Nordic Skiing

“You will keep in perfect peace she whose mind is steadfast, because she trusts in You.  Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.”  Isiah 26:3-4 (NIV)

My husband and I decided to take up a new winter activity.  I say “new” but in reality we don’t have a winter activity outside of our boys’ winter sports because we’re sunshine and warm weather people and we live in Northern Minnesota.  We bought ourselves cross country skis for Christmas.  My husband is a natural athlete, a downhill skier, and very coordinated.  I am not.  I’m a scaredy-cat when it comes to doing anything that involves speed and going downhill…long story, but the bottom line is that I always end up in awkward positions with injuries.  So as you read this, please be kind and picture me as a “snow bunny” in all the right attire, looking great (as long as I’m standing still).

Friends took us out for our first venture.  I immediately fell and started to cry.  Just being real here.  My girlfriend told me in her stern Mom voice, “You can do this.  Get up and try again!”  So I did.  It wasn’t a carefree, enjoyable time, but I did it.  If you know nothing about Nordic (aka Cross Country) skiing, there are groomed trails through the woods with a set or two of “tracks” so your skis have a place to go and you simply (haha) follow in the tracks.  It sounds so simple! Yes, there is some freestyle kind too, but we won’t even go there.  We went 4 miles the first time…and yes, I was so sore the next week I thought I would never walk normally again!

Let me back track (no pun intended) for a moment… I’m not going to go into all the struggles that my family has had over the last few years, but let me just say that I never would have imagined when my four boys were little that they would make the choices they have, that God would have allowed all that He has, that my heart could be broken so many times by people that I love more than life itself, or that we would be facing the challenges that we are now.  So this New Year I decided to do a “One Word” resolution.  My “one word” is TRUST, and so I’ve been going through the Bible, reading all the scripture that include the word “trust”.  It has been mind-altering, heart-wrenching, and healing in so many ways.   Now you might be wondering what my One Word focus has to do with Nordic skiing…

My husband and I have been attempting to make it to the trails at least once a week.  This last time we were alone on the trails, and I encouraged Rex to go on ahead since he moves a lot faster than I do.  I didn’t want him to feel burdened by me, but I also like to be alone in nature.  I feel the closest to the Lord at those times and with all our family has been going through I needed a little alone time with Jesus.  So I’m alone on the trail, sun shining, snow sparkling, with only the sound of my breathing and the cracking of ice as I glided along the tracks.  My girlfriend had told me to “trust the tracks.”  So I tried to trust the tracks and look around, but I faltered.  I looked back down at the tracks and got myself steadied.  I glanced ahead and I was okay.  Keeping my eyes on the tracks up ahead, trusting the tracks, I glided along and was able to stay stable.  I saw something out of the corner of my eye and looked to the side…immediately I stumbled and had to steady myself (I am getting better at not actually falling, just sayin’).  That went on for a mile or so…looking ahead, trusting the tracks that had been made for me, I was able to take in the beauty of the wild northern Minnesota countryside.  I came to an incline, and started on the balls of my feet to keep traction going up.  But that day was a little warm and the tracks were icy.  I started sliding backwards and fell.  My husband was far ahead, I’m spread eagle on the ground and I had to laugh at myself.  How do I get up?  It didn’t even occur to me to take my skis off and just stand up…so I struggled for quite a while, but eventually righted myself.  Then I faced the hill again.  This time I dug in to the tracks a little deeper and made it.  I was so proud of myself!  But if there’s an uphill, there’s got to be a downhill.  I had pretty much gotten the hang of downhill, as long as it was straight at the bottom and I could glide to the flat area.  But this one had a curve at the bottom.  I knew I was going to fall, but I had to try.   I focused so hard on those tracks!  It was all I could do to stay upright… I even giggled a little, enjoying the wind in my face and the speed I had on that hill…I trusted the tracks and leaned into the curve…and I made it!

As I continued on the tracks through the woods, I realized that walking with Jesus is a lot like Nordic skiing.  He has a trail for us to follow, a plan and a purpose for each individual’s life.  He has given us His Word and the Holy Spirit, the “tracks,” we need to trust.  When we choose to look to the left or the right, we falter; we might even stumble and fall.  We need to keep our eyes on the tracks ahead and on Christ.  We are going to face hills, maybe even mountains, but digging deep into those tracks we can make it to the top.  It’s hard work; believe me, but when we face those mountains with Christ, “all things are possible!” (Phil. 4:13).  And we can enjoy the easy downhills…they do happen…we can laugh and enjoy the ride! Sometimes there’s a curve we see and can prepare for, but oftentimes we’re not even aware there’s a danger up ahead.  Its then that we need to lean into the Lord, hold on to those tracks so we don’t fall, so we can make it to the straightaway.  But even if we fall, He is there to help us up if we let Him.  Skiing with Jesus is a lifelong endeavor, a process, but eventually we get to the end of the trail where He will welcome us home!

Father, thank you for the “tracks” you have made for us.  We need never be afraid, because you have made the way through these trails we journey in this life.  We can trust you completely because you are a good, good Father and you always have our best in mind, no matter what mountains we face.  The curves in the track allow us to lean into You, and help us to trust you even more.  Thank you for being right beside us on this hard journey of life Jesus.  Without you nothing is possible, but with you, we can do everything!

Stacey Ray

Stacey is the mother to four sons ages 15 to 21, and the wife to Rex, one very understanding husband.  Stacey has a passion to help people become the best that they can be and she currently does that as a community college instructor in psychology and human development.  With this same passion in mind, her family supports many other outreaches including Children’s Vision in Bogota, Columbia (an orphanage and school) and She is Safe, India (a ministry empowering women and children to avoid human trafficking by giving them value and worth in their communities). Originally from California, Stacey and her family currently make their home in northern Minnesota where they are actively involved in their church’s mission of seeing real people make real change. Stacey’s favorite quote is by Chip Ingram:  “I am nothing without Jesus. But in Him and through Him I can do great things!”

Stacey is the mother to four sons ages 15 to 21, and the wife to Rex, one very understanding husband. Stacey has a passion to help people become the best that they can be and she currently does that as a community college instructor in psychology and human development. With this same passion in mind, her family supports many other outreaches including Children’s Vision in Bogota, Columbia (an orphanage and school) and She is Safe, India (a ministry empowering women and children to avoid human trafficking by giving them value and worth in their communities). Originally from California, Stacey and her family currently make their home in northern Minnesota where they are actively involved in their church’s mission of seeing real people make real change. Stacey’s favorite quote is by Chip Ingram: “I am nothing without Jesus. But in Him and through Him I can do great things!”

Encourage Me! I can’t.

“If it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. [Love in Action] Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:8-10

Life has its moments! One of those moments is when you need to encourage a family member, when it seems that there is no power within you to do this. I have found myself there on so many occasions, and I find myself here once again today.

This time not for a daughter or son with a broken heart because “the love of their life” just broke up with them or did something really bad that hurt them deeply.  Been there, done that.  This time it is my husband, and not just my husband but my pastor as well.

How on earth can I find the words that are needed to be that encourager that Romans is talking about? But then I reread this verse:

It tells us exactly how to do this when you are too tired, too hurt, too devastated with life. There are five requirements given to complete this task.

First, we are love. Not just superficial but to love sincerely.  “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” I Peter 4:8. When we love in this way, we can reach deep down inside and pull out that encouraging word or words.

Second, we have to hate what is evil. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” Isaiah 5:20

We have to walk away from evil and remind those we love that evil does exist, but it does not need to be a driving force in our lives. I remember a quote from a film, “We all have evil within us, but we can choose to not let it out,” or something like that.

Third, cling to one another. “They are joined fast to one another; they cling together and cannot be parted” Job 41:17. We need to hang onto each other. Just as we hold onto or are grafted into Jesus. In other words, really be there for your loved ones.

Fourth, be devoted to one another in love. “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: ‘This is what the Lord says: I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown’” Jeremiah 2:2. Be devoted to the person who needs you, like a young bride that would follow her man to the ends of the earth and back again. When you find that devotion – words will come.

Fifth, honor one another above yourself. In other words, be willing to take the back seat and put someone else before you. When you really love someone it should not be with a “what’s in it for me” attitude.

So ladies, if you have a child, husband, parent, grand parent or even friend that needs you to give words of encouragement and you have none to give, look at these verses. Remember that what you need is sincere love, hating evil, clinging to each other with devotion, and honor those before yourself.  Then the words will come, God can do good things with us when we submit to Him and allow these things to be in our lives.

Encourage on!

Glennette Christian

Glennette Christian, the mother to three grown children, knows that God has had a constant leading in her life.  He has taken her to many places throughout the United States in ministry and currently has been led to Metlakatla, Alaska with her husband, Michael where they love the land and people.  While also raising her family, Glennette and Mike took in several other children along the way that needed a loving reminder of what it meant to have a caring parent present in their lives.  She is the grandmother to ten beautiful children and loves every minute she gets with them.  Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (NIV)

Glennette Christian, the mother to three grown children, knows that God has had a constant leading in her life. He has taken her to many places throughout the United States in ministry and currently has been led to Metlakatla, Alaska with her husband, Michael where they love the land and people. While also raising her family, Glennette and Mike took in several other children along the way that needed a loving reminder of what it meant to have a caring parent present in their lives. She is the grandmother to ten beautiful children and loves every minute she gets with them. Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (NIV)

The Impossible Quest

the impossible quest

“But forget all that- it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Routine. Sometimes it seems like life’s goal. When you bring a baby home one of the first questions people ask is “Is your baby in a routine yet?” We have this idea that somewhere just beyond our grasp is the perfect rhythm to life. If we can just hang on long enough, we’ll arrive and hit the perfect routine and the world will go ‘round at the perfect pace and nothing will upset our apple cart anymore.

I was pondering this concept in my devotion time the other day. I did a quick glance in the Bible to see if I could find the word routine. While my search was not exhaustive by any stretch, the only thing close to routine I found was customary practices of the day or those rituals commanded by God in the Old Testament. What I did find was time after time that God interrupts routines. Mary was going about life then the angel showed up. Gideon was hiding in a wine press threshing wheat and the angel of the Lord showed up.  Moses was tending sheep when the angel of the Lord showed up. The Lord spoke to Jonah and had an assignment for him, a different direction he was to go, but Jonah ran the other way. Page after page of the Bible is filled with God interrupting the routines of life and setting people on a new course.

Many times in both our personal life and our ministry life we have seen circumstances that seem to fall apart. But if you wait long enough you see that God had a better plan. How many times has it been said, “things were going great and then (insert bad situation here) happened”? Could it be that God sometimes has to move us out of our routine to respond to him? When things were going great, did we depend on him or ourselves?

At the time period of the scripture above, the children of Israel were in a desolate time. They were in captivity, had lost everything that was dear to them, and were homesick. They could look back and see how God had moved when things were in a routine and going good. Why couldn’t we just go back to the way things were when we were content and happy? They couldn’t see a way out of the circumstance they now found themselves in.

I find myself acting like the Israelites more often then I wish to admit. Instead of focusing on God and saying ok Lord, you’ve gotten us through time and time again, we trust you now, their focus was on what had been back when life was routine and normal. Then God says (Amanda’s paraphrase) “Wake up people! Yes, I moved back then, but I have new things for you. I’ve already started to prepare the way, will you come with me?” God had set into motion the things that would lead them out of captivity and into blessing, but they had to decide if they wanted to trust him and to go with him.

If you follow the Israelite history, you don’t have to look far to see a God who was always messing up their routines. Sometimes they responded and willing went. Sometimes they just flat pouted like toddlers.

What about you? How do you respond when it looks as though God has thrown you a curve ball? I don’t think that the perfect routine exists this side of heaven. This earthly life is just an adventure with Jesus. The more you roll with it and open yourself up to be flexible the better it will go for you. Otherwise, you might just wind up pouting like the Israelites and longing for the very things you’ve been set free from.

Father, I pray that you would give us receptive hearts towards your leading and guiding. Help us to recognize when you want us to move and go a new direction. Help us to have a gracious attitude and willing spirit to your new things even when our old things seem better. We want to serve you Jesus. Amen.

Amanda Keller

Amanda is a homeschooling mother of two great children and wife to Nathan.  While Amanda grew up in Jordan, Montana, their family makes their home in Bismarck, North Dakota.  Amanda's passion for leading others in worship shines through along with her love for Jesus, her family and laughter.  Their family loves to support Compassion International in whatever way possible. Amanda holds associates degrees in both music performance and office administration from Trinity Bible College.  "your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do but something you raise." ~Andy Stanley

Amanda is a homeschooling mother of two great children and wife to Nathan. While Amanda grew up in Jordan, Montana, their family makes their home in North Dakota. Amanda’s passion for leading others in worship shines through along with her love for Jesus, her family and laughter. Their family loves to support Compassion International in whatever way possible. Amanda holds associates degrees in both music performance and office administration from Trinity Bible College. “Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do but something you raise.” ~Andy Stanley

I’m Not Average!

Numbers 23:19 & 24“God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? The people rise like a lioness; they rouse themselves like a lion that does not rest till it devours its prey and drinks the blood of its victims.”

Today is the same as any average day. I managed to get up before the kids and wiped my eyes as I turned on the lamp sitting on the table next to the lone recliner in the living/school room.  I grabbed my coffee with creamer, of course. I still don’t know how my husband drinks his coffee black. I sat in the single reclining chair and grabbed up the book I wanted to start for a peaceful study along with my Bible.

I should have started this with… today started out the same as any other average day.  When I picked up the book I intended to start, I had no idea that I would start something that God had been preparing me to read and soak in for a while. I am going to explain in a minute how he was preparing, but can you just sit for a minute with me and invite the Holy Spirit to reveal his perspective and promises to you? This is where you are going to get some amazing insight and start to realize what all God wants you to see in yourself.

The last several weeks I was reading through a book written by John Bevere and I was challenged by so much. God awakened a renewed excitement for Titus II Woman Ministry. I had learned so much about what I was supposed to be doing rather than what I thought I was supposed to be doing. I needed renewed excitement because I was wearing thin on encouragement and smiles. Life had gotten the better of me and I just needed something more. As I prayed through each day in my quiet time with God and working through the book, I realized that I had all I needed, but didn’t know how to ask or use it.

I’ve talked about God’s amazing grace before and I stand with every word of it, but I failed to understand how much further His grace extends. It goes into every part of our being if we want and let it. His grace is empowering. It is what guides us to righteous and holy living – which we are told to do in the Word as Christians. There is no middle ground here. If you are a Christian and you follow Christ, then the way you live your life reflects that claim.

God needed me to understand this so that He could then reveal new wisdom in my heart about who I am. Not just Tara DeMaris, mother of four and wife to David, but a daughter of the highest King with a mission ordained by God to reach the hearts and homes of women everywhere.

Yesterday evening I was watching Once Upon A Time with my family. It’s amazing how the writer(s) have interwoven every fairytale we have ever known into one exciting and beautiful story.  Honestly, the imagination it must to take to combine the words penned of old is astounding. So, we were sitting there in the middle of season four and on the story book of tales was the page number XXIII.  It was shown in this episode several times and a notable part of the storyline. I wondered to myself why this number identification was becoming so clear and nearly jumping from the screen to me. I would later understand.

This morning when I grabbed that new book I wanted to start studying, the writer, Lisa Bevere, wrote of a dream vision that God had given her many years ago. If you have read her books you probably already know which book I am referring to, Lioness Arising. God took her to a heavenly realm. It was vibrant with colors unlike any we can truly see here and she saw a lioness sitting on a pedestal tall and beautiful. There was the marking Numbers XXIII engraved on the front of this pedestal with the lioness perched atop of it.

As soon as I saw the same markings my eyes leapt from the page and I immediately knew this is exactly what God has for me to learn right now. He wants me to join with other lionesses and bring out more powerful and beautiful lionesses from within the touching arms of Titus II Woman.  I am so very excited to grow through this book and become more than I ever knew I could be.  I don’t have to feel insecure or inadequate. I don’t need to be intimidated or unhappy with where I am. I am meant for more and so are you. I am enough for the mission that God has placed on my life and so are you. I am more than a wife and mother; I am the daughter of a King and so are you.

Are you getting it? Do you see how very powerful you can be right where you stand today? There is a great awakening happening within the daughters of the Most High King and you are to be part of it. I want to share this wonderful journey with you and be your princess sister.  Dig deep for the lioness. She is in you, waiting to be released.

Lord, you have purposed us here in this time and place for such a reason as this. We are the daughters who will win a nation for you. We are the lioness who will devour the prey and become victorious for our tribe. Jesus, equip us all for the day at hand and lead us into a field of victory for You. Amen.

Tara DeMaris

Tara, graduate of Crown College, is the mother to four beautiful children.  Together, Tara and her husband, David, and their family make their home in North Pole, Alaska.  Tara is passionate about reaching the hearts of women and young ladies.  She loves to write and teach God's Word.  God put a desire in Tara's heart over seven years ago to start a ministry that reached women and today she has founded Titus II Woman Ministry.  God is showing her miracles and his hand at work every day.

Tara, graduate of Crown College, is the mother to four beautiful children. Together, Tara and her husband, David, and their family make their home in North Pole, Alaska. Tara is passionate about reaching the hearts of women and young ladies. She loves to write and teach God’s Word. God put a desire in Tara’s heart over seven years ago to start a ministry that reached women and today she has founded Titus II Woman Ministry. God is showing her miracles and his hand at work every day.

Footprints In The Snow

Most Sunday mornings after service, the congregation pours through the front foyer and out the front doors of our church like flour through a sieve. Men, women, and children mix and pass – pray, hug, plan, exchange, and depart on to a new week. Most Sunday mornings, I pray we are prepared; I pray we are renewed in the Holy Spirit of Christ Jesus and refreshed by the fellowship of His body for facing that week as I walk through the footprints of this congregation back to my vehicle.

This Sunday morning there were fresh footprints in the snow along the street in front of our church. This Sunday morning a stranger walked in out of the snow and into the body of people swirling around in the flurry of their weekly routines. This Sunday morning, a stranger came seeking prayer with others despite the fact he knew very little English, and he didn’t know if any of us would know his native Spanish.

            Jesus said in Matthew 18:19-20, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them”. Jesus didn’t say “two or three of you speaking the same language come together in my name.”

This man, working in a foreign land, walked through the cold and snow looking for a church of Christ for prayer over himself and his family. Hibbing, Minnesota is a long way from his home and certainly very different, but God’s people are everywhere, and I believe this is what brought him out that day. What ails and afflicts is universal to all peoples, and he could rest assured God’s people would somehow understand enough, love enough, to agree with him and come together with him in Christ’s name.

            “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Romans 12:9-13

Our pastor met him at the door. People sought to understand him. Clunky translator apps were hastily applied. A sister who could translate was finally found. A Spanish/English Gideon Bible was pulled out. There was meeting, translating, sharing, translating, explaining, translating, anointing with oil, translating, and then there was prayer – sweet, faithful, Holy Spirit, Jesus present, heaven bound prayer.

No matter what our language, not one of us may come to the Father except through his son Jesus Christ (John 14:6), and the Holy Spirit will intercede on our behalf in ways we cannot express, in accordance with God’s will, even when we are too weak, cannot find the words, or come to Him in more than one language at a time. (Romans 8:26-27) God knows our hearts.

This Sunday morning, there were footprints in the snow. Our brother came in for prayer. What a blessing his visit was.

Thank you Father! You are so good and true – You are the great I AM. You heard your peoples’ groaning and saw their affliction, and You were concerned. (Exodus 3:7) You are just as concerned for your people today. I am confident that You Are Who You Are, and You will answer the voices and hearts of your people everywhere. Jesus, because of You, our circumstances and infirmities will no longer restrain our souls. When we give in submission to your will, You make us well and give us life. Holy Spirit, through your presence, discernment, and wisdom we can know that we live. Oh how blessed each day is in your presence, LORD!

Lorinda Freeman

Lorinda has a passion and desire to teach children about the love of God.  She is a homeschooling mom of four and together as a family they work within their church with the children’s programs making sure the hearts of all the children are being taught God’s love for them.  Lorinda and her husband, Chris, make their home in Hibbing, Minnesota after Lorinda had endured extensive travel growing up as a Navy “brat”. 1 Thessalonians 2:6-13, “We are not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.  As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.  We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.  Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.  You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.  For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

Lorinda has a passion and desire to teach children about the love of God. She is a homeschooling mom of four and together as a family they work within their church with the children’s programs making sure the hearts of all the children are being taught God’s love for them. Lorinda and her husband, Chris, make their home in Hibbing, Minnesota after Lorinda had endured extensive travel growing up as a Navy “brat”. 1 Thessalonians 2:6-13, “We are not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

Whom Does My Soul Love?

I have the privilege of knowing the sweetest couple. They attend our church and have quickly proven to be faithful friends. My husband, John, and I truly enjoy being with this couple. He and Jim love to talk hunting, and all things related. Connie and I enjoy talking about our men (and isn’t that the way it usually works?).

She posted a picture on Facebook of the two of them from a lifetime ago: as eighteen and nineteen-year-old newlyweds. Sweethearts.

She gazes lovingly over his shoulder as he takes a burger off a grill. It’s nostalgia of the best kind. I can almost feel the warmth in the air, and knowing Connie and Jim the way I do, I can almost hear her playful banter followed by his coy grin and playful comeback. This year they celebrate 37 years of marriage. Godly, prayerful, hard-won marriage.

When I saw the picture, instantly the scripture from Song of Solomon came to my heart, “I have found the one whom my soul loves,” (4:8)

As Valentine’s day quickly approaches, I ask myself, whom does my soul love?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been married for nearly fourteen years to my college sweetheart, and I can truly say I love him more now than ever. He is my one; my “soul” mate, if you will.

But John cannot be the only one whom my soul loves.

In our society, we are chastised to love ourselves first. Take care of ourselves.

As a mom, we love our children, and taking care of them requires much of our attention.

Nurturing and maintaining friendships gets another piece of our hearts.

As I ponder this idea of the one whom my soul loves, I know in my head that is a word picture for Christ in my life. I realize that John is in my life as an example of Christ and his bride, but I’m afraid that Christ doesn’t have all of me at times. I seek approval of my husband, my children, friends, and others. I long to feel accepted, wanted, needed even.

Christ does. He accepts me. Wants me. Needs me. He died for me, after all.

My soul loves John, but our love and relationship should be a human example of our love and relationship with Christ. Connie and Jim would agree.

Our marriages are earthly extensions of our relationship with our bridegroom. I would like to encourage you, to cultivate your love affair with The One. As you celebrate your spouse this Valentine’s Day, rejuvenate your love for Jesus before anything else.

Lord, thank you for the spouse you have given each of us and if we are not yet or no longer married, thank you for being that spouse. You have gifted us with a built in need for relationships and also provided the best example of being in one. Help us to always remember that you are first in our life so that we can give attention to all the other relationships we are blessed with. Amen.

Tiffany Heth

Tiffany is the mother to four amazing children, all God's miracle to their family, and she cherishes every moment given her to be with them.  John, Tiffany's husband, and their family make their home in Iowa, where they minister to a congregation of fellow believers.  Tiffany is not only a breast-feeding, cloth-diapering mother and a pastor's wife, but she takes great joy in nourishing her family with the wild game that they have been fortunate enough to harvest.  "How great is the Father's love for us that we shall be called children of God, for that is what we are!" 1 John 3:1

Tiffany is the mother to four amazing children, all God’s miracle to their family, and she cherishes every moment given her to be with them. John, Tiffany’s husband, and their family make their home in Iowa, where they minister to a congregation of fellow believers. Tiffany is not only a breast-feeding, cloth-diapering mother and a pastor’s wife, but she takes great joy in nourishing her family with the wild game that they have been fortunate enough to harvest. “How great is the Father’s love for us that we shall be called children of God, for that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1

Be Prepared t o Show Radical Love

“My little children let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:18

Occasionally, we meet someone who truly inspires us to be a better person, a stronger Christian; to live the words that we speak. Recently, my family encountered someone who was that person.

Each week, our family of nine piles into our big old twelve passenger van and travels approximately 120 miles one way to attend services in the church where I was raised. Our van has 220,000+ miles on it, and the uncertainty of how long it will continue to run adds a spark of excitement to our days.

On the Sunday morning in this story, we made it out of the house on time to find that a front tire was low. We stopped at the gas station, added air to it, and hit the road. It had snowed on Saturday, and it seemed we got stuck behind every snow plow on the road. We were about halfway to church when I heard a strange thunk. My first thought was that it was snow or mud falling loose from under the van, but within moments it was clear that we had blown a tire. Not only did the tire blow, but a piece of the tire hit something near the engine, knocking out all systems. I got the van onto the side of the road, but it refused to start.

Mere seconds after I pulled onto the shoulder, an oncoming pickup truck pulled over and the gentleman inside asked if we needed help. Duane explained that I was looking up the information for the insurance’s roadside assistance. The man asked how many kids we had in the van, and when Duane told him, offered to let them all sit in his truck to keep warm, as the temperature outside was below zero. As the kids piled up in the back seat of his truck and I continued my search for the insurance company’s phone number, Duane and the man chatted.

“Where are you headed?” the stranger asked. “To church,” Duane replied. “Why don’t I just drive you there?” he suggested. “I don’t want to mislead you. It’s still a little over an hour’s drive to our church,” Duane told him. “No problem. If we can get you there on time, and deal with your van later, I’d be happy to do that.”

As I climbed into the truck, I said “You, sir, are an angel.” “No angel, just a Jesus freak,” he answered. As we headed down the road, Duane and I discussed the logistics of getting back to the van, getting the van to a shop, and getting all the kids home.

Bill, as we had learned was the man’s name, interrupted. “How much time do we have before church starts? I just live three miles out of the way, and if we have time, I have a 7 passenger SUV that you could take. Use it as long as you like, bring it back when you’re done.” Seriously? He would do that? He assured us that yes, he was serious. He’d be happy to let us borrow it.

When we got to Bill’s house, he asked us to stay in the warm truck while he got the SUV started and warmed up. He started the vehicle, and then returned to the truck. “You know, that’s my working truck. The seats are all down, and the inside is kind of dirty. I’m afraid you’ll get your church clothes messed up. You’re already in this truck, why don’t you just take it? After many thanks, we pulled out of Bill’s drive. As Duane looked down at the gauges, he realized that this truck, that Bill had just handed over to us, was brand new. It only had 2,000 miles on it. I looked over at my oldest son; he had tears running down his cheeks, overwhelmed by the Christian spirit and loving kindness that this man, who had been a complete and total stranger less than thirty minutes prior, had just shown us. Bill’s reasoning? He told Duane that when we invoke Christ’s name, and call ourselves a Christian, we had better be prepared to show radical love for others at some point.

Later, when I mentioned that he hadn’t even asked our names before he handed his truck over to us and we pulled away, he said “I knew Jesus was in the middle of it, so I wasn’t worried.” Bill showed us clearly what it means to love in deed. We can speak about faith and trust, we can speak about Christian love and charity, but do we live it? Do we put into action the radical love that Christ asks of us? Bill did.

Lord, thank you for the example of Christ, who shows us how to treat one another in Christian love. Thank you for those like Bill, who touch our lives and remind us of the joy and peace that come from walking closely in Christ’s footsteps. Help us to search out ways to love in deed and in truth, and not just in word. We ask these things in Christ Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sara Lester

Sara, with her heart and home full of love, has seven wonderful children from the ages of thirteen to three months.  She enjoys homeschooling them all and having as much time with each of them as she can before they are grown.  Sara and her husband, along with their bubbling brood, make their home in Northwest Missouri, not far from the Iowa area where she grew up.  The best family time for Sara and her family is spent in the outdoors, enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.  Sara and her family help to support several charities through their church and you can learn about them at http://www.acworldrelief.org/.  Matthew 6:25-34 is Sara’s Scripture of choice and reminds her that her live is not her own, but fully God’s.

Sara, with her heart and home full of love, has seven wonderful children from the ages of thirteen to three months. She enjoys homeschooling them all and having as much time with each of them as she can before they are grown. Sara and her husband, along with their bubbling brood, make their home in Northwest Missouri, not far from the Iowa area where she grew up. The best family time for Sara and her family is spent in the outdoors, enjoying the beauty of God’s creation. Sara and her family help to support several charities through their church and you can learn about them at http://www.acworldrelief.org/. Matthew 6:25-34 is Sara’s Scripture of choice and reminds her that her live is not her own, but fully God’s.

Undying Love

“Don’t look for the big things. Just do small things with great love…. the smaller the thing, the greater must be our love.” ~ Mother Teresa

One of my Facebook friends recently posted a picture that referenced an explosion of Valentine’s Day gifts. A table overflowing with flowers and balloons, heart shaped boxes filled with chocolatey goodness, and, of course, a large, plush teddy bear. Her caption was, ” Why can’t this happen to me?” I responded with, ” Don’t feel bad, I have been married over 11 years and it hasn’t happened to me either.”

mel artilce

In today’s world we are so overtaken by the social media and Hollywood idealism of what love should look like. When the sad truth of the matter is, love is realistic. It’s challenging. It’s not always pretty. This Valentine’s Day, thousands of woman will be left feeling disappointed and unloved. A day society has marked the one day of the year we are to profess our undying love to one another through wining, dining, and materialism.

The young girl who had big dreams of a romantic dinner in a fancy restaurant where her boyfriend gets down on one knee and professes his love while reaching into his pocket and taking out a small black, velvet box, slipping onto her finger a costly diamond ring that sparkles so perfectly in the dim light of the candle-lit table. Instead of this dream coming to pass, she is taken to a mediocre restaurant at best and given a box of chocolates. She goes home completely disappointed because of the fantasy image she had created in her mind of what the perfect Valentine’s Day should look like. Her boyfriend goes home picking up on her disapproval of the evening and begins to feel like a failure. When really, he is working his tail off finishing his college degree while holding down a full time job that doesn’t pay nearly what he is worth and did the absolute best that he could with what minimal resources he had to work with. Both, start to question their relationship and the love that they have for one another all based on the misconception of what love really is or should look like.

Let us think of the millions of guys and girls who do not have a significant other to spend this holiday with. They sit at home and wallow in self-pity and doubt of their ability to be loved because they are spending “the most romantic day of the year”, all alone. They slip into their beds at the end of the emotionally exhausting day, ashamed and feeling unwanted and undesired, asking themselves the questions, “why am I alone, what is wrong with me, am I not worthy of love?” I know I can think back on many Valentines Days asking myself these very same questions; feeling these very same emotions. I can also recall many spent as a wife, wondering if I can even fathom the thought of another year being married to a man that I held so much resentment for, wishing to God that a sparkly new necklace and a dozen roses would fix our marriage and heal my wounds. Eating a dinner in silence or filled up minutes of small talk which felt like torture, but endured through because going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day is something we are “supposed “to do.

Life, dreams, relationships, goals; they don’t always turn out the way we plan. Our lives are filled with so much uncertainty and unexpected circumstances in which we should learn to embrace. This is the beauty and uniqueness of life and love. We tend to get so caught up in this perfect image of how we think something is supposed to be, we easily lose sight of what blessings are in front of us. We miss out on what God is trying to teach us through every trial and disappointment we face, and through every wound that we carry within our heart. Scripture teaches us that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, and are called according to His purpose. Nothing we endure will be in vain; not even on a disastrous Valentine’s Day. Something good will come of it. Someday, in Gods perfect timing, He will reveal why each and every holiday spent alone sitting in question, or every heart ache and disappointment, was meant to shape, refine, and mold your character all to better equip you for the good that has yet to come; good that is beyond what you could even imagine.

To the broken hearted readers, who are hurting today because you are holding onto so many deep hurts that have been obtained throughout your relationship/marriage, filled with bitterness and resentment: hang on! It gets better. I too, have been in this place where I didn’t see a ray of hope in my future with my spouse. I learned through this hurt to rely completely on Christ for my strength and wisdom. It is through His love that you will find your power source and motivation to keep on moving forward. John 15:12 says, ” My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” I prayed many prayers for the Lord to help me love my husband in the same way that Christ loves him. I knew that through my own strength and bitter emotions that I could not open my heart to him again, taking the risk of getting hurt all over again. It was only through the love and strength I received from Christ that I was able to stay in our marriage, forgive and heal, and continue to love him unconditionally. We must remain patient within the small victories after a fall. We must be patient upon waiting for the Lord to fulfill his promises. The Bible teaches: Love is patient, Love is kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love doesn’t demand its own way. Love is not irritable and keeps no records of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NLT)

On this Valentine’s Day I would like to encourage you not to get caught up in the “perfect date” or stress about material gifts, but rather give the gift of grace and kindness, forgiveness and self-sacrifice, words of affirmation and of love. And most of all, praise God today for the gift of His unfailing love He gives us even though we all fall short of glory of God.

So, here we are, Lord. Another Valentine’s Day that just doesn’t measure up to the idea we have in our head. It may be that we don’t have someone special to share it with, just went through a hard break up, or we don’t get to spend it with the one we love. I ask that You come in and fill this void; this very difficult spot that feels like the world around us is crumbling down. Our desire is to be loved and to love. We crave intimacy. You made us that way. Lord, be that for us. Show us your undying love for us. Thank you for always loving and affirming your love for us. Amen.

Melissa Donnelly

Melissa has a growing passion for encouraging others through the wisdom and words that Christ gives her. She is the mother to five awesome children, the youngest two being twins, and the helpmate to her husband, Travis. Melissa grew up in Upstate New York near Lake Ontario and, after many moves with the army, now makes her home with her family in Stromsburg, Nebraska. She is a volunteering mom at her children's schools and the founder of Community Toy Drive and also has started a library ministry in her home church. Next to loving her family, Melissa's Italian core kicks in and she loves to feed people until they could burst. Jeremiah 29:11. "'For I know the plan I have for you', declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" (NIV)

Melissa has a growing passion for encouraging others through the wisdom and words that Christ gives her. She is the mother to five awesome children, the youngest two being twins, and the helpmate to her husband, Travis. Melissa grew up in Upstate New York near Lake Ontario and, after many moves with the army, now makes her home with her family in Stromsburg, Nebraska. She is a volunteering mom at her children’s schools and the founder of Community Toy Drive and also has started a library ministry in her home church. Next to loving her family, Melissa’s Italian core kicks in and she loves to feed people until they could burst. Jeremiah 29:11. “‘For I know the plan I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” (NIV)

 

 

Picking Up & Moving Forward

So, yeah, this has been one heck of a year for me.

Many ups, I would even say highs, but so many lows as well. Like so low that you can only say Satan was behind it.

Great memories made and some really sad, hard and uncertain ones as well. So, where do I pick up at? How do I keep going when this has been so rough?

You all are no strangers to asking these very questions to yourselves. I just voiced them out loud. You have permission to do the same. Sometimes we need to say out loud what is in our hearts and heads before we can pick and move forward.  God doesn’t shy away because you need to ask him why or how.

Recently we have found out that my father-in-law needs to have major surgery. The kind of surgery that makes you appreciate all you have ever had and want to have your family near. Our family will be travelling in a matter of a couple weeks to be with them all and help in any way we can. What’s even more crazy is that this horrifying news came the very day we had set plans for our move and transition to yet another state of living.

pickandmove

At the very beginning of the decision being made to move to the lower forty-eight, David and I prayed that God’s timing would shine through and we would see His hand working through it all. It doesn’t seem that it would be God’s timing to have David’s dad need such an abrasive surgery the very moments we were planning to leave AK to head to our new home state.  I can’t see the logic in it or the perfectness of it all. I just have to trust that this is all placed right. I could not have planned to move and David’s dad to need surgery like this, in fact, I would never have paired the two together.

I was scrambling to grasp at whatever thread I could control – because I feel that I have lost the control of my ship now. Homeschooling, selling things packing things, running Titus II Woman and now health. Wow. That is a lot piled on to a very small plate. I cried out, “God, I can’t do this on my own. I am not sure I can do this at all. I am full of anxiety and I need you right now and right here. I can’t move.”

Sometimes this is the perfect timing that God has us in. He has brought me to a place where I have nothing left to do, but completely trust in Him for absolutely everything going on in my life. I can’t will my father-in-law back to health and I can’t get this house done in a matter of a couple weeks while homeschooling my children. Unsettling? Oh, yes. But, I honestly have a peace within me. It is motivating me to just pick up one piece at a time and move it one more space forward. That is further that the last step and towards what needs to be done.

Ladies, God doesn’t leave you when you feel like you are drowning. He is reaching his hand toward you and telling you to grab hold because he has got you and all the stuff you are going through. He won’t force you to take his hand. He says, “Hey, I want to help you, but it’s your choice. Take my hand and you will be cared for and all this stuff will be worked out. Your choice.” So, take His hand, pick up and move forward. You are in the perfect place to listen and become active.

Lord, this life is so hard. It says in your Word that You never give us more than we can handle. Well, at times it feels like you have way more faith in us than we have in ourselves. We don’t always feel that we can take the load we bear. That is where we need to trust in You to share that load and bring us to a perfect place with You. God, my God, I cry out to you for peace in the storm of life. Overwhelm me with Your presence right now. Amen.

Tara DeMaris

Tara, graduate of Crown College, is the mother to four beautiful children. Together, Tara and her husband, David, and their family make their home in North Pole, Alaska. Tara is passionate about reaching the hearts of women and young ladies. She loves to write and teach God's Word. God put a desire in Tara's heart over seven years ago to start a ministry that reached women and today she has founded Titus II Woman Ministry. God is showing her miracles and his hand at work every day.

Tara, graduate of Crown College, is the mother to four beautiful children. Together, Tara and her husband, David, and their family make their home in North Pole, Alaska. Tara is passionate about reaching the hearts of women and young ladies. She loves to write and teach God’s Word. God put a desire in Tara’s heart over seven years ago to start a ministry that reached women and today she has founded Titus II Woman Ministry. God is showing her miracles and his hand at work every day.

The Cost of Blessings

“The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, ‘I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.’” (Genesis 22:15)

We just finished carpeting our upstairs. Two bedrooms and a hallway. It was so much work!!! But the end result was totally worth it. The crazy part of the story is that God has been preparing us for this for a couple of years. In 2013 we resigned the church we were pastoring. It was a painful end to a place we loved dearly. The next two years were hard. We lived in my parent’s basement while my husband sought rest and refreshing after a crazy pastorate. Our lives were on hold while we waited for God to provide for us. Provide direction, healing and resources. Both of us held various jobs to provide for us and our 2 kids during that time. One of those odd jobs happened to be installing carpet. It was hard work but was something that paid well for Nathan at the time. It lasted about 6 months and life went on. Thankful to not be working so hard he started another job.

Fast forward to January 2016, we are now first time homeowners. We knew that we needed to re-carpet some places in the house, but just starting out at a new ministry position we couldn’t afford to splurge on new carpet. We committed our desire to God and trusted in his timing like so many times before. As God would have it a person who bought a newly built house in town didn’t like the color of her brand new carpet and wanted to get rid of 1000 sq. feet of gray carpet. We paid pennies to be able to re-carpet our entire house with brand new carpet. In God’s perfect plan, my husband knew everything to do because of the time he spent working hard in transition.

What does all this have to do with Abraham and blessings? Sometimes blessings cost you. In order for us to be able to have new carpet installed and afford it, my husband had to work through that time or he wouldn’t have had the experience needed. In order for Abraham to be blessed it tells us in the above passage … “because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you.” Abraham was willing to give God his Son, not to receive a blessing, but out of obedience.

So many times it’s easy to pray for God to bless us, but just like putting in the work to lay carpet, you have to be willing to put in the work. Work through the transition, through the pain, operate out of obedience even when it doesn’t make human sense. The process can be painful and you may feel like you missed God completely. Just remember, God took Joseph through many jobs and places, even prison before he got the blessing he had been promised.

Don’t fear, God has a plan and what you are working through right now just may be preparing you for your future blessing.

Lord, help us to be faithful right where we are. All of our experiences and trials, the things we have to work through shape us and prepare us for what you want us to be. Grant us patience and steadfastness I pray. Amen!

Amanda Keller

Amanda is a homeschooling mother of two great children and wife to Nathan. While Amanda grew up in Jordan, Montana, their family makes their home in Bismarck, North Dakota. Amanda's passion for leading others in worship shines through along with her love for Jesus, her family and laughter. Their family loves to support Compassion International in whatever way possible. Amanda holds associates degrees in both music performance and office administration from Trinity Bible College. "your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do but something you raise." ~Andy Stanley

Amanda is a homeschooling mother of two great children and wife to Nathan. While Amanda grew up in Jordan, Montana, their family makes their home in Bismarck, North Dakota. Amanda’s passion for leading others in worship shines through along with her love for Jesus, her family and laughter. Their family loves to support Compassion International in whatever way possible. Amanda holds associates degrees in both music performance and office administration from Trinity Bible College. “your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do but something you raise.” ~Andy Stanley