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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.