Guest Post from Kathy Collard Miller, author of Pure-Hearted: The Blessings of Living Out God’s Glory

Who holds your heart? God or your spouse? Kathy Collard Miller shares a story with honesty and vulnerability about how she learned the hard way that depending on our spouses to take care of our hearts brings inevitable hurt. She learned, as I have as well, that only God is capable of meeting all our needs.

Kathy is the author of over 50 books including her new one, Pure-Hearted: The Blessings of Living Out God’s Glory, from which this blog is adapted.

Resist Hurt Feelings in Your Marriage

by Kathy Collard Miller

I have a long history of being easily offended—especially in my marriage.

When my husband, Larry, wouldn’t immediately respond to what I believed was important, I felt justified to react with criticism, anger, and manipulation.

If he seemed to indicate I was imperfect, incapable, or unloving, I felt hurt and told myself he never did anything right either. I didn’t recognize I was giving the key to my heart’s contentment and peace to him when only God could provide what I longed for.

Now, I know I can bring glory to God by seeing the truth: being offended blocks my ability to see any of Larry’s motives to protect himself. His comments say less about me than it does his own emotional wounds and needs.

How It Began

I thought I married my Prince Charming. He seemed so committed to being what I wanted while we dated. His confidence and fast decision making skills made me feel secure when I was with him.

But then the real life of marriage set in. What I believed were his wonderful qualities while we were dating, soon became sources of feeling unloved and uncared for. I’d felt unloved in my childhood and without realizing it, I was trying to avoid feeling that way again. His confident decision-making seemed to ignore my opinions.

After seven years of marriage, when Larry and I were at odds with each other, I was furious at him for not meeting my needs. I believed his lack of care communicated I was unimportant. Of all people, he was supposed to be the one telling me I was important.

I felt trapped and uncared for and resorted to anger to defend myself, thinking I was justified in feeling hurt and offended.

What I didn’t realize was my “offense” blocked me from seeing his needs. I could only focus on my needs. I thought if I stopped being angry, I would be exposed to more rejection. I didn’t look to God to be my defender and refuge. And of course, I had no thought of God’s glory. As a result I wasn’t loving my husband well.

In turn, my anger gave Larry the impression he could never satisfy me and that he was a failure as a husband. To protect himself from feeling weak and powerless, he not only resisted but actively avoided interaction with me. He chose to work as a cop and a real estate agent, which kept him away. Plus, he flew planes as a hobby. If he happened to be home, I complained and pointed out all the ways he wasn’t being “good” to me.

Hitting the Wall

One morning Larry announced he was flying north to San Jose for the day. Although I begged to go with him, he countered my reasoning with deftness. I again felt belittled, like I was a little girl who could be easily ignored.

Larry walked away down the hall and then through the laundry room into the garage, closing the door behind him. I was eating an apple and before I realized it, I hurled the half eaten apple toward the closing door. The apple shattered on impact and red and white apple pieces flew throughout the laundry room adhering to the ceiling and the walls.

I whirled around and marched into my bedroom, dropping to kneel beside my bed. “Lord, make his plane crash! I don’t care if he ever comes home again.”

During the following many months, the pieces of apple remained adhered to the walls and ceiling of my laundry room and then began rotting. I saw them as a memorial to the rotten marriage I believed God could not or would not change. I felt there was no hope.

One day while doing housework, however, I sensed God say to me in my heart, “Tell Larry you love him.” I was shocked to hear God’s prodding. I didn’t love Larry and I believed he hated me. I reasoned that if he heard those three little words, “I love you,” that I hadn’t said or thought for over two years, he might think I was approving of his negligence. I flatly refused.

God persistently repeated the message and I adamantly refused again! Then I sensed the Holy Spirit giving a different message: “Then think it the next time you see Larry.

OK, If he doesn’t hear me then he can’t use it against me. Then I’ll do it, even if it’s not true.

That evening, Larry returned from a flying trip and as he walked down the hall toward me, I stared at him, gulped, and thought, “I love you…” and then after a pause, I added, “but I don’t really.” Although I was obeying God, I still couldn’t believe it was true.

But by making that choice to love Larry and as I continued to make loving choices, more loving feelings took over. I also recognized I’d been holding Larry responsible for my happiness. Larry couldn’t meet all my needs—only God could. My perspective was corrected when I realized my motive had been to not feel uncared for and to force him to be what I needed. But I couldn’t change Larry, I could only change myself as I surrendered to God.

That day I went into the laundry room and washed off those rotting apple pieces. I no longer needed a memorial to my rotten marriage.

In time, Larry noticed I wasn’t as angry and demanding of him and agreed to go on a couples retreat with me, which God used as a turning point in our marriage. God graciously healed us, slowly but powerfully. That was in 1978 and soon we’ll celebrate our 48th anniversary. We are best friends and tell each other several times a day how much we love each other.

For a long time, we didn’t fully understand our motives. Purifying our heart’s motives has become a very essential contribution to the happiness of our marriage.

Something to Think About

Have you considered your husband or wife’s motives to protect himself or herself? Have you considered their hurting heart? You are not responsible for their reactions, but you are responsible before God to love them well by seeing them through God’s eyes of love. Then your love will honor God.

The next time you are tempted to be selfish, ask God to reveal if feeling offended or blaming others is involved. If so, you may be trying to avoid taking responsibility for your own choices.

By Kathy Collard Miller

Kathy is making a copy of Pure-Hearted available to the winner of a book drawing. To win, enter by making a comment below . The winner will be drawn on January 24 (US addresses only can win.)

Kathy Collard Miller is an award-winning author of over 50 books that include Christian living topics, women’s Bible studies, and Bible commentaries. She is a speaker who has shared in 8 foreign countries and over 30 US states. Kathy and Larry have been married for 47 years and are the parents of 2 and grandparents of 2. They live in Southern California and often write and speak together. Visit her at www.KathyCollardMiller.com.

Pure-Hearted: The Blessings of Living Out God’s Glory is available at: http://amzn.to/2jzYdWi

 

 

 

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Christmas

 

Yesterday, while driving around doing my last bits of Christmas shopping, Christmas music from Z88, our local Christian radio station, played on the radio. As I rounded a corner, the song “Mary Did you Know” was reaching its highpoint, asking Mary, the mother of Jesus, if she realizes that the baby in her arms is actually the God of creation, the all powerful and loving God who came to earth save us.

As the song came to its climactic conclusion, with the last words reminding Mary that the child asleep in her arms is the great “I AM,” I looked through the front window at the car in front of me and was astounded at the license plate. The lettering on it began with three letters: “IAM.”

“Ha,” I thought. “Okay, God you got my attention. You want me to focus on Who You ARE! Yes, Christmas shopping is fine, but you don’t want me to lose sight of the fact that the Great I AM came to us at Christmas, humbling Himself as a little baby so we could identify with Him and catch hold of the Light He brought into the world to save us from the darkness around us.”

I drove to a strip mall and continued my shopping. About an hour later, I pulled out of the parking lot, and there in front of me was another car with a license plate with lettering that began with “IAM.”

Wow! Was God trying to tell me something or what?

“Is this a sign from you, God? A message from you?”

As I wrapped Christmas presents that evening, went to a Christmas service, and continued thinking about what had happened, I saw that God was pushing through my Christmas routine to remind me of Who He Was and why I celebrate Christmas to begin with. He wanted to keep me focused on His Greatness, His omnipotence, and the revelation of His love at Christmas!

It’s so easy to get lost in the haphazard commotion of Christmas preparations so that the darkness of the world’s priorities begins to seep into our thinking. We get angry because someone in front of us waits at a stop sign too long. We get frustrated over the long lines at the department store. We “lose it” because the scotch tape runs out before we’ve finished our wrapping.

And for some of us, desperate circumstances have already caused the darkness around us to grow so intense that we are blind to the light that tries to break through. Christmas is merely something to manage until it’s over.

But if we look up and open our eyes, perhaps we will see that in His message of “I AM” He is telling us I Am the all-powerful God—more powerful than anything that comes against you. I AM your all-loving God, who loves you in the midst of hateful or hurtful messages. I AM the all-knowing God, who knows all about you and your circumstances. Nothing surprises me or keeps me from knowing what’s best for you. Trust Me. I came at Christmas time because I love you.

If we open our hearts and whisper a prayer, thanking God for His gift of life to us at Christmas and inviting Him into our lives, perhaps we will see the Christ Child—that baby in the manger—beaming His light of love on us to guide us through the shadows. As scripture tells us in both Isaiah 9:2 and Matthew 4:16 the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

The name of that great light is Jesus, who is not just the baby in the manger but Almighty God. Pastor Matt Heard reminded us of that at the church service last night. When we whisper the name of Jesus, we invite that light into our lives. Then we can know the great IAM, the light of the world, who dispels the darkness and leads us into truth and grace.

 

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Author Interview with Pam Farrel, coauthor of Discovering Hope in the Psalms

Where do we find hope? Where do we even look for hope when our hearts are heavy? Pam Farrel, who with her husband Bill, coauthored the extremely popular and best-selling book, Men Are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti, has a message of hope in her new book Discovering Hope in the Psalms co-authored with Jean E Jones and artist, Karla Dornacher. Today she’s sharing with us the true story behind her participation in writing this book. Pam found—as many of us do—that it’s in some of the messiest times of our lives that we find God’s most beautiful provisions of hope.

Hope for the Heavy Heart

Linda: Pam, my tagline for this blog is “finding hope in unexpected places”. You recently released Discovering Hope in the Psalms: A Creative Bible Study Experience. Tell us how hope unexpectedly arrived in your inbox.

Pam: God knows what we need and when we need it. We (my husband, Bill and I) were in a challenging season of life. The two years prior to Christmas 2015, Bill’s aging parents needed more and more help and care. At the time, they were both 85—one frail of mind, the other frail of body. Bill and I, or more often Bill alone, was driving back and forth each week from San Diego to Ventura County, through gridlocked Los Angeles traffic. The trip without traffic is 5 hours each way, but often it would take 7 or 8 hours each direction. Consequently, going up to help his parents was usually a two to three day-a-week responsibility.

In addition, Bill would field phones calls from his folks daily or multiple times a day, to try to give more help long distance. One day, as I saw the weariness in Bill’s eyes and his tired body dragging in from yet one more late-night drive. I said, “Honey. keeping your parents alive is killing you!”

And Bill replied, “Yep. I can’t keep going this way.”

Due to many factors on his parents’ side of the equation, bringing them to live with us (we had plenty of room) or even moving them nearer us was NOT an option his folks would entertain. So, we began the process of preparing for a move to be near them.

Linda: That’s a hard one. How did you feel about this big life change?

Pam: I was not a happy camper. In fact, I was angry and depressed. I was not angry so much because of the move to help them, but rather I was angry because there is great dysfunction, chaos and unresolved issues on the part of Bill’s folks. And because they have never been willing to grow, forgive, and allow God to enter and heal their hearts, they can be very hard to deal with. Simply put, sin always leaves a wake. Sin requires a payment to be made. The hope in the Christmas and Easter story is that Jesus paid the penalty for our sin. But we only truly experience the fullness of the gift of that blessing when we surrender our hearts and lives over to Christ for healing. When a toxic person stubbornly refuses to let God heal his/her soul and heart wounds, then the people around the broken, exasperating  person pay the penalty with drama and trauma caused by the crazy, chaotic and caustic choices they make.

It was in the middle of this muddled mess that hope landed on my door step in the form of a phone call from a friend, Jean E Jones. She is a brilliant and talented writer and Bible teacher who had written a study on Hope in the Psalms  and wondered if I might be willing to edit, then recommend it to publishers. I said a quick and enthusiastic ‘YES!” because I believed in her, but I also KNEW I NEEDED HOPE from God’s Word desperately!

Linda: How did God deliver hope into this tough time?

Pam: I decided the best way to edit the Discovering Hope in the Psalms Study   was to DO IT as if I were simply one of the participants in the future small group women’s Bible study. One particular week, as I tackled a set of often hard to understand Psalms (42 and 43) I heard the familiar heart cry that echoed my own:

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:5)

Downcast means discouraged, despondent, depressed (Have you ever felt so sad and so blue that you just don’t want to get out of bed, or do anything?)

Disturbed means a disquieted murmur that grows, causing internal uproar. (Have you ever had so many negative thoughts running through your mind and you just can’t seem to shut them off?)

So just HOW are we to gain HOPE then? God is so kind—the solution to life when your feelings are trapped in these desperate straits is also revealed in this same verse!

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Hope is to wait EXPECTANTLY for God to show up and show off in your life—for your GOOD and GOD’ S GLORY.

The word HOPE also encapsulates a waiting that may be a lengthy amount of time, but while we are waiting, we place the full weight of our trust in God. We TRUST while we TARRY.

Linda: But HOW do we trust? How do we wait expectantly? That is the question many people struggle with.

Pam: That is the best part, God makes it simple and clear how we can DISCOVER then HANG ON TO HOPE: “for I will yet PRAISE HIM, my Savior and my God”

Praise is the kindling that stokes the fires of hope!

Linda: I love that! Tell me, how did God help you hang on to hope?

Pam: When I read this scripture, I was looking for a lifeline in the sea of despair. My anxious prayers were an S.O.S signal that I was caught in a storm and I needed rescue from above! So just as the Coast Guard will drop down a rescuer and a rescue basket to pluck a victim out of a torrential tempest, God sent his Word, the Psalms, to rescue me.

While Bill and I prepared for our eventual move, and as I prayed, God clearly said, “Pam, you can have your husband, or you can have your house—but you can’t have both right now. Choose.”  By faith, and being true to my vows and the legacy of love I wanted to give to my family; in faithfulness to our Lord, and to Bill—I chose my husband!

Instead of an “arms folded, pouting-lip, stoic coldness” type choosing of Bill, I asked God to warm my heart to Bill, the move, our new call and even the downsizing of 95 % of our belongings!

Grab the Life Line!  

And God used 3 simple choices to weave hope into my heart, help into the situation, and deeper love into our marriage:

Heart to Heart: I asked my husband that since I was being helped so much by the Psalms, could we choose one Psalm a week to park in, to dig into and learn more about, to pray up together daily and to meditate and memorize through the week.  Many weeks, we were so moved by the help and hope the Psalms were giving us that we both were weeping and on our faces, worshipping a God whose Word is so personal and fitting to each person’s challenges and obstacles.

Face to Face: Bill and I also have a weekly Marriage Meeting to pray and plan. We wove the things we were learning in the Psalms into these weekly meetings, and we opened each meeting with a verse from one of the Psalms I was writing about.

Hand in Hand: Bill and I walked through this season of unbelievably long work days and very short nights of sleep by emailing Psalms to each other; sharing Psalms as we ate meals together; as we traveled in the car and as we sorted, packed and then moved boxes.  We looked for Psalms to sing praises and we listened to Psalms as musical choruses or being read aloud as we drifted to sleep. The Psalms calmed our hearts, renewed our spirits, and revived our HOPE despite the difficult circumstances

Psalm 43:3-4 gave comfort one day in the middle of the mess of life. Our home wasn’t sold (yet still needed to be kept picture perfect for showings), our parents still needed care, our commute was still long, our ministry needed an infusion of energy and finances that we lacked, and nothing on the horizon in our circumstances was indicating anything would be changing any time soon. We needed to have a verse to hang our hearts on to move forward emotionally in this very long wait. So, we prayed Psalm 43:3-4:

Send out Your light and Your truth. Let them lead me. Let them bring me to Your Holy hill and to Your dwelling. Then I will go to the alter of God, to my God my exceeding joy.  …”

Instead of looking at our current difficult circumstances, we looked at the end game. God would bring us to a place where we saw the exceeding joy only God could give. And He promised to dispatch His light (the kind of light that pierces the darkness like dawn) and His truth (some translations say, “faithful care” or the trustworthy truth that is backed by God’s caring character of action) And we were most encouraged that the kind of “leading” that the Psalmist is describing is a fluid one that moves forward and back to create the best opportunity!

We hung our hearts on verses like these. for a long five-year journey, but in the end, God brought a church planter to buy our home at a price that was a win-win for all; God moved us on to our family’s vineyard as an oasis of recovery, then provided the perfect live-aboard boat, at a miracle price where now I daily read a #sunsetpsalm from the bow of our vessel moored in a sunny southern California marina.  . .  and yes, there is exceeding joy on our tiny home on the water!

Linda: Thanks so much, Pam, for sharing your inspiring story. Where can people find out more about your books and your ministry?

Pam: At Www.love-wise.com people can find out more about our books and our ministry to help people with their most vital relationships.

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The Bipolar Experience – Author Interview with LeeAnn Jefferies

Adopted at nine months, married off at seventeen, a mother by nineteen, and diagnosed with the severest form of bipolar disorder at twenty-three, LeeAnn Jefferies believed her dream of being a top model—of traveling the globe for fashion and its industries biggest names—was sealed behind the heavy doors of a fourth floor psychiatric ward. While her husband managed two small children and a full time job at home, LeeAnn underwent the brutality of electroconvulsive therapy, commonly known as shock treatments. And although many of her memories were stripped away, her dream remained.

Then one day, a light shone into the darkest places of her life and LeeAnn knew one thing for certain—she would see her dreams fulfilled. Soon thereafter, she ventured into the world of fashion modeling, eventually landing a contract with the world-famous Ford Modeling Agency.

For those of you dealing with mental illness in your family . . . or even if you simply have acquaintances with this disease, LeeAnn’s story will enlighten you about the possibilities God can use for good.

Linda: Your story is riveting and shows what a person can do in spite of a diagnosis of mental illness. Tell me. When a person is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, what would you say to them to give them hope that this doesn’t mean the end of the world?  

LeeAnn: When I was diagnosed, I didn’t know anything about anything … so for me, there was nothing to tell me how I was going to get through it. The doctors’ work was to get me back to home plate. The hard part was later … dealing with what I had done in the beginning. Remember, in the beginning, you are so sick, you can’t see the writing on the wall. It’s not until later that you really have to deal with it.

You have one of two ways out: deal with it … or die. That temptation is always looming for the bipolar to just go with the second option. Not initially … but once it hits home. What you have to remember is that life will go on. You can and you will learn how to set boundaries. Once you get to know the illness and it gets to know you, you can become partners in survival. You have to keep saying to yourself, “I have bipolar. Bipolar does not have me.”

Linda: In the book you talk about the day you were in the hospital—a gray day outside and inside, you call it—and a shaft of light broke through the clouds, which let you know that you were going to live your dreams. Talk about that. What about that light made you know this?

LeeAnn: Things were looking grim. The prognosis was bleak. The next step was that I was about to be institutionalized. I absolutely could not see the forest for the trees. That day … I just happened to look out the window … and there was that shaft of light. You know … God has a way of showing us things. And when He does, that’s that. Somehow, that light was God letting me know … that was the ray of hope I needed to persevere. This was what I needed to get better. I don’t remember that I had enough energy to do anything about it … but I couldn’t stand the thought that I was going to live the rest of my life in a hospital gown … behind bars … living with other hospital patients. Now, understand that this wasn’t my last visit to a hospital or doctor’s office. This didn’t mean my days with bipolar disorder were over. But I knew something from that day forward would change.

Linda: How did you find hope for dealing with your illness? 

LeeAnn: You have to stay up on things. Educate yourself. This is what I did. Who would have ever thought I’d have to get to know my own mind better, but getting to know it better led to my success as a model. Mania helped land me in places no one ever expected me to go. Remember that most people with grandiose dreams can talk themselves out of the dream … but my mind wouldn’t allow that. Now … that said, you have to know your limitations and where the dangers come in. Mania can land the dream or it can get you in big trouble. This is where a good support system comes in. Whether that is one family member or ten. Whether that is one friend or ten. You have to have people you trust to keep you in those boundaries.

Linda: How did being bipolar affect your marriage? 

LeeAnn: In the beginning–well, I was so sick–but I’m sure Kenneth drew back from me. I am also fairly sure Kenneth bought into the explanation of what happened with me, and even though he bought it, with God’s help, Kenneth had to learn to deal with that. God had to heal his heart. I think that when he saw me — really saw the psychotic part of it when I was in the hospital — it made more sense to him that my mind was disabled enough to “go there.” Those huge sores I’d rubbed on my body had to be covered up before I could even have shock treatment. When he realized that … I think God just showed him through my behavior and my treatment so that he learned to accept that I had an illness and that I hadn’t consciously done anything against him or our marriage.

Over the years, we had some really funny stories when we look back on them, but there were times that were not so funny. My spending habits when I was manic left us often without any money to cover our mortgage payments. There were times when he would tell me not to do something and I’d do it anyway (like the time he told me not to buy a dog and I came home with the dog anyway…). And then, of course, the depression. It’s hard to live with someone who is depressed a lot and when they aren’t, he has to hold me down.

Now, he is my chief supporter. Trust is so easily lost and so difficult to get back. But we were able to do it because we put our minds to it. Christ is the center of our marriage. He holds all things together. So, even though much of our marriage was highly strained, God kept everything together.

Let me tell you. God has a plan. God’s plan was to bring Kenneth and me together at Shoney’s that night we first met. God was in control all along. He knew exactly who I needed beside me because He knew bipolar disorder would become a central focus in our lives and that Kenneth was the man who would get me through it.

Linda: You apparently have a very understanding husband. But some people aren’t so lucky. I have received emails from people in failing marriages who blame the failure of their marriage on their spouse being bipolar or having some other mental illness.  If a couple is having trouble in their marriage, and one of them is bipolar, what would you like the spouse of the bipolar partner to understand?  What should they do?

LeeAnn: They have to decide first and foremost that they want to stay in the marriage. They do have an option to walk away. The illness won’t. It can’t. It’s always going to be there. The question you have to ask is: Is the love strong enough? When Kenneth was interviewed by the case worker/psychologist in Raleigh after my illness had hit its pinnacle in Scotland and I’d been forced to stop modeling, he was asked, pointedly, “Why did you stay?” And Kenneth answered, “Because I love her.”

That was some kind of day. Here I was crying my head off … literally crumbling in front of this doctor … and after seeing this and hearing what all we had been through, that’s when he asked Kenneth and Kenneth said, “Because I love her.” That’s the bottom line. That and his faith in God. Kenneth believed this was his place to be and that it would all work out okay. Now, we are looking at 50 years of marriage next year. That’s something in anyone’s book. Bipolar or not.

Support groups can be an option, but I think gender would matter here. Men are not as apt to reach out and share this kind of stuff. So, if you are thinking about a support group, be sure that where ever you go, you get support, not condemnation. Look into local NAMI affiliations. And your spouse’s doctor should be able to point you in the right direction, too.

Linda: You are open about your first obvious symptom of bipolar disorder, which was hyper-sexuality. You say in the book that this is an often-non-discussed topic and yet it is one of the most common for women patients. Why did you decide to talk about it so openly?

LeeAnn: Because there doesn’t need to be areas within the church and within society where things like that are swept under the carpet. People are dead now because people don’t want to talk about it. We must talk about this. Be honest about this. That way, when this happens to others, they are more willing to talk about it. For too long, I was ashamed of it. But not now. No more stigma! No more being ashamed of something you cannot control. We need to stop saying, “We cannot discuss this.” We have to discuss this. Is it easy to tiptoe through the tulips on this? Yes. But it’s time to take the risks. It’s time to talk about it. That’s why I took all the steps I needed to take to tell my story.

Linda: How important is your Christian faith to your overall health and the care of your illness?

LeeAnn: It is the most. I cannot imagine doing this without God because I never have done it without Him.

Linda: Why do you think you were able to hide your illness for so long while living in NYC and working for the Ford Agency?

LeeAnn: Because I was in an industry where you’d see all these creative minds … which equals eccentric behavior. So let me tell you … I blended. We were a weird group of people (laughing here!)!

Linda; Do you regret the way things played out? Do you regret not being a model anymore?

LeeAnn: No … as wonderful as it was being a FORD model, I now have bigger fish to fry. Who would have ever thought I would have something more important to do than being a FORD model?? But stopping the stigma—whether through my Facebook page (LeeAnn Jefferies The Bipolar Experience) or speaking in front of audiences or talking to others one-on-one (whether that’s family members of bipolar patients or those diagnosed with bipolar disorder), that’s the most important thing. As wonderful as it was working for Eileen, and I’ll never ever forget it, this is the most important.

Linda: Your husband Kenneth is, as you state, a saint. How are the two of you doing today?

LeeAnn: Absolutely fabulous!

Linda: How are your children doing?

LeeAnn: Just marvelous! Thriving. Successful … happy adults.

Linda: Talk about your working relationship with Eva Marie Everson who wrote the book for you. From the book, it sounds as if the two of you knew immediately that your relationship was a “God Thing.”

LeeAnn: My relationship with Eva Marie is so open and so beautiful and so real … there is no pretense with Eva Marie. We speak openly with each other about any subject matter. And there is always understanding between the two of us … there is an underlying love between the two of us. That’s the most important thing.

Linda: How can people find out more about you, your work as a model, and your current work to stop the stigma of mental illness?

LeeAnn: My website https://leeannjefferies.wordpress.com/

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Whatever Happened to Heart Talk?

Linda at Marjorie Kennan Rawlings typewriter

Dear Reader,

I haven’t forgotten you. I’ve received a few emails asking why it’s been so long since I posted a new blog, and I want you to know you are not forgotten.  In fact, you are on my mind almost every day. I haven’t forgotten the challenges you face, the fears that grip your heart, or the hope you cling to when rays of sunshine break through.

Please forgive me for seeming to have abandoned my weekly conversation with you here on Heart Talk, but it’s not because I’m not thinking of you . . . or have run out of things to say.  In fact, I think of you almost every day and have so much to say I have been writing a new book—a book that will hopefully give many of you the answers you’ve been looking for.

The working title is Fighting For Your Marriage While Separated, A Practical Guide for the Brokenhearted. This new book begins where Broken Heart on Hold left off, continuing to guide you through the labyrinths of separation, this time with practical answers to the many questions you have sent me. Separations are unpredictable with many twists and turns and complicated undertones. Finding the path to reconciliation and healing means stepping outside the box of normalcy to find solutions. Fighting for Your Marriage While Separated will be a guide for the separated person who is standing and fighting for their marriage, often against great odds.

From a professional standpoint, I’ve had a hard time focusing on anything besides this book. But personally I’ve had a few interruptions along the way as well, such as hurricanes, my husband falling and needing surgery and help during recovery, and the death of a loved one. So please stick with me.

I hope to be adding a few new blogs in the next few weeks, even as I continue working on Fighting For Your Marriage While Separated.  Some of these posts may give you a glimpse of what is coming when the book is eventually released by New Growth Press.

In the meantime, know that I am praying for you. Please pray with me that God gives me every word that goes into this book to His glory and your good. My heart’s desire is to provide you with what you need to find healing for yourself and your marriage.

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The Single Dad Detour – Interview with Author Tez Brooks

If you’re a dad in a broken marriage and marital reconciliation looks more and more remote, my interview today with my friend Tez Brooks will be especially meaningful and, perhaps, a life-changer. In his award-winning book, The Single Dad Detour, Tez Brooks provides wise guidance laced with humor to help divorced and separated dads navigate through difficult circumstances in parenting. I’m hoping Tez’s experience and insights will offer answers to many of the questions men commonly ask in their emails to me. A review of the book by author Rick James says, “If I were a single parent on this journey, I’d want Tez’s comforting voice on my GPS. It’s a warm and understanding voice that’s traveled the back roads and knows where it’s going.”

Linda: Tez, tell our readers a little about yourself and your journey.

 Tez: Sure. Well, I made a decision to follow Christ when I was 6, felt a call to ministry at 18 and went to Bible College. I was a 22-year-old youth pastor when I married a girl from my hometown. During our 10-year marriage we had two children who are now adults.

But there were a lot of hidden issues we were dealing with as a couple. I had abuse in my background and was a bit of a control freak. I could be a real jerk sometimes. My wife had undiagnosed bi-polar disorder and some other mental health issues that we didn’t know were affecting our marriage. I thought that’s just what marriage was supposed to be—a roller coaster.

On top of that, she was chronically unfaithful and although I saw evidence of this while we were dating, I figured a wedding ring would solve this. I was young and naïve and didn’t have any older men speaking into my life who might have warned me. I took her back several times but eventually, her unfaithfulness led to a divorce.

That’s not what I wanted for us. I continued to make attempts to salvage our marriage. Counseling, marriage conferences, books, prayer, fasting—everything. Even after the divorce I was open to reconciliation. I believed with the Lord we could work through anything. But at the time, only one of us was walking with God. And honestly, you can’t force someone to love you.

We shared custody of our son and daughter. Sometimes they lived with me, other times they were with my ex. It was a lonely depressing time for me. The kids experienced a lot of loss too. In all, the kids lived with me full-time for about 3 years. As you’ve heard, no one wins. Divorce is a lose/lose situation.

After being divorced 7 years, I met and married my lovely wife Christine and we’ve had 2 more girls. It’s such a joy to raise children with a godly woman who loves me and shares the same values as a parent.

 Linda: Your book, The Single Dad Detour was recently a winner for the 2016 Royal Palm Literary Award. Although your book has a Christian worldview, this was a secular competition. Obviously they saw your book contained some unique insight and encouragement for any audience. How is that?

 Tez: Maybe it’s because I didn’t try to get too deep or theological? I’m not sure. I talk a lot about the importance of having a personal relationship with God in order to effectively parent your child through a broken family situation. But if you know me, I just don’t get in people’s faces as a bible-thumper. Sharing my faith is a more natural, relational thing with me. Perhaps the judges sensed this? I’m just thankful they acknowledged a religious book. I’m chalking it up to God’s grace.

It was certainly an honor to receive such a prestigious award. I’m blown away by how God is using it to minister to single parents around the world. I currently have 2 single dads I’m mentoring solely because they heard about the book and contacted me.

A counselor I know gives copies to parents who are having marriage trouble. In Singapore, Teen Challenge uses it as a resource for single dads coming through their addiction recovery program to help them learn how to be better fathers. But actually more women buy the book than men. Mothers get it for their divorced sons. Women give copies to their boyfriends who have kids. I’m humbled by every story I hear.

 Linda: You’ve said it was difficult to write it because of the memories that surfaced. What led you to write it anyways?

Tez: I really struggled. I’d been re-married several years and had moved so far past that season of darkness. I didn’t want to re-visit some memories.

But the Lord started giving me compassion for single dads and I remembered how there just wasn’t anything out there for me when I was going through it. Especially books with a Christian worldview. What was available was too preachy for me. So I wrote something that would encourage guys with a little humor and offer some practical advice and action points.

 Linda: Many men build their lives on the idea that a wife, kids and a house equals success. When that crumbles down, where can they find their identity?

 Tez: That’s a great question because our identity needs to be grounded in Christ to begin with. If that’s not there when tragedy strikes, we’re in trouble. That’s where I found myself. I was a Christian but I didn’t really understand my identity as a child of God. I thought the American dream was where my self worth was. When that disappeared I was suddenly a man in my 30s with no real value to anyone. At least that’s what I believed.

I embraced the world’s view of who and what I was. In essence I allowed the world to place a price tag on my forehead. Suddenly that tag was marked down 95% and I was thrown in the bargain bin.

It can take a long time for the message of Christ to get from our heads down to our hearts. That’s what needed to happen with me. Thankfully the Holy Spirit began a work to reveal the value God placed on me. It was vital to my healing.

Linda: You’ve been happily married to Christine for 15 years now. But what about the single dad reading your book who is believing for a marital reconciliation? Do you support that?

Tez: Absolutely. God hates divorce and he desires for us to honor and keep those wedding vows of “…till death do us part.” I commend and respect couples like you and Marv who are able to work through some very heart-wrenching issues and preserve a marriage after long periods of painful separation. Some of these couples even re-marry one another…so even a divorce is not necessarily final. That’s what I want readers to hear.

In chapter 3 of The Single Dad Detour I mention the importance of attempting to restore your marriage. Divorce should always be a last resort. But I also know every couple has different situations. Not all marriages are in trouble because of unfaithfulness or desertion. And even for those marriages that are, the spouse who desires a reconciliation might be the very one who sinned but is now repentant.

Whatever the story, some folks don’t get the luxury of having a spouse who agrees that the marriage must be saved. So you may be all alone in hoping for marital restoration. But God is still there. He was for me.

When it became obvious my marriage was irreconcilable, I was swallowed up by an even darker shadow. Because I thought scripture wouldn’t allow me to marry again. I prepared to spend the rest of my life single.

While I was embracing some very cool opportunities to serve the Lord in ways only a single could, I still struggled as a man in my 30s, knowing loneliness and sexual temptation would always be part of my life.

It took a brave pastor to walk me through some scripture passages and show me I was free to remarry. Even after that, I was suspicious and didn’t trust women in general. I watched Christine for a year before I decided to court her.

It was scary for me but I’ve never dreamed marriage could be so fulfilling. Does this make me pro-divorce/remarriage? No. But life is messy. You don’t always get what you expected or planned for. And watching God redeem your life in spite of bad decisions is an amazing thing to experience.

Linda: What is one thing you want men to get from reading The Single Dad Detour?

Tez: I want readers to walk away encouraged to keep going. Whether God restores your marriage or not, he is coming alongside you in that journey. I want to challenge dads to step up to the plate in their parenting, while still trying to save the marriage if they can.

But outcomes are not always under our control. Yet there is hope for an abundant life if the marriage dissolves permanently. If men can celebrate what they’re doing right, while still leaning desperately on the Savior for hope, it will make the road they’re navigating much easier.

Linda: Where can people learn more about you and your book, The Single Dad Detour?

Tez: They can learn more me and The Single Dad Detour at www.everysingledad.com, on Facebook (everysingledad) or Twitter (tezd63).

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Memories of a Christmas Past

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus as our Savior. That, of course, is the most important thing about Christmas.  But Christmas is also a time we want to be with family and perhaps—for just a moment—linger on memories of Christmases past.

Two months ago I lost my brother. During my years as a young girl, he was my hero. When we grew up he was my protector and the one I could depend on when I needed a loving hug.

So today, I’m remembering.

I’m remembering my brother and my favorite Christmas. It’s fitting somehow that he was a major part of it for he was always very generous. And perhaps the first blushes of his gift of generosity began to blossom that year. At any rate, it was on that Christmas I learned how to experience true joy in the midst of all the trappings of the Christmas season.

My Favorite Christmas

Multi-colored lights on the houses in the hills above our house sparkled with a fairy tale promise of things to come. Every day a couple of new presents showed up beneath the tree. The restlessness that stirs within a 12-year-old girl as Christmas day approaches had reached a fever pitch. Tomorrow was Christmas day, and I couldn’t wait for it to come. Neither could my 17-year-old brother.

When we came down to breakfast, the smell of bacon greeted us but no cheery “good morning” from our mother as usual. We saw her speaking quietly on the phone, nodding her head, her eyes shaded with concern. She studied Johnny and me thoughtfully as we pulled our chairs up to the table.

After getting off the phone, she silently walked to the stove, brought a platter of eggs and bacon to the table, and sat down to join us. “I have something for you two to do today,” she began. “There’s a woman in our church with four children who has no money, and they’ll have no Christmas this year.” She paused as her eyes glanced from one of us to the other. “I told the church secretary that we would help out and get them some gifts. I’d like for you two to go downtown today and pick out some presents for the children. They all need pajamas, and you can get each of them a toy.” She reached for the paper she’d set beside her plate. “Here are their names, ages and sizes.”

Johnny and I felt very grown up and important that day as we drove downtown with a sizable amount of cash, shopping from store to store for the only presents these children would get for Christmas. With the sound of Christmas carols in the background, I felt an awesome responsibility as we first picked out pajamas for each child and then headed to the toy store. If this were their only toy, it had to be special, something to really brighten their day.  Johnny chose Lincoln logs for the older boy and a truck for the younger. I sorted through the entire shelf of dolls to pick out ones that would be perfect playmates for each of the girls. Johnny suggested we top it off with a present for the mom. He threw in a little money of his own that he made at the Safeway to make up the difference. Then we headed for home to do the wrapping.

Since I had just emerged from childhood myself, the idea of playing Santa Claus loomed large in my mind. I loved the specialness of Christmas. I loved the surprises and the beautifully wrapped presents. Never before had the happiness of four children depended on me . . . and my brother.

Johnny obviously felt the same burden, and, as my older brother with a host of creative ideas, he, as usual, took the lead in devising the plan for the evening. It unfolded as an event that forever changed my idea of what makes a “happy” Christmas.

After dinner we had our traditional family Christmas Eve service in which we lit candles, read the Christmas story from the Bible, and gathered around the piano to sing Christmas carols. According to our usual practice, Mother tried to hit the right keys on the piano, and we tried to hit the right notes to match, but the occasional discordant sharps and flats added to the merriment. Our family celebration, like our family itself, was imperfect but full of grace.

Afterwards when it was getting late, we bundled the gifts into the Chrysler and drove to the house. Johnny and I sat in the back with the presents on our laps, my parents in the front. When my father got to the address, he pulled stealthily along side the unlit end of the house. Johnny and I gathered up the presents, carried them quietly to the front door and set them on the stoop.

Poised and ready to run back to the car, Johnny rang the doorbell. He and I raced to our waiting getaway vehicle and jumped in. My father took off and we laughed and chatted excitedly about what had transpired.

Remaining anonymous was part of the aura of the adventure. We felt that we had joined in the mystery of Santa Claus. For all these children knew, Santa Claus really did deliver the presents to their door that year. And for all we knew, perhaps that year we really did become Santa Claus. We hadn’t gone down a chimney, and we didn’t arrive on a sleigh, but we had a driver both lively and quick (my father), who took off as soon as the presents were left.  And in our hearts we had the pure delight of making children happy by surprising them with gifts on Christmas morning.

That night as I climbed into bed, visions of sugar plums danced in my head as I imagined that mother going to the door and discovering the presents, the children finding them under the tree in the morning, and the myth of Santa Claus perpetuated for children who might have thought they’d been forgotten if we had not assumed his role.

I’m sure there were many presents for me under the tree at our house the next morning too. And I’m sure it was grand.  But I don’t remember a single one I received. I only remember the dolls, the truck, the Lincoln logs and the pajamas we bought for four children we’d never met. And I remember speeding off into the night, exhilarated by the joy dancing in my heart over delivering these presents to this family the night before Christmas.

It was the year I played Santa Claus with my brother and the year I came to realize it’s really true, that old maxim: It really is better to give than to receive.

 

 

 

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Related by Chance, Family by Choice, Interview with Author Deb DeArmond

related-by-chance-family-by-choiceThe holidays can be challenging for marriages, especially when in-law relationships are involved. A few years ago I met Deb DeArmond at a writers conference and was fascinated with some of the common-sense ideas she shared that helps her maintain good relationships with her daughters-in-law. When she told me about her book, Related by Chance, Family by Choice, a book that focuses on the relationships between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, I knew this would be a great book to share with you here.  Deb regularly speaks and writes on topics related to the family and communication issues, and I’m pleased that she as able to join us here for this interview.

Linda: Related by Chance, Family by Choice focuses on the relationships between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. Please tell my readers how you got interested in this topic.

Deb: A woman at a retreat I attended with two of my three daughters-in-law asked me about my relationship with the girls. She had become acquainted with them as they all shared a bunk room. “They don’t like you one bit. They’re crazy about you. I want to know how you did that.”

We sat together after dinner as she told me about the young woman who’d married her son. She had a long list of flaws and failures according to my new friend. She ended the diatribe by saying, “But I’m not telling you anything I haven’t already said to her!” When I suggested she might need to ask forgiveness, first from the Lord and then from her daughter-in-law, she was upset. “But it’s not my fault,” she replied. I smiled and said, “It’s not about finding fault. It’s about finding solutions. God is ready to help make this right if you are.” She ended our conversation at that point.

On the ride home, I discussed it with the girls. They reminded me that over the years, they had been asked, as had I, “How do you all do this in-law thing so well? You’re not just friendly—you’re family.” We began assessing how we have taken four very different sets of experiences and personalities and created terrific relationships. We thought it might help others in what’s often the most beleaguered family relationship.

Linda: Why do you think mothers-in-laws and daughters-in-law struggle? Why can’t these two women get along?

Deb: There is a natural competition between these two women. Each one often wants to be the most important woman in his life. God’s Word is clear: “A man shall leave his mother and father and cleave unto his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” We were given sons to raise, but never to keep. That’s a bitter pill for some Mamas.

But daughters-in-law can be the issue as well. Maybe they’ve seen friends or sisters struggle with their MIL and they are ready for a fight when they marry. The jokes and the movies add fire to keep the fear alive they will have to vie for the man’s attention. So any movement in the brush may be met with a barrelful of buckshot.

Linda: So you’re a mother-in-law – how many daughters-in-law do you have? Tell us a little bit about the girls and your relationship.

Deb: I have three fabulous daughters-in-love: a redhead, a brunette and a blonde. They are as different from one another (and different from me) as their hair color. I’m blessed to say the girls are good friends; and they count me among their friends, too, as I do them. I’m grateful to be their backup mama. I know and love each of their mothers and would never try to replace any of them; it’s not possible, but some MILs have been known to try.

One of the things that we have committed to is good communication. We work out differences before they become problems. It’s not always easy, but it’s always been worth the effort. We have learned over the years to not let things fester. That’s when the enemy tends to make accusations against one deb-dearmondanother and real damage, pain, and hurt are the product.

I’m often asked what my DILs have taught me. The list is too long to cover here, but among the important stuff: my make-up was outdated and my wardrobe was too matronly. I love to bake with Sarah, because I’m not good at it. I share a love for all things books with Penny and we trade ideas together. And Heather and I pursued the same career and connect over concepts there.

Linda: You are also a daughter-in-law. How do YOU get along with your Mother-in-Law?

Deb: My own mother died when I was in my early forties. I think God knew I’d need a backup mama. My MIL, Virginia, is 84 and sharp as a tack. She Facebooks and Instagram’s to stay connected to her kids, her grandkids, and her greatgrans, as she calls them. She is at the center of the family because she chooses to learn and adapt in order to remain relevant. I admire that a great deal. We are very close.

I’ve learned so much from her, but most importantly, her faith always inspires me. Her consistent walk with the Lord never fails. She is the first one in the family we call when we need a prayer warrior on our side.

Linda: Is the book autobiographical? Is it your story?

Deb: There are certainly bits and pieces of our story. But we knew this could not be our experience alone. So before we began to write, we did online surveys, focus groups, and lots of interviews. What we discovered blew us away—and provided clear direction to write the book.

Linda: What facts related to the writing of this book, surprised you? What are the statistics our readers might find interesting?

There’s virtually no difference between the survey results of Christian women and those with no faith affiliation at all. Big surprise.

  • 79% of the women surveyed identified as Christian, and reported their faith was foundational to their lives and guided their daily actions and decisions.
  • 87% were of the same faith as their woman-in-law, but 62% saw themselves as more consistent with integrating their faith into their lives as reflected in behavior.
  • 30% reported the relationship was bad, which they described as difficult, filled with criticism, or they felt off-balance with their woman-in-law.
  • 57% said the difficulties in the relationship were either mostly their fault, or they at least equally shared the responsibility for the failure of the relationship.
  • But there is good news. 70% said they would be willing to make the effort necessary to improve the relationship if they knew how.

Linda: There are a lot of self-help books on family relationships. In what ways is your book distinct from other books on the topic or in the genre?

Deb: Knowing you should do something to improve the situation is a start. But unless you know how to do it, it’s not that helpful.

I’ve spent my career helping adults learn to communicate well, build and preserve relationships, and resolve conflict. Because so many said they’d be willing but didn’t know how to improve things, there was a natural fit. This is not a book of shoulds; but a very practical set of how-to’s. It’s filled with self-assessments, tools, and a plan of action at the end of each chapter. Improvement doesn’t happen till you do something with what you’ve learned.

Linda: The holidays are approaching and they can be especially difficult. What hope and help can you offer to our readers?

Deb:

  • Be flexible. We’ve done Christmas early, and we’ve celebrated after the holiday. We’ve come to the conclusion we enjoy spending the time together when the hoopla and crazy pace of the actual day has passed. Less pressure, more fun. It’s the time together that matters, not the specific day. Thanksgiving can be less formal than your tradition might prefer. Make it work for everyone.
  • Be gracious. What if the kids want to go snorkeling this year in Hawaii instead of attending any family gathering? Drive them to the airport and wish them sweet aloha for their getaway time. Couples – of all ages – need to recharge and holidays provide the chance for time away. Wish them well, offer to keep the kids and feed their dog while they’re gone. Their marriage will benefit from the boost.
  • Be grateful. Many are alone – for every holiday. They have no family. If God has blessed you with children, acknowledge the gift of their presence in your life if not in your home this year. There will be other opportunities.

Linda: So who’s this book written for? Who will find it helpful?

Deb:  Mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law – whether the relationship is bad or not. Many have reported they found ways to make a good relationship even better. The men-in-the middle are sometimes unknowingly part of the problem rather than the solution. They’d benefit as well. And for women about to become a woman-in-law, and for boy mamas regardless of their sons’ age – head heartbreak off before it begins.

Linda: Where can our readers find the book?

Deb: Their favorite Christian bookstore. Also find it online at Christianbooks.com, Lifeway, Mardel, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and Target.

Linda: How can our readers connect with you?

Deb: They can find me online at Deb DeArmond/Family Matters (debdearmond.com) and on Facebook at AuthorDebDeArmond

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HOPE for the LAID OFF – Devotionals, Interview with Author Mary Aucoin Kaarto

hope-for-the-laid-offFinancial problems are one of the most common issues that cause stress in a marriage. But when it’s not only a matter of a stretched budget but losing your job altogether, a marriage can be in real jeopardy.  In these precarious times, losing a job seems to be an all-too-common occurrence.

Because author and speaker Mary Kaarto has survived two separate, two-year layoffs as a single mom many years ago, she is passionate about writing, listening to, speaking to, and encouraging anyone who is laid off. Her first book, HELP for the LAID OFF (2009) was followed in 2015 by HOPE for the LAID OFF – Devotionals.  She is now working on a third book, targeted specifically towards married couples trying to successfully navigate the pressures of a layoff.  I am privileged to interview Mary about her books and ministry.

Linda: Mary, tell us why you write books for the laid off.

I want to help people find freedom, hope, strength and encouragement from the numerous burdens layoffs cast on people, whether they are married or single.

After my first book was published, I met many of my readers who endured divorces, separations, homelessness, families having to move in with other families, and children being separated and farmed out to various family members because the parents could no longer afford even an apartment. I’ve met face to face with grown men who’ve crumbled before me, heartbroken, because their wives don’t understand that they ARE looking for work. Most of these men were professionals, IT managers, HR directors, oil & gas executives, etc.

I’ve met women in their 50s frightened out of their minds. Sadly many of them were estranged from their families for years and, unfortunately, too proud to “call home”.

Having been laid off myself, I know what it feels like to be frightened, hopeless, exhausted on every level and humiliated from having to ask for help over and over again. I know how hard it is, worrying about your children and how this layoff is affecting them.

I know how emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually draining it is to keep smiling and always have the ‘happy tone’ in your voice when answering the phone, and instead of an interview or job offer, it’s someone asking, “Have you had any luck yet?”

I remember what it’s like to have $1.31 in your checking account for weeks at a time after your unemployment benefits have expired. I also know what it feels like to be told, ‘You’re not poor enough to qualify for financial aid’ from a local food pantry when you finally humble yourself to ask for help.  I cried all the way home, wondering how they could say I was – in essence – making too much money when I had $1.31 to my name, had exhausted my 401K, IRA, savings account, unemployment benefits, and had sold many of my belongings. Where did they think I was getting this money – and – where WAS, this money?!

 Linda: Wow! That sounds heartbreaking! Tell me a little about your own time of being laid off. I understand you went through two separate two-year layoffs during a 20-year period when you were a single mom. Please share the circumstances surrounding your first layoff.

Mary: As an administrative assistant in October 1992, my colleagues and I had already seen at least a dozen or so co-workers being laid off. The majority of them were engineers and designers who were laid off once their projects ended and there were no new projects in sight.

My boss explained that my job responsibilities were being added to those of a more senior admin assistant within the department, so my job was being eliminated in order to save the company money.

First Steps When a Layoff Happens

Linda: What were some of the first steps you took soon after?

Mary: The first thing I did when I got home was have a good cry and call my family and friends in order to process the shock and awe of it while my daughter was still at school. It was important to me that I be honest with her on a level she could understand, but maintain a sense of composure and normalcy.

After filing for unemployment benefits, I set up several job searches on Monster.com, the only such search engine I was aware of at the time. I strategically bought two three-ring binders: one for secretarial/administrative assistant positions and the other, for writing/editing/proofreading positions.

Linda: Why two binders?

Mary: I realized this layoff was an opportunity for me to try and fulfill my life-long dream – to travel, write and edit for a living. The problem was, I didn’t have a college degree, any formal training of any type, no mentor or ‘foot in the door’. It was a dream that would not die, and I realized I had nothing to lose by trying to follow it now that I’d lost my job.

Linda: Two years is a long time! Describe some of the challenges you faced in your day-to-day living while trying to find work during that time.

Mary: During my first layoff, cell phones were just coming on the market so I was terrified to leave the apartment, mary-kartoworried that the minute I left, someone would call for an interview. If I weren’t there, I was sure they’d go onto the next candidate. I felt like a prisoner in my own home.

Over time, my family and friends called less often: what could they say that they hadn’t already said 100 times?

The loneliness and depression began playing tricks in my mind. I believed my family and friends were judging and condemning me, assuming I had given up looking for work because no one (especially myself) could understand why it was taking so long to find a job – ANY job.

My doctor recognized I was clinically depressed, cut the cost of my office visits in half and generously gave me regular samples of anti-depressants.

For the first time in many years, my daughter and I began attending church, where I experienced the unconditional love, understanding, compassion and generosity of God through complete strangers. Suddenly we were being provided for through such miraculous ways that I could only exclaim to my daughter in such surprise, “Emilie, LOOK at how God is taking care of us!”

Linda: What finally led you to getting your next job?

Mary: Shortly before I was laid off, I had this radical idea to contact an editor of the Houston Chronicle, introduce myself, pitch a story idea and ask permission to write and send an article to her for her opinion. “If you don’t like it, you are under no obligation to print it, more than anything I just would like someone to tell me if I have any talent whatsoever.” She agreed, and after publishing it, she immediately gave me a second one, and a 10+ year working relationship began.

Although I was pleased to receive one or two assignments every month or two, it still wasn’t enough to live on, but it encouraged me to pursue my writing dream. Eventually, I contacted oil & gas publications, inquiring about freelance writing opportunities. One editor spoke with me at length and asked me to send him a resume and some clips, even though they didn’t use freelancers. One year later a full-time editorial position became open at the company he worked for.  I applied for the job and my dream came true. I knew God was opening doors no one could shut, and I refused to give up on myself or cave into my doubts and fears.

Lessons Learned and Helpful Hints

Linda: How was your second two-year layoff as a single mom, years later, different from the first? What, if anything, did you learn new in terms of getting your needs met? What challenges did you face this time?

Mary: Although completely shocked by the second layoff, my initial response surprised even me: “Oh, it’s OK, it just means God has something better for me to do, I just don’t know what it is yet!”

Three weeks later I had an accident that broke my leg and injured my knee. Upon asking God why He allowed these things to happen, His response was to write a book about trusting Him during a layoff. After several months of doubt and fear, I began and finished writing my first book, HELP for the LAID OFF.

Linda: I assume your book has some helpful hints for those who are laid off.

Mary: Yes, included in this book are ways I saved money and got my needs met, including the following:

  • Bartering for services with my hairdresser, who cut, colored and styled my hair (before job interviews) in exchange for me babysitting her baby;
  • Cancel newspaper, magazine and cable TV/Internet subscriptions and take advantage of libraries, which offer these things for free (except cable TV), in addition to borrowing books and DVDs for entertainment.
  • My daughter and I volunteered as ticket takers for arts & musical festivals and The Alley Theater, in exchange for free admission to the festivals and live theatre productions.
  • I signed an agreement with a reputable debt consolidation company called Abundant Life Christian Credit Counseling Service, which got my interest rates significantly reduced and allowed me to have to pay only one check each month to satisfy my creditors.
  • Volunteering somewhere on a regular basis, attending church each Sunday, exercising and attending a local unemployment ministry support group helped me feel better on every level: emotionally, physically, relationally and spiritually.

Linda: Tell me more about the bartering.

After I had the accident, I negotiated an arrangement with an orthopedic surgeon by writing an article about his practice for a local paper in exchange for him treating my knee with an X-ray and office visit. A different ortho surgeon provided knee surgery and charged $500 and arranged for the hospital to only charge me 1/2-day rate and work out a payment plan with me. I took my friend’s mom to/from doctor and physical therapy appointments in exchange for her paying some of my utilities.

Linda: I’ve heard you say, “A layoff can be one of the best things that ever happens to someone, it all depends upon their response.” What do you mean by that?

Mary: My layoffs taught my daughter and I many lessons that others can learn, the first one being there’s no better time than adversity to begin seeking God and learning how trustworthy He is. WHO BETTER to go to than the One Who created you for a specific purpose, with unique skills and who will lead you to your next job or career change?

We learned the difference between “need” and “want”, the value of a dollar, how to create and stick to a budget, and to stop defining ourselves by where we lived, what we wore, etc. I learned that humility is a gift, there is no shame in asking for and accepting help, and that people are not mind readers. You must ask for what you need, and most people are very happy to help. When I gave my pain to God and asked Him not to waste it, He gave me the ministry I have today: helping the unemployed by giving hope and encouragement.

Linda: What advice do you have for parents who are laid off during the upcoming holidays?

Mary: Based on an extremely painful personal experience one Christmas, I highly recommend they make clear what should be perfectly obvious to their family members and friends, that they (the laid off parent) does not have any extra money to buy their nieces and nephews any gifts “this year”. Ask them to either explain this to their children on a level they can understand, or better yet (if they can afford it), buy their children a small gift “from Aunt Mary”.

For their own children, shopping at Goodwill and garage sales can save money on purchasing gently used items. The best gifts are love and time from their parents.

Linda: I understand you are presently writing another book for the laid off, which would probably be of particular interest to my audience on Heart Talk.

Mary: Yes, LOVE for the LAID OFF – Staying Together is my latest project. The sole purpose of this book is to encourage married couples to draw closer to God and each other during a layoff and allow it to strengthen their marriage rather than allow the weight and pressure of it to lead to divorce.

Linda: Where can readers find out more about your books and ministry?

Mary: I encourage your readers to visit my website at http://MaryKaarto.com.  If they order HOPE for the LAID OFF – Devotionals from my website, I will also send them HELP for the LAID OFF for free. And I’m always available by email if someone wants to contact me at MaryKaarto@MaryKaarto.com

 

 

 

 

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Storms

storm-approaching“Looks like the rains have started.”

My daughter’s text chimed on my cell phone just seconds after I, too, heard the pittypat of the first raindrops on our roof. A shiver of dread spiked in my head. Hurricane Matthew was on its way—a category 4 hurricane packing 140 mile-an-hour winds, plowing up the Atlantic along the coast of Florida.

As newscasters continually reminded us, this was not to be a fast moving hurricane, but one that would hover for hours—all 120 mph winds relentlessly raging against everything in its path.

And we were in its path.

Although we were not directly on the coast, the eye of the storm was expected to make landfall a mere 40 miles away, and Matthew’s hurricane force winds were so immense they would extend inland to sweep over us in Central Florida. What was forecast was far worse than what we’d experienced twelve years earlier when Charley whipped through Florida, ravaging everything in its path. We weren’t strangers to hurricanes and knew the devastation they could bring.

What would our neighborhood look like when it was over? Would our home be in one piece? How about our trees? Our greatest concern was whether a large oak, in falling distance of the house, was healthy enough to withstand sustained 120 mile-an-hour winds. I stood at the window, watching branches begin to sway from side to side as gusts grabbed hold and tossed them about.

After having done everything we could to prepare and with the sky darkening outside, my husband and I hunkered together in our family room, prayed for safety for all of us through the storm, and waited. Matthew was to hit shore about 11 p.m.

Although our frail humanity left us completely vulnerable in the face of the monster storms churning toward us from the south, we knew we were not alone.

The phone calls and texts from family and friends across the country lifted our spirits to remind us of that.

“Praying that you will be out of danger.”

“You’re getting a lot of prayer from this end.”

“We just prayed that angels would surround your house.”

“I hope you are safe. Prayers going up for you.”

A text from my out-of-state daughter, ‘Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty . . . He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God and I trust him. . . Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night. If you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you. . . For he will order his angels to protect you . . . .  Psalms 91:1-16

Both my daughters, one local, one out of state, continued to share texts with us throughout the evening. And the prayers continued.

A little before 11 pm. when the hurricane was expected to strike, a meteorologist on a local station noted that the hurricane was wobbling. “I think it may wobble to the East,” he said, “and because of changes in the eye, it looks like it may be weakening. Matthew may actually remain offshore.”

Sure enough when the official forecast came out, what he said was true. Matthew would not hit land, but stay about 15 miles from the coastline. In addition, it was weakening into a category 3.

Hallelujah! Texts were flying. We were thrilled at the news!

The newscaster at the desk weighed in too as he watched Matthew’s track begin to shift eastward.  “If any of you have been praying that the hurricane would move to the east, your prayers are being answered right now.”

That night the winds blew and the rains came, but no damage occurred.

Some people will just chock off this change in the hurricane’s direction to the fickle nature of hurricanes, but those of us who recognize the powerful God of the universe as our loving Father and the God who hears us when we call out to Him, know this was not a mere chance occurrence. God answers prayer! He does! He really does.

Whatever storms you are encountering at this moment, know that God hears your prayers. The God who created heaven and earth, the One who calms the storm can also direct its course away from YOU. He is our mighty God, and He knows how to protect you from the evil one and from the worst of what this fractured world wants to thrust upon you. When you call upon the name of Jesus, He is by your side.

Although our powerful and loving God may not always answer in the way we want, it is always in a way that will ultimately work for our good and His glory. And He will be there to see you through. God alone is our refuge and strength.

“Behold the Lord’s hand is not too short that it cannot save, nor His ear too dull that it cannot hear.” Isaiah 59:1

Alyse Nicole Merritt

God’s hand protecting Florida by Alyse Nicole Merritt

Thanks to Alyse Nicole Merritt for her beautiful picture and for sharing the above scripture.
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