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A New Marriage

Sat, 2015-08-22 14:00
Photo: iStock A little over a year ago, my husband and I entered the Empty Nest phase of our lives together. For a while, the "Nest" had become a refueling station. However, I believe that Empty is what we are currently experiencing with both children married and living in their own homes. I am still adjusting to purchasing fewer groceries, washing fewer loads of clothes, and having more hours in a quiet house. How would I describe this part of our lives?

1. Time for Change—bad and good

For some couples this is a time of basking in much-needed attention without anyone else crawling into bed in the middle of the night, or interrupting each conversation. Yet Empty Nesting can also mean that couples are no longer interested in protecting their marriage “for the sake of the children.” And as parents die, couples no longer have to spare their parents from distress. Some couples enter this phase with some fear and anxiety—am I still a priority to my partner? Is he bored with me? Can we find anything in common other than the children? A variety of insecurities and temptations can emerge. Individual developmental stages sometimes seem to work against the achievement of a thriving marriage. While some women struggle with their changing status, others seem eager to explore their independence. Men may entertain romantic ideas or “soften” as they age. Husbands and wives often struggle with their own changing physical conditions.

2. Time for Evaluation/Making New Memories

One of our first projects together was a healthy lifestyle adjustment as we re-discovered making and eating nutritious meals. We take daily walks together as often as possible. While learning about enhancing our later years in life, we know that our brains and souls need continuing social connections and intellectual refreshment. We are trying some new recipes, mentoring a young couple, planning to learn Spanish, and hoping to take a cruise. We have also taken stock of some house repairs, explored options for finances, and re-energized a career.

3. Time for Another Wedding

Now it is just the three of us, and I do not mean two people and the dog. The third member of our home is our marriage. Just as our children have developed through various stages, so has our marriage. Maintaining marriage during the active parenting years seemed at times as though hanging on by God’s grace. We now have another marriage that can thrive with nurture and investment.

I am reminded of what Mary Pipher, Ph.D., says in her book, The Shelter of Each Other (p. 237):

"In our rapidly changing world, people who stay married for fifty years really have multiple marriages to the same mate. They have a romantic relationship, a child-rearing relationship, and later one strong in commitment and caretaking. One marriage ceremony at the beginning is not enough to hold such a marriage in place. Couples need new ceremonies and rites of passage, second honeymoons and even third and fourth ones. It's good to renew vows and write new vows every few years."

Recently I read that rather than taking marriages for granted we should take infidelity for granted—that seems to be the status quo on this earth. Marriage is teased, tempted and triumphs on a daily basis. As I recommit myself to my relationship with Christ each day, I am encouraged to make a daily choice for our marriage and to love.

The realization that multiple marriages exist between the same two people can change expectations, encourage forgiveness, and help establish new goals and understanding.

When children have launched or careers have changed, it is the best time to share renewal vows, moments of prayer and blessing, besides planning special adventures.

4. Time for Added Support

Friends, family and the church can acknowledge and support marriages with a renewal service or a party. Waiting until a 40th or 50th anniversary may be too late for many couples. Spiritual, emotional, financial and physical challenges exist every day. Now is the time to “rally the troops” and dedicate a new marriage.

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By Karen Spruill, M.A. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Pipher, Mary. The Shelter of Each Other; rebuilding our families. 1996, Grosset/Putnam, N.Y., N.Y.

Taming the Tiger

Sat, 2015-08-22 14:00
Photo: iStock Child [A] begins yelling angrily, “He started it!” Child [B] starts grabbing at his brother, “Did not!”

If this scenario sounds all too familiar the following tips may help you in dealing with sibling rivalry in your home.

As far as possible, let each child have his own physical space. If siblings must share bedrooms, improvise some sort of divider so they clearly know where their space ends and the other person’s begins. Enforce the “ask permission” rule where children must ask and receive the owner’s approval to be in his space or borrow his things.

Encourage each child to have an interest of his own in which he can excel. If big brother Johnny studies the violin, encourage Joey to play the trumpet, guitar, or whatever instrument interests him. If sister Suzy is a soccer star, sign Sarah up for swimming, tennis, etc. This will help to minimize the competition between siblings.

Resist the temptation to compare. What comes easily for one child (like a straight A report card) may be impossible for another to achieve. Recognize and affirm the value of each child for who s/he is – a blessing from God.

Sharing Together

Choose an activity that all the children in the home can enjoy and capitalize on it. For our family, that has been building with LEGOs while listening to recordings of dramatized stories. Our children have passed many pleasant hours together, happily constructing huge castles and mansions and equipping all the rooms with furniture and accessories. When they finish a project we take pictures for the family photo album.

If, despite all your efforts, your offspring persist in squabbling, tell them that from now on whenever there is conflict each child will have to be alone. Instead of trying to figure out “whose fault it is” send them all to separate rooms where they must stay until they are ready to get along with others. If you do this consistently they will tire of isolation and try harder to keep the peace.

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).

When brothers and sisters develop strong ties as they are growing up they can support each other in difficult times and enjoy the blessing of life-long friendships. 

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By Brenda Dickerson. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Amazing Race Grace

Sat, 2015-08-22 14:00
Photo: iStock It was Tuesday night and time for my favorite television program, The Amazing Race. But instead of a dozen teams of two people each, the teams were made up of four members of a family. A few of the teams had a mother, father and two small children – which was a liability in this game of strategy and sometimes strength as they negotiate their way around the country. Some of the teams were siblings and a couple of the teams had one parent with three children.

During the weeks of the show, there’s an opportunity to get to know the contestants and choose favorites that you hope will win. It’s also easy to spot the ones you hope don’t win.
Early on, I began to notice the Weaver family from Florida. There was Mom, Rebecca (19), Rachel (16) and Rolly (14). The father had been killed during an accident at the Daytona International Speedway two years before. My heart went out to them during the contest when it landed them at motor speedways. Their tears of grief were hard to ignore. Something else made them stand out. They talked often about their faith and the fact they were Christians. It’s always great to hear that during secular programming. But it wasn’t long before I hoped they’d stop waving their faith banner. They became an embarrassment. And I wasn’t the only Christian feeling that way.

An article written about Amazing Race 8 Family Edition had this to say about the Weavers: “Once the Weavers showed up, roughly 16 million Christians of all denominations, when questioned about their faith, paused, looked awkward, and said ‘Ummm... I just converted to …’”

Of course, it wasn’t that bad, but there was certainly nothing to be proud about. Sure they prayed -- sometimes to have their teammates fail, but most of the time that they would win the race. They lied, they cheated, they made fun of fellow teammates and then when they were shunned by the other members of the race who had felt their unkindness, they said it was because they were Christians and they were being persecuted. I wanted to reach into the television and give their Mom a little shake.

Healthy Trees--Good Apples

Jesus knew some Christians just like this and talked about them in Luke 6, the same chapter that contains the Golden Rule. He said, “You don't get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It's who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.”

OK, I’ll be the first one to admit that I’ve done everything that the Weavers did – of course, not on national television. So what am I fussing about? The whole thing gave me a wake-up call. As disgusted as I was at the Weavers for announcing they were Christians and then ending up being “wormy apples,” I’m wondering if my coworkers, friends and family think I’m a little wormy, too? Instead of focusing on this poor family from Florida, I’m taking a look inward. I’m not naturally honest, long-suffering and kind. In fact, I could probably give the Weavers a run for their money in the nasty department.

There’s only one way I can run a clean race and it’s through God’s grace. A good definition of grace is “God's life, power and righteousness coming to us, the undeserving, as a gift.”

It is through grace that God works effective change in our hearts and lives. God's laws don’t have the power to make us what we should be. It takes God Himself, working in our lives, to make us what we ought to be. I want to run that race. I don’t even have to be the first one across the finish line, but I do want to be in the running and through my example, I want to be running the race with people who have seen God in me by His grace. It’s God's grace that gives us the right words and the right way to communicate those words. It’s God's grace that actually spreads through us to work in those that are hearing and receiving the gospel.

“Every detail works to your advantage and to God's glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise" (2 Corinthians 4:15).

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By Dee Reed. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE ®.

Birds, Bees, and Purity

Tue, 2015-08-18 14:00
Photo: iStock It started out like any other school day. You know, where you’re running around wondering why your gym clothes aren’t clean and your hair has that funny sticky-up thing going on, and you just remembered you had a history paper due. One of those kinds of days.

As the mother of a 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, I was glad I was not the one having to prepare for a day at school; instead, I was the chauffeur – a job I was going to give up as soon as my daughter Joelle got her driver’s license. We piled into the car; Joelle in front next to me and Scott slouched in the back trying to catch a few more Zs on the way to school. Joelle usually carried on a one-sided conversation during the a.m. commutes having a naturally sunny morning disposition. Scott and I, on the other hand, tended to wake up a bit more slowly.

She chatted on and I was lulled into making monosyllabic responses until I heard the word “sex.” Hey, wait! What was I missing? “Could you repeat that again?” I asked. “Must have been thinking about something else.”

What Did You Say?

“I just said that Jennifer and I decided that we won’t take drugs or have sex with boys because we don’t need to,” she repeated. “We feel too good about ourselves so why should we do something that could hurt us? Plus, it’s not what God has in mind for us before we get married.”

I stuttered a bit and actually started sweating, although the morning air was quite cold. If you ever want to see your parents sweat, just start talking about sex. “Do you and your friends talk much about sex and drugs?” I asked.

“Yeah, sometimes we do. One of the girls in our class is pregnant and so it’s kind of a popular subject now,” Joelle responded.

“Did you know that she was having sex?” I asked.

“Some of us thought so,” said Joelle. “She’s been having a hard time at home and has stopped being involved in after-school programs. I tried talking to her and invited her to be on our worship team, but she said she really wasn’t interested, so I didn’t know what else to do.”

As I pulled into the school parking lot – much too soon for our conversation to end – I struggled with something to say. Scott woke up and both kids piled out of the car shouting quick good byes. I just sat there letting the car idle as I thought about her classmate’s parents and what they must be feeling and about the young mother-to-be and prayed that Joelle would always feel too good about herself.

Of course, I’d had THE SEX talk with her many years ago, as did Scott’s dad with him, but I had only dealt with the negatives about having sex outside of marriage: the possibility of pregnancy and disease. I hadn’t stressed how good it feels to be doing the will of God when caring for your body, mostly because at 15, I had learned the opposite side of it. It was a long time ago, but the memories came flooding back of how lost I had felt and how far it seemed I was separated from God. Nothing seemed to be going right.

Feeling Pressure

My parents and I weren’t getting along, I was failing some of my classes and my boyfriend – the only person in the whole world that I thought really loved me – was pressing me to have sex with him. And why shouldn’t I? No one really cared – not even God who had these impossibly high standards set for me that only caused me to fail and fail. Since I was already so bad, what’s one more thing?

Two 15-year-olds. Two different Gods? No. The difference was in the message that the two 15-year-olds received ABOUT God – the two different messages they heard. I heard the legalities and the rules and Joelle had heard the freedom of believing in a God that had her best interest in mind. I grew up with the “Wages of sin is death,” and she grew up understanding Ephesians 3:18-19 (NLT): "And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God."

Sure both of those are legitimate Bible texts. The one I heard and believed dealt with how God feels about sin. The one Joelle heard dealt with how God feels about his children. Imagine believing that God loves us so much that we’ll be filled with life and power? The power to make the right choices knowing that no matter what we do, we’ll be loved. Fantastic!

Those two 15-year-olds certainly took two different paths. Can they possibly end up at the same place? Certainly! It’s just that one path is less painful and less harmful. Why wallow in the mud if you can just step over the mud puddle? Because God loves us so much, he has promises for those of us who don’t always do what’s best for our minds and our bodies. “Where is the god who can compare with you--wiping the slate clean of guilt, turning a blind eye, a deaf ear, to the past sins of your purged and precious people? You don't nurse your anger and don't stay angry long, for mercy is your specialty. That's what you love most. And compassion is on its way to us. You'll stamp out our wrongdoing. You'll sink our sins to the bottom of the ocean” (Micah 7:18-19, The Message).

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By Dee Reed. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE ® and the NEW LIVING TRANSLATION ©.

A Father's Love

Tue, 2015-08-18 14:00
Photo: Mohamed Riffath After years of trying to have a baby, Mark and Amy were finally blessed with a baby boy. They named the child after his father. Amy was in school but took some time off to spend with her newborn. She never went anywhere without little Mark. Mark and Amy loved spending time playing with, feeding, and loving him. Little Mark’s giggle brightened up their lives.

Six months after little Mark was born, Amy decided to return to school. She would be to taking night classes so Mark could be at home with the baby. Amy was extremely nervous. She had not been away from her baby yet. She knew that Mark could take care of him but she also knew she would miss him. Amy hoped her thoughts of little Mark would not distract her from her school work.

Mark was also nervous about Amy going back to school but he did not show it. He often fed and changed little Mark when Amy was at home. But this wouldn't be different because he would be all alone with little Mark. Mark reassured Amy that everything would be just fine and she had nothing to worry about. But on the inside he wondered how he was going to deal with it.

Solo Night

The dreaded night finally came and Amy wiped the tears from her eyes as she kissed little Mark goodbye. Mark and his son had a great time together while Amy was at school. They laughed and giggled almost the whole time. But just before it was time for Amy to come home, little Mark started crying. Mark checked his diaper, but that wasn’t the problem. He tried feeding and holding him but that didn’t help either. Mark was disappointed when nothing he did seemed to comfort his son.

Our Father in heaven loves us even more than Mark loves his little son. When we suffer, God suffers. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38, 39).

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By David Wolstenholm. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Marriage Healing

Tue, 2015-08-18 14:00
Photo: Brenda Lamothe Coulomme I sat in the counselor’s office talking about marriage problems. Not just my own, but the whole historic issues that men and women face. We theorized and philosophized, but there were no easy answers as to why men and women struggle, until he shared one statement that made all the sense in the world.

He said: “There can be no healing in a marriage until each person owns his or her own stuff.”

That was it. Such an easy answer, but such a hard thing to do.

If both partners in a relationship can own up to what they do right and wrong it will stop most of the problems and pain. It is hard to be angry and frustrated at someone who is admitting his or her part of “dance.”

Most couples stay in constant trouble because one or both are not willing to “own” what he or she contributes to the mix of marriage.

All of a sudden James’ instruction for healing makes sense. Not just for a person with a physical illness, but for a couple with a marriage illness. He said: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

Confess…that’s “Owning One’s Own Stuff.” According to James when we “Own Our Stuff” we can be healed.

True Confession

Confession works. I recently talked with someone who had been abused by his father so badly when he was a boy that he had to run away to save his life. He had terrible memories of beatings, bruises and blood. Yet, he said that if his father ever comes to him and apologizes he will forgive him. That’s the amazing healing power of “Owning Our Own Stuff.”

And praying. James says we are to confess to each other and pray for each other. How many couples do that when they have a disagreement? It’s very hard for a couple to stay angry with each other when they are praying together. Try it.

But, unfortunately many couples choose rather to remain angry and hold resentments. They hold on to each other’s “stuff” and forget to own their own “stuff.”

So, perhaps the first prayer we all need to pray is asking God for the grace and courage to “fess up” and “own up” so we can “heal up.”

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By Chad McComas. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Been There, Done That

Sat, 2015-08-15 14:00
Photo: iStock “An effort made for the happiness of others lifts us above ourselves.” –Lydia M. Child

Some people have been married, divorced, and single, married again, divorced again, and single again. So as I said in the title, been there, done that, and I would do it again.

Why? Because we learn as we go. It’s unfortunate that it took a few of us 30, 40 or 50 years to figure out how to live the way we were meant live.

All little girls dream of silk wedding gowns, romantic honeymoons and living happily ever after in a cottage in the country surrounded by a white picket fence; a dog, a cat, and a few children giggling as they chase each other around the house.

What goes wrong? We’re human and often have unrealistic expectations when we’re young (and sometimes when we’re older too). We expect our mate to be perfect, to fulfill our every need, to care for us the way we fantasized it would be in our childish dreams.

Authentic love

I read somewhere that women marry men for who they can change them to be, and men marry women for who they are. Women out there, put aside your pride. It’s ok to learn from men sometimes. Having a healthy relationship starts with honesty and openness. Slip daily communication into the menu with loving your partner for who s/he is and not who you hope or expect them to become.

As Joan Crawford once said “Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth or burn down your house, you can never tell.”

Marriage, just like any good relationship requires a lot of compromise. It requires two people willing to listen for what the other person needs from them. A successful marriage isn’t about finding the right mate; it’s about being the right mate. Neither is marriage about being perfect or expecting the other person to be perfect; it’s all about recognizing and being aware of your differences and similarities, accepting them and matching those pieces together perfectly.

You can’t fail when you hold hands while disagreeing, agree to be friends, and mix in a hefty dose of humor. Traveling together hand in hand into the sunset is the way every good relationship movie ends. It’s the only way to travel with your partner.

So make the decision today from this day forward to put out the fires of destruction, and keep your hearth warm with the fire of love and acceptance.

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By Denise Taylor, pseudonym. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

I'm Afraid Daddy

Sat, 2015-08-15 14:00
Photo: iStock I'm afraid, daddy.” My eight-year-old daughter started her nightly ritual sharing her fear to go to sleep alone in her room. She talked of hearing noises outside. She didn’t like the dark and worried that mom and dad were too far down the hall to rescue her if she needed it.

I tried, seemingly in vain, to encourage Marci that she was going to be all right. I shared that most of the noises had good explanations: A tree groaning in the wind; a branch of a bush rubbing up against the house; a cat calling another cat or deciding to defend its territory.

Then I pulled out the big guns. I talked about how Jesus was there with her. All she had to do was call out to Jesus and He’d be with her. He promised to never leave us alone. That ought to do it, I thought.

It seemed to help. I prayed with Marci and she went to bed.

Jesus understands that we get afraid in life. Otherwise why would he often tell His disciples to not be afraid?  Remember when they saw Him walking on water in the dead of night? They thought He was a ghost. They cried out to God to rescue them. Jesus called to them: Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid" (Matthew 14:27).

Letting Go of Our Fears

There are many stories in the Word that tell us that it is very human to be afraid, but God desires for us to let go of our fears and trust in Him.

Marci was trying to trust in Jesus that night. She woke up and felt afraid again. She remembered that her daddy told her to pray to Jesus. So she did. 

Then it happened. She shared with me the next morning that an bright being came to her room and filled her doorway. She just knew it was an angel. Its presence filled her with peace and enabled her to go to sleep trusting that God was with her.

She has never forgot that night. Neither have I. I was so honored that my God thought enough of my scared little girl to do something extraordinary to give her peace.

He still does for me all the time. I get myself all worked up and worried. I get afraid about all the pressures of life. I lose perspective too often. Then I’m reminded that Jesus said: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). When I finally do come to Him and ask for His help, I find peace. I’m no longer afraid.

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By Chad McComas. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Being in Love

Sat, 2015-08-15 14:00
Photo: iStock After 25 years of marriage, my wife and I were apart on Valentine’s Day this year. Our ten-month-old granddaughter, Kira, twisted out of Dad’s grasp, fell off a bed, and fractured her femur . . . so Grandma flew out to Baton Rouge for an extended stay. (Lisa has so many frequent-flyer miles to Louisiana that the airline pilots stop by our house and give her a ride to the airport.) So lately we love each other long-distance, and that’s all right, really.

Back in November of ’79, when we first met and were “in love,” we had to be together every moment. Most dates went until 2:00 a.m. with kisses on the couch and reluctant goodbyes. But, as C.S. Lewis observes in one of his Mere Christianity essays, while “being in love” is a glorious, foggy-minded state, it is a temporary feeling, not a permanent principle. And mature couples willingly give up the giddiness for the more satisfying joy of being in a deep, abiding, mature, fulfilling relationship that endures all things and weathers fractures large and small.

He goes on to laud Christian sexual connection between husband and wife as a celebrating of true oneness, of a developed, unshakable commitment. I think about (and am ashamed for knowing about it) television characters like CBS’s fictional Charlie Harper, who selfishly seeks enough bed partners, not for just two-and-a-half men, but for twenty of them. But that kind of shallow hedonism, where you want just the physical sensation, the five minutes of ecstatic “fun” without love and caring, is, Lewis writes, a sort of dysfunctional romantic bulimia. How can anybody actually cheat themselves by wanting so little?

Daughters of Eve

I was back in my hometown of Bangkok in 2002, speaking at a prayer seminar for a Christian nursing school. It was a most pleasant week, sharing the gospel with 250 very pretty young Thai girls (all the age of my younger daughter.) When an administrator unexpectedly threw one more seminar presentation at me with five minutes of notice, I scrambled around for a topic before saying this to my audience: “You young ladies are all children of the God in heaven; you are princesses. Daughters of Eve.” Even as Buddhists, they knew enough of the Bible to recognize that metaphor. 

I went on to lament the sorry reality that they lived in one of the world’s most notorious sex-trade centers; prostitution is one of Thailand’s rampant realities. It is a common street expression on Patpong Road that an American or European visitor can purchase a bar girl “short-time” for maybe thirty bucks. A “long-time” buy, where she stays all night in your hotel room . . . well, maybe double that amount.

They sat with sober faces as I said to these feminine treasures: “The Christian faith believes that you were purchased with very expensive Calvary blood; Jesus values you so far above what they pay here in Bangkok’s red-light district. Don’t ever let anyone come along and have you cheap.”
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By David Smith. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Ready for Healing

Tue, 2015-08-11 14:00
Photo: iStock Sue always had good reasons why she got herself into the messes she did. It was her younger brother’s fault when things were found broken around the house. She even blamed him for her messy room.

In high school Sue blamed her poor grades on the fact her teachers didn’t “like” her or she was too sick to go to classes or the other students didn’t treat her right.

Sue’s didn’t keep a job very long. She blamed her coworkers, the shift manager, the company policies. It was always a surprise when she was let go.

The Blame Game Continues

Sue’s marriage with Frank started good, but soon they were facing painful, financial struggles. Frank discovered “surprise” charges on the credit card and checks written on an empty account. When he confronted her she blamed him for not making enough money to take care of their home and needs. Besides, he was too controlling” about finances. It was his fault.

Tension in the marriage grew stronger and the gap bigger. Sue was angry she married such a loser and began to use alcohol to deal with the pain. She believed it was Frank’s fault she drank.

Sue drank to get up, drank to get through the morning, the afternoon, the evening and to get ready for bed. She was driving under the influence. That led to a DUI. There were court problems, fines, probation and a few days in jail. Of course, it was everyone else’s fault.

Sue left Frank or Frank left Sue. It was a mutual agreement. Her family distanced themselves. She lost her friends and eventually her respect. She was isolated and got angry at everyone who put her in the situation she was in. Her denial ran very deep.

When Sue finally hit bottom and got sick and tired, her denial stopped. She cried out to God. “I can’t take it any more. I’m out of control and I need help. I’m ready to change. Please God just take over.”

Ready for Help

That was the beginning of a new life. From that moment God stepped into Sue’s life and led her on a life-changing course that totally transformed her attitude. It started when she admitted she needed help.

Jesus talked about how vital it is to admit one’s fault and need. He started his famous Beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

When we are “poor in spirit” we realize we need help. We admit we can’t do life on our own. We don’t have all the answers. The “poor in spirit” lose arrogance. They stop sticking their noses up in the air, but stick their hands up to God.

Being “poor in spirit” is a good thing. It is a healing thing. Admitting is the first step to healing. It breaks the power that blaming has to keep us stuck in thinking it’s everyone else’s fault.

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By Chad McComas. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Outside the Box

Tue, 2015-08-11 14:00
Photo: Gabriella Fabbri My husband bought me a new cookbook for my birthday after I not-so-subtly hinted that I wanted it. It’s a brand new book -- all about stewing, steaming and even baking in a crock pot. The author owns 25 slow cookers of different sizes and temperature settings, and has spent the past five years preparing most of her family’s food in one or another of these pots. I have ONE crock pot, and thought it was for soup.

However, as I eagerly perused my new book, the advantages of using a slow cooker immediately appealed to me – no more standing over a hot stove, stirring stuff, no more cleaning up boiled-over messes, being able to keep food warm for several hours without burning it, cooking and serving in the same container –so efficient!

Enthusiastically, I began trying new recipes. The baked potatoes turned out perfectly, with petal-soft skins and just the right texture. The crusty whole wheat bread was delicious, and the oatmeal raisin rolls were even better. My kids devoured the sloppy joes before they even had a chance to be sloppy. We’re having the Easy Does It Spaghetti tonight (which is how I have time to be writing.) I can hardly wait to try the Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

My Conversion

I have owned a crock pot for 20 years. Why did I never think to utilize it this way before? Only when someone pointed out (in an attractive, tried-and-true way) all the great reasons to avail myself of this easy, efficient method was I convinced and converted.

Perhaps, for some of us, the gospel is like this. We’ve had a Bible sitting around for ages, and maybe have even read it now and then. But until someone who has been immersed in the Word presents it in an appealing, yet simple and efficient manner, we don’t realize all the situations to which it applies, all the solutions it provides. We don’t know what a treasure we possess.

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By Brenda Dickerson. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines

Forty Winks

Tue, 2015-08-11 14:00
Photo: Maarten Thiebou It was the week prior to the 4th of July and all the kids in our apartment complex were stockpiling their fireworks. My own two children, who were 9 and 11 at the time, had been visiting the neighborhood stands daily, making selections of their favorite pyrotechnics.

This particular afternoon, it was blazing hot in California’s central valley, and I lay down on the bed to rest. The kids were playing safely, outside in the back yard (or, so I thought). Now, I’ve never been a “day sleeper.” But, perhaps it was the warm temperatures, or maybe the demands of single parenting catching up with me. Whatever the reason, I slipped into a deep slumber and was gone.

Suddenly I awoke to children’s screams. I bolted from the bed and dashed to the window to see fire shooting up from the vacant field directly behind our apartment. Flames hungrily swallowed the tinder-dry grass. Racing out the door to the side of the house, I grabbed a garden hose and began spraying. Surprisingly, it did the trick and within a few moments the blackened field was smoldering.

Sleeping On the Job

Obviously frightened by the traumatic event, the story spilled from the mouths of my children. Virginia, my 9-year- old, had ignited a “flash ray gun” and somehow the parched grass had caught fire. Thank God, neither of them were hurt, and the apartment complex didn’t burn down! But, I blamed myself for “sleeping on the job.”

One time it appeared Jesus was “sleeping on the job.” While crossing the sea with the disciples, he nestled his head on a pillow in the stern of the boat and fell asleep. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was filling with water. The disciples woke their Teacher, petrified the boat would capsize and they would drown. "Then Jesus arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace, be still!' And the wind ceased and there was a great calm" (Mark 4:39). The disciples marveled that even the wind and the sea obeyed their Master.

Whatever crisis you may be facing today, rest assured that God is not “sleeping on the job.” The Creator of the universe is in control. And, even the elements obey the Almighty when commanded.

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By Kathy A. Lewis. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW KING JAMES VERSION © 1982.

The Friendship Factor

Sat, 2015-08-08 14:00
Photo: Marja Flick-Buijs “I always felt that the great high privilege, relief, and comfort of friendship was that one had to explain nothing.” --Katherine Mansfield

Got friends? At various times throughout my life I’ve heard people complain they don’t have friends, or that people at church, in the community, or at a local barbecue aren’t friendly enough to them. Some people sit back and expect others to come to them and fulfill their every need. I must say I’ve been guilty of that complaint myself at times.

When I moved from one side of the country (where all people were friendly!) to the opposite side of the country (where I was quite sure people had an attitude problem and were very unfriendly!), I complained to my one and only local friend that this town was full of unfriendly people. I was certain it was not me that had the problem of unfriendliness.

A verse in the Bible points out that “if you expect to have friends, you have to be the one to take responsibility to reach out and be the friendly one” (paraphrased).

My happiest moments

After Thanksgiving dinner the other day while sitting in front of the crackling fire, my best friend asked me to recall the happiest moments of my life. Interesting that every happy moment I could recall had been while in the company of close friends and family members. No memory of sufficient happiness had been while sitting alone in front of the TV, or computer, or while reading a book. Wow! I thought, the happiest moments of my life have been in the flow of affection among friends!

Full joy comes from within, and from sharing that joy with those around you, whether it be in giving, receiving or equal exchange of sharing of lives and fun times together. You can’t do that alone. Everybody needs relationships involving friends.

God didn’t create us to be alone. He didn’t create Adam to spend the rest of his life naming and playing with the animals (this article is not intended to offend those of you who depend solely on your house pet for your social life). God made people to enjoy, support and encourage each other. Make it a point to be the friendly person today. Reach out, and feel the joy spread throughout your entire soul!

“Treat your friends as you do your pictures, and place them in their best light.” – Jennie Jerome Churchill
______________________________

By Denise Taylor, pseudonym. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

God's Love Manual

Sat, 2015-08-08 14:00
Photo: Carien van Hest Sometimes I think that if people only knew what the Bible had to say, they would read it more. As wives and husbands, we often wish we knew how to fix our marital differences. We wish there was a book, a person, or something that could tell us what we were doing wrong, because honestly, much of the time it feels like we are walking a fine line between happiness and misery. One word, one misunderstanding, one thoughtless moment can lead to a lot of angry feelings in any relationship, if we haven’t gone to the right source to find out just what it is we should be doing.

The Bible has a lot to say about love and romance. Marriages can really benefit if both husband and wife read the Bible and put its instructions into practice. We all know how wonderful it is to first fall in love. Did you know that the Bible has a whole book devoted to romantic love?

Bring back the romance

Song of Solomon 1:2 begins the tale of two lovers with the words, “Kiss me again and again, for your love is sweeter than wine.” Think back to the time you first fell in love with your wife or your husband – their sweet kisses probably made your knees knock and your heart pound. God does understand this kind of romantic love! In fact, God created you to feel that way about your beloved.

One of the biggest problems spouses face today is that feelings of “romantic love” have dwindled away and they long for them to return. Too often, men and women fall into the trap of looking outside of their marriages for romantic love and are later filled with regret and feelings of betrayal. Proverbs 5:18-19 gives this advice, “Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. She is a loving doe, a graceful deer. Let her breasts satisfy you always. May you always be captivated by her love.” What wife doesn’t want her husband to feel that way about her? And women are told to, “…respect [their] husbands.” Ephesians 5:33 Most husbands would be thrilled if their wives offered respect on a daily basis!

So, why not try going to the original love manual when you have questions or marital problems. You might be surprised at how much good advice you'll find!

Tip: Want to spice up your marriage? Try reading a chapter of Song of Solomon each evening with your spouse before turning out the lights!
______________________________

By Melissa Ringstaff. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the New Living Translation ®.

Family Hate

Sat, 2015-08-08 14:00
Photo: iStock They were all there…father, mother, two sons, a daughter with her newborn son. It was a family reunion. But, the gathering was in court.

The mother sat with the children in one row and the father sat alone in another row. There was tension so thick it felt like a heavy fog settling over the group. There were definite sides drawn up that no one could cross without feeling like they were betraying the side they came from.

It was a hard scene to watch. Dad had been out of the family for several years. The teenage boys didn’t have a relationship with dad because mom and dad were fighting. You could see in their eyes they wanted to go up to dad and give him a hug, but it might hurt mom, so they refrained. The daughter wanted her dad to hold his newborn grandchild, but she didn’t approach him because she was afraid to hurt her mother.

Dad didn’t approach any of his children because of the deep wounds he felt with mom. He didn’t know how to let go of his pain to reach out to his family. He was missing so much, too much, but he just didn’t see it.

A Turn For the Worse

I saw it. I saw it all and it broke my heart. At one time this was a Christian family. Dad and mom were Christian believers. The children had grown up attending a Christian church. Now…Christ was outside. The kids were no longer attending a church or praying at home. The boys had gotten mixed up in drugs and gangs. Their school attendance and production dropped off the charts. They didn’t have any clue where they were going or how to get there. Dad wasn’t there for them.

Families are being torn apart by divorce. The pain is real. It is pervasive. “Hate” ruins relationships. Resentment settles in and stubbornness refuses to accept healing.

Jesus came to heal people. Perhaps the most important healing is the healing of the heart. Jesus wants to heal hurting hearts. He tells us to “love our enemies” (Matthew 5:44). That “enemy” can be about husbands and wives.

Satan knows how powerful a loving family can be. He is making every effort to pit family members against each other. But, God has a counter plan to bring families back together. He promises: "…He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers..."  (Malachi 4:5,6).

All we have to do is let go of our resentments, bitterness and hate and let God bring the love back. We need to pray that God will fulfill His promises in our families one relationship at a time.
  Respond to this article: ______________________________

By Chad McComas. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

The Friendship Factor

Sat, 2015-08-08 14:00
Photo: Marja Flick-Buijs “I always felt that the great high privilege, relief, and comfort of friendship was that one had to explain nothing.” --Katherine Mansfield

Got friends? At various times throughout my life I’ve heard people complain they don’t have friends, or that people at church, in the community, or at a local barbecue aren’t friendly enough to them. Some people sit back and expect others to come to them and fulfill their every need. I must say I’ve been guilty of that complaint myself at times.

When I moved from one side of the country (where all people were friendly!) to the opposite side of the country (where I was quite sure people had an attitude problem and were very unfriendly!), I complained to my one and only local friend that this town was full of unfriendly people. I was certain it was not me that had the problem of unfriendliness.

A verse in the Bible points out that “if you expect to have friends, you have to be the one to take responsibility to reach out and be the friendly one” (paraphrased).

My happiest moments

After Thanksgiving dinner the other day while sitting in front of the crackling fire, my best friend asked me to recall the happiest moments of my life. Interesting that every happy moment I could recall had been while in the company of close friends and family members. No memory of sufficient happiness had been while sitting alone in front of the TV, or computer, or while reading a book. Wow! I thought, the happiest moments of my life have been in the flow of affection among friends!

Full joy comes from within, and from sharing that joy with those around you, whether it be in giving, receiving or equal exchange of sharing of lives and fun times together. You can’t do that alone. Everybody needs relationships involving friends.

God didn’t create us to be alone. He didn’t create Adam to spend the rest of his life naming and playing with the animals (this article is not intended to offend those of you who depend solely on your house pet for your social life). God made people to enjoy, support and encourage each other. Make it a point to be the friendly person today. Reach out, and feel the joy spread throughout your entire soul!

“Treat your friends as you do your pictures, and place them in their best light.” – Jennie Jerome Churchill
______________________________

By Denise Taylor, pseudonym. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

God's Love Manual

Sat, 2015-08-08 14:00
Photo: Carien van Hest Sometimes I think that if people only knew what the Bible had to say, they would read it more. As wives and husbands, we often wish we knew how to fix our marital differences. We wish there was a book, a person, or something that could tell us what we were doing wrong, because honestly, much of the time it feels like we are walking a fine line between happiness and misery. One word, one misunderstanding, one thoughtless moment can lead to a lot of angry feelings in any relationship, if we haven’t gone to the right source to find out just what it is we should be doing.

The Bible has a lot to say about love and romance. Marriages can really benefit if both husband and wife read the Bible and put its instructions into practice. We all know how wonderful it is to first fall in love. Did you know that the Bible has a whole book devoted to romantic love?

Bring back the romance

Song of Solomon 1:2 begins the tale of two lovers with the words, “Kiss me again and again, for your love is sweeter than wine.” Think back to the time you first fell in love with your wife or your husband – their sweet kisses probably made your knees knock and your heart pound. God does understand this kind of romantic love! In fact, God created you to feel that way about your beloved.

One of the biggest problems spouses face today is that feelings of “romantic love” have dwindled away and they long for them to return. Too often, men and women fall into the trap of looking outside of their marriages for romantic love and are later filled with regret and feelings of betrayal. Proverbs 5:18-19 gives this advice, “Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. She is a loving doe, a graceful deer. Let her breasts satisfy you always. May you always be captivated by her love.” What wife doesn’t want her husband to feel that way about her? And women are told to, “…respect [their] husbands.” Ephesians 5:33 Most husbands would be thrilled if their wives offered respect on a daily basis!

So, why not try going to the original love manual when you have questions or marital problems. You might be surprised at how much good advice you'll find!

Tip: Want to spice up your marriage? Try reading a chapter of Song of Solomon each evening with your spouse before turning out the lights!
______________________________

By Melissa Ringstaff. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the New Living Translation ®.

Family Hate

Sat, 2015-08-08 14:00
Photo: iStock They were all there…father, mother, two sons, a daughter with her newborn son. It was a family reunion. But, the gathering was in court.

The mother sat with the children in one row and the father sat alone in another row. There was tension so thick it felt like a heavy fog settling over the group. There were definite sides drawn up that no one could cross without feeling like they were betraying the side they came from.

It was a hard scene to watch. Dad had been out of the family for several years. The teenage boys didn’t have a relationship with dad because mom and dad were fighting. You could see in their eyes they wanted to go up to dad and give him a hug, but it might hurt mom, so they refrained. The daughter wanted her dad to hold his newborn grandchild, but she didn’t approach him because she was afraid to hurt her mother.

Dad didn’t approach any of his children because of the deep wounds he felt with mom. He didn’t know how to let go of his pain to reach out to his family. He was missing so much, too much, but he just didn’t see it.

A Turn For the Worse

I saw it. I saw it all and it broke my heart. At one time this was a Christian family. Dad and mom were Christian believers. The children had grown up attending a Christian church. Now…Christ was outside. The kids were no longer attending a church or praying at home. The boys had gotten mixed up in drugs and gangs. Their school attendance and production dropped off the charts. They didn’t have any clue where they were going or how to get there. Dad wasn’t there for them.

Families are being torn apart by divorce. The pain is real. It is pervasive. “Hate” ruins relationships. Resentment settles in and stubbornness refuses to accept healing.

Jesus came to heal people. Perhaps the most important healing is the healing of the heart. Jesus wants to heal hurting hearts. He tells us to “love our enemies” (Matthew 5:44). That “enemy” can be about husbands and wives.

Satan knows how powerful a loving family can be. He is making every effort to pit family members against each other. But, God has a counter plan to bring families back together. He promises: "…He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers..."  (Malachi 4:5,6).

All we have to do is let go of our resentments, bitterness and hate and let God bring the love back. We need to pray that God will fulfill His promises in our families one relationship at a time.
  Respond to this article: ______________________________

By Chad McComas. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Twisted Constraints

Tue, 2015-08-04 14:00
Photo: iStock “Don’t deny yourself a sense of play—a chance to step down, relax, refresh yourself, put your molehills in perspective and not let them become mountains.” –Unknown

Webster defines stress as a, “Constraining force or influence as in a force exerted when one body presses on, pulls on, pushes against, or twists another body part. The deformation caused in a body by such a force such as a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation ….a state resulting from a mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium to the point of collapse.” 1

Feeling stressed, frazzled, overwhelmed by your life today?

I’m always healthy I told myself. Happy, healthy and life is great!

Then within the duration of a couple of months, I experienced the deep pain of a dissolution of a serious relationship, I contracted four different viruses one after the other which resulted in my being ill for eight weeks, which led to loss of work; and when I returned to work I was notified I would be suspended without pay from work because I had followed my ethics which smacked heartily against agency policies. And I turned 50 years old. Gasp!

A call for help!

As Webster points out… too much stress all at once leads to collapse! I telephoned my younger sister; I told her I needed a life-jacket to keep me from drowning. She came 3,000 miles to spend time with me.

We ate out, shopped, talked for hours, we laughed, we cried, we took long brisk walks (all uphill); we went to the mountains and built a snowman. We took goofy pictures of each other. When she left to return to her home a week later, I was ready to face life again. I had found peace and joy in play. My sister helped me find the sanctuary inside of me.

“Within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself. This sanctuary is a simple awareness of comfort, which can’t be violated by the turmoil of events. This place feels no trauma and stores no hurt. It is the healing mental space that one seeks to find in meditation.” --Hermann Hess, Siddharta

By Denise Taylor, pseudonym. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.
______________________________

1 Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 1999.

Doing It Alone

Tue, 2015-08-04 14:00
Photo: iStock “In the final analysis it is not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.” --Ann Landers

Single parenting can appear and feel like an overwhelming, never-ending task.

I had been a full time wife and mother for twelve years. One day it all changed. After the divorce I had to support myself and the children. I was good at being a mom, but it didn’t pay the bills. So I moved 3,000 miles away from my entire family to complete my college education, begin a career in the working world and start a new life with two small children in tow.

It wasn’t easy, but we did it. The kids and I made a pact. We wouldn’t dwell on the past, we wouldn’t talk negative. We would just work as a team to keep the home environment clean and running smoothly. We talked to each other a lot, about anything and everything. We helped each other with everything that needed to be done. We respected each other and appreciated each other. We left love notes for each other, or notes of encouragement. We made a list of responsibilities and all shared them.

My kids are 27 and 24 now. As I look back over the past 14 years, I know that God was watching us and we got through it all because we depended on Him, and on each other.

Give and get support

Offer your children structure and consistency. Find joy in daily activities with them. Catch them doing good. Give them positive reinforcement often. Recognize their skills and talents. Encourage them. Make friends with other single parents and get together often.

When you stop trying to make your children fit your fantasy of who you think they should be, only then will you begin to see who they really are, and be able to appreciate them. When you relax about your situation; your life will immediately become easier.

Allow your children freedom to think for themselves, and to be who they were born to be. Always be there for them. The rewards are innumerable in all they will give back to you.

“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.” --Hodding Carter
______________________________

By Denise Taylor, pseudonym. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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