JOY

Written by: Angela Mercer

Earlier this year a dear friend of ours passed away. After a fierce battle with cancer, He went home to be with the Lord. During the months leading up to his death there were other circumstances in our lives that were heavily laid on our shoulders as well and it was everything in me to just breathe.

As pastors we have witnessed our fair share of heartache, we have walked people through the death of their friends and even children. It is never easy but our friend passing away hit uncomfortably close to home. My husband had been quite close to this young man and our kids loved him a lot too. It was just a really difficult time. I am sure as you read this you can relate.

There was one week in particular where my emotions were just so raw that I would burst to into tears at the most inopportune time. I don’t think I have ever experienced anything like it. It took me off guard and I felt I had no control over it. I would feel my blood pressure rise and I could barely catch my breath. I felt like I was unravelling.

I remember the moment I had with the Lord like it was yesterday. I was feeling so overwhelmed. I can’t imagine what our friend’s parents were feeling or his wife, all I knew is that if I was in that much pain I couldn’t imagine how they were feeling. The heaviness in my heart was beyond comprehension. I cried out to the Lord. I felt like I was sinking and the weight was too much to bear. I was emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausted.

Psalm 16:11 says, “…You will fill me with joy in Your presence.”

I couldn’t imagine what it was like to just feel better but beyond that how does one find joy in these circumstances. James 1 reminds us that we are to consider it joy when we face trials. Joy… really? I am not sure who reads that verse and thinks, but how?

My pastor recently expressed that trying to have joy is like squeezing water with your fist. The more you squeeze the more the water just squishes through your fingers. It’s fleeting. We don’t find joy, or try to have joy. When we attempt to manufacture something that is not innately in us it was just fade.

So, I realized that the only way I was going to have any joy in my life was through my quiet time in the presence of God. It seems that when we are going through the darkest times of our lives, these are the times we have the hardest time having any desire for God or His Word. But even if we are to just sit there and ask to fill us. Expressing that we can do nothing without Him and we need His presence.

During this Christmas season, if joy is some far off distant fantasy, know that the only joy you will ever experience is in the nearness of God. He will give you a joy that is not of this world. It does not come out of circumstance, feelings or things. It comes directly from the heart of God, who IS joy, to your heart.

Praying you experience joy this season in a way you have never experienced it before.

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Angela is passionate about Jesus, women and building community. She fully believes that women are the heartbeat of the church. Angela has been married to her favourite man, Blair, for 17 years and together they pastor Gateway Church in Komoka, Ontario. When Angela is not leading worship or running some type of women’s event, you will find her doing a DIY, reading a good book, drinking her husbands amazing coffee or planning a meal with friends. One day she hopes to make pie as good as her mom’s. Angela has two incredible kids to call her own (Isaac 13, Michaela 12) who keep her quick and on her feet and enjoying every single moment of life.

 

Joy, Is It Possible Midst My Grief?

Written by: Brenda Earley

Joy, joy, joy! (in my most Scrooge-y BAH-HUMBUG! voice)

‘Tis the season. (so soon?)

Merry Christmas. (sigh)

Season’s Greetings. (not)

Have a joyous holiday! (groan)

These are familiar sentiments during the Christmas season, but this year my heart is not singing the joyful tunes of Christmas.

Joy is seemingly impossible this year since my sweet Grandmother passed away merely two months ago! Memories flood this heart of mine; she was my inspiration, my wise counsellor and a source of my joy! And, most importantly, Gram was filled with a joy only Jesus could give.

Throughout my childhood, I have many memories of her; but the ones this season brings to mind seem to illuminate my joy-less world. Christmas Eve was always spent with my Gram doing so many special things– from using colored pencils to decorate wood ornaments, to baking cookies, to singing Christmas carols — this was a special time of year! And her presence made it all the more.

Every Christmas Eve for the past few years, she would give each great grandchild a well thought out gift, a gift from her heart. A Chik-fil-a gift card wrapped between a hamburger bun, money wrapped tightly inside a straw or taped to a Kit Kat wrapper- whatever the gift, each child was star gazed, filled with anticipation and wonder as they unwrapped their gift. Her love shown in this gift was timeless; and, oh the joy felt as they accepted it.

Which is why, I know Gram would want to keep these traditions alive. Even if it’s difficult. Even through the tears. Even though she’s no longer with us, she would want me to feel the JOY of Christmas despite her absence.

(My Gram, pictured, far left)

I don’t wish a Christmas overwhelmed with grief on anyone. But how do I have joy at Christmas when missing my Gram depletes this joy?

As Gram would say, happiness is found within each memory, each tradition; but genuine, hope- filled joy is found in Jesus. It is unpacked in the story of Christmas. We can have true joy when:

  • We rejoice like Zechariah because of new beginnings. (Luke 1:14)
  • We seek Him like the wise men. (Matthew 2:2)
  • We see the wonder of the newborn babe like the shepherds. (Luke 2:20)
  • We find joy in the unexpected like Mary. (Luke 1:46)
  • We hear the gladness like the angels sang. (Luke 2:13-14)
  • We love like God did as He gave us the gift of His Son, Jesus. (John 3:16)

And special moments create special memories. Gram’s presence is stamped on every memory, on every family gathering, on every tradition. She’s felt all around us and she would remind us — God’s presence in our hearts is where joy is birthed.

Joy is not wrapped inside the boxes we call presents. Joy is a gift God gave when His Son came into this world as a newborn babe. It’s God’s presence wrapped in our hearts! That’s what makes joy possible midst grief!

So this Christmas, I want Gram’s memories, family traditions to remain present. And the only way to truly do this is to choose Jesus, our joy in this Season.

So for you, my friend, at Christmas and all year long, I pray “the God, the source of hope will fill you, completely to the full, with joy and peace while you trust in Him.” (Romans 15:13)

May you have joy-to-the-FULL this Christmas season!

~brenda

https://youtu.be/fG9B0s30-HQ

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Brenda Earley is a wife to one, a busy mom to three, and volunteers with Proverbs 31 Ministries Online Bible Studies as Study Leader and Writer. She is faithful to her church and uses her musical talents on the worship team as a Worship Leader and pianist. When she is not writing, singing, or playing piano, she is busy with attending basketball games and other school functions. You may reach her on Facebook: Brenda Earley. 💕

THE MAGIC OF CHRISTmas SPIRIT

Written by: Maria Theresa McCann

The Christmas season is upon us. A time of year when Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and where the longing for love, family and friends is placed center stage. Also, people are more open to be loving, kind, forgiving and thoughtful. Every year my goal during Christmas is to find that feeling that goes deep inside the soul, some call it the “Christmas spirit”. A feeling of peace, joy, love and savouring each moment by living it to its fullest potential. True Christmas must be celebrated in our hearts and souls. I think what the world needs today, is to find that magical feeling and fall in love with Jesus all over again.

For moms, Christmas can be a stressful time of the year. We are pulled in so many directions: house cleaning, work, laundry, gift shopping, menu planning, hosting holiday gatherings, and let’s not forget, decorating the house. Then if we add our children’s requests – usually last minute – for teacher’s gifts, pot luck dishes, and friend’s gifts; the list becomes endless. When life becomes overwhelming during he Holidays, I always feel the need to sit quietly and talk to Jesus and really think about the gift of His birth and what His life really means to us all. In the end, His life was really an act of unconditional love, as He really came to die, so we can have the gift of eternal life with God.

In life, there are days I feel in control and on task; while; other days, I feel like I am falling apart. Many times, it is in those moments where I feel defeated that something amazing happens and God just reminds me of how much He loves me; even though, I think He is not listening or doesn’t care. I remember this one day, where my family got on my last nerve. Requests were coming in from all directions, the to do list was a mile long, and the way I was spoken to was not nice, and made me feel unloved. I decided that I had had enough with the day, and retreated to my bedroom to have a chat with God, more like a ranting session.

I told Jesus that all I wanted was for Him to come down from Heaven, have a tea with me, and then give me some advice, and tell me what was He thinking when He blessed me with four children, and what made Him think, I could handle it. Then before going back to Heaven, I told Him I would want a great big bear hug, because I know, that one of His hugs would make me feel loved beyond what words could describe. His hug would also give me enough energy and strength to last a year.  I fell asleep that night, telling Jesus that all I wanted, was His hug so that I could feel loved.

The next morning, I woke up, went to the kitchen, and proceeded to start my day. At one point, my two daughters came to tell me that our neighbour, little Ava Kennedy was at the door, and wanted to see me.  When I went to the front door, she handed me a gift. It was a white envelope. I said thank you, placed it on a table at the front entrance and proceeded to walk back into the kitchen. Ava stopped me and said: “oh no, Mrs. McCann, you have to open it now!”

I walked back, opened the envelope, and took out a piece of paper. Then, I took out a second piece of paper with pointy things. I told Ava it was very creative, which really meant I had no clue what I was looking at. Then, suddenly, Ava says: “Mrs. McCann, I made you a HUG!!” I immediately looked down and realized, that what I was holding, were two paper hands which were attached together by a green ribbon representing the circle of a hug. Chills came down my back and my heart stopped. Luckily, the school bus arrived and as it pulled away, I sat down at my front window and began to cry. I had received my hug! Not the hug that I wanted, but maybe the hug that I needed. In that moment, I felt that Jesus had heard my prayer, knew my pain, and wanted to show me He was listening, He cared, and He loved me.

As I sat in my rocking chair, crying, and savouring this moment of awe, I could not help but feel Jesus’s love swell up in my heart, and I fell in love with Him all over again.

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Maria lives in Tecumseh, Ontario with her best friend Sean, who she has been married to for 25 years. They have been blessed with 4 busy children: Patrick (22), Avery (17), Tia-Lynne (15) and Lianna-Maria (14). Maria has felt the calling to speak and write about the importance of putting God first in our lives. She is in the process of finishing her first book entitled “Footprints of Angels” being published by West Bow Press in 2018. Maria enjoys reading, listening to Christian music, photography, walking along shores of lakes and oceans, baking with her girls, and spending time with God in her prayer room. Maria will always cherish the experience of having lived in the small town of Bannia, in the province of Pordenone, Italy for 8 years where she had the opportunity to learn about her Italian heritage and experience first hand its customs and culinary diversity. Maria believes in giving back to the community. She is the Chair of Tecumseh Vista Secondary School Advisory Council  and is the Chair of the Tecumseh Community Policing Committee with the Tecumseh OPP Detachment.

Do You Want To Be Well?

Written by: Mandy Lawrence-Hill

“When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to be well?” —John 5:6

I remember that day in the coffee shop like it was yesterday. I sat across from a new friend in ministry who was suffering through divisions in her marriage. Tucked into the depths of my purse sat a gift I brought for her. A gift that would, if she were willing, completely change her life.

I took out the meticulously wrapped package and cautiously asked her the question; Do you want your marriage to be well? She looked back at me for a few moments; pensive. It seemed she wanted to give her most genuine answer and she was figuring out for herself what that answer would be. “Yes, she carefully answered. I want my marriage to be well.”

I shared with her a lesson that I learned myself in my young marriage. Love is a choice, not a feeling. If you want your marriage to be well, you must choose to love. There are moments and seasons in a marriage that you will not want this to be the solution because choosing to love is hard work.

Sliding the gift onto the table that separated us, I encouraged her to open it. Inside was a book called ‘The Love Dare’. She looked back at me, confused. I shared more. Between the covers of this book was a months worth of challenges. Each new day the author gives you a task to complete for your husband…some easy, some incredibly difficult and sacrificial. Each task honouring your marriage vows to one another and further developing a habit to choose love.

Somewhere along the way, she simply stopped choosing. She didn’t mean to stop choosing. Life had thrown difficult circumstances at her from many directions and she was tired and weary; unaware that she had stopped. For accountability and support I offered to do the challenges alongside her with my husband. What a blessing for me!

The way the Lord used this book to restore my friend’s marriage is amazing. I love to see them together today, weathering life’s storms with arms linked, choosing to love no matter what circumstances they face. Fully understanding that the act of choosing to love often surpasses our natural instincts and requires careful intention. Knowing that oftentimes this choice to love will not be easy, but will be worth it.

Is your marriage struggling this christmas season? Do you want your marriage to be well? Don’t place the survival of your marriage on the hope that feelings of love will come back on their own— make the choice to love instead. Choose to sacrifice. Choose to serve. You’ll be blessed and your spouse will be too. Oh, and did I mention choosing to love is also contagious? When you choose love, you spread love as well! (John 13:34-35 says  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”)

Praying you experience love in a supernatural way this christmas.

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Mandy is the founder of the ministry blog We are His daughters and thoroughly enjoys writing and providing leadership to this ministry. Mandy is an imperfect work in progress! She loves the Lord with her whole heart and counts it her biggest privilege to serve Him in ministry however He leads. Born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she now resides in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia with her family. She has been married to her handsome husband Nathan for 13 years and together they have served in ministry for the entirety of their marriage. Nathan & Mandy have four beautiful children; Benjamin; Sophia; Spencer & Grayson. Mandy is passionate about singing, worship leading and music. She loves reading, writing, taking pictures, studying the bible and sipping peppermint mocha’s at Starbucks while chatting with a friend! She strives to be tidier, more organized (yes, she is a little compulsive!), a little more Martha Stewart-esque, and a little less ‘unglued’. Most of all she seeks to be holier and to love God through serving her family and her community.

The Many Looks Of Love

Written by: Rachel Albrecht

Years ago my husband’s younger brother lived with us while he was in college. He arrived in September and as December rolled around, I was curious as to what he would buy me for Christmas. We hadn’t known each other incredibly well before he moved in but over the past few months I had intentionally tried to invest in the relationship.

He had gone to my in laws over the holiday break and left us gifts under our tree. I don’t remember what my husband received, but it was nice gift, thoughtful and appreciated. When I opened my gift I was confused – inside the bag lay an old piece of hockey equipment, a goalie’s glove.

As the one who had cooked for him, picked up after him and watched way more of the sports channel than I ever desired, I had expected the gift to symbolize an appreciation, a value in the relationships we had, unique as it was. Whatever this joke was, it left me feeling hurt.

I tossed the glove in the outside trash can with disappointment. A few days later when I saw my brother in law at a family gathering, he asked if I liked my gift. Scowling, I gave a sarcastic thanks and told him I tossed that disgusting glove in the garbage. He burst out laughing, and asked if I had put my hand inside the glove. Obviously not! He told me to check inside. When we came back home I dug the glove out of the trash and peeked inside. There was a DVD I had long been hoping for.

Love was born in a manger over two thousands years ago yet many rejected Him because of the wrapping. This love, though vastly greater than anyone could have imagined, came to earth in a way no one anticipated and for some, in a way they couldn’t accept.

People were confused. They mistook His simplicity and humility for weakness. They expected the Messiah to be steeped in strength and royalty, to overthrow the oppression of their present day situation. From his birth in a manger to His death on the cross, so much of His life defied the expectations people had for Him.

I understand. This wasn’t what some of them had hoped for, dreamed of and painstakingly anticipated for hundreds of years. This wasn’t the answer they wanted or they felt they needed. If I’m to be very honest with you, I’ve got a couple situations in my life where I’m left wondering what is God doing? Did I not hear correctly? Why are these prayers remaining unanswered? Isn’t the loving thing to do in these situations to respond, and frankly, respond in the way I want Him to? I don’t understand the silence, I don’t understand the waiting period, I don’t understand why things are the way they are.

In times of confusion, I’m reminded love is multifaceted with countless expressions. Just because it doesn’t always show up like I think it should doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. Love can mean stepping up to offer help, or stepping back to give an opportunity. It can mean standing behind someone or sitting beside them. Sometimes love means speaking up and other times it means staying silent. At times love comes and at times it goes, sometimes love gives and sometimes it takes. It can say yes or no, now or later. It can bring smiles or tears, laughter or pain. It can be full of glitz or full of grit. It can be found in a rustic manger or in an empty tomb. Love is still love regardless if we like what it looks like at times.

Despite Christ’s life on earth being so different than what was expected, the details fulfilled every Old Testament prophecy. Now with our place in history we can read the prophecies of the New Testament and look forward to what is coming when they are all fulfilled!

We know that because of His great love for us, Jesus will return to this earth strong and mighty, victorious and powerful! We know He is going to defeat darkness and death and make all things right. Hurt and confusion, sorrow and suffering will cease and we will spend eternity in face to face fellowship with our Saviour!

This Advent season, as we remember how Jesus came in the humblest of forms, we can look forward to how He will return, with His glory, majesty and power in full force! Love will return and Love will win!

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Rachel Albrecht is blessed to be a wife and mom. She resides in Leamington Ontario, and each winter is very thankful to live in the most southern tip of Canada.

Love Says, “I’m In”

Written by: Lindsey Feldpausch

I wonder if somewhere in the corners of her mind, Mary, while breathing through labor pains in the stable, thought to herself, “I didn’t sign up for this.” She must’ve thought a lot of things, but I wonder about this particular one. What did she do to deserve this kind of birth story for her son? Wouldn’t God have surely provided something better for her? For her Son— His Son?

I am not proud to admit this, but I have gone through a lot less than delivering a baby in the backyard of a hotel with hay beneath me, and I have said that phrase, “I didn’t sign up for this.” Sometimes, when I’m caught off guard, when life takes an unexpected, unpleasant turn. That phrase lurks in the desolate corners of my thought-life. It’s an immature thing to think and I don’t even want to think this phrase.  So, why does it linger? It’s silly, really. None of us actually signed up for anything or did we?

As I’ve thought about it, and considered Jesus, I’ve actually come to a firm conclusion. The moment that I said yes to Jesus, that was when I signed up for everything. Jesus, at some divine point, signed up for everything too. As he lay in that manger on a starry night, babe and king of the world — he was saying yes to life on earth and an excruciating death on the cross. He knew the plan and yet, he said, “I’m in.”

When life gets sour, instead of saying “I didn’t sign up for this,” what if I said, “I’m in”?

As I’ve turned thoughts about this phrase over and over in my mind, I’ve come to a few conclusions about love:

  1. Love says “I’m in” when circumstances change.
  2. Love says “I’m in” when people change.
  3. Love says “I’m in” because Jesus showed us how.

Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (NIV)

What a demonstration that was. He didn’t look at us and think, “I didn’t sign up for this.” Instead God provided the most beautiful, sacrificial, and awe-inspiring expression of what love looks like and said, “I’m in.”

This Christmas if you find yourself in a long line, if you find yourself cleaning up after a sick child, if you find yourself unsuccessfully trying to repair a relationship, if you find yourself lonely, sorrowful, frustrated, or afraid, remember that God demonstrated to us a love that said, “I’m in.”

The “I’m in” love is not an easy love, but it’s a rich love.

Jesus signed up for you, even at your worst. I invite you to say, these words — perhaps even as an act of worship. Also, it’s a much shorter phrase to remember than the first one. 😉 May your Christmas and everyday-life be filled with this robust, “I’m in” kind of love.

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Lindsey Feldpausch is a writer, speaker, and graphic designer. She lives in a small town outside of Grand Rapids Michigan. Married to a humble, handsome Youth Pastor, together they have four children. She is a Projects Manager for a Proverbs 31 Author & Speaker, Spokeswoman for Jonathan Park Audio Adventures, and Reviewer of Family Products at TheBetterMom.com. She can’t wait to tell you a story and can’t wait to listen to yours. Jesus is her Savior. She is currently unfinished.

The Loving Truth

Written by: Dr. Michelle Bengtson 

Sometimes the words of others can leave us feeling hurt and unloved.

The words she slung cut through my heart and left it splayed open like a gaping wound. They were her opinion, but professed as if they were gospel truth. Hearing my faults recited one after another, when all I had tried to do was help, left me shrinking back more and more into myself, trying to retreat to safety before the only thing left was bloody stumps.

Have you ever been unfairly accused by another? Wounded by their untrue words? Where do you go then?

Once I was safely alone, and could process the interaction, the tears flowed. “Lord, you know the truth. You see my heart. Search it. If anything there displeases you, uproot it then replace it with more of you. But Father, heal the wounds that have come from another person’s assessment. Reveal the truth.”

I’m so grateful that in His gentleness, he reminded me of Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV) “The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness.’”

Have you ever considered what that means? In Hebrew, everlasting means “forever, eternity.” His declaration that He has loved with an everlasting love means He loved us from before time began and will continue to love us throughout eternity. He loves us on our good days, and on the days we are not proud of and would prefer to forget!

In the first part of that verse, when the Lord said He loved you, that usage of love meant to like, be a friend, be a lover, an ally. And when He declares that He has drawn us with loving kindness, in Hebrew it means “loyal.”

Oh how I need someone who will always love me, despite my flaws, and remain loyal to me on my good days and my less than stellar days.

I don’t know where you are today, or what circumstance this finds you in. I don’t know if you ever feel alone, unwanted, or rejected, or perhaps you are fortunate to be surrounded by the love of family and friends.

What I know is that God has declared to us in this one verse that He has been a loyal ally, loving us forever from the beginning of time through eternity.

The love of family and friends can be an extension of God’s love toward us. But we must not look to them to validate our worth or establish our identity. People will let us down. They will sometimes unknowingly hurt, or accuse without all the facts. Their love is often conditional on what we say or do, or how we make them feel. But God promises to love us unconditionally with an unfailing love that is not dependent on our performance.

In Numbers 23:19 (NIV), we are encouraged that “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.” What a comfort it is to know that God cannot lie and God does not change His mind. What He sets His mind to, He will accomplish—including loving you and me for all eternity.

I’ve never known a love like that from another person. People let others down, not even because they mean to, but because we’re human. Our feelings are capricious. Our likes, our wants, our attitudes change without reason or warning. But God’s love for us is a fact, not a feeling, and it does not change.

Wherever this finds you today, I pray you will rest in His unfailing love, as your friend and your ally.

I’d love to hear in the comments below how He has shown you his love recently!

Because of Him, #HopePrevails!

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Dr. Michelle Bengtson (PhD, Nova Southeastern University) is an international speaker, and the author of best-selling “Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression” and the newly released companion “Hope Prevails Bible Study.”  She has been a neuropsychologist for more than twenty years. She is in private practice in Southlake, Texas where she evaluates, diagnoses, and treats children and adults with a variety of medical and mental health disorders. She knows pain and despair firsthand and combines her professional expertise and personal experience with her faith to address issues surrounding medical and mental disorders, both for those who suffer and for those who care for them. She offers sound practical tools, affirms worth, and encourages faith. Dr. Bengtson offers hope as a key to unlock joy and relief—even in the middle of the storm. She and her husband of 30 years have two teenage sons, and reside in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. She blogs regularly on her own site: http://www.DrMichelleBengtson.com

For more hope, stay connected with Michelle at:

To order Hope Prevails: http://drmichellebengtson.com/hope-prevails-book/

Website: http://www.DrMichelleBengtson.com

Blog: http://drmichellebengtson.com/category/blog/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DrMichelleBengtson

Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/DrMBengtson (@DrMBengtson)

LinkedIn: http://www.LinkedIn.com/in/DrMichelleBengtson

Google+: http://www.google.com/+MichelleBengtson

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/drmichellebengtson

Pinterest:  http://www.Pinterest.com/Drbhopeprevails

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCn92DHzGSZk8psDb2FKazOQ

To order Hope Prevails from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Hope-Prevails-Insights-Personal-Depression/dp/080072707X/

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For a Free eBook on How to Help a Depressed Loved One, click here: http://drmichellebengtson.com/how-to-help-a-depressed-loved-one-ebook/

For more helpful information about what you need to know when you have a depressed loved one, read here: http://drmichellebengtson.com/10-things-to-know-if-you-have-a-depressed-loved-one/

For more about what not to say to a depressed loved one, read here: http://drmichellebengtson.com/what-not-to-say-when-a-loved-one-is-depressed/ while here are suggestions about supportive things you can say to a depressed loved one: http://drmichellebengtson.com/what-to-say-when-a-loved-one-is-depressed/

Board Games, Snow & Jesus

Written by: Rylie Wistuba

Last Christmas, my husband, Branden, and I celebrated our first Christmas married! Waking up to celebrate Christmas morning together, having breakfast and opening our presents to each other was so peaceful and made me feel so loved. After we had our little Christmas morning together, we went to my parents house. We decided to start the tradition of buying a board game for my side of the family every year, and playing it Christmas day. We also came up with a fun rule: whoever goes on their phone during the game gets a handful of snow to the face.

We were all having playing “The Game of Things” when the inevitable happened. My mom picked up her phone. My husband Branden always takes things to the next level, so he sprinted outside to grab huge armfuls of snow. My sister Zoe and I teamed up to try and corner my mom. Rule were rules, she had to “face” the consequences! We eventually rounded her up, and Branden had the honour of smashing snow into her face. We all had a great laugh, and went outside to build a snowman and have a snowball fight. Then, we all dressed up in our Christmas pyjamas and went to see a movie. We all agreed: it was one of our favourite Christmas’ ever!

I loved having my family around me, fully present and enjoying each other. Just as being together at Christmas nurtures the relationship I have with my family, it reminds me how incredible it is that I have a family of believers through Christ. In the morning, when Branden and I spent time alone, reminds me of how the the Holy Spirit moves and speaks when we are alone with Him: one on one with each other, with no distractions.

I love that God pursues a relationship with us in a family setting, as our Father, and one on one as a Friend. We broke the relationship He set out for us to have together, but He chose to reconcile it by paying the price, which was death:

“but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:17)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
‭‭John‬ ‭3:16-17‬

He humbled himself by coming to earth as a baby and then died to bridge the divide we had made because of our sin, that is the ultimate act of love. I am so grateful for the gift He gave us: a relationship with no division, a family fully together again just like it should’ve been all along. How much does He love us? “Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭36:5

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Rylie is an avid tea-drinker, God-worshiper, and music lover. She lives in Windsor, ON with her amazing husband Branden and their big puppy, Aunna. She currently volunteers in the youth ministry & worship ministry at Amherstburg Community Church.

Mary Consoles Eve

Written by: Julia Bracewell

As a 19-year-old I first saw the image “Mary Consoling Eve” being used during Advent liturgy at my church. It immediately struck me as a beautiful image and I was drawn to the comfort and warmth brought by the truth it represented. However, the more I journey with God the more personal this image becomes.

I have always admired Mary. Given a task that in her context could bring intense emotional and physical pain, she never wavered or doubted, but entered the work ahead of her with joy and humility. In complete faith she said “be it unto me as you will”- these are not the words of a disconnected servant, but the overflow of a heart in communion with its creator. The obedience of Mary brought a humble Jesus to become like us, live among us and, in love, atone for our sin.

In my faith journey there have been seasons of joy and delight where glorifying God has been as easy as breathing; and there has also been seasons of hunger and struggle where I am far more in love with my comfort and my will than my Father. It has been in those seasons that God has pulled back the curtain of my heart to show me that any longing, or loneliness or dissatisfaction I am feeling is always a true longing after Him. What Eve was longing for in tasting the fruit was a longing that only her Father could provide. This is Satan’s trick, to make us think other things can fill the God-shaped hole in our hearts.

This advent season I find myself grieving with Eve. God has reminded me of my longing for him; He has shown me that I have been going to other dry wells when His is the only full one that satisfies. I’ve wept because I can see and feel this longing to be in perfect communion with Him, yet my sin continually gets in the way. I need a Saviour. This advent, this image has brought me hope and comfort. Right now, I see so much of Eve in me, but Mary reaches out to console me and connect me to my Saviour. She reminds me that this is temporary and a day is coming when that sin will be gone and I will finally have perfect communion with my Father. My longing will be satisfied.

This advent while we anticipate Christmas as a time to celebrate the coming of our Saviour in the past, we live out a small enactment of the greater picture. Knowing that Christ’s life and death has made it possible, the Christian’s heart is filled anticipation for Him to come in the future, create a new Heaven and Earth, and begin a time of perfect, unending communion with Him- the fulfillment of all desire.

A Prayer To Do The Father’s Will

Father, be it unto me as You will,
Your beloved, adopted child;
Handmade, valued, unique and known.
I am confident in your promises and your provision,
My hands and my heart are open to what you give, do and plan;
I am your willing one.
Father, I am often like Eve,
Who, hearing your will, believed hers to be better.
Instead, make me like Mary,
Who, hearing your will, did not fight or fear,
But in faith, joyfully and humbly submitted.
Teach me constant prayer,
The discipline of peace,
The choice for joy.
Give me faith and help my unbelief.
Let my faith not rest upon fleeting emotions,
But instead on the ability to choose you again and again,
Though my flesh fails.
I am yours,
Be it until me as You will.
Amen.

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Julia Bracewell is a fourth year Business – International Development student at Tyndale University in Toronto, Ontario. She is also co-founder of the Acacia Movement, a non-profit organization aiming to educate people about issues women in the Global South are facing and connect them to practical opportunities where they can work against these injustices. In her spare time she enjoys exploring the outdoors, writing music and meeting people.

Prepare for the Unexpected

Written by: Conny Varga

Hope is an interesting thing. It’s what keeps us going when all else seems lost. It’s what drives us to try again after we’ve failed. It is the last thing we cling to. Without hope, man begins to die.

The Christmas story as recorded in the Gospels is full of hopeful people. Interestingly though, God had a unique way of responding to their hopes and prayers. Take the nation of Israel, for example. For 400 years, there was silence, not a word of prophecy from God. Weighed down by one oppressing world power or another, with no end in sight. They were hoping and yearning for the promised Messiah who would come to free His people, sit on the throne of David forever, and rule a kingdom with no end. How did God respond? Well, the Messiah was not royalty, of no prominence or power, not even a great military leader. He was the illegitimate child of a poor peasant girl who ended up marrying a poor carpenter and lived in a less-than-glorious little nothing-town called Nazareth.

And what about Mary & Joseph, His parents? As they prepared for the birth of Jesus, all they hoped for was to settle in their little home in Nazareth and raise their son in the quietness of the town. Instead, everything went wrong! Caesar wanted a census, for which they needed to travel many miles through rough terrain, and when they finally got to Bethlehem, there was no room anywhere for them to rest their heads. And of course, to make things unbearably worse, Mary went into labour that very night. You would think that at least for the birth of His own son, God would ensure smooth sailing. But next thing we know, Jesus takes His first nap in a food trough, while being visited by dirty, stinky, rotten-toothed shepherds.

The wise men from the East went to Herod’s royal palace, expectantly hoping to pay homage to the new king they were sure they would find there. Instead, they are directed by a mysterious star to that little speck of dust on the map called Bethlehem, to find a lower-class couple with a poorly dressed little boy.

When Joseph & Mary went to the temple to dedicate Jesus to God, they were hoping for the regular routine of sacrifice that had been done for thousands of families before them. Instead, they became the center of attention as Anna and Simeon began telling people about Jesus, the promised Messiah. And how do you think Mary felt when Simeon told her that “a sword would pierce her own soul also”? I’m sure that’s not what they were hoping to hear!

Do you see a pattern in these people’s stories? They were all hoping for something, praying for something. And then God decided to answer their hopes and prayers in ways that were completely unexpected!

What about you and me? We all hope for things, whether consciously or unconsciously. We pray for and expect the future to turn out a certain way. And then God comes along and answers in very unexpected ways! What do we do when things don’t turn out the way we hoped? Do we question God’s love and goodness, do we become bitter or resentful? Or do we look for the hidden ways, the “silver lining”, in which God blesses us and shows His presence to us. The amazing part about the characters in the Christmas story is that they all praised and worshiped God in response to the unexpected happenings. We can learn a great deal from them. Christmas is about hope, great hope in a Great God. Let’s remember to never give up hope, to always trust that God will come through, and then let’s prepare for the unexpected and praise God with all our might – He deserves our worship. No matter how our lives turn out, no matter what the next bend in the road holds for us, we can rest in God’s promise that He will always take care of us.

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Conny considers herself the most fortunate woman on earth. Originally from secular Germany, she became a daughter of her heavenly Daddy as a teenager by His grace. She moved to Ontario, Canada 16 years ago to marry the love of her life, Mark, and they have been blessed with 3 amazing children whom they educate and disciple at home. Together, they passionately pursue Christ and, with imperfect steps, try to follow His example. Over the years, God has been opening their hearts to the plight of the poor and needy, especially orphans. They have embraced fostering local children and are involved in Lifesong for Orphans Canada as orphan advocates. Their home is always open to friends & family, and to anyone who might just come up their driveway. Conny comes alive at the mention of coffee, hosting guests, music, nature, and Bible study.