When my kids were small, their father would take them to the mall (or WalMart) to buy me a gift for Christmas and my birthday, which are two days apart. They would be so excited to wrap their gifts and place them under the tree—almost as excited as they were about shaking and squeezing all the gifts with their own names attached.
A month, let alone a few weeks, was such a long time for little girls to wait! They would grow more excited and animated about those gifts under the tree every day until I thought they would burst from excitement!
Each day, more gifts would appear under the tree, building the anticipation even more. More Christmas cookies, more Christmas carols, and more Christmas parties fueled their frenzy.
Our custom used to be that we would each pick one small gift to open on Christmas Eve before heading off to bed. One year, my younger girl was so anxious for me to open the gift she had picked out for me, that she asked if I would please open “the umbrella-shaped gift”!
As with children (young and old!) at Christmas time, we, too, anxiously await the second return of Christ to bring us peace, right all the wrongs, and deliver us from the cares of this present world.
For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. Psalm 72:12
Even though the Israelites were longing for the promised Messiah, the Bethlehem of 2,000 years ago was not prepared for Jesus’ birth.
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
We’re looking for a Savior, just as much as the Israelites were over 2,000 years ago. So how can we prepare for Jesus’ peace during Advent? We can do good things for those around us. We can love and care for those within our sphere of influence. And we can pray to be transformed more to His likeness.
But just like the flurry of preparations that take place during December, we also must prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. Lord, help us remember to prepare our hearts for your coming. Soften our hearts. Give us open hearts to receive the King.
Friend, what do you need to do to prepare your heart for the coming King this Advent season?
Many prophets foretold the coming, or advent, of the Messiah, and the Israelites pinned their hopes—their confident expectation for salvation—on the long-awaited Messiah. Isaiah 40 foretells the coming of a Messiah who will comfort His people and establish justice. The Messiah will display the power of light over darkness and the triumph of good over evil.
In this hope, the Israelites anticipated a time of amazing worship, and we can likewise worship Jesus while looking forward to His second coming (see Psalm 122).
When the Messiah arrived as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem, many were shocked and did not believe that He could save Israel from their hardships—the oppression of the Romans (as Moses saved the Israelites from the oppression of the Egyptians thousands of years earlier, see Exodus 1-14).
For those looking for salvation from our current conditions (and who isn’t?) of pandemics, politics, and prejudice, our salvation might not look like what we think it should—just like the Jews of 2,000 years ago were sure the Messiah would arrive as a great and mighty King, not a tiny baby in a tiny town.
Today, we put our hope in the baby in the manger and our future hope in the second coming of the Messiah to save us from the oppressors of our current world.
While we don’t know the day or the hour, we do know that He will come to save us from the impending tribulation as foretold throughout the Scriptures “to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28).
The Jews of Jesus’ day were hoping for salvation from the Romans. We Christians today are hoping that Jesus will bring judgment to right all the wrongs. Justice will prevail—if only at the final judgment.
We need to remember not to overlook the ordinary miracles and seemingly small moments of joy. In those things we will find our hope is truly a “steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19).
What are you hoping for this Advent season? Please share with me, so I can pray with you!
Have you felt called to write a devotion or a devotional blog post, but you’re not sure where to start? How to Write a Devotion by my friend Melanie Chitwood is the perfect place to start. This concise, easy-to-follow book outlines five simple steps to writing a life-changing devotion! Melanie shows you everything from choosing a read-worthy topic to addressing your readers’ needs to finishing with a bang (or a prayer).
This is not just a book, but it’s also a workbook for us hands-on gals who like to make notes right in the text! It’s packed with examples and practical advice for helping you to get your devotion written now!
Melanie has written hundreds of devotions for Proverbs 31 Ministries as well as several books. She’s currently a writing coach and editor at Next Step Coaching Services. This book will give you the confidence you need to write and publish your devotion, so it’s ready for publication—whether you’re clicking “post” to your own blog or sending a devotional book proposal off to an agent or publisher.
Everything you need to confidently write your next devotion is in this 45-page book in five easy steps. Just add prayer and Scripture! I’m giving this wonderful resource a resounding thumbs up! Run over to her website and grab your copy today!
Forgiveness is good and necessary. But it is HARD!! And as an intangible idea, it’s difficult to navigate. It’s funny how hurtful words raged once can echo through the memory like a kid shouting in a tunnel, yet words of forgiveness whispered quietly on our knees need to be repeated to be remembered sometimes.
As a practical girl, I like tangible steps. Here are a few that I’ve found helpful:
Make time to get alone with God. You need to feel to heal,as contrary as it may seem! Feelings that are swept under the carpet do not heal. They multiply like the hair ties my cat hides under the rug.
Write a list of the offenses lurking in your heart – no matter how long ago they occurred – then out loud (and in writing) say, “Father, I choose to forgive (who) for (what) that happened on (when) at (where). Please help me to leave the offense here at the foot of the cross.”
Writing about your feelings is a great way to process them and then to release them. The purpose here is to trace the redemption that comes through the process of forgiving someone. After you’ve forgiven a particular offense, either rip the paper to shreds or put it in your fire pit. Or, you can write in “FORGIVEN” across that journal page as a reminder to set aside the hurt when it comes to mind.
Spoken words have power. Hearing ourselves forgive someone aloud and release the desire for revenge is much more powerful than just thinking about it.
Sometimes the grievances are so significant or held for so long that you may need to see a Christian counselor to help you work through them.
What do those steps look like in reality? Here’s a glimpse:
Not long ago, a friend lovingly confronted me about the fact that I still sounded bitter about events that had happened years ago. Things I thought I’d forgiven. Yes, they were hard things—like betrayal, deliberate financial ruin, character assassination—but I thought I was past them.
So, I spent some time alone with God. I made a list in my journal of all the grievances I could think of off the top of my head, all the people whose wounds still lingered in my mind. I allowed myself a short time to acknowledge the hurts.
Then I reminded myself that I am not responsible for their words and actions. God has seen my every tear and heard my every cry. In holding on to my own desire for revenge, I was trying to act like God. That’s not my job!
God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. Ecclesiastes 3:17 ESV
Ecclesiastes 3:17 ESV
I prayed and told God that I wanted to forgive these people and these offenses, but that I needed help. I told God that I was so weary of carrying what I wasn’t meant to carry: the heavy burdens of unforgiveness, bitterness, and revenge.
The longer we try to carry that emotional baggage, the heavier it becomes. Jesus invites us to exchange our burdens for His:
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV
A few days later, I was blessed to witness more than 50 people get baptized in a river. To watch so many people publicly declare their faith and rejoice in Christ’s forgiveness was awesome and inspiring!
Afterwards, while I was standing on the riverbank watching kayakers and sticks float past me, and it occurred to me that this would be a perfect place to visibly watch my own bitterness float away.
I grabbed a handful of leaves and, one by one, audibly gave each leaf a name and an offense. Then I released each leaf to float down the river. Soon, I could not tell which leaf was which. After a few more minutes, none of the leaves I’d tossed into the river were visible.
While I was doing this, I prayed yet again for the Lord to help me release the burden of bitterness in my heart. After all my leaves and tears were gone, I felt a lightness and a joyfulness that I have not felt in many years.
Yes, I may still need reminders to myself that I have released that resentment, but that’s all they are: reminders that God can turn resentment into redemption. I tell myself that was then; this is now. I tamp down my desire to mete out a cold shoulder or a snide dig, and I take it to the Lord in prayer again.
Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Your process of forgiveness may look different and may take more or less time. That’s okay. How can I pray for you on your journey toward forgiveness today, friend?
For many years, I operated on a faulty definition of forgiveness. My definition ran something like this: “Forgiving someone means they win the argument. Forgiving someone means I have to let them fully back into my life. Forgiving someone means I have to let them continue to run roughshod over my feelings. Forgiving someone means what they said or did doesn’t matter.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. No wonder my bruised feelings and resentment built up a nearly impenetrable wall of bitterness around my heart that spilled over onto friends and family alike.
If it’s not that faulty definition, then what is it? Forgiveness is not a feeling. It’s an action you choose to do. It’s giving up your right to resentment, retribution, and revenge. Forgiveness is refusing to revisit the offense in your mind and with your words or actions; it’s unlimited and unconditional.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you weren’t hurt, but rather that you are choosing to move forward. It doesn’t mean you forget what happened, but you don’t hold it against the offender. Forgiveness is not excusing the behavior of another person, nor is it allowing damaging behaviors to continue.
When you forgive, you choose to let go of the debt of sin. It’s basically ripping up the bill. Forgiveness releases you, sweet friend! Let God do his job—he will bring justice to the offender at his appointed time.
But why do we even need to forgive? Because it’s commanded in Scripture:
And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.
Mark 11:25-26 NKJV
The strength of our relationships depends on our ability to forgive. Want to preserve your relationships with people? Learn to forgive.
The Lord’s prayer “shows us that we need daily forgiveness as much as we need daily bread.”
R.T. Kendall, Total Forgiveness
Our emotional and physical health depend on our ability to forgive, according to science. Unforgiveness opens the gateway to depression, anxiety, heart problems, headaches, lowered self-esteem, high blood pressure, weight gain/loss, a weakened immune system, and a whole bunch of other issues. Yikes! Who wants to hang on to all that?
Unforgiveness leads to bitterness, which can escalate to hostility, hatred, and eventually a hardened heart. A hardened heart full of bitterness cannot engage in a loving relationship with anyone. The bitterness will seep over into your everyday life and people around you will notice your bitter attitude. Yikes again! No one wants to be around that much poison.
I’m not saying forgiving someone is easy, because it’s not, but can you appreciate just how very necessary it is, friend? Next time we’ll talk about the nitty gritty of how to forgive—even those who don’t ask for it, don’t deserve it, or aren’t around to receive it.
Can I pray for you on your journey toward forgiveness? Drop me a line and let me know!
Behind the mask of political correctness lies a divisiveness—even among Christians—not seen in our country for many years. While we pray for healing in our land, how do we remain friends with those on the opposite side of the fence, whether that fence is political, economic, social, or religious?
By being so focused on trying to be politically correct, we’ve become socially incorrect! In trying not to offend anyone, we offend so many more people!
Somehow, we’ve turned into an angry mob that thinks it’s ok to scream and yell our every thought from the street corners and from social media platforms. In doing so, we’ve alienated even those we love.
I could give the all-inclusive exhortation:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:32 ESV
Instead, let’s talk about what to do if you’re on the receiving end of a friend or family member’s tirade that goes against your views or grieves your soul. How do you maintain that relationship? Should you? How do you separate a person’s political/economic/social/religious views from the person herself?
It’s not easy! First of all, pray! Give your heartache over to the Lord. He knows all about betrayal and abandonment (Simon Isacriot, anyone?).
Then, if the other person holds an immoral or unethical position, gently share the biblical position with her. She may not receive it, but you have done what you could. Then drop it and don’t harp on your position any more.
Here are some other considerations and actions you can take:
How important is the relationship to you? Is it worth preserving?
Listen actively to understand, not to give an answer. Listen with an open mind—you may learn something. On the flip side, be sure you know what and why you hold to your beliefs. Get to the heart of the matter that’s separating you.
Don’t take it personally. I know, I know. I’m the pot calling the kettle black! But chances are, your friend is not attacking you but rather is desiring to prove her rightness.
Block posts from groups that upset your equilibrium on social media.
Unfollow someone for 30 days (they’ll never know, and it’ll give you time to breathe and decide whether you want to keep seeing her posts after that).
Don’t engage in public debates on social media! Those debates tend to take on a life of their own and involve half of your friend list.
If needed, set a time limit on how often or how long you’re willing to engage in face-to-face discussions.
Have a go-to phrase to signal the end of the discussion, such as “Well, we aren’t going to solve the world’s problems today, so let’s set this aside and focus on something happier.”
If you can’t meet at Starbucks without getting offended by something she says, become less available for a meeting.
Let go of the notion of being right. You may, indeed, be right according to Scripture, but if you insist on winning every argument, you will lose your relationships; however, it is possible to give facts and evidence occasionally in response without attacking the person or destroying a relationship.
How do I know, first of all, how difficult it is to separate the person from her beliefs, and, second of all, how difficult it is to truly love someone in spite of her contrary views? Someone very close to me has become increasingly vocal about a value that is completely contrary to Scriptures. I understand, sweet friend, and I’m praying for you.
How can I pray for you during this difficult time? Let me know!
We all do it. We all post picture-perfect family gatherings, gourmet meals, and clean kitchens.
But what lies behind the mask of perfection is the fear that our imperfections will lead to rejection.
Somehow, this social media craze has created the idea that only perfect people can be happy or that only perfect people can have friends.
But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the more we compare our imperfect lives with the perfection seen on social media, the more disenchanted we become with the blessings God has already bestowed on us. And the more we close off opportunities for true connections with other imperfect people.
Lasting happiness doesn’t come from the one family photo when everyone’s smiling in their color-matched outfits. It comes from knowing our families are there to support us through thick and through thin. Pictures don’t capture the messy middle that’s real life, but we need to learn to find happiness in real life even when it’s not perfect. Somehow we’re afraid that if anyone saw what our families looked like and acted like behind closed doors that we’d be called out as frauds.
Sure, it’s fun to use those nifty filters to make our ordinary dinners look more delicious, but behind the mask of Insta-worthy plates lies the loneliness of a table set for one. And we would be horrified if our friends knew that on the nights we didn’t post the perfectly plated meals we ate frozen pizza, cereal, and ice cream straight out of the container.
Somehow we’ve come to the conclusion that if our kitchens aren’t spotless, we can’t be hospitable. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Our friends need to know they’re welcome in our homes no matter how many dishes are in the sink. True friendships thrive when we know we can call a friend at 10 p.m. and ask to sleep on their couch that night. True friendships thrive when we open our doors to the neighbor for coffee even though there are toys all over the living room floor.
The biggest lie we’ve bought into with our perfect social media posts, though, is that only perfect people can find true connections. The truth of the matter is that true connections flourish when we share our imperfections, thus inviting others to share their imperfections.
The façade of social media fosters nothing but the danger and damage of comparison. But the openness of truthful imperfections invites what we’re all really seeking behind our masks—true connections.
So be encouraged to take off the mask of social media perfection and seek the happiness of imperfection.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV
What’s one way you can find happiness in your imperfections to connect with others this week? Drop a comment below or shoot me an email. I’d love to hear from you!
One of the hard things many of you have been called to do in this current season is to homeschool or to school your kids at home.
Some of you may remember, but many of you do not know, that I homeschooled my own children for 14 years. During that time, I blogged, wrote, and spoke on the topics of homeschooling and organization (and the combination). My blog was called “Confessions of an Organized Homeschool Mom,” and I also had a regular column in the Homeschool Enrichment magazine, Heart of the Matter Online, and wrote regularly for The Old Schoolhouse magazine and some other places. All of that writing and speaking was under a different last name—LeBedz, just in case you’re looking for it.
Then life happened. You know, hard stuff. I’ve written about some of it on the blog here.
But with current events being what they are, I’ve been encouraged from several different fronts to refresh and republish my homeschool writing to encourage people right now.
So, that’s going to be happening some here on the blog and over on the homeschooling page on my website (www.bethanylashell.com/homeschooling). Also, I’m working on categorizing my past homeschool blog posts here on this website, so keep checking back to see what’s here to encourage you along the way.
First up is a helpful ebook on the basics of setting up an organized schooling area in your house—even if you don’t have a whole, separate room for it. Originally written 10 years ago (what? I’m feeling old now!), it’s 14 pages jam-packed with tips and tricks for getting you, your kids, and their stuff set up and rolling. And, it’s only $3.99 for the first week. Then it’ll go up to $4.99.
Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite topic—masks! No, I’m not getting political or scientific, but just like we all have our reasons for wearing/not wearing cloth masks, we all have our reasons for wearing the invisible masks that hide our true selves.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been lonely lately. Sure, the whole virus thing hasn’t helped, but even before that, I was missing people. So, I thought I’d fill my evenings and weekends outside of work with busyness.
Surely if I went on enough hikes and attended enough game nights, I would find a bosom friend (think Anne of Green Gables and Diana). Surely if I attended enough Bible studies and volunteered enough, I would be more spiritual, and God would love me more, right? Surely if I ate out every other meal, I would forget that my own dining room table was set for one.
Behind the mask of busyness lies a face of loneliness.
You guessed it. All of that busyness didn’t work. Going to all the game nights and other activities didn’t help to fill the gap left by a friend whom I no longer saw regularly. Surfing Facebook constantly didn’t fill in the gap for a lunch-time heart-to-heart talk with a close girlfriend.
Trying to be more spiritual didn’t make God love me more. He already loves me more than I can imagine. “’Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:10 NIV).
Joining dating sites didn’t garner me a partner to share the ups and downs of daily life. It just emphasized the sting of rejection and loneliness—over and over again.
Eating out all the time just made my waistline expand and my wallet shrink. And I’m still faced with the empty spot at the dining room table.
So, when I remove the mask of busyness, I’m left to face my loneliness head-on. What will I do with it? The ultimate answer to the mask of busyness is Isaiah 46:10,
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
God is the answer for my loneliness. God is the answer for your loneliness, too. Here are five simple, practical steps to combat loneliness:
Seek a closer connection with God. Being alone is the perfect time to schedule dates with the Lord to spend more time reading the Bible and praying. Look around for a Bible study to join—you’ll make some new friends in the process! Read the Psalms. David knew all about feeling alone.
Write it out. Journal your thoughts to God. It is okay to feel lonely. Write about the hard stuff, but also write about the good stuff that He’s done for you in the past. Thank Him for His current provisions for you and for what He will do for you in the future.
Make an effort! It’s so, so hard to reach out (so hard that I dislike that actual phrase—true story), but it is, oh, so worth it. Chances are that others around you are also wishing they had closer connections, but don’t know how to ask for them.
Get involved in a ministry and/or volunteering with those less fortunate.
Remember this season won’t last forever.
God wants us to turn to Him instead of to activities to fill our emptiness. He promises to give us what we need. He is a …
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary [lonely] in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity (Psalm 68:5-6 ESV).
It’s time, don’t you think, to set aside our masks of busyness and seek God. He already knows us inside and out anyway (see Psalm 139). How do you mask your loneliness? Let me know, so I can pray for you!
Remember to subscribe to my email list for a great freebie on finding Jesus in the Storm!
Who’s your crew? You know, your people, your tribe, your group.
A large ship can’t sail with just a captain; it needs a crew, and everyone needs to do his or her job well. Real life is the same; we are not meant to do everything—literally or metaphorically—ourselves. God created us with a rich diversity of talents and personalities for a reason. As the poet John Donne observed 400 years ago:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
I’m convinced that one of the worst ailments of humankind is loneliness. I’m not talking about living alone during a pandemic although that’s no fun. I’m not even talking about wishing you saw friends and family more often because sometimes that can feel like you’re the fifth wheel in a coupled-up world.
I’m talking about that core feeling of aloneness even when you’re surrounded by people. I’m talking about feeling like no one understands what you’re going through. I mean feeling like friends already have too much on their plates to handle your issues too. That’s the worst feeling in the world.
We need to build a group of people we can trust—our own crew community. If the recent quarantines have shown us anything, it’s this. Sure, people often say the wrong thing. Forgive them and look at their intentions instead of hyper focusing on the unintentional hurt.
Be sure you show up for others. If you don’t know what to say, sling an arm around her shoulder. Pray for her—right there with her. Nothing takes away the sting of loneliness like hearing someone pray specifically for you by name.
Another aspect of the crew community is that we were not meant to do everything ourselves. We have different talents and interests, and that makes the world a more beautiful place. How boring would life be if everyone were soccer players and there were no orchestras!
We will become frustrated if we try to take on others’ jobs ourselves. No matter how hard I tried and desired to take care of my leaky kitchen faucet, all I managed to do was strew useless tools and parts over my counter. We need other people. Let’s stop pretending we don’t.
A community is an integral part of spiritual growth as well: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10L:24-25 ESV
We need each other for encouragement, for advice, for comfort, for plumbing problems, for all kinds of things!
I won’t pretend it’s not hard to be a friend and/or to have a friend. It is. And we have to live intentionally, but, oh, sweet friend, it is so worth it! During this time-that-shall-not-be-named, it’s even more important to seek out our crew. Although our times of community may not look the way we want them to right now, we can still be intentional about helping others and accepting help when we need it.
“Healthy spiritual growth requires the presence of the other—the brother, the sister, the pastor, the teacher. A private, proudly isolated life cannot grow. The two or three who gather together in Christ’s name keep each other sane. Spiritual growth cannot take place in isolation. It is not a private thing.” —Eugene Peterson
Don’t we all wish those moments of smooth sailing would last forever? But since they don’t, we’d best be prepared with an anchor to drop at a moment’s notice. Get your navigation, communication, and crew in order for the coming storms!
Remember to subscribe for a FREE “4 Simple Steps to Finding Jesus in the Storm” pdf AND a printable with 9 Bible verses on peace to post where you need it most.
Drop me a line to let me know your best tips for connecting with your crew!