Book Club, Anyone?

Book Club, Anyone?
In my Fit for Life group, some of the members and I have been talking about the most pressing needs we feel we have currently: spiritual + emotional health. In pondering how to best support our group, I wondered in a post if a book study might be of interest, and we definitely had some positive responses! I thought it might be easier to outline some potential books/studies here. Full disclosure, I have some affiliate links here, so if you choose to purchase a product because you saw it here, please know I appreciate your support!

OPTION 1:
Jennie Allen's Get Out of Your Head Study Guide is a workbook to go along with a 6-session study of the book of Philippians. My husband and I did this together pretty recently, but I'd be happy to do it again in a group setting. Because we've done it, we also have access to the videos that go along with it, so I can share my screen during our zoom meetings to watch Jennie's messages. (They are maybe 10-20 minutes long at most.) Jennie uses the book of Philippians as a springboard to discuss taking our thoughts captive before they take US captive.

OPTION 2:
If you like the topic of Option 1 but you're not sure you want a workbook (with homework, lol) plus video sessions, Jennie's Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts might be a better fit. We could read a chapter or so and have more of a freestyle discussion rather than being tied to a workbook. As I do not yet own this book, I don't know EXACTLY how it compares to option 1, but my guess is the content is very similar with just a different means of presentation.

OPTION 3:
If you'd rather delve specifically into how emotions affect us physically, with a smattering of spiritual elements as well (but in a different way than the options above), perhaps Karol Truman's Feelings Buried Alive Never Die book would get your vote. This is a well-known, often-cited resource that I ended up purchasing for our own family library, and I have referenced it a lot even though I haven't read all the way through it yet. My interest in the connection between our body, mind, and emotions continues to increase the more I learn, and this is a book well worth having even if it doesn't get voted into our book study!

OPTION 4:
From the author of the famous book Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud, is a newer resource that caught my attention: Changes That Heal. The first sentence in the book description says, "Many of us struggle with anxiety, loneliness, and feelings of inadequacy." Um, you think?! Check out the rest of the description to see if this might be a good fit for our book club. (Also, full disclosure, while I've seen excerpts from Boundaries, I've never read it, so perhaps that's an option...?)

OPTION 5:
I know this may be a little late, but because it captured my interest, I'll just put it out there. Paul David Tripp released Journey to the Cross: A 40-Day Lenten Devotional. Since Lent begins February 17, if we do this as a group study, it would likely require playing a bit of catch-up, but I think we could make it work if the majority desire it!

OK! If you're in my Fit for Life group, go there and vote in the poll by Sunday evening if you'd like to participate! And if you're not in the group, you can request to join! If you choose not to do a book study with us, no biggie, but I DO encourage you to be reading SOMETHING! What are you currently reading, or what will you start reading? Let me know in the comments!

Hope & Peace

Hope & Peace
Three years ago our family had the opportunity to do one of the Advent readings in church. To be honest, I have no idea what we read or even which week of Advent it was. What I DO remember is what happened before church. We arrived in time to send our children to Sunday school and youth group, but I didn't feel like being with other people. Ted and I sat in a fog next to Verity's stroller in the gymnasium where the church service would be held the next hour. It had been another rough night, like just about every night was in 2017. Just as our interim pastor and his wife came to where we were seated to greet us, Verity began retching. Her vomiting spells happened about 6-8 times a day. Trisomy 18 kiddos tend to have GI issues, but this was getting out of hand; Verity was losing weight, and at 12 pounds and almost 10 months of age, she didn't have much to lose. 

The unexpected scene took the pastor's wife by surprise: copious amounts of liquid were coming out of Verity's mouth and nose as Ted frantically whipped out the suction machine while I mopped up the mess. (Yes, we traveled with a suction machine in those days. We lived in terror of Verity aspirating because of how frequently she vomited.)

When things were calm again, Gretchen asked if things like that happened often. I burst into tears. I couldn't help it. I was so tired, so weary, and somehow just so angry that people didn't know what our life was really like. I knew it wasn't Gretchen's fault that she didn't know, so I tried to describe life with Verity. She hardly ever slept, which meant we hardly ever slept. I couldn't leave her side for fear she would vomit and choke. The terror we lived with around the clock was ever present. I still remember the compassionate look on the faces of this couple, whose ministry we had sat under for several months by this point but who truly had no idea what our family was going through.

Half an hour later we stood in front of the church lighting a candle and reading words I can't remember. I felt like such a hypocrite, creating a picture of what surely looked from the outside like a perfectly lovely family. Two parents, nine children, the tiniest of whom was living a very precarious life. Little did people know what was happening on the inside: the deadness of my heart, the difficulties of my marriage, the near-destruction of my mental and emotional health. I didn't intend to put on a show; I would have gladly shared our struggles with others. And I think I tried. It's not that people didn't care or didn't ask, but somehow there just wasn't time or energy to sit down and lay it all out. 

Fast forward three years...our church now has a new full-time pastor, and our family was asked to do the reading for the second Sunday of Advent 2020. We relit the first candle, Hope, reminding the congregation (and ourselves) of the hope we have in Christ. Next, we lit the second candle, Peace, testifying to the fact that Christ came to bring God's peace to us.


As I stood holding Verity on my hip while my sons and husband read their passages, I suddenly remembered that exhausting Sunday morning 3 years ago. We have come so far. Not only is Verity doing so much better health-wise, but our family is so much stronger for having gone through some really dark times and seeing the light of Hope and Peace shine in the midst of it all. When Verity squealed during the prayer, I couldn't help but feel the joy surge in my heart. 

Hope. Peace. Joy. And LOVE--so much love. They were there all along, even when we couldn't feel their presence.

If you are experiencing a season of darkness, I pray you find the light of true Hope and Peace.

Father, we thank you for revealing yourself through Jesus, and we praise you for the greatness of your love. Help us to know your peace in our lives. When life does not go as planned, may we know and understand that you are with us and we can have peace and rest in your ways. May we also share your peace with others and live our lives more like Christ every day. In His name we pray, amen.

*******

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CASTing All Our Cares

CASTing All Our Cares
On Saturday the ladies from our church gathered for a mini-retreat. Current situation being what it is, we thought a one-day event would be easier to plan logistically than anything involving an overnight stay. And with the uncertainty of the times, our planning committee decided rather than bring in a speaker, we would spend the day in prayer and worship activities.

It turned out so beautifully! We organized the day's activities around 4 sessions: Confession, Adoration, Supplication, and Thanksgiving, which is a variation of the A.C.T.S. prayer model many of us have learned. The acronym led us to choose "CASTing All Our Cares on Him" as the theme for the day.

While the tone of the national scene threw a bit of a somber note in the background, there was much joy in being able to gather together (staying within current guidelines of course). Table activities provided the opportunity to get to know other ladies better and foster conversations.

Our Confession session began with some beautiful worship songs and Scripture, and then we took about 20-25 minutes to spend time alone with the Lord. I wrote in my prayer journal, using the Bible to shape some of my thoughts. We ended by reading portions of Daniel 9 to offer a national prayer of confession, closing with another song before the first break.

The Adoration portion was fun and interactive, mixing songs with activities that included listing as many attributes of God as we could A to Z and talking about the names of Jesus.

Panera delivered our pre-ordered lunches, so we got to enjoy more fellowship, with a game based on "The Price Is Right" which was silly and fun.

Supplication, or intercession, gave us the time to pray with a partner or two over personal concerns, and then we corporately offered prayers over marriages, families, our schools and community, the USA, the persecuted church, and the world, closing with the song "God of This City."

Closing the day with a session about thanksgiving was perfect! So many beautiful Scriptures and songs.

All in all, it was a wonderfully refreshing time with my sisters in Christ. I was privileged to help plan and lead this event and realized how very much I miss regularly gathering for intercessory prayer. Perhaps that is something that will grow out of this experience, especially since, as I type this, the election results are incredibly close and being contested even though a winner has been projected by some outlets. 

The need for prayer is ongoing. Therefore, we will continue to worship and pray, knowing the Lord is sovereign over all.

Truth Has Stumbled in the Streets

Truth Has Stumbled in the Streets
From my Bible study with Ted this morning (complete with coffee sans sweetener, for my fellow sugar detoxers!), the passage below stood out to me. We have been doing an in-depth study of the book of Isaiah, and now more than ever it seems to reflect the reality of what is happening in our own time and place. Truly the Word of God is timeless!

For those who call themselves followers of Christ, I urge you to pray for our country. This is not a red or blue matter: this is literally a life-or-death issue, a matter of where we will spend eternity. Repentance is at the heart of change. And it MUST begin in our own hearts--not pointing at folks across the aisle and shouting for THEM to change. No, we must look inward, find and acknowledge the depths of the sin in our own hearts, confess, and turn away from that sin. 

Repentance and revival: this is the cry of our hearts. I rest in God's sovereignty even as I have strong opinions about government's role in our society. "Truth has stumbled in the streets," as the verse says, and THAT, my friends, is the REASON our nation is unrecognizable as the United States of America.

ISAIAH 59:12-15a
For our offenses are many in your sight,
    and our sins testify against us.
Our offenses are ever with us,
    and we acknowledge our iniquities:
 rebellion and treachery against the Lord,
    turning our backs on our God,
inciting revolt and oppression,
    uttering lies our hearts have conceived.
So justice is driven back,
    and righteousness stands at a distance;
truth has stumbled in the streets,
    honesty cannot enter.
Truth is nowhere to be found,
    and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

What I Learned from the Presidential Debate

What I Learned from the Presidential Debate
If you watched the debate last week, you likely came away feeling anything but positive about the state of politics no matter which side of the fence you're on. And if you read articles or listened to commentary on said debate, you may have felt your blood pressure rise just a wee bit. (Or maybe it was just me?! No, probably not...)

I'm not here to debate policies or defend either of the candidates, but since I've been pondering a few thoughts related to the latest theatrics from Washington, I figured I'd share.

1. Where does your hope lie? My friend, if you're placing your hope and trust in whether [insert candidate's name here] gets elected, I'm afraid you will be severely disenchanted. I have no insight into which candidate will claim victory—but I do know that no matter which party has the White House come November 4, 5, or 6 (or whatever date all the votes are finally counted), that individual will always disappoint. He's human, after all (as are all of his advisors), and history shows even the best leaders make mistakes—whether purposefully or unintentionally.

2. With whose purposes do you align? If your plans and dreams hinge on whether a certain political platform receives a "mandate," again...I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. For those who call themselves Christians, we are to be about our Father's business. "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33). Policies may change; executive orders can be overturned. But right and wrong will NOT be changed, no matter how would-be wordsmiths try to change definitions. In unsettled times, it's comforting to know that "the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations" (Psalm 33:11). God's purposes are the only ones that will never be thwarted—and since He is sovereign, we can trust that He will make all things right in His perfect timing.

3. Where do YOU stand on the REAL issue? Ultimately, this world is passing away...and not because of climate change! The real issue is, do you have a relationship with Jesus? Where will you spend eternity? It's tempting to think we're better than [insert politician we aren't voting for here] because we believe this, or we would "never" do or say that, but when all is stripped away—we've all sinned. We are all in desperate need of a Savior. Are we willing to admit we've gone against a holy God? Do we see our transgressions for what they are—the reason Jesus suffered and died on the cross?

Our country is facing desperate times. Wildfires and wild behavior rage out of control. Media outlets by and large opt for click-bait headlines over the hard work of investigative journalism. Civil discourse has been trampled and forgotten. We can shake our heads. We can shake our fists. Or we can fall on our knees, praying first of all for our own hearts to be made pure before the God who holds all people accountable.

And then we can pray, pray, pray for our nation—its people AND its leaders.


 
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