When Things Change and Stay the Same

In the middle of things moving, changing, and transforming, some things still stay the same.

iris

This flower came from one set of grandparents and years ago went to my other set of grandparents farther away. We were with those grandparents a couple weeks ago, and they offered for us to take the plant home. We didn’t at first, but as we were driving off, we turned around, went back, and dug up this iris to make the trek home and be planted in our own yard instead.

It’s an important piece of my family’s history. It means even more now as our family has experienced a lot of changes. Some good; some difficult.

One plant. Two families. Three homes.

It amazes me how it somehow survives all the uprooting and replanting, and can bloom again, after a season of growth underneath the surface.

Sometimes something so delicate can also be strong and resilient, and it makes change full of potential instead of a treacherous risk. Even though the roots are dug up and moved all over again, they were created with the potential to dig deep into what brings life, no matter if the scenery around it looks a little different each time, and we can know it will blossom again.

But it needs space to get its footing. It needs to stay grounded in what is True and constant, unwavering and unchanging.

When we find ourselves there, we are enabled to go anywhere and flourish. We learn to love more. Bring more joy. Explore new places where we’re needed and step forward in the way we are called to go.

It mirrors the hope of new life. What was once dead will live again – of this we can be sure. No matter what changes or where we go, this hope does not change. It cannot be taken away. It will not disappoint.

So we can step forward in any direction we’re led, as everything rushes by and when we wakeup that one day where we realize today looks nothing like yesterday. Things changes, but on what remains the same is where we fix our eyes.

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Turning “Why?” into “What Now?” [Guest Post]

I’m so excited to share today’s guest post with you, from Jen Weaver! She is a wonderful writer and I love what she has to say. I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I did! You can check out her book, A Wife’s Secret to Happiness, here.
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I like to ask “why?” As a young child, I’d torment my loving parents with my favorite questions on repeat all the live long day. But why? How come?

The sky is blue. How come?

You can’t drink milk with a fork. But why?

Your sister needs a nap. How come?

Mommy needs a nap. But why? Because Mommy’s tired. How come?

As an adult with a toddler of my own, I’ve acquired a greater appreciation for my parents’ patience. And, I’ve come to realize, I still like to ask “why?”

My inquisitive nature carries perks. I’m skilled at research, and I love learning. But other times it keeps me stuck in the past. I start the how come debate because I assign blame, especially when it comes to my marriage.

  • Married life isn’t what I expected.
  • I don’t feel connected to my husband right now.
  • Why aren’t we on the same page?

Sure, I’ll have mature moments of self-inspection and repentance for the less-than-helpful roles I’ve played. But most of the time, my first thoughts turn to what Jared is doing wrong. Why are things the way they are? Him.

Or I’ll consider struggles we’ve faced, some I assume are much harder than those of my friends. How come we’re in this tough spot, and their path seems so much easier?

I can doubt God’s plan for our relationship in the midst of a cold, lonely season.

I mistrust His provision in a time of great loss.

And I’ve found the Lord is not intimidated by my messiness. He doesn’t shrink back from doubts and fears, but longs to stand there with me as I wrestle with my wonderings. Even when I’m hurt, or confused, God welcomes the discussion.

Even still, I can’t let why be my final destination. My assessment of the past and appraisal of my current circumstances must lead me to action.

What now?

  • I’m in this unwanted place/season/situation.
  • I’m experiencing less than a full, free, abundant life.
  • My relationship could use a bit more of God’s presence and favor.

What now?

Each time my dialogue with Jesus reaches that pivotal transition, I make way for Him to minister to my heart in a new way.

I may not understand why. Some of these circumstances may plague me at no fault of my own. But Lord, what do you want me to do now?

I can’t begin to tell you how much Jesus loves this new list of questions. When I turn from pointing fingers, I get to partner with Him in the next steps. If you find yourself in a prolonged season of how come inquiry, I bring encouragement. God is ready to do a new thing. He wants to stand with you, wrestle with you, as you share the reservations that burn in your heart and plague your mind. And He’s waiting to lead you to answers through a new line of questioning.

What now, Lord?

His now instruction may come with areas of obedience or rest. Of patience or perseverance. Of prayer warfare or of seeking external guidance. Some of us may continue asking why along the journey of what now baby steps. And for others, you know in your heart that it’s time to set aside those how come concerns and make room for a different conversation with Jesus.

He’s ready and waiting. What now?

Jen Weaver is the author of A Wife’s Secret to Happiness and is passionate about sharing strength with others as a Bible teacher, speaker, and blogger at thejenweaver.com. She’s also one of the hosts of The Declare Conference, a conference that equips women to walk in their calling as Christian communicators. She’s on social media as @thejenweaver and she’d love to connect with you, especially on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

jen weaver

Her recent book, A Wife’s Secret to Happiness, shares eleven powerful, practical blessings that God wants to pour into your lap like sweet spiritual confetti, and the wifestyle habits that attract or reject this divine provision. Available wherever books are sold. Click here to read a free sample chapter.

Wanted: A Spouse Willing to Suffer

Future husband wanted: A man who is compelled to live out the gospel in marriage through a willingness to embrace suffering.

You’ve probably heard of people creating a list of qualities they search for in a potential spouse. Kind, smart, funny, and attractive are characteristics people often rank at the top of their non-negotiables. But these lists usually miss one of the most important qualities in the life of one who follows God: a willingness to embrace suffering.

This is a radical call. Still, it’s critical if we want to pursue strong, Christ-centered marriages. Over the years, it has become even more important to me as I consider the possibility of being married someday.

Destined to Suffer Alone?

When I was a little girl, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that would significantly affect and limit me physically for the rest of my life. It wasn’t until I entered my twenties that I began wondering how my condition might translate into marriage. I knew I wanted to be married eventually, but I hadn’t thought about whether my limitations, coupled with the challenges of living with a chronic illness, would make it impossible to attract a man.

Statistics show that adults not only have a decreased chance of marrying if they have a chronic illness or disability, but that those who do marry are much more likely to divorce. According to Focus on the Family, couples have a 75% chance of divorcing if a spouse is affected by chronic illness.

This speaks loudly on society’s perspective of sickness within marriage and family. It’s a sobering reminder that when it comes to seasons of difficulty, we’re not very good about coming close and sticking around. Instead, we tend to stay away from anything that could be challenging and uncomfortable.

Whenever a spouse or child is diagnosed with an illness, people are quick to declare it as something they “didn’t sign up for.”

So how do I, as a single disabled young woman, continue to look toward marriage when my life is the exact opposite of what everyone desires for their future? Someone would have to be willing to choose this life of dealing with illness and obstacles before he would ever consider marrying me. But the numbers aren’t in my favor. Most people do not willingly walk into, or stay in, circumstances of adversity.

When We Are Weak, We Are Strong

If we ever hope to radically infuse life support into marriages today, we have to transform our views of suffering and change how we respond. We must be challenged to shift our thinking away from evading adversity, and remember Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:9, as he recalls pleading with God for relief from the affliction he experienced in prison. Paul reacts to God’s words when he reminded him that Christ’s strength is made perfect in weakness: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

A deeply intimate picture of Christ’s power is displayed in our lives through weakness and difficulty. God’s call to willingly submit to suffering for the sake of reflecting and sharing the gospel is undeniable. We often interpret this as persecution or martyrdom before writing it off as inapplicable to our daily lives. But the heart behind the message still speaks directly to our everyday afflictions, even if they seem trivial in comparison.

We’re asked to drastically alter our focus to see our trials of many kinds as pure joy while we move towards the mature and complete faith of which James speaks. God never commanded us to avoid or run away from suffering, but to understand the part it plays in the life of a Christ-follower.

Embracing Suffering Where We Are

The concept of encountering difficulties within marriage is not foreign to any couple. But these moments give us the opportunity to recognize that all of our circumstances are working together for good, and that we have been entrusted with the task of mirroring God’s Word through the process.

Sickness or disability does not have to be a part of a marriage to fully understand this poignancy. When we think about Christ’s willingness to endure ultimate suffering to be the gospel, it seems like such a small thing for him to ask us to faithfully live out any type of hardship with our spouse, so that together we could reflect his message of hope.

A man who is willing to suffer, someone worth marrying, will stand out from the crowd in the way his life and heart echoes Christ’s very own words, “Not my will, but yours” (Luke 22:42). He’ll withhold nothing from God so that his life and marriage can be used for its primary purpose of bringing God glory, not merely his own happiness. He will be armed with the attitude that present sufferings are incomparable to the glory we will experience later (Romans 8:18).

Perhaps if we better understood the great calling and gift it is to suffer for the sake of sharing and reflecting the gospel, we may be more willing to submit instead of running away — especially as we enter into the covenant of marriage with a guarantee of adversity. May we step forward joyfully to experience the fullness and goodness of Christ through our suffering.

This article first appeared on DesiringGod.org.

Dear Heart: You Are Free

Dear heart,

I can see you’re carrying around the weight of scars from your past.

Steps you shouldn’t have taken. Words you shouldn’t have said. Things you shouldn’t have done. Things you should have. Mistakes you wish weren’t still haunting you.

I can see Satan’s trying to capture you in fear and shame. He says you are nothing but your weakest moments. He says you can never be anything more.

He’s lying.

Mistakes may leave their mark, but they will never define who you are.

The evil one will pull at your soul. He does not want you to see and know and understand and accept the grace that has been poured out on you. Because, when you do – when you choose to see and believe – you will be free.

You will be free from condemnation.

You will be free from shame.

You will be free from the ultimate penalty deserved.

You will be free.

There is no sin too great to separate us from Christ’s love. No life is too messy. No burden too overbearing. No weight He cannot lift.

The Creator of the whole universe saw you before you were even formed, and He wanted you.

He wanted you to know Him. He wanted to give you life in abundance.

He knew what you would do. He knew how you would reject Him. But He would not give up until you were saved. Because there was not anything you could do that He could not redeem. He is more powerful than it all.

He sees the struggle. He understands the pain. And He will be faithful. He will relentlessly bring us back to Himself, just like He does every. single. time. we try to turn away.

He cannot go back on His word.

He is not looking for an excuse to keep you away from Him.

He is the guard and protector of your soul, and He will not let evil have you.

He will win.

Evil has no power or authority in the presence of God.

And you, my heart, are in His presence, because you have Christ in you.

You are free.

You are free.

Writer-Entrepreneur: 8 Differences Between a Hobby-Writer and an Author-Entrepreneur [Guest Post]

I’m so excited to share with you a guest post from Laurie for our writer-entrepreneur post today! She’s a wonderful and accomplished writer with some great insight for all of us writer-entrepreneurs. Thank you for sharing with us, Laurie!
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Thank you so much, MaryLynn, for inviting me to your space!

In 2013, I got laid off from my job and soon made the important shift from hobby-writer to author-entrepreneur. It has made all the difference in my life, career, faith, and work to push past the fear and go after my dreams.

I worked in the book industry for seven years before I started writing for publication, so I’ve observed many different authors along the way. There are several key differences that separate author-entrepreneurs from those who write as a hobby. Let’s explore those, shall we?

Author-entrepreneurs treat their writing as work. Whether published or aiming for publication, the first step that separates a hobbyist from a career writer is considering it (super gratifying) work instead of play. This means there’s a level of dedication, consistency, and goal setting—even if the deadlines are self-imposed.

Author-entrepreneurs actually show up for work. No matter how busy the rest of life may be with day jobs, families, school, there are regular times the author-entrepreneur carves out for writing. A little bit every day really adds up.

Author-entrepreneurs finish their work. They have the discipline and focus to stick with a project (once they find the right one) instead of starting and abandoning a work-in-progress for something shinier once the honeymoon stage is over. Yes, that initial burst of creative energy and infatuation will wane, but an author-entrepreneur will show up to work, even when it means pushing through the sludge to reveal the beauty underneath.

Author-entrepreneurs study their craft. They’ve done their research and listen to podcasts, read blogs and craft books, and also study the work of a variety of authors who are doing their genre well. Authors cannot live by inspiration alone, so it’s important to be surrounded by quality resources that will strengthen their work.

Author-entrepreneurs have a cohesive vision for their work and platform. I just wrapped up teaching a month-long class on branding for authors that emphasized the importance of having a vision, knowing their audience, and allowing those two things to inform every decision as they work to build a platform. In addition to studying their craft, author-entrepreneurs know (or at least are dedicated to learning) what sets apart their voice from others and what their work uniquely offers their audience.

Author-entrepreneurs surround themselves with an incredible team. When it all boils down, the writing profession is essentially a one-man job. But author-entrepreneurs—even the introverts—know the importance of critique partners, writing groups, and mentors. Having trusted writers ahead in the game and at the same level on the journey adds valuable input, accountability, and encouragement to propel work that can be very isolating at times.

Author-entrepreneurs put their work out there—and take feedback gracefully. At first, this means showing their work to critique partners and mentors they can trust, whose strengths complement their weaknesses. Learning how to discern and implement constructive feedback is an important step. Then, when the work is sparkling and ready, it means submitting to contests, agents, and publishing professionals. It means taking the ultimate step of bravery while a hobby-writer may be content to move on to the next work and let the last one collect dust.

Author-entrepreneurs can’t be stopped by rejection. While rejections, negative reviews, and disheartening feedback can be painful, the author-entrepreneur is uniquely fueled by the necessity to get words on the page. So where a hobbyist may quit altogether after a project doesn’t meet her expectations, the author-entrepreneur adapts and moves on to the next one. She stays true to her vision and plan—after a pint of ice cream or so—with the knowledge that every project improves her work and no critic can take away what she loves to do.

There’s no shame in writing for a hobby, in being content (like I was for several years) to put down a project and pick it back up every so often when inspiration strikes. But I wish I could have coffee with every writer who dreams of more but believes he or she doesn’t have what it takes to be an author-entrepreneur. I would convince them that, with a lot of hard work and gumption, they could do it if they really wanted.

And I’d tell them that, when unleashed, the combination of business and dreams fueled by story is a powerful, powerful thing.

LT HeadshotLaurie Tomlinson is an award-winning contemporary romance author and cheerleader for creatives. She believes that God’s love is unfailing, anything can be accomplished with a good to-do list, and that life should be celebrated with cupcakes and extra sprinkles. Her novella That’s When I Knew was featured in the Love at First Laugh collection, and her debut novel, With No Reservations, releases in May 2017 from Harlequin Heartwarming. You can connect with Laurie on her websiteFacebook page, and Instagram.

Nothing Can Steal Your Beauty

Talking about insecurities is hard. The transparency of vulnerability causes us to believe our flaws and wounds make us less desirable.

So we don’t talk about them. We build up the silence to equate our worth, and it enables us to carry on the façade of perfection. Don’t bring attention to what you don’t want people to see.

We trick ourselves into believing a brave face is the cure for all that ails our soul. We coerce our heart into admitting the insecurities are invalid. Insignificant. They must be suppressed.

nothing can steal beauty ed smaller

I’ve always known beauty is fleeting. It’ll disappear eventually for everyone. So when insecurity threatened, I would cling to the promise that a beautiful heart is more important than a beautiful exterior. I would tell myself I could not let the world win me over by getting caught up in trying to achieve any kind of standard for an outward appearance. I wanted to be a Proverbs 31 woman, not Miss America. I knew I wasn’t as attractive as the next person, but I thought I had to be okay with that because I didn’t want to fall into an addiction to the pursuit of beauty.

It seemed like a battle already lost, anyway.

My mentality that God doesn’t care about beauty I assumed was the answer. If He didn’t care whether or not I was beautiful, neither should I.

But sometimes I wished He did care so I wouldn’t feel guilty for wanting reassurance.

He does care.

When I was little, there was a voice in the back of my head that told me not to worry about beauty, because it was something I would grow into. Surely it would come with time, patience, and not trying too hard.

But one day I looked into the mirror and realized I had missed it. Beauty was no longer something I could wait for. It had been crushed and lost by the weight of the world. I had marks and scars – both internal and external – that told a long story. Subtle signs were surfacing, taking revenge against the stress of sickness, leaving my body as a casualty all over again.

Every time I tried to fix one thing, something else would unravel. I couldn’t win. It was time to stop trying.

Not long after I had recommitted to my cause against beauty, I had an encounter with someone that completely changed my perspective. She said something, a compliment that went directly to the center of my heart, leaving no room to doubt the Lord heard my thoughts and wanted to prove me wrong.

My mind was overwhelmed in processing how He was so gracious to show me He does not judge in our insecurity, but desires to remind us all of His creation is beautiful. Every. Single. Thing.

A lot of us would agree the criteria this world uses to measure beauty is tainted. The Lord grieves over a lot of the things we label as “beautiful.” We have completely missed the point.

But that doesn’t mean we have to abandon the idea of beauty.

Telling each other we have “inner beauty” is not enough. Because it doesn’t satisfy the longing in our heart to be recognized as enough. Instead, it shows how we’ve bought into the lies of worldly approval and we know that many of the people around us just don’t measure up. So we created this alternative, ambiguous beauty so we aren’t left out of this relentless strive for self-worth and approval.

But, beloved – you don’t have to create an alternative beauty to claim the title of one who is beautiful.

If we believe in God’s perfection, there is no room to think He makes mistakes. If we are made in His image, how could we be anything but lovely? You are enough when you have Christ living in you.  He creates beautiful people and He delights in you.

He doesn’t just want you to know. He wants you to see and understand and believe and trust. You are beautiful.

There is a hole in our heart labeled the “desire to be beautiful” that can only be filled by knowing Christ and understanding His perspective of us. Nothing else will ever quench that burning desire; not our “inner beauty” alternative, not the world’s idea of physical perfection, not the affirmation of others, not our rebellion against beauty.

Beautiful describes who God is and who He created us to be, in His image.

When our souls search for a glimpse of beauty, we’re really searching for Christ and assurance of our identity. We may not fully be able to wrap our minds around beauty by the Lord’s standards, since it so greatly contrasts what the world portrays. But the only way to define it is by studying the Artist and looking at you, His masterpiece. It may take a moment for our eyes to adjust. The God-crafted beauty poured over each of us is intended to glorify our Creator, not ourselves.

But it’s there.

And He will remind us that beauty cannot be lost in a sea of arbitrary and unachievable standards, because beauty is a gift given to each of us when He breathed life into our souls before we were ever known by anyone else. No one and nothing can steal your beauty. They can only try to deceive, so you cannot see what is already there. Sickness, age, weariness, circumstance, and brokenness has no authority to take that which has been given to you by the One who is more powerful than it all.

Look around you and see the beauty He has made with His very own hands. Look at yourself in the mirror and see the person He declares has so much worth that nothing was too great to win your heart. You are beautiful. Not because I say so; because He says it is true. But I say it too, to echo the whispers of His voice in your heart. Those flaws you’re trying so hard to cover up are the very mark of His work. You don’t need to hide them.

When we’re tempted to forget, let us remember: we belong to the Lord. And He has made us beautiful.

Moving Forward When You Can’t Move On

Insecurity.

It leaves us feeling unwanted; inadequate; unloved. Those thoughts come creeping in from time to time, taking over and taking up residence in our heart. I try to ignore it. I keep myself busy so I don’t have to acknowledge the sting. I pretend it’s not a big deal.

After all…everybody feels that way sometimes.

But just because we all feel it, doesn’t mean it’s right.

Or true.

Sometimes I wonder if it will ever be different. Will I ever have confidence in my worth? Will there be a day where I can finally rest in His love and not relentlessly long for the approval of others? Will I be able to get past the fear, rejection, and disappointment?

Will I ever be able to move on?

moving forward 2

I stared out the window, watching the rain, continuing to process words I knew were true. I was still figuring out how to begin acting like they were true. I so badly wanted to fix it – fix me, fix my insecurity. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know if I could.

Broken hearts don’t easily mend, no matter if they’re broken by another person, the weight of this world, or our own monsters clinging to our back. Most of the time, we can’t do anything about it. We cannot control how, if, when, or who will hurt us. We cannot always control how we hurt ourselves after we choose to believe lies. We hold onto those lies like playing with matches, somehow thinking we’ll be the exception to the rule that says 100% of fire-players get burned.

We strike when we seek and demand approval.

We strike when we allow someone else’s opinion to define us.

We strike when we look back at ourselves in the mirror and wonder what others will think of us – whether or not they’ll like me, whether or not they’ll accept me, whether or not they’ll love me.

Strike.

Enamored by the flame. Totally unprepared for what comes next.

And it feels like a cruel game, because our hearts won’t ever fully mend this side of Heaven. We are so broken, living in a fallen world, and the hope of healing is a promise of eternity.

People love imperfectly. We make mistakes in our relationships with others. We fail to fill their hearts, because it’s not something we were ever meant to do.

So hearts break.

That’s when I began to wonder; maybe, we have it all wrong. Maybe the true sign of strength and security isn’t the ability to move on like nothing ever happened – like we never had been burned.

My heart breathed a sigh of relief when I finally said it out loud. I pulled my eyes away from the rain falling outside, feeling like a weight had been lifted.

It’s not about moving on. Sometimes it’s not even possible or reasonable to expect that from ourselves. We cannot pretend the hurt never happened.

Instead, I want to focus on moving forward, despite the hurts and burns and wounds from the past.

I think a lot of us believe we have “moved on” from certain hurts. But then something happens, the wound begins to burn all over again, and we’re left figuring out where to go. We put pressure on ourselves because we think we should be “okay,” not even really knowing what that means. The closet thing we can find is acting like those hurt feelings were never there. We have to forget, and not appear damaged to the next person that comes along.

But pretending stunts our growth. It ignores the real problem. And I don’t want to be stuck here.

I want to move forward.

Toward healing. Toward restoration. Toward Truth.

I won’t achieve total healing while I’m on this earth. But the purpose of my life was never to skip over experiencing pain. An easy life was never guaranteed. In fact, we’re told to expect the very opposite.

Still, I know there is hope.

It seems like we spend most of our time trying to fix those burns by striking more matches. I desire approval, so I’ll seek more. I desire love, so I’ll keep trying to prove my worth.

We will never find a way out until we realize He has set us free. We don’t have to fight for approval. We don’t have to seek attention. We don’t have to persuade the world we are worthy of love.

But we do and we will. We are sinful people, looking to be filled by all the wrong things. When we find ourselves there again and again, I hope we’ll learn to drop the matches, put out the flames, and run back to the only One who can soothe the hurt.

From time to time, the bandage of “being okay” is ripped off, and the wounds once again become exposed. I try to fight back.

It hurts so much and I don’t want to feel it. I don’t want to be reminded of all the moments that have eaten away at my heart. I can’t forget the cruel words or the glances that told me I don’t belong.

He doesn’t expose the wounds to remind us how broken we are or put our burns to shame. He is coming near, reminding us He is here. And He washes the wounds. He pulls us into His lap, draws us close, and begins His work of reversing every wrong thing done against us – the lies we were told and the lies we told ourselves. He does not let the world win. He has the ultimate weapon: His truth.

It stings, and I look for a place where I can run away. But after a while, it stings less and less. The pain of the burns begins to ease. They start to heal. He lays His pierced hands on my wounded heart – He will not leave me in this place.

Wounds healing wounds.

Divine wounds healing wounds of brokenness. What a beautiful picture of redemption.

Redemption that moves us forward.

Then, when He has refocused our sight, we can look back on the past and not be overwhelmed by its weight.  He makes us stronger. He makes us braver. He makes us whole.

We can carry what we’ve learned and take a step forward. The wounds from the past are propelling us toward our future, no longer holding us back. All of them are being worked together for our good. They will not have the final say.