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.

Giving Up On Self-Doubt

Lent: the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday when Christians give up something they enjoy. This sacrifice helps us learn to trust God when we feel deprived, tempted or weak. doubt - success

In the process we discover we can live without vices because God is all we need.

Many Christians choose to give up something food related, like snacks or desserts. How often do we turn to these indulgences to find comfort?

While we may feel satiated in the short term, the emptiness soon returns with a vengeance, and we have gained nothing but a few pounds.

Focusing on God when our sweet tooth calls out is the way to lasting peace and joy.

Since the turn of the 21st Century, giving up social media is another popular sacrifice.  It is fascinating how we are constantly connected to the outside world, and yet feel so isolated.

We choose to check FaceBook and Twitter throughout dinner, but ignore friends and family sitting at the same table. We determine our personal value by the number likes on an InstaGram post.

Sacrificing social media not only reconnects us to those relationships we care about most, but it also helps us rediscover our true worth in God’s eyes. 

As I was debating my Lenten sacrifice, I considered both these options. However in my morning devotions on Ash Wednesday I felt the Lord telling me to give up self-doubt.

“But wait,” I argued, “self-doubt?! Isn’t that a useful tool? Doesn’t it prevent me from thinking more of myself than I ought?”

And in God’s gentle way he responded, “My child, doubt and faith cannot coexist. If you trust me and trust my guidance, then there is no reason to doubt.”

“But God,” I interrupted, “you don’t understand. I don’t doubt you. I know you are in control of my life and your ways are best. It is me I doubt. I’m not sure I hear you correctly, and I fear I might wander down the wrong path.”

I could practically see God smile as I tried to reason with Him using flimsy, illogical arguments.

“But Molly, you say you trust me, yet you don’t believe I can clearly communicate with you. You say you have faith, yet you fear wandering. You say I am sovereign, yet you have not released control.”

“Oh.”

Could it be that all these years I thought self-doubt was a godly virtue when in fact it prevented me from following God’s will?

What if I gave up self-doubt? What if I believed God’s word rather than assume I didn’t hear correctly? How would life be different?

God says I am enough. He says I cannot make Him love me any more by the works I accomplish … OR love me any less by the mistakes I make. I am loved unconditionally.

God says He has equipped me to accomplish my life’s purpose. No one has the same unique combination of talent, gifts and personality. For that reason, no one else can accomplish what He has destined me to do. I have value.

God says we are to live a life of power and love, not fear and timidity. He is always with us, ready to help in any circumstance. I should not worry what others think of me; God is on my side.

So this Lent I gave up self-doubt. I have not become too proud or boastful, as was my fear. Rather, I have learned to trust God and accept His unfailing love, mercy and grace.

©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 Find Our Lost Creativity

What happens to women when they lose their creativity? How can they find it again?colored pencils

A recent sermon by my pastor focused on the fact that we were created to create. The Bible reminds us that we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

Since God is the Creator – to operate in his image – we create.

But when trauma or the circumstances of life or just plain busy-ness overwhelm us, we lose the energy to create.

And sometimes, we don’t even realize this is happening to us. We may feel a nudge to paint a landscape, to sew a pillow, to write a story, to bake a pie – but we talk ourselves out of it.

“I’m too busy. I really should do that other project or clean the house or something. I don’t have time to play.”

We squelch the Holy Spirit by refusing to create.

Being creative matters to God and in many ways, mankind has accepted the challenge.

We figured out how to add milk and flour to yeast and formed a loaf of bread.

We learned how to use physics, geometry and speed to invent cars, trains and planes.

We captured light and put it into a bulb.

We wove the same 26 letters of the alphabet into stories that became articles, newspapers and books.

We opened our mouths and found our voices, then learned how to work our diaphragm and sing.

But then – we women – sometimes closed down all that creativity and the opportunity to make something better of what we were given.

We believed lies told to us. We “shoulded” ourselves or “what-iffed” ourselves so that guilt and fear overrode the desire to create.

It’s time to take that gift back. It’s our calling to create, to make something beautiful out of what we’ve been given.

Creation matters to God, and we matter to God. Joining ourselves to his work results in eternal blessings and gives us joy in our todays.

So … the next time you feel that nudge – do it. Create something. Play.

And then let us know about it at GateWay of Hope. We are praying for your healing.

©2015 GateWay of Hope

Easter vs Christmas Reflections

We spend so much time, energy and stress celebrating Christmas when the major Christian holiday is Easter.Cross at sunset

True, at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus and what a momentous event that was! But we also max out our credit cards, deal with the dynamics of family get-togethers and go to office parties that we don’t care about.

We worry about buying the best gifts – “Will she really like this?” and try to figure out how to graciously accept the gifts we don’t want.

We spend hours in lines either buying or returning gifts, then add to our landfills when we throw away wrappings, ribbons and boxes.

We dutifully attend Christmas programs and take videos of our kids in their cute Christmas outfits, all the while hoping we can somehow manage to eat the Christmas goodies without gaining weight.

Somewhere during the pre-Thanksgiving through post-Christmas season, we remember the squalid manger, a scared teenaged mother and a bunch of smelly animals. So we sing “Silent Night” and say a quickie prayer of thanks for that baby born under the Bethlehem sky.

But Easter is another matter. Sure, we still get caught up in the dyeing of eggs, the filling of baskets and the baking of the ham.

But for the most part, Easter is less stressful and more of a contemplative holiday. Plus, we only have one week to consider what it’s all about.

One week to remember the horrific destruction of a young man’s body – how flogging and crucifixion induced painful inflammation, tetanus and infection.

One week to think about the disciples who fled in fear, then wonder if we wouldn’t have done the same thing.

One week to marvel at the miracle of resurrection and how awesome it must have been to see the risen Lord.

One week to take communion and truly remember Jesus.

One week to read each of the Gospel renditions and compare the lyrical version of John’s story to the logic of Matthew’s.

One week. Maybe this Easter week will represent a 360 in our busy schedules.

Maybe we will realize our need for a Savior and truly understand what Jesus did for us on that old rugged cross.

Maybe this Easter, we will decide to fill our Easter baskets with a gratitude that reaches beyond the April holiday and flows all the way to next December.

Maybe this year, Easter and Christmas will erupt with personal revivals around the globe. Now that would be a reason to celebrate.

©2015 GateWay of Hope – The Helping Place for Hurting Women

Surprise Gifts

Last weekend, I attended the Half Price Books sale in Overland Park. This was a huge event with tables stacked with books – all for less than $2.00.

For an author and a reader, it was a yahoo morning.GW Library

Although none of the books were in any sort of alphabetical order, they were designated by areas so I headed for the Reference area – hoping to find a writing book I’ve been looking for. “The Memoir Project” is a book that an editor suggested to me, but alas – I could not find this particular book.

Then I moved toward the Religion section, hoping to find some great nonfiction titles or maybe a novelist I had not read before. Lots of Amish fiction was available – not for me, but I did find a new journal with a funky cover that I can save for my next gratitude journal. As fast as I fill up my journals, it won’t be long until I begin this new one.

As I picked through the selections, I talked with other readers and found a wonderful camaraderie in our joint desires to find that perfect next book to read. With a couple of novels plopped into my tote bag, I moved toward the next table.

One title caught my eye, so I leafed through a workbook about Divorce Recovery. This book had innumerable ideas and worksheets that I can use when I facilitate the next SOS group at GateWay. Our Starting Over Single group helps women who have experienced divorce to move forward in life with determination and joy. Grateful for this find, I carefully placed the workbook in my bag.

Then another treat. One of the areas that I coach at GateWay is to help women become their authentic selves – to stop wearing those masks we all tend to put on because we compare ourselves with other women or because we’re afraid to truly be ourselves.

A book by Sarah Ban Breathnach, titled “Something More” follows her “Simple Abundance” book and provides a wealth of material about authenticity. I browsed through the book, eager to read chapters on “Excavating Your Authentic Self,” “Keeping Your Body and Soul Together” and “Sacramental Possibilities.” This book will be a wonderful resource to help women live intentionally as God created them to live.

When I find books such as these and I leave an event with a tote bag filled for only eight dollars, I feel immeasurably blessed – almost as if God Himself gave me these surprise gifts and said, “Enjoy these books, my daughter. I love you.”

Don’t you love it when you see God’s gifts apparent in your life? What are some recent gifts you have experienced?

©2014 Rebecca Thesman, Life Coach and Program Director
GateWay of Hope – The Helping Place for Hurting Women

Finding Your Love Language

Why is your love language so important?heart of art

Because once you know your love language, your friends and family will know how to better relate to you and share their love.

So what are the love languages?

Meaningful Touch / Affection:
Some women give and receive love through the language of touch. They want to be hugged, hands held, given love pats, etc. They feel cherished and treasured when they are touched.

Quality Time: The woman who craves quality time wants you to pay attention to her. When she speaks, listen and respond. Spend time doing meaningful things with her. Even helping with the dishes or folding the laundry can become quality time.

Words of Affirmation:
Some women need to hear encouraging and affirming words…often. These women appreciate sentimental cards, text messages with “I love you” or “You are my world.” They feel treasured when you take the time to send them a love message with words.

Acts of Service: The Acts of Service woman feels most loved when someone does something for her. Is she dreading the laundry? Do it for her. Does she need her cabinets painted? Make sure that happens. Do something special for her and she will feel loved.

Gifts: The woman who needs to be loved with gifts will appreciate tokens of your admiration. She needs to be surprised with gifts – nothing that she expects for Christmas, birthdays or special days. She likes the gift of one flower when she begins a new project and a full bouquet when she finishes the project. She likes a nugget of chocolate or a piece of jewelry or a new scarf – at unexpected times – just because you love her.

So how will you love the woman in your life this Valentine’s Day?

Discover her particular love language and bless her with touch, time, words, service or a gift. She will love you for knowing her love language and responding in the appropriate way.

2014 GateWay of Hope – The Helping Place for Hurting Women

God Honors You

Maybe you were mistreated and abused as a child and no one honored you.

Maybe your marriage never included that “happily-ever-after” life, and you felt betrayed and abused. Your spouse did not honor you.

Maybe you work in a toxic environment where you’re just trying to survive one day at a time. No one in your workplace honors you or your gifts.

Many women feel as if they have never received honor, even from the ones who know and love them best. They feel devalued and worthless, because others have told them by words and by actions that they don’t matter.

But God is not that way. He highly values his daughters and in fact, he tells us about it in Isaiah 43:4, “You are precious in My sight; You are honored and I love you.”

He goes on to say, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”

No matter how others may treat us, no matter how devalued we feel by society, the church or even family and friends – God knows our value.

He created us with incredible gifts and talents and He delights in watching us as we use them. He made us emotional creatures, because we are made in His image and He, too, has emotions. He calls us precious, because He loves us with a pure and eternal love.

In God’s eyes, you are honored and you are honorable – today and forever.happy woman silhouette

2013 GateWay of Hope Ministries – The Helping Place for Hurting Women

4 Gifts for Hurting Women

heart of art“For your mercy and loving-kindness are great, reaching to the heavens, and your truth and faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 57:10 Amplified).

How do these 4 truths help hurting women?

1. Mercy
Definitions of “mercy” include anything from clemency and forgiveness to a blessing. Women who are hurting may need to forgive themselves, forgive others and/or forgive God for allowing difficult struggles into their lives.

And women everywhere can use a blessing and/or learn to be a blessing to someone else. As we give mercy, we also receive mercy.

2. Loving-kindness
God is the only One who loves us unconditionally. Women who are hurting need extra kindness from their families, their friends – from everyone. The fact that God knows how to combine love and kindness brings a special comfort to us, especially when we’re hurting.

3. Truth
The Bible reminds us that the truth is what sets us free, but sometimes getting to the truth and admitting it is half the battle.

The wonderful attribute about God’s truth is that he shows it to us and covers it with his loving-kindness. He isn’t harsh about His truth, because he knows that we sometimes need to just chew on the facts for a while.

And when we realize that Jesus himself is the Truth – that helps us face life with hope.

4. Faithfulness
God is the true lover of our souls who will never betray us, never abandon us and never abuse us. He is faithful to surround us with mercy, to forgive us when we fail, to teach us the truth and to continue to love us forever.

When God makes a promise, he keeps it. Since God has included us in his covenant family, he never throws us out. He is faithful to show us the way we need to take in life and he is faithful to equip us for new tasks.

He won’t leave us or forsake us – ever. He will continue to show us mercy, loving-kindness and truth while remaining faithful to do what he has said he will do.

What about you? Which of these 4 gifts do you appreciate most?

2013 GateWay of Hope Ministries – The Helping Place for Hurting Women

The Encouragement File

It’s been a long day, and it’s only 10am.

A bill you didn’t expect, an ugly comment by a co-worker, a long to-do list with no extra time to finish everything by its deadline. Before you realize it, you’re discouraged, stressed out or just plain angry at the injustices of life.

It’s time for your encouragement file.6a00d8341c339953ef00e54f41f2168834-640wi

The EF is a folder where you place all the affirming emails, greeting cards or notes you’ve received from people through the years. Maybe it’s a pretty picture that gave you joy. Maybe someone wrote an email about a blessing they received from your work. Maybe it was a note that someone took the time to send you – just because.

Browsing through your Encouragement File helps to keep you from too much focus on the daily bundles of stress. It lifts your spirits and reminds you that at one time, someone felt you were important to the Kingdom of God.

Then it helps you believe that those times will come again. Maybe even today. Maybe right now.

Keeping an Encouragement File also reminds us of the importance of encouraging others. If we feel good when we’re encouraged, imagine the amount of good we can do for another soul by sending an affirming email, a pretty card or a note of some kind.

Some folks just have the natural gifting to encourage others. Some of us have to work at it. But it’s an important skill to develop and then to also receive.

“Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus.” Romans 15:5

2013 GateWay of Hope Ministries

Be an Esther

Have you ever thought about how Esther was selected to go to King Xerxes’ palace as a possible replacement for the newly-booted-out Queen Vashti? If you’ll remember, Queen Vashti would not cooperate with the king’s request, so she was asked to pack her bags and leave the palace. And now King Xerxes needed a new queen.

The king’s attendants said, “Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king.”

That gives us only a little clue. Did the king’s men knock on doors and ask to see any female in the house? What was the criteria for “beautiful”?

Maybe there were auditions – sort of like for American Idol. Imagine a sign posted at the marketplace, “Casting call for beautiful young women seeking queenhood. Line starts here.”

Probably not.

From the biblical text, it sounds as if Esther didn’t have much say in the matter. I picture her surrounded by armed soldiers, “You will come to the palace . . . now.”

This was not a volunteer position.

However, after Esther was declared the new First Lady, she did what needed to be done. She used the wisdom, strength – and yes, gifts – that God created within her. I believe Esther’s gifts included compassion, diplomacy, intercession and discernment. If there was a gift called “get ‘er done,” Esther possessed it. She used her gifts to reveal a grievous deception that would murder thousands of innocent people.

What an example and encouragement to do the task at hand!

This summer, I was offered a Bible study leader position at Gateway of Hope. I could have used a number of reasons to decline this volunteer opportunity. Fortunately, it didn’t take armed forces to convince me to serve.

God has gifted me in certain areas. And when God gifts, I feel responsible to re-gift. When I operate, using the gifts I’ve been given, there is a peace and satisfaction in my life. While I may not be saving thousands of people from a deceitful murder plot, I am doing the task God has put before me.

The Bible teaches that God blesses His children with gifts and talents. What has God given you to re-gift? Has He given you the gift of teaching? Administration? The gifts of encouragement or generosity?

Have you used your gifts lately? Pray that God will show you how to use your abilities. Consider the awesome privilege of volunteering. Places such as Gateway of Hope and your local church would appreciate more Esthers who “get ‘er done.”

Be an Esther!

~ Karen Morerod, Author
“More Than Just a Pretty Face”