Bethany Shaffer

Bethany grew up in Arkansas and transplanted to the Northwest in 2019 with her husband Luke, and their two energetic kiddos Jesse and Rachel Anne. Bethany was born with a passionate personality and discovered a love for reading and writing early in life. Over the past few years she has found immense joy and healing in the process of writing about truth. She hopes to write a book or two one day and to bring women together in community. Having been healed from a season of loss, Bethany believes in the power of God and of faith, hope, and love.

  • Love Came Down

    Each year during the Christmas season, we find ourselves surrounded by songs, sermons, and scenes depicting Jesus as a baby in a manger. We sing carols about how he came to save us and to bring hope, peace, joy, and love – all incredibly powerful truths. But this year, as my family has been walking through the Advent season together, I’ve been pondering what it means that God came to earth, not mature and fully formed, but as a loud, messy, unpredictable baby. 

    This can be a difficult idea for our image-obsessed culture to embrace. Most of us prefer our lives to be relatively tidy, logical, and orderly – at least from the outside looking in. But how often does everything in our lives stay neat and tidy for long periods of time? How many of our intimate relationships stay neat and tidy for long stretches of time? Where there is life and growth, there are messes! So if messes are inevitable, maybe they aren’t as bad as we think they are, but perhaps instead we need to examine our responses to the messes that happen.

    In John chapter 3, Jesus explicitly referred to the growing-up process we all go through when He explained the Kingdom of God to the religious leader named Nicodemus. Nicodemus had come to Jesus under the cover of night, searching for more answers to his questions. They didn’t talk long before Jesus had revealed the secret of God’s kingdom to him, saying “you must be born again”  (John 3:3) 

    If you’re like me, you might read that verse through your “Christian filter” and it might sound pretty normal. But what might Nicodemus have thought when hearing that sentence for the first time? How unexpected it must have been! I imagine He had expected Jesus to share some sort of profound statement full of wisdom that would blow His mind. (And in fact, that’s exactly what Jesus did.) But at the time, I don’t think Nicodemus expected to hear that he needed to become a baby again! In the next verse, we can see that he responded quite literally to Jesus’s statement, exclaiming, “how can someone be born again when they are old? Can they enter into their mother’s womb a second time?” (paraphrase) But of course, we have the helpful perspective of knowing that Jesus didn’t mean literally, He was speaking metaphorically. So if we follow that metaphor to its natural conclusion, what do we infer?

    Well, first of all, we can first infer that becoming a spiritual baby who is learning everything all over again is not only OK, it’s actually a requirement!” You MUST be born again,” Jesus says. And yet this metaphor of birth and babies sure brings with it a very messy-sounding reality. Many of us, if we’re honest, might admit how uncomfortable it sounds. After all, who wants to go back to the baby stage of being helpless and vulnerable?! Isn’t it better to maintain the posture of being wise and respected? Shouldn’t that be of the most value in God’s kingdom?

    But God’s kingdom is not of this world. It thrives not in the pride of perfection, but in the simplicity of our humble, messy growth. The step-by-step stages of our spiritual growth and development may never feel easy or tidy; but over time, as we embrace God’s good plan to parent us, we grow from spiritual babies to curious children, to mature adults. This radical acceptance of God’s wisdom and timing sets us up towards sustained maturity and great wisdom through our dependence on Him. Meanwhile, there is so much more grace for our messes and mistakes than we think there is! God is not surprised by them, and just like every good parent, He will help us – teaching us and loving us unconditionally through it all.

    We will all continue to make messes and mistakes throughout our lives, but because of Jesus, they don’t have the power to define us or to change our identity. Messes and mistakes are a normal, even expected result of our growth and development as people and Christ-followers. We must remember that as children of God, we desperately need Him to parent us to maturity. 

    In Psalm 40:2, David describes God’s mercy this way: 

    “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”

    Psalm 40:2

    From a muddy pit to a firm and strong foundation, God’s love for us, through the life of Jesus, brings help, hope, and redemption to even our worst messes!

    This Christmas, I encourage you to spend time remembering that Love came down as a baby. It wasn’t easy, quiet, or tidy, but it was good. Let’s give thanks to God for sending Jesus into our messy world, to redeem it and restore it. No matter what messes might be present in your life, you can take heart knowing that God will not leave you there in your mess, but lift you up out of it and set your feet on solid ground. We can give it all to God, the redeemer of our messes, and proclaim like the angels in Bethlehem so long ago, “Glory to God in the highest!”  Love has come.

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  • Praying When The World’s Got You Down

    Lately it feels as though the world has been falling apart at the seams. A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling especially bombarded and weighed down by the mess of the world around me. I had been consuming more news than was healthy for my well-being and had ended up in tears, finally admitting to my husband how sad I felt about the state of our world.

    But as I talked through it, something began to happen. We got to a place where, in the midst of all the hopelessness, we started speaking truth to each other about those problems, pulling each of them back into the warm glow of God’s presence. I began to sense God’s clear, calm voice piercing through the fog of all my fears, saying, “It’s alright, my dear. Take some deep breaths. I’m with you and I’m still on my throne. Come talk with me and tell me the things that are troubling you. I know the world feels chaotic right now. I can see everything you’re seeing and much, much more. Give me your worries and let me carry these heavy burdens. I can handle ALL of it – don’t be afraid.”

    In that moment, God’s Spirit shone so brightly through the dimness that I saw with clarity the reality of our fragile humanity and my own desperate need for God and prayer. Not the tidy, practiced prayers we say around the dinner table, or the flowing ones we read into a microphone from a church platform, but the raw cries for help driven by fear, sadness, uncertainty and grief. The prayers we whisper with tears streaming down our faces as we fear the worst. Prayers that offer all those fears and worries back into the hands of our eternal and omnipotent God, asking for His help and direction through each and every step. These types of prayers exercise our faith in a way that stretches far beyond our limited human capacity.

    Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

    Hebrews 4:14-16

    How often we forget! We have a high priest – the most powerful advocate possible, Jesus the Son of God, working daily on our behalf. He longs for us to come to Him, partnering with Him in prayer. That time in prayer not only informs and directs our actions, but also reminds us to entrust the end results to God. No matter how ill-equipped we may feel to bring all the change we want to see in a chaotic world, we are far from powerless – in fact, we have been granted full-access to the most powerful One through the gift of prayer. This truth is foundational to our faith. As we pray, Jesus the advocate, hears our prayers with compassion and works on our behalf, tending to the wounds of a world we ourselves are unable to heal.

    I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.” Psalm 17:6

    “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12

    These are just two out of countless verses from the bible that speak of our human need to turn to God in times of trouble. Today, let’s decide to remain faithful in prayer, no matter what happens. Communicate with God about what’s going on in your life today and in the world around you. There is so much more happening behind the scenes than we can even begin to see or understand – but God sees and knows all. His Word tells us that He can and will supply ALL of our needs. So instead of getting lost in the maze of trying to solve all the world’s problems, we can pray to God, the one who supplies all our needs, as we give our burdens to Him.

    There is power in prayer to connect our hearts and minds to the all-powerful God. Our Father knows that we are not capable of bearing the weight of the world or of knowing all the answers to every problem, so why do we think we can? Let’s continue to come to the feet of Jesus, one day at a time, knowing that He’s still got the whole world in His hands.

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  • Spirit of Freedom

    This year, my family missed out on watching fireworks for the Fourth of July. It’s been so hot and dry in our area that the city completely banned them due to fire risk. We were totally bummed out – especially since it also happens to be my son’s birthday and he loves them! But at the end of the day it was all ok because we still found other meaningful ways to celebrate.

    It reminded me that the way we celebrate isn’t really what matters most – it’s what (and whom in our case) we’re celebrating that matters. Fireworks or not, we found ourselves incredibly grateful to be alive and free and together. And that was enough.

    Since the beginning of time, people have yearned for freedom; sometimes to the point of spending their entire lives trying to gain it or protect it. We honor those heroes and their sacrifice because freedom is worth fighting for.

    But as we sit with this, we need to remember that not all freedom looks the same. We tend to think first of the physical freedoms of a country – its laws, economy, and practices. But the internal freedom of our hearts was fought for too – bought with the life and death of Jesus, offered to us freely by God, and experienced through His Spirit. (Gal. 3:14; Col. 1:13-14; I Tim. 2:5-6). That’s the best news we’ll ever hear!

    So what exactly does our God-given freedom look like?

    There’s a moment I love in Luke chapter 4 where we find Jesus returning to His hometown Nazareth after 40 days of testing and temptation in the wilderness. He goes to the synagogue and stands up to read scripture. As they hand him the scroll of Isaiah, He searches until finding this passage:

    “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18-19)

    Then He dramatically rolls up the scroll and sits down, saying to the speechless crowd, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21)

    This story gives me goosebumps. I can just imagine the shocked, maybe doubtful looks on everyone’s faces as they look at this familiar yet unrecognizable man – the one they watched grow up from a boy – filled with the Holy Spirit and fulfilling prophecies. Jesus the Christ was boldly proclaiming His identity! He was filled with God’s Spirit, and He knew exactly who He was and what He’d been sent to do – to bring freedom. This was God’s plan all along – for all people to have access to His kingdom, healed and free through the power of His Spirit.

    All throughout the Bible when the Spirit of God is present, incredible and miraculous things happen. People who were bound up with disease and illness are healed, demons are cast out, the last become first, the “unlovable” are loved, and we are all set free from the grip of sin and death itself through Jesus.

    It’s all too easy to find ourselves looking at the world around us for the keys to our freedom – things like having a picture perfect life, or climbing the ladder of success, or believing that electing the “right” politicians will magically solve all the world’s problems. But none of these things will fill us up or save us from despair. John 8:36 tells us that “who the son sets free is free indeed.” Nothing and no one on this earth can bring us true freedom except God through His Spirit. As our creator and savior, He is the first and best advocate for our freedom that has ever been or will ever be.

    His Spirit at work in us leads to freedom from comparison and striving for others’ approval, so that we are no longer held captive by the world’s definition of perfection, beauty or success. We can live freely in our identity as beloved daughters of the King! Friends, let’s take our eyes off all the constant distractions of life, rally around each other in support, and draw closer and closer to God, the source of our ultimate freedom.

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  • Fix Our Eyes

    If you’ve ever studied the human eye, you know that it is complex and absolutely fascinating. It’s also a well-known fact that we humans are incredibly visually oriented. We LOVE looking at the world around us! This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just how we’re wired. Most of us (when we’re awake) are constantly looking at some-thing somewhere. We look at art. We look at nature. We look through a camera. We look at our kids. We look at our phones and social media. And most of us naturally turn our eyes to the loudest thing demanding our attention at any given moment. The result of this instinct is that as we mature, if we don’t learn how to set intentional goals of where to look and why, our eyes will wander toward the shiniest object in the room, simply by default.

    I teach piano lessons, and for 14 years now, I’ve had a front row seat in the learning process of countless budding musicians as they sharpen valuable life skills such as focus, coordination, and the power of perseverance – not to mention achieving big goals of being able to play amazing music whenever they want to. One of the things all new students struggle with is learning how to read music and knowing where to look

    Being around pianos every day for my job, I can recognize that they’re really a beautiful instrument. The clean lines and sharp contrast of the black and white keys invite us to come touch them, and the colorful melodies that sing from within can be mesmerizing. It’s no wonder that my students find themselves watching their hands as they learn to play music. We want to see the action! (and those beautiful keys.)  

    But there’s a problem with too much of this – when reading music, most of the information the student needs is actually on the page of a book right in front of them. When they take their eyes off the page for too long, they actually disconnect from the source of information telling their fingers where to go next. I often explain to them that it’s like riding a bike or driving a car – if they stare down at their hands, they’ll actually miss out on where they’re going and probably crash!

    We all need to practice the skill of keeping our eyes fixed ahead on what’s most important and trust the rest to take care of itself. In fact, where we look is so important, that in Psalm 33:18, David makes a point of telling us where God’s eyes are looking: 

      … the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear Him, on those whose hope is in His loving devotion. (BSB)

    God, the maker of heaven and earth, the one who made everything, could choose to look absolutely anywhere! His creations are beautiful, delightful, and endless. So where then, in all of creation does He choose to look? David says “the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him.” His eyes are on us. His beloved children. 

    Think back on a moment in your life, big or small, when you felt seen by someone. Maybe someone caught your eye from across a room and smiled at you. Maybe there was a surprise party by your friends or coworkers for your birthday or a promotion. Maybe you felt truly seen on your wedding day. Or maybe you are the one doing the looking, stealing glimpses of your children when they’re playing or sleeping, your heart overflowing with love towards them. Our eyes are windows into connection with the world around us, but especially with the ones we love most. 

    What a simple yet profound concept to be seen by God. YOU are what He wants to look at! He looks at you whether you have your makeup on or not. He looks at you on your best days, and also on your worst days – when you’re crying, and when you feel like a failure. He sees it all, and He still chooses to look on you with love and hold you close. 

    When we begin to understand how much He truly loves us and sees every hair on our heads, we can relax and lean into His unshakable love and kindness. We don’t have to perform to earn his attention – we already have it! Being seen and loved by God provides us with the space we need to breathe, to release anxious thoughts, and to trust in His power to care for us. It is in this space that we find hope. You can lean into that space anytime, even right now, by closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and imagining God’s eyes looking at you with loving kindness. Spend as much time here as you need.

    The truth we need to remember is that where we fix our gaze is a choice. Have you stopped to consider lately where you are looking? Where is your gaze fixed, both mentally and physically? Are you looking back into God’s kind eyes? Or are you constantly judging others and looking at them for comparison to determine your own value? Are you focused on worry, fear of the future, and negative thoughts? Are you looking to your bank account daily to define your sense of worth or security? 

    We all experience these temptations because we’re human (I know I do!) Where we spend the most time looking can give us a glimpse into our hearts and what we deem is important. But wherever you’re looking today, the good news is that we always have a choice, each day, to redirect our gaze. 

    Let’s practice turning our gaze back to the Lord, whose eyes are already on us; and just like a piano student learning to read music, we can train ourselves to look up and ahead, following God’s example by fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2) and our source of hope and direction for today and everyday.

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  • Strength in Humility

    I distinctly remember how overwhelmed I felt, staring down at that rectangle-shaped jungle that was now, apparently, mine. I was a grown woman but I didn’t know anything about gardening, so whatever had possessed me to sign up for a plot in my local community garden was now causing major imposter syndrome to run like sweat down my back. I had recently become a single mom with two high-energy toddlers running circles around me day and night. My whole world had collapsed, and most days I existed in alternating states of shock, numbness, and grief. This wasn’t the plan. I didn’t choose this divorce. What now, God? 

    Time and energy were precious in those days. My brain was often locked in a fog I couldn’t seem to shake, and I was desperate for something to call my own. I needed a project – a purpose and a reason to get outside and moving; something to keep my mind and hands occupied. So I went to a meeting at the church behind my house, set up by some local master gardeners, and signed my name on their list. I showed up on day 1 with the little ones running their usual circles only to find that my assigned spot seemed to have been left untouched for a very long time. “Oh no.” Hopefully there was still some good dirt hiding underneath it all. Regret came rushing in. “What am I doing? Why did I think this was a good idea? I don’t have time for this, and I’m going to fail in front of all these experienced gardeners!” 

    In hindsight, it probably wasn’t as big or scary as I remember it, but in those days everything overwhelmed me. Waking up was overwhelming. Going to work was overwhelming. Getting ready for bed was overwhelming. Bath time, supper time, and clean-up time were ALL overwhelming. And here I was, taking on more responsibility that needed my time, energy and attention – resources I didn’t have to spare. Had I simply imagined that nudge from the Lord to do this? Oh well. I’d already committed, and I didn’t want to be a quitter. So I put on some gloves and a brave face and dove in, pulling out vines by the armful.

    I learned a lot of valuable lessons from that garden over the next couple of years, and I found unexpected joy from putting my hands in the soil and seeing God display His nature through nature. I didn’t just learn about growing food, but also about identifying weeds, appreciating the worms, predicting which veggies my family would or wouldn’t eat, and how to bake zucchini into almost anything! Through that process though, I had to come face-to-face with just how much I didn’t know about gardening. The older couple in charge were incredibly kind and knowledgeable, and I learned to lean on them, to ask questions no matter how silly, and to gratefully receive their help.

    Obviously, I dealt with much bigger issues that year than learning how to tend a garden, but as it turned out, the life lessons were mostly the same: I was more capable than I thought I was, but on the days when I couldn’t do it alone, help was available – if only I was willing to humble myself, acknowledge my need, and ask.

    But He {God} said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9 -10 (NIV)

    Just like Paul (the author of 2 Corinthians), hardship, difficulties, persecution, discrimination and insults are bound to come our way; but un-like Paul, I can almost guarantee you that our first reaction isn’t usually to “delight” in them!

    Most of us tend to experience fear, sadness, anger or hopelessness in the face of unexpected and difficult situations. While these are normal reactions, we also get to choose how we respond to those things in the long-term. Often, what makes the difference in how we each choose to respond can be traced back to our level of humility.

    When was the last time you encountered a hardship that knocked you down or exposed a weakness in your life? Maybe it was a job loss, a heartbreak, a false rumor, the death of a loved one, or a scary diagnosis. Often, these hardships change the course of our lives. So how is it that Paul can say for Christ’s sake he actually takes “delight” in these terrible things? If you go back and read the verse again, you’ll find his answer: “so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  

    Sadly, it’s usually not until we come to the end of our own strength that we seek God’s power to overcome our circumstances. I think Paul was trying to tell us that experiencing God’s power is actually pretty great – SO great in fact, that he got excited when he had opportunities to experience it again and again!

    Contrary to what our culture teaches us, the Bible tells us that our greatest strength lies not in our in-dependence, but in our de-pendence on God’s unfailing power.

    … if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. – 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NLT)

    This verse isn’t about what people can do, but it is about what GOD can do for His people when we humble ourselves and let Him take the lead. Our job is in acknowledging, seeking, asking, and turning our hearts toward Him once again. This is what our humility looks like. By acknowledging our deep need for God’s help, and accepting the fact that we cannot save ourselves, we learn humility by entrusting ourselves to His loving care and protection.

    I used to think that humility meant thinking badly about myself, focusing on my flaws and failures, or abandoning myself in order to care only for others. But God’s Word tells us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”  “in the image of God” (Psalm 139:14 and Genesis 1:27). How could we possibly think badly about ourselves when we are, in fact, fearfully and wonderfully made by a good God? True humility doesn’t actually involve shame or self-hatred at all, but it does include recognizing and acknowledging when we need help and then asking for it.

    What is a hardship you’re facing today? Where do you need to experience God’s strength in place of your own weakness? Instead of brushing it aside, I invite you to pray a simple prayer of acknowledgement before God, humbly asking Him for help, and maybe even like Paul, to take delight in the opportunity for His power to rest on you. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10)

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  • You Are Not Alone

    How often have you found yourself in a hard situation, or maybe just scrolling social media, thinking something along the lines of “maybe it’s just me,” or “I guess ______ just isn’t going to happen for me.” I can’t begin to count the number of times this happens to me–sometimes per day! I wish I could say I always notice and stop those destructive thoughts in their tracks, but some days it’s harder than others.

    In life, it can be all too easy to slide into the trap of thinking that we’re the only one: the only one whose dreams have been derailed by life’s unexpected twists and turns. The only one fighting cancer, or maybe fighting with our spouse. The only one our age who still isn’t married. The only one who’s lost their dream job, or maybe didn’t get to graduate. Maybe the only one who’s been hurt by a friend’s words, or overwhelmed by their boss’s expectations. As women, especially, it can be all too easy to believe the lie that we are the only one in our situation.

    Over the past year or two, God has been speaking to my heart about this and urging me to take notice of our common human experiences. Whenever I find myself sinking into that lie, He has been gently reminding me, “my darling, you are not alone, and you are not the only one.”

    Despite the varying details, we all face hardships and unwanted problems. The pandemic this past year has certainly highlighted this fact in some obvious ways. Millions of us have been shaken out of our daily routines enough to remember that we are all vulnerable to life in more ways than we realized. We are probably all much more aware today than we were last year of our lack of control over the world, and of our constant need for God’s care and protection.

    I’ve noticed that in the seasons when I feel the most alone, I also struggle to hear and believe God’s words. That pesky feeling of “aloneness” can quickly build a barrier around our hearts, making it much harder to hear the truth we so desperately need. But on the flip side, there is something so powerful that happens when we are seen, heard, and understood by one another. Our hearts begin to “soften”, allowing those beautiful “God truths” to sink deep down into our hearts and minds, changing us from the inside out.

    I’m reminded of the Israelites in the book of Exodus as they were leaving Egypt. Not only were they not alone, but they got to experience God’s miraculous care and protection first-hand! He had heard their prayers and seen their tears. He brought them a leader and rescued them from slavery. He led them through unknown deserts, parted seas, got rid of their enemies, gave them food and water, and provided for all of their needs. When they could not save themselves, they experienced His tangible faithfulness to save over and over again. Years later, as they were about to enter their promised land, the Lord told them to do this:

    Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

    Deuteronomy 11:18-20, NIV

    As I read these instructions, I get a sense of God’s desire to help the Israelites stay grounded in truth by reminding themselves of His faithfulness everywhere they went. He knew it wasn’t going to be enough for them to see or hear Him act just once; He knew His children would need constant reminders of His faithfulness. And not just for themselves, but also for their children, and for their children’s children. He knew they would need to remember His faithfulness together.

    If you read through the rest of the Israelites’ story, you may begin to notice that the more desperately aware the Israelites were of their need for God, the more they trusted Him to care for them. Although it might sound overly simplistic, the first step in experiencing God’s faithfulness is to get real about our needs. And yet isn’t that sometimes the hardest part? To admit to our needs, our fears, and our doubts? It can be hard to admit that we don’t have all the answers, or that our plans just aren’t working out the way we’d hoped. And yet when we choose to open up about those places, we get to learn humility as we ask God to show up as only He can.

    As we’ve focused on God’s faithfulness this month, I’ve been deeply encouraged by the vulnerability of each woman who has opened up about her hopes, her fears, and her real-life questions and prayers to God. When we can hear and relate to what’s being shared, we remember that we aren’t alone and we get to see God’s faithfulness again and again. We are then able to open our hearts and say “me too!” Hearing each other’s stories creates safe spaces for us to feel less alone and to find true connection with each other through Christ. It’s in these vulnerable spaces that we find the grace to exhale, to be comforted, and to find true community.

    Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” It is such a simple yet powerful practice to regularly share, listen, and help carry one another’s burdens, remembering that we are not alone. This verse in Galatians tells us that by doing this we can actually fulfill the law of Christ. In Matthew 11:30, Jesus says His yoke is easy and His burden is light. His laws are not burdensome, they are the keys to our freedom in the life of abundance that God has promised us!

    Are there places in your life where you can open conversations to share God’s faithfulness in your own life and invite the same in return? I encourage you to find somewhere new to do that this week, and when you do, I think you’ll be reminded once again that it’s not just you. We’re all in this together.

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  • This is Love

    Not too long ago, my family and I celebrated the Advent season together. As the Christmas season approached, I went searching for an Advent calendar to keep us focused on Jesus and connected to each other through the season. I ended up choosing one on “the names of Jesus.”

    Each day we turned over a different card with one of the names of Jesus written in beautifully scrawled lettering, surrounded by soft, Christmas-y designs. I bought it because it was beautiful, but I soon discovered how impactful it was to dive into those twenty-four different names of Jesus and the deeper meaning behind each one. I began to experience a fresh understanding of the vast-ness of God with each new name we discovered. He’s so all-encompassing that there’s really no way to sum up what He’s like in one, two, or even twenty-four names! Each day’s name was so simple yet so profound. “Shepherd.” “The Word.” “Messiah.” “Redeemer.”
    One after the other.

    One of His names especially seems to get mentioned a lot, especially this time of year: “Love.”

    Love. Everyone wants to experience it, to know what it feels like, and to know what it looks like. But will we ever agree on the answers? We were all created with a need to experience love.

    Some people might think Valentine’s Day holds the key: “Well you buy cards and chocolate and lots of balloons, and you eat at a fancy restaurant, and maybe there’s a proposal, and that’s what “love” is!” Well … maybe that’s not the whole story.

    I don’t know if we will ever fully understand what it means for Jesus to be the embodiment of “Love,” but let’s take a closer look together because I believe there are some amazing treasures to be found along the way. Let’s start with a look in the Bible.

    When the New Testament was written, there were four different words in the Greek language used to describe love. I wish we had four different words for love! The variety of experiences we call “love” each look vastly different from each other. Between our families, our friends, our romantic partners, our coworkers, the larger world around us, and even our own relationship with God, there’s just no way that we could sum up all of these experiences into one single word. And that’s how it is with Jesus – there is no way that His love could only be expressed one way. And yet He alone is able to offer sustaining love to all of his creation in the ways that they need it the most.

    Let’s go back to the beginning for a minute. The VERY beginning. To the garden of Eden. Genesis 1:27 (ESV) says, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  

    There’s a simple yet profound truth I’ve come to understand in recent years about God and His image – the image that He created you and I to bear. I didn’t hear this truth in a church service, and I didn’t hear it listening to a podcast or going to a conference. It happened over time during my own personal quiet times reading the Bible and observing how God has interacted with His creation throughout history.

    The truth I discovered is this: God experiences emotions! 

    Maybe you already knew this and you’re thinking “THAT’S your big discovery?!”  Or maybe you’ve never considered this thought before in your life and you’re thinking, “wait … what?!”

    As I read through the Bible, I encounter story after story where God expresses emotions and feelings. Jesus also expressed an immensely broad range of emotions while on earth.

    John 11:1–44 tells us the story of Jesus and his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Lazarus became sick to the point of death and word was sent to Jesus asking Him to come. When Jesus finally arrives in Bethany and encounters Lazarus’ death and the grief of His friends, the Bible says that “Jesus wept,” John 11:35. Jesus was moved by the sadness of His friends. He knew what was going to happen next. He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet He still allowed himself to feel the grief of the moment with his friends. Different translations describe Jesus during this story as being “moved,” and “touched,” and state how much Jesus “loved” this family. So why did Jesus allow himself to feel so much pain when He could have avoided it and just focused on the joy that was to come – raising Lazarus from the dead? I believe there’s an important truth here.

    Jesus allowed himself to feel all the big feelings of being human. He didn’t shy away from them. We, as people made in God’s image, need to realize that Jesus set the example for us to experience this broad range of emotions in life: joy, grief, sadness, anger, thankfulness, compassion … love. Most of us will spend a lifetime learning to identify and unpack the emotions that surface inside us on a daily basis. It’s hard work, and often really uncomfortable! But from what I read in the Bible, allowing ourselves to experience this range of emotions is appropriate, and is actually an example that Jesus himself set for us.

    If you go back and re-read stories from the old testament through this lens, you will begin to notice over and over again just how often God expresses big emotions regarding His people: compassion, love, anger, mercy – some of which we ourselves experience, and yet we sometimes condemn ourselves for having them. Having emotions, even the difficult ones, does not define us. Emotions do not have the power to make us bad, shameful or wrong. In fact, it’s totally normal! It’s part of being made in the “image of God” to feel all the many experiences of life. Where we get to encounter God is in our response to our emotions. This is where we get choices – choices to sin or not sin. Choices to stay stuck in a difficult emotion, or to cry out to God for help. Choices to remain faithful to our word or not.

    “But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead. It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!” Eph. 2:4-5 (NLT)

    This rich mercy of God toward us, His creation, overflows into all of His actions. Because of God’s great love for us, we get to experience His grace that saves us, His resurrection that brings us to life, and His presence that sustains us. Throughout history, God has never once failed to keep His promises to His people – His promises to remain faithful, to care for us, to redeem us, and to cleanse us. This is such a humbling reminder! As I follow Jesus day by day and become transformed to be more and more like Him, I hope to gain a greater capacity to experience the many emotions of life and also continue to stay in tune with the Father and His goodness, and His purposes for my life.

    “I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He (GOD) will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him.” Ephesians 3:16-17a

    “This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us.” 1 John 3:16a (GNT)

    As we approach Valentine’s Day, ask yourself what it looks like to let God’s love overflow from your heart onto those around you. Maybe it’s through a card, or a thoughtful gift, or a phone call, or even simply a prayer. It’s ok for that love to look a little different in each one of us.

    Whether married or single, surrounded by family or alone in our homes, let’s remember that no matter who else we may or may not have in our life, God promises to be with us. This Valentine’s Day if you’re single, know that married women still have to lean on God. And if you are married, remember that your husband is not God – he is simply a man in need of mercy and love, just as we are.

    Let’s remember that God is Love – He is the very definition of it! Without Him, we cannot fully experience the love, joy, or peace we were created to feel. Without holding back from the pain of relationship, God made us in His image, came to earth to have a relationship with us, and then gave himself up to redeem that relationship. This Valentine’s Day, I’m especially thankful for Jesus and the love that He gives us so freely.

    This is love.

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  • Clearing the Clutter

    Ah, January! The long-awaited, longest month of the year, famous for inspiring millions to make resolutions of forward progress and to clear out the old to make room for the new.

    Also (in case you hadn’t noticed) we have officially entered 2021! Although it has already swooped in with some pretty sticky messes, we will, and must, keep pressing onward with our sights set on Jesus. Always.

    All things considered though, I think we can all appreciate the beginning of a new year and the opportunity for a fresh start. Personally, I find the beginning of each new year to be an especially helpful motivator to declutter my home. Anyone else relate? Webster’s dictionary describes clutter this way: 1) n. a crowded or confused mass or collection; 2) adj. to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness.

    I don’t know about you, but I do not like clutter impeding my movements or reducing my effectiveness. I often don’t even know where the clutter in my house comes from, but oh boy, does it come! I also know that once it lands here it immediately becomes my responsibility to figure out what on earth to do with it. Whether the clutter needs to be thrown out or “re-homed,” it generally falls to me to make those decisions around our home and to remove the excess of things no longer serving myself and my family.

    It can take a lot of time and energy to clear out our physical clutter, but in the end, it is always hugely rewarding. Clearing out spaces in our homes that help us to be more efficient and effective in our daily lives is totally worth the effort!

    But there’s more than just one type of clutter that comes at us and can impede our lives. The type of clutter I want to talk about isn’t any of the things I just listed. In fact, it’s not anything you can hold in your hands at all: it’s what I call emotional clutter.

    I’m going to guess that all or most of us are familiar with the idea of emotional baggage. This is a term I’ve heard tossed around for years, generally in relation to unresolved pain and memories from the past which we can often end up hauling around with us (not by choice) that can interfere and weigh us down from living the beautiful life we were born to live.

    When severe enough, emotional baggage can hold people hostage from living any life at all! I won’t dive too deeply into that level of emotional baggage here, but I hope you know that if you find yourself needing to unpack a significant amount of baggage, this ministry would love to point you toward safe and appropriate resources.

    What I do want to address here is the smaller, often less noticeable collected moments of emotionally negative “clutter.”

    Emotional clutter can show up in a variety of shapes and sizes and can genuinely impede our effectiveness on a daily basis. It could look like a lot of things: like being in a nasty funk all day after getting stuck in traffic that morning; not being present with our family because we’re actively worrying about things we can’t control; it might look like not trusting an authority or other important figure in our life because we’re focusing on a time when someone else close to us betrayed our trust in a hurtful way; it could look like finding someone to blame for that thing that went wrong at work and gossiping about that person behind their back, or criticizing our partner for the one thing they forgot that day instead of thanking them for the things they did well.

    We can have all types of clutter gathering dust in our hearts at any given time, muddying the waters of our mind and spirit. If we’re not making time for self-reflection and introspection on a regular basis, we can often remain unaware of how much that clutter is impeding our movement in the world and reducing our effectiveness. Once that clutter begins to gather dust for long enough, it attracts more clutter, and more, and before we know it we are packing yet another suitcase of “baggage.”

    In order for this not to happen, it’s crucial that we begin to learn sustainable ways of partnering with God to clear the clutter from our hearts and minds. It might take some time and energy but trust me – just like cleaning out that closet, it’s going to be so worth it!

    Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

    Romans 12:2

    When we examine our thoughts and take stock of our emotional clutter, it allows God to help us discern what His perfect will is for us. We are able to see ourselves, the people around us and our circumstances from His eternal perspective, instead of our limited view.

    I encourage you to take some time this week to pray and ask God what kinds of emotional clutter might be collecting in your own heart. What types of emotions are weighing on you right now? Is there a conflict happening with someone in your life? Are you struggling to make a difficult decision but you don’t want to disappoint people?

    Try to name the first things that God brings to your mind without judging yourself or others for it. Ask God to help you sit with some of the clutter that He shows you and take a deep breath. These things aren’t too hard for God to handle! He understands, and He loves you, and He wants to carry your burdens for you. He’s that good!

    Remember that your clutter doesn’t define you, but it can sometimes impede your movements and reduce your effectiveness, just like physical clutter. It can limit our perspective and wisdom to what’s right in front of us, instead of being able to hear God’s gentle guidance and see His perfect provision. When we allow emotional clutter to accumulate, we can miss out on the fullness of all of the blessing and goodness God has for us.

    2020 might not have been my favorite year, but it taught me (along with a host of other lessons) that no matter what craziness life throws my way, my hope does not and cannot rely on the circumstances of this world. Instead, I am compelled to reaffirm my faith and trust in the One who never changes, who never becomes weak or weary – the One who hung the stars in the sky and causes the seasons to change – the One who put you and me on this earth for such a time as this. He is the solid rock in shifting sand on which we would do well to build our house. (Matt. 7:24)

    To an uncluttered New Year in Christ!

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  • Peace of Christ


    This evening after work, my husband discovered a leak in the very old hot water tank of our newly purchased home. So instead of enjoying the relaxing evening we’d planned, curling up on the couch with our kids and the latest Mandalorian episode, we raced the clock to pull up wet carpet and subfloor, buy and install a new copper pipe, cook supper, and get everyone fed before bedtime … all while trying to stay calm and be nice to each other.

    It almost seems laughable how frenzied we all became so quickly. It became increasingly difficult to give each other grace and margin for our disagreements and different priorities throughout the evening.

    Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

    John 14:27 (ESV)

    I don’t know about you, but this promise from Jesus to his disciples sounds almost too good to be true. Especially right now. I’ve been a Jesus-follower for a number of years now, and I’ve heard this particular passage more times than I can count. But I have to be honest: after a year like 2020 I feel as if I’m reading these words for the first time. How can Jesus make such bold statements? Is His peace really so accessible, even today? How can we keep our hearts from being troubled and afraid of the pain and chaos around us? How do we gain access to God’s incredible gift of peace?

    Let’s look a bit further down in John 16 where Jesus is once again speaking to His disciples about peace:

    Jesus asked [His disciples], ‘Do you finally believe? But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

    John 16:31-33 (ESV)

    This one hits hard. Jesus is describing His upcoming betrayal and abandonment from the very people he’s sitting next to – His best friends. I cannot imagine a worse scenario to foresee. If anyone had foreseen the tragedies of 2020, would they have been able to handle the grief and the apprehension? Would they have been able to hold the tension of gracious acceptance and brave fortitude? Jesus saw the future as God revealed it to him and He spoke of supernatural peace, even in the darkness of those events. What mattered most was not actually the events themselves, but more so Who was still present and offering peace in the midst of tragedy.

    Jesus confirmed over and over again throughout the Bible that life on earth will be hard, with trials and sorrows guaranteed to come our way. But the trials and the sorrows aren’t the end of the story because God is present through it all, and His promises stand firm.

    Let us open our hands this Advent season, to give Jesus our pain and sorrow and receive His supernatural gift of peace.

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  • “Success-full”

    My heart sank at the scene in front of me. I stared at the pile of dishes, already stacked higher than I wanted them to be. “Don’t think about that right now,” I reminded myself, taking a deep breath. “The dishes can wait. You need to call the doctor, and we have to pick up groceries this afternoon. Also remember the kids have martial arts class later today… Oh no, did I put that wet load of laundry in the dryer yet?!”

    I felt overwhelmed. Full time home-making and homeschooling wasn’t what I’d signed up for this year. I had been chomping at the bit to jump back into the workforce this year after a much-too-long hiatus and career swerve. But there I was. And here we all still are, in many cases feeling stuck or frustrated, spinning in circles just to keep everyone fed, clothed, schooled, and somewhat sane. How could this be OK? How could this factor into God’s big plan? I thought He wanted me to be … successful! 

    Can you relate? Most of our lives look pretty different in this pandemic-focused culture. The façade is gone. No longer do we see ourselves as invincible, nor do we take our health or social lives for granted. Mindsets and habits that we hadn’t taken time to think about before now are being brought into sharp focus as our days shape-shift closer and closer to a stripped down version of our old constructed reality.  

    On this particular day, I was especially frustrated. I found myself peppering God with somewhat accusing questions like, “What’s going on here, God? I feel like I’m spinning in circles. What are you doing? You put all of these dreams and desires in my heart! How am I supposed to execute them and be productive for You in this environment? I love taking care of my family, but when do I get a break from all of this to do something really important and successful?” 

    But on this particular day, God was ready for me. No further had this string of questions left my thoughts then He swooped in with some questions of His own. He (very kindly) responded right back saying, “Well what IS success, Bethany? What exactly does that look like? How are you measuring whether or not you’re being successful?” 

    Me: “oh ………. well ………um…..”

    I suddenly felt very exposed. I realized I had no good response. I was basing my vague idea of success on my own list of accomplishments and gauging how other people saw me. But I was getting the feeling this wasn’t the right answer. 

    My mind jumped back to a verse I’d memorized in my college days:

     “But what does the Lord require of you but to seek justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8.

    Hmm. None of that verse involved attention from other people. None of that sounded flashy or important. It was simple, and quiet, and … well, humble. Was that really it? Where was the part about having a career? Or finally getting the bigger house? Or making enough money to retire? Was living a “successful” life actually a whole lot simpler than I was making it out to be? 

    I was beginning to see it, but as I kept looking I found John 15:4:

    “Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.” 

    Remain in me. Stay connected to the vine. Fruit will come out of your connection.”  

    Ah. And I remembered. This is what Jesus took the time to talk to His followers about. Being with The Father. Staying connected to Him. How had I forgotten this? When had I decided that having an impressive resume and looking successful to others meant I was being a good Christian? 

    I thought about that all day, and then the next. Maybe I’d learned this all backwards. Maybe I’d learned that success looked like attention, and maybe that wasn’t actually true. Maybe all the success and fulfillment I longed for was actually waiting for me on the other side of seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God. Or in other words, “remaining on the vine.” Maybe the problem wasn’t in my lack of success, but my very definition of it.

    What if  I could choose to change my definition? What if I could actually reach this kind of success and then celebrate it! What if I could “remain on the vine” while I was finishing the laundry … and cooking … and washing the dishes. I had a feeling this was going to change everything. 

    What’s your definition of success? Is it grounded in remaining on the vine? Let’s adjust our definition of success to include these beautiful God truths! And let’s do it together. 

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