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Living in Grace

I was recently asked to share my “faith story” at our church, which I did this past Sunday.  In preparation for this, I was to write out what my life was like before I came to know Christ, how I came to know Christ, and what my life has been like since.  It is hard to fit [...]

The Storm

During our recent trip to South Carolina, Jeff and I spent an afternoon in Charleston at the open market.  We purchased a picture by artist Jim Booth, titled, “Reflections“, which was a different view of a picture of Battery Row in Charleston that we purchased there many years ago by the same artist, titled, The Storm. I [...]

Landscapes And Life

  My husband, Jeff, and I spent this week in South Carolina on vacation.  We are at Hilton Head staying at a beautiful Marriott Resort with wonderful views of the marsh from our villa.  When we arrived last Saturday, it was warm and sunny, a refreshing change from the cold and snowy conditions we left [...]

Living in Grace

I was recently asked to share my “faith story” at our church, which I did this past Sunday.  In preparation for this, I was to write out what my life was like before I came to know Christ, how I came to know Christ, and what my life has been like since.  It is hard to fit all that into a seven minute talk, but I did.

I learned a few things about myself and my spiritual journey through the process of writing out my story.  The most important, of which, is realizing that my faith story is still going on.  Our spiritual journey begins the day we accept Christ as our Savior and continues until we meet Him face to face, in Heaven.  Everything we experience in between becomes part of our faith story.

If we could write out our faith story in advance, I suppose, we would mention all the wonderful moments that we hope life will bring us.  We would lay out our plan for how our perfect life will unfold and how all the hidden blessings and treasures will be planted along the way, just waiting for us to discover them.

In reality, though, at first glance, my faith story is one of searching for something while not knowing that I was searching or what I was searching for.  Kind of like being lost but since you don’t know you are lost, you continue heading towards what you thought your destination was; only to arrive at that place and realize it is not at all where you were supposed to be.

If I choose to focus on the ”first glance” of my story, it would be one of sadness, hurt, disappointments and failures, guilt, and lots (I mean LOTS) of regret, followed by paralyzing fear and heartaches.

I choose, rather, to focus on the deeper meaning of my story, which is full of love, grace, forgiveness, a peace which transcends all understanding, and the freedom which is provided by my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I retitled this blog, Living in Grace, because my faith story is about living in the grace of God, who turns our sadness into joy, our failures into successes, and uses our brokenness as places for His light to shine through.

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The Storm

During our recent trip to South Carolina, Jeff and I spent an afternoon in Charleston at the open market.  We purchased a picture by artist Jim Booth, titled, “Reflections“, which was a different view of a picture of Battery Row in Charleston that we purchased there many years ago by the same artist, titled, The Storm.

I loved The Storm picture the moment I saw it years ago; I think because the waves crashing into the Battery reveal the power of things we can’t control.  When I saw the Reflections picture last week, it was the perfect reminder of the calm we can experience when we put our faith and trust in God.

These pictures are a perfect visual for the poem I wrote several years ago, soon after I discovered my freedom in Christ and was reflecting back on that journey.  The poem was inspired by a scripture that really spoke to me from 1 Peter 5:6 which says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time”.  Verse 10 of 1 Peter goes on to say, ”And the God of grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast”. (Zondervan NIV Study Bible)

My poem:

I sit on a sandy beach in the quiet of the dawn

Waves gently meet the shore, whispering peace, bringing calm

The sun climbs the horizon; bright colors fill the sky

The beauty overwhelms me; tears slip from my eyes

Today the waves are tranquil; yesterday there was a storm

In its fury I was tossed around; I’d been battered and worn

But wait, in the distance a great vessel I see

Mighty in size, yet the crew is only three

God is the captain; He’s sailing toward me

He’s showering me with grace to cover my need

Jesus is the lifeline dangling from each side

Offering a safe place, an anchor for my life

The Holy Spirit waits patiently for me to come on board

Then in His mercy fills me till I hunger and thirst no more

This mighty ship has come to me with everything I need

I fall to my knees before my King. At last I am free!

 Being free in Christ does not mean that life is perfect and we are free of troubles; it means that we have the power, through the Holy Spirit, to remain in the perfect peace that only God can provide in the midst of our troubles.  The only question is…are we using this power which is provided to us?

 

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Landscapes And Life

 

Marsh at Shelter Cove, Hilton Head, South Carolina

My husband, Jeff, and I spent this week in South Carolina on vacation.  We are at Hilton Head staying at a beautiful Marriott Resort with wonderful views of the marsh from our villa.  When we arrived last Saturday, it was warm and sunny, a refreshing change from the cold and snowy conditions we left in the north.

This morning, however, the scenery is changing as storms are moving in.  The landscape which appeared beautiful, clear and sunny all week is now covered by a thick layer of fog which completely changes the view from our villa.

 

As I stare out at the foggy marsh I am reminded how similar our lives are to this landscape.

Foggy Marsh, Shelter Cover, Hilton Head, South Carolina

 

We all have good times when things are calm and peaceful, just like the clear and sunny days here.  Everyone faces hard times when life seems to be throwing one challenge after another on top of us, like the fog settling in on this marsh.  Then there are the stormy days when life becomes so overwhelming that we can’t see or feel anything except the pain and hurt of the situation, like thick clouds and pounding rain.

Stormy Marsh, Shelter Cove, Hilton Head, South Carolina

 

As I watch the appearance of this landscape change from calm to foggy to stormy and then back to calm, it occurs to me that the landscape itself didn’t change at all.  The water is still where the water was, the marsh fields remain in the same spots, and the homes over on the other side are still there.  Bad weather comes and changes sunny and clear to dark and foggy, calm water to rough water, and gentle breezes to stiff winds.  Although the appearance changes drastically, the landscape remains the same.

The same is true of our lives IF we have built our foundation on God and His promises.  Good times, hard times, and absolutely devastating times will always be a part of life, there is nothing we can do to avoid them.  We can, however, control how we respond to these situations IF we choose to place our trust in God by accepting His Son, Jesus Christ, as our personal Savior AND choose to claim our freedom in Christ which is provided to us as a benefit of our salvation.

Although I accepted my salvation at the age of 12, I didn’t claim my freedom in Christ until I was almost 40.  Attempting to live in my own strength all those years in between resulted in failure and being battered by every storm.

My friend, have you chosen salvation AND claimed your freedom in Christ? Salvation guarantees your eternity in Heaven, claiming your freedom in Christ enables peaceful living here on earth.

Next post,  “The Storm”

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Starting Over – At The Beginning

Hello Friends,

It has been quite a long time since I have done any writing or blogging and, honestly, I miss it.  The one thing that has kept me from writing for so long is not knowing how or where to start again.  A lot has happened in my life over the past few years and some of it is very hard to make sense of myself, let alone share it with others.  But after much pondering and praying about this, one thing has become very clear to me; it doesn’t matter how or where I start again, only that I do.

So – here I am, starting over, at the beginning.

God has taught me so many things over the past ten years which have enabled me to really grow spiritually.  I firmly believe that God teaches us so that we can teach others.  1 Peter 4:10 says, “As each one has received a special gift, use it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

My ministry, Military Families Ministry (MFM) and my book, Battles of the Heart: Boot Camp for Military Moms were both created in an effort to share God’s love and grace with others.

MFM continues to grow and have a positive impact on the lives of service members and their families, most of whom I will never meet.

When I self-published my book, I said if I could just help one other military mom get through her child’s first deployment, I would consider it a success.  It may not be on the New York Times Best Sellers list, but I have received many email messages from military moms around the country telling me that I put into words and onto paper exactly how they feel and it brought them comfort to know they are not alone.  I’ve heard from many that the lessons in the Boot Camp, Part II of my book can and should be applied to any situation life throws at us which causes emotional distress.  In fact, many have told me that my book’s subtitle should have been, Boot Camp for Life rather than Boot Camp for Military Moms.

It’s too late to change the sub-title on my book, but I did name this blog, Boot Camp for Life, because it is all about life issues.  I’m writing again because God continues to teach me and grow my faith through difficult situations.  Learning how to rest in His perfect peace during stormy times is a difficult Christian discipline, but it is a truly amazing gift that God makes available to everyone.

My prayer is that by sharing how God is working in my life, you will find hope, strength, and courage to endure in whatever challenges you are currently dealing with.

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Holidays and Memories

Candles for my mother and grandsons
It has been my tradition for many years to decorate for Christmas the weekend following Thanksgiving.  In keeping with this tradition, we got our live tree on Friday and by mid-afternoon Saturday we had the tree trimmed, house decorated, boxes stored back in the garage, and house cleaned and vaccumed.  Needless to say, both my husband, Jeff, and I were passed out in the family room by early evening.

Holidays are a wonderful time of year but often times can be difficult emotionally as memories of loved ones who’ve passed flood our minds.  I’ve fought back and wiped tears that escaped several times over the past few days.  Yesterday at church, children of all ages filled the stage and sang Away in a Manger.  I felt my emotions tugging at me as that was my mother’s favorite Christmas hymn.  The tugging turned to tear filled eyes as I watched the little ones swaying on the stage as they tried to sing the words.  I couldn’t help but think that Tristan and Easton, the two grandsons we lost in 2010 and 2011, would be about that age and what fun they would be for Christmas.  When I allow my mind to go back to that ten month period of time in which I lost my mother to cancer and lost two grand-babies who I never got to hold–the grief is fresh and still causes my heart to ache.

This morning, alone in the house, I sat in my family room and stared at one of my mother’s favorite Christmas decorations, a ceramic Bible with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus on top with the Christmas story.  My eyes went back and forth from that piece to my mother’s picture and the tears came.  I miss her so much.  I decided to place her picture beside her special Christmas decoration and added three candles to the display; one for my mother, Dorothy Mae Zeller; and one for each of my grandsons, Tristan Joshua Nearhoof and Easton Tower Nearhoof, who are all together with Jesus in Heaven.

I remind myself that it is okay to shed tears for lost loved ones as I never want to forget them.  When a memory comes to mind, the tears may flow but instead of holding onto the heart-ache from the loss, I try to smile at the wonderful memories that I will have forever.

If you are missing a loved one this holiday season, light a candle for them and cherish sweet memories of them.

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Thankfulness: First Step to Healthy Emotions

I had a hip replacement at the end of August and my recovery is much slower than I had planned.  My goal was to be back into my exercise routine by now but I am still walking with a cane.  I get frustrated with the slow progress and when I focus on the things I can’t do yet, I could easily sit down and have a grand old pity party for myself.

As I watched the news coverage this week of the total devastation in New York and New Jersey as a result of Super Storm Sandy, I was reminded of just how much I have to be thankful for.  It was heart-breaking to hear about a mother
whose two young boys were swept out of her arms by the rushing water and how
many lives this storm has claimed. Seeing the pictures of homes washed away or reduced to a pile of rubble really made me step back and ask myself what I am complaining about?  I am alive and healthy; I have a home, food, clothing, and electricity, so what if my hip hurts now and then.

Our natural human response when things don’t go the way we planned is to focus on the bad stuff and we often lose sight of all the good things we have to be thankful for.  One of the first assignments a counselor gives a new patient is to make a list of everything they are grateful for, so they can focus on those things instead of the issue at hand.

There are simple truths to consider about any situation we encounter:

  • Everyone experiences difficult times sooner or later—it’s not just you.
  • Life is not fair; no one ever promised it would be so don’t expect it.
  • Focusing on the negative consumes you in a vicious emotional cycle.
  • Choosing to focus on the positive will enable you to keep things in perspective.

I learned this lesson the hard way.  As I look back on the times in my life when I
made poor decisions—ones that produced life-long consequences—every instance
was the result of me searching for something I didn’t have, rather than being
thankful for what I did.

Thankfulness is a great first step to maintaining good emotional health.

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Meet Your Boot Camp for Life Guide

I begin Boot Camp for Life by telling you a little about myself as I believe it is important for you to know me and some of the experiences that have shaped the person I have become.

I used to call 1982 the year of my life because of the significant events that happened that year (mostly because of choices I had made).  I was a senior in high school, got pregnant in January, married in March, turned 18 in April, graduated in June, and gave birth to my first child in October.  That’s a lot for one year!  The thing that stressed me out the most was telling my mother that I was pregnant, which by the way, my sister ended up doing because I just sat there and cried.

Eleven years later—three kids, full-time job, failing marriage—feeling like the world was caving in on me, I ended my marriage, moved to a new city with my children, and started a new job.  A year and a half later I remarried and truly believed I was starting a new life (I hadn’t yet learned the lesson on how the old life follows you).

By 1995, at the ripe old age of 31, I had already dealt with growing up in a single parent home, teenage pregnancy, marital problems, divorce, second marriage, and a new blended family.  My husband and I have dealt with a lot of challenges over the years, but we worked—sometimes fought—our way through them and just celebrated our 18th anniversary.

2010 surpassed 1982 for significant life events.  In April, my husband and I made the decision to accept relocation to Colorado for his job with a move date in July.  My mother was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer in May, my son and his wife lost their first baby boy in June, we moved in July, and I returned to Pennsylvania in August to be with my mother who died on September 6th.  In one year, I lost my mother and a grandson, moved across country, became unemployed, and, for the first time in my adult life, I had no kids in the house.

The past two years have proven to be quite adventurous as well.  I am now Co-founder and Director of Military Families Ministry which is a non-profit organization that supports service members and their families.  I am also the author of Battles of the Heart: Boot Camp for Military Moms.

The lessons I will share with you on this blog are the result of my personal experiences with situations that I have gone through and, by the grace of God, learned from.

 

 

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Welcome to Boot Camp for Life

The most common response to the boot-camp style training guide in part II of my book, Battles of the Heart: Boot Camp for Military Moms, was that the lessons can be applied to any situation in life—not just those encountered by military families.  I completely agree.

Life seems to produce an unlimited supply of issues that break through the door and enter our small piece of the universe.  Often times these situations kidnap our emotions and hold us hostage.  I experienced a very hostile takeover of my emotions when my son was serving his first deployment in Iraq; overwhelmed with fear and sadness, I truly felt like I was a prisoner of my own emotions.

Every traumatic event we encounter in life triggers a cycle of emotional responses.  We all handle these situations differently and some of us tend to be more emotional than others.  I will be the first to admit (and I am quite certain that my husband and children will agree) that I can be over-the-top at times.  While expressing our feelings is very healthy, allowing our emotions to control our thoughts and dictate our actions…not so much.

The good news is we can learn how to manage our emotional health and be prepared for any situation that comes our way.  As is the case with almost everything we do in life, training is required to break old habits and create new behaviors.  The first thing you do when you start a new job is receive your benefits package and undergo specific training for your job.  When enlistees join the Armed Forces, the first place they are sent is basic training—boot camp—where they are trained for their new life in the service.

When, and if, you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you received a benefits package and training guide for your new life as a Christian.  Unfortunately, many Christians do not understand their benefits package and, therefore, are not trained or equipped to handle life’s challenges as God intended.

The focus of Boot Camp for Life is to dive into your benefits package and training guide so that you can claim the identity you were given at the moment you accepted Christ as your Savior.  Understanding and claiming my identity in Christ literally changed my life.  My prayer is that by sharing my experiences with you, I may help you uncover your identity in Christ and start living the life that God designed for you.

1 Peter 4:10 says;  “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (Zondervan NIV Study Bible)

I hope to be a good steward of God’s grace.

Welcome to Boot Camp for Life!

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Pure, Simple, Straight-from-the-Heart

Greetings My Friend,

I must confess to you that I am giggling as I sit here with my third cup of coffee and completely re-write today’s post.  I spent the weekend writing, re-writing, and re-writing again (I think you get my point) the post that would launch my new blog.  My plan was to explain why I hadn’t written a post in several months, why the blog’s appearance got a makeover, and the reason that I chose to shift the focus of the blog from military family issues to life in general. I had actually accomplished all of these things perfectly in a 477 word post which I believe would have passed any editor’s critique.

Now you may be wondering why you are not reading that post.

The funny thing, and the reason for my giggles, is that my well-intended and carefully-thought out plan was just that—my plan.

My bed-time prayer last night was that God would give me inspirational words to write and people who would be interested enough to read them.  I awoke this morning with a fresh perspective and a reminder that my original objective for this blog’s makeover was to create a place where I could chat with you from my heart.   I got so focused on producing an informational, grammatically correct, and engaging post that I somehow misplaced the primary intention—which I truly believe is God’s plan.

God’s grace has touched me many times over the years and this morning’s touch of grace made my heart smile and honestly makes me giggle.  I get so wrapped up in what I think I have to do that I completely lose sight of what God wants me to do.  I must simply laugh at myself when I think about how many times (far too many to count) I’ve attempted to control situations and plotted to devise the best plan to fix everything.  Yet, time and time again, when I stop and pray about it—God ALWAYS provides the answer which NEVER requires my stressing out or scheming.

So, here it is; pure, simple, and straight from my heart.  This blog will not be the
production of a perfect writer—for I am not a perfect writer.  I will not guarantee grammatical correctness and my posts may not pass an editor’s critique. I will, however, promise to share my heart—openly and honestly.

Proverbs 16:3 says; Commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed. (Zondervan NIV Study Bible), I commit this blog to the Lord and ask Him to lead us.

I want to make you smile and, sometimes, laugh. I might cause a tear to slip from your eye or perhaps the flood gates that hold back your tears may burst and send you running for a box of tissues.  My desire is to have fun and tug at your heart.

I hope you will post comments and share also because I know that God brings friends into fellowship for a purpose and there is so much I can learn from you.

 

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Boot Camp for Life blog launches tomorrow!

Stop by and visit!

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