My Faith-Filled Friend

One of the hardest parts of having cancer is making new friends only to lose way too many of them in death. I don’t believe I’ve ever grieved the loss of so many friends as I have the past three years.

It happened again two weeks ago when my friend Angela passed away. Angela was about six months ahead of me on the breast cancer journey. She was one of a small group of women I fondly called my “chemo coaches.” They had gone before me and helped me know what was on the road ahead.

Angela wasn’t a new friend, though. She and I had known each other for a long time. We shared a love of music, we homeschooled together, we both served on the Board of Directors at Hearts at Home in the early years of the ministry.

When I saw her husband’s post on her CaringBridge page that she was now safe in the arms of Jesus, I bawled my eyes out. Another. Friend. Lost. To. Cancer.

I silently told myself I wasn’t sure I could attend Angela’s memorial service. It’s just too hard. I would probably uncontrollably cry the whole time. Then I got a Facebook message from her husband…. “Would you be willing to say a few words at the memorial service, Jill?”

How could I say no?  She was my friend.

This world is a broken place. It’s a place of joy but also a place of pain, brokenness, and unanswered questions.

If your heart is broken for whatever reason, you need to know you’re not alone. If you’re asking why and getting no answers, you can still trust the unknown answers to a known God.

Life is not so much about finding the answers but rather living with the questions.

I don’t understand why my friend’s life was cut short. But here’s what I do know: Angela’s faith never wavered in the midst of her four-year cancer fight. When I last visited with her and she shared such excitement about her new Bible reading plan, she challenged me in my faith journey. She knew God and couldn’t get enough of Him and His word. Even in the midst of cancer, Angela’s light shone bright.

Angela understood that even when it is not well with our circumstances, it can be well with our soul.

May it be the same for each of us.

Jesus Understands

Worn out? Jesus was so tired that he slept in a boat even though a storm tossed it about.

Up at night with a little one? The disciples, who were in the boat with him, were so afraid of the storm they woke Jesus up!

Feeling misunderstood? Even Jesus’ friend Lazarus couldn’t understand how someone could be “born again.”

Been betrayed? One of Jesus’ closest friends, Judas, betrayed him.

Feeling let down by others? When Jesus asked his friends to pray with them in the Garden of Gethsemane, they fell asleep.

Been falsely accused? The Pharisees made up false accusations to get rid of Jesus.

Feeling overwhelmed? Jesus was so overwhelmed with facing the cross that he was sweating blood.

Dealing with physical pain? He experienced spikes in His hands and feet, a spear in his side, and a crown of thorns upon His head.

Don’t think your God understands your struggles?  May you see Jesus truly as a Friend who understands, because that’s what Easter is really all about.

(adapted from Real Moms…Real Jesus)

Why We Never Put Money In the Offering Plate At Church

When I was in late grade school and junior high my father served as the church treasurer for the little United Methodist Church we attended. One of his jobs as the treasurer was to count the offering and prepare it to be deposited at the bank.

One of my favorite things to do on a Sunday afternoon was to help him count the money and prepare the deposit. Little did I realize that I was learning an early lesson on tithing. Not only did I see the giving of others, I also saw my father write out a check of a pre-determined amount–based upon his pay–for our family’s offering.

The Bible talks about giving our “first fruits” to God. Back in Bible days that would have meant bringing the first and best grain, wine, oil, honey, livestock, and produce as an offering to God.  Today, in our cash society, we primarily think of tithing as a money offering.  A tithe is giving 10% back to God from whatever He gave to us through income, gifts, and other earning possibilities.  An offering, in many churches, is considered anything over and above a tithe.

Back when I was a little girl, the only way you “gave” was when the offering plate was passed on Sunday morning. Today, many churches now offer online giving, EFT (electronic funds transfer), app giving, or text-to-give. With online bill pay, some folks choose to automate their giving through online banking. In fact, Mark and I started automating our tithe many years ago when we started paying our bills–and sending our tithe–online through our bank’s website.

Thus why we never put money in the offering plate.

Without forethought and an advanced decision, honestly God could easily get our leftovers instead of our first fruits. I don’t know about you, but we always find a way to spend all of the money we have in hand. However, when we have recurring transfers set up for payday for our tithe and savings, we then become accustomed to living off what is left.

Yes, there have been many times when we’ve had a car repair, a medical bill, or another unexpected expense (really, are medical bills and car repairs unexpected though????) that we’ve been tempted to not tithe and pay that bill instead. It’s the human response!

However, what we’ve found is that when we put God first, He provides in ways we could never have imagined. Sometimes it’s an unexpected refund check because we somehow overpaid car insurance or a medical bill. Sometimes something we’ve had listed online sells. Sometimes it’s a side job someone asks Mark to do and we get a little extra financial gift!  We never know how it’s going to happen, we just have come to trust that God will take care of us. Proverbs 3: 9-10 reminds us to “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”

Of course, the plenty–the blessing–isn’t always financial. God gives to us in many ways including joy, relationships, contentment, and hope. We don’t know how He will choose to work…we just know He will!

Want to watch God work first-hand? Put Him first with your finances. Make an intentional, advance, generous decision of what you will give to God every time He gives (income) to you.

Whether we write out that check every payday to drop in the offering plate or automatically send it through online bill pay, or give through the church’s app or website, what’s most important is that God gets our best!

What about you? How do you make sure God doesn’t just get your leftovers? 

When a Woman is Addicted to Pornography

Today’s post is from my friend Robin Nordhues. Robin is a brave woman who has decided to share her story to help others. She’s also a speaker, blogger and workshop leader with a passion for connecting women to God and each other. A Bible Study teacher and independent business leader for over 15 years, Robin strives to help women discuss contemporary issues through a Biblical lens.

The next movie in the 50 Shades Trilogy comes out on Valentine’s Day and it’s being billed as “the perfect date movie.” Robin’s story illustrates why that just isn’t true.

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What we choose to read and watch and click on matters. 70% of the men and 30% of the women in America are addicted to pornography (1 Million Men study). If this is not an area where you are tempted, you know someone who is.

50 Shades of Grey, the books and the movie, are dramatically increasing the number of women who struggle in this area. Some women who pursue pornography are visually stimulated by images on their computer or smart phones, in magazines or in movies. For me it has always been the vivid pictures my imagination created from the words in a book.

I am one of the 3 in 10 women whose poor choices led to an addiction to porn. As a woman who has loved God since I was a child I knew that the reading material I was choosing was not God’s best for me. The advent of the e-reader made it too easy to access whatever I wanted to read in a password-protected environment. As I became more and more desensitized to the material I was reading I sought out more explicit material to get the same response. I read things in the privacy of my e-reader that I would never have brought into my home in a traditional book format.

As things escalated I slipped farther and farther down the rabbit hole and into a 5-year addiction to pornography that affected every part of my life. At first it was a private, hidden secret that I thought only affected me. It affected my self-image and my self-worth in negative ways. It gave me a sense of self-loathing, guilt and shame that was exhausting to hide from the people around me. My addiction made me feel weak and hopeless as it became a poison that seeped into every area of my life.

From the beginning pornography separated me from the people around me. Brick by brick, book by book, I built a wall of guilt and shame that trapped me on one side and the people I loved on the other. I knew I shouldn’t do it, but I felt helpless to stop.

As the addiction continued it began to affect my marriage. It set my husband up to fail as I compared him to the impossible expectations set up by the pornographic material I was consuming.  It brought things into our marriage bed that sacrificed intimacy for the false thrill of the forbidden.

While I was in the throes of my addiction I had two teenage daughters at home. We had raised them with a philosophy that asked this question – “Could Jesus walk into this house and read, watch or listen to anything you own?” If the answer was no it did not belong in our home. Needless, to say their mom was not practicing what she preached. My lack of integrity (actions not matching words) in this area was a firebrand that never failed to sear my conscience for the entirety of my addiction.

Today I am a recovering porn addict. I say “recovering” because it will always be an area of temptation for me. God healed me from my addiction, and in doing so He clearly called me to share my story so that I could help others.

Before I could go public, however, I had to ask forgiveness from the people who had been hurt by my dirty little secret. I confessed first to my husband and asked for his forgiveness. Although I had never cheated on him physically I had cheated on him mentally through the books I had read.

Then I had to confess to our two teenage daughters. Difficult to say the least! It is so hard to be transparent with our children when it is what they need most from us.

I do not know what temptations you struggle with today. I do now that 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that God is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. If this is an area of struggle for you, I want to encourage you to:

  1. Be open and transparent about your struggle. Find accountability partners.
  2. Change your habits and your environment to make pornography less accessible.
  3. Seek professional help.

There is hope and help. You’ll find more of my story and resources on Women & Pornography at www.livingthelifetransparent.org.

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I’m so grateful for Robin’s honesty. I’m passionate about this subject and wrote about it first here and then here. Today I ask that you join Robin and myself in making a commitment to not see the next 50 Shades of Grey movie and to determine to be careful about what you feed your mind.

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.