My Blog

chalkboard vignette

 

When I was growing up, my most cherished memories include sitting around the table with my family after dinner, swapping stories about our day and reminiscing over favorite times. Sometimes we’d sit for an hour or more, not wanting our conversation to end (or to do the dishes!). That’s why I refer to my blog as the Kitchen Table. I’d like for you to pull up a chair and enjoy sharing stories around my virtual kitchen table. I hope you’ll browse through my latest blog posts and connect with me by leaving comments. My prayer for you is to be encouraged and inspired by the words I share here each week, without even having to help with the dishes. 🙂

Finding Success Outside of Your Comfort Zone

Posted by on Mar 27, 2015 in Blog, career, commitment, courage, faith, fellowship, perseverance | 10 comments

“…comfort never leads to excellence. What it takes to become great at your craft is practice, but not just any kind of practice—the kind that hurts, that stretches and grows you.”

~ Jeff Goins, The Art of Work

My zany writer friends!

My zany writer friends!

As I sit here at my desk, I’m torn. I need to be working. After all, that’s what pays the bills. But a story is stirring within me and I think maybe I should put my work aside for a while to let my heart spill forth. This is the hard part. It would be so much easier to get back to the work at hand—drawing house plans. I’ve been a residential designer for almost thirty years and know what to do when I sit down to work.

• Design a house that the client wants within their desired square footage
• Dimension and note the floor plan and add all of the door and window sizes
• Draw all four sides of the exterior of the house
• Send to client for approval

I don’t know how many times I’ve gone through this process, but it’s enough that it comes as second nature. Unfortunately, that’s not how writing works for me. I’ve never been gifted with the ability to pour forth perfect prose without stressing over it for hours or even days. So why do I do it?

Over four years ago I felt God leading me to write. I had no idea why, and sometimes the question still begs an answer, but I was obedient. God began opening doors that I never knew were there.

Me, Vonda and Celeste

Me, Vonda and Celeste Vaughan, who kept me from going home from my first conference

After a friend mentioned twice in one conversation that I should write a book, I confessed to her that I had felt God calling me to write, but had no idea where to start. She excitedly reminded me of a speaker who’d come to our church several years earlier, Vonda Skelton, and suggested I contact her through Facebook. I did and had a response from Vonda that same afternoon, inviting me to check out her local writers critique group.

Wow. God didn’t waste time opening that door.

Me and Marcia

Marcia Moston wearing a headdress at our last writers conference. She’s been a great mentor to me.

I began attending each month and tried my hand at writing. The critique they gave me was much kinder than I’m sure I deserved, but they were also faithful to show me little ways I could improve my writing. These little ways added up and my writing did improve greatly. The love and encouragement that emanated from that sweet group gave me the courage to continue.

We even got to have lunch with Todd Starnes of FOX national news

We even got to have lunch with Todd Starnes of FOX national news

That next spring I attended a large writers’ conference, having no idea why I’d spent so much money to attend something I knew nothing about. I felt like a lost child and almost went home within an hour of getting there. It was the first conference I’d gone to by myself and I was questioning my sanity. Was this really God’s will for me?

me with Jim Rubart

Me with Jim Rubart, a fantastic marketing teacher

But just as they’d done in my small writers’ group, the people at this conference introduced me to a whole new world I never knew existed; one where professional writers, editors, publishers and teachers willingly helped me learn the ropes of this mind-boggling industry. There wasn’t a sense of competition or hiding professional secrets. They were all there to help launch, teach and lead writers. I’d never experienced anything like it and gained enough courage to start a blog, enter contests and submit articles.

BRMCWC award

Receiving one of my awards at Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference

My second year at that conference God confirmed I was headed the right direction by having one of my devotions win third place in their contest. The next year my devotion won first place and my blog won second. I was reeling from the fact that someone of a professional stature thought my work was good enough for an award.

Guideposts article

My Guideposts article

Shortly after returning home from last year’s conference, I received a call from an editor of Guideposts magazine wanting to publish (and pay me for) an article I’d submitted. I was overwhelmed; hardly able to believe a portion of my story was going to become part of a magazine I’d loved since I was a teen.

God keeps stretching me and confirmations keep coming.

Just last month I received an e-mail from another editor from Guideposts asking if I’d like to submit an idea for a blog post to be featured in their online site. I did and, amazingly, it was published last week. 

Me and Celeste with Ann Voskamp

My friend, Celeste Vaughan, and I got to meet Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts!

I don’t say any of this to brag, but to let you know how faithful God is. He took my small step of obedience and even smaller seed of faith and brought confirmation from places I never expected. He surrounded me with new and precious writer friends who struggle with the same questions and lack of confidence I do. They lift me up and I’m privileged to do the same for them.

A couple of years ago I was frustrated because I felt the learning curve was too steep for me to conquer.

“I just want to draw houses. I know how to do that,” I complained to Vonda.”This is too hard. I’ll never get it!”

She wisely reminded me that I once didn’t know how to draw houses, either. But with practice and persistence it became easier for me.

She was right, of course. Nobody is born with a skill. It takes practice, and usually lots of it, to become good at anything.

Allume Conference

So much fun with my friends at the Allume Conference

If you feel God is leading you into an unknown territory, ask Him to bring you a mentor. As much as we hate to ask others for help, God knows we need someone to walk that unfamiliar path with us. There’s probably someone closer than you think who can open doors into a whole new world He’d like to introduce you to. Step out in faith. Remember, comfort never leads to excellence. And you’ll probably gain lots of new friends along the way!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to that story.

Has God ever called you into an unknown territory? I’d love to hear how He’s provided for you when you stepped out in faith.

What’s Stopping You?

Posted by on Mar 20, 2015 in Blog, family, fear, hard decisions, motherhood, worry | 0 comments

Trusting God is an act of worship.

~ quote from a church sign

Photo by Joshua Earle Unsplash

Photo by Joshua Earle Unsplash

I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. I’d been attending a conference at The Cove in North Carolina, led by Ann Graham Lotz, where she was teaching through the book of Joshua. I was familiar with the story of the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings, but I’d never heard the story of God stopping the flow of the Jordan River at flood stage to allow the Jews to cross over into the Promised Land.

Wow. God not only miraculously parted the Red Sea to free His people from slavery, He also cut off the water supply to the Jordan so they could experience the great work of God themselves. Rather than relying only on the stories their parents’ relayed to them, God showed up again, proving He was still there, ready to offer protection and victory. But first, they had to cross the Jordan.

At the end of her teaching that day, Ann asked if we’d crossed over into our Promised Land; the land of blessings God has for each of us. I was sure of my salvation, but couldn’t get a peace about crossing my own Jordan River. Have I done all that God has asked of me?

That evening, as I reflected on the days’ lesson, I knew God was trying to get my attention. The turmoil in my spirit was relentless.

The next morning our group convened once again for a question and answer session with Ann. About half-way through our time together, one woman asked if Ann ever used visual illustrations to enhance her teaching. Ann immediately remembered debating about using one on the previous day’s lesson, but at the last minute had decided against it. Then she proceeded to draw the presentation she’d left out.

She drew two squiggly horizontal lines to represent the Jordan River; one side labeled the Promised Land and the other wilderness. She explained that even though all of us long for the Promised Land, only a few obediently cross it when God calls us to do so. They are the ones who make it into thier Promised Land.  Then there are those who come from the wilderness to the edge of the bank of the Jordan and eventually turn and head back, preferring their previous life to the fear of what may lie ahead.

In the next illustration she explained that there are others who get through the wilderness, but once faced with crossing the Jordan, pace back and forth along the river, not able to surrender wholly to God’s will for them. These people may be holding onto something so dear, they’re afraid to release it into God’s hands.

me and elise kissing baby jacob

Bam! There it was– my children; six-year old Elise and three-year old Jacob. That’s who I didn’t want to give up. I didn’t trust Him enough to take care of them. And the only way to make it into my Promised Land of victory and blessing was to give them to God.

As soon as the session was over, Ann stayed for those of us who wanted to talk with her. Anxiously standing in line to share what I’d just learned from her illustration, I still didn’t see how I could let go of my kids.

When I finally stepped in front of Ann and explained my heart of distrust, she looked at me tenderly and said, “Oh, Carol. God loves those children more than you do. Don’t hang onto them and not allow the fullness of God’s blessings in your life or theirs.”

elise and jacob at the beach after asthma attack

Tears spilled down my cheeks as I took in her words. I’d never thought of that before. As impossible as it seemed, I knew God loved my children more than I did and was asking me to surrender them to Him. Ann prayed with me to have the courage to do just that.

When she was finished she looked at me with her piercing blue eyes.”I want to warn you–when you come down from this mountain, Satan is going to test you. Don’t give in. Remember, instead, to give it to God.”

I was relieved to have finally surrendered myself to God and didn’t think too much about that statement until the next evening.

I’d rounded up my children for bath time and was happily talking and singing with them when I felt a large lump in my six-year old daughter’s chest. My blood ran cold as Ann’s words echoed through my mind. I had a decision to make. Was I going to hang onto this paralyzing fear, or was I going to surrender my child to Him. Thoughts of Abraham laying his son Isaac on the altar of sacrifice exploded into my mind. Could I do the same?

elise and jacob asleep on the couch

After wrestling with these thoughts, I silently told God these children were His, and I meant it. They’d been given to me and my husband as a gift and I knew He had a purpose and a plan for each of them. Suddenly a flood of peace washed over me. I knew God was in control of the situation.

I’m pleased to say everything turned out okay for Elise. There was no reason for concern and the lump eventually went away on its own.

But I’ve never been the same. Sure, I still have anxious moments when I worry about my kids, but I know who holds their future and when those worries surface, I remind myself that He loves them most.

elise and jacob playing in kiddie pool

 

Have you ever had a moment when God asked you to completely surrender someone or something to Him? I’d love to hear your story.

The Power of Words

Posted by on Mar 9, 2015 in Blog, Front Porch, love for children, motherhood | 0 comments

The way you speak to your kids becomes their inner voice.
~ Jack Canfield, Co-creator of Chicken Soup for the Soul series

Elise and me in front of our new home site

Elise and me in front of our new home site

Tock, thock, thwack! Ugh! I couldn’t believe the builders were already hammering away on our house at 7:30 in the morning. I quickly got the kids dressed and fed, then picked up my one- month-old son, Jacob.

“Elise,” I called to my three-year-old daughter. “Let’s go play outside a little while.”

We walked out on the front porch where I sat down and swayed in the swing with Jacob while she played happily in the yard.

I was exhausted from having a newborn and moving into our newly built home in the space of only a month. Construction on our back screen porch wasn’t quite complete, so our builder, Jerry, was there trying to finish up. Because the hammering thundered in every area of the house, I thought it’d be a little quieter outside.

A couple of hours later Jerry was still pounding away on the back porch, but the stifling summer heat was becoming too much for Jacob. I called Elise and told her we needed to go in.

“Make sure you move your tricycle out of the driveway,” I instructed. “Jerry could come flying around the corner and run over it.”

Elise turned to me, eyes wide with bewilderment. “Jerry can fly?”

I laughed out loud as I envisioned our tall, lanky contractor—complete with ball cap and tool belt—sprouting wings and flying down our driveway and into the street.

“I meant Jerry might pull out of the driveway too fast and not see your tricycle in the way,” I explained, still chuckling from her literal interpretation.

She didn’t seem convinced.

Elise and Jacob

Elise and Jacob

I’ve enjoyed telling that story many times over the last 18 years, especially to Elise. When I unconsciously used that metaphor, it never occurred to me she wouldn’t understand it.

Words have power. That one word—flying—changed my daughter’s perception of Jerry. It’s a sobering thought to realize the things we say to our children have so much influence on their little minds. I wonder what else I may have said over the years that could have been misunderstood by them they may not have asked me about.

words block

It’s important for us to be careful what words we use when speaking to our kids. Most of the time it’s harmless misconceptions, but sometimes…those words can make an eternal difference in their mindset, especially as they get older.

Words kill. Words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.
~Proverbs 18:21 (The Message)

If your child is struggling with negative feelings about him or herself, take the time to sit down and talk. It may be that something you’ve inadvertently said has encouraged detrimental self-talk to develop in their minds. I know I’ve been guilty of using the wrong words more than a few times when addressing my kids. But when I’ve realized what I said made an unfavorable impact, talking it out usually helps them understand the true intent of my words.

Jacob saluting

Jacob

 

What things have your children misunderstood that caused a chuckle or two? Please share your cute kid quotes!

An Unlikely Fairy Tale

Posted by on Feb 16, 2015 in Blog, career, change, courage, discouragement, failure | 6 comments

If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere. ~
Frank A. Clark quoted in Hello Failure! Thoughts for the Graduate

Tears spilled down my cheeks as I drove to work that January morning. Crying out to God, I begged Him to give me a way out of my job. I didn’t have it in me to face another day, much less weeks, months and possibly years of walking into that office. The hopelessness was suffocating.

blueprint

I’d been excited to get a part-time job at an architectural firm while still in college. This was my dream—drawing plans of buildings and seeing them come to fruition. Even though the first few months there were intimidating, I looked forward to the assignments I worked on each day. After graduating with my degree, I was hired full time. Everything seemed to be falling into place.

But the job wasn’t all creativity and designs as I’d hoped. I got to work on some gorgeous homes, but most days I worked on commercial buildings. That wasn’t too bad until our firm landed the contract to design or remodel Bi-Lo grocery stores. Suddenly I was spending every day drawing rows of shelving, coolers and video rental counters. Almost every store had virtually the same plan, just scaled to a different square footage, so I was basically copying the same thing over and over again. Back then it was all done by hand, so there weren’t many shortcuts.

BI-LO Grocery

After I’d been there about three years, Bi-Lo headquarters asked our firm to provide a draftsman to work at its corporate office for a few months. Unfortunately, I was chosen. Now I spent every working hour in a dark, windowless room drawing Bi-Lo stores exclusively. Suffice it to say, I was not the most enthusiastic employee. Though I completed my work and did a good job, inside I was withering away.

Shortly after I finished my Bi-Lo gig, my sister-in-law, Sandra, and I began talking about opening a gift shop. We are both creative types and love decorating and design, so we began implementing a plan to make it happen. But so far, everything we’d looked at renting or buying didn’t seem feasible. My frustration mounted.

On that cold and rainy January morning, 1990 had just begun and I was in the same situation. I didn’t see any way of making my dream come true.

But not long after, God opened a door. A floral and gift shop on Main Street in my small town, just a few blocks from home, came up for sale. Even though Sandra and I had no prior experience arranging flowers, we were eager students. We negotiated a deal with the owner and hired a floral designer to train us.

florist

By March of 1990 we both eagerly turned in our resignations and started a new life that was one crazy adventure after another. We loved it! Not only did we own our own business, we got to work together and be creative every single day.

It wasn’t all a bed of roses, pun intended, though. Many weeks we’d work 60-80 hours. The holidays were exhausting, especially Valentine’s Day and Mothers Day. Some days we even worked through the night, never even getting a chance to go home.

Then financial problems developed. Because we’d been too trusting and allowed our customers to open an account without a credit card to back it up, we had a hard time getting many of them to pay their bills. That, coupled with having to guess how many flowers we’d sell every day and ordering the right number of gift items to have on hand was a daily gamble. Many days our gamble didn’t pay off.

After five years of pouring our heart and soul into the business, we decided it was time to sell—not only for financial reasons, but for our families as well. We both had husbands and small children who needed us at home.

piggy back ride

Although it sounds like a sad ending to a would-be fairy tale, it’s not. During those times of struggle, working hard, and trying to pay our bills, God drew me closer to Him than I’d ever been before. I began reading my Bible and going to church more, desperate to understand why He’d brought me to this place of difficulty. God pursued me during one of the most painful times of my life, and I’ve never been the same. He taught me many lessons that I’ve never forgotten—the most important one being that even though God opens a door, that doesn’t mean He’s calling us to an easier life. Many times He uses that opportunity to grow us in our faith. As James 1: 2-3 says, Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. It may not have been evident at the time, but this trial did bring a spiritual joy I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

woman reading Bible

Are you desperately searching for a new way of life? Do you have a dream that you’ve almost given up on? Don’t give up. Trust God to reveal His plan to you. Be diligent in prayer and read your Bible. Even though it may not end up being the fairy tale you’ve planned, trust that He has something even better in mind.

Have you anticipated a fairy tale when God had something better in mind? I’d love to hear about it!

Need Meaningful Christmas Gift Ideas? Take Some Hints From The Wise Men

Posted by on Dec 10, 2014 in Blog, Christmas | 5 comments

“All the Christmas presents in the world are worth nothing without the presence of Christ.”
~ David Jeremiah

Christmas door

Photo by Grant Macdonald

Since the day after Thanksgiving, the chaos of Christmas has swooped in and taken over my life. The Black Friday shopping (yes, I’m one of the crazy ones), festooning the house with garlands and wreaths, putting up two trees, ordering Christmas cards, and wrapping presents along with all of the other routines of life has me a little bit stressed. In spite of it all, however, the chaos reminds me of the beautiful gift our God gave us so many years ago, and I rejoice.

There’s a tradition I started a few years back that has helped my family and me stay more focused on the true reason for our celebration. This idea was pretty simple to implement and made the holiday much sweeter. I’d love to give credit to its author, but cannot remember where I saw it. However, I’m grateful she shared this idea.

I love the idea of giving three presents as is represented by the gifts of the magi, but my love language is gift-giving, so I had a hard time limiting myself within those parameters. Then I heard about a tradition one mom had started when she bought three gifts to be given with the others. They represented gold, frankincense and myrrh, but with a little spin. With the exception of gold, most of us have no idea what these gifts are. But there’s a special meaning behind each one.

magi

After doing a little research, I found that frankincense is aromatic incense used when offering prayers to God. In the Jewish temple, the priests would perpetually burn the frankincense in front of the veil to the Holy of Holies, according to God’s instruction. Since the veil was torn when Christ died, we no longer need to burn incense to make our prayers pleasing to God. Christ took care of that. The frankincense represents bringing us closer to the Lord. Therefore, I choose a gift for each of my children and my husband that I believe will strengthen their relationship with Him. My 18-year-old son enjoys anything written by the men of Duck Dynasty, and since they always include spiritual lessons, it’s a good resource to give him stronger spiritual footing. I gave my husband a large print leather Bible last year so he can actually see the text now. Having recently hit 50, he didn’t even resent the insinuation of being considered an old man. My 21-year-old daughter is really into music, so I’ve given her a contemporary Christian CD along with a devotional book for young women. It can be a movie with a spiritual lesson, a book or anything to draw your family closer to Christ. Try to think of a gift that will fit each family member’s personality. If they won’t use it, they miss the blessing of the gift.

wrapped package

Myrrh was used as incense as well as a spice used in the embalming process. Because of its beautiful fragrance, it was also used as perfume. The gift I choose here is a favorite cologne, perfume, lotion or body wash for each member of my family. The fragrance should remind us of Christ’s death and resurrection.

The third gift is gold. This represents a gift reserved for kings and has incredible value. This is their big gift, something special they’ve most likely asked for and want most of all. In the past I’ve given my husband a special tool he’s wanted, my son has received items to help rebuild his latest Ford Bronco project and my daughter loves receiving that perfect purse she requested.

Finally, to set these gifts apart I wrap them according to what each one symbolizes. Frankincense is derived from the milky white sap of the Boswellia tree, so that gift is wrapped in white paper. Because myrrh is made from a reddish resin, that gift is wrapped in a muted red paper. The gift of gold is, of course, wrapped in gold paper.

Because these are distinctly wrapped and set together away from the other gifts, it states their importance. The first year I did this the kids were dying of curiosity, wondering what made these three so special. When I finally explained their significance, they thought it was pretty cool and now look forward to finding those three packages every year.

Manger scene

On Christmas morning we save these gifts to open last, reflecting on the meaning behind each one. It makes us stop and think of the precious life that was given in place of our sin-stained one; to remember the reason we are celebrating this blessed event.

If you’re looking for a way to point your family toward Jesus Christmas morning, give this a try. You’ll most likely start something that brings even more anticipation for this special day.

Is there a Christmas tradition your family implements each year to help bring Jesus back into focus? I’d love to learn more new ideas!

Undaunted

Posted by on Nov 19, 2014 in Blog | 8 comments

…my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for Him is a waste of time or effort.
~ 1 Corinthians 15:58 (The Message)

Photo by Joshua Earle Unsplash

Photo by Joshua Earle Unsplash

Why am I doing this? What difference does it make? Does God really want me to continue this endeavor?

Have you ever asked yourself these questions? I know I have, plenty of times, especially as it pertains to my writing. A few weeks ago I was struggling with why God continues to call me to this task. As I met with a couple of writer friends, Ellen and Beth, I shared my frustration.

“I don’t know why God compels me to keep writing,” I whined. “Why did He allow my story to be published in Guideposts magazine if He still won’t give me a true focus? Besides, my story doesn’t even have any spiritual application. It’s just a silly story about how I met my husband, John. What’s the point?”

Ellen and Beth tried to encourage me.

“It doesn’t have to have an outright spiritual lesson for it to benefit someone.” Ellen said.

Beth nodded her head in agreement.

I still wasn’t convinced.

Later that afternoon I met with two other ladies from our writers group to finalize plans for our workshop that Saturday. During the course of the meeting our chaplain asked if I’d do a devotion during the workshop. I agreed, but wasn’t at all sure if I’d have anything inspiring to share.

The following morning I started panicking a bit about what I’d say. As I drove to an appointment, I prayed God would give me something to encourage the workshop attendees. After all, I was on empty. How could I encourage other writers when I was so discouraged? A few thoughts came to mind that pertained to my Guideposts article. Even though they weren’t earth-shattering, I thought it would probably be enough.

Later that afternoon when I returned home, I was flipping through the mail and noticed an unusual envelope addressed with beautiful handwriting. I turned it over and saw a stamp that read:

THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS HAS NOT CENSORED THIS ITEM; THEREFORE THE DEPARTMENT DOES NOT ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY FOR ITS CONTENTS.

I hesitated, thinking there might be a possibility of anthrax in the envelope. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to open it anyway.

letter

As I looked again at the sender’s name, it had a ring of familiarity to it. Carefully tearing open the envelope, I pulled out a three page, neatly written letter from a prison inmate. He introduced himself as a member of my former church, having joined after he was incarcerated. I’d never met him, but do remember our pastor mentioning him several times over the years.

As I read on, he explained the motivation behind sending his letter. Below is an excerpt:

“My reason for writing is to thank you for the wonderful story you wrote about how you and John met and began dating…. My favorite sentence from your amazing story is just three words – “John was undaunted”. It’s hard to believe that such a short sentence can be so powerful. He had asked you out on a date twice and been denied. He could have easily given up and moved on with his life. I’m sure there were plenty of other girls he could have asked out. He didn’t give up on trying to date you. I’m glad he didn’t. This isn’t just a love story, it’s a story about faith, patience, and perseverance! I was deeply touched by your story, and I just wanted to thank you for sharing it.”

The letter went on to say that he’d been incarcerated for 22 years and was coming up for parole in January or February 2015. The only thing he requested of me is that I pray for him. I realized the reason those three words resonated in his spirit was because he wanted to have the same attitude as he approached his parole hearing. I believe this story inspired him to be undaunted by his slim chance of parole—to have faith.

Wow.

Tears pooled around my eyes as I continued reading. This wasn’t just a letter from an inmate; it was a letter from God, assuring me I was on the right path. My “silly” little story about how I met my husband had a spiritual depth to it I’d never imagined.

prison bars

I excitedly shared this story with the group of writers attending the workshop the following Saturday. The encouragement they received from the devotion was palpable. God is so good to give us what we need when we are working on His behalf.

If you’re discouraged in whatever God has called you to do, don’t give up. Stand firm and ask Him to give you the reassurance you need to continue on in His work. He is faithful to answer your prayer. After all, nothing you do for Him is a waste of time or effort.

Have you been struggling with discouragement in your calling? Please let me know how I can pray for you.

More Than a Name

Posted by on Oct 29, 2014 in Blog | 2 comments

And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it. ~ Revelation 2:17

I wanted my kids to have strong and beautiful names because I never liked my own. “Carol” has always seemed so boring. Ordinary. Movies and TV shows conveyed it. The only cool Carol I ever remember while growing up was Carol Brady, but she was a mom. The popularity of my name peaked in 1939. Yeah. I guess I was born almost 30 years too late.

Me as a baby

Me as a baby

Over a decade ago, though, I gained a new appreciation for my name. I knew it was of English origin and meant “song”, but that didn’t seem significant until I found myself in a pit of deep depression. During that season, while trying to claw my way out of that black pit, I discovered a verse that gave me hope in the midst of despair.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
Out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock
And gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
A hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
And put their trust in Him. ~ Psalm 40:1-3 (emphasis mine)

When I read it, I immediately knew it was a promise from God to heal to me. He was going to bring back my joy, the joy that had evaded me for so long. After God revealed this verse to me, He showed me another tidbit about my name. Not only does it mean “song”, or “Christmas song”, but a “song of joy”. That gave me even more reason to hold on to hope.

Within a few months, God did heal me of my depression. I’d never experienced the delight of living as I did after He lifted me out of that pit. I wanted to share my story with anyone who’d listen.

More than ten years later, I sensed God leading me to write. I’d never done any writing, nor had I ever had the desire. I felt inadequate to step into such an overwhelming task and grappled with my lack of ability in that area.

pen

But one day, while researching names on Google, God showed me another significant definition. I found the name “Carol” also has an Old German origin. Since I was born in Germany, this piqued my interest. Scrolling down the page, I drew in a sharp breath as I read the meaning; “free man”, “strong”. Wow. God had fulfilled His promise of bestowing me with a song of joy. He’d set me free from the hopelessness of depression. I knew He’d give me the strength to fulfill whatever calling He had for me, in spite of my weakness.

I began to write, and He’s affirmed me every step of the way. He’s surrounded me with a community of great Christian writers who’ve taught me how to write and have encouraged me when I was sure I must have misunderstood God’s call. He’s even given me the privilege of winning several awards at a writers’ conference and, just last month, gave me the honor of being published in one of my favorite magazines, “Guideposts”, confirming I’m following His path.

This past weekend, I went to the Allume blogging conference where I heard the author Emily Wieringa speak. She shared many of the struggles she endured during her childhood and early adult life. Her father was a pastor who wasn’t there for her when she needed him. He saddled her with strict rules and high expectations, which led to her developing anorexia at the age of nine. She couldn’t control much in her life, but she could control whether or not she ate. Because of this dreadful disease, she became emaciated almost to the point of death. After four years of struggling with anorexia she had an epiphany—her lack of eating was only detrimental to her. She began to eat again.

Emily Wierenga

Emily Wierenga

During the session she shared that after she’d recovered from a second round of anorexia in her early adult years, she heard God speak the word rest to her. He also told her He was giving her a new name—Annabelle. Her given name, Emily, means “hard worker”; “industrious”; “striving”. Her entire life she’d lived out her name, trying to earn God’s—and everyone else’s—favor. Growing up, her parents even had the meaning of her name framed and hung on her bedroom wall to emphasize it. But that name had been a burden instead of an inspiration. Her new name, Annabelle, means “joy”; “beautiful”; “loving”; “lovable”; “graceful”. It was like a balm to her soul. She finally felt free to stop striving and allow herself to rest—to experience real joy for the first time in her life.

I cried as she shared her story.

Names are important. They can change our perspective and show us how precious we are to God.

Maybe you’re like Emily and have lived with the burden of your name, for whatever reason, but have never heard God speak a new name for you.

Or maybe you’re like me, never appreciating your name, but God hasn’t inspired you with a new meaning.

One thing we must remember, regardless of our given names, is that our identity doesn’t have to be tied up in that name. Just as I thought my name made me ordinary and Emily’s name burdened her with expectations, that didn’t really define us. Our identity ultimately is revealed through our relationship to God. If we have dedicated our lives to Him, He is our Father. Therefore, He calls us “sons” and “daughters”, “beloved”, “friend”, “masterpiece”, “treasure”. These are some of the names that allow us to bask in God’s love–names that truly define our worth.

Do you know the meaning of your name? Do a little research. You may discover something about it that will inspire you. Or take one of the names I’ve listed above (or others listed in the Bible) and claim it as your new name. I’d love to hear your story about your name.

What’s in a Name?

Posted by on Oct 22, 2014 in Blog, Uncategorized | 2 comments

A good name is to be more desired than great riches. ~ Proverbs 22:1

Elise's first Easter

Lauren Elise

 “John. Wake up,” I poked my husband who was lying in bed beside me.

“Huh?” he groggily half-turned toward me.

“I think I’ve got the perfect girl name for our baby.”

I was eight months pregnant and lying in bed reading the Baby Name Personality Survey book. John and I hadn’t been able to settle on a full name for a baby girl. We agreed Lauren was good, but wasn’t sure what went well with it. Because we didn’t want to know the sex of our baby beforehand, we needed both girl and boy names.

“Ok. What is it?”

“Elise. It means gift from God and the survey book says the first impression people have when they hear it is of a beautiful girl. I think it’s perfect, don’t you?”

John smiled as he rolled toward me. “I like that. It’s pretty.”

“I think so, too,” I said, happily, as I rubbed my basketball-sized belly. “I asked the baby if it liked the name Elise and it immediately did a complete somersault. I think that was a yes!”

“I guess we have our girl name, then. Lauren Elise” John said, grinning.

“But should we call her Lauren or Elise?” I asked.

“We’ll know when we see her. IF it’s a girl.” Satisfied with the name, he rolled over and went back to sleep. Setting the book on my nightstand, the musical sounds of Beethoven’s Fur Elise danced in my head as I drifted off.

We’d tried getting pregnant for two years before we were blessed with the positive results of a pregnancy test. This child was fulfilling so many of the hopes and dreams we’d longed for and that simple name described exactly how we felt.

When she finally arrived—ten days late—Lauren Elise was a dark-haired, black-eyed beauty. But when we looked at her, the choice of what to call her wasn’t obvious. We debated back and forth a few minutes and decided that Elise would be the more uncommon name. We wanted her name to be unique. Elise it was.

Me nine months pregnant

Exactly three years later, I became pregnant with our second child. Once again we’d struggled through 14 months of infertility before finally receiving the news of a positive result. We again decided not to learn the sex of the baby. It was so much fun finding out in the delivery room.

We had a girl name chosen, but struggled with a boy’s name this time. We both liked Jacob, and I like my husband’s name, John, so we decided on John Jacob. That is until I told Pam, a friend from church, what we’d decided for a boy’s name. (I know, you’re already laughing.)

“John Jacob Jinglehymer Schmidt. His name is my name, too!” Pam started singing out loud to everyone around us.

“Is that a real song?” I asked.

“You’ve never heard that before?” she asked, laughing.”We’ve sung it for years with our preschoolers.”

Apparently I was the only one on the planet who hadn’t heard it. Back to square one. I didn’t want my son’s name to be a silly nursery rhyme.

Jacob Owen

Jacob Owen

We still agreed on Jacob as a boy’s name. But I wanted our son to be named after his father. John’s middle name is Owen and I’d never been particularly fond of it. John was named after his grandfather, Mentone Owen, so at least it did have family roots.

When our son was born, we named him Jacob Owen. Owen has a good, sturdy meaning: young warrior. My son has always been strong, especially for his small size, so it’s fitting. I’d tried to find the meaning of the name Jacob, but the only definition that ever came up was supplanter. I had no idea what that meant (this was before the days of Google). Since it was a good Biblical name, we decided to go with it anyway.

Elise and Jacob. You can tell Jacob's up to something!

Elise and Jacob. You can tell Jacob’s up to something!

Later on I discovered the meaning of his name—trickster or deceiver. Oh no: not exactly what I wanted my son to be known for. But he’s lived up to his name as far as trickster goes. He is witty and funny and loves playing practical jokes on people. He brings so much laughter into our home. Jacob was the perfect name.

 

Elise today

Elise today

Jacob today

Jacob today

Choosing a name for a child is a huge responsibility. Our names reflect an image of who we are, how our parents feel about us, or a family heritage. Oftentimes, as in our experience with Jacob, it even describes a character trait. When we hear a name, we usually imagine what that person looks like or may even have a preconceived notion of what type of person they are.

 

In Biblical times, names were the very essence of who a person was. If names weren’t important, God wouldn’t have changed Abram’s name (exalted father)  to Abraham (father of many). He also changed Abraham’s wife’s name from Sarai (princess) to Sarah (princess of many). This re-naming affirmed God’s promise to them that they would have children.

Later in scripture, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, changed his youngest son’s name from Ben-Oni (son of my sorrows) to Benjamin (this son is strength). Benjamin’s mother, Rachel, named him before she died in childbirth. Jacob didn’t want Benjamin saddled with a name that brought sorrow.

I could go on with examples of how important names are in scripture, most notably the name of Jesus (savior), given to Joseph by an angel before Jesus’ birth.

Names are important. If you are expecting a child soon, remember their name is a gift. Don’t take it lightly. Your child will have to carry that name the rest of his or her life. Put much thought into what your hopes are for them. Look up the meanings of names. Show your child how much you love them by the name you choose. Then, one day when they’re old enough, tell them why you chose that special name for them. A distinctive name is a wonderful way to speak blessings into your child’s life.

Do you have a special story you’d like to share about deciding on your child’s name? Share it in the comments below. I’d love to hear it!

Through the Eyes of a Child

Posted by on Oct 16, 2014 in Blog | 6 comments

For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb…Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. ~ Psalm 139:13,16

 

Elise

Elise at six years old

 “Mommy, did you know that some mommies kill their babies while they’re still in their tummies?” my six-year-old daughter, Elise, asked as we walked across the church parking lot.

I stopped in my tracks. “Who told you that?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“We learned about it in GA’s tonight,” Elise, explained. “Did you know that Mommy? Huh?”

Stunned, I quickly tried to gather my thoughts. I’d just picked up my kids after our Wednesday night church service and hadn’t expected to be greeted with such a jarring question from my first-grader. GA’s is short for Girls in Action, a missions group for girls. Should a six-year-old know about the atrocity of abortion? After sending up a quick prayer for wisdom I answered my daughter. “Yes, Elise, I did know that.”

“But Mommy, why would anybody want to kill their little baby?” She was almost in tears.

I struggled for words as I buckled my three-year-old son, Jacob, into his car seat. At her age, she couldn’t begin to comprehend the complexities of such a question. As she climbed into her seat, her big brown eyes looked intently into mine. She wanted an answer.

“Huh, Mommy? Why would they want to do that?”

I cleared my throat. “Well, sweetie,” I said nervously, “some mommies can’t take care of their babies and think the baby will be better off if they’re never born.”

I didn’t know what else to say.

“But Mommy, that’s not right. That poor little baby didn’t do anything wrong.”  

“I know honey, you’re exactly right. Some people just don’t understand that.”

We sat in silence the rest of the way home while I thought about my first-grader’s strong reaction to abortion. When seen through the eyes of an innocent child there are no gray areas—only black and white. But until that moment, I didn’t realize how un-phased I was by the actual act of abortion. I’d allowed myself to see it as an ethical issue, not the act of murder, as Elise did. 

When I was younger, I wasn’t sure if abortion was all that bad. I’d never really heard it addressed much in the church while growing up, so I didn’t have a strong opinion about it either way. Not until my struggle with infertility did I become a strong proponent for choosing life for all babies. I saw the importance of every single child created in the womb and understood that life is formed at the moment of conception. I also saw how God is the Master Creator who has a grand plan for each of us and we hinder His work when our will collides with His masterpiece.

There was a sermon I heard about a while back on the subject of abortion. In it, the pastor noted God may have already created the person who could cure cancer and rid the world of this horrible disease, but that life may have been snuffed out through abortion. Wow. What an eye-opening concept.

There are women I’ve met who’ve had abortions. Crushed with regret, they wonder who that child may have become. My heart breaks for them.

I’ve also seen the joy brought about through adoption. I know several families who’ve been blessed beyond measure by their beloved children, forever grateful to the mothers who decided to bring this little life into the world. The courage it must have taken to carry their babies to full term, only to give them away, is mind-boggling.

Several young girls I know have gotten pregnant and chosen to keep the precious life within them. Most days are a struggle as they take care of their babies, but none have regretted their decision to choose life. Even though their circumstances are much more difficult, they’ve said they couldn’t imagine life without that child. These mothers are courageous every day.

None of these scenarios is an easy one to deal with. They all have life-long consequences. 

I don’t say any of this to judge, only to make you think. I would hate to face such a difficult situation and can only imagine the turmoil it entails. If you live with the guilt of having had an abortion, you don’t have to. Confess it to God and ask His forgiveness. According to 1 John 1:9, if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness, no matter how big or how small. He doesn’t want us to live a life weighed down with guilt and misery. He came so that we can experience an abundant life.

Maybe you’re in this situation right now, wondering how you can resolve your seemingly impossible circumstances. Know that God cares and loves you and your baby. Period. He has a grand plan for both of you. It may not look exactly like you’ve pictured it, but God can redeem any situation to make Himself glorified and give you both a life far beyond what you can even imagine.

Have you seen God work through an unplanned pregnancy to bring about joy and an abundant life? Or have you struggled with abortion? Please share so we can help others.

Jesus Take the Wheel

Posted by on Oct 8, 2014 in Blog | 12 comments

One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless.
~ Proverbs 14:16

tractor trailerThe green tractor-trailer swerved quickly around our car as we traveled down I-85 to Atlanta.

     “Good grief!” Donna shrieked as she maneuvered our car out of the rig’s way. “That guy’s gonna kill someone!”

     “I know,” I said. “I’ve never seen anyone drive a truck that fast with such a heavy load.”

Deanna, who was sitting in the back seat, agreed.

The three of us were on our way to a Beth Moore conference, excited to spend the weekend together and looking forward to time away from our busy lives. But the transfer truck had abruptly switched our focus from a relaxing retreat to one of trying to avoid a highway catastrophe. The truck driver was moving at break-neck speed, weaving in and out of traffic until we could no longer see him. Apparently the truck stopped a couple of times along the way because, once he’d passed us, he’d wind up bearing down on our car again miles down the road. What made it worse was the load he was carrying—reams of heavy sheets of plywood stacked high above the top of the truck. I’d never seen a trailer so loaded down. Since my dad was a truck driver, I knew if a truck loaded that heavy were to tilt even slightly, there would be no way for the driver to correct himself.

Just as we entered Atlanta he passed us again. The traffic had thickened by then and we cringed eachhighway time he came dangerously close to the cars around him. We were relieved when he finally disappeared into the winding roads and bridges ahead.

When we got close to our hotel, the traffic slowed to a crawl. It took us a while to finally get to our room. Once there, I switched on the TV. The news was on, showing a helicopter view of a tractor-trailer that had overturned off of one of the overpasses. It was the same green truck that had terrorized us our entire trip.

     “Look at this!” I called to Deanna and Donna. “That’s the same truck we kept seeing on I-85.”

We crowded around the TV, listening to hear if any other vehicle was involved in the accident. As far as we could tell, the truck was the only casualty.

     “The coroner has been called to the scene,” the reported stated.

My blood ran cold.

I couldn’t believe this truck driver, who’d used poor judgment in his driving and harassed us on the highway, was dead. If only we could have stopped him—told him the dangerous threat of the load he was carrying—or at least asked him to slow down. Didn’t he realize he was jeopardizing his life as well as the lives of others? What was he thinking?

I tried to rationalize why he would’ve been driving so foolishly. Maybe he was late getting his load to its destination. Maybe he was angry and just wanted to vent, taking it out on other drivers. Or, maybe he had a little boy at home praying he’d finally be able to make it to his Little League game. We will never know.

My thoughts turned to his devastated family. Why hadn’t he just slowed down?

It’s easy to make judgments from afar. I don’t know this man’s spiritual state, but I hope and pray he’d given his life to Christ.

 

Is there someone you know whose life is careening out of control? Maybe they’re carrying a heavy load of expectations, or pursuing success and money, not caring who gets run over on their way to the top. Do you know their spiritual state? It may be time to flag them down and share the love of Jesus Christ with them. Tell them Jesus loves us unconditionally, not because of our successes. It may be the most important news anyone has ever shared with them.

steering wheel

Or are you the one behind the steering wheel? Have you been driving hard to be all things to all people, loaded down with the unattainable goal of becoming the image of perfection? There’s no such thing as perfection. I’ve been there and have nothing to show for it but disappointment and poor health. We’re not God. We’re not in control. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. We can rest in the knowledge that He’s got this, even when life is busy and things are hard.

We may think we have no choice in how we live our lives. There’s so much to do in so little time. In reality, though, our recklessness could lead to death, both spiritually and physically. If you’ve lost your joy and feel like you have nothing left to give, choose to allow God to take the wheel and lead you wisely. Choose life.

Are you or someone you know navigating the road of life unwisely? Ask God for wisdom to follow His lead and rest in Him.