New Years Eve and did we miss you?

So tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. Tonight Erica listed off the multiple invitations she and Kendall received to New Year’s Eve parties and then asked if we could care for  our granddaughter, Marie, for the night. Mark looked at me and said, “So Jill, how many invitations did we get to New Year’s Eve parties tomorrow night?” I responded the same way I did last year, “Zero. Nada. Not a one.”

Honestly, I’m a little over one week out from shoulder surgery so I’m really not up for socializing. And the introvert in me is pretty happy to stay home most of the time. The human in me, however, can still feel lonely, uninvited, or left out. 

In this world of social media, it’s very easy to see all kinds of pictures on Facebook of people attending parties and playing games while you sit home with no plans. Of course, you and I can do the inviting…but that’s another post for another day.

Let’s face it, it’s nice to BE invited every once in a while. It’s also nice to know you’re not the only one who didn’t get an invite.

And it’s always nice to know you’re not alone. That’s what I wanted to share with you today. No big words of wisdom. No simple steps to make things different. Just “I get it and I want you to know that.”

I’m also reminding myself, and you, that our value is not based upon whether we receive an invitation to a New Years Eve party or any other event. Our value is based upon the God who created us. His invitation to have a personal relationship with HIM is the only invitation that matters! RSVP that invite and you’re set for life…and eternity! Let’s keep the main thing the main thing today!

Oh and one more thing before I sign off tonight: Did you sign up for the No More Perfect Marriages Launch Team and then never hear from us? Please let me know if that happened to you! We’ve had some technical difficulties and didn’t receive some of the applications. If you applied and didn’t hear from us, reply to this email and let me know! We still have room for you!

Happy New Year!

The One Question You Must Ask Yourself Today

gettyimages-155280494-1It was a suggestion Dr. Kathy Koch made at a Hearts at Home conference that changed my after school question. Instead of asking, “How was your day?” I began to ask, “Who were you today?”

Because our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter live with us, it’s now the question I ask my granddaughter when she gets home from school.

Today is a defining day for our country. This election is one of the most polarizing elections in the history of our country. It’s made social media an unsafe place to be, its divided families, its made work environments challenging. Regardless of where we stand on issues and candidates, our country will have a new president elected tomorrow morning.

At the end of the day, how will you be able to answer the question, “Who were you today?”

4-year-old Marie answers that after school question with, “I was a helper today when my teacher needed help with papers,” or “I encouraged my friend when she went on the monkey bars.” Sometimes she says, “I was a good sharer today and I shared my crayons.”

At the end of today and tomorrow and the day after, what will our answers be?  I hope they’re something like these:

“I measured my words and resisted needless arguments on Facebook.”

“I was kind, no matter how those around me were acting.”

“I was grace-giving and allowed others to have different opinions. If it was appropriate to share thoughts and opinions, I did it in a respectful way.”

“I was loving to even the most unkind person I came in contact with.”

“I was a prayer warrior. One who absolutely believes that God is still in control.”

This is the time where we get to not just talk about our faith, but to live it out. To be the hands and feet of Jesus. To give others the chance to watch us and say, “There’s something different about her. I want what she has.”

After you vote, after the election results are in, after our country has established a new leader…who will you be today? 

What To Do While You’re Waiting

Today’s post is a guest post from Olivia Ryan. Olivia serves as a volunteer on the Hearts at Home radio team.

She’s a Midwest native who lives to inspire women to bear and share hope with the world. Hands down her favorite activity is Tuesday night date night, but tickling her three miracle babies is a close second. She heavily relies on her people, the written Word, deep breaths, and foodie food to keep her sane. She survived the desert of waiting once upon a thirsty time, and lives to tell you that you will too! She sneaks away to write at livryan.com

Liv’s new book Bearing Hope: Navigating the Desert of Waiting for a Child is an inspirational companion with illustrations and hope galore. You can get your hands on a copy here or start with a free chapter!

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Waiting seasons can be agonizing!  olivia
Waiting for an answer to prayer.

Waiting for your child to return.

Waiting for a diagnosis.

Waiting for healing.

Waiting for a child.

Waiting for the next season.

When you’re in a waiting season, the minutes feel like hours and the hours like days.

When my husband and I were going through infertility, we had so many questions for God. We battled through the days of “why me?” and “I don’t know if I can take another step.”

We clung onto our faith for dear life as we lost little life after little life through miscarriage. Six in total, and another through a failed adoption.

We didn’t know how God would ultimately answer our prayer for a child. But we did know that he was calling us to bear hope even when we couldn’t bear a child.

Since I become an expert in waiting, I learned some powerful tools for surviving and even thriving throughout a wait. I think you’ll find great joy in these too.

Pray: Prayer reminds you that you aren’t in control of the situation. It helps you tangibly let go of your cares and worries as you hand them over to a God who hears. Through prayer, you’re trading your heavy burden for one that’s light.

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. (Psalm 107:28-29)

Get plugged into a church: We plugged into a church and small group who wrapped their arms around us when we were hurting. They became like family. Their support and prayer changed us in a way words could never describe.

Take An Adventure: There are thousands of things you can do in this season of waiting that will distract you and allow you to continue living your life rather than staying inside in your bed (where you might think you want to be.

  • Do something crazy like skydiving or bungee jumpin
  • Travel somewhere new and exotic
  • Make a gourmet meal
  • Become a volunteer and advocate for a cause close to your heart
  • Train for a race
  • Watch the sunset
  • Write a book

Tell Your Story. You might share what you’re going through with a trusted friend, small group, Bible Study, or on a blog. You may even start speaking to different groups about your experiences. Your story can bring hope, courage, and healing to people who are going through similar battles. And as a bonus, it will help you heal.

Read. Do you need a mental break? Enjoy some quality fiction. Do you need some practical advice and spiritual wisdom? The words found on the pages of a good book can change your life. Even when you don’t feel like you have the energy, try just a few pages!

Take deep breaths. The deeper the breath, the more calming influence it’s going to have on your body. Your blood pressure will chill. Your brain will think more clearly. Stress will have no choice but to exit your body as you exhale slowly. Breath is a gift from our powerful Creator, and it is yours for the keeping!

No matter what you are waiting for, you can use this season as a time to grow your faith and deepen your soul. God uses all of our experiences to move us from where we are emotionally and spiritually to where we need to be.

What about you? What has been vital to your survival in the desert of waiting? Have you had the courage to share your story with someone?

Love Lived Out

Today I have the privilege of encouraging several hundred aspiring writers and speakers at the Proverbs 31 She Speaks conference in Concord, North Carolina. As I was preparing my keynote message for the writers today, God inspired me to drill down I Corinthians 13 to the practical.

You may not be an aspiring writer, but anytime we can personalize scripture it helps move the Truth from our head to our heart. Here are the words I shared today. I encourage you to personalize it in whatever way would make applicable to you:

I Corinthians 13 For Writers

If I write 3000 words a day, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another person who thinks she has something to say.

If I dedicate my book to my children, write to pay for their college, and have 10,000 followers on Twitter, but do not show love to my family, my words are empty.

If I write for the church newsletter, have one of my devotionals published and give all that I have to leading women to God, but do not show love to my family, it does me no good.

Love steps away from the computer when the husband comes home. Love stops the writing to watch the 10-year-old show off her new gymnastics skill. Love listens to the neighbor even when a writing deadline looms.

Love is patient and kind. It does not envy other writers who make the bestsellers list.

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres even through dozens of rejection letters.

Love never fails. As for printed words, they will pass away.  Where there are blogs, they will someday become silent. Where there are contracts, those too will cease to exist.

And while stories must be told, they first must be lived. There is faith. There is hope.  And with Jesus in the center, there is love. May I never forget, the greatest impact I can make is with love.  

You Can Win These Battles

Leighann_McCoy_headshotToday’s post is from Leighann McCoy who authored the book Spiritual Warfare for Your Family, What You Need to Know to Protect Your Children (Bethany House, 2016). Through her books and online resources, she is on a mission to empower families to win the war.

Leighann writes out of real-life experience. The week after she began writing Spiritual Warfare for Women, her 18-year-old daughter left home to live with her boyfriend and became pregnant. As Leighann lay on the floor of her daughter’s bedroom crying out in desperation, she put her own teaching to the test. Two years later, Leighann began work on A Woman’s Guide to Hearing the Voice of God, when she was diagnosed with a recurrence of colon cancer in her liver. Through it all, she remained certain that God meticulously and methodically works all things together for our good and His glory.

Visit Leighann online at www.LeighannMcCoy.com

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There are terrible, no good, very bad things wrecking our families and I don’t like it. Spiritual warfare is real, and our children are under attack. Don’t let this fact scare you, instead learn more about the war, step into your rightful place as a warrior (who doesn’t need to be afraid), and learn to exercise the authority and power God’s given you to protect your family.

As I write these words, I’m smiling at myself, I’m not a decorated 5 star general but rather a battle scarred momma. And although I don’t know the specific battle you’re facing, I have faced a few myself and have discovered three incredible weapons that will defeat whatever yours might be:

  1. You have the divine weapon of acceptance. Because God tells you the truth, He gives you the power to accept truth in all situations. In the Bible you can find over 3000 promises. At least one of those is applicable to your situation. As you read God’s Word, invite Him to reveal your promise to you. Then accept that truth no matter what the devil does to challenge it.
  2. You have the divine weapons of praise and thanksgiving. Praise announces the truth about God’s character. When you choose praise (regardless of your circumstances) you build an impenetrable defense against doubt and unbelief. And because trusting God more wins the war, praise is powerful. Praise announces truth and thanksgiving announces fact. When you recall specific things God’s done in the past you realize that whatever He’s yet to do in your present is going to happen, it’s simply a matter of time. Thanksgiving will open your eyes to see God working and therefore make you immune to the devil’s poison of deception.
  3. You have the divine weapon of intercession. An intercessor is someone who takes up the cause of another and makes an appeal on their behalf. God invites you to be an intercessor for your children. Your prayers are powerful and God is always answering them. Don’t be distracted by the obvious and don’t mistake God’s silence for inactivity. God does some of His most powerful work undercover.

You are fighting battles that are spiritual in nature, created by thoughts and feelings. God knows what you are facing and His grace is sufficient to give you all that you need to overcome. Implement these weapons of war by doing these things:

  1. Claim the promise God intends to keep on your behalf.  You might be able to find help for the issue you are facing online at leighannmccoy.com/SpiritualWarfareTools Click here for more Bible verses on specific topics.
  2. Practice praise and thanksgiving. Before you do anything—list 10 things for which you are thankful. Create this list daily. Get in the habit of reading the Psalms aloud. There is great power in the spoken Word of God, especially those songs of praise found in the Psalms.
  3. Journal the prayers you pray for your children. Jot down your specific requests for your children. Keep a record of what happens as a direct result of your prayers.

You’re not crazy, there really is a battle waging. God wants you to know He is for you, He is with you and He is not going to leave or forsake you. You can win with Him.

Are you in a battle? Use these strategies to stand in the gap for your family today! 

It’s Okay To Not Be Okay

woman looking upDonned in those fashionable surgical clothes, a cap over my hair, all jewelry removed, and a pen in hand to make an X over my right breast so the doctor is assured to work on the correct side, I face the unknown once again.

She found it during a surveillance follow-up. “Jill, you have a lump there. Have you felt it?” The answer was no.  No I hadn’t felt it and no there can’t be a lump.

It was a couple weeks before the National Hearts at Home conference and my eyes were focused on the two days I’d soon be hanging with over 4,000 moms. That weekend is a sacred weekend of hope and help. All of us looking for the reassurance that whatever we’re facing in life and motherhood, we’ll be okay.

“I want to order a mammogram and a sonogram for this spot.” A week later I found myself sitting once again at the screening center. My annual mammogram just six months earlier had been clear.  These two tests they ended up declaring clear again.

“Whew….dodged that bullet,” I thought to myself.

It was the Monday after the conference that her office called. “Jill, Doctor wants you to come back in and discuss the results of your recent testing.” As I scheduled an appointment for the next day I couldn’t help but think, “What’s there to discuss? They said it was clear.”

The next day she bounced in the exam room and tossed my mammogram and sonogram results my way. “Test results look good, let’s do another exam.” Sure enough that lump was still there and it was painful too, just like it’d been several weeks earlier and every time I’d touched it since.

“I don’t believe it’s cancer because it’s painful, but I don’t want to leave it in there. We also can’t do a traditional core needle biopsy when it can’t be seen on a diagnostic screening. I’m recommending we remove it and then biopsy it,” she said.

Here we go again.

So yesterday I modeled the latest in surgical gear once again (someone seriously needs to update that attire!). I’m a fact-finder by nature. I don’t do too much worrying or planning until the fact-finding is complete. So I’d been steady leading up to the surgery date.

When Doctor Widerborg walked in for her pre-surgical chat, she said, “Let’s pray,” and all in the room grabbed hands and prayed, that’s when the tears came.  A couple of hours earlier my friend Becky had texted me the words of Isaiah 41:13 from The Voice Bible, “I am the Eternal God, who has hold of you right hand, who whispers in your ear, “Don’t be afraid. I will help you.” As Doctor Widerborg prayed, those words came back to my mind and I felt God holding my right hand and whispering His help in my ear.

Both Mark and my mom were there to hear the doctor say after surgery that she would be very surprised if this is cancer. Didn’t look like it to her….and she’s seen a lot.

But we wait. For the facts. We once again live in the shadow of the unknown.

Yet that’s not the shadow I’m experiencing right now. Psalm 91 promises, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” This is the shadow I choose to wait in now. This shadow of the Almighty is a place of peace. Hope. Comfort. It’s a place where we hold the hand of a Jesus who walked on this earth and faced His own “unknowns” of friends who betrayed him and a death on the cross He didn’t deserve. I’m reminded of this in one of my favorite verses, Hebrews 4:14-16. That verse came alive to me as I wrote my book Real Moms…Real Jesus based upon it:

 Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” (The Message)

I don’t know what “shadow of the unknown” you’re currently waiting in, but I want you to know that there’s plenty of room over here in the “shadow of the Almighty.”

It’s a bit of a messy place. Some tears. Some weariness. Some fear that wants to creep in. Some days where you simply know it’s okay to not be okay. Yet always His arms around you. His hand holding your right hand. And His voice whispering in your ear, “…don’t be afraid. I will help you.”

I Want All The Answers NOW!

I first met Karen Ehman 23 years ago when she had registered for the first ever Hearts at Home conference and I was reviewing some of her registration info on the phone. I covered my questions with her and then suddenly she gasped. You see she was pregnant, due any day, and as we were talking her water broke! We bonded as moms in that moment!

Back then Karen and I were moms who understood each other’s world. Now we’re both moms who are navigating the world of young adult children. We’re also both authors and speakers who want nothing more than to help other moms know they’re not alone. 

Karen’s newest book Pressing Pause: 100 Quiet Moments for Moms to Meet With Jesus is one I’ve wanted to share with you! Co-authored by Ruth Schwenk, it’s an pressingpauseeasy to read devotional designed for busy moms who know they need to slow down each day to spend some time with Jesus but don’t know how to find that time. That’s me sister and I’m guessing that might be you too!

I asked Karen for a sneak peek of the book and she sent today’s post to share with you! And not only that but she’s giving away three copies of the book to three lucky readers today! Wahoo!   To enter the drawing, simply leave a comment about why you would like this book or sharing one way you “press pause” to spend time with God.

PS…Karen will be at our 2016 Hearts at Home conferences. Registration is now open for our North Central Conference (Rochester, MN) and our new Southern Conference (Chattanooga, TN).  And you can still get in on the fun at the National Hearts at Home conference next weekend in Peoria, IL!

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karenThen they believed his promises and sang his praise. But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold.
                                                                                  —Psalm 106:12–13 NIV

My son Mitchell was a curious child. When he first learned to talk, he often repeated the same three phrases to me: “Why?” “How?” and “When?”

His sparkly green eyes were wide with wonder. As I cooked, he would drag a kitchen chair over to the stove and stand on it next to me. His inquiring mind needed to know the reason behind every ingredient I tossed in the pot. Why was I using brown eggs and not white ones? Why was I adding potatoes but not carrots? And speaking of carrots, why were they orange and not blue?

As Mitchell grew older, the questions continued. Soon after his feet hit the floor each morning, he wanted to know how the day would unfold. Were we going to the church picnic? What would we have to eat? Would the kids play football? Would they let him be the quarterback?

I couldn’t possibly answer all his questions. All I could do was remind him that, no matter what happened, everything always turned out fine in the end. He just needed to trust that we had planned pleasant things for him to do.

I didn’t want to squelch Mitchell’s inquisitive spirit, but sometimes I wished he’d just relax and enjoy the ride instead of always having to know in advance all the details of each day.

When it comes to my own life, I’m no different than my son. I want God to tell me what’s going to happen next, explain how my life will unfold each day.

The ancient Israelites had a similar mind-set. Sometimes they trusted the Lord and stood on His promises. But often they wobbled and lost their footing. They had to know how. And when. And—most importantly—why?

Psalm 106:12–13 tells us, “Then they believed his promises and sang his praise. But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold.”

Scripture teaches us to believe the promises of God. He knows what He is doing, even if at times we’re not sure that He does. And yes, God is faithful, even during the times when He seems to be silent.

When God does not give us explanations at each turn, it builds our faith as we must learn to trust even when we cannot see. We can go to Him in prayer asking Him to calm our anxious hearts. We can ask Him to increase our faith so we aren’t consumed by the questions and so we can trust that He—the ever-wise Parent—has good in mind for us.

It is God’s job to unfold our future. It is our job to do our best to make wise choices as we trust and glorify Him through the process. Let’s stop asking Him to spiritually skywrite all the answers, and let’s write His promises on our hearts instead.

And then? Let’s live like we believe them.

  • Do you also struggle with wanting God to continually answer “Why?” “How?” and “When?”
  • In which area of your life do you most long for His answers?

Dear Lord, help me each day not to seek explanations but to seek a closer walk with You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

What Easter Is All About

ThinkstockPhotos-502281792“I just can’t believe your skin can stretch like that!” my husband declared one day in my ninth month of pregnancy.  Honestly, I couldn’t believe it either.  I was long past being able to see my feet, my ankles were swollen, and I was definitely feeling like a beached whale.  This was my fourth pregnancy…you would have thought we’d seen it all, but the reality of what new life does to an old body was still a miracle (or travesty!) to behold.  I couldn’t sleep comfortably, suffered from terrible indigestion, and was absolutely miserable, but just a few days later, we were holding our new bundle of joy.  The sacrifice was worth it all.

Six years later, Mark and I sat in a run-down courtroom before a Russian judge.  After months of paperwork, expense, and unimaginable hours of time, we were on the verge of adding another son to our family…this time through adoption.  We knew that Kolya belonged in our family; we now had to convince the judge of this.  The judge just couldn’t understand why we would want a 9-year-old child from Russia when we had four of our own back in the United States.  After many hours of answering questions with the help of a translator, the judge finally agreed to sign the papers.  The sacrifice of thousands of dollars and hours finally paid off.  Aaron Nicolai became a Savage.

Motherhood and sacrifice…the two words are synonymous.  Whether you arrived at motherhood biologically or by adoption, you find out very soon that sacrifice is a part of the job.  For most of us the sacrifice begins with pregnancy or those first steps toward adoption, but for moms who deal with infertility, sacrifice begins months, even years earlier.

I find it interesting that the root word of sacrifice is sacred—a word that means worthy of respect or regarded with reverence.  Another meaning of sacred is something that is made or declared holy or something associated with divinity.  Understanding that leads us right to our example of sacrifice: Jesus Christ.

To understand Jesus’ life and ultimate sacrifice, and to really understand why Easter is important, we have to go back to the beginning…the beginning of time.  On page one of the Bible, in the book of Genesis, we begin with God creating heaven and earth, water and dry land, light and darkness, and eventually man and woman.  Man and woman lived in this perfect place called the Garden of Eden.  It was a place where they had a perfect relationship with God, one another, and where all their physical needs were met.

God gave Adam and Eve free will.  In other words, He created them to live by His design and according to His ways, but He allowed them to make those choices on their own.  God gave them full access to the garden, putting only one boundary on them: they could not eat from one tree: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  God’s boundaries are always given to protect us.  Even in this case, God was protecting Adam and Eve from having knowledge that would complicate their life and introduce them to the concept of death.

One day in the Garden, Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat from the forbidden tree and they fell for his lies hook, line, and sinker. When they ate the fruit their eyes were opened and they suddenly saw life differently.  They saw their nakedness and made themselves some clothes.  Then, in shame, they hid from God.  The garden, which had been a place of joy and fellowship, was now a place of fear and hiding from God.  As a consequence of their disobedience, God required them to leave the Garden of Eden.   Because of that, life became harder and now the fellowship with a holy God had been broken.

The entire Old Testament of the Bible tells the story of man’s existence from creation until Jesus Christ was born.  During this time, the only way that sinful people (thanks Adam and Eve!) could have a relationship with a holy God was through sacrifice and a high priest who would stand in the gap between the people and God.  The Israelites understood that God could have chosen to be a judge with no grace and mercy when Adam and Eve disobeyed.  But instead of wiping the slate clean, he chose to give them a second chance!  This second chance was an opportunity for man and woman to be reconciled or reconnected to their Creator.   But coming into the presence of God required an admission of sin (disobedience) and because a Holy God can’t exist in the presence of sin, a sacrifice was offered to “cover” the sin.  Most of the sacrifices offered in the Old Testament were lambs and they had to be offered through a priest who represented the people.  The shedding of the blood covered the sins of the people so they could have relationship with a Holy God.

But for God, this was a temporary plan.  His decision to send His Son to earth was his ultimate plan for reconnecting to His people.  Jesus came to this earth as fully God, yet fully man.  One way God connected to us was by becoming one of us.  We have a God who truly understands our human experience.  But God’s plan was more than simply understanding our human experience.  He sent his Son to be the ultimate sacrifice and our High Priest. The Bible says,” We have a Priest-Friend in the presence of the Father: Jesus Christ, righteous Jesus. When he served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good—not only ours, but the whole world’s.”

Jesus came to share truth and eventually die on the cross as the final sacrifice for our sin.  He died, then three days later he rose again and eventually went to live in heaven where He is the only priest needed—He’s our High Priest, the only one who stands in the gap between us and God.  Here’s what the Bible says about that in Hebrews 7 (The Message)

This makes Jesus the guarantee of a far better way between us and God—one that really works! A new covenant.

RMRJ comp1 - Copy

This post adapted from Real Moms…Real Jesus.

Earlier there were a lot of priests, for they died and had to be replaced. But Jesus’ priesthood is permanent. He’s there from now to eternity to save everyone who comes to God through him, always on the job to speak up for them.

That’s a big picture to comprehend; yet it illustrates the purpose of Jesus’ life.  He was a living sacrifice, known as the Lamb of God because there was no more need to sacrifice lambs or anything else after his death on the cross.  He took our sin upon himself and shed his blood so we wouldn’t have to do so ourselves.  He died so we could live.  You don’t get a better picture of sacrifice than that.

And that’s what Easter is all about.