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

11 Tips for Dealing with Holiday Grief

The lyrics from a famous Christmas song suggest December and Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year.

Yet for women who are grieving, the holidays represent fresh sorrow. They do not feel joy nor do they want to find enjoyment at such a difficult time.

How do we survive the holiday season when everyone else acts like cheerful elves while all we want to do is curl up in the fetal position and forget?

Perhaps some of these tips will help:

Express Your Feelings.

It’s okay to grieve, even during Christmas. Others may not understand but you are not responsible for how they feel. You are only responsible for yourself and your own reactions.

Allow yourself the time and space to grieve – in whatever way is best for you. No one else can tell you how to grieve or how long to grieve.

Be with People You Trust.

Although it IS okay to grieve, it is also important not to isolate yourself too long. Surround yourself with a support group that encourages you and helps you through the grief. Choose friends and/or family who allow you to be real.

Embrace the Memories.

Hanging ornaments on the tree often brings back special memories. Or baking a special Christmasy treat may trigger the smells and textures of Christmas past with that wonderful someone.

Go ahead and make that special holiday food or play that favorite Christmas song. Remember the good times and be grateful for the time you had together.

Re-examine Your Priorities.

You do not have to do everything you once did to make the holidays special. This is the time for self-care, so eliminate any unnecessary stress.

Set realistic expectations. Simplify. You don’t need to finish thank you notes from the funeral and then send out a bunch of Christmas cards. Do only what feels right for you.

Take Care of Yourself.

It’s easy to eat too much of the wrong foods, drink too much and miss out on rest. Especially during the holidays and especially while you are grieving, take care of yourself.

But maybe you need to have a toast of rum-filled eggnog to best memorialize Grandpa. Or maybe you need to make some fudge to remember Mama. Enjoy the treats of the season – within moderation.

Self-care might also include getting away. Plan a trip to the mountains or the beach. Use your Christmas money to escape from the craziness all around you and the constant memories. Whatever you need to do, give yourself the grace of self-care.

Exercise.

This tip follows the idea of taking care of yourself. Perhaps this is NOT the time to schedule an intense workout at the gym, but what about a brisk walk in the cool air? Or a few minutes of yoga stretches?

The movement will clear your head, boost your endorphins and help you deal with the holiday stress. Just the movement of walking can keep us from diving into depression.

So grab a friend you trust and take a quick walk.

Remember, Christmas is just one day.

The holidays will soon be over and you can launch into a new year. This difficult season will be past and everything that happened to you will be a memory – part of your history.

Keep looking forward. Keep trusting God to complete the good plan he has for your life. Think about tomorrow and be grateful for the days ahead when everything won’t hurt quite so much.

Do What Feels Comfortable.

Set boundaries around your life. You do not have to meet everyone’s expectations. You do not have to be involved in the same activities as before. Do what you want to do – whatever feels comfortable to you.

Eliminate anything that feels stressful or too overwhelming to deal with now.

Create New Traditions.

Your world is not the same as before, but you still have the freedom to do whatever you want. Try something new and create a new holiday tradition.

A writer friend of mine lost her daughter to brain cancer. Every year, on the anniversary of her death, my friend takes a gift to the children’s hospital and gives it to the first little girl born on that day. She memorializes her daughter and blesses the new parents. She has created a new tradition around the holidays that helps her deal with her grief.

Do Something for Others.

One of the best ways to move beyond our grief is to consider the needs of others – just as my friend does every year. Think of ways you can bless someone else.

Visit a nursing home and adopt one of the residents for a few hours of joy. Make a treat for your neighbors – maybe something your loved one especially enjoyed baking and eating. Go caroling at a hospital and bless those who can’t leave for the holidays.

Move beyond your own grief for a moment and offer hope to someone else.

Consider Counseling.

If you’re feeling as if you can’t cope with the holidays, consider counseling. We have licensed, professional counselors at GateWay and we also have a Grief Recovery Program. We can help.

Take care of yourself by doing whatever is necessary to make it through the holidays and move forward with hope.

What about you? How do you cope with holiday grief?

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

Finding A Word for the Year

words-have-powerWhile December is typically a festive and sometimes hectic time of year, it is also a reflective season.

Perhaps it is a residual effect of the Thanksgiving turkey’s tryptophan, or it is the anticipation of starting the New Year with a clean slate. Whatever the cause, I find myself reviewing the previous eleven months with an analytical eye.

For the past several years I have joined thousands of others in selecting a Word of the Year: one word to help me focus on a particular attribute or virtue for a full twelve months.

One year I chose the word BALANCE. I knew my workaholic life needed a major overhaul, and I thought balance would help me keep things in proper perspective.

What I learned, however, was balance is an elusive goal. Perhaps it can be achieved over the course of several months… but on a day-to-day basis, complete balance between work, family, personal and spiritual life is simply not possible.

But I was not discouraged. I reasoned my true goal was PEACE. Balance, I mistakingly thought, was a means to that end.

So the next year I focused on peace, and it was year of personal spiritual growth.

I had hoped peace would mean a year free from conflict, but I quickly learned true peace only comes from trusting Christ as my personal savior. As long as I kept my eyes on Him, I was at rest.

But if I focused on circumstances, fixating on finances or personal relationships, peace disappeared.

Last year I knew I needed to relax. I am a serious person by nature, always responsible, accountable, and hard working.

While these can be admirable traits, I take them to an unhealthy level. I wanted a word that would help me release anxiety and find joy.

After a bit of word deliberation, I settled on DELIGHT.

I loved the layered meaning of this word. Delight means extreme joy, and I wanted to focus on finding joy in the moment.

The “light” portion of “delight” can refer to weightlessness – learning to let go of things that hold me down and adopting a more carefree lifestyle.  I wanted to balance my need for productivity with a need for play – doing what I enjoyed doing simply because it brought me pleasure.

And I love how the word brings to mind the metaphor that Jesus is the Light of the world. By focusing on this word for the year, I also focused on my savior.

As I came to the end of 2015 and reflected on my year of delight, I realized it was a stepping stone to what I really needed: FUN. While I could find the joy in the moment, I was still too serious. I focused too much on being productive and too little on play.

Armed with coloring books, markers, and a resolve to smile more in 2016, I began the year with great intentions.

Then on January 10th I fractured my hip and broke my left humerus (yes… the irony is uncanny).

I kept a positive outlook, however, and healed nicely… until June 26th when I fell once again and broke my right humerus.

As my eldest recently stated, “Mom, your body literally rejected the idea of fun.”

So much for the “fun” of 2016. This weekend I began my annual self-reflection. I’m still too serious. I still work to find joy in the moment. I still struggle to play.

Which word would help me overcome these weaknesses, while at the same time focus on my need for physical healing?

At first I thought RELEASE might be appropriate – let go of my constant need to be productive and my impossible pursuit of perfection.

I then pondered the word INTENTIONAL. The second accident taught me to slow down and be mindful of my actions rather than going through life on automatic pilot.

Lately I’ve discovered self-talk is a hindrance to spiritual growth. I cannot love others because I do not love myself. I need to guard my thoughts and bring them in line with God’s love.

Words such as TRANSFORM or RENEWAL seemed to address those concerns. But ultimately, I settled on the word NOURISH.

The definition is spot on for this time in my life: to supply what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to strengthen, build up, and promote.

NOURISH is all-encompassing and I believe it is necessary to bring this broken body back to wholeness.

I need to nourish my physical body through regular exercise and nutritional diet. No excuses, no cheating. I want the time I have left on this earth to be quality life, not mere existence.

I need to nourish my mental health through accurate thoughts of God’s love for me – just as I am. God calls us to love others as ourselves, but I cannot obey this command until I learn self-acceptance. This will strengthen my spiritual health as well.

And I need to nourish my emotional health by pursuing creative endeavors simply because they bring me joy – no productivity goal needed.

NOURISH. I love the sound of the word. The long, lingering vowel reminds me to slow down and rest. The quiet “sh” at the end literally tells me to be still and listen to the Lord’s quiet guidance.

Do you have a word for the year?

©2016 Molly Totoro for GateWay of HopeMolly Totoro

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.

 

 

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.

Transitions and Traditions

This past weekend I took a day trip to Branson, Missouri, home of the Ozark mountain amusement park, Silver Dollar City. For those unfamiliar with the area, Silver Dollar City is built around the theme of an 1880s farm town.

With a few thrill rides for the kids and some musical theater shows for entertainment, Silver Dollar City is an opportunity to step back in time and fondly remember a simpler life.

While I enjoyed meandering the streets of the old-fashioned town, admiring the artisan workers and their crafts, I especially liked visiting during this time of year. Nobody does Christmas like Branson. branson-christmas

Every building is outlined with festive lights, and Christmas Carols play over loudspeakers, joyfully announcing the Christ child’s birth. I left the park in a better mood than when I arrived, excited to return home and embrace the holidays.

On the three hour drive back to Kansas, I reflected on the day’s activities. Yes, I enjoyed visiting the past, viewing the idyllic life of a less stressful era. People seemed to smile more with little rushing about and harmonious peace filled the air.

But I would not want to return to that lifestyle.

I’ve grown accustomed to the modern conveniences of the 21st Century. I like my washer and dryer, which allows me to complete a week’s worth of laundry in just a couple of hours.

I enjoy my dishwasher, microwave and convection oven. I cannot possibly live without my computer and internet access.

No, as much as I admire a simpler time, I would never choose to go back.

So why do I hold on so tightly to my own past? I have a way of romanticizing how life WAS rather than embracing how life IS – especially this time of year.

In our household, November and December were steeped in holiday traditions, mostly involving food. Typically, I began cookie baking before Thanksgiving and kept them in the freezer – impromptu snacks for the kids and their friends.

We are an empty nest now with no children around to share sweet treats, and our figures certainly don’t need them. My baking days are now limited to a single afternoon.

During past Thanksgiving weeks, I would make a double batch of sausage balls and monkey bread for the holiday breakfast. We all sat around in our pajamas watching the Macy’s Parade. I especially enjoyed pouring over the newspaper ads as I carefully planned my Black Friday schedule.

Now I bake only a single batch as my husband and I, along with the basset, watch the parade.  It is becoming increasingly more difficult to surprise children with Christmas gifts. We now give them much-appreciated gift cards.

Decorating Gingerbread Houses was an annual event. I would make one house for each child and we would often invite at least one other family to join us.

The smell of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg would fill the house for days. The candy houses remained a part of the household decorations until January first, when the kids devoured them.

Now that the children live out-of-town and have full-time jobs, it is difficult to coordinate schedules to include this old family favorite. We have great intentions, but follow-through is difficult.

Christmas morning was always magical. After waking up and reading Luke chapter 2 together, we would all head downstairs to see what Santa brought. No matter the family finances, Santa never failed to disappoint, and the smiles of delight made the sacrifice worthwhile.

Christmas morning is no longer magical at our house. It has moved elsewhere. My eldest creates the magic at her house for her daughter, and the other children spend Christmas with their in-laws.

It is easy to think back to the way life used to be and long for the days when we were all together. But to do that would negate the joy of the present.

I am grateful my children are now happy, independent, flourishing members of society. My job as Mom the disciplinarian has now transitioned to Mom the friend.

In addition, I am grateful for the opportunity to focus on self-care. I gladly sacrificed money, time, and resources while raising my children. But sometimes at the expense of my own needs.

The empty nest phase of life allows me time (and a bit of extra money) to pamper myself. I can now pursue my creative interests without embracing the guilt of ignoring them.

Lastly, this new season of life allows me to focus on the needs of others outside the immediate family. By giving to Toys for Tots and the Angel Tree Ministry, I spread the tradition of Santa magic throughout my community.

Our family of five is now a family of nine, with the hope of more on the way. This growth and change means the joy of Christmas is no longer about the presents, but rather, about our presence.

We relish time together. And while it may look different than it did in the past, it is no less precious.

In this season of transition the one tradition that remains unchanged is our love for one another.

©2016 Molly Totoro

Molly TotoroMolly 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 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.

What God Says about Sexual Assault

During the last few months, we’ve been subjected to numerous reminders of how women are mistreated, undervalued and sexually assaulted.

identify-truthWhether or not you support one political candidate or the other, the truth is still a reality – no matter who is guilty of the crime.

Women are being disrespected, verbally and emotionally abused and sexually assaulted – in every country every day.

The next time you’re in a group of people, look around at the women.

At least 25% of them have been sexually assaulted or will be during their lifetimes. One out of four were sexually abused and/or traumatized as children, according to Child Safe Education.

One out of four women will be sexually assaulted and/or raped as adults, but only one out of ten will ever tell anyone.

A majority of these women will struggle through depression and low self-esteem while every one of them will experience some type of grieving behaviors, whether or not they recognize them. They may struggle with insomnia, binge eating and/or anorexia, cutting, the loss of relationships, the inability to trust or even to make simple decisions.

One of the most debilitating results of sexual assault is the sense of shame that torments and haunts. These women have been told the lie that the rape was their fault. “You dressed too provocatively. You wanted it. You asked for it. You deserved it.”

Shame began in the Garden of Eden when Adam pointed to Eve and told God, “This woman you gave me…she did it.” Adam blamed and shamed Eve for the original sin, then refused to admit his own failure.

The stats are daunting and we believe the percentages are actually higher, because some women will never report rape or childhood abuse. Some women are hiding their memories so deep, they don’t even remember the trauma.

Then one day something triggers the memory and life completely falls apart.

At GateWay of Hope, we work to help women identify the truth, face the pain and work through it. But as much as we respect women and want to help them, someone else loves them even more.

In the book of Lamentations from the Bible, the prophet Jeremiah writes, “My eyes flow with rivers of tears at the destruction of my people. My tears will pour out in a ceaseless stream until the Lord looks down from heaven and sees us. My heart is grieved when I see what has happened to the women of the city” (Lamentations 3:48-51 Good News Translation).

These verses underscore the fact that God loves women and he is grieved with what is happening to them.

He cries with each little girl who is abused, and he takes that assault seriously. Someday he will judge those who have injured his precious daughters.

He empathizes with women who struggle through depression and grief because he knows how difficult it is to feel alone, rejected and sad.

He comforts women who have been assaulted by the people they trusted most. He promises to be their eternal husband and maker as well as taking special care of their children.

God grieves over his daughters because he knows how wonderful they are. He planted within them brave giftings that have not been respected, tender hearts that have been bruised and strong minds that have been tormented.

He cares. He grieves and he promises to make it right. “Your innocence will be clear to everyone. God will vindicate you with the blazing light of justice shining down as from the noonday sun” (Psalm 37:6 The Living Bible).

Someday, justice will be complete. God will judge those who have hurt his daughters and he will bring wholeness and healing to all the women he so dearly loves.

In the meantime, he is available and eager to comfort his daughters.

At GateWay of Hope, we help women embrace that truth and show them how to trust the God who grieves for women.

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

How to Find Beauty in the Blunder

Since the age of eight, I have owned a camera. I enjoy documenting special events, creating colorful scrapbooks and periodically reviewing my personal narrative.Molly Totoro

It wasn’t until six years ago, however, that I began to use photography as a method of artistic expression. The camera became a means to discover beauty in the ordinary, joy in the mundane and God’s artistry in nature.

Of course I quickly learned photography is far more complex than my old method of point-and-shoot, and the more I study the craft, the more I realize I do not know.

For example, I quickly learned the significant difference between a snapshot and a photograph. And my scrapbooks are filled with snapshots.

According to Wikipedia’s definition: “A snapshot is a photograph shot spontaneously and quickly, most often without any artistic or journalistic intent… commonly considered imperfect – out of focus and poorly composed.”

In other words, snapshots are elementary and not worthy to be called photographs.

Somehow this definition morphed into one more confirmation that I am simply “not good enough.” I questioned whether my pictures (and even I) would ever measure up.

This summer our local museum hosted a special exhibit entitled:The American Snapshot: An Anonymous Art.” I knew I had to attend. I was curious how this lowly form of photography qualified as art.molly-imperfect-trio-snapshot

While viewing these images, I not only discovered the snapshot has artistic value, I learned I have value, too.

The exhibit taught me two valuable lessons:

First, the snapshot is not a substandard art form. It is not something to be ashamed of. While photography is equated to fine art, the snapshot is more akin to folk art.

Folk art, as defined by Wikipedia, “Encompasses art produced from an indigenous culture or by peasants or other laboring tradespeople. In contrast to fine art, folk art is primarily utilitarian and decorative rather than purely aesthetic.”

The snapshot’s purpose is to capture our memories so we can share our stories with future generations. Snapshots may not be considered fine art, but that does not make them less worthy than a photograph. Both have value, meaning, and significance.

Here’s the thing. I like Folk Art. I’m a practical, utilitarian kind of gal. I’ve always preferred pottery to fine china. I love quilts, and the idea that each scrap of fabric tells an integral part of a family story.

My pictures may never be considered fine art, but that’s not my style anyway. I need to stop downplaying their significance and instead embrace their unique perspective.

And while I’m at it, I need to stop downplaying myself.

Romans 12:4-6 states: “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”

I lead a quiet, reserved life.  While I may never impact this world in a big way, the Lord has equipped me with gifts and talents I can use to bring Him glory. I should not belittle these gifts but instead embrace them.

As long as I fulfill His purpose in my life, I have value, meaning and significance.          

The second lesson I learned is mistakes are not failures. Some of my favorite snapshots were the double-exposure pictures. The photographer apparently forgot to advance the film, causing two shots to appear on the same negative. molly-t-overexposure

While not a “perfect” picture, I liked the idea of two stories coming together in one serendipitous moment. These images gave me reason to pause, think and imagine.

However, on occasions when I forgot to advance the film and double-exposed a picture, I considered it a failure. I berated myself for making such a “stupid” mistake, and I could not forgive myself for missing the shot.

Perfectionism is a debilitating disease. It constantly reminds us we’re not good enough; it requires us to set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and for others; and it creates strife in relationships when those expectations are inevitably unmet.

Perfectionism robs us of joy. Perfectionism prevents us from accepting Christ’s promise that He came into this world so we may have life and have it to the full. Perfectionism makes us focus on ourselves rather than Him.

Yet even mistakes, oversights and poor choices have value. If we open our minds and our hearts, these imperfections can help us change perspective, release expectations and find beauty in the blunder.

I came home from the exhibit refreshed and renewed. I no longer compared my pictures to other art forms. Instead, I enjoyed them for the stories they told and the memories they preserved.

And I no longer needed to compare myself to others. I have value because I am God’s creation. I’m learning to accept myself – my strengths and my weaknesses – and I intend to live life to the full.

©2016 Molly Totoro for GateWay of Hope

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.

How to Deal with Discouragement

discouragementOne of the lines in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” presents a great truth.

Clarence, the second class angel who’s trying to earn his wings, watches a video about his divine appointment. Then Clarence asks God, “What is wrong with George Bailey. Is he sick?”

“Worse,” God says. “He’s discouraged.”

Anyone who has experienced discouragement knows it is a feeling of being sick at heart, a heaviness and a dread, almost a hopeless feeling.

We might define discouragement as a black cloud that hovers over us, stealing our joy and distracting us from the abundant life. We feel melancholy and can easily slip into a gloomy pessimism that eliminates hope.

Sometimes, as in George Bailey’s case, discouragement settles in because of the circumstances of life. George was facing the possibility of jail time and scandal because his uncle lost the company’s money. Basically, George was discouraged because he thought he was worth more dead than alive. He listened to the lies of Mr. Potter, and then considered taking his own life.

Discouragement escalated to despair.

Some of our discouraging circumstances might revolve around a financial setback, a health issue, a child who denies her faith, the loss of a job – or any number of struggles.

Sometimes discouragement is a result of how others treat us. Constant verbal abuse that tears at our self-esteem or someone who ignores us when we so desperately need to be cherished.

Any type of devaluing statement can cause discouragement. This is one reason why our words are so important.

Sometimes discouragement creates a rut of gloominess, especially when we’ve experienced a series of losses. We feel we’ve struggled so long, we can’t move forward and we don’t know how to climb out of that dark pit.

So what do we do when discouragement settles in? Can we pray for an angel, a Clarence, to come alongside us?

Yes, we can. We can ask God to send us encouragement through the presence of angels or through the kindness of other Christians. God knows the exact gift we need or the exact words we need to hear.

We can ask Jesus to pray for us and help lift us out of our melancholy. His role at the right hand of God is to intercede, to remind God of what we need and ask for divine intervention. So we can cry out, “Jesus, pray for me. Send help!

Sometimes the way out of discouragement comes through powerful music. Just listening to a song or even dancing to the music can help us feel better.

When we are discouraged, we can talk to counselors and coaches at GateWay of Hope who will help us find the root of the problem and formulate a plan to move forward.

And we can remind ourselves that discouragement doesn’t have to win.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 TMB).

What are some practical steps for dealing with discouragement?

  • One day at a time, present the discouragement to God.
  • Journal about your thoughts.
  • Check with us at GateWay for ways we can help you.
  • Stay in hope – don’t lose heart.
  • And keep reminding yourself … Discouragement does NOT have to win.

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