Saturday, February 24, 2018

Stories to Help You Navigate a Difficult Family Life

We all need a little love from stories sometimes, right?

I believe that stories have a power over the human heart that almost nothing else can rival. I believe they speak to us in a language that regular words and advice doesn't understand. Stories have always been one of the places I turn to when I'm troubled. Here are three I'd like to share with you that have recently helped me navigate some difficult situations.

1. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.
Wow. This book took my breath away. The Glass Castle is a memoir about the troubled childhood endured by Jeannette Walls and her three siblings. Despite poverty, constant moving, and running from authorities, Jeannette manages to tell her family's story from the most balanced perspective. She shows the ways that her parent's neglect negatively affected her family, but she's also completely honest about the good side of her mom and dad. She embraces their dreams, their loyalty, and their courageous hearts. She helps you to understand her parent's demons and their strengths. The Glass Castle gave me the courage to also accept the good and bad sides of troubled relationships.

2. Gilmore Girls
One of the things I love about Gilmore Girls is that it overcomes judgement. In Christian circles, shows like this often have a bad reputation. And, I get it. Lorelai and Rory probably shouldn't be your role models for romantic relationships. But I loved Gilmore Girls because it taught me so much about family. The story is centered around difficult relationships between mom and daughter. Things get messy, people get mean, worlds crash, and the Gilmore family has a grim time staying afloat. Although they sometimes go months without speaking to each other, Lorelai and Emily always end up working things out. I love Gilmore Girls because it shows the rawness of difficult families and the hope that family sticks together in the end.

3. The Castle Behind Thorns
This book came to me at just the right time. I stopped reading for a season during my Lyme Disease treatment, because my brain was messed up and full pages of words were challenging. The Castle Behind Thorns was the first book I finished reading after Lyme. It's a cute magical story about two friends trying to escape an enchanted castle. Both of them are struggling with relationships in some way, and they begin to realize that their bitterness is what's keeping them from leaving the castle. This story taught me a lot about myself and the things I need to let go. It gave me the grace and encouragement I needed to rise above old feelings and find forgiveness.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Dreaming Beyond Motherhood

Growing up, I was taught that there is no higher calling on a Christian girl's life than to be a godly wife and mother. My own mom homeschooled me and my sisters all the way through high school. We read books like "Beautiful Girlhood," learned culinary and babysitting skills, and were secured a home with our parents until we transferred to the protection of our husband's.

It didn't work out like that. Not for me or for any of my sisters, actually.

The other day, I was thinking about how funny it is that sometimes I still feel uncomfortable.  That despite traveling across states by myself, buying a brand-new car on my own, and becoming fairly successful in my career, I still sometimes feel like I'm doing something "wrong" by having my own life. I still feel uncomfortable because I wasn't brought up on the idea that girls can follow God by being independent, too.

A crazy thing happened this summer. Out of nowhere, God gave me this huge green light and told me to move back to a different city in my home state. It's crazy because moving back wasn't supposed to be medically possible for me -- ever.  But God asked me to go and to pursue two things: writing and ministry.

From the moment I said "okay," everything I prayed for was taken care of. From towels to sheets to jobs and a roommate. I prayed for money, for a new car, for safety and God covered everything. Each time I started to question my new "independent" decision, He would drop something in my lap that unquestionably said, "You did the right thing. I called you here. Go and serve."

And there's nothing in my entire life I'm more convinced of than how I'm supposed to be exactly here exactly right now. 

My dream isn't the dream I expected it to be.

I was supposed to be a great cook, but I eat way more frozen dinners than I should.
I was supposed to be a great mom, but I'm actually a pretty good working girl.
I was supposed to be married, but instead I'm independent, chasing some writing dreams, and working for a ministry that I really believe in.

As I got older and started reading less "Beautiful Girlhood" books, my relationship with God started to change-- to grow and mature. I learned to discern a lot of spiritually uncomfortable situations, and I've come to look to the Bible for my answers, and not to other people. My independence in body has come from an independence in spirit, learned by God Himself leading me to do crazy things. I recognize that God has gifted me with the Holy Spirit to discern and decide for myself. I also recognize that He has given me the confidence and the resources to be independent.

 I started seriously considering working in ministry a couple of years ago. It was a time in the midst of so many different voices, God made one thing very clear. He told me that instead of motherhood, the highest calling on a girl's life is the great commission. When I started chasing writing, it was because I decided that as a Christian, saving souls is the most important thing to me.

Does that mean it's wrong to be a mom? No, I'm not saying that. Being a mom is a great honor. I'll probably be a mom one day.

But what I am saying, is that I believe in letting our girls dream beyond motherhood. I believe in challenging the idea that motherhood is the "end that meets all" for Christian girls. I believe in recognizing that motherhood and marriage can be a tool, but they aren't the goal.

So instead of spending our entire lives training our girl's hearts for a tool, why don't we train them for the end goal? Why are we only preparing girls for marriage when we should be preparing them for the ends of the earth? Why aren't we teaching them to be independent, to be bold, and excited about sharing the gospel? Even God's nature is independent. Becoming a Christian requires an independent decision. Something you choose based on the Holy Spirit prompting your heart. Culinary skills are important, but so are other skills that can be used to share the gospel.

I honestly think the idea that we can "only be mothers" is a lie that the devil uses to keep us from being productive in the Kingdom of God. My dream is that one day our girls will be able to grow up prepared to embrace every crazy, independent, life threatening, and life fulfilling thing that God calls them to. Not only motherhood.


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Today I'm World Building my Life

In writing, we talk about "world building." It's when you create landscapes, religions,  languages, and a completely unique culture where your characters live out their adventures. C.S. Lewis built Narnia, Tolkien built Middle-Earth, and we build with our own imaginations.

Two notable things happened to me in the past week. The first is that I started doing core workouts. I started because I realized it wasn't my body that was keeping me from exercising anymore, it was my fear of failure.

I was so paralyzed by my mind screaming, "what if I can't?" that refused to acknowledge the opposite idea: "what if I can?"

I finally tried.

And I can.

The second thing is that I started taking action on my books. Two books have been on my mind recently: one that I'm writing and one that I'm editing.

I keep starting over with the book I'm editing. I haven't made a lot of notes, or changed a lot of sentences, and every time I get to the third chapter, I shut down and start the book over.

When I realized how much fear was paralyzing me with physical workouts, I started to wonder if it might also be paralyzing my writing the same way.

I'm afraid that I won't be able to finish. I think that I'll be overwhelmed by sickness, brain fog, and emotions all at once, and I'll quit. I'll sink into this huge puddle of wordlessness, of emptiness, of charcoaled creativity and feel so defeated by the thing I love the most that I'll never come back to it. I'm scared of chapter three and beyond because I know those are the chapters that need the most work.


I know that writing is possible for me.

I know who I am, what I can create, and how fast I can create it.

What's holding me back?

The fear of failing.

I know that Lyme Disease can't really change a person's DNA, but sometimes it feels like it can. Someone once told me that chronic illness causes people to have to go through the stages of loss over and over again, because they lose so much of life. I have lost jobs, homes, sports, writing, friends, and college to Lyme. I know others who have lost so much more.

As I gain some losses back, part of me wants to dive completely in with no thought to the past. You know, continue with my life where I left off and forget it ever happened. You can't really do that, though. For instance, I can't start on the same physical core training level that I left off at and still succeed today. I have to build from the ground up. I have to recognize that I have limitations and I have to stay within healthy boundaries for a while.

If I don't recognize boundaries, then I will fail. And that's why I was so afraid, I think.

Recovering from chronic illness is kind of like world building. I got sick almost seven years ago, and a lot has changed between then and now. I'm the same person, but I'm not the same person, and I've been doing a lot of rediscovery. I've been choosing new priorities, but still chasing old dreams. I'm creating new landscapes, relearning my religion, and I'm figuring out new terminology that doesn't include things like "chronic patient" and "I can't."

It takes a lot of time to "world build" a new story. It's okay if it's a process to world build a new life, too.

I'm just glad to have the change to try.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

God's Power in Christmas

I have a confession to make.

I asked other bloggers to write about Christmas so that I didn’t have to. That’s why you’ve seen posts from people like Julia and Taylor throughout the Advent season (they did a marvelous job - thank you girls!)

I didn't want to avoid writing about Christmas because I hate the season or anything. I love Christmas. Who doesn't?

But Christmas is hard.

In all the years I’ve been blogging, I’ve actually never written about Christmas, because it's hard. Today I’m changing that.

One of my favorite Christmas memories happened when I was around sixteen, I heard a message about Mary. That was the first time I understood all that went into the birth of the Messiah. I love that Jesus had to be born from a virgin so that the seed of man’s sin wasn’t passed on. I love the prophecies because they blow my mind. I love how complex God is, because I’m complex too, and the little details about the Christmas story mean so much to me.

Christmas is incredibly powerful and every advent season, I am reminded again of all that had to occur for God to save His people from their sins.

While there’s a billion wonderful things to think about during the holiday season, I know that I and many others struggle through all the tough things that Christmas brings, too. Family troubles, financial troubles, sickness, relationship issues, and cares upon cares upon cares all seem to heighten this time of year.

I was sitting on the couch bottling up all of those cares today when God spoke to my heart. He reminded me of that message I once heard and power I find in the birth of the Messiah. He reminded me of the hymns we sing, and the prophesies I love, and I started to wonder something. I wonder if all the toughness, business, and bottled troubles that Christmas brings, is all the devil’s scheming to distract us from how powerful the Christmas season really is.

We talk about materialism taking away from the "true meaning of Christmas." But that’s not what I mean. I mean, I think that we talk so much about the baby we forget about the Messiah. God’s people spent hundreds of years waiting for Jesus. His birth and death completely changes our eternity. It changes the way we live. It sets the prisoner free, gives the blind sight, makes the lame walk, and gives us all power over sin, death, and the enemy. That's actually what Christmas is: victory over the enemy. Jesus came to earth to wash us of our sin and create open communication between us and God. What a time to be alive.

He’s so much more than an innocent baby.

Perhaps this Christmas season, instead of focusing on all the bottled cares, remember the One who came to set you free from them. I think if we do that, we'll see God's power in a way we've never seen it before. We'll see Him overcome all of our Christmas troubles. 

Merry Christmas.


Monday, December 18, 2017

Guest Post: Advent - More Than Just a Stepping Stone

1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” – Isaiah 40:1-5

I don’t know about you, but when I think of Advent, I’m briefly reminded of the lighting of some candles in church, and that’s about it. I find myself looking at Advent as a steppingstone to Christmas, in a way. The non-Christian world doesn’t acknowledge Advent as an important event, and that can sometimes rub off on us Christians. It’s just candles and scripture reading in church for a few weeks, and the rest of the time outside of church we can turn all of our attention to everything Christmas related. Right?


While we shouldn’t overlook or forget the miracle of Christmastime, Advent is important, too, and shouldn’t be left in the dust. Advent is a time when we can prepare our hearts for Christmas, not an event that isn’t important or is somehow lesser than Christmas. If anything, it means that it’s incredibly important, because Advent helps us slow down and remember that Christmas is more than just presents and great food.

Jesus came as a baby, but in my mind, I often skip over that part and focus on the festivities instead. Decorating the tree, buying presents, wrapping presents, eating, eating, eating . . . Sometimes we don’t take the time to slow down and really appreciate what we already have, and what Jesus did for us. When we hear the story, we think to ourselves, “Oh . . . this again” and we forget how monumental a thing it really is. Jesus sacrificed his life for us! He was born as a baby, sinless, a child of God and a child of man. Advent gives us the time to appreciate that. To listen to God and to read that story again and realize that, yes, He did that – and it’s amazing!

It’s also a time when we can focus on the fact that, not only did Jesus come once, but He’s coming again! Isn’t that a tremendously encouraging thought? God will come again. We’ll see Him and be overwhelmed by Him. As unworthy as we are, we will be saved by Him all over again – which is another thing that we often overlook. I find that I acknowledge it, but I don’t dig deep into the subject. I don’t think of it as a gift, marvelous and perfect. I tend to think of it as something that will happen, and something that I need to be prepared for, but not something that’s so central to my life that I can’t wait until Jesus returns and I get to see Him with my own eyes.

That’s why I appreciate Advent. That’s why, this year, when they read those verses and light those candles in church, I’m paying close attention and I’m reveling in God’s holiness. Instead of seeing it as just another steppingstone holiday to Christmas, I’m seeing it as the reminder of something great, as an unfathomably wonderful promise.

What about you? Do you tend to overlook Advent and run head-on into Christmas, or do you find it refreshing and easy to slow down and focus on Advent?

Julia Witmer is a fifteen-year-old Christian writer with a passion for all things imaginative and creative. Her creativity usually expresses itself in the form of YA fantasy. When she isn’t typing away at her computer, Julia enjoys devouring the advice of other authors on blogs, listening to music, and nursing her unhealthy obsession with Doctor Who, Sherlock and The Mentalist. Making her home in Chiang Mai, Thailand, she enjoys the advantages of homeschooling and the extra time spent with her parents, siblings, and favorite cat, Layla. Connect with Julia on Pinterest and Facebook, or visit her blog.  


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Guest Post: Choose What Matters This Christmas

It’s playing on the radio right now—that beloved Christmas carol. It’s blaring through my speakers louder than some people blast their rock music. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. I’d sing along if I wasn’t—you know—writing.

Why am I writing? It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I’m curled up in front of our freshly trimmed Christmas tree and the Christmassy coziness is REAL. I’m writing because, three days into the holiday season, I’m already suffering from Christmas Brain.

In other words, I can’t remember anything other than the lyrics to my favorite Christmas carols, recipes for Christmas cookies, and the day’s date. (Why the date? Because I’m counting down the days until Christmas…wishing there were more of them.)

Now, at this point, you’re probably thinking this is going to be a happy little post all about the Christmas spirit or something.

Not to burst your bubble or anything but…

It’s not.
This is a guest post about how I FORGOT TO WRITE THIS GUEST POST. About how I thought Stephanie must have been mistaken when she asked me where my guest post was. That was on Saturday and I ever-so-nicely replied that she must have made a mistake. Um…nope. That would be me.

Of course, Stephanie ever-so-sweetly reassured me that it was FINE and that I didn’t have to write a post if I was too busy. Of course, I insisted that it wouldn’t be a problem. That I could get the blog post written and sent to her on time. Which—obviously—I did.

And now I will actually begin my post.

And I’m writing this post for me. Because I need it. And maybe you need it too.

I’m a workaholic.

Now wait—before you think this is just a re-write of Tessa’s post from last month. It’s not. Promise.
I’m not here to help you make sense out of the crazy chaos surrounding a busy school, work, and writing schedule. I’m not even going to touch that subject since I’m obviously still figuring it out myself.

No, what I’m here to say today is this.


If you’re like me, you don’t stop to think, to breathe, or even sleep. You rush ahead, meeting the world head-on as you chase your dreams. That’s great—it really is. But it isn’t enough. We all need time to stop, think, and just be. We need to be able to enter into a place with our Lord and Savior and rest in His love, in His presence, in His words that say that we are enough because of Him (1 Corinthians 3:5).

That’s why I want to encourage you to take these weeks leading up to Christmas and lay aside the chaos of life. Am I telling you to procrastinate? No. Be lazy? Absolutely not!

I’m telling you to rest. Take a break from those “optional” things that you normally just can’t say no to. It’s the season of Advent, of Christmas. The season that celebrates the greatest gift ever given to us—a baby.

When Jesus came to earth, he was laid in a manger in a barn. A barn? Not one of those cutesy stables with a nice, cozy feeding trough lined with supersoft blankets you see in nativity scenes. It was a dirty, smelly BARN—simplicity at its finest.

And if God can send His one and only Son to earth to spend his first hours in something as unglamorous as a barn, can’t we take a little break? Do things just a little more simply this Christmas season? Let’s not worry so much about growing our platforms, about meeting that self-imposed deadline, or about keeping a perfect blog schedule. Those things can wait.

What can’t wait?

Today is here and then it’s gone, faster than snow melting during the spring thaw. You’ll never be able to get today back, you’ll never be able to slow down the hands of the clock or—oh, how I wish—rewind time.

So whatever you have planned today—take a second look. What do you HAVE to get done? What can wait ? And what, most of all, does your heart need?

Maybe it’s just some extra quiet time with God. Maybe it’s coffee with that special friend or a night sipping cocoa by the fireplace with your family. Maybe you’re like me—an introvert who has already peopled way too much for the week—and you just need to take an hour to read or write in your journal.

Whatever it is—do it. Make the time to rest, to recharge.

When Jesus visited Mary and Martha, did he tell Martha: “Oh, look at you! You’re running around, stressing yourself out all because of Me. Blessed are you, dear sister.”


He praised her sister, Mary, for laying aside the things that could wait and just being in the presence of her Lord and Savior.

So, today, as we gear up to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the day He came to Earth to cleanse our sins and make for us a forever home in Heaven, rest in Him. Whatever you have going on, good or bad—it’s temporary. Think about everything on your to-do list. Which of those things will matter—I mean really matter—in six months? Focus on them first.

And then, before you move on to those other things—the ones you’d really like to do—take a moment. Ask His guidance. But don’t do it because you “have to” or because “that’s just what you do.”

During this precious Christmas season, don’t forget the joy that is found in sitting back, reveling in the holidays, and celebrating the precious gift of our Savior.

And if you listen to Christmas carols and munch on a few cookies while you do that?
Even better.

Taylor Bennett is the author of the contemporary YA novel, Porch Swing Girl, which releases from Mountain Brook Ink in June 2018. When she isn’t pecking madly at her computer, she’s playing violin on her church’s worship team, snapping pictures, or walking in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. She loves to connect with future readers on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram (her favorite!) as well as on Goodreads and her author website.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Rapunzel Taught me About Spiritual Bondage

Rapunzel is my favorite Disney princess. 

She and I have a lot in common. We’re both creative people who like to read books and bake pastry. We have long hair and are skilled with frying pans. I like that she plays instruments. Rapunzel isn't my favorite for our similarities, though. She's my favorite because out of all the princesses, she taught me the most about overcoming anxiety.

If you haven't seen Tangled, there are two important things you should know about Rapunzel. First, that she has the heart and ability to build an entire world out of a really crappy living situation. Second, that she’s been captive in a prison tower for her entire life and has no idea what the outside world is like.

This is one of my favorite scenes from Tangled. In it, Rapunzel chooses to take a risk for freedom and exits her prison tower for the first time.

That's cool, right?

This scene represents a really special time in my life. When I was fifteen, I went through an intensive spiritual course called The Seven Steps to Freedom in Christ. It was a program that helped free me from crippling anxiety. My tower was fear and I'd been stuck inside it since before I could remember. This scene was what it felt like to finally let it go and be free.

I'm sharing this with you because I know we all have towers. Pieces of spiritual bondage that have kept us captured for months and years at a time. Things like anger, bitterness, anxiety, and depression. The good news is that those things aren't hopeless things. Jesus is the answer and He will set you free.

Overcoming anxiety and bondage has been a journey for me. One that fights against demons and relapses, but gets easier as the days move on and my trust in God strengthens.

Before we finished the seven step program, my mentor and friend sent me this scene. Rapunzel finally has first-hand experience in how awesome freedom actually is. Yet, despite everything she's experienced, she's tempted to go back. Again, she weighs between freedom and bondage.


Something that's interesting about spiritual bondage is that while it keeps you in definite and obvious chains, it starts showing you how to adjust to those chains. It even starts to make you believe that your bonds are comfortable and better than actual freedom. Rapunzel is a creative princess. To cope, she paints the walls within her tower and decorates with candles and pies. She makes captivity a nice place to be.

...until she goes outside.

If we want to be free of spiritual bondage, we have to walk away from our comfort zones and our coping mechanisms. We have to recognize that unknown freedom is better than familiar bondage. 

One last thing, and it's about Mother Gothel.

The biggest tool I found to help me overcome anxiety was separating the lies of the devil from the truth of Christ. I believed a lot of lies! The devil is a sneaky foe, and often he weaves his lies within the truths we believe about God. This is exactly the way Mother Gothel keeps Rapunzel captured, too.

Posing as someone who loves her--posing as something good, Mother Gothel uses the same mixture of truth and lies to keep Rapunzel from ever experiencing true freedom. When Rapunzel finally seeks out the whole truth, Mother Gothel has no more power over her.

This is why stories are my favorite. Tell me about a spiritual truth you've learned through a fictional book or movie!