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Not the joyful day I was hoping for – Abi Louise

You can’t not have brandy butter with Christmas Pudding,” she exclaimed with a truly horrified tone! Sarcastically I suggested that “Well, we’ll just have turkey sandwiches instead for Christmas dinner”, which silenced her as she considered whether or not I was actually joking, I could see -“I mean really, she wouldn’t, would she?”- scrolling through her mind. Feeling under pressure with our mis-matched table and chairs, tiny kitchen and a hovering mother, Christmas was not feeling like the joyful day and dinner I was hoping for. 

Joyful day Christmas joy decorations around fireplace

Why couldn’t we serve dinner our own way? Why couldn’t we just be on our own? Does anyone even like Christmas pudding or brussel sprouts? The burden of expectation and control, the stretch and release of parenting. The difference of values over food or meaning, tradition and holiday rest. 

Joyful preparation

When I say I love Christmas, what I mean is, I love the run up to Christmas. The preparation for the joyful day. Choosing gifts for loved ones that will delight them, the carols in churches by candlelight, the music in the shops, the twinkle lights and frosty mornings. The nativity plays where we wait with baited breath to hear whether one of the kings will give the baby Jesus “frankenstein” again, the shepherd’s tea towel falling over their eyes and shy angels with tinsel halos. The wreath making, cookie baking and tree decorating. The Regent Street lights, the TV Adverts even the obscure perfume ones. The piles of Quality Street tins in the supermarkets, the scent of pine and mulled wine and cinnamon. The rich colours of red and green proving life is good and bountiful. This season is an aesthetic feast of beauty. 

Joyful reality

The joyful day though? Once the stockings have been throughly emptied and the kids have run off with their new game, toy or chocolate I sit with a cup of coffee before facing the rest of the day, and feel a little deflated and tired.

The Christmas day church service consists of kids sharing their favourite gifts where parents resist feeling shamed for their extravagence or poverty. All-age services with challenges or team games – every introvert’s nightmare. The home chefs distracted by whether they’d put the oven timer on or remembered the goose fat for the roast potatoes. You might get a free chocolate on the way out though.

Then we come to the dinner where something is always burnt or forgotten in the microwave, the kids don’t eat their sprouts or swear in front of the grandparents, the merry uncle who starts that conversation and the weary mum’s sarcastic comments let loose by the second glass of wine, and the oven door breaking!

Followed by the carnage of unrecyclable paper, ungrateful nephew and the in-law’s enthusiastic dog knocking over the tree. Half the family loving the Queen’s speech and her ‘good Christian example’ and the other half muttering about class systems, Harry and Meghan, homelessness and palaces.

The expectation of perfection can spoil the celebration when reality bumps into it. (I can neither confirm or deny whether each of these things have happened to me personally on the joyful day, names have been protected and all that.)

One day

There’s a whole season that leads to just one day. One day that wasn’t meant to carry so much. Or does it echo the weight the first Christ’s day carried? Unmet family expectations, hospitality fails, extravagent and curious gifts, misbehaving patriarchs*, the glory and the straw all seem to feature in the first story too.

One day I’ll do it, do you want to come? I’m going to a cabin in the snow, somewhere like the rockies, I’m not cooking a turkey, we won’t eat a brussel sprout, I’ll bring the mince pies, (I won’t have made them but they’ll be from Marks and Spencer or Waitrose, I promise.) I’ll leave the Christmas pudding and the brandy butter. We’ll wear pyjamas and fluffy socks all day and won’t leave the couch. I’ll have a stack of books to share beside me, with a glass of mulled wine. We can eat cookies and popcorn and maybe a turkey, brie and cranberry sandwich from Pret or whatever Canada’s version of Pret is.

When it gets dark I’ll light candles and we can put everything down. We’ll think about a girl about fourteen years old, identifying with her pain and elation of childbirth. Remembering how sorrow and joy can both exist at the same time. I’ll whisper a thanks for her, the husband who didn’t divorce her and the baby who definitely didn’t eat turkey for dinner that day. I can almost smell that newborn baby scent. And if we listen closely we might hear the tinkle of chimes amongst the stars as the angels jostle for position to see and we’ll know once more that all is well.

joyful day sorrow and joy of childbirth

*Ignore the probable actual timeline of King Herod’s infanticide decree.

Abi Louise helps writers in business make their important message beautiful and highly valued. She publishes iola bookazine and hunts for beauty between the beautiful Cotswolds and bookish city of Oxford where she lives with her three children. Find design for writers at

iola bookazine the joy issue surrounded by greenery, red ribbon and Christmas decoration, twinkly lights and a card of blessing on top

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The circular shape of Joy – Abi Louise

If I ask you to name a joyful shape, what’s the first one that comes to mind? For many people I’ve asked over the years the answer is a circle.” So writes Ingrid Fetell Lee in her book ‘Joyful’. This comes as no surprise when I think of all the shapes of joyful things, balloons, confetti, a cup of coffee, plates of delicious food, bubbles catching the light and gently floating up like a dream, the spinning of a pastel striped hula hoop, the soft curl on a newborn’s head. A spinning top, a penny flipped to spin on it’s edge, the spin of a waltzer at the fairground. The symmetry of a circle is so complete, satisfying somehow in it’s completeness. Is it this completeness that resembles joy to us?

the circular shape of joy

Joy, complete & childlike

Or is a circle the shape of joy because it is the shape of home; our planet, a pregnant tummy, a face, a hug? Can we combine the two? Completeness is a feeling of being home?

A circle is a curved shape, in design curves are associated with femininity and softness. Joy represented in shapes could be described as childish, youthful, elegant, feminine and complete. 

“The circle’s unbroken perimeter and even rate of curvature make it the most stable, complete and inclusive shape. A love of symmetry is one of the best studied human aesthetic preferences. One reason we love symmetry may be that it is an outward symbol of inner harmony”.Joyful – Ingrid Fetell Lee

Joy beyond the physical

What about musical notes, curved balls of sound hung on telephone wires of five and the wide open mouths of a choir, these physical circles of joy create feelings of joy: “Sing in a group and you experience a rush of hormones associated with mood elevation and reducing symptoms of depression including endorphins and dopamine.”James Sills. Those round notes of melody in turn inspire dance; the movement of joy. Dancing also releases endorphins and helps you to connect with your inner child and express yourself. Dancing comes in forms of spins and twirls, circular steps and sets. Is the activity of singing and dancing why we associate circles with joy?

the circular shape of joy

How about those metaphorical circles, a friendship circle, the idea of what goes around comes around, the moral arc of justice, renewal, recycling, restoration, – how do these circles play into our idea of joy? A circle is inclusive, it faces all, includes all, it has no sharp edges to cause pain or entrapment. Is joy found in justice, inclusion and comfort?

From this consideration of the shape of the circle; the shape of joy, can we then infer that joy is youthful, complete, feminine, musical, movement, justice, and inclusive?

Is it not too much to consider The Creator infused the shape of a circle with joy? That he meant it that way, that circles are meant to show us that joy is found in these things and finding these things actually brings joy? I like to think he did.

This post contains affiliate links.

*Joyful Ingrid Fetells Lee

*Do Sing: Reclaim your Voice. Find your singing tribeJames Sills

Abi Louise

Abi Louise helps those in the writing business make their important message beautiful and highly valued. She lives on the edge of the bookish city of Oxford, UK and the beautiful countryside of the Cotswolds with her three children.

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Maximise joy – Mary Mahan-Deathrage

Living in the moment is hard. Keeping my mind on the task at hand sometimes takes superpower strength. As a freelancer, I’m often deep in a specific task, for example, writing a lively client article, when suddenly, in mid-sentence, I have an urge to add ‘avocados’ to my grocery list.

What’s up with that?

My go-to prayer at times like these is asking God for concentration while reading and re-reading Colossians 3:23-24 

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.

Our work is God’s work. Whether you’re raising babies or building a bright new career, creating beautiful art, or climbing the corporate ladder, all tasks lead to His glory. But I admit I create reasons to pause during my workday to check out the latest Instagram posts, TikTok fun, or browse my playlists for a new favorite song – all in the name of market research. But when I’m locked in and determined to get a job done, those random mind twinges are a sure way to sidetrack my progress.

Maximise joy with the Pomodoro technique

If you’re like me, you’ve searched for ways to curb your mental wanderings long enough to accomplish work and home responsibilities. I’ve found a great solution to ward off those pesky mind pangs. It’s The Pomodoro Technique. Sounds daunting, I know, but it has worked well for me and might be useful for you too. It’s a simple time management practice that helps maximize focus and creative freshness so I can finish that client article or mountain of laundry.

The process is simple and works great for those days when I’ve put off important tasks – work or personal – and I’m experiencing a bit of overwhelm.

For big work projects, I budget my time into short increments, taking breaks periodically. I work for 25 minutes, then take a five-minute break. During that break I try not to wander to the kitchen for a snack, but hey it’s your time – have fun!

Each 25-minute work period is called a ‘pomodoro,’ named after the Italian word for tomato. Francesco Cirillo, the creator of this method, used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato as his tool, and Voila! The name stuck.

After four pomodoro work sessions have passed (100 minutes of work time with 15 minutes of short breaks), I then take a longer break of 20-30 minutes. Give yourself a small reward. I take a walk, read a chapter in a fun book or yes, watch one short Netflix episode.

Using your phone, a notebook or calendar page, mark that pomodoro with an ‘X.’ Note the number of times you had the impulse to procrastinate or switch gears for each 25-minute chunk of time. This helps you recognize your attention length and work to build up your endurance, much like a runner training for a 5k race.

The point is that these frequent breaks keep your mind engaged and the shorter chunks of work time feel more do-able than spending a stretch of endless hours. If you have a large and varied to-do list, using the Pomodoro Technique can help you crank through projects faster by motivating you to adhere to specific timing. Spreading a big chore over two or three pomodoro sessions can keep you from getting frustrated and hitting your Netflix app. Minimizing procrastination plus increasing relaxation and fun is a goal for every new year, isn’t it?

After trying this method for a week or two you’ll be in a great rhythm and will notice your free time is longer and more enjoyable and your stress has diminished.

My goal in the new year is to spend time with the people I love and enjoy my free time without stressing over my undone work tasks (said, me, the procrastinator Queen!). Maybe the Pomodoro Technique is one resolution to maximize your joy in the coming year, too.

The Pomodoro Technique link is I’m not in any way associated with this company.

Mary Mahan-deatherage

Mary Mahan-Deatherage is a freelance writer, brand designer and strategic planner.

MMD Creative is her flagship company specializing in branding and strategic planning for small businesses. She owns Spoken Women, a creative community bringing the Catholic perspective to the world through bold writing, podcasts, and art. Her blog, Divine, Clever, or Whatever is a Christ-driven endeavor to lighten your soul through her uplifting stories. Mary is a mom of two and Mimi to a pair of rambunctious grandsons. She and her husband, Greg, are enjoying their vibrant, amusing, busy empty-nester life in Dixon, Illinois in the 127-year-old Craftsman home where she grew up.,, 

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Rejoicing in the middle – Noreen Secret

The snow gently falls around me as I take a walk on the brick sidewalk in my city, leaving snowy footprints behind for someone else to walk through. I feel the cold air on my cheeks on this evening shortly before Christmas, stopping to look in storefronts with all the pretty things in the windows. Every store on Market Street is decorated for Christmas, and there are twinkling lights in every window I pass. The trees beside the sidewalks are covered with an array of white lights, lighting my way through the darkness of the evening. Feeling filled with delight in these quiet moments, I have walked these streets every Christmas for many years now and know just which stores I like to linger longer in front of. I reach my favorite store. Whenever I walk in its doors, the beauty on display captivates me. Rejoicing in the middle of the store, I find nostalgia here; home décor items, homemade chocolates, jewelry, cards, books, and simple pretty things to buy as a gift for that someone special on my gift list. I also like how they wrap the gifts I buy with pretty packaging so they are ready to put under the Christmas tree when I get home!

Walk in the snow

On my way home, I visit another store up the street that has been here for decades, a local pizza shop where I meet up with my husband for a pizza and soda while the snow continues to fall outside. We enjoy the noise of being in this busy crowded space, yet alone together in a booth where we talk about our moments, our memories, and savor the pepperoni and cheese pizza before us.

With many seasons behind me and my walk a little bit slower than it used to be, on the way out I find my heart filled with memories, making me smile as I feel the warmth of the mittens in my pocket and a reminder of the friend of mine who made them. The longing of these moments have a way of winding their way into my heart to stay for a long time once the snow begins to fall in the winter season! 

rejoicing in friends gifts
Processed with Rookie Cam

Even after Christmas is over, I find a walk in the snow to be something that brings me comfort and joy in anticipation of the New Year ahead of me. The lights on Market Street stay lit long after all the presents are unwrapped and the Christmas trees are taken down. They light up the way for snowy evening walks for a long time after the holidays are over.

The longing in my heart that comes with the season of snow falling is reminiscent of years past, going all the way back to my childhood, back to the days of my marriage and young love, the times when my son was little and seeing snow for the first time, walking hand in hand with my husband on cold snowy nights, and times when I felt closer to God in the snowdrift times of my soul. There also comes a longing of sadness and often loneliness that accompanies the snowy season, wishing for “long ago times” and re-visiting times of loss from past winter snows. They both have a place within my heart as the snow collects on the ground outside like the memories have collected in my heart. 

Intentional list of rejoicing

On a snowy evening walk in the beginning of the season, I lift my head upwards and see the darkness of the sky and the tiny lights on the nearby trees. I find a tug deep within me longing for much more of the season’s warmth and delight than for traveling the path down the lonely road of loss and sadness that can come on dark winter days. What helps me get through lonely times of the soul in winter, when the days are short and I come home from work in the dark, is my intentional list of “rejoycing“. I know, I am spelling it differently. That’s intentional to keep me remembering the reasons behind it! I have determined to pile a snowbank inside my heart — built with wonder and rejoicing in the winter season, as I walk with the quietness of snowflakes falling on my face. In reflecting on before, during, and after the holidays, this is how I have found and keep “joy” in the middle of rejoicing in the middle of it all:

1. Remembering good times
Being intentional in remembering times of gladness helps to embrace ordinary moments. 

2. Realising blessings
Making a list of things to be thankful for and writing them down on a regular basis helps the heart remain grateful. One year I bought a tiny journal I kept with me throughout the day. It allowed me to add to it when otherwise I may have forgotten to write in it.

3. Reaching out
Encouraging others and bringing comfort and cheer to someone else who is hurting helps take the focus off my post-holiday blahs and my own difficulty of getting through the middle of winter.

4. Refreshing my heart
Reading God’s Word refreshes and renews the inside of the heart. In return, the Word gives strength to endure and helps thankfulness rise. It helps me walk through seasons where “snowdrifts in life” are deeper than what I think I can walk through.  I glance through the Amplified Bible to Romans 15:13, which reads, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing [through the experience of your faith] that by the power of the Holy Spirit you will abound in hope and overflow with confidence in His promises.”

5. Resting in quiet moments  Learning to rest in quiet moments is much like walking on a quiet evening in the snow. Rest takes ordinary moments and puts a zip of extraordinary in them, falling quiet around me and covering the inside of me. I find a snowy evening synonymous with needed rest on a regular basis, giving me a much needed pause. It fills me up inside, giving me a space I need to dwell in. Rest gives treasured moments in time and a peace that no one can take away.

6. Restoring my soul
My soul is restored when I let God lead me beside still and quiet waters [Psalm 23 is my favorite]. Like I restore an old broken piece of furniture, God restores the “old” parts of me that have become broken. He restores me as I walk through ordinary moments. I am restored when I walk in places where I feel His presence and surrender to His leading. Looking for something beautiful in each of my days helps my heart feel restored when I see evidence of God in that place of beauty.

Mother and daughter rejoicing in the middle of the snow

So, when the first snow starts to fall each winter season, I pull out my re“joy”cing list and keep looking at it from time to time. I need it at the beginning of wintertime when the first snow falls and in the middle of the season when wrapping paper from the gifts under the Christmas tree are scattered all over the floor on Christmas Day.
I need its reminders as the season of snow continues, here in upstate New York, long after the New Year when I really need inspiration and hope for those post-Christmas blues and weariness that often catches hold of me. I surely need it when I wish the snow would simply go away after months and months of it falling everywhere. I find the re“joy”cing list to be something that helps keep my heart wondering of God’s goodness and gifts, instead of wandering where my emotions try to pull me. 

I find myself sitting on the couch writing tonight, yet again, on another snowy evening. The hot cup of French vanilla cappuccino on the table next to me, topped off with a generous portion of whipped cream, helps me to embrace the ordinary winter evening moments of snow falling and to delight in the beauty of it covering the sidewalk outside my window. I glance at my journal and the words written there from my heart, and find comfort in my view from where I sit, which includes my husband and our son’s dog sitting near each other over by the window. Blessings abound in this snowy season called winter as I am tucked away here in this warm place I call home.  

Journaling Prompts for the Winter Season

  • Write about how you embrace ordinary moments and how God meets you there. What ordinary moment became extraordinary for you?
  • Start a list of things to be thankful for. Keep it going in the new year. Share it with your family or a friend. Take it with you throughout the day so you can add to it when thankfulness rises inside.
  • Write about a time when you reached out to someone else who was hurting. How did it change you? 
  • Write about a season when the “snowdrifts in life” were too deep for you to walk in and how you made it through with God’s help.
  • Write about how you have experienced rest and/or how you yearn to experience rest in your life.
  • Write about ways God has restored you. If you are waiting for that restoration, write about what you would like to experience.
  • Think about “One Word” you feel God leading you to for the New Year to experience in a new way and to walk in throughout the year. Do a word study on this “One Word” — looking up meanings, synonyms, word origins, etc. Find this “One Word” in the Bible and study the verses it is mentioned in.
  • What would you like to change in the New Year? Write your thoughts about it and how it will help you grow personally? Write down a prayer to God about it. 
  • In your writing, find a scripture verse that goes along with what you are journaling about. If you don’t know where to find one, googling “verses about ______” will help you find some options to look up.

To go deeper, find a group of friends to journal with and share your writings with each other. Gathering around a table with a group of women will break down walls as you each share about your life. You will find that you are not alone.

Noreen Sevret lives on a picturesque river in Upstate New York with her husband and their son. She has a passion for finding beauty in unexpected places from behind the lens of her camera and writing about how God speaks to her heart through that picture. She facilitates journaling classes at her church. Noreen enjoys spending time with family, writing worship songs, playing the piano, reading, participating on book launch teams, going out for coffee with friends, and going to beautiful places in NYS and beaches in NJ with her husband. She also works as an office manager for a local funeral home. IG: @writerbytheriver.

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Day of Perfect Being – Mary Mahan-Deatherage

I have achieved a peaceful life. I’ve learned to savor most every moment of every day. This peace doesn’t come easy. But it’s a practice I’ve grown to love, so I work at it. Recently, while reading ways to honor my weekly vacation day, Sunday, I ran across a phrase I’m unfamiliar with: Yom Yahveh. I learned this Jewish phrase has two meanings: Day of the Lord or Day of Perfect Being. In our modern world, most of us understand Sunday is the Lord’s Day. But I became intrigued by the second meaning of the Day of Perfect Being.

Joyful Waiting

Simply put, it’s a practice focusing on just being in the here and now. No worries. Joyful waiting. You may recall Psalm 46:11 “Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.” One of the most popular verses across Christianity, it encompasses that concept of a Day of Perfect Being.

So, how does a Day of Perfect Being happen? Choose your day. It could be Sunday but with busy lives and varied work schedules Sunday may not work for you. Then, for your entire day purposefully let go of all that has happened in your past. Set aside all that may happen to you in the future. Stay in the moment and let God be God.

Impossible! I thought so. I’ve spent years wishing days away – wishing even seasons away.

“The weather is too hot this summer! I wish it was fall.”

“Too much snow this winter; I wish spring would hurry and get here.”

And on and on and in an endless loop. Then I’d add on every event of my life. It started when I was a child.

“I can’t wait until I’m in high school … college … married … the baby comes … I get that new job …”

It’s not that I wasn’t grateful for all the good blessings and people in my life. My younger self was constantly striving because that’s what our culture taught us to do. Nothing wrong with striving. It’s noble and good and God wants us to do good works in the world. It’s the constant, endless striving that steals your peace. It’s missing being in the moment.

For instance, while feeding your baby you’re mindlessly running through the laundry and house cleaning chores that are left undone. It’s toiling on a work project and fretting about the fun you’re missing with your kids. It’s being at a family get together and worrying about that undone work project. And the big one – writing your grocery list in your mind while making love.

I’ve done it all. Embarrassingly, especially the last one. I think I need to apologize to my husband.

Baby in white bear onesie holds bauble under lit Christmas tree
iola joy issue Day of perfect being

Cardiac arrest

We’ve read countless articles touting the wonders of living in the moment. Why is this one different? Well sister, for me it all came to a crashing halt a few years ago when my husband suffered a cardiac arrest after mowing our lawn. Just a regular, warm Friday afternoon, just a healthy guy living his best life, just a mundane chore, just a moment in time that hit me like a cannonball.

God uses whatever he needs to open our eyes. There’s a purpose for each event big and small, tragic, or joyful. We just need to take the time to see, to listen, to hear His whisper or maybe feel His thunder.

I felt God’s thunder that sunny summer afternoon. I had no choice. God has always been a partner in my life, and I had let Him slip into the background with my busyness. He found a way to bring me back to Him and He’ll find a way for you, too.

The Day of Perfect Being is a good place to start.

One question I wondered, ‘Is constantly living in the moment reckless at best – irresponsible at least?’ 

It can be!

Another question I wrestled with, ‘How do I run my life without planning what’s for dinner?’

We’re not abandoning our responsibilities here. Plan your meals. Manage your life. We’re looking at the big picture. It’s not meant to add to your stress. Baby steps. Start with one day – your Fun day.

If you are dissatisfied with your season of life right now here are a few ways that might help relieve some stress and, with practice, aid in achieving a bit of peace.

First, identify the season you are in as opposed to the season you want to be in. Watch for and enjoy the blessings of the current season while you’re working toward the next. Appreciate what’s happening now and don’t worry too much about the later.

Second, be patient. Recognize the fact that you’re growing, we’re all growing, no matter our age.

Ask yourself, ‘How do I want to continue my life in a way that feels like a total place of joy?’

Third, be active. Do the work of the day. Then, pose the question, ‘What are the things I need to be working on in my life so I can be that great mom, employee, friend, artist, writer, wife.

More importantly, ask, ‘What do I want this one gorgeous life to be like on a day-to-day basis?’

Awareness of God in the present moment

Finally, have awareness of God in the present moment. God is communicating His light, His holiness, His grace right now!  To be holy is to be present to God’s will.

Ask God, ‘What is the best thing for me today?’ 

Then listen. Start with an open mind. Start with tiny steps. Even a smidgen of stillness with God has benefits.

Winter scene of snow, trees, and bench overlooking a river. Day of perfect being Mary Mahan-Deatherage iola the joy issue
Photo: Mary Mahan-Deatherage

Ways to practise your Day of Perfect Being?

Look at your baby while feeding her and feel her joy. Thank God for her and ask for the strength to be the best mom you can be. Or commit energy into your work projects. Find a way to enjoy them whether your job feeds your soul or is simply a stepping stone to feed your kids. If your family is a joy to be around or a thorn in your side, be in the moment and try to see what God is teaching you in that situation.

It’s the voices of fear and scarcity and striving that may have you wanting to hold on to things or thinking you need to keep everything balanced or handled or you’re going to lose. If you find yourself in an obsessive loop of planning or rethinking every decision, ask Him to see what He saw on that first Sabbath day when He rested. You’ll be surprised at the answer.

Do I worry? Definitely. But I don’t worry often. Do I strive – you betcha! I have goals and plans and God is right there with me in those plans. But offering Him my life has made all the difference in my sanity and peace. Staying in and being grateful for today has blessed me with a clear understanding of what matters most.

 My go-to scripture is the tried-and-true Philippians 4:6-7:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

And … you might be thinking what happened to my husband? My strong, brave son immediately started CPR, called the paramedics, and saved my husband’s life. We got another chance. It changed our lives. It had to. We attempt to get it right. We aren’t always successful, but we listen for God’s voice and thank Him for His peace in this one gorgeous life.

Become an expert in living in the moment. 

Mary Mahan-deatherage

Mary Mahan-Deatherage is a freelance writer, brand designer and strategic planner.

MMD Creative is her flagship company specializing in branding and strategic planning for small businesses. She owns Spoken Women, a creative community bringing the Catholic perspective to the world through bold writing, podcasts, and art. Her blog, Divine, Clever, or Whatever is a Christ-driven endeavor to lighten your soul through her uplifting stories. Mary is a mom of two and Mimi to a pair of rambunctious grandsons. She and her husband, Greg, are enjoying their vibrant, amusing, busy empty-nester life in Dixon, Illinois in the 127-year-old Craftsman home where she grew up.,, 

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Permission to cease striving – Monet Carpenter

You have permission to sit down. Yes, you. Right now. I know, I know, you can’t. The lists won’t accomplish themselves, the kids are bored and bickering, and it’s time to make your famous dish for the umpteenth gathering marking up your calendar this month. Cease striving.

But you see, when we forfeit the opportunity to cease striving, our physical bodies suffer. The pressures to beat the clock will undoubtedly cause stress hormones to elevate our heart rate, inhibit our subconscious ability to breathe slowly and deeply, slow down our gut’s ability to extract precious nutrients and trigger our muscles to be on the ready and tense.

And so, for the time being, find your spot, park yourself in it, and breathe.

Permission to cease striving woman sits with cup of coffee by Christmas tree and large wreath

I make myself do this often, forcing myself to sit. I recently discovered that I’m really good at allowing my work to steal my joy, disrupt my hope, and impede my intimacy with Christ. The not-so-funny thing is, I only discovered this truth after I gave myself a time out. 

In my head, it’s very easy for me to argue the lie ‘If I’m not productive, then have I truly earned the right to sit at all?’ I know my thinking is flawed. What’s more, I know the enemy would like nothing more than to run me into the ground at the hands of my constant toiling.

But God intended our efforts to produce for us a fruit capable of yielding much more than scratched-off lists and satisfied engagements. As a matter of fact, He’s gone to extreme lengths on our behalf just to make it so.

Abandon your work for intimacy with Christ

When we abide in Christ, our toils become less demanding, and transform into pleasant offerings of love. Our hearts swell as we breathe in quiet, stillness and peace in order to propel us forward in our acts of service. When God defines our work and worth it yields intimacy with him. When we find ourselves spinning our wheels, exhausting our hearts, or weighted down by worry, fleeing our work to sit and worship will always draw Jesus near.

Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing
without me.”

John 15:4-5 CSB

Thankfully for us, there is no good work we can accomplish outside of intimacy with Christ. This means the pressure’s off us. We have Jesus’ permission to slow down, seek stillness, and surrender our toilings to him. 

Searching for joy in the comfort of Christ

As we lean more fully into our abiding, stripping off the relentless layers of hustle and hurry, we uncover a newfound radiance bursting forth within us. When all we know is the comfort of Christ, all we desire becomes clear.

And yet, the realities of life are still upon us.

We will indeed glean nourishment in our moments of rejoicing and worship but we will also feel overwhelmed as we face the alluring festivities of the season: sorting through dozens of matching Christmas pjs, baking sweet treats to serve aside a delicious peppermint hot chocolate, or making our way to the best orchestrated light show in town.

We cannot escape the world, but we can cling to the comfort Christ brings. There is no greater elation than when we choose to make Christ the center of all our pursuits. Maybe, this year, it’ll look like sneaking away with some of that piping hot, hot chocolate, and sitting outside bundled up alone to be filled by the stillness the cold air often brings.

And then, we can delight in Jesus, our joy in comfort.

Emmanuel, our long-awaited hope

When we’ve stolen ourselves away to abide more deeply, re-ignited by the joy such comfort brings, we finally find ourselves in the glorious presence of Emmanual, God with us.

Here, the glitterings of our toils diminish, our strivings become stunted and our hearts explode in wonder. For here, in this sacred space, our hope is made real. In our newfound absence of chaos, we draw near to the triumphant victory awaiting us.

God has given us the gift of Christ, and through him our hope is made secure. Isaiah 9:6 points our hearts to what is true and tangible:

“For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” CSB

Rejoicing in the day to day

Our eyes and ears are constantly thrusting us into process mode. What we see starts the running list of what still needs to be cleaned, fixed up, or handled. Our ears are attuned to the demands of our family, the fight that needs refereeing, or the phone that won’t stop dinging.

And in our attempt to satisfy all the pressing demands, we find ourselves fatigued, grumpy, and flat. We start doing and neglect being.

Today, at this moment, we can choose a reset. We get to decide our where, when, and how. Where will we meet with Christ, when will we make it happen, and how will we adapt our day to fit our most sacred need?

You’ve permission to cease striving.

Permission to cease striving journal prompts iola joy issue

Monet Carpenter

Monet lives in Alabama with her best friend and husband, Josh. Together they’re raising two kiddos in a house full of lots of noise, crumbs, and many baskets of clean, but unfolded laundry. Monet lives the messy, unspoken parts of life openly to encourage other women that they too can embrace wholeness despite brokenness.
IG: @monet.carpenter
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Christmas Cookie Cutter Shaping – Noreen Sevret

The mixing bowls and spoons line the space where flour has also made its appearance on the counter, on my apron, and even some on the floor at my feet. The dough is laid out thin on the counter before me, keeping the Christmas tradition alive for another year. The rolling pin speaks of having been in use after the rolling out of the dough, with small pieces of dough still clinging to its rounded edges. The evidence of cookie cutters are seen in the dough in various places where the shapes are now empty and cookies have been cut out of the puzzle of dough in front of me. The sound of the timer goes off, reminding me to take a peek inside the window of my stove to see how the cookies are baking. They look like they are almost, but not quite, done. The baking time of 10 minutes cannot be rushed. I have to slow myself and wait as they slowly cook in the heat of the oven. Familiar shapes line the trays as the Christmas cookies bake in shapes I’ve chosen, including Christmas trees, snowflakes, stars, bells, gingerbread men, candy canes, ornaments, and a snowman. After I take them out of the oven, I carefully remove them from the cookie tray one by one to cool before coloring them with sweet homemade frosting in pastel colors of pink, green, and blue.

Cookie cutter shaping


The frosting is made using just the right ingredients, including the flavor of vanilla, anise, or peppermint. I use a simple butter knife to frost my cookies with much care, making sure to cover them without going over the edges, because going over the edges means I must eat a sample of them which I really enjoy doing! My favorite part of making these cookies, I think, is frosting them. It makes me think of my grandmother, who always used to make cut-out Christmas cookies at holiday times. Oh how I loved to eat her cookies! They always were delightfully delicious and never browned or burnt like mine occasionally get. My memories are filled with times when as a young girl I spent time with her in a toasty warm little kitchen and watched as she baked. She amazed me by the way she baked and how much I felt loved in her presence. I miss my grandmother, but the love she had for me was something that shaped my life, just like the cookie cutters shaped the cookies baking in the oven.


As I continue the process of cutting out cookies, baking them, cooling them, and then frosting them, I savor the way they smell and taste. When they are cooling on the tray, I notice across the counter a cookie that didn’t get baked and got forgotten in the dough. I turn my stove back on and bake the one last cookie while I am cleaning up everything else. At the end of the long evening, with flour still covering parts of me that shouldn’t be covered with flour, I make myself a cup of hot cappuccino piled with whipped cream and delight in the way my freshly baked cookies taste. As I sit down to write, and look across at all of my cookies, I think about how we are all somehow a little bit like the Christmas cookie that is cut out of the dough and laid out thin in a special shape. 


I may not delight in the shape I find myself in, but it was a shape that was chosen and formed in my mother’s womb by God Himself, who “made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Psalm 139 says that we are all made wonderfully complex, that God saw us before we were born (vs. 16), and that before a single day of our life had passed, every moment was laid out and every day recorded in His book (vs. 16). God alone determined our shape, where we would be born, and chose us to each be woven together in the womb. It is a truly beautiful thing. He chose the womb as the place of shaping — the place where we are each knit together. He also chose the womb of a teenage girl named Mary as the place of shaping for His precious son, Jesus, as she gave birth to Him and laid Him in a manger that day long ago. We celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas Day each year, even though it is not the exact date he was born. I believe just as I chose the shape of my cookies, He chose the “shape” for me; not just a physical shape but the shaping of who I am inside — what I take delight in, what I am passionate about, what moves me to tears, what causes me to go out of my way to care for others, what I delight in regarding the work I do, how I love those entrusted to my care, whether I love cookies or cake, whether I enjoy walking or running, and a million other things that make up who I am and who you are! 

There are times when you may feel much like the Christmas cookie who has been dropped, broken, burnt, or left in the dough laid out thin, forgotten, and lonely. It is during those times Jesus wants you to know that even though you may feel that way in this broken world we live in, He has not forgotten you. He came for you the night He was placed in a manger. He knows everything about you — when you sit down or stand up and your every thought when far away (Ps. 139:1-2). He desires to heal that which is broken inside you and those places that hurt. 

The frosting on the cookie is a lot like His love ~ spread out covering us right up to the edges of who we are and what we walk through, reaching out to us in the deepest part of our pain and in that place where we feel so alone. No matter where we find ourselves, we all are frosted by His love and grace that cleanses us from every sin (I John 1:7).  Just like the frosting can be made in different flavors, I think there are different flavors to God’s love for us. His sacrificial love came as One born in a manger, Immanuel, meaning God is with us. His saving love came on the cross as He died for us. His ever present love still is with us when we wake up in the morning (Ps. 139:18). His artistic and faithful love is evidenced by the sunsets and sunrises that faithfully remind us of who He is. His Word, the Bible, is a gift of love that reaches deep into us as we read the words and seek to know Him. His love that holds takes us when we are breaking and holds us together in ways only He can do. His deep love for us covers a multitude of our sins. His everlasting love for us never fails.


The season of Advent is a season of waiting and anticipation. In other seasons we wait as well, like waiting for the New Year and for the winter season to be over! We don’t like to wait, but just like we have to wait for cookies to bake, we wait in this season as well. We set the timer and then wait. We pray for certain things and then wait. We parent our children and then wait to see the fruit of that season. We buy presents, then wait for the celebration for them to be opened. Mary was told she would give birth to Jesus, and then she had to wait. So as we enter this season and time of waiting, let us set our timers so the Christmas cookies we have shaped do not burn. Let us lift our eyes to Him, remembering how preciously shaped by God each one of us is, including those we dearly love and the strangers whose paths we cross in daily life. Let us wait quietly in moments when we are troubled, anxious, or feel lonely, knowing the One who shaped us in the beginning, sees us in that “place in the dough of life”. Just like we do with making cookies, we can trust Him to lift us out of that place and re-shape what He made because He has great purposes for us. Let’s seek Him with an open heart and give thanks for His love that came on that long ago day. His love fills those who open their hearts to Him. 

Noreen Sevret lives on a picturesque river in Upstate New York with her husband and their son. She has a passion for finding beauty in unexpected places from behind the lens of her camera and writing about how God speaks to her heart through that picture. She facilitates journaling classes at her church. Noreen enjoys spending time with family, writing worship songs, playing the piano, reading, participating on book launch teams, going out for coffee with friends, and going to beautiful places in NYS and beaches in NJ with her husband. She also works as an office manager for a local funeral home. IG: @writerbytheriver.

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Will He call me Dad? – Mary Mahan-Deatherage

It has been the craziest couple of weeks. But they fit perfectly with the insanity of the past few months. If hindsight is 20/20 then what is foresight? I could use a little of that right now.

Hmm… What to do … what to do?

She’s not feeling well. I’ve got to find a place for her to sit. Stay calm. My heart has been pounding out of my chest for weeks because of stress and worry. If I freak out, she will, too.

I’m trying to wrap my mind around the baby, plus this trip through the mountains. Why in the world are we doing this? This government is insane, although I’d never say that aloud. I can finally see the lights of Bethlehem. Thank you, God!

There are so many people here. This is ridiculous. I thought we’d easily find a place to stay. I just didn’t think our plans through. We were in such a hurry. A friendly innkeeper offered the only solution when he saw how pregnant Mary was. Now, we have no choice but to sleep in a dirty cave. Mary says we’ll be fine. She’s sweet and calm. I’m sweaty and stunned. I’m such a failure. I had so much on my mind. I thought there would be more time. If we had left a couple of days earlier, I could’ve found a place for us to stay.

As I help Mary off the donkey, I roll the scene from a few months ago through my mind. It’s kind of a never-ending loop. I attempt to pray it away every time it pops in my head … which is a lot.

father holding baby on lap with hands cradling his head.

When I saw that she was pregnant, I was blown away. Why did this happen? How could this happen?

I must be insane because when she explained, I didn’t believe her, but I did, too. The look on her face was so convincing.

I was angry. Then I was sad. I felt betrayed. How was there another man? I figured I’d just cancel the wedding quietly, not tell anyone. It’s rough keeping the gossip mongers at bay, though. I love her. I just wasn’t sure what to do. One thing I knew was that I couldn’t let anything terrible happen to her.

Then I had the wildest dream. An angel came to tell me not to be afraid. Yeah, right. He revealed that she wasn’t lying. Said I was chosen to protect them, to love them and to raise the boy. He said I could choose. 

I prayed. 

I cried. 

I pulled my hair out. 

I was sick and tired. 

I decided to trust God. 

What would you do?

When my friends asked about her, I told them, ‘We’re in love. That’s all that matters. We’re a team and the baby, my baby, will be cared for.’ That mostly shut them up.

I hurried to prepare the house, our home, for Mary and our baby. Now we’re hurrying because the government came up with this census thing. We’ve walked 90 miles this week, I’m exhausted. She’s exhausted. I’m terrified because the baby is coming soon.

Oh no! The baby is coming! Mary is in pain, but she isn’t screaming like I’ve heard other women do. I want to scream. I’ve never done anything like this before – that’s what the midwives do. Lord, help me to know what to do. Also, Lord, forgive me for my ignorance and fear and help me to help her. Please keep us safe in this filthy place. Oh, why didn’t I get us a room!

She did it! I’m not sure how, but I prayed my head off. He’s here! He’s beautiful! He’s radiant.

I’m amazed at how magnificent they both are. My heart is bursting with love. I’m praising God along with all these weird shepherds that are running around us wanting a peek at Him. Where did they come from?

I’m laughing. I’m crying. I’m exhausted.

Is that angels singing? I must be delirious.

Mary is resting. It’s quiet now. Just the three of us plus a few cows and sheep huddled close to the fire. We’re all keeping Him warm. As terrified as I am, I’m thanking God over and over for this miracle. God asked me to trust Him. I did. This whole thing is amazing. Awe inspiring, really.

What a huge responsibility. Will I have enough money to provide for Him? Will I be able to teach Him anything? Am I up to the task? I hope so. Do I have to change diapers? I hope not.

As I look at this beautiful baby’s face, I am overwhelmed with love. I see His radiance all around us and the glow on Mary’s face. My faith is in God. I know He will protect me while I protect this beautiful little family. I’m going to be the best father ever. I’ll love Mary and Jesus until the day I die … forever.

I can’t fathom that this baby is the Savior of the World, but God told us that He is.

We’re gonna take this one moment at a time.

I wonder if He’ll call me Dad.

Mary Mahan-Deatherage is a freelance writer, brand designer and strategic planner.

MMD Creative is her flagship company specializing in branding and strategic planning for small businesses. She owns Spoken Women, a creative community bringing the Catholic perspective to the world through bold writing, podcasts, and art. Her blog, Divine, Clever, or Whatever is a Christ-driven endeavor to lighten your soul through her uplifting stories. Mary is a mom of two and Mimi to a pair of rambunctious grandsons. She and her husband, Greg, are enjoying their vibrant, amusing, busy empty-nester life in Dixon, Illinois in the 127-year-old Craftsman home where she grew up.,, 

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