Hope for the Unknown

“Mom, what’s so funny?” I asked as she walked down the hallway to rejoin us. Having exited the bathroom, I anticipated a variety of funny scenarios.

“I’m wearing two pairs of pants! Isn’t that silly?” Her laughter was contagious and I joined in, but all the while thinking, This isn’t funny.

I caught my sister’s eye. Our laughter couldn’t mask our deep concern and growing suspicions.

When Mom began forgetting to take her medicine, we thought it was just old age settling in. When she got lost driving home on a familiar road, we excused it as too dark to see the road signs clearly.

But the day she wore two pair of pants we couldn’t find an excuse. It was something more than silly.

How can someone put on a second pair of pants and not realize it?

The answer to that question wasn’t funny at all. It’s called Alzheimer’s.

A myriad of questions ran through my mind. What caused this? What can be done to stop it?
How long before she doesn’t remember me?

The unknown answer to that last question haunted me. I begged God to be merciful and allow Mom to always remember me. Her condition was the focus of many prayers. Her physical health was in steady decline. Diabetes had left her legally blind and with unpredictable blood sugar levels extremely hard to regulate. Mini strokes required hospital stays, weakening her ability to care for herself. Growing more forgetful and confused necessitated 24 hour care.

I pleaded with God to take her home before she had to experience her biggest fear – a nursing home.

Although my mother was a woman of faith, sometimes anxiety got the best of her. I inherited that tendency. I was anxious about her health and fearful she would forget me.

One day while crying out in prayer, I felt God answer in a surprising way. Forming as thoughts in my mind, I felt as if God said, “You’re praying like you have Alzheimer’s… spiritual Alzheimers.

This realization hit me hard. I had been praying like I’d forgotten all God had done for our family in the past. Reminders of his faithfulness flooded my mind.

I recalled:

…unexpected monetary gifts to match a need
…return of a wayward child
…protection of my in-laws attacked in their home
…depression lifting after months of suffering

…broken relationships restored
…comfort when loved ones died
…emotional and physical healing
…guidance in parenting

As the list grew in my mind so did my resolve to trust God. Recalling his faithfulness infused me with hope.

Alzheimer’s was definitely a journey into the unknown. As I began to trust God, I no longer worried about my mom forgetting me. I found peace despite the temptation to be anxious. Fresh hope even found joy as we walked together into the unknown.

©2017 Cindy Richardson for GateWay of Hope

Cindy Richardson seeks to encourage, challenge and inspire women in their journey of hope through Bible studies, speaking and writing. Cindy weaves God’s truth and shares her faith with kindergartners at St. Joseph Christian School.

Residing in St. Joseph, Missouri with her husband, Tom, she enjoys the friendship of her three grown daughters and loves being Nana to six grandchildren.
For more inspiration, visit cindyrichardson.org.

How to Move Toward Your Dream

During the GateWay Pastor Appreciation Breakfast, we were privileged to hear a presentation from Phillip Kelley, chaplain of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Using an acrostic for DREAM, Phillip presented some inspiring ideas for how we can move toward our dreams. Although we’re adding some nuggets of text in this blog post – information we share with our GateWay women – we give credit for the original acrostic to Phillip Kelley.

D = Desire – the WHAT of your dream

Knowing what we truly desire helps us focus on the details of our dreams. Then as we focus on what the dreams entails, it can also expand into new territory.

As we focus also on God and the desires he has for us, we begin seeing him show up everywhere. When we are more aware of God and his presence all around us, it helps us confirm our dreams and move forward.

We also realize our dreams DO count for something. As the Psalmist wrote, “Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4 TNIV).

R = Reason – the WHY of your dream

Sometimes we may wonder why we are so focused on an idea or why we feel a particular nudge in our hearts.

That inner voice is definitely worth listening to, because it might be the Holy Spirit urging us to listen and obey – to march forward and accomplish our dreams.

Michael Hyatt wrote, “When you know your why, you’ll know your way.”

Our “why” – the reason for our dreams – gives us the motivation we need to keep moving toward the goal.

E = Experience – the WHO of your dream

Each of us owns a personal experience story, the bumps and bruises along the way as well as the joys and exciting events that have happened to us.

God can use each one of those experiences to move us toward our dreams. Like stepping stones advancing us toward the next experience and the next goal.

How we own those experiences and how we react to them determines how successfully we navigate. We can become bitter or we can learn and grow better.

The Bible also confirms the importance of our experiences, “God comforts us in all our troubles, so we can comfort others with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4 TNIV).

As God comforts us and teaches us, we learn. Then we can pass on that learning to others and use it as a springboard for our own dreams.

A = Abilities – the HOW of your dream

We have each been given talents and giftings unique to our personalities. Often, we take these abilities for granted.

For example: the stay-at-home mom who organizes birthday parties has a gift of administration and detail-orientation. She may not realize how important she is to the family unit, but that gifting becomes the ability to get everyone to doctor appointments on time, to plan for meals and to make sure everyone in the family has a fun time on their birthdays.

Think of all the things you do in one day’s time. How do those activities line up with your abilities? When you feel energized by a certain activity, that’s a good sign you are operating out of your strengths and specific abilities.

Then those abilities become the action points for moving toward your dream. Lean your life into the abilities that strengthen you.

M = Maturity – the WHEN of your dream

Throughout our lives, God is in the process of growing us up. We become mature by moving through experiences and using our abilities to make progress.

Even though a dream may be realistic and so very important to us – we may not yet be ready to see it happen. God does stuff in us before he does stuff through us.

For example: it is rare for a person who carries the dream of writing to sit down and put together a best-selling novel. Writers learn how to write by practicing the craft of writing. That dream of writing and publishing a novel may come true, but for most writers – the dream becomes reality only after many hours of trial and error, rejections and starting over.

Are we defined by our circumstances or will we allow God to refine us because of our circumstances?

We may often feel as if we’re going backward instead of forward, but we need to remember that failure does not define a person – it is only an event.

As we learn from our failures, we become more mature. Then time determines the when of our dreams.

A good exercise would be to think about your current dreams, then journal through this acrostic. Check to see how you’re moving forward and perhaps what your next steps might be.

If you need help, call us at GateWay of Hope – 913.393.4283. We help women transform their lives and find that hopeful place where dreams come true.

©2017 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

How to Develop Self-Care

Everywhere I look this month I see reminders of the upcoming holiday: bouquets of red, pink or yellow roses, heart shaped boxes of chocolate or other sweet confections, expensive greeting cards declaring love to a perfect valentine.

While I’m not necessarily cynical about this holiday (and will probably enjoy a nice dinner out to mark the occasion), I plan to celebrate a bit differently this year.

My word for 2017 is “Nourish,” and in that spirit I plan to focus this month on Self-Care.

The saying goes, “You can’t love others without loving yourself,” but I like Joyce Meyers’ expansion of that thought: “If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love others. You can’t give away what you don’t have.”

For me, the first step in learning to love myself is to accept God’s love for me.

I grew up in a legalistic society, where a good Christian girl followed all the rules and “Thou shalt nots” and never voiced any contrary thoughts. To me, God was a big accountant in the sky, keeping track of my debits and credits in his ledger book of life. No love or grace survived in this equation. Only harsh judgment and the wagging finger of shame as I continually fell short of heavenly expectations.

It has taken a long time to erase this warped view of my heavenly Father. And I must confess, at times it still comes into clear view. But over the past two years I have focused my Bible study on His Love for me, and His Grace and Mercy extended to me because of the blood of Jesus.

I now carry two verses of scripture in my heart at all times to remind me of this powerful love.

The first verse is found in John 10:10 (NIV) “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.

Jesus did not die on the cross so I will feel defeated, despondent and hopeless. That is the voice of the enemy beating me down with his lies.

And Jesus did not die on the cross so I can merely exist or simply go through the motions. He came that I might experience the joy, excitement and adventure that life with Him offers.

A God who desires I live a full, rich, abundant life is a God who truly loves me. I can trust Him. The fact that the God of the universe chose to create me and desires to fellowship with me, means I am lovable.

The second verse is found in Matthew 23:12. I particularly relate to The Message translation: “If you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.”

All God asks of me is that I be who He created me to be. I don’t have to be someone else. I don’t have to compete with others. I don’t need to change my temperament, physical appearance, or personal interests . I only need to accept myself (my strengths and weaknesses) and my life will have purpose. What a wonderful way to show love to myself as well as to my Creator!

While I continue to meditate on these scriptures, I have also adopted some pragmatic methods of promoting Self-Care.

How do I love me? Let me count the ways:

Treating my body and mind with love and respect.

  1. Drinking more water to stay hydrated
  2. Eating more nutritious foods that feed the body and the soul.
  3. Staying disciplined in an exercise routine. I want a strong core to help me overcome physical, mental and spiritual adversity.

Taking time to relax and rejuvenate in a purposeful way.

  1. Relaxing in a hot bath
  2. Reading a good book with a hot cup of tea
  3. Writing in my journal at a local coffee shop
  4. Taking myself on a date … window shopping, the library, the local museum, a movie
  5. Meeting a friend for lunch and sharing life stories
  6. Taking a stroll through the park – not a cardiovascular walk, but a leisurely stroll to admire nature and allow my thoughts to wander
  7. Purposefully spending money, rather than buying what I don’t need in an effort to fill a void
  8. Learning a new skill (like speaking Italian) rather than watching mindless television re-runs
  9. Keeping a gratitude journal – focusing on one positive event for each and every day
  10. Lighting a candle and enjoying its fragrance
  11. Playing soft music in the background (or loud music and dancing)
  12. Breathing deeply

Taking control of internal self-talk.

  1. Choosing to be joyful despite the circumstances
  2. Focusing on what is going right rather than solely what is going wrong
  3. Replacing critical thoughts with positive affirmations
  4. Acknowledging my effort rather than focusing solely on the outcome
  5. Thinking the best of myself (and others) rather than the worst
  6. Forgiving myself for making mistakes and being imperfect.
  7. Forgiving others for their imperfections

Eliminating unhealthy thought patterns

  1. Stop caring about what others think; focus on what God thinks of me
  2. Stop trying to please everyone. It is an impossible task.
  3. Stop comparing myself to others
  4. Stop fearing failure; the only real failure is not trying
  5. Stop taking everything personally; sometimes it isn’t about me
  6. Stop taking care of everyone else at the expense of my own needs
  7. Stop worrying about the future and instead trust God
  8. Stop squelching my dreams and instead believe Psalm 37:4 “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

What about you? What are some practical ways you can develop more self-care? Accept God’s Valentine to you this year and show yourself a little Self-Love.

©2017 Molly Totoro for GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

Hope in Unfailing Love

I imagine he loved me, but I don’t recall those words ever being spoken.

My dad taught me to ride a bike, roller skate and snow ski. He bought a camper and took us on summer vacation for weeks at a time. He taught me to swim in the ocean and how to catch crabs in the bay. I loved my dad, and when he was relaxed, I enjoyed being around him.

He wasn’t relaxed very often.

As a workaholic, my father was very demanding. He had quite a temper and I never knew when his anger would erupt. The sales clerk who moved too slow and the repairman who failed to fix the lawn mower were unlucky recipients of his anger.

So were older siblings when they didn’t complete their chores to his satisfaction. I witnessed my mother enduring his verbal abuse, and I made it my goal to never be the object of his wrath.

I lived most of my childhood trying hard to be perfect. It was exhausting and brought unspoken shame.

I was embarrassed by the way Dad treated people but I would never have whispered those words to another living soul.

Even writing them now seems a small betrayal of our family. But words left unspoken, when truth is at stake, can be devastating. Family secrets can be dangerous.

The truth is, fathers are supposed to treat their families with love and respect. If their anger results in sin, they are to apologize and ask for forgiveness. If they are unable to control themselves, they are to seek help.

Fathers are not expected to be perfect. They are however, designed by God to be an earthly representation of a perfect heavenly Father’s love.

Dads are supposed to build up their families, not tear them down. They are to provide for and protect those they love.

Unfortunately, not all dads understand their role. And many do not rely on God to help them love their families well.

My experiences with my dad affected how I viewed God. One day as I was sitting at a conference, the speaker asked the audience to close their eyes and picture God.

We were asked to think about Bible verses that spoke of his love. Not a single verse came to mind. Instead, a startling image emerged – my dad, standing with a pen and a clipboard, ready to critique my performance.

No wonder I had held God at arm’s length. I believed in his existence, but didn’t believe he cared about the details of my life. I thought he was harsh and demanding, waiting for me to mess up so he could point out my faults.

That weekend I discovered God was nothing like my Dad. I learned he loved me regardless of my performance.

He patiently waited for me to ask him to heal the heartache of those early years trying to measure up to unattainable standards. He longed to speak words of love to my soul.

The Bible speaks of God having unfailing love; without error or fault. God’s love is reliable, constant, and everlasting.

Imperfect people will fail. Dreams of perfect relationships will shatter. But God’s love can be there to help pick up the pieces.

God proved his love when he gave his only Son to rescue me from my self-centered love and my sin. There isn’t anything I can do to make God love me more than he already does.

Since God’s love is a gift, there isn’t anything that I can do that will cause him to take away his love.

I don’t have to earn his love, or prove I’m worthy of it. He proved I’m worthy of his love when he exchanged places with me on the cross.

This unfailing love satisfies my need to be known and valued for who I am, not what I think I should be or what someone else wants me to be. God’s love faithfully brings peace and joy when I trust him to work in and through me, that which I cannot work in myself.

God’s unfailing love is also there for me when I am the one in the wrong. When my anger lashes out, it enables me to humble myself and ask for forgiveness, instead of withdrawing in shame.

When I fall short of loving others, and others fall short of loving me, I can put my hope in God’s unfailing love.

©2017 Cindy Richardson for GateWay of Hope

Cindy Richardson seeks to encourage, challenge and inspire women in their journey of hope through Bible studies, speaking and writing. Cindy weaves God’s truth and shares her faith with kindergartners at St. Joseph Christian School. Residing in St. Joseph, Missouri with her husband, Tom, she enjoys the friendship of her three grown daughters and loves being Nana to six grandchildren. For more inspiration, visit cindyrichardson.org.

When Grief Comes Unexpected

As I walked through Kohl’s, searching for the best Christmas gift for my niece, I passed a shelf full of the cutest little dolls. I stopped to pick one up, then held it to my face – the soft, cuddliness of a little girl’s toy.

Suddenly, I realized I never had the joy of buying my daughter a doll.

Fierce and unexpected grief crushed me. Overwhelmed me. Paralyzed me. Right there, in the middle of the toy section of Kohl’s, I found a corner – alone – and wailed out my grief.

No one came to help me, but that was okay. I could not have spoken to anyone or stopped my grieving.

After a while, I sat there in the corner, unable to move. The wailing was over, but I still held that little doll and wondered what it might have felt like to wrap it in a box, put a pretty bow on top and watch my baby girl open it.

I would never know.

My Rachel slipped out of my womb too early for life on this earth. At only twelve weeks, she could not survive. In fact, the doctor performed a D&C (dilation and curettage) to remove any leftover “tissue.” The remnants of my daughter’s body collected into a petri dish for further study, to find out what happened – why she was born and died so early.

No easy answers. No way to prevent its happening. In fact, two years before, I lost my little boy, Ryan – also at twelve weeks.

The most surprising thing about my grieving experience in Kohl’s was that it happened 33 years after my little girl died. You would think after 33 years, all my grieving would have been completed.

Evidently not. Something about that doll triggered the pain and the remembrance of losing my Rachel – something I could not anticipate or prepare my heart for.

Grief is a most amazing and scary thing. Immediately after the loss, as we begin to grieve, we think … well, I’ll cry and just get over this. Then I’ll move on.

Our society teaches us this is the correct way to deal with grief.

But not necessarily. Everyone grieves differently.

No one can tell you how to grieve or how long it will last. I certainly didn’t think I would be grieving 33 years after the event.

Some of us hope to avoid grief by seeing a counselor, joining a support group or praying our guts out. All these methods may help us deal with the grief.

But we can’t avoid it. We can’t just hope to get over it.

Grief is something we have to go THROUGH.

It’s sort of like puberty. We can’t jump from age eleven to age eighteen without experiencing pimples, hormonal changes and myriads of mood swings.

But as we go through puberty, we grow and learn who we really are. Then one day we realize…okay, I’ve finally grown up.

Grief may come in the stages Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

But even those stages cannot be predicted. No one can tell us how long a particular stage will last – or if it will ever completely go away.

Most of us don’t grieve in nice little bundles of time. The grief process is messy, weird and hard to figure out. We can drive ourselves crazy trying to figure it out.

Grief will always, always change us. Hopefully, for the better – to make us kinder and more sensitive to the griefs of others, to keep us from becoming hard and bitter, to enable us to grow up a bit more.

That’s why I knew I couldn’t just leave Kohl’s and forget about my grief. I had to give it a voice and work through it – even 33 years after my baby died.

When I finally did leave my corner in the store, I drove home and journaled for a while. Then I felt better. I knew I had moved through another piece of my grief.

Even though I never had the chance to buy my Rachel a doll, I know my daughter still lives – somewhere in heaven where I will someday meet her. I’ll wrap her in my arms and tell her how much I missed sharing earth with her.

And then…I’ll move through the final stages of grief and feel the joy of total healing.

©2017 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

Smart Intentions for 2017

Isn’t it exciting to start a New Year !

A fresh clean slate, or in my case, a crisp new planner, is energizing and hope-filled. Broken relationships offer the promise of healing; weakened bodies can be strengthened; poor choices are a thing of the past, and the lessons learned guide me to make better choices in the future.

The twelve months that lie ahead are unmarred and offer an opportunity to begin a new journey to an exciting destination.

But just as I plan for an extensive vacation, I must also plan for this new year.

In December, I spend several days reflecting on the previous year – the good, bad and indifferent. Then I spend the first days of January plotting my future course.

I ask myself probing questions, such as:

  • What do I hope to accomplish in the next twelve months?
  • What do I need to release that is holding me back?
  • What do I need to embrace in order to move forward?

For many, the next step is to make a list of New Year’s Resolutions. However, I believe  resolutions only set me up for failure.

Statistics show that 80% of all those who make resolutions abandon them by the end of February, and less than 10% actually see them through to completion.

The problem with resolutions, as I see it, is they are too rigid. To resolve is to make an earnest decision.

If I fail to follow through then I must lack willpower and self-discipline. If I fail to achieve the goal, I fail as a person. The elation I felt January first becomes defeat by mid-month, and I feel worse than ever. Does this sound familiar?

Instead, I set intentions. I want to grow and develop as a person, but not at the risk of feeling guilt, shame or despondency.

Intend is a much softer word than resolve. It is a desire, but with built-in grace for the times when we may fall short.

A missed intention does not shame me into feeling weak and unworthy.

But I don’t set broad, vague intentions, I set SMART intentions.

S = Specific

M = Measurable

A = Attainable

R = Realistic

T = Timely

For example. my word of the year is NOURISH. I want to cultivate a healthy lifestyle which means a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and a devotion to self-care. These are the broad areas of focus, but how can I translate these into smart intentions?

First, I need to establish baby steps. I have twelve months to achieve this goal. If I want to avoid burn out, I need to pace myself.

While I know I need to eat more vegetables, cut down on sugar, and stay hydrated, I have decided to focus on one simple activity for the month of January: drink more water.

Many strive to drink 64 ounces a day, but that seems insurmountable. So… I’ve set an intention of drinking three-12 ounce glasses a day. That breaks down to one glass in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one at night.

In addition, I need to move more. As a writer, I sit – sometimes as many as several hours without standing. I want to change this behavior.

My intention is to move a minimum of five minutes for every one hour I sit. I want to return to a 10,000 steps/day routine and strengthen my core for a healthier lifestyle.

However, trying to accomplish all this at one time is a recipe for disaster.

Instead, I am using January as a time to ease into a strength training routine with a series of exercises to develop my upper arms (desperately needed after the two breaks in 2016), and another series to develop my core.

This plan doesn’t seem like much, and in all honesty it isn’t. My old perfectionist self would immediately discredit this feeble attempt.

But here’s the thing. Even doing ten setups today is better than none. And at the end of the month, those setups add up to three hundred. That progress is significant.

To help keep me motivated without shame, I maintain a weekly tracker. I list the desired activities I want to cultivate, and I check them off as I complete them.

If I skip a day, I don’t berate myself. The real celebration comes at the end of the week, when I acknowledge the work completed and vow to do better next time.

So I encourage you to set a few intentions for 2017. Create baby steps that are realistic and measurable. Develop a tracking system to help you celebrate your progress, and enjoy this new journey toward a hope-filled destination.

©2017 Molly Totoro – for GateWay of Hope: Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

Finding Hope Within Disappointment

The holidays have come and gone. I didn’t get the white Christmas I was dreaming of.

Unseasonably warm, it rained most of the day. Ironing my mother’s tablecloth reminded me of holidays gone by; highlighting the fact she is no longer with us.

As the morning wore on, I received texts from my three daughters each stating that someone in their family was struggling with a health issue. It seemed we would prepare our Christmas feast, only to make deliveries to our children instead of enjoying their presence at our table. Certainly not the “merry and bright” experience I had hoped for.

Memories are made every holiday season. Some I cherish, others I’d just as soon forget.

Like most, I started the season with great plans and good intentions. Then an ice storm canceled the annual cookie baking day with my daughters. I was sick and had to make two visits to urgent care.

The Christmas cards I planned to send early? They’re still in the box, ready for next year; I hope. My budget wasn’t quite enough to meet my expectations and disappointment threatened to hijack my holiday spirit.

Trying to create the perfect experience often leaves me short on hope and long on disappointment.  By Webster’s definition, to disappoint means to “Fail to meet the expectation or the hope of something.”

Unfulfilled hopes and unmet expectations often do me in, wasting energy in what should have been, instead of seeing the new potential in what could be given new circumstances.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. This year I decided to enjoy whatever came my way.

My father used to say, “Nothing is as good or as bad as it first seems.”

Trying to apply his wisdom to my holiday plans helped turn the disappointments into new appointments for memory making and holiday fun. Trying to see things from God’s perspective instead of my own, helped create hope for something better than my original plans.

The ice storm prevented my daughters from gathering together but my grandson was iced in with me. We enjoyed baking and decorating Christmas bears; not the beautifully decorated cut out cookies I’d hoped for but fun none-the-less. While we didn’t end up with 10 different kinds of cookies to share, we did make extra shapes to send home with him for his siblings to decorate.

My month long illness racked up unplanned medical bills. My disappointment in my budget turned into a divine appointment. I was humbled and surprisingly humiliated when I unexpectedly received a check in the mail to cover the cost.

Trusting God’s plan and provision came with a lesson for me on pride. Once dealt with, I was grateful beyond expression. A burden lifted created space for unexpected joy.

When the texts from my daughters came in I began to ask the Lord if there was someone we could encourage by including them at our table; a lonely shut in perhaps? Or maybe God would have us make other deliveries, not just to our family.

However, within the hour, more texts came to inform us that each family would be able to make it after all. Wishing I would have thought of opportunities to bless others before we were faced with an empty table, I tucked the idea into next year’s holiday plans.

Another year is on the horizon. Disappointments can cloud our vision for the future, or we can turn to God and find fresh hope.

The Bible speaks of a time when God’s people were taken captive.  The prophet Jeremiah lamented their troubles, disappointments, and unmet expectations. Then, he as he recalled the Lord’s faithfulness and mercy, he was infused with hope.

Alexander Pope, an English poet said “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”

At first glance if seems like good advice; a way to protect ourselves from the harsh realities of life. Yet as we learn to trust God with unexpected and unwanted circumstances, like Jeremiah, we are infused with hope.

Remembering the Creator of the universe as the lover of my soul gives me fresh hope for a future filled with good things. God takes my disappointments and turns them into divine appointments with him.

©2017 Cindy Richardson – for GateWay of Hope

Cindy Richardson seeks to encourage, challenge and inspire women in their journey of hope through Bible studies, speaking and writing. Cindy weaves God’s truth and shares her faith with kindergartners at St. Joseph Christian School.

Residing in St. Joseph, Missouri with her husband, Tom, she enjoys the friendship of her three grown daughters and loves being Nana to six grandchildren.

For more inspiration, visit cindyrichardson.org.

Unique Women of Christmas

In Hebrew, her name “Elisheva” means God’s oath or God’s promise. In the Greek, “Elizabeth” is further described as God’s abundance.

Cousin to Mary and wife to Zacharias, she played a pivotal role in the pre-Christmas story.

Elizabeth is listed in Luke chapter one as a righteous and blameless woman yet she suffered with infertility. In those days, barrenness was considered a curse from God.

But what Elizabeth did not know for many years was that God had not denied her request for a child; he just delayed the answer.

Until the perfect time…until Yahweh was ready to send an angel to Zacharias and plant His seed within a virgin.

We aren’t told how old Elizabeth was when she suddenly conceived a boy child who would become John the Baptist. But she and Zacharias were both old enough to consider their answered prayer a miracle.

During Elizabeth’s sixth month of pregnancy, her young cousin Mary became pregnant through another miracle – a conception through the Holy Spirit, prophesied for centuries and containing the Divine.

Mary’s Magnificat, also called the Song of Mary, declares her praise to God for his indescribable gift:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”  – Luke 1:46-55

Mary traveled to Elizabeth’s house to spend time with her. What conversations they must have had – both of them pregnant, one with a Messenger – the other with the Messiah.

Elizabeth no doubt mentored Mary even while she protected her from the wagging tongues of gossips. Mary no doubt blessed Elizabeth who felt her child leap in the womb when Mary entered the house.

After Elizabeth gave birth, she supported her husband in the choice of their son’s name. “John,” she said. “His name shall be John.”

From the beginning of the Christmas story, God included women and their giftings to pave the way for His Son’s ministry.  He designated Elizabeth as a main character and a parallel element in the greatest story ever told.

We can imagine Mary and Elizabeth spending countless hours together as they watched their sons grow, taught them proper manners and showed them how to appreciate godly women.

And in the candlelight at day’s end, Elizabeth and Mary no doubt prayed together for their boys who they knew would have a major role in the salvation of mankind.

Each woman bore a son, then gave that son back to God, trusting in Yahweh’s divine purpose.

©2016 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

Love Gifts at Christmas

cindy-richardsonBreathlessly I waited as my brother opened the door to our family room to what I hoped would be Christmas heaven.

Old enough to remember the splendor of the prior Christmas, I expected more of the same. My brother would pass out the presents and we would pile them up around us.

Part of the fun was watching each other open presents; eagerly anticipating what wonderful gift might be in each beautifully wrapped package.

With one swift motion the door opened. Instead of wrapped presents under the tree, my gaze fell on clothes and a few toys laid neatly in piles. Not a single gift was wrapped!

Names were written on masking tape and placed strategically on each item. Disappointment came over me like a wet blanket. Why weren’t the presents wrapped?

It was not the Christmas I expected. Already suspecting that Santa was just fantasy, the lack of wrapping seemed to answer the question I was afraid to ask. If Santa was real, our presents would be wrapped; his elves would never forget to wrap presents.

Perhaps my crestfallen look led to the terse conversation I overheard.

“I told you we should have bought the wrapping paper,” my mother whispered to my father.

“And I told you, wrapping paper is a waste of money,” my father replied.

My childish disappointment at the lack of wrapping almost ruined Christmas that year. I had no idea declining health had led to my father’s job loss and mounting medical bills. The dwindling budget dictated the naked presents.

As I reflect back I realize my parents sacrificed greatly to give us any gifts at all. I now know they were given out of great love for us. Most of the presents were gifts we needed. Unfortunately, they weren’t appreciated as much as the gifts we wanted.

Another Christmas gift was given at great sacrifice. Wrapping himself in love, God became a human being. Entering our world as a baby, Jesus was the gift of God’s presence. Immanuel, God is with us.

Jesus is the gift everyone needs, but not everyone wants.

Joseph didn’t want the gift at first. Disappointed and worried about their reputation, when he found out Mary was pregnant he wanted to break off the engagement.

King Herod didn’t want to acknowledge the gift. Fearful of losing the power of his throne, this wicked king had all the male babies slaughtered.

Religious leaders, anxious to keep their power and prestige, didn’t receive the gift. Instead, they schemed to crucify God’s son.

Looking for a powerful earthly king, the Jews were disappointed in the humble servant leadership Jesus offered. Their unmet expectations led them to reject the gift of God’s Son.

Life can be hard. Broken relationships, financial pressures, and shattered dreams bring unbearable disappointment. Health issues, challenges in parenting, and death of loved ones can lead to discouragement and depression.

Receiving the gift Jesus came to give shifts the focus from what is lacking, to what he provides.

Peace, love, and joy despite life’s unwanted and unexpected circumstances is a gift only God can give. Knowing we would need a Savior, God was happy to give us his One and Only Son.

When I focus on disappointment and unmet expectations, like that Christmas long ago, I miss the love behind the gift. Embracing the love for myself, means I have more love to share. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

©2016 Cindy Richardson for GateWay of Hope

Cindy Richardson seeks to encourage, challenge and inspire women in their journey of hope through Bible studies, speaking and writing. Cindy weaves God’s truth and shares her faith with kindergartners at St. Joseph Christian School.

Residing in St. Joseph, Missouri with her husband, Tom, she enjoys the friendship of her three grown daughters and loves being Nana to six grandchildren.

For more inspiration, visit Cindy’s blog, Hang Onto Possible Endings.

Hope Sets Healthy Boundaries

Isn’t it interesting how we can tell others what to do but not apply that same wisdom to ourselves?

In my life coaching ministry at GateWay, I often ask women, “What are you doing for fun?” We track their progress and talk about the importance of setting healthy boundaries.

Sometimes we refer to an emotional boundary as setting a fence around the heart. fence-autumn

Likewise with my writing clients. I may ask, “What are you doing for an artist date?”

They tell me about roaming through bookstores, writing morning pages at a quirky and fun coffee shop or choosing a new journal.

Terrific success for my coaching clients. Not such a good job by their coach.

I find it increasingly difficult to schedule artist dates and/or find some time for fun in my busy schedule. Am I too busy? Yes. How can I remedy that? Hmm.

One of my friends recently asked me, “What are you doing for Rebecca?”

I had to stop and think about that question, because we often define fun as something we do that costs money.

But I need to consider other things that are just as relaxing and important for me – activities that cost little or nothing. Fun might include playing the piano, banging out chords that help release some of the pressures of a stressful day.

Walking through crunchy leaves or strolling through colorful chrysanthemums at a garden store. These joys remind me of the creator and how he blesses us with an autumn Kansas.

Other possibilities for fun:

  • An occasional movie
  • Watching the baseball playoffs with my son
  • Jayhawk basketball and OU football
  • Pulling out my coloring book and finding a quiet moment on the deck
  • Singing
  • A new color of fingernail polish
  • The turquoise and corals of a Kansas sunset
  • A haircut
  • One of the autumn craft shows
  • A new journal or reading through the old one with an attitude of praise

These are some of the things that bring me joy, however I need to work harder at getting away and forcing myself to relax. Is that an oxymoron? Forced relaxation?

Even now, I feel the need for some time away to reboot my soul and refresh that creative spirit in me.

I write better after a break when I feel more energized to connect sentences that form paragraphs, outline chapters and introduce new characters to the world.

So I need to be more proactive about using my time off. I need to actually schedule a writing retreat and a personal sabbatical – wherever and whenever I can – soon.

As 2017 approaches, I need to discipline myself to do the same thing I ask of my clients – to find that special place of inner rest, to plan an artist date, to find my own creative boundaries.

Hope asks accountability of others but also demands spiritual nourishment of the self. Even as I help others, I need to do a better job finding myself and define that fence around my heart.

Anyone else want to join me in the search?

©2016 GateWay of Hope – repost of RJThesman.net.