years ago, He reminded me that He will even go shopping with me!

It was the week after the Hope Women's Christmas dinner. Kim Hill had been the featured guest and I bought her CD: "Real Christmas" and put it in my only remaining CD player, the one in my car. Kim's voice took me back to my childhood and a memory of my Mom and I listening to Anne Murray on the Mike Douglas Show! (that was long before iPods or CD's. I think it was even before my first 8 track tape player!) And Kimsang songs of praise right in my car. Songs like: Angels We have Heard on High, O Come All Ye Faithful, O Holy Night, What Child is This?, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Silent Night, O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
Oh yes! Come Emmanuel (which is translated "God with us"). Hop in the minivan with me while I navigate parking lots and errands and shopping! And my new friend, Kim and I will sing to you.

The need to purchase gifts hasn't disappeared. And I don't buy everything on Costco.com and have it delivered. But I have continued the tradition of shopping with Jesus and singing in the car. It brings me peace, perspective and a renewed attitude.

by Melissa Fagan

 

 

Posted by Women's Ministry at Thursday, December 8, 2016

God is with us in...Martha Martha Martha

I love to entertain and fuss when guests are coming-it is fun for me! However, around the holidays it sometimes becomes all consuming as I get caught up in the details and I miss so much!

Last December I found myself on the couch in front of the Christmas tree recovering from foot surgery and unable to do the holiday twirl. It turned out to be the best Christmas season! I had time to truly reflect and enjoy just being present. My house still got decorated ( very simply), my family received their gifts(some were weird ), cards were mailed (with no notes) and  special treats were baked (not every holiday recipe)but I wasn’t  obsessed about having everything perfectly done.

As I approach this year’s holiday season I am reflecting on the lessons learned last December. Luke 10:38-42 says “...you are worried and upset about many things but only one is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her”.

This year I choose that one thing as I let details go not because I am forced too like last year but because I choose to. I plan to do some cooking  early and freezing it , more online shopping, decorating less and not sweating if I don’t have everything done.   I am going to take the time to experience the true meaning of Christmas... Jesus and Joy.

by Pam Bramlage

Posted by Women's Ministry at Wednesday, December 7, 2016

God is with us in...The stress

I get stressed just thinking about Christmas shopping and being on the lookout for those perfect presents.  Whether I’m shopping early or turbo shopping on Christmas Eve the hunt for the perfect gift is on.  To my delight arriving in my mailbox just a few weeks ago was “The Great Gift Guide” presented by Consumer Reports.  Surely amongst the pages of top rated products that perfect gadget will emerge. 

Even though I seek the perfect present; I’ve finally come to the realization that no matter how hard I look and how great the gifts are today eventually they’ll break, go out of style, or become obsolete.    

So this Christmas I want to put aside the stress of shopping and look between the pages of God’s consumer guide to find His Highest rated Christmas gift.  A gift guaranteed never to break, or go out of style, and is the same today and always.  Jesus is the Perfect gift from the Perfect giver.     

God is here with me this Christmas to take away the stress of the material and give the perfect peace of the eternal.   – Now that’s a gift - .

Thank God for his Son—his Gift too wonderful for words. 

2 Corinthians 9:15 (TLB)

by Laura Riggins

Posted by Women's Ministry at Tuesday, December 6, 2016

God is with us in...A Perfect Christmas (That's Already Happened)

Few things in life compare to the joy that the Christmas season brings to those of us who celebrate.  Many of us have spent the last few weeks shopping, wrapping, and cooking, and decorating to the sounds of Jingle Bells.  We even donate gifts of time and treasure to the less fortunate.  All of this is in preparation for celebrating the birth of Jesus.  There’s so much excitement and anticipation, all packaged in an oversized box of UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS. 

While our festive efforts have merit, sadly, they are a faulty focus.  My husband likes to call these unattainable expectations the “Martha Stewart Syndrome.”  If you have ovaries, you too might suffer from this - even if it’s the most wonderful time of the year! 

Keep your lives free from the love of money [stuff] and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  Hebrews 13:5

It is madness!  We place emphasis on worldly treasures and festivities.  It is so easy to get wrapped up in the holiday and forget about the “Reason for the Season,” because we try to make everything perfect (thanks to Martha Stewart and Pinterest).

By doing this we essentially turn ourselves AND the Christmas celebration into an IDOL. 

But their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands.  They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see.  They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell.  They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats.  Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. 

Psalm 115:4-8.

Imagine if Mary, Mother of Jesus, had Pinterest and also suffered from this syndrome?  She may have said, “No, that straw won’t do!  I need at least 300 count sheets.” “Joseph, this donkey needs to be groomed before I ride him….And the Inn Keeper, he didn’t set his tables correctly - the decor is so passé, what will Mother think?”

Mary surely had many anxieties beyond my imagination.  It’s a safe bet none of them were about the 12 Days of Christmas.  Why do we continue to do this to ourselves when there is so much more to focus on?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  Philippians 4:6 

Christmas is truly a magical time.  Especially when the little ones learn why we celebrate.  Remembering to place the birth of our Savior, Immanuel (God With Us), whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, left the glories of heaven in order to share himself with us.  That gift of his love and friendship will never be withdrawn from us.  He chose to be our friend forever. 

As long as this is at the center of our celebrations, our boxes of anxiety will feel much smaller and our gifts of contentment will be much grander.

by Rachel Pickel

Posted by Women's Ministry at Monday, December 5, 2016

God is with us in...The Waiting Room

I remember the day like it was yesterday.  Yet, it was nearly eight years ago.  We parked the car, walked toward an ominous brick building.  I had no idea where I was going,  I read the signs, followed the arrows until a room appeared that was marked, “The Waiting Room.”  I entered in.   The blood from my face began to drain as all my hopes faded and fears surfaced.  I approached the desk, checked in, and took a seat. 

HOW did I get here?  WHY am I here?  I don't like it here. 

It feels cold, sterile, uncertain and frightening.  There is a television in the waiting room.  It plays the same recorded message over and over.  It haunts me.   It is a glaring reminder of my time spent in the waiting room.

This is for you, precious one,  that will spend this Christmas season in a waiting room

The gospel of Luke tells  a story of a woman who spent many years in the waiting room.   Luke, who was a doctor himself, tells us this woman had spent twelve years suffering from an issue of blood.  She had tried everything within her power to be made well.  She had exhausted her finances on doctors and treatments that promised  hope, but left her hopeless.  According to the Levitical Law, she was unclean.  For twelve long years, she was unable to worship in the temple.   Not only that, but she was cut off from society.   Because she is considered unclean, she could not touch or be touched.  She was desperate, ashamed, broke, lonely and weary ….. her issue was blood. 

What issue is it in your life that has you waiting?  Lonely, uncertain, at the end of your resources, desperate???  

Maybe, like the lady from Luke 8,  you’ve lost your identity to your issue.  She is known only as The Woman with an Issue.  Perhaps you feel like that too?

Yet, out of the ashes of despair, faith was born.  This woman knows that if she can just touch the tassel of Christ’s garment, then she will be healed.  This woman’s faith in Christ propelled her to risk it all.  An unclean woman touching Jesus Christ.   She had a sincere faith in a powerful God!   A touch of God’s grace and she was immediately healed!  Jesus inquired as to who had touched Him, allowing  her to testify of her faith in Him.  She had entered the waiting room as the woman with an issue.  She left in peace, loved intimately and called “Daughter” by her Savior. 

You are not alone in the waiting room. 

Your issue does not define you. 

You don’t have to spend another day waiting.

Touch Jesus.

Luke 8:43-48

Leviticus 15:19-33

by Denise Vandersteeg

Posted by Women's Ministry at Sunday, December 4, 2016

God is with us in the...Big & small

I like the big.  Big picture, big vision, big adventure type stuff.  I live for it.  But far too often my laser focus on the “big,” causes me to easily overlook the small.  The small little blessings and steps of faith God calls me to each day.

I desperately want it to be about the big stuff.  The really big steps of faith, the really big callings in life.  But the longer I walk this journey with God, the more I am realizing that it’s less about the big and more about the small. 

The  S M A L L  steps of obedience to stop, to slow down and be still with our savior during the busy season. 

The  S M A L L  steps of selflessness when we know we need to adjust our plans to care for someone in need.

The  S M A L L  steps of faith in inviting someone new to church or a group or dinner with our family. 

Far too often I overlook the small steps trying to find the one big, giant step that God is calling me to take.

This season, I want to remember that God is here in the big AND the small.  And to focus on the small steps I can take to be more present with my family.  To be still during the Christmas parties, celebrations, family time, and millions and millions of church activities.

I desire to see the S M A L L  this season. 

Be changed in the  S M A L L 

Embrace the  S M A L L  .

I mean after all, isn’t the entire Christmas story about how God came as a S M A L L  child? Something so simple, innocent, and easily overlooked.

My prayer is to not overlook the small.  Invest in the small. Be obedient in the small. And to take the small steps of faith each day (& season) brings.

by Jessica Morris

Posted by Women's Ministry at Saturday, December 3, 2016

God is with us in...Making Memories

The clock is winding down and soon it will be Christmas.  The question I most often hear is:  Are you ready?  Are you ready for Christmas?  But I have another question for you to consider:

What will you remember about this Christmas?

As I look through my Photo Albums of Christmas pictures I have so many memories.  The fact that I have photo albums should tell you I’m old enough to have experienced a lot of Christmas’s. 

There is a picture of Amy in a Christmas tub with John pushing her into the lake by our house.  This picture makes me laugh because they are in college and still playing like they are kids.

There is the picture of our family Skyping with Molly on Christmas day because she was living in Spain. This picture reminds me of the ache in my heart because it had been 7 months since I had seen her. 

There is a picture of our family on Christmas morning in our apartment surrounded by boxes. This picture reminds me of how I struggled to accept the move to a new city so far away from our extended family.    

But I noticed something else when I looked at these pictures.  My memories consist of both good and difficult times. Even though I remember the struggle and sadness in some of these circumstances, there were also some good memories.   

Even though Molly couldn’t celebrate Christmas with us, she experienced Christmas in another culture with new friends.

Even though we were crowded in a little apartment, our family got to enjoy one whole day together.      

How do we make memories in all circumstances? There are four words in the 1 Thessalonians 5:8 (NASB) that can help us shape our memories

In everything give thanks.   I Thessalonians 5:8 (NASB)

It says to give thanks in everything not for everything. 

Even though we might not be thankful for the situation, we can find something in the situation to thank God for.  We need to change our focus. Instead of looking at these pictures and seeing what I didn’t have, I could change my focus and see what I did have. But we need to be intentional because being thankful doesn’t happen naturally.   

What if you were intentional about thanking God for what you do have?  Our memories are being made by what we choose to focus on. 

Here’s an idea. Between now and Christmas take one picture each day of something or someone you are thankful for.  You don’t have to put your pictures in an album, but wherever you save it, you will be creating memories one day at a time. 

What will you remember about this Christmas?

by Mary Ann Ruff

Posted by Women's Ministry at Friday, December 2, 2016

God is with us in...Enough

I strung the Christmas lights in the rain. In the dark. Strung might be a strong word for what amounted to wrapping four strands of lights around our stair railings. When I stepped back to check out my work, my son called the finished product “chaotic.”

But God’s been teaching me about enough this year. Enough, as in “not perfect”.

Good Enough.
Bright Enough.
Done Enough.

Enough doesn’t come easily to me. I don’t like enough. I like perfect. I like a clean living room and beautiful cookies. I like packages tied up in string and snowflakes and mittens because these are a few of my favorite things except that my living room has two sick children and various medicines and drinks scattered around it. The cookies aren’t beautiful because kids actually like to make cookies and they don’t turn out like the magazines. And there aren’t any snowflakes and even if there were, I wouldn’t be able to find two matching mittens for anyone.

There’s not that many Christmas songs about that reality–my reality, and I bet yours too.

But sometimes enough has to be, well, enough. I couldn’t find the Christmas candles for the windows this year, so those four strands of lights, when I remember to turn them on, light up about 10 feet of our house.

I didn’t get to the Christmas card this year, either. The thought of all those steps–pictures and labels and stamps and the addresses–I just couldn’t find the energy to do it.

I wanted to do an advent devotional every night this year. We’ve done it three times. We did a dramatic reading of the first 20 verses of Luke. We didn’t get any further.

All of these are experiences can make me feel “not good enough” or I can put my own foot down on my own perspective and say,  E N O U G H.

Enough says I will NOT lament my ten feet of chaotic light strands. I’ll just enjoy the light they bring.

Enough says the Christmas card can be next year, because I really just want to make dinner, snuggle with the little one and watch Home Alone for the fifteenth time. I can decide, “this is good enough.”

Enough is always the answer for the things of this world that we try to manage, create and control. We are finite and limited and bump up again our own enoughs but instead of pressing beyond our own limits and pretending that perfection is not only possible but desirable, we can stop. We are, in fact, human. And limited.

But Jesus told Paul, when he faced his weaknesses: “My grace is sufficient for you.” Jesus declared to Paul and to all of us who seek Him: “my power is made perfect in your weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Perhaps there is a message for all of us in our need to say enough. Perhaps we are reminded that God brought his perfect son to break into this ordinary world, to live a humble life, die a sacrificial death and usher in the most improbable and unbelievable revolution of love that the universe has ever seen. In our ordinary bumps and falls, in our limits and in our fragility, Christmas is like God’s way of saying “I know. But I’ve got a plan. I’ll be more than enough.”

From one imperfect person to another, from one desperate-grace-receiver to another, I wish you a Merry Christmas full of ordinary moments, imperfect memories and the joy and wonder of the freedom that grace gives us to declare enough.

by Nicole Unice

Posted by Women's Ministry at Thursday, December 1, 2016