Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Living a Cheerful and Generous Life

Last year, at a wedding with my husband, I sat next to a family friend. It wasn't until this wedding that I was able to put my finger on why his family was always so much fun to be around. It’s because he is authentic and generous with himself. He is… a cheerful giver.

I recognized his cheerful giving during the toast portion of the evening. Every once in a while, you get that heartfelt amazing wedding speech that has you laughing and crying and applauding. Most of the time, though, you get the person who is clearly uncomfortable speaking to a group, but because he/she is the best friend of the bride/groom he/she HAS to give the toast, and he/she is trying WAY too hard to get a few laughs. Well, we were enduring the latter, and this is where our friend came in. You see, he has this beautiful, deep PA announcer voice that rings through a crowd and a booming hearty laugh that catches fire to those around him. He knows his voice and laugh are powerful instruments, and he used them that night to encourage the poor toast-giver who was bombing.

When the speaker paused for laughs that weren’t happening, my friend threw a hearty chuckle his way, repeating the punchline… and soon laughter began to creep through the crowd. The speaker delivered his next joke, and our friend dropped another sincere guffaw and laughter swept through the people. Soon, the toast was a success, and we moved on to dinner and dancing. 

Without our friend’s generosity of laughter, the poor guy would’ve completely bombed at his best friend’s wedding. I mean, it wouldn’t be as bad as running out of wine, but still…

Jimmy Fallon is another person who is like this. There’s a reason why everybody loves this guy, right? He is generous with himself. He is generous with his personality, his laugh, his enthusiasm and spirit. He is generous with his excitement and with encouragement. He is open and genuine. He cheerfully gives himself to the rest of us for our entertainment.

There’s this part of the Jimmy Fallon episode of “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” where they are on Jerry Seinfeld’s boat, and Jimmy Fallon just stands up on the boat and hollers out, “This is the best day ever!!!” And it makes me so happy. 

Isn’t it awesome to be around people who stand up and shout, “This is the best day ever!”? 

Doesn’t it make life better to be around people like that? Doesn’t it make life better to be around people who share the joy they have? Doesn’t it make life better when others are generous with their laughter and encouragement? Doesn't it feel good to be around people who shower others with grace and love?

And while I do think that God was talking about seeds and money in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, he was also talking about standing up in a boat and shouting, “This is the best day ever!!!”  

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

You see, I make exactly zero dollars as a stay at home mom. 

But that doesn’t mean that I can’t be generous. I can give my time and attention wherever God calls it. I can laugh at every one of my husband's jokes. 

I can shower everyone I meet with kindness and love and grace. 

I can sprinkle seeds of encouragement to every mom I see struggling. I can sprinkle seeds of forgiveness every time my kid messes up. I can sow compassion around every corner and ring a cowbell for every person I see gutting it out on that difficult mile of their race. 

I can be generous with zero dollars. It’s as simple as hollering out a “Woooohooo” on the ski slopes as you fly down the run or saying the words out loud when you think your friend looks cute in that top or telling your kid’s teacher that he/she is doing an incredible job. It’s as simple as saying “I would love to!” when your kid asks if you will play a game with him. Which, incidentally, is happening right now, so I gotta go.

Sow generously, friends. Give money cheerfully, but give yourself cheerfully too. A life full of hearty chuckles and joyful woohoos awaits. 

Emily Donehoo is the only female in a family of five. She is a former High School English Teacher and National Trainer for the College Board. These days, when she isn’t scrubbing toilets, administering timeouts, working at book fairs, attempting to tackle dinner, laundry, homework help, dishes, and a preschooler’s incessant questions, she writes authentically about the hard stuff that really matters, hoping to uncover the truth that God has for us whether it makes us cry from laughter, pain or both at the same time. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Fragile: The Hard Stuff Doesn't Always Make Us Stronger, It Can Also Make Us Softer

By Maggie Bartlett

“I’m not sure we get strong at the broken places, although people love to say this happens. In truth, when I broke my toe, the doctor said, “It will take forever to heal, and never be quite as good as it was.” Life 101. It still hurts sometimes. This was just a toe bone. Big parts of us get broken, parts of our hearts, minds, and beings.” –Anne Lamott
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; this is what I recently heard a close friend of mine say to someone who was in the midst of a difficult situation. It struck me, though I’ve heard it countless times. I wondered: is that true? Our friend was dealing with so much, including a broken leg, and all I could think was her body will never be the same. Her knee might give out every time she goes up the stairs or her leg will hurt when the weather gets cold. Are we really stronger after going through hell? Maybe.

We are coming up on the third anniversary of losing my dad. For the past three years, I felt like a shell of a person, tender and shattered. 

But with time, I started to recognize myself in the mirror again. And the person looking back isn’t stronger—she’s softer.

There is some truth to the common belief that hard things make us tougher because we are resilient and we do persevere. But sometimes, hard things also make us afraid. Because when we’ve been to hell, seen the pit and experienced the depth of sorrow, we never want to go back. We never want to hear any dreadful words like death, addiction, betrayal, miscarriage, cancer, suicide. We flinch just thinking about them. Because we know how scary it is—we saw it and we never want to see it again.

When devastation finds you, do you armor up ready for combat? Do you encourage yourself to fight and push through? I do, or I used to. Because I was good at it. I clutched my sword, prepared for battle. I’m fierce! I’m impressive! I’m powerful! No time for mourning or grief! I’m busy rescuing.

We don’t feel the depth and weight of sadness anymore. We’re not allowed to. Instead, we do better, get stronger, run faster. We dodge tears and evade gloom with an online shopping spree, a trip to Mexico or some fancy store-bought ice cream and binge-watching Netflix. We skim along the surface, careful to fly high and not get sucked into all that sad, touchy-feely stuff. The deep, rich, soul-altering stuff.

But you know what I learned when I let myself go deep, really deep? Deep into the realm of my sorrow and heartache? That I’m not a superhuman.

I am fragile.

Boy, am I fragile. I am so keenly aware of it. Yes, I am tough and resilient. But I’m also soft, needy and breakable—who knew? That’s the fullness of who I was created to be. I can’t rescue everyone or solve all the problems (but I sure did try). That’s God’s job. And this is where He does the unfathomable work, in the cracks, so I have to stop climbing out of them. 

I don’t want to be superhuman anymore. And that was God’s plan all along for me—to be human.

We are so fragile; we are so precious. He didn’t create us to be superhumans, just plain old beautiful humans. We must practice that. I’m trying to. Being a warrior constantly is tough work. The sword is heavy. If you find you’re able to put it down and rest, you may just see how bruised and broken you are. You may feel vulnerable, weak and tender. Feel it. He will be with you, in the silence. And when this happens, drink warm things and ask for hugs and cozy up in bed. Maybe even laugh, once you can finally breathe again.

Maggie Bartlett is a Colorado native, living in Denver with her husband. She works at a marketing agency and loves to write, climb mountains and travel in her free time.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

How to Stop Feeling Angry

I learned growing up I had to be careful around my dad. 

We all had to. My sister and brother and I had to take the temperature of his mood before asking him questions, or he would snap at us. We had to take the brunt of his wrath if we stepped in front of the television during a football game. We’d get yelled at for sure if we accidentally woke him up from a catnap. And we would never even think of leaving unfinished food on our plate, spilling, or breaking something. When that stuff happened—so did lots of shouting.

So, it took me by surprise when my kids were little and they broke things, or spilled drinks without a care in the world about whether their dad, or anyone, would be upset. My husband and I weren’t usually that upset. We told them to be more careful, or quiet. We raised our voices sometimes when they darted out into a street or wrote with a marker on a bookshelf. But we managed our anger as best we could, dealt with its causes, said sorry, forgave, loved each other, and went on.

These days I live with an angry person again. It's my youngest daughter. We took her from foster care a few years ago. She’s sort of permanently mad at me since she has something called Reactive Attachment Disorder. She’s also a teenager now, and those creatures are often upset. So, sometimes I find myself being careful again, just like I was around my dad.

Sadly, my dad died without ever resolving his anger. He wasn’t just an angry person. He had other facets, like incredible generosity, ambition, and drive. But, at the end of his life, when he was suffering terribly in hospital beds, he became even angrier. I don’t think the nurses understood that they should assess his mood before talking to him. I know they didn’t care if they interrupted his TV watching or napping. And pain makes everyone grumpy anyway. So my dad would yell and cuss people out. He would throw things, and threaten people.

Now, that’s how my youngest is acting—cussing, throwing, threatening. That anger is really all she has, for me anyway. And I know she’s in pain, too. But this is not helping. And the hardest part is that instead of controlling her anger with the healthy strategies she has learned, she maintains a glowing ember of rage.

So I don’t check her mood before speaking with her; I just don’t speak to her. I don’t interrupt her activities; I just don’t interact with her. If we steer clear of each other we have an okay day—except that the anger continues and this is no way to live with anyone.

I try to remember that I’ve felt that kind of anger, at times, too—a deep, burning rage that asks to be fed. This kind of anger changed who I was. It changed how I thought and what I thought about. It needed to be stoked and kept burning, and if I obliged it, it kept me warm, like the fever of an infected wound.

One week during my own angry season, my husband told me that I had become part of the problem. 

My anger had eclipsed the anger of our child.

My sweet husband said that to me so gently, but hearing it was difficult. Still, I could see that he was right. My child being angry had taken a toll on me, but me being angry was not helping. I decided I needed to repent in some way. All the anger felt like sin.

That was the beginning of a cleansing from anger. That was the beginning of not giving into the temptation to be angry. That was the beginning of fewer battles.

Now when I feel angry, I do lots of deep breathing, lots of cleaning. 

I talk things out with people who listen. I write about it. I pray.

I hope that my angry child will want to be rid of her angry monster soon as well. I’m praying that she will decide to stop feeding it. Jesus has answered this kind of prayer before—worked to change her mind about things that were going horribly wrong and changed her life.

Ephesians 4 talks about this new life, and about how it doesn’t include anger. 

“All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.” – Ephesians 4:31-32

This scripture says that we should turn our anger into kindness. That seems like a lot to ask. But it’s an encouragement to me. Kindness, and forgiving, are things I can put in the giant black hole inside where the anger burned. And it’s helpful to fill that up with something good.

I have to think hard about that every day. But it makes me feel good, rather than angry. 

Thank you, Jesus.

Rebecca Barnes is married to an amazing man, who encourages her faith and listens to her typing a lot. She has three daughters and a son-in-law. She loves to cook for anyone who likes good food, and she feels competitive about weeding her flower garden. She lives in Old Town Lafayette because it’s a little eclectic, like her.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

How to Beat the Winter Blues

Winter—so beautiful with its snows and sunsets, and so cozy with its hot cocoa, fuzzy blankets, and warm fires. Yet every year for as long as I can remember, winter has weighed heavy on me. As a child, I didn’t understand why I felt blue and sad for months after each Christmas. Now I know why.
I have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s a form of depression that afflicts around 10 million Americans every year, especially in the winter months. The long, dark nights combined with shorter light periods often trigger depression-like symptoms.
I have endured several seasons of depression in the past, and mental illness runs on both sides of my family. I am genetically predisposed to have this problem, year after year. But I have found ways to fight off these heavy winter blues that strike each November and last through March.
Recently I wrote about the tried-and-true ways I’ve learned to handle SAD, without the use of any medication. My faith in God has served as an anchor in those dark seasons, and I’ve learned some practical coping methods too. Today, I’ll share my top eight tips for fighting off winter blues.
First, an important note for you: If you have been experiencing depression symptoms every day for two weeks, please see a doctor right away. These tips are meant to help those of us with mild to moderate cases of winter blues and SAD, not clinical depression. It’s important that you receive the professional help you need (like I did in the past).
Here are my top 8 tips for beating winter blues:
1.     Meditate on God’s Word. Regular meditation provides spiritual, mental, physical, personal, and relational benefits. It has helped me focus my mind on positive truths when I feel down. Learn the easy seven-step method I use for Christian meditation here.

2.     Expose yourself to natural sunlight. An invisible switch inside me flips to “off” if clouds block the sun too long. Any day the sun appears, I bundle up and take a quick walk outdoors. The sunlight always energizes me and prompts me to praise God for His gift of light.

3.     Use other light sources to boost your mood. Experts recommend light therapy to treat SAD. You can invest in a light box, or you can keep your Christmas tree up a bit longer, like I do. It cheers me on those dark winter nights and inspires me to thank Jesus for being the Light of the World.

4.     Eat foods that beat the blues. I have tested several different foods and found good results from eating whole grains, chocolate, and bone broth. These foods help your body produce serotonin,  a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and produces good feelings.

5.     Exercise regularly. Even though I’m not a natural athlete, I exercise during the winter to increase endorphins, which help me shed my winter blues. I combine exercise with reading Christian books, which builds my faith.

6.     Use natural methods to get better sleep. When you’re depressed, you often get either too much sleep or not enough sleep. I use several different methods to get better sleep, including essential oils that make a big difference.

7.     Enjoy face-to-face time with friends. It’s so tempting to hole up at home with the winter blues. But I’ve learned that I cope with winter blues better when I reach out to others. I meet weekly with my Bible Study friends and it's a lifeline in the winter.

8.     Change your routine for a fresh perspective. Winter is a good time to take a day trip, get a massage, reconnect with an old friend, or volunteer. Even a small change of pace can inspire you and give you hope.

These are my favorite ways to beat winter blues, based on my recent blog series, 4 Ways to Fight Off Winter Blues. If you have any other creative ideas, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Sarah Geringer is a full-time freelance writer and graphic designer. She writes about Finding Peace in God’s Word and is the author of three books. She also leads an online Bible study group based on the One Year Bible. She loves to read, paint, garden, bake, and play the flute. Sarah lives in Missouri with her husband and three children, right in the heart of prime viewing for the Great Eclipses of 2017 and 2024. Follow Sarah on social media:

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

What Face Do We Show to the World?

 By Patricia Raybon

I’m sitting at my kitchen table, pasting Kiss® press-on nails on each fingertip. My husband and I are going to a wedding and I want to look better than my everyday self. I work at home, that is, and when I leave the house for a nice occasion, I want to look as if I care. About the event. About other people. About myself.

But also about God. We’re each His image-bearers. That’s what I’ve come to understand. Therefore, I want to look “nice.” But also grateful. But also glad. I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. (Psalm 122:1 KJV)

Indeed, do we walk so closely with Christ that we’re starting to look like Him? With or without a manicure? 

Jesus doesn’t care about my manicure, of course. Fumbling with my press-on nails, I stop, therefore, to ask myself a nagging question: why am I going to all of this trouble? If God only looks at my heart—yes, on the inside—why am I fussing with how I look on the outside? The question won’t go away, so I reflect on it for several reasons.

First, I am female. I indulge the “girly” part of being me. Indeed, I enjoy being a girl, as that 1960s show tune from Broadway’s “Flower Drum Song” declared. (I also can’t overlook that show’s brave exploration of immigration issues—still so hotly debated today.)

But first, can we talk about manicures? Because while being female—or attractive—doesn’t equate with wearing tricked out fingernails, appearance still affects how we get on in life, say scholars.

“Physical appearance serves as a channel through which personality is manifested," said authors of a 2009 study, “Personality Judgments Based on Physical Appearance,” published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Or in layperson’s terms, explains a Forbes Magazine article, “like it or not,” we’re being judged by how we look.

Thus, going on a date? We spiff up. Meeting a friend? We clean up. Going to a job interview? We wear “appropriate” clothes, even in today’s gig economy.
For me, however, there’s another reason appearance has always played a significant role in my life.

I am African American. Growing up in the U.S. during Jim Crow discrimination, the pressure to look better than expected was enormous. I can still hear my no-nonsense mother: “You’re not leaving the house wearing that.” (Or did everybody’s mother say such words?)

Looking my best mattered to my mother because she knew I couldn’t change the one thing that impacted me most. Yep, my skin color. I won’t belabor the point here, but the scourge of bigotry—and the injustice of color-struck hate, especially regarding race (which scientists have proven is genetically irrelevant)—remains one of the world’s worst nemesis.

And yet? For better or worse, how we look to others still matters. We each have to get out of bed every morning, get dressed and face the world. But what do we show to the world? Just a great manicure? Or something much deeper?

The remarkable movie “Wonder” offered an appealing answer. That story, about a little boy with a severe facial deformity—struggling to fit in at his new school—taught one empowering way to show up in the world: be kind.

Kindness is godly, indeed. Here’s Jeremiah 9:24: “This is what the Lord says…I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight” (NIV). That’s important to remember in a world that often isn’t kind—especially regarding other people’s looks.

As little Auggie’s mother in “Wonder” said to him—“You are not ugly.”
He protested. “You’re supposed to say that. You’re my mom!”
Her answer: “Because I’m your mom it counts the most—because I know you the most.”
As she wisely assured him: “We all have marks on our face. This is the map that shows where we’ve been and it’s never, ever ugly.”

So, what about followers of Christ? What face do we show to the world?

Open-hearted? Trusting? Inclusive? Fearless? Do we believe in our God, and in ourselves, so much that we know there’s enough room on God’s Earth for everyone—including ourselves?

In a divided world, this isn’t an idle question. If people know Jesus based on how we look to them—and how we “live, move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)—is our appearance close enough to Christ, and to his character, that others get the right impression of Him? Fully seeing His total essence?

I pose these questions not for others but first to myself.

Does my love look like Christ? Do my words sound like Christ? When people think of Jesus do they think also of me?

I pray the answer is yes. Otherwise, I’m just a well-groomed female with a nice manicure. God help me—and all of us who love Him—to be far more.

Patricia Raybon, a former Sunday Magazine editor at The Denver Post and former associate professor of journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is an award-winning author of books, essays and devotionals on faith, grace and race. Connect with her on TwitterFacebook and her Faith Journey blog at