Being a Friend Through Difficult Times

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My best friend is going through one of the worst possible circumstances I’ve ever heard of.  This has happened before with another friend….a life altering circumstance that seems like a black hole of unending depth, sorrow, and muck.  How can you be a friend to someone in such turmoil?  Often times I feel completely helpless for her.  I don’t know what to say, I don’t know how to help, and I don’t really even know how to pray.  It’s gut wrenching, my heart hurts (along with hers), and I truly can’t imagine the pain she must have to process minute by minute each day.  It’s the kind of thing that you think can’t get worse, but it does.  The kind of pain that comes in every direction and effects every part of her life.  She is a rock star, though, and is taking one day at a time, trusting the Lord, and trying to thrive through this.  I, on the other hand, feel like I’m failing as a friend, am not handling things well at all, and am sad a lot.  I can’t even really imagine how I’d handle all she’s going through if it were me.  I think I’d just curl up in a ball, cry all the time, and not be able to function.  Yes, I’d try to pray, and try to trust God, but I would be so hurt and angry, I don’t know how well I’d do anything.

I also have a lot of fear.  Because this has happened before, I know that it can devastate a friendship.  It can cause emotional distance because of the major life changes, it can even cause moves across many miles.  I don’t think either side desires the distance, really, but it can occur.  I think I am very cautious with friendships as it is.  I don’t allow myself to get too close to too many people because I’ve been hurt deeply before and, because I’m an introvert and many people don’t understand an introvert.  But, I do love my friends.  I try to be a good friend, and hope that I am.  I’m just very careful who I truly open myself up to.  But, once you’re in my inner circle, I love you.  I would do anything for you.  I hurt, empathize, sympathize, hold accountable, and hope you will feel comfortable enough to do the same for me.  Most do (if they come into that inner circle).  I open up a part of me that few know.  And, I trust that all will be held in confidence.

And, then there’s anger.  I get angry at the people who wrongly judge, who don’t understand what’s been happening, yet cast their opinions or views to my friend.  Christian people who can’t possibly understand what all has happened, who get ugly with and confront her.  People who really have no business doing so because they don’t know and don’t understand.  They think they are trying to help her, or hold her accountable to something that they feel is a standard set for believers, yet who rather should be supporting her, understanding her, believing she is doing the right things, and has been praying and seeking the Lord in and through it all.  This is hard enough for her, after all, she doesn’t need the extra condemnation.

And when these awful life circumstances occur, I get lost.  I don’t know what to do, or how to appropriately respond.  I pray, of course.  I don’t always know HOW to pray, but I do pray.  I try to help however help is needed.  In one of these circumstances, I didn’t know what to do, so I organized a group of ladies to go over to my friend’s home and clean it.  Really clean it.  A good amount of help showed up while the friend was not at home, and we really made a big difference, and I think that my friend greatly appreciated it.  It really wasn’t much, but it was something.  I didn’t have a clue what else I could do!  Another friend, I took a homemade basket of fruit to.  Still, so simple, but it was something that I could do, and that I knew she could use.  Other times I’ve thought of things that I thought would be helpful that my friend was nowhere near ready for, and I end up hurting her further.  Those are really difficult to take, as my intentions were certainly to help, not to hurt.  Being a friend in difficult times can be so hard.

These times are so hard.  You hear more and more unbelievably awful things happening these days.  I can’t help but believe that the end is near.  Jesus will be coming back soon.  I can’t wait until that day when there will be no more pain, hurt, sadness, and heartache.  We will truly be free.  Until that time, we must press on, seek His face, try to be the best person we can despite awful circumstances, and pray continually.

Has anything like this happened to you or someone you love?  What do you do?  How do you show your friendship? I’d love to hear.  Maybe it will help me to better know how to help when my friends are suffering.  That’s really all I want to do…..help.

In Christ,

Dena

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Stuck Bible Study Review

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Stuck.  How many of us feel stuck in some way?  This Bible Study by Jennie Allen was another video study with 8 sessions.  It covered the topics:  stuck, broken, mad, discontent, scared, overwhelmed, sad, and unstuck.  This was a simple and quick study to complete each week.  Often times I could complete the entire week’s study in one day.  (But, I like to study for an hour a day, so if you study for less time than that, you could spread it out over several days).  At first, I wasn’t sure what I thought of the study.  I didn’t quite understand what “stuck” meant.  But, as I went on through the study, it became more clear.  This is a women’s study, and so many of the things discussed were issues that we deal with in our personal lives.  It was a lot about being real.  Not putting on a front with others, but being vulnerable and showing who you really are.  That’s tough for many women, so it would take some getting “unstuck” for the vulnerability to take place.  I did this in a group, and so we were able to let some of our walls down with one another and share some of our realness.

My favorite week was the topic mad (week 2).  God really spoke to me that week.  I struggle a lot with anger.  The passage for this week was James 1:19-27.  I did not remember ever reading James 1:26 before (though I know I have).  It says, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”  WOW!  I know when I get angry, I have a really hard time keeping a tight reign on my tongue.  I say things I regret, a lot!  My voice becomes loud, discouraging, nagging, and hurtful.  I hurt those I love the most.  And, worst of all, my faith becomes worthless!  That is not how I desire to be.  I learned that I had to die to what I felt my rights were….things like being understood, the right to move quickly, a good reputation, my family’s approval, my right to have respect, obedience, and happiness.  When we die to our rights, we find freedom.  We get “unstuck.”  That’s what this study is all about.  Each of us have our own “stuck” places.  We each struggle with some kind of sin.  We each can let some walls down, and become real with these struggles.  We all struggle, and we know we all struggle, so why is it so hard to be real about those struggles?

The study is laid out as follows:  At the beginning of each session, there is a short reading on the topic for the week (usually just a couple of pages).  It’s kind of an introduction to the week.  Then, comes several pages of the Scripture to study with questions, charts, and space for responses.  At the end of each study week is a who are you, Lord? what do you want from me? response page.  Following that are four projects to be completed each week.  The projects include titles such as:  discover, measure, imagine, respond, compare, list, consider, act, answer, identity, question, and commit.  They include charts, drawings, and different types of application.  Then, to close out the week, there are a couple pages entitled wrapping up.

Though I was unsure of the study to begin with, it ended up being a really great study that I enjoyed very much.  It helped me get past some “stuck” places, and to learn ways to work through those places if they come up again in my life (which, they probably will, because sin is sin, and we all do it)!  It also showed me the importance of being real.  People need to see that we are real in this world….that we’re not perfect, that we’re approachable and we care because more often than not, we are struggling in the same ways that other people are.  And, if we’re real, we can help one another, be an encouragement, and an accountability partner during those “stuck” times.  You can find this study here.  I hope you will take a look for yourselves.  Find your “stuck” places and get “unstuck” by dying to self and allowing Christ to live through you!

In Christ,

Dena

Autumn and Thankfulness

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I love autumn!  The changing of the seasons,  the new scents, the cooler weather, the colors, the new beginnings and better routines.  I love to light candles, decorate, and make goodies that include pumpkin and spices!  It’s a time to reflect on all we can be thankful for; a time of thanksgiving and praise; a time for abundance from harvest, to look back on the first Thanksgiving, and remember how our country began.  Simple beginnings with Indians, like Squanto, helping the newcomers to this land to survive, to be able to spread the gospel of Jesus.  May we strive to be a light like Squanto was so long ago.  May we help our neighbors, help them grow, walk along side them and teach them how to survive a world of chaos.  It’s so easy to see the ugliness of our world.  We need to be the light in this dark place.  We need to be encouraging words, a smiling face, to have a twinkle in the eye, the hope that draws people to Jesus.  May this season be a time of refreshment and renewal.  May we be hospitable and invite others to share in a time of thanksgiving, encouragement, and renewal with us.  May we see the goodness of Jesus together.  May we see His beauty in the changing seasons of creation around us.  May we breathe deeply, find rest and peace, and be that rest and peace that others need to find.

Last year, I did a daily Scripture Writing Plan from the blog Sweet Blessings.  She even has blank pages that you can write the Scripture onto, and it just makes it look so nice and festive!  Last year the verses focused on Gratitude for November, and then I continued with the December plan.  I would encourage you to use this plan or another like it to help get you in a mindset of Thankfulness.  It certainly kept me focused last year, and I plan to do it again this year.

I hope and pray that you will find gratitude in your heart this autumn, that you will take joy in the beauty before you, the smells, the opportunities, and the abundance the Lord grants each of us.  I pray also, that you will spread thankfulness to those you’re around.  I pray that joy will overflow from you onto others that may feel without hope.  We are so blessed!  May we be a blessing to others!

In Christ,

Dena

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Time Well Spent

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WOW!  It’s been awhile since I’ve posted!  Summer came and went quickly.  My summer projects went somewhat how I’d planned, but not all of them were completed.  However, I did make time to have fun with the kiddos this summer.  We visited the pool frequently, and I even got a little tan!  We had a nice vacation in Branson with our family, and also went through a major remodeling job on our main bathroom.  It was CRAZY!  Now, we are settling back into some normal homeschooling, chore doing, routines.  I have also added lots to my plate.  Why?  Because I have felt the Lord leading me to do so.  Now, He must provide the time I need to make it happen!  Here is a look at our current weekly schedule:

SUNDAY – Sunday School and Worship Service in the mornings.  Then, evening services later.  I teach the 5th & 6th grade Sunday School class at my church.  Up until September I was co-teaching just every other week.  But, my co-teacher resigned and now I teach every week.  Thankfully, I just had someone step up to help fill in, especially when I’m not going to be there because of sick kids, or time away.  She will be a great help with crowd control and outside activities, as well!  I’m thrilled to have extra help! I am using Answers in Genesis’ Answers for Kids Bible Curriculum and I think it’s going to be a great year!  In the evening, I lead a kid’s class called M&M Kids which stands for Mission Minded Kids.  We study a country and culture each week, locate it on maps, and do a craft to remind us to pray for that country throughout the week.  We also spend time praying for that country and their needs, especially their need for Jesus.  The main resources I’m using for this are:  Window on the World, You Can Change the World V. 1, and You Can Change the World V. 2.  I also use Pinterest to help me find crafts that will work with each country (and honestly, that is what takes most of the prep time…lol). 

MONDAY – Regular Homeschooling Day….one of the only days of the week that I don’t have some kind of running to do. This is also the day we try to get the house back in order after a busy weekend.

TUESDAY – Co-op plus a full regular day of school, then gymnastics for my high schooler in the evening.  I teach a class for Co-op.  I use The Young Peacemaker Curriculum and the student booklets.  This is the second co-op I’ve taught this class at.  It’s all about conflict resolution and how to approach it and deal with it Biblically.  I LOVE it!  It’s the busiest day of the week!

WEDNESDAY – Library Story Time for the little ones in the morning at our local library, then a full regular day of school.  Church in the evening.  This is my weekly Bible Study group with other women that fuels me for the week, and keeps me going.  I’m so thankful for this group of women.

THURSDAY – Piano Lessons in the morning, then a full regular day of school.  And I just changed the younger girls gymnastics to Thursday afternoons instead of Saturday, in hopes that I’d have a more free Saturday.

FRIDAY – Field Trip Day!  And, this is also errand running day in the city.  We always go to the library there (Mid-Continent has much more when it comes to school) to pick up ordered books or dvd’s, or to return books or dvd’s we are finished with.  We also may go to a bigger city grocery store, Mardel, or whatever else needs to be accomplished in the city.  It’s usually a pretty full day!

SATURDAY – I just switched the girls from morning gymnastics this day, to afternoons on Thursday.  I was feeling like I wasn’t getting any day free for rest and recuperation.  I will probably still do grocery shopping in the afternoons on this day, though. 

Our weeks are crazy!  I never thought that I’d ever be teaching 3 classes at one time, but I’ve felt the Lord’s leading on all of them.  I love doing it!  I plan outside activities every once in a while for my Sunday School class, also.  What better way to get to know them than spending time together outside of class?  So far, we’ve had a fun park day and ice cream at a local ice cream shop, a service project at a Ronald McDonald House, where we were able to get a tour and prepare and serve the guest snacks.  Just yesterday, we did a prayer walk around the schools, and an ice cream sundae fellowship.  In a couple weeks I plan to take them to a Pumpkin Patch for a fall day of fun, then comes a Mother/Daughter retreat for the girls in my Sunday School class and their moms.  I’m super excited about that!  I feel building relationships is the key to helping others draw nearer to God, or find a relationship with Him.  If they know you care, they’ll believe what you teach them.  My husband is also in Youth Ministry, so we are busy with youth activities as well.  Then, once in a while I will go to his Computer Repair Shop and do the accounting, as well as decorate the shop window with new seasons.  I have a full and busy life!  Sometimes I get so tired, and I feel like I need a break from it all.  I even re-evaluate all the activities the girls are in, and try to decide if it’s worth it.  

I am tired a lot.  I think it’s just a season of Motherhood.  I think new parents of babies go through this, I think the running that happens as kids become teens is another season of busyness and being tired, and I think the more kids you have the more tired you might possibly be.  I have kids ranging in ages from 3-18.  So toddler, elementary, high school, and adult (though still living at home).  It’s a busy time with lots going on.  But, someday I will look back on this time in my life and I’ll miss these moments, because it’s moments like these that bring about memories.  And, memories are priceless.

We are falling into a much better routine now that we’ve been schooling for about 4 weeks.  I’m grateful for that.  Our first couple of weeks were rough, mostly because we had a bathroom remodel going on at the same time we started school!  That is finished, so things are feeling a bit more normal when it comes to a school routine.  I am still adjusting the schedule a bit (like moving gymnastics for the younger girls around).  We will see if this helps ease the schedule a bit, or if it makes it feel even more crazy! 

What ministries are you involved in, and how do you make your schedule work around them?  I’d love to know.  My first priority is ministry in my own family.  I am beginning a new Bible study soon with my Wednesday night ladies group called Missional Motherhood.  I’m very much looking forward to it.  It’s not just about ministering to your own children, though, it’s about ministering to all children.  So, I think it will be perfect for all of the ministry I’m currently involved with!

Soon, I will be sharing some recommended Bible Studies I’ve been doing, and giving them reviews.  Stay in touch for that!  And, this time I won’t take so long to post!

Balance….it’s not what you think

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Balance.  We all need it.  It seems we are all searching for ways to get there, too.  It’s no easy task to live a balanced life these days!  The definition of balance is a means of judging or deciding and/or mental and emotional steadiness.  I’ve often asked myself, how do I balance it all?  With four kids ranging in age from 18 down to 3, it’s hard keeping up with all the activities, chores, homeschooling, Sunday School teaching, co-op preparations, a new Sunday night program I’m starting in August, husband pleasing, menu planning, grocery shopping, meal prep, etc., etc., etc.  That doesn’t even include the schedule or my times alone with the Lord.  I often feel frazzled, and it’s no wonder.  Busyness is taking over our culture.  If we aren’t busy, we question if we’re doing enough.

I seem to feel more “balanced” when I have a To-Do List.  I can’t seem to function without one.  Routines are also key.  Doing the same things every day in the exact same order. They don’t have to be a certain time, as long as they are in the same order. If I don’t have a To-Do List or follow my routines, I get nothing productive done.  I also have to set alarms on my phone for everything, or I’d forget.  Things like gymnastics, story time at the library, when to pick my kids up from events, trash day, etc.  Is this normal?  Or, am I just frazzled?  LOL!

I always thought that balance in life meant figuring out how to make everything in my day work out smoothly, without stress. It was something that I had to schedule correctly, work through, or make happen. I even thought that praying for a more balanced life was a good thing, and it is. But, I think balance is not exactly what I’ve been thinking it is.  I recently wrote this post about resources I have used to help me have a clean and organized home.  One of those resources that I’m reading through currently is a book called Unstuffed. It deals with our stuff/belongings, our mind, our schedules, and our spirits.  And, I’m finding out that balance really has nothing to do with what “I” do. I can’t do anything to become more balanced. I can only find rest. Rest is what keeps me balanced. Why did it take me SO LONG to realize this? I mean, it’s clearly laid out in the creation account of Genesis. God did all his work in six days, and on the seventh He rested. He didn’t need to rest, He was just giving us an example to follow. Yet, in this day and age, we don’t see that NEED for rest. We feel like we have to go 100 miles a minute, and keep pushing through to get just one more thing done.  I think it’s also making sure that after we get a full day of rest once a week, that we focus on four areas to keep us from that frazzled state.

  1. Spiritual – Remain steadfast in God’s Word and in a healthy prayer life.  Keep sin at bay by asking for forgiveness often and repenting or turning from the sin.  Forgive others as the Lord has forgiven you.  Be thankful in all circumstances and for all things.  We are truly blessed.  Serve others in love.
  2. Physical – Eat healthy foods and get active.  Whether that means walking or a full on workout.  Exercise is great for your body, but it’s also great for your mood.  Give it a try and see for yourself.  I enjoy water aerobics when the weather is nice, Pilates for strength training, yoga for stretching and relaxation, and I’m checking into T-Tapp which is something I’ve just learned about.
  3. Mental – Feed your mind.  Never stop learning.  I always have books on hand to read, and now we have blogs, and articles all over the internet.  Learn something new.  Keep your mind active.  Fill it with good things, and stay away from negative things that can cause a negative attitude or mindset.
  4. Emotional – Be a friend.  Stay positive.  Think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, and lovely.  Laugh a lot!  Do things that make you happy.  I’ve recently discovered that I enjoy doing art.  It brings me joy.  Make it a point to be in contact with people who encourage you, challenge you, and lift you up.

So, I believe to have a balanced life, we must REST.  It’s the key.  What are some ways you try to remain balanced?  Do you think REST is important?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  I am planning to continue studying up on this.  I recently ordered the Bible Study called Living a Life of Balance (Women of Faith Series).  Can’t wait to get started on it and see what it says about having a balanced life!

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The Meaning Behind Strings to Wings

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I have wanted to write for a very long time.  I started writing when I was a teen, but it was just in personal journals that I began with:  “Dear Imagination”.  Now I see that and think it is rather funny.  But, it was during those times of writing in my journals and studying God’s Word those many years ago, that I felt like writing was something I could do.  I enjoyed writing.  It made me smile, released whatever feelings I may have been having, and it just felt right.

I remember one summer, after I came home from a Christian Youth Camp called Super Summer, I would sit in the quiet of my room for hours everyday, just listening to Christian music and spending time in prayer and Bible Study.  I loved that time in my life.  I grew so much Spiritually during that time and it was beautiful!  I even remember my mom, at one time, being concerned about me because I was spending so much time hanging out in my room.  But, to me, it was a place where I could meet with the Lord and be filled.

It was during that time, I began writing a devotional/journal/notebook that I called AGOGE, which is greek for Manner of Living.  At that time, I did everything with pen and paper, kind of like a sketch of what I hoped it would become.  We didn’t own a computer, this was the late 80’s or early 90’s and computers were just starting to become common place.  But, I did what I could with what I had.  I did own a pretty fancy typewriter that erased if you made a mistake, which was heaven to me after using one that you had to pull the paper completely out, white out your mistake, then try to realign your paper to type over where you made the mistake.  I was very grateful to have the typewriter that corrected mistakes!  (And, now I am extra thrilled to have a husband who owns a computer business!)

Anyway, I made the devotional/journal/notebook and once I had it typed how I wanted it, 3 hole punched, and put into a small notebook, I took it to my pastor to show him.  He was such an encouragement to me!  He told me that I had a gift and that I really ought to try to get the book published.  Well, I was a teenager!  I had no idea how to do that, but he gave me some information to check into and encouraged me to run with it.  He is also the one that helped me come up with the name AGOGE.  I am forever grateful, and to this day I think of him as the best pastor I’ve ever had.  (Not just because he encouraged my writing, but because he preached with conviction, he lived what he preached, he loved on our family, and he mentored many people into true disciples of Jesus Christ.)  He is retired now, but he is still very much active in ministry.  That’s the way it should be when you love Jesus!

I regret to say that I never did get AGOGE published.  I still have it tucked away in a file cabinet. But, I did happen to to make several copies of it and sold it for super cheap (probably the price of the notebook) to people who wanted a copy.  And, it did sell.  I was happy with that.

I tell you all of this as background.  Once I got married, and involved in Youth Ministry with my husband, my writing got put on the back burner.  I was living life.  I was newly married, learning ministry with my husband, and working.  My creativity played out in new ways then.  I LOVED to decorate homes, try out faux painting techniques, refinish things, and the like.  I also worked full-time, so I just had to fit in these creative activities when I had time.  And, then we began having children.  Well, with one child, the creativity continued into scrapbooking, along with the previous mentioned things.  But, once the second baby came, along with feeding issues and doctor visits, all came to an abrupt halt.  Once we got through the difficulties, more life happened and more struggles occured.  Maybe someday I can write about those bumps in my life, but those will be for other posts.  I am grateful now for the struggles and bumps, even as difficult as they were, because God used them to shape me into the person I am today, and He continues to work in my life growing me into the exact person He wants me to be.

Now we have 4 children, and have been married for 22 years.  My husband is still doing youth ministry, but I stay at home to homeschool my kiddos (one is about to graduate this year, and my youngest hasn’t even started school yet), and life has been super crazy.  However, I feel the Lord nudging me on to venture back into writing.  Except this time through blogging.  I’m excited and thrilled!

Remember how I mentioned above the struggles and bumps along the journey my life has taken me?  Well, it was through those difficult times that God gave me the thought of how my heart is on a string.  It is super fragile, but placed in His hands will be held and given wings to fly above whatever circumstances come my way.  And, in training and raising my children, I have the same goals for them.  That I will eventually help them to cut the ties at home and be able to fly on wings as eagles.  So, originally I came up with a super long blog post name.  It was….Hearts on Strings Getting Wings.  But, after speaking with a good friend who also blogs, she encouraged me to shorten it, as it was too long.  So, I came up with Strings to Wings.

We all are on a journey through this life, and all of us have fragile hearts.  Hopefully when the pressures of life come and the strings get worn or cut, we will have grown enough to not fall to the ground, but to fly above those circumstances, and soar.