Standing on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, I tried to imagine the forces of nature that carved this gaping marvel. I could barely make out the emerald green of the Colorado River snaking through the bottom of the canyon 6,000 feet below. How had that tiny green thread created this 277-mile-long wonder? It was hard to grasp the magnitude of it all.
The Grand Canyon wasn’t formed overnight. The process took many thousands of years. Rising and falling waters eroding layers of rock year after year. Some of the changes were relatively abrupt as large segments of softer rock gave way to raging flood waters; but changes to harder rock were more gradual, barely perceivable from season to season.
The process reminds me of the way we experience change in our own lives. In some seasons, change happens so rapidly we beg for things to slow down. Abrupt change can be jarring, making us feel as though we’ve lost our footing. Help me, Lord. I can’t hold on any longer.
Other times, the change is so slow we wonder if anything is happening at all. Lord, I’ve been asking you for years. When will something happen? But just as it takes ages for a river to carve a canyon, we don’t always perceive the beginnings of change in our lives or the lives of our loved ones. This slower process can fuel doubt and frustration.
But both types of change are necessary. God knows the condition of our hearts. He knows where we have grown hard, just as He knows the areas in our lives where we are soft and malleable. His Holy Spirit is the river that carves through our very hearts creating a unique masterpiece.
I look back over the years and recognize the times when He gently smoothed away the rough surfaces with a cool, steady stream and also the times when the flood waters roared, upending everything in their path. Do you know the feeling?
Becoming a mother was one of those upending moments for me. I had decided to leave my job on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC to be a stay-at-home mom. I liked my job, and I loved the people in my office; but I’d had a difficult time imagining how I would balance the demands of a political career with being a mom. I know many women who do it well, but I didn’t think that lifestyle would suit our family. Financially, we could make it work; so, after prayerful consideration, my husband and I agreed it was the best choice for us.
I read all the popular parenting books and sought advice from near and far, but nothing could have prepared me for those first months of motherhood. In many ways, my experience was not unlike multitudes of other women — a difficult delivery, my newborn needing to spend a few extra days in the hospital, postpartum depression, sleepless nights, showerless days, exploding diapers…
I had based so much of my identity on my career that when it was gone, I believed I had nothing left. In a city where it often seems that who you work for is everything, I sometimes even felt ignored at church. I had become used to the attention I was given for my high-level connections. Now, upon sharing that I had become a stay-at-home mom — crickets. Nobody cared. Or at least that’s how it felt. I believed I had suddenly become the most boring human alive.
On reflection, I can see how God used the overwhelming change that came with motherhood to upend unhealthy beliefs and wear down a false identity. Day by day He was showing me I was more than a title or fancy office. But I can’t sugar-coat this process. It was painful. There were countless days when I could only cry out to God as the ground below me shifted and the walls of the canyon gave way around me. Those days of struggle took me deeper, sometimes kicking and screaming, but the Lord was patient with me. It took time for me to realize I was just as valuable to God at home changing diapers as I was in a press conference under the dome of the U.S. Capitol. I began to see a fruitful future, it just looked different than I imagined.
The canyon reminds me of distinctive qualities that have been revealed in my life as the flood waters rose and the winds roared. God used this time to carve out a solid foundation, one where my identity would be firm in Him. He cleared out the rubble from a crumbling identity that wasn’t grounded in Him. He smoothed my rough edges and brought new qualities to the surface. I now see glorious colors and rich textures that have been unearthed through relentless pressure and uncomfortable friction. And I know God’s loving hand was in it all.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7 NIV)
Shay Mason is a Chicago-area native living in North Carolina. An autoimmune disease and OCD/anxiety overcomer, she is a firm believer in God’s healing love. Her particular passion is helping people go deeper into God’s heart. In addition to writing, Shay loves travel, music, coffee, quirky indie films, and hiking. Shay and her husband Bruce are the founders of Love Inside Out, Inc. in Raleigh and have spent extensive time ministering in Madagascar. They have two college-aged kids and a spoiled Goldendoodle. Shay is a contributor at She Found Joy and a member of Hope*Writers. Her blog The Spacious Place can be found at https://www.shaysmason.com.
There’s a group of five women who’ve been meeting since June every Wednesday morning. It’s somewhat of a strange little group, five women writers gathering to celebrate, confess where we’re stuck, set goals for the next week, hold each other in accountability—and pray.
This current strangeness. COVID-19 reality. My friends’ daughters’ school and social lives in limbo, always changing. Our writing words, changing. Even this context of our little hope-full circle is a result of changes we all desired to make. To take our callings to minister with words seriously. Investing finances and time to it—obeying our God.
I jotted the words down, this current strangeness, this one morning. Isn’t growth a process of change? Doesn’t change bring about growth? Whether it’s a chosen change—like a new commitment to work with words, that new workout plan, choosing to put down the phone and pick up a book. Or there are changes more often than not we don’t choose. Like living in a pandemic-riddled world. Or when a new diagnosis crops up. Or your location has to change due to a job. Or how church has changed.
If we’re not changing, we’re not growing. But oh the grace and worship there is to be found amidst the “labor pains” of change and growth. Because God our Father never changes. And this is a fact we can stake our lives on, praising Him through all the changes.
Except these words aren’t so melodically easy to put into practice when the rubber hits the road. But, it is a surefire soul-soothing way for us to practice remembrance of God.
It could look something like this.
Choosing to praise God in the strangeness by borrowing prayers from the Psalms, and letting the words take you to the throne room with brutal honesty and emotion. It may look like doing the next right thing after a pause, and deep breath—whether that be changing a diaper, helping with homework for the millionth time, or pouring a cup of coffee slow, and taking the time to taste it.
Praising God in the strangeness, in your unique pain of these ever-changing times, could simply be taking more time to to kiss your child’s head, sling an arm around the waist of your spouse, calling your mom and really listening and asking questions beyond small-talk. This praising God in the strangeness is a defiant, sometimes loud, sometimes quiet, exercise of faith.
To praise Him in the strangeness is to praise Him in everything. The tension. The waiting. The breath-held, lip-bit decision-making for the near and far future.
Praising Him in the strangeness can look like asking God honest questions. Crying real tears. Saying I don’t know for the thousandth time to your kids or spouse or parent when they ask, “What are we going to do about ______?” Admitting decision fatigue, perhaps decision defeat, because how can any of us know what is the wisest, safest thing to do in the time of COVID?
One of the wisest, and best uses of our time, soul-space, and voices, is to praise God. By using melodies, verses, and choruses to shift our hearts to remember who God is. Unchanging. Our rock-solid foundation. Remembering how all-seeing and all-good and loving He is, even when our circumstances tease us with so many doubts One of the wisest, and best uses of our time, soul-space, and voices, is to praise God. By using melodies, verses, and choruses to shift our hearts to remember who God is. Unchanging. Our rock-solid foundation. Remembering how all-seeing and all-good and loving He is, even when our circumstances tease us with so many doubts as all the questions are raised. Praising God in the strangeness is a powerful weapon, a lifting lullaby to our anxious souls—and a tender offering of our whole hearts to the God who has named every star and knows every hair on our head.
Meghan DeWalt is an author of stories about remembrance and redemption. A full-time writer, she is passionate about theology and discipleship, encouraging othersto know and love God wholeheartedly in order to live according to their Gospel calling. Meghan lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, Jeff, where they cook, practise hospitality, and adventure together.
“Happy Birthday to me.” Amy whispered the words in the direction of her sorrowful reflection in the bedroom mirror. Where was energetic, vivacious, animated Amy—and when had those crow’s feet found purchase around her eyes?
Another year older. But it wasn’t merely her age. Dressed from head to toe in black, Amy’s heart was heavy with grief. She reached up and touched the gold locket around her neck. Warm, smooth, full of memories. Had she ever seen Grandma without it? “No one should have to bury their grandma on their birthday.” Amy turned at the sound of her mother’s voice. “I know. It couldn’t be helped. Besides, turning forty-five isn’t much to celebrate.” She raised an eyebrow. “My daughter is always worth celebrating.” Amy’s mom managed a smile. “Anyway, the last of the lingering funeral guests have finally gone if you want to come downstairs.”
“I will. I’m just getting used to Grandma not being here.”
“I know. Change is never easy. And you were her favorite granddaughter.”
“Her only granddaughter.” Amy’s eyes pooled. “I miss her.”
“Come and sit with me?” Amy followed her mom across Grandma’s excessively floral bedroom and they perched on the end of the queen-sized bed. How many times had she sat here with Grandma through the decades and attempted to solve all the problems involving boys, studies, faith, marriage, parenting, and her new empty nest life? She swallowed a sob.
“Amy, I’ve vacillated whether or not to give this to you today but your grandmother made me promise.” Her mom reached into the top drawer of the ancient dresser in front of them and pulled out a letter tied with a scarlet ribbon. “Grandma wanted you to have it.”
Amy took the envelope and recognized the immaculate script right away. “For me? Do you know what it’s about?”
Her mom wrapped her in a side hug. “You’ve had a rough year. Both your kids are away in college now, you’re finding a new rhythm to your life, things with Ben aren’t the greatest, and I know you haven’t been to church in forever.”
Amy shoulders sank. “Mom—”
“I’m sorry. I’m not judging you, honey. I’m worried about you. You might be in your mid-forties but you’re still my girl. You have a lot going on and Grandma had a way of making us all see sense and she thought this letter might help. That’s all.”
Amy nodded. “Have you read it?”
“No.” Her mom squeezed her hand and stood. “This is a birthday gift for you.”
“I thought the gold locket was her final gift to me?” She fingered the treasure as it rested on her breastbone.
“She was very mysterious but I think you’ll find it’s all connected. You might want to get some fresh air and read the letter in her favorite place, too.”
“I think I will. Thanks.” Amy gripped the precious letter to her chest as her mother retreated downstairs.
She stood and headed out through the bedroom French doors to Grandma’s balcony, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the late afternoon sunshine. Grandma’s house was a beautiful plantation style home but its elaborate interior was dark—probably why she spent so much time on the balcony overlooking a park full of trees.
Amy rearranged a plethora of pink cushions and settled into the wicker sofa. She smoothed her pencil skirt, kicked off her heels, and made herself comfortable. Before embarking upon a session with Grandma’s words of wisdom, she took a deep breath and allowed her eyes to roam the springtime vista of lemony yellow magnolias mingled with pale pink flowering dogwoods. So much new life everywhere. Ironic as we just buried Grandma…
Focus. The letter. She tugged at one end of the satin red ribbon and let it fall to her lap. She turned the envelope over, slit it open, and unfolded the paper. Papers—there were three sheets. Words especially for her.
“My darling Amy,
How I wish I could be face-to-face with you to wish you a Happy Birthday but my time is drawing near and I have a feeling this letter may find you in a less than jubilant frame of mind. Please don’t feel sad for me—God granted me almost ninety years of life and it’s finally my time to be in glory and I’ve been looking forward to meeting my Lord and to reuniting with my Henry, your grandpa, for some years now. However, I am concerned about you, child…”
Amy blinked back the blur of tears and allowed a chuckle to escape her lips. “Child.” She had once complained to Grandma for calling her “child” when she was a teenager—and had suffered the lecture on them all being children of God and how precious that identity was. And now I have children of my own—who have flown the nest and don’t really need me so much anymore… Amy sighed as she found her place on the page:
“Amy dear, you might be a woman with grown children of your own, but you will always be a child of God. Your role might be changing—as it always does in this life—but one thing never changes: God’s love for His children. I know how much you miss having your babies under your roof but they have to make their own way and now you need to find yours.
We haven’t talked too much lately about your dear husband, but I fear that perhaps things are not as they might be between you and Ben. Am I right?”
Amy’s face heated. How on earth did Grandma know? She didn’t miss a trick—she was sharp as a tack to her very last day. But Amy had been so careful to make excuses when Ben wasn’t around for recent family dinners and had almost managed to fool herself into thinking things were relatively okay. Not great. But not horrendous. It was weird and new, this navigating the nest without any chicks to buffer the awkwardness. Her faith was stale, her marriage in a rut, and she had no clue what to do about any of it. She gulped and read on.
“What you have to remember, child, is that you are not alone in this predicament. Every one of us has to learn how to embrace the new when the next season rolls around. Can I let you into a little secret? Your grandpa and I had a horrible time of it when your mother and her siblings all left our nest. We fought and ignored one another and held onto our marriage by the skin of our teeth.”
What? Grandma and Grandpa celebrated their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary before he passed. They were the model of love Amy always looked up to. Her heart sank. Was every relationship doomed to dissatisfaction and disaster?
“I’m sorry if that’s a shock to you. It was to me, too. There we were, a good Christian couple, both active at church and following the Lord. Yet the love between us faltered and that, in turn, rocked our relationships with God. It was awful. I was miserable. And then one afternoon, Grandpa came home from work with a tear in his eye and a gift in his hand. He never cried and it wasn’t my birthday. But that was the most memorable evening of my life.”
Fascinated, Amy tucked her hair behind her ears and turned to the next page.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23
You see, your grandpa knew we had lost our way very badly—in our marriage and even in our faith. It was a gradual decline but we needed help out of the pit. So he sat me down at the kitchen table, lay the gift in my lap, and told me to open it.
As I unwrapped the box, this verse was written on a slip of paper. And as I pulled out the most beautiful gold locket I had ever seen, Grandpa explained that the Lord had woken him early that morning with this verse on his mind. He said the words “love, mercy, and faithfulness” echoed in his heart all day at work—he couldn’t shake them. And through that verse, God whispered that Grandpa and I needed to find our first love again. Not only between the two of us—but our love for Him, too. We’d allowed both loves to stagnate, the flames flickering to almost nothing when God intended us to be burning bright in our marriage and our faith.
Love, mercy, faithfulness—that is what we both craved from one another and from the Lord. And I think maybe you crave it, too.”
A stirring welled in Amy’s heart. She was tired of treading water, merely surviving and going through the motions of living. She faked joy and put on a brave face for everyone and it was exhausting. She ached for connection—with Ben and with God. How long had it been since she’d cracked open her Bible? There was one last page of the letter…
“So you’re probably curious about the locket. I know you always liked to try it on when you were a little girl but I never went a day without wearing it since that one evening with Grandpa. You see, Grandpa told me he had our special verse inscribed on the inside of the locket before he set a tiny photograph of the two of us inside—and then had the jeweler weld it shut. He said we were sealed together by God’s love and in His mercy, we would be together all our days. And we were.
Amy, I had that locket opened up a month ago when I knew my time was running short. Take a look inside and know that God will give you the love, mercy, and faithfulness you need to make your life beautiful again in Him.
Know you are seen, heard, and loved—in every season of life, my darling.
With much love,
Amy put her hand to her face and found it was drenched with tears. Dear Grandma. Dear Lord…
She set the letter down on the sofa and unclasped the locket. Holding it gingerly between her fingers, she unlatched the delicate clasp and pulled back both sides.
A gasp escaped her lips. On one side was a tiny photo of her and Ben on their wedding day. How had Grandma orchestrated this surprise? And sure enough, the inscription “Lamentations 3:22-23” was on the opposite side.
Amy rose to her bare feet and padded to the edge of the balcony. Clutching the railings with one hand, she breathed in the smell of spring. The season of making all things new. Even in the sorrow of death, God had given her hope and promise.
“God, it’s not too late for Ben and me. I know it. But I need You—we need You.”
Yes, God’s mercies were new every single morning and surely, He longed for them to live their best life together. As friends, lovers, parents to their adult children, and as servants of the Almighty. She had the sudden urge to run downstairs and speak with her husband before it was too late.
Amy gazed down at the locket in her hand and closed her fingers around the beautiful reminder.
“Thank you, Grandma.”
This bizarre birthday might be a day of grieving and goodbyes—but it would also mark a change in her heart with the start of a fresh, new season… with love, mercy, and faithfulness.
A published Christian author, Laura writes heart-warming encouragement for your soul. She has three Christian romantic suspense novels published, as well as a Christian teen fiction trilogy, marriage book, and middle-grade novel. She is published in several anthologies and writes devotionals, articles, and stories for magazines and online, and shares musings on her blog.
Laura is a chocoholic mom of three, married to her high school sweetheart. Originally from the UK, they live in Kelowna, British Columbia as audacious empty-nesters.
“He just made a face at me.” “Well, he called me a name!”
“Try to be kind, please.” I asked. “If someone does something you don’t like, respond in kindness.”
The month of April we talked to the children about being kind. There had been harsh words, fighting, and snide remarks. Instead of learning to be friends, the siblings were turning against each other. No one was happy. Everyone was miserable. The only time they weren’t arguing was while they sat alone in their rooms.
Being kind is more than just loving someone. It is love in action. How often have I loved in words but not in deeds? And how often have I let my kindness only come out to the ones who “deserve it”? Too many to count. So I look to God and found His kindness inspires me. When I read Psalm 136, the refrain “His mercy endures forever” echoed in my heart. The word for “mercy” is also translated “loving-kindness,” which is the Hebrew word “checed.” It actually means God’s “covenant-keeping love” for us. Covenant means promise. God’s love is directly connected to His promises. The promises of God are the reason we can wait on God, seek His face, and feel Him close, even in suffering.
Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him because we have trusted in His holy name. Let Your mercy – (covenant-keeping love) be upon us, just as we hope in You. Psalm 33:20-22
O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For his mercy (covenant-keeping love) endures forever. Psalm 136:1
People aren’t kind.
Even the well-intentioned people can be unkind. But God is kind. It is all He can be. Even in suffering, we find the kindness of God. In suffering, pain, heartache, questions, doubts, and even in our deepest darkest pits I’ve seen the kindness of God.
No one ever has never suffered. If you have lived you understand suffering. So when I say we see the kindness of God in our suffering, I don’t mean we feel it. I don’t mean we even believe it totally. I’m saying the kindness of God means we can choose to see His love in the dark. In the mercy on the cross, see the kindness of a Father who continues to bear our burdens with us. I’m sure Jesus didn’t feel the kindness of God while hanging in agony with the sun darkened in the sky. Yet here we are. Saved because of this amazing kindness of God.
Suffering can show us the kindness of God.
When I say this, I don’t mean this circumstance feels good. I’m saying the kindness of God means we see His love in the lonely nights with tear-stained pillows. I’m saying the kindness of God means I feel His comfort as I read His words on the days I don’t want to read my Bible. The kindness of God shows up in the peace that passes understanding when all we want to do is hide.
The kindness of God is found in the small and the big ways; the small moments when I’m with Him in the mornings, quiet with my coffee, the little moments laughing with my children over something silly, the ordinary date nights with my husband, just holding his hand. More and more kindness is given to me and I miss it. I miss seeing the beauty because I’m wrapped up in myself and focused on my own feelings of being lonely.
One of the biggest ways to remember God’s kindness is to keep a list. A kindness list is similar to a gratitude list. How can you see God’s kindness, even today?
There is so much unseen, unknown, and frustrating about life. Right now we are trying to sell a house from miles away and there is a ton of stuff to do. There are people we are going to have to rely on because we are physically not there. But there are people who are there. And that is the kindness of God. We have to do school at home, but we have children who laugh at silly things and that is the kindness of God. It is hot, but we have fans and that is the kindness of God. Our laundry dryer doesn’t work very well, but I have a clothes line and that is the kindness of God. I’m so unfaithful with my Bible reading, but God is always faithful and that is His kindness. I am shamed by my lack of faith, but God says there is no shame; lean into the faith He brings. And that is the kindness of God.
We might feel forgotten, we are not, that is the kindness of God. We might feel unseen, we are not, that, too, is the kindness of God. We see God’s kindness in our suffering when we remember His truth and promises. Here are just a few:
God’s love endures forever. (Psalm 136; Isaiah 54:10)
Mercy is available to everyone who repents. (I John 1:9; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalm 86:5)
God never leaves. (Deuteronomy 31:8; Joshua 1:9, Hebrews 13:5)
God provides strength for the weary. (Isaiah 40:31; 41:10)
God is our rescue and protection. (Psalm 9:9-10; Psalm 107:13-16)
God’s salvation is for the entire world. (John 3:16, 3:36)
God will meet our needs. (Philippians 4:19)
God is always comforting us. (Psalm 23:4, Psalm 27:1)
God hears our prayers. (Psalm 34:17; Psalm 50:15)
All things will work out for our good. (Romans 8:28; Psalm 31:19)
What if we woke up today and suffering remains? We can carve a path through the desert and find water when we see God’s kindness in suffering.
Sarah E. Frazer is a writer and Bible study mentor at sarahefrazer.com. Sarah is the wife of Jason and mother of five. She and her family serve as full-time missionaries in Honduras. Her passion is to encourage women to start today with a Bible reading and prayer habit. Sarah is the author of several self-published Bible study resources for women. She shares tools and encouragement for Bible and prayer study at sarahefrazer.com. Follow her on Instagram @sarah_e_frazer and download her 12-Day Bible Reading plan here. http://www.sarahefrazer.com/12days
I have always loved rocks. Smooth, beautiful, colorful stones or big broken open geodes with crystals formed inside. As a kid, I would dig through the bins at the souvenir shop for as long as my parents would allow. I would fill my little cinch bag as full as I could with as many colors as I could find. The sense of rubbing my fingertips over the polished surface was soothing, unlike the natural texture of life.
I loved them so much, I asked for a rock tumbler to make my very own. I thought you could go from rugged to gemstone in no time at all. I was wrong. In a child’s mind, it took forever. As an adult, it takes 4-8 weeks, changing the abrasive grit to fine polish eventually. It felt like an eternity to allow the proper change to happen.
The grit of character development feels harsh
I imagine we have all felt rough around the edges a time or two. Thrown into the tumbler with life grinding away at us. The grit of character development feels harsh. The pressure to look like you have everything under control is almost unbearable and the progress we want to see isn’t anywhere in sight. But if we could take a moment to remember: We all go through the same process and we are all leading others by the changes we allow God to make daily and the forgiveness and grace we accept.
The allowance of this change in our human nature feeds the goodness God has instilled inside each of us. Counter that, if we don’t allow Him to change us, we encourage what is evil. He gave us the ability to choose. I wish I could say that goodness is always easiest. With family, work, friendships, and our own dreams, life can be a hard balance. Some people push us to be better. Some bring out our worst.
God knows each rigid edge and every rough point of view. He knows every jagged lie you believe and every pit of anger you fall in. He knows every veiled perspective and the harm each holds against you and the damage it causes others in the process. Our actions can show love or cut like a sharp sword. Words, being the sharpest of all, pierce our thoughts and linger for what seems without end. And unjust words, crushing, tumble like a boulder.
Change is always difficult
Until God gives us the mirror to see His work in action, change is always going to be difficult.
I went to a park recently that had a shallow creek. My kids jumped straight in and started skipping rocks across the water. As I watched them sort through and select the perfect rocks to skip, I thought about the amount of water and tumbling it took to get those stones to the shape they were. I imagined God sorting through His people, looking for just the right one to use for His purposes, some begging to be chosen, some hiding in the muck. It was then I realized, that the water changed the shape of those stones and freed the one who is stuck, just like His Spirit frees and changes us.
A rock has no choice but to separate from its weakest edges, but we do.
I imagine Jesus bending down, His eyes on the brokenhearted. When He reaches out, I hear one cry out, “I’m no good. Choose someone else.” But His response is always perfect. “You are mine and you are beloved. Treasured.” As He lays His hand upon us, we become perfected for His purpose through His power and are able to let go of the fragmented thoughts and iniquities because He has prepared us and spoken over us. Lifted up, we see our reflection below. Not as we see ourselves, but as He has made us in His image.
Perfection is relative and our time is His river that delivers us in the end, raw and broken – or polished and beautiful, overflowing with His peace. How many times have we been tossed about? How long did we remain stuck? Will we recognize the changes we have made or the rough places we refuse to acknowledge? What am I sacrificing for my pride?
Questions to consider
While we tumble through life and feel like we are being thrown against what only wants to swallow us, a place where our fears lie and wait for our return, question yourself.
Has my character been changed enough in Him?
Has my attitude been adjusted toward others?
Has my mouth been tamed?
Whether we sink again or keep our head above the water depends on the reflection we choose to view. The Spirit of God within you reveals everything He has made good.
“Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
When He launches you into His work, remember where you began and recognize what has been made new. The best part…
You are always chosen.
Brooke Giles is a military spouse and work-at-home mom currently living in the suburbs right outside Atlanta, GA, with her husband and two children. She is passionate about living creatively through writing and encouraging others to do the same. Even though she is not a photographer, she loves to pretend and you will often find her making her children recreate silly moments or taking photos that tell a story. She appreciates charming scenery that inspires her and, of course, where she can do all her over-thinking and coffee sipping. She currently writes children’s books and Christian fiction/ non-fiction in hope to publish one day. IG: @holdingontogood and Holdingontogood.com.
Abrasive grit to fine polish is one of the articles from the change issue of iola. Buy your copy here for more articles, creative prompts, and beautiful photography.
Letting go of our plans to embrace change or the life we’ve been given requires a daily laying down of our lives, but it’s a path that leads to a deeper dependence on God and the full life He has to offer us.
“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
The question caused me to hesitate. A few years ago, I could easily conjure up an answer—one that stemmed from a five-year plan that held all the things I felt I should be doing alongside dreams and aspirations. A realistic, achievable plan that offered my life a sense of purpose and direction—or, more accurately, a sense of control. My answer today looks quite different.
Change necessitated by circumstances
I used to view my five-year plan as a roadmap through which I could take on the world—a safety net of sorts. Of course, it wasn’t a specific play-by-play of how my life would unfold, but it did lend direction, something to fall back on when uncertainty crept into my life. At least, that is what I anticipated to be true until my life turned upside down unexpectedly. Diagnosed with a rare, aggressive tumor in my mid-twenties, I was caught off guard. A health challenge was not part of my well-crafted plans. As I grappled with the diagnosis, it became clear I wasn’t prepared.
Sometimes, we walk willingly toward change. Other times, change is necessitated by circumstances outside of our control. As change was thrust upon me with my newfound diagnosis, I fought it every step of the way. I desperately tried to hold onto the life I once knew by convincing myself that maintaining my former life meant all would be well.
Holding fast to my goals, dreams, and desires, I resisted change. Within a few months, I found myself not only depleted but filled with discouragement upon realizing I wasn’t doing much well by clinging to this attitude. Something had to give. Pretending life was normal when it was anything but wasn’t cutting it. I painfully accepted that I had limitations to contend with. My reality required me to let go of the life I had planned and embrace what I had been given. In the process of letting go, I held both grief and gratitude. I grieved the inability to do what I loved, while simultaneously holding gratitude for all I could still do. In letting go and embracing the life I had been given, I found beauty in the present moment. As my striving began to cease, I gained the capacity to see all the incredible ways God was at work—even amid unwanted circumstances. Letting go of long-held expectations and plans was slow and painful requiring newfound grace for my limitations. Over time, I came to realize that there was beauty to behold in the ordinary and the mundane. There was joy to be found when my striving ceased. Life was found in letting go of my plans and embracing what was right in front of me.
Holding plans loosely
Holding my plans loosely created an opportunity for me to see God at work in the smallest details of my life—in the places I had never thought to look before. Such as when fatigue set in related to my rigorous medication routine, no longer needing medication to help with pain management, a full night’s sleep in a comforable bed when sleep was near impossible to come by. A book on hold at the library ready for pickup the day before chemotherapy to keep me occupied.
As my dependence on God grew through the struggle and lack of control, it became apparent that God hadn’t left my side. His presence grew increasingly more recognizable.
Letting go of our plans to embrace change in the life we’ve been given requires a daily laying down of our lives, but its a path that leads to a deeper dependence on God and the full life He has to offer us.
The truth is, I’m not sure where I see myself in five years, but my hope is that wherever life takes me, I continue to rely more on God’s guidance and direction than my own. While I continue to battle against the need for control, I’m learning and relearning that there is more freedom found in letting go and letting God. While my plans convince me that I have some semblance of control over my life, I’ve found God’s plans always pan out better. I’m learning to hold my plans loosely, to bring the desires of my heart to God, and to ask for His guidance and direction. To embrace change. Doing so has allowed me to pay better attention to those hard-to-ignore nudges. Having the future we envisioned upended is hard, but if it’s taught me anything, it’s that resisting change only makes our circumstances harder. Leaning into God as we let go of what we thought our life would look like and embrace the one we’ve been given is how we experience more freedom. May we continue to practise letting go to embrace what is right in front of us.
MaryBeth is a writer who encourages people to hold on to hope as they encounter unexpected challenges in life. As a rare disease warrior, MaryBeth has found God’s provision in her weakest moments and with it the grace she needs to endure. MaryBeth shares encouragement on Instagram @marybetheiler and at www.marybetheiler.com.
‘Letting go to embrace change’ is just one of the articles found in the change issue. Buy your copy here today for more articles, creative prompts, book introductions and beautiful photography.
Last Autumn my husband and I were taking a morning walk along a path filled with beautiful Fall colors and textures. The morning was crisp, and the air was fresh. There were countless dandelions dotting the edge of the pathway, floating above the remaining foliage like fluffy cotton balls. I leaned over to take a picture of one. Much to my initial dismay, it was completely falling apart. The seeds that would normally make up the beautiful airy sphere were letting go, in what at first glance appeared to be a complete mess. But as I looked closer, I saw unique details and textures. The dandelion letting go of all its seeds actually had a beautiful gracefulness to it. The dandelion was letting go of what it to needed to in that season.
Letting go can be hard
Letting go can be one of the hardest things we have to do in our lifetimes. Just like the dandelion let go of its seeds in order to create new plants the following season, sometimes we need to let go in order to give ourselves space to grow. Letting go can be scary because whether it be in a big or small way, letting go can also mean change. But giving ourselves room to grow can result in the most beautiful transformations.
Some of my earliest memories from my childhood include hearing my father play songs on our family’s baby grand piano during the evenings. Some years later, I learned how to turn pushing randomly on those same keys into beautiful music. When my husband and I got married, we were given the piano I had spent so much time playing as a child and teenager.
But the reality was, we really didn’t have room for a baby grand piano, and I was too busy to play it. It was very large for the space we had— it metaphorically ate up all the adjacent space in the room next to our kitchen. After a couple years, the writing was on the wall. It was time to let go the baby grand piano that I had so many fond childhood memories with. I found a friend who was looking for a piano and the problem was solved. I knew it was going to a good home where it would be used and appreciated.
While we may not want to admit it, material possessions are sometimes hard to let go of. Especially if it is something we have worked hard for, paid good money for, or have an emotional attachment to. But letting go of excess materialistic possessions can free up space literally and figuratively for us to focus on other areas of our lives that are worth developing and growing into, rather than managing an overload of belongings.
Letting go of dreams
But letting go isn’t always materialistic. Perhaps there is a dream or idea you’ve had to let go of. Maybe it is just temporarily, or maybe it is permanent. If letting go of a dream is temporary, perhaps the timing just wasn’t quite right, so letting go just means for now. Or perhaps the idea you had is being revised for an even better plan for your future. Or maybe there is a particular picture in your mind of how your life in general was supposed to look, but things just aren’t turning out that way.
I know personally there have been times where I became so focused on how I thought my life should unfold, I didn’t realize things were coming together for the better. I had to let go of my preconceived ideas of how I thought my life should look, before I could fully see the beautiful life right in front of me.
Letting go to grow
While letting go is often associated with loss and change, it can also be associated with gain. There are countless facets of our lives where we may need to let go in order to grow. I don’t know what area in life this may or may not be for you, but I know it can be scary. Will we regret letting go? Will we not like the change? Will things ever be the same again? So many questions come along with letting go, and sometimes there are things we should hold on to as long as we can.
My thoughts go back to that crisp Autumn morning walk and I remind myself of the dandelion letting go of its seeds. It was done in such a light and airy way, it gets me to wondering—are we putting too much weight on letting go in certain areas of our lives? Perhaps we should shift some of the focus from what is in our lives, to how we live our lives.
Have you ever felt like there was an area of your life where you needed to let go in order to grow?
Do you have trouble letting go of material possessions? If so, why do you think this is?
If you feel you have an excess of material possessions, is there a way you can prioritize keeping the most significant or memorable items, while letting go of the not-so-important ones?
Has there been a time in your life where things just didn’t pan out the way you thought they would?
Was there some good that came out of this experience?
Is there an area in your life where you might be focusing too much on the what, rather than how you are living your life?
Allison Craig is a photographer, designer, and writer inspired by nature and the plants she grows in her garden. Her hope is to inspire others to see beauty in their everyday lives. Her first book, Finding Peace in the Everyday, is available on Amazon.
After saying yet another heart-wrenching goodbye to a University-bound child at the airport, I head home to the empty nest once more. For me, it’s the reminder that no matter the age of my three grown kids, I’ll always be Mother. Mum. Mommy. Depending on the child. And part of motherhood is morphing with the changes, rolling with the punches, and giving it all to God!
“Motherhood is a million little moments that God weaves together with grace, redemption, laughter, tears, and most of all, love.”
No matter the age of our children, those “million little moments” keep us on our toes as the kids change and grow. It also requires change and growth on our part—sometimes we get it right and other times, not so much. Who among us does not have major regrets when it comes to parenting? We wish we spent more time listening and less time nagging. More down-time and being less uptight. More laughs and less tears. More hugs and less shrugs.
We are learning beside our children
Hindsight is a gem but, in the moment of mothering, we throw our hands in the air—either in supplication to God or in utter frustration with ourselves—and we do our best. Much of the time we are learning right beside our children, growing emotionally, mentally, spiritually just as we watch them grow physically. And then in a flash, they are packing for college and we realize our time is up and we hope to goodness we have done enough…
“What you really want, desperately, wildly, in spite of everything—is for them to remember the good…What every mother wants, her most unspoken need—is a truckload of grace.”
A truckload of grace
So much grace. For our mothering, for our kids, and for ourselves. Somewhere along the way we can forget that grace is a gift from God.
He sees and knows and loves us right where we are. Whether in the trenches of hands-on parenting kids in the home or desperately missing a grown child and wondering what role motherhood is morphing into, we are not in this alone. Not only are we mothers, we are daughters, too. Daughters of the King. He loves us and He loves our kids more than we can ever comprehend:
“Look with wonder at the depth of the Father’s marvellous love that he has lavished on us! He has called us and made us his very own beloved children.”
1 John 3:1a (TPT)
As His beloved children, we can come to Him always with our concerns, cares, and worries. He promises to give His perfect peace—and that is exactly what we need in our parenting. He knows that we will always be mom to our kids, just as He is always our Heavenly Father. That role remains even if the rest of our lives are barely recognizable as the family scatters and the nest empties. This is undeniably comforting for our children and for us, too. Mom is who we are…
Motherhood is a gift
We will always have these God-given mother hearts that constrict when our children are hurting and hold an extraordinary amount of love for them—whatever their age. That doesn’t change as the years go by, it merely morphs with our adult kids’ needs and circumstances. We have the privilege of watching them blossom, learn from mistakes, fall in love, follow their passions, and make their faith their own. It’s breathtaking.
And if we can put into practice continued growth and grace in the journey, we will remember that motherhood is a gift. It’s precious. It has excruciating seasons and brings unimaginable joy.
It’s constantly changing, unique, exhausting… and the very best of everything.
Even when the nest is empty.
A published Christian author, Laura writes heartwarming encouragement for your soul. She has three Christian romantic suspense novels published, as well as a Christian teen fiction trilogy, marriage book, and middle-grade novel. She is published in several anthologies and writes devotionals, articles, and stories for magazines and online, and shares musings on her blog. Laura is a chocoholic mom of three, married to her high school sweetheart. Originally from the UK, they live in Kelowna, British Columbia as audacious empty-nesters.
This article is just one from the Change issue of iola. If you love to put your feet up, savour the turn of paper pages in your hands, with the smell of coffee, and music in the background, and to read something that encourages and inspires, you deserve this issue! Get your issue here.
The circumstances of her life she could not change, but she took them to the Lord, and handed them over into His management…and the result was that although the circumstances remained unchanged, her soul was kept in perfect peace in the midst of them. Mrs. H. W. S. pub.1875
She changed her life insurance policy and her address when she changed her name. She changed diapers, bed sheets, and TV channels. She changed the color of polish on her toes as often as the seasons changed — Just for a change of pace. And every year she looked for a change for the better.
She changed her mind and exchanged the blue party dress. She changed socks, clocks (spring forward/fall back), locks on the bathroom door. The size of her family changed, but she kept her rituals. She changed towels, oil in her car, the furnace filter. She raised couch cushions, to find small change — she always needed small change. But the circumstances of her life she couldn’t change, so she took them to the Lord.
Her heart never changed, but her prayers changed when her husband’s heart had trouble. The surgery made a lasting change. A good change. It changed his life. He exchanged the leaky valve. His heart ticks with unchangeable rhythm. She wouldn’t change a thing.
They both changed doctors, but never bothered to change the dentist. She changed jobs, and parishes, and the title of her book. On Epiphany, to honor the Wise Men, she returned home by a different route — It was a nice change of scenery.
Her weight changed, her height changed. Her bedtime changed. Did her memory change? She seemed to have changed places with her mother. And she was tired of changes unfolding from her body. She experienced the change. And changed the subject. (But always remembered to bring a change of clothes.)
Wedding bells rang. She saw children grow and change. The old crib welcomed grandbaby guests — more diapers to change. Some things never change. Her daughter gave her a makeover-changeover for a 50th reunion. Yet her classmates exclaimed, You haven’t changed a bit! That was not true. Her hair color shifted to grey and more than once she changed her attitude.
2020 — The Decade Changed.
In March, the weather and the world changed. It was unexpected. It wasn’t a nice change or a welcome change, or even the proper time for a change. In the exchange of air and the shake of hands, was an unseen change. A changeup pitch coming right at us.
Her days changed and didn’t seem to change at all. She walked after breakfast and after supper — the path unchanged. She still changed sheets, towels, passwords. As if that could change reality. She ordered groceries and carefully changed the roll of paper. Scarves changed to masks. Grandson’s voice began to change.
Some habits had to change. And they were hard to change. Grandchildren couldn’t or wouldn’t come to visit. Facetime replaced hugs and infant snuggles. Such a terrible change. Easter came and left, so did an empty Mother’s Day, and the months of summer. June, July, August. No change. Not with the heat. The virus didn’t change.
But she was not alone. A collective we began to change. She sang again like she did in the sixties. For the times they are a-changin;… Although the virus didn’t change, we changed. And became a force for change.
She remains in hope, but lives with questions — When autumn comes and the trees change colors, what else will change? And if the circumstances remain unchanged, will we have peace in the midst of them? Will we remember to bring the circumstances of our lives to the Lord? For — this — changes — everything.
Linda Styles Berkery grew up in the family funeral home in upstate NY. Linda loves to practice contemplative photography as part of her prayer. Her writings on faith/life have been published in various magazines, and blogs. Her faith memoir, Reflections: A Wardrobe of Life Lessons, was well received in 2019. She has been married to Jack for over fifty years. Linda loves dark chocolate, makes cinnamon bread when it snows, and still mails handwritten letters to family and friends. Reach Linda on Facebook at Reflections: A Wardrobe of Life Lessons or email Lindastylesberkery@nycap.rr.com.
This article is from the change issue of iola. You can get your own high-quality bookazine for a moment of peace here.
Smoke fills my lungs as I near a fire that towers seven feet above me. I watch in terror as the wind shifts, and that fire takes on its own embodiment, turning itself toward our cabin. Mom springs into action, grabbing a nearby towel and wild with rage and fierceness, she beats the fire in front of her. She yells for my brother and sister to do the same and for me to get more water and towels.
Throwing the remaining water on the fire, I race back inside to fill the buckets. I heave oxygen into my lungs in the pause of impatience. Oxygen I desperately need. Pause I desperately need. But I can only think about getting back outside to put out the fire.
I don’t see the benefit of waiting. I feel useless.
Buckets filled, I race back outside, eager. But the fire can’t be extinguished by me and my family alone. Mom races inside and calls 911. She rushes back out and continues where she left off.
My body moves despite its exhaustion and my thoughts race, questions taking over, scared prayers whispered while looking beyond flame and smoke to deep blue sky where great grandma had told me Jesus was. But he feels much further away.
I race inside, and it is there while waiting for buckets to fill with water that I yell angry, despair-filled, pleading prayers to him somewhere way beyond the blue.
The phone rings, hushing my frustration. I answer in case it’s Dad who’s speeding home from work. But it isn’t him. It’s someone from our church. I fumble over words, speaking in fragments.
“hello…yes…it’s us…out of control…I gotta go…”
I grab the buckets that finally finished filling and run back outside.
The cycle continues. I rush outside with water. Race inside, filling buckets. I answer a ringing phone or yell at God to answer me.
The fire moves away from the house and deep into the woods. Dad arrives. Firetrucks come. Everyone disperses into the woods to find and fight the flame.
Mom instructs me to stay at the house, so I answer phone calls. Neighbors call. Folks from church call. They each ask how they can help. I am near 12. Uncertain.
“However you can, like, now” I answer.
It’s an invitation to show up, to be present. And each arrive, some go into the woods to help put out the fire, and others stand in a circle of prayer and concern. One woman brings towels. I don’t recall mentioning towels, but she brings fresh, clean towels that aren’t tattered and filthy.
Hours later, my parents come out of the woods soaked in sweat and soot, and upon seeing nearly half the church waiting to help, tears of gratitude wash away grime from their cheeks.
The fire is over.
But the months that follow yield still smoldering trees that sizzle at the touch of rain. The months that follow are bleak—no beauty in charred land. Summer feels dead. The fall and winter cold and dark. Lifeless.
It’s hard to wait for newness, for normalcy. And in the waiting, we sometimes forget to forge on with faith. We look at charred, empty land and cast our eyes downward. And they stay down for so long that we almost miss it. And we must navigate the heartache of it all, our senses attune to the black, the soot, the brokenness.
After months of smoldering darkness, Dad takes me into the woods, kneels, and pushes away soot with calloused, work-worn hands. He’s lived through more—seen more. And I kneel with him, uncertain yet again, but hopeful.
And there, sprigs of life. Gentle. Tender. Bright green, tiny buds.
I take my smaller hands and search the ground, my eyes wide with wonder. Hiding under all this is something brand new and beautiful.
I push away the soot, revealing the bright green buds, and see beauty and life. But beauty and life couldn’t be seen right away, because we had to wait for spring.
We stand back up, and my Daddy speaks words that I speak now into present, metaphorical darkness. “This will all be green again. Slowly. But you’ll see it. Gradual, ‘til one day any remnant of what happened here will be hard to find.”
Hiding under all that’s charred
So, I keep searching, hopeful. Still waiting, because spring is not yet here. It’s not quite time. But the days are growing warmer, and I know I’ll see those sprigs of life. My Father promises a new thing. And though this land will never look the same, I will take the newness in with wide-eyed, child-wonder. Because hiding under all that’s charred is something brand new and beautiful.
Shelby L. Hughes is wife to Youtuber, @TheAmp4Life, mom of three beautiful daughters, and author of Every Little Life: process your grief at your pace and in one place set to release in November of this year. Every Little Life is an interactive book for women who’ve experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, and infertility. She also has a 7-day devotional called Conquering Change and is the host of Making The Time podcast. Shelby encourages women, wives and moms to focus on what’s right in front of them over at shelbylhughes.com. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook @shelbyhughesauthor.