Longing to Find a Way Forward in the Dark Places: Dancing With Him (DWF 1) & Podcast

With so much sadness and so many daily burdens to shoulder, how do Christian women maneuver steadily through this journey of life with joy and peace of heart intact? What does it look like to be a woman filled with joy, every day, all the time, no matter what? In the deluge of all the stresses and disappointments in a fallen world, how does a mature Christian woman really walk in the power of the Holy Spirit? How does she face each situation with gladness, despite the relentless and demanding day-after-day, month-after-month, year-after-year things that would rob her of emotional and creative energy such as chores, bills, arguments, messes? Or how does she maintain joy in the center of more devastating troubles: a divorce, the tragic death of a loved one, a child who has a chronic illness or disability, rejection by family members, alcoholism and drug-related scars, a job layoff?

He gave me a personal, visual image of what He wanted me to understand about His joy: that it is wrapped up in Him as my heavenly Father; that He is the Initiator, the Provider, the Lover, the Strong One. In short, He is to be my leading Man in the dance of life.

But even more, dancing seemed to be a visual picture of what God wants me to do in my soul: He wants me to dance inside my heart, no matter what is going on outside in my circumstances. To dance is to celebrate life, to make merry, to physically live out the reality of internal joy. Those who walk closely with the Lord have a secret inner joy, a dancing energy just from knowing Him. It is in having Him as my partner, in letting Him take the lead, that I will be directed around the “dance floor” of my life. He is the One who will show me the steps, how to listen to the music, how to engage my heart with Him and to stay in sync with Him, the real Source of the music, the dance, and the everlasting joy." ~ from Dancing With My Father

The pathway of turning our mourning into dancing is a secret pathway, one away from the world of voices, where God waits for us to be with Him, learn of His ways. His ways are not our ways, Isaiah tells us. They are higher than the heavens are above the earth.

We are merely toddlers, beginning to understand the ways our lives take, the ways of wisdom and love.  Even as a toddler must quit having his little fit and be still in order to receive the comfort and message of their parent's heart, so we must leave our burdens and stresses into His hands, climb up in His lap and allow Him to be God--allow Him to direct our lives and show us how to let go of all that is not essential.

God does not intend us to be filled with anger and frustration and disappointment. Sometimes when we want to blame God, we refuse to see that we have not walked His ways, or followed His paths, and so our lives and our souls are filled up with the world of man, which will always carry with it confusion and grief. How can we learn to instead dance with our Heavenly Father?

If You Can Keep Your Head ... A Poem for Strength When People Disappoint

Words have profound power in our lives. They heal, inspire, teach, convict, encourage or destroy, wound, discourage. deflate. But because I knew that words would speak to my children’s hearts even after I was not with them any more, I made it a habit to see that they memorized significant portions of scripture, poetry, quotations, so that their hearts would hear the words of truth their whole lives. And this is one of my favorite passages we all memorized together.

If you can keep your head when all about you   

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;   

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;   

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

~ Rudyard Kipling

This poem, IF, by Rudyard Kipling, is one that I made all of my children memorize--and we reviewed it over and over and over again.

I think this poem is an elongated version of a saying I repeated often: Right is always right even if no one is doing it, wrong is always wrong even if everyone is doing it.

We are called to have a different character, a constant one, one that reflects the very image of Jesus, and yet,

In this crazy world, and especially in this crazy Christian world,

there are many irrational, unloving, critical,

exhausted, weary, discouraged,

immature, mean-spirited, untrained people wandering around. How I have been embarrassed by supposed Christians, even in the past couple of weeks.

I have seen lately, in the lives of my children and friends, them being overcome by some very difficult situations and people who unwillingly become a tool in the hand of Satan to discourage and destroy--faith, heart, and the well-being of others.

And yet, for those of us who have lived long enough, we know that this is the common "tribulation" and stress that Jesus was referring to when he said, "In this world, you will have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world."

Sometimes we are surprised when the conflict and criticism is most fierce from those who say they believe in Christ. I always thought Christians would have a heart for my imperfect but passionate commitment to Christ and His kingdom. Yet, Christians have been some of my biggest critics. Surprise—even Christians are sinful. And even I am sinful.

And so, if we can keep our heads, know that love covers a multitude of sin, live in grace and know that we and everyone else we will ever know make mistakes on a regular basis,

and live in the liberating grace of the freedom and blessing we find in the abiding love of Jesus,

then we will always, always have peace and always have the ability to keep giving life as He did.

Overcoming evil with good, loving beyond measure, forgiving and being a peacemaker, living with practiced faith, again and again and again,

this is where we become more like Him, our very dear Savior,

and it is where we become true warriors who redeem.

I highly commend this poem, the entire poem be put into the minds and hearts of you and also your children, so that you may have grace in your soul to go to, for facing this world and conquering the challenges that come your way.

When Life Doesn't Turn Out as You Thought & Podcast Sheridan Voysey


When Life Doesn’t Go According to Plan, Who Can You Become?

I think as a “Pollyanna” by personality, extremely idealistic and probably naive, as a young woman, I became so depressed and disheartened over the years when my little plan for life was interrupted in 1000 ways. And disappointment can lead to disillusionment and depression and sometimes doubt about what we thought we should expect from the Christian life.

As many of you know, I am doing a podcast series on my book:

Dancing With My Heavenly Father: Finding Joy in a Disappointing World.

I have invited a friend, Sheridan Voysey, to join me in my podcast today whose story goes along with all that we are discussing in my book. What to do, feel, where to go when life is turned upside down from what you expected. We met several years ago here in Oxford and his heart and story encouraged me very much.

This is what Sheridan says:

Life doesn’t always go to plan. Hopes and dreams shatter, wemake decisions that are less than perfect, and we begin to lose our sense of identity. Life can also take one too many unexpected turns that have you feeling lost and unsure of your future.

Having struggled with infertility that derailed his dreams of becoming a parent, an international move, and a career change, Sheridan Voysey lost his identity and came to the difficult realization: I don’t know who I am.

The Making of Us: Who We Can Become When Life Doesn’t

by Sheridan Voysey

“When identity is lost, we can discover who we really are. The adversity we despise can releaseour greatest gifts into the world. And all the details of our lives— from the first wiggle of our hands to the difficult events that brought us to this point— can prove to be more significant than we’ve realized,” Voysey says. “Beautiful things can emerge from life not going as planned. It can even be the making of us.”

The Making of Us is a wonderfully written memoir that reminds readers of the beauty of uncertainty, the freedom of letting go, and the value of following God into the unknown.

You can find all things Sheridan @SheridanVoysey.com, including his other inspiring books.

Making Choices That Shape Your Life for the Good & Podcast Joy Clarkson


You only have this day, this moment to choose to live for what matters.

"Teach us to number our days that we might present to thee a heart of wisdom."

Psalm 91:12

I can never remember a time when there were not piles of responsibilities stacking up, vying for my attention. As long as I can remember, there is always more to do, not less. Today was no different.

And I can never remember a time when my plans weren’t interrupted. Because I have given my life to the Lord, and then to my family, I have had a grid that says, “God may interrupt me at any time if there is some way I can give or love for His purposes.”

Knowing that I will never ever get everything done in one day, but that I can trust Him for the load he has given me to carry, means that I can let go of expectations and live peacefully, not anxiously in the moments of my day. This has been a lesson learned little by little over a lifetime.

Sometimes this kind of living means that people in my professional world have to wait to hear from me. It means I may not get a partial chapter written in a book that is due. It means I may not have a perfectly cleaned and orderly home when guests come to have a meal with us—or they might have to wait while I finish dinner. It means I will have to wait until tomorrow to get the task that was on the top of my list done.

This month, as usual, has been very demanding. In my professional/ministry life,not only do I have 2 new books coming out in October with marketing calls to 2 different publishers, I have 10 women flying in to Colorado for planning and training for 3 days at my house a few days after I move back to America. I have 14 podcasts and blog posts to arrange, and 10 more to record as well as scheduling marketing calls, social media.

This and more was looming over my mind, as I wanted to write about what mattered most in life,  to encourage you, my sweet friends.

All of these were piling and increasing my stress level.

When I searched the landscape of my mind, I pondered--God has painted the leaves in such an amazing way today, and I have hardly had time to notice. I have Joy living with me and may never have her again. I live in Oxford. I have my first granddaughter living around the corner from me and she adores me, I must say. I have access to Sarah and may never live near her again is she lives in Europe the rest of her life.

But, Joy and I had planned to do something special, away from the demands of both of our lives, before I moved home and she moved on. She, then, suggested that we make a trip to Vienna the next weekend, to really make time away for our friendship-to have some of our own Girl’s Club time and memories.

 If I go, I will not get my work finished and will have more on my plate Monday.

But, I have made a goal this year, again, every day. to own my life more completely by choosing to invest personally with real live people right in front of me. And so, now, this moment, is when the test comes to challenge my commitment. Will I choose work, tasks, deadlines again, to keep faithfully at my piles,

or will I take this moment that I may not have again, to invest, to make a memory.

It is not an issue of a rule or formula, but a commitment I have made in my heart to not make my duties more important than my people. This moment challenges the personal commitment I have made.

Join us today to hear about decisions we are making for our hearts, souls, minds and strength to be sure we are living intentionally, well, to invest time in the things that will provide us the most meaningful and flourishing best life forward. Love love being with my Joy. And I will never forget the wonderful time we shared in Vienna. Such a great decision.

Now, what decisions will you make this summer?

Your little ones are storing up love every time you cuddle them, sing them a song, hold them, love them.

Your husband longs for your companionship—to know there is someone to cheer him on in the mundane issues of lfie.

Your teen may be out of sorts, but your being the mature one who chooses to invest in time—a surprise meal out, a coffee date, a long fun, (not agenda-filled) sitting out under the summer stars and being friends might be remembered forever.

Sleep more. Read more. Make time for friends. Spend time listening to God’s voice through early morning reverie in His presence.

We wish you a happy and fulfilling summer.

Be intentional and you will look back and see a well-formed time that satisfied your soul.

Marriage After God & Podcast with Aaron and Jennifer Smith


In the past few months, I have polled you as to what you would like to hear more about and what subjects you would like me to cover. Marriage came up as one of the most popular requests. Marriage can be such a place of blessing and satisfaction and it can also be such a place of disappointment, frustration and hurt. We are all married to sinful, self-absorbed people! I will be writing and speaking more on this subject in the coming months, but I thought it would be a perfect time to talk about this subject with two of my friends who have just released a book about this subject. I pray you will be inspired by this message—to leave a legacy of love and faith through your marriage.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

I have shared with you before that I met Jennifer Smith many years ago, and since then we have cultivated a sweet friendship. She was on the Podcast not too long ago for the Girl’s Club Series and I had the privilege to have her and her husband, Aaron, on the Podcast again, talking about their latest pursuit, their new book, Marriage After God. Enjoy!

Your marriage is unique. God created you and your spouse with thoughtfulness and intentionality. Together, you and your spouse have an incredibly unique marriage that has a significant responsibility in the body of Christ. Every part of the body of Christ is invaluable, and your marriage is no exception. Aaron and Jen want you to know and be reminded daily that “your unique marriage is a gift – not just to the two of you – but to the world!” The way you interact with each other in your marriage, the love you share, reflects the power of the gospel. Your marriage and the purpose you fulfill together directs others’ hearts toward God. You matter and your marriage matters! You and your spouse were not brought together just to experience happily-ever-after, rather, you are a team brought together with a heavenly purpose. What wonderful and exciting news!  

You and your spouse were created by God for good works….the question is...what good works are you and your spouse doing together for God? What kind of legacy are you creating that will impact His kingdom? Will your children grow up to know God through the example you are sharing with them? Or will they see you as a hypocrite? 


In Marriage After God, Aaron and Jennifer hope to inspire, challenge, and equip husbands and wives to work together in marriage to do good works and to build up God’s kingdom so that He may be glorified. A marriage submitted to God is a mighty tool in the hands of the Almighty. Aaron and Jennifer share personal stories from their own marriage to show the importance of having a biblically based foundation, as well as the extraordinary things that happen when we trust God and say yes to Him. Marriage After God is not just a book, but its a movement of husbands and wives turning their hearts to God and chasing after His will together. 

In this Podcast episode, Aaron and Jen share about the uniqueness of the body of Christ and how we all have a purpose and a ministry to fulfill. They also share the importance of friendship in marriage, as well as how having a marriage after God impacts parenting. You are not going to want to miss this one! 

You can grab a copy of their new book Marriage After God here. 

Aaron & Jennifer Smith have been married for over 12 years, and currently have 4 young children. Ever since they married they have purposed to serve God and build His kingdom together. In 2011 they started blogging to encourage husbands and wives to center their marriage relationship on God. The newest addition to their ever-growing online ministry is their Marriage After God site, podcast, and book. The Marriage After God podcast is published every week. Aaron and Jennifer share candidly and honestly about personal stories of failure and victory in Christ in hopes of encouraging other couples to be used by God for His extraordinary purposes. You can find them on social media @MarriageAfterGod @HusbandRevolution and @Unveiledwife.

Lifegiving on the Go: Cultivating Influence (Lifegiving Table #14) and podcast!

Over ten years ago, I was sitting in a hotel room far from home. I spread a pashmina scarf across the small side table, pulled out and lit a small vanilla candle, placed two tea cups and a chocolate bar on the edges. Finally, I turned music on from my computer and connected it to a speaker I carry with me everywhere I go. A soft knock tapped on my door. “Just in time,” I thought.

I opened my door and smiled and touched my friend’s arm. “I am so excited to steal this time with you. You are always an encouragement to me.” We had met at a conference a few years before and both of us found solace in the fact that we mutually understood the demands of traveling and speaking as a way of life. Though we lived over a thousand miles away from one another, we met whenever we were even a little bit close to the same city.

As my friend peered around me and saw my little table and heard the music, she squealed with surprise and delight—truly a squeal! “A traveling tea table! How fun!”

“Oh, I have been longing for a cup of really strong tea. How fun.”

My ministry to women all over the world means that I travel many weeks of the year. Sometimes it is a weeks-long international trip, but often I travel to speak at weekend conferences. One night I was dreading a weekend engagement because I had been “away from home for several weeks in a row. A brilliant thought popped into my head: Take home and table with you wherever you go. Make a table for friendship and mentoring by taking everything you need with you. Create a table of friendship and influence that is portable.

So now, these many years later, whenever I go on the road I bring along everything I need to create a lifegiving table moment, either alone or with someone who needs my love and encouragement. This helps me create some peace wherever I am and sets up my times with the Lord and with my sweet ones.

While visiting China on my book tour in seven cities a few years ago, I purchased several beautiful pashmina scarves for a song. Now I take them everywhere I go. A pashmina works as a shawl over my shoulders when the plane is too cold. But it also brings added loveliness to a coffee table in my hotel room—a perfect setting for an impromptu teatime.

Candles in tiny jars or cans (plus matches!) also accompany me wherever I go. Their flickering lights automatically create a soft atmo- sphere. My iPhone and computer are always stocked with a variety of background music, easily played on my tiny portable speaker.

I always travel with my very own tea—always a strong English Breakfast blend, with Yorkshire Gold being my favorite—and a china teacup or mug because china keeps tea and coffee warmer longer. This is a necessity to keep me centered on the road. Being able to continue my daily habits of creating islands of beauty and civilization makes me feel I have a little touch of home when away.

For snacks, I carry a zippered plastic bag of toasted, salted, sprouted walnuts and almonds, sometimes salted dark-chocolate almonds or tiny wrapped rounds of Gouda cheese. Fruit or veggies are available wherever I go, so I can have a tiny feast for whoever visits me.

And it goes without saying that I travel with my Bible, whatever book I am reading, and my most current study journal. I may even stuff in my newest Victoria magazines. (My Sarah and I love perusing them, as the old ones are collector items and have lots of articles about authors we love.) These are beautiful to look at and fun to page through—food for thought and ideas for recipes and decor and travel and more. Therapy for my eyes and soul without having to contemplate too many stressful subjects.

Looking for opportunities to deepen friendships, to counsel women, to have fun and invite someone in so that I do not feel alone has provided me with countless sweet and memorable moments from setting my table in my hotel rooms.

It can happen nearer to home as well, of course, and I don’t even have to pack my bag. I have been known to create a lifegiving table in restaurants and coffee shops, at picnic tables in the woods, in local hotel lobbies, and in the houses of friends. Sometimes I serve the food and drink; sometimes it’s served to me. But as long as I carry with me the vision of table ministry, I can almost always make something happen.

Once again, it’s not about the food. It’s about what happens at the table.

Telling The Truth, Always! 24 Way 24 & Podcast

I am the good Shepherd, Thomas Aquinas. Jesus will embody, show us, lead us to truth that will span the generations.

I am the good Shepherd, Thomas Aquinas. Jesus will embody, show us, lead us to truth that will span the generations.

Way 24: We always tell the truth and do not practice deceitfulness of any kind.

Memory Verse:

Who is the man who loves life and loves length of days that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.

Psalm 34: 12-13

Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.

Psalm 51:6

Sanctify them in truth, Thy Word is Truth.

John 17:17

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. 

C. S. Lewis

Gathering my closest local friends for a time to study the word and discuss different issues has been one of the pleasures over several summers. Meeting weekly over tea and coffee and snacks and sharing, and then 2 hours in the word, deeply studying what He has left for us to know and understand. Enjoying this in the past, I look forward to gathering women this summer to challenge one another to do the same thing. I want to grow in truth, knowledge, thinking clearly and well until I see Jesus face to face.

Jesus said to, "Love the Lord your God with your heart, (center of our emotions, dreams, all that we value), your mind, (thinking, developing convictions, understanding truth, walking in wisdom), and all your strength-- (with all of our power, energy, strength, devotion.)

Our Bible study this week was from a number of passages about God's word, wisdom, counsel of men, and Jesus as the word and as the word incarnate. Christianity is not just a work to be done--

but it is the truth through which we may come to see all of life as it really is--

it is the grid through which we will view all of life's issues--

When we walk as women who have been stewards of our brains--women who think well and clearly, we will then be teachers and leaders of truth and conviction.

Even more, Jesus was a real, in-the-flesh person who embodied truth, life, love compassion, righteousness. Coming to Him as God in human flesh who was tempted, tired, hungry, lonely and watching and pondering how He lived and responded to life will help us grow closer to Him.

Yet, I have talked to countless women, (even this week after my Bible study), where women say the same thing. "I don't meet many women who know how to think Biblically or who really walk in their personal convictions of God's truth and wisdom being the foundation of their lives. I haven't been able to find a mentor whose life is worth following, when I look around me. That is why I love this Bible study group--we push each other to think well and to live by our convictions developed in His light."

Not long ago, I have had 640 comments from women who talk about needing a mentor--someone to lead them in truth and wisdom. And yet, most cannot even find someone who is ahead of them and reaching out to them to teach them how to walk with Christ.

No matter what else you are doing, you cannot please God and become closer with Him and understand His ways--so that they will be a light to your path--if you are not studying His word, reading wise people, thinking Biblical true thoughts.

So many women and men I see in this generation want to rely on someone else to tell them what to do--and the thing is, you can almost find any book or authority to give you permission to do whatever you want to do--

But what does God require of you?

How does God want you to live your life? What lies of men does He want you to avoid because you have learned how to think Biblically because you are a seasoned student of His word.

Each of us must take responsibility for our minds because it is what Jesus said was the essence of the commandments--to love the Lord our God with all of our mind.

We cannot teach our children to tell the truth, to understand the nuance of God’s heart for truth, to be those who are honest about life if we are not deeply growing in front of them and embodying to them what truth lived out looks like.

And this is one of the best gifts I could give to our children--not to trust in the words of men, not to follow the crowd--whichever crowd they are surrounded by, --but to fill their minds with truth, to wrestle mentally with what is true, to measure life by His wisdom and insight and as C.S. Lewis says, "by it, (the truth, wisdom, insight, commandments, stories) I see everything else in its light.

So, today, make a plan for your mind--choose a course of Bible study, and plan a time every day to do it.

Find books and authors who have truly walked with God and can lead you to think clearly, (C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and many others)

Ask at least one friend to meet with you and to study and discuss together God's word.

Learning to think clearly and Biblically, in order to be able to fight the formulas and ways of other men takes practice and investment of time---and it is the one way all children need to grow--to learn to think well, to learn to see the fallacies, false doctrine and rules that are man made and not in scripture--it requires thinking and being a steward of the word.

They need to see you doing it and be learning from you for them to learn how to be excellent in these skills, but oh how the world longs for purveyors of truth who know how to think.

Walking Wisely Might Mean Simplifying!

“He who walks with the wise will be wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm."

~Prov. 13:20

Clay and I sought to feed the minds, hearts and souls of our children on all that was wise, excellent, thoughtful, Biblical, and eternal. We tried to fill the treasure chests of their souls with the best, so when they needed to draw from that reservoir over the rest of their lives, they would find wisdom, depth, and knowledge there.

This was intentional--to establish our children’s foundations on wisdom. Consequently, our own minds were set to find wisdom and to share it. Owning the stewardship of our children's minds sharpened our own minds. It was a grid from which we lived life--to share, teach, instruct, read, think, cultivate, and nurture wisdom.

I see the principle here again of, what one sows, he reaps.

Our family is spread far and wide now, but as often as possible we spend time just talking, being friends, and discussing life and ideas as we always have. Now of course, it is mostly as peers and close friends, not just as parent and child.

So, when pondering aloud to my family, how to make life more simple, how to set boundaries, how to continually restore and refresh so that I can have something in my own soul from which others may draw, my son shared this quote that he has been pondering from his own reading:

"To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of our times." — Thomas Merton

Not only have I been taking this quotation to heart, trying to figure out just what it means in my own life, but I have also seen how much my children are a channel of wisdom for me. They gained the habit of thinking, reading, pondering, and gathering  wisdom in contrast to the voices of the world which surround them--and now they have become counselors to me. Their minds feed my mind now. Their deep thoughts guide me.

Sowing wisdom and seeking to fill the very air we breathed with wisdom for so many years not only fed my soul, but educated those who would become my own counselors.

What does this quotation Joel shared say to me personally, I wonder? How have I allowed myself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to want to help everyone in everything, to commit to too many projects? In other words, how have I succumbed to the violence of my times--the violence of overcommitment?

Daily still, I seek the wisdom of counselors who can help guide my life, and now, it ends up, they live in my very own home.

Anyone else seeking to simplify, these days?

Host a Christmas Lunch This Summer & (Lifegiving Table #13) and podcast

Many of us live in privilege—that is, we have a roof over our heads, enough food to stay alive and live in a relatively free state. Yet, there are in our cities, lonely women, single mamas, refugees, women and children at homeless shelters, neighbors who are ill, and so much more.

What if everyone who read this post determined on thing they could do this summer to extend the hospitality, the welcome, the love of Christ with even just one person? Just think of the light that could go out and the life that might be changed. God changed our family and refreshed our lives when we began to practice extending hospitality to those we barely knew, but who ended up having real needs. Consider how you might apply this story to your own life!

It was Christmas, and we didn’t have any friends.
Sarah, my oldest, was nine years old. The walls of our new home in Texas were still partially bare, and random corners still held cardboard boxes filled with the remnants of our old life in Tennessee.

As a veteran globetrotter, I well knew the period of adjustment that comes with moving to a new place. But there is nothing quite so “achy” as the lonesomeness of a solitary Christmas. Somehow, when my three children were younger, they had felt the loneliness of a new town less keenly. But Sarah had now reached an age where she was acutely aware of our isolation and longed for friends. My mama heart yearned alongside her. I knew that building friendships in a new place takes time, but I shared her deep sense of disconnection.

This longing was deeper than a desire simply for people to pass the time with. I also longed for true kindred spirits and godly community. Perhaps worse than the loneliness of a new town was the ache of experiencing broken or shallow friendships. I worried that my longing for spiritual friendship would always be frustrated by our constant moves and by the general difficulty of being a sinful person trying to relate to other sinful people.

One rainy afternoon I sat in my new Texas home with its barren walls, a cup of tea in my lap, and felt the tears seep out from beneath my weary lids.

Lord, I am lonely, and my children need godly friends. I know You love me, and that knowledge is what I need most, but if I am going to move forward faithfully in life and in love of You, I really wish I could do it with kindred spirits by my side. I wiped an indecorous tear from my nose and tried to gather myself. In a few minutes the sound of patting feet would alert me that it was time for breakfast and the whirlwind that is a day with three children under the age of nine. As I sat silently, watching streams of water wash down my window from the gloomy Texas clouds, an answer came to me.

If you are lonely, so are others. Create a space for friendship in your home. You be the facilitator.

With this burst of inspiration and the urgency created from knowing all my children were about to wake up, I set to dreaming, and by break- fast time I had an idea that would become a cherished tradition in our home: a mother-daughter Christmas tea. We would not be alone that Christmas season.

I realized that if I longed for community, probably others did too. Wallowing in my loneliness would not cure it; I needed to become a creator of community. So I made a list of mothers and daughters I had met and wished I knew better. I also listed some interesting women who weren’t part of a mother-daughter pair but who had friendship potential. And I invited them all to a Christmas tea where we could celebrate the meaning of Christmas while (I hoped) creating some new friendships. I set our simple table with candles and festive napkins, tried a few new recipes (including our now traditional raspberry soup!), and opened my home.

The event was such a success that we decided to do it again the next year. And the next. Every year brought a different array of guests. Not everyone invited came; not everyone who came knew each other. In fact, our teas have often included a motley crew of people with diverse backgrounds who might not otherwise have met each other—mothers and daughters from church, a barista from our favorite coffee shop, a wise but lonely recent widow, a cousin living in town that year, an attendant at our favorite natural food store, and more.

Each tea was different in attendance and unified in spirit. As we sipped and munched together, we created fellowship during a season that for many people is filled with loneliness. Several years even saw some of our friends who weren’t Christians encountering believers and Jesus for the first time.

Flash forward twenty-three years to my blue-walled kitchen in Colorado. Sarah is home on a rare and cherished visit from her life in England. Our family “girls’ club” (Sarah, Joy, and I) gather in the kitchen and settle into a productive bustle—after twenty-three years we have our Christmas tea prep down to a well-ordered dance. Joy runs the cold raspberry soup through a strainer, catching all the seeds to ensure Clarkson-brand creaminess. Sarah taps the tops of the scones to see if they are appropriately crispy yet. I place a Christmas ornament at each place setting as a party favor. We pass around a tube of lipstick, and we are ready.

As I walk to the door to welcome our first guest, I breathe a prayer of thanks. God answered my prayer that rainy Texas morning, and He has answered it a thousand times since. How could I have known all those years ago what sweet friendships would blossom because of that one moment when I chose to respond to His prompting?

For more stories of finding community around the table, find your copy of The Lifegiving Table, here!

Training in Self Control (Our Family Way #23) and Podcast!

Way #23

We exercise self-control at all times and in every kind of situation.

Memory Verse: 

"A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control." -Proverbs 29:11

 A sweet mom recently came over for tea and said she felt like pulling her hair out.  (Don't we all at times?)

When she described her situation, I understood that she was afraid to train or discipline her children at all for fear they would not like her, so she rarely required an honorable response from them.

Often moms allow unruly behavior, calling their lack of response “grace”.  Yet, children who are not directed or taught to practice becoming stronger little by little, ruling over their impulses actually become unhappy and frustrated with themselves. Getting their own way all the time does not satisfy a child's longing for security and self- control..

Later, I described the situation to my older children, and asked them what we had done differently to prevent them from behaving quite so crazily as these littles. It was humorous to hear how opinionated they were, as each reminded me how intentionally we taught them to be patient and to wait their turn–because they all remembered it the same way. We were (and are!) strong believers in a concept I call self-government–probably a Victorian character quality that I read about along the way in a book about the principle approach to life.

Self-government is defined this way: a person learning to command himself, his impulses, his work habits, emotions, intellect, and talents, and to rule over his will in a productive way. Children can begin this at a very early age, and I have found it to also be of utmost importance to adults, as one cannot be a mature believer unless one has mastered self-government, self-control and patience--or is at least growing in that direction.

The idea behind self-government is that all of us have power and authority over our own lives. This power comes from within, and can help us master problems, surmount obstacles, and achieve great things. Self-government doesn’t mean working out life in the flesh without the power of God, but affirms that we have a moral character that can be strengthened by our will, through practice. The person who has cultivated this kind of strong character is useful and productive in every area of life.

This quality helps a believer exercise faith, courage, and perseverance in the midst of trials. It is what helps a pianist to practice long hours, an athlete to exercise rigorously in order to become a champion, a missionary to master a language and remain faithful in a foreign country until there is a multiplying ministry, a wife to bear up with grace when married to an immature husband, a mother to continue over and over to practice patience with a sick or rebellious child–the unseen power of governing life by mature, faith-based choices as opposed to temporary, self-centered feelings.

Self-governing isn’t the natural default of a child’s behavior, of course. We taught it to our children intentionally. We can see the biblical principle for self-government in this passage from Deuteronomy: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

God tells the Israelites to obey Him, and if they do, they will be blessed. If they don’t obey, they will be cursed–there were consequences to their decisions. In life all choices have consequences. Our children need to understand that they will reap what they sow.

I used to say to my children over and over again, “Daddy and I cannot make you into great people. You have the power to determine how strong you become by how you exercise your will. We can train you and teach you how to be good and how to be righteous, but you have to decide to obey, and you have to decide that you want to become a person of godly character. God made you such a wonderful child, so I hope you will decide to do your best to become all that you can be. It is in your hands. It is yours to decide to respond, but I am praying and hoping that you will.”

When we appeal to our children’s hearts for excellence and choices of good behavior, then we are giving them the will and desire to be excellent for themselves. Their desire comes from within and their motivation is from the heart. But if we train them behaviorally by always forcing them to do what we want them to do because they might get a spanking or some other kind of threatened discipline, their motivation is to avoid spanking or harshness, not to please God or to please their parents by having a good heart and responding in obedience.

My desire as a mom is that my children would internalize all the precepts we have taught them over the years. I want them to love God and obey Him because they earnestly love Him and desire to please Him. This foundation will carry them throughout all the decision-making processes they will face for the rest of their lives.

If you have the desire to go deeper today, feel free to complete the reflection and application below:

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.” Deuteronomy 30:19

It’s our job as mamas to set before our children life and death—and to encourage them to choose life! What are you doing to draw your children toward life?

• “Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit.” Proverbs 25:28

What a frightening picture this was at the time this scripture was written! A city without walls had no protection; no vantage point to watch for enemies; no means of defense. And so we are, when we have no self-control. Is self-control an area in your own life that could use some work? How can you build your own “city walls”?

Education of morals, habits, character and faith determine the foundations upon which a life will be built. Strong foundations lend themselves to vast structures. Make a plan today about how you will build those foundations into your own life and that of your children!

Do you need a copy of Our 24 Family Ways? Find it here!