Balancing Summer Months with Your Calling

At Home with Kids During the Summer

Notice the title doesn’t say How to Balance Summer Months with Your Calling.

That’s because I’m still learning. But I hope by sharing my struggle we can face the fact that it’s not easy and that’s okay.

 

So how do we leverage the blazing days of summer for God’s glory?

 

I remember being a mom of young boys during the summer months while also teaching a Women’s Sunday School class.

I was intentional in spending time with the boys when they were out of school for the summer. Mostly because I just loved the pudding out of them (Southern saying) but also because I wanted them to have good memories of their childhood. Maybe it’s because I was an only child who was rarely around small children and never really babysat that I felt I had to be more intentional in making this happen. So at the beginning of summer, I made a plan.

One year, the boys and I wrote out a variety of chores and put them in a jar. They would draw one or two each day and if they completed them, they earned points to redeem for staying up later at night, a meal of their choice, or other fun things.

We went to the library, visited my grandparents in the next town over, adventured on unknown backroads, swam in a variety of public pools, and rarely missed an opportunity to stop by the local TCBY on the way home. Being the best mom that I knew to be for my boys was my second calling (with the first being a godly wife — or at least trying to be.)

 

But I was also called to teach.

 

When I became a Christ-follower at the age of 27, I couldn’t tell you where to find the book of John in the Bible. So even though I was growing in the Word by taking Precept, it still took me longer than most to prepare my lessons. I also liked to add a creative element here and there, which also took a lot of thought and prep time. Most of the year, I spent hours every day preparing for my class. I loved it! So when the boys were home for the summer, I had to figure out how to balance these two callings, while keeping the boys as my top priority. People always say that children grow up before we know it, and they’re right. Now the boys have families of their own and I couldn’t be prouder of them. {Glory to God!}

 

And yet, the struggle was real.

 

So I made a plan and adjusted a few things to help keep my priorities in order:

  • I designated mornings and early afternoons to activities with the boys.
  • Mid-afternoons were “free” time where they could play with Ninja Turtles or shoot hoops.
  • During their free time, I studied.
  • I incorporated videos by Kay Arthur and Wayne Barber of Precept Ministries into the Sunday School time to lighten my load.

 

Did it always go as planned? Nope. But I had three goals for my summer: Have meals ready for Brian when he got home, spend quality time with the boys, and to do my best in preparing the lessons, trusting the Lord to fill in the necessary gaps.

 

Nailing Down My Goals Helped to Keep My Priorities in Order

 

Today, I am blessed with grandchildren, two in town and two in Ohio {Pass me a tissue!} One of the reasons we chose our home almost two years ago was for the pool. We knew the grands would enjoy it, and they do. Few things in life bring more pleasure than grandchildren. Pure joy!

 

Grandchildren

Not my grandchildren but aren’t they cute?

The Calling Has Morphed into Writing But the Struggle Remains

 

Yes, it’s different. I’m not directly responsible for raising the sweet munchkins and they don’t live with me but I still had to find a way to balance swim time with the calling to write. Sometimes I struggle to keep the energy level up in the afternoons so I need to work during the times when I have the most clarity.

 

So I Made Another Plan

 

  • Reserve the mornings and all day Friday for writing.
  • Keep the afternoons free for the kiddos to swim whenever they want to ride up.
  • On the day I keep them each week, bring the swimsuits!

 

Obviously, this is a fluid schedule, open for changes at any time but having a little structure in place helps to keep my priorities in order. I want to be the grandmother God and I desire me to be, as well as the writer⏤in that order. {And yes, having Brian’s meals ready when he gets home from his now one-hour drive is still a priority. *wink*}

It’s not a perfect plan, never has been. But most mornings before I begin my day, I open my hands to the heavens, palms up.

 

This simple act reminds me that this day is not mine. It is God’s to do with what He wills. And His plans never fail.

 

I would love to learn from you. How do you juggle your priorities during the summer months?

 

© Can Stock Photo / goldenKB

Three Ways to Quietly Serve Others

Quiet Service

I’ve been spending time in John 21 lately, and not because I’m a breakfast lover.

If you read this post you know I have a lot to learn about being a servant.

My heart bends toward awe as I study the ways Jesus quietly served Peter and the other disciples on the beach that morning. Yes, food was involved but Jesus, spoken from a heart of love, also asked a question that required them to face the reality of their situation. It was actually an irritating question that all fishermen dread on slow, unproductive outings: How many fish did you catch? (my translation)

While I won’t be frying up fish for anyone (sorry!) a few other ways to quietly serve like Jesus comes to mind.

Serving others well is a desire that begins in the heart, emerges from love, and comes to fruition by the power of the Holy Spirit. Click To Tweet

 

How to Quietly Serve Others

 

Crush the Desire to Compete

Don’t get me wrong, competition on the field is a must (just ask our Clemson Tigers!) but as believers, that spirit doesn’t belong in our writing circles, church ministries, or our calling. Why? Because we’re not competing against each other. We’re on the same team, desiring the same outcome for God’s glorification, not ours. When we refuse to compete, we release (and receive) blessings that a fleshly “win” could never provide. The enemy seeks division cleverly disguised as friendly competition. Let’s not fall for it.

Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3,4

 

Do the Unexpected

The disciples didn’t expect someone to ask about their fishing, or to receive instructions on where to throw their net, or better yet, to find Jesus preparing breakfast for them on the shore. Jesus often did the unexpected during His time here on earth. Unexpected for the recipients, that is. (John 5:19) When we stay in tune with God, the Holy Spirit shows us opportunities to bless others in unexpected ways. Maybe it’s a phone call, a handwritten note, flowers at a doorstep, a simple hug, or a gift card to Panera Bread for a yummy breakfast (ahem, this month’s giveaway to my subscribers!)

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. Hebrews 6:10

 

Practice Breath Prayers

Back in 2013, I wrote a brief post on the subject of breath prayers. Kelly Minter refers to those quick, quiet prayers breathed up to God as the pre-work of prayer. At the time, I was teaching on the subject of Nehemiah. The breath prayer we read in Nehemiah 2 is simply the natural overflow from a four-month reservoir of prayer seen in Nehemiah 1.

We pray behind-the-scenes to pave a foundation for opportunities to pray for others at a moment’s notice. Perhaps it’s coming alongside someone after church or on a lunch break and praying aloud with them. But on those days we can’t do this, we can pray a prayer so quick and so quiet that the recipient will never know the power that just shot in a heavenwardly direction on her behalf.

“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.” Psalm 150:6

 

 

The more I think it over the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people. – Vincent van Gogh

Is there some way you quietly serve others? 

 

Because I’m Probably Not the Only Mom Seeking Validation

Validation for Moms

Ah, validation.

Receiving it frees us.

Desiring it paralyzes us.

Seeking it in the wrong places {spouse, children, job, fame, employer) eventually crushes us.

But finding it in the right Person? It can will change your life.

I know because I’ve sought validation all my life⏤maybe everyone does. First from our parents as defined by two words, “Watch this!” Then, the teenage years hit and we find ourselves dressing a certain way or cutting our hair to appease our peers. Of course, when someone, let’s just say a friend, mistakenly uses spray deodorant instead of hairspray in preparation for a big date, the outfit doesn’t really matter all that much. *wink*

For years, I attended the Blue Ridge Mountains Christians Writers Conference in hopes of being validated as a writer. I soaked up knowledge, received life-bearing words from Donn Taylor, and even won a few awards along the way. But within weeks {sometimes hours} of returning home, the confidence fizzled.

 

Then one day I gave up the need to be validated.

 

God used this situation to confirm that I was in the right lane and I haven’t looked back since. After all, knowing I was using my time for His glory was the “why” behind the need for validation. Writers, unlike teachers or speakers, aren’t always sure that their words make a difference. And yet, we write and rest in the not-knowing, trusting God for the results.

 

So I thought I was all validated up after learning to rest in my calling. But…

 

It’s no secret I’d made a mess of my life by the time I was twenty-seven. I’ve shared my testimony in churches, quiet bible studies, and throughout different posts on my blog like this snippet. The boys were young then, two and six. As they grew older and became husbands and fathers the shame I felt all those years ago began to re-surface in subtle ways.

One particular way the enemy sharpened the sword of shame was to point out how “normal” mothers, like most of my friends, deserved unconditional love, acceptance, and respect from their children⏤but not me. I quietly accepted the sentence of being less-than as part of my consequences for making sinful choices that had directly affected their lives.

 

And yet, what mother doesn’t desire all of these things from her children?

 

Without realizing it, I sought their validation in hopes of being accepted as an imperfect-but-flawed-mother-who-loves-them-to-pieces.

 

Then this happened.

 

Last week, while alone for a stretch of days, this need for validation from my sons came to light. I knew I didn’t feel this way because of something the boys had done or said⏤it came instead from my desire to be understood and loved unconditionally, whether I deserved it or not. I prayed, not exactly sure what to do with my newfound knowledge. And then, in a way I can’t explain but can only confirm, the Lord “spoke” loud and clear:

 

Your validation⏤Your acceptance as a mother⏤is found in Me, not your boys.

 

I sat stunned for a few moments as tears fell and joy arose.

 

The burden of shame was swept away, not because I deserved it but because Jesus died for it. Click To Tweet

 

This truth⏤that your ultimate validation and mine are grounded in the acceptance we have in Jesus⏤frees us to be the wife, mother, grandmother, sister, and friend God always intended us to be.

 

We can't change the choices we made in the past but God changes the choices we make every single day and these choices will affect the generations to come. Click To Tweet

 

Praising God for His Validation

 

Is there some area in your life where you’re seeking validation and coming up empty? The One who knows you⏤really knows you⏤says:

I delight in you. (Psalm 149:4)

I sing over you. (Zephaniah 3:17)

I am for you, not against you. (Romans 8:31)

You are the apple of my eye. (Psalm 17:8)

I forgive you and will remember your sins no more. (Hebrews 8:12)

 

Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don’t put it off; don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we’re doing. Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.

Dear, dear Corinthians, I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively! 2 Corinthians 6:3-13 The Message

 

Fellow seekers of this wide-open, spacious life:
May we find our worth, our confidence, and our rest in the assurance that we are validated by our heavenly Father who cleansed us, forgave us, and breathed new life into our lungs the moment we confessed our sins. 

 

 

More: 4 Ways to Pray for Our Adult Children

After You Blow It, Do You Hear the Voice of Conviction or Condemnation? Here Are Five Ways to Tell the Difference

Studying the Bible

All I wanted to do was study my Bible that morning.

I’d eaten breakfast early and washed the dishes before sitting down to have some study time before we headed to church. Brian likes to sleep in whenever possible but on this particular morning, he woke up a little earlier than expected. When I say earlier, what I really mean to say is that he woke up just as I’d started my study. I greeted him with, “Good morning!” and then quickly glanced back at my study, trying to dodge the question I knew was coming next: “What did you eat for breakfast, i.e., what can you make me for breakfast?”

Let’s see. When I was fixing breakfast say, oh, two hours ago, it was eggs and toast. If you choose not to get up when the cook is cooking, you can make your way to the pantry, pour a nutritious bowl of Wheaties, sprinkle a little All Bran on top for good measure, drizzle a bit of honey around the edges and add a splash of Vitamin D milk. Enjoy!

Okay, so I didn’t say that⏤but it’s exactly what I thought while making his breakfast. After finishing up in the kitchen, I returned to my table to continue the study. I turned the page, and there it was in all of its convicting glory. The story of Jesus and the miraculous catch, found in John 21. It begins:

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

I love that Jesus was an early riser too. Unfortunately, that's where the happy comparison ends. Click To Tweet

In John 21, we find Jesus appearing to His disciples for the third time after His resurrection. Peter was feeling like a failure, floundering to regain confidence in his calling, so he did what everyone should do when struggling in life. He went fishing. And the disciples joined him. Jesus called out to them from the shore but they didn’t recognize him. It wasn’t until He called out to them that John recognized His voice. Peter eagerly wrapped his outer garment around him and swam to shore. The disciples weren’t far behind in the boat.

When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it and some bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many, the net was not torn.

Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

 

Oh, to be more like Jesus. His servant’s heart threaded thirty-three years together for the Father’s glory. He came to serve, from beginning to end.

 

Even when conviction stings like it did that morning, I marvel at the Holy Spirit’s methods. There’s a vast difference between godly conviction and the enemy’s accusations, sometimes referred to as condemnation. When I re-played the Sunday morning fiasco in my mind the following day, I realized a battle was waging beneath it all. The battle between conviction and condemnation. It looked something like this:

 

The Voice of Condemnation:
  • You’re a lousy wife.
  • You’re lazy.
  • Why do you bother studying the bible if you can’t even act {or react} properly?
  • If you were more organized you could’ve prepared his breakfast ahead of time and put it in the fridge.
The Voice of Conviction:
  • Did you respond with a servant attitude?
  • {While reading John 21} See, Cathy, this is the way.
  • Remember what we read last week about not only thinking of your interests but also the interests of others?
  • Hmm, this could be a blog post. {Okay, maybe this was me, but I was hoping to help others avoid my foolish mistakes!}

 

So, I decided to jot down the subtle yet vast differences between the voices of conviction and condemnation. I put five of the many differences in an infographic to save or print for future reference if you wish. {The link to the downloaded version is below the graphic and is clearer than the image below.}

 

 

Have you experienced the battle between the two “C”‘s as I did that Sunday morning?


 

Why Everybody Needs God in the Dark + Enter to Win a Free Copy

God in the Dark Sarah Van Diest

Only a handful of years had passed since my divorce when I studied the book of James. My heart was raw, as were my tears. Wet ink melted onto more than one page in my Bible but one verse stood out:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2, 3 [emphasis mine]

 

James says when we face trials, not if. Trials are a given this side of heaven. I recognized how this truth not only beat true for my life, but also for others, for those we love.

 

It’s because of this that I wanted to serve on the launch team for God in the Dark, by Sarah Van Diest. I believe this book puts feet to 2 Corinthians 1:3,4:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 

 

Today’s giveaway offers you the opportunity to share God in the Dark with someone in your life in need of comfort.

Arrow

I met Sarah Van Diest at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference several years ago. Her quick smile coupled with an old poetic soul told me we would surely be friends. I am honored to welcome her to our creative community.

God in the Dark by Sarah Van Diest

Guest post by Sarah Van Diest, author of God in the Dark: 31 Devotions to Let the Light Back In.

 

Sarah, what was the first experience that opened your eyes to the power of words? What gave you the idea to send letters to someone who is struggling?

 

These two questions go hand in hand for me. The first gave rise to the second. I fell in love with words and the pictures they created in school. In a class with a teacher who loved words, we learned how to journal and I realized words created a safe place for me. But it wasn’t until I was asked to write letters to people who were going on mission trips with our church when I learned the power those beloved words held to impact others.

We called them Barnabas Letters. For each person on the team, and for each day, those of us who were so inclined wrote a letter of encouragement, which the team packed in their bags for their journey. So each day of the trip, each person had a letter to read. I loved this idea. And then on my first mission trip, around the age of 14, I couldn’t wait for my very own Barnabas Letters to open and read. I loved how each letter was so different. The handwriting, or type, or crayon color, whatever they used to bring their idea of encouragement to the page was like a window into their world. I loved them so much! And I thought about their words all day long.

As I grew, I continued this way of encouraging people in my life, especially when I couldn’t be with them or there was nothing tangible I could do to mend their circumstances. It was out of this practice that the book, God in the Dark, was born.

How the book God in the Dark was birthed from Barnabas Letters @SarahVanDiest Click To Tweet

 

What’s one thing God taught you while writing this book?

 

I used Psalm 119 as the framework for this set of letters and in those verses I was reminded of the blessing the Psalms are. God was so kind to give them to us. They show humanity is such honest light, and we relate. We see a man who feels the pain, even anguish, of this life and who is trying with all his might to remain faithful. That sounds so familiar. And then we see the Father’s faithfulness to him – regardless of the psalmist’s “success” at remaining faithful himself.

I needed this reminder.

 

What has it been like to be on the other side of the publishing road?

 

I’ve been an editor and an agent, but I had never been an author. This was new for me. On the editor side, I was deeply connected with the content of the book, invested in the message and whether it was well conveyed. As an agent, I was committed to my authors. Supporting them was my number one goal and priority. Both of these endeavors were good and worthwhile.

What I had never experienced before in the professional realm was the direct impact of words I had written on the hearts of readers. The way the Lord has already used the work in God in the Dark has been something I have witnessed firsthand in the lives of many on my launch team. I have been in awe throughout the process of this launch. I had no idea.

I am forever grateful for the chance to have this reach into the hearts and lives of fellow sojourners.

{Thank you, Sarah!}

 

Is there some way Sarah and I can pray for you today? Or is there a particular part of the post that speaks to you?

We hope you’ll enter the giveaway for the hardback copy of God in the Dark. Simply leave a comment! The winner, chosen by Random Name Picker, will be notified this Friday, April 6th.

 

 

Sarah Van Diest

Sarah Van Diest is a writer and editor. She’s the mother of two boys, stepmother to three, and wife to David. Sarah wrote this book as letters to a dear friend whose life was turning upside down. She’s done this for years for numerous friend and will continue to, Lord willing. It’s her gift them. It’s hope written down.

 

 

 

 

God in the Dark is available through Tyndale Publishers, Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, and other fine retailers. You can also find God in the Dark on the NEW resources page!

When A Puppy Breaks One Heart and Heals Another

Broken Heart

 

It didn’t turn out as expected. Not even close.

When Rupert, our twelve-year-old Lhasa Apso, attacked me in 2016 due to neurological issues it was a traumatic time on many levels, so we knew it would be a while before we decided to get another dog. But last November we put a deposit on the first male pick of a Shih Tzu litter two towns over. Like Rupert, Henry the Shih Tzu would also be a hypoallergenic dog, so I began envisioning many years with our new pup.

I imagined the grandkids being greeted by him well into their teens and summer days when we could take him swimming in the pool, or tuck him in his special spot in our tiny house (more on that in the near future!) I’d even looked forward to watching the Daytona 500 with him in my lap (now there’s something about me I bet you didn’t know!)  🙂

We had to wait a total of eleven weeks before we could bring him home. Meanwhile, Brian and I ventured off to pet stores in search of the perfect toys. Would he prefer those shaped like animals that crinkle at the slightest touch or the red rubbery ones that gave his jaw a workout? We purchased everything he needed and perhaps a few things he didn’t like a custom-made crate cover with his name on it. After all, his name carries the influence of one of the sweetest men I’ve ever known, my granddaddy, Henry Knighton.

Finally, the day came to pick up Henry, the Shih Tzu that had stolen our heart before he was even born. Holding him for the first time was something I’d dreamed of for weeks. During our brief visits, we could only watch him play⏤no touching was allowed. He squirmed all the way home to my delight. And like any proud parent, we took his picture and announced his arrival on Facebook.

Beginning the night we brought him home, I began waking up at 2:00 am with sharp headaches. Of course, I was convinced I had a brain tumor. So when I caught a glance of the bright red splotches all over my arms and legs two days later, I started searching the Internet for a correlation between hives and brain tumors.

 

My allergist performed an asthma test that morning and in the end, confirmed something that left a gaping hole in my heart. I was allergic to my hypo-allergenic dog.

 

Henry had to be returned to the breeder and so he was—on Valentine’s Day. I was caught off guard by the tsunami of emotions that overwhelmed me for days following his departure. Could I have done anything differently? Did I miss something that should’ve alerted me not to buy a puppy? Why would God allow us to go through all those weeks anticipating his arrival only to give us three days with him?

 

Having experienced a miscarriage, I recall asking similar questions at the time. Certainly one does not compare to the other but when there are unfulfilled longings, the emotions are raw and the pain is tender, regardless of the why.

 

Three days later, with tears still flowing, I decided to post on Facebook again. Everyone had been so nice to wish us well. And honestly, I didn’t want to have to explain the situation to numerous people in the days and weeks ahead. I had no expectations from the post but within minutes, encouragement began pouring in. {Thank you!} And then I noticed it—a Facebook message waiting for me from a friend whom I’d not seen in years.

 

Shannon shared how her friend had been praying for a puppy for a year.

 

 

You see, it had been one year since Renee’s twelve-year-old grandson died unexpectantly. Some of her fondest memories with him included perusing the Internet for a puppy shortly before he passed away. She felt a puppy would bring healing to her broken heart. Within a few hours, Renee and her husband drove Henry to his new home. {Yep, she kept his name, which means so much to me.} Renee even texted, sharing how sorry she was for my situation but also adding, “You just can’t know how I have prayed for this puppy!”

 

You’re right, Renee. I couldn’t have known⏤but God did⏤and only He could have orchestrated this ending.

 

It’s obviously not the one we’d hoped for or planned. But I’m learning to rest in the knowledge that God is in control of everything, including his smallest of creatures.

 

Has God ever used something unexpected (and perhaps a little furry) to heal a hurt in your life?

 

 

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