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.

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 Be a Martha

For those of us who are the Type A-git-er-done women, the passage comparing Martha and Mary can be a problem.stress - relax

In the book of Luke, Jesus is visiting in Martha’s home. That description itself is a clue for what is to come.

This was Martha’s home. She wasn’t living in her brother Lazarus’s home with her sister, Mary. This was her place and they lived with her. So either she was a wealthy widow who inherited the house and the grounds or she was a hard worker and wisely invested her money.

Martha was a woman who knew how to get things done.

In the Luke 10:38-42 passage, Jesus travels to Bethany and Martha opens her home to him. Obviously, she also had the gift of hospitality, and she knew Jesus was an important figure in her culture. She became a disciple and a follower of Jesus.

Because she knew who He was, she wanted everything to go smoothly. She probably ordered her servants to bring the best wine. She planned a generous meal with some extra treats – something she knew Jesus would love. She made sure the house was clean and in order for this important guest. She changed into her best tunic and fixed her hair, slipped on her best sandals and probably spritzed some type of aromatic oil on her skin. She was ready to meet the Messiah.

Because she was an organizer and a planner, she wanted everything to be just right. But her sister, Mary, wasn’t helping much. Mary was spending her time listening to Jesus teach. She was right in the middle of all the guys, sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning all she could. For a woman, in her culture, it was a gift to be included in this special teaching moment.

Then Luke records what happened next, “Martha was distracted – anxious and worried – by all the preparations” (Luke 10:40). She wanted Jesus to tell Mary to come help her.

Jesus reminded Martha he didn’t really need anything, and her worries were keeping her from the most important part of the day – listening to him teach. He reminded Martha that Mary had chosen well and he would not take that choice away from her.

Several important points can be taken from this passage:

  • Jesus is including women as disciples who can learn from him.
  • Mary recognizes this gift and takes advantage of it.
  • Martha is caught up in the worries of making everything perfect for Jesus.
  • Perfectionism is not how we honor God.
  • It isn’t Martha’s work ethic that’s the problem here – it’s her lack of balance.

Sometimes Martha is used as an example of a woman who is more concerned with the work and the appearance of her home than Mary – who is content to just sit and listen to Jesus.

Sometimes Martha – and women like her – are shamed for being hard workers.

It’s not the work ethic that’s the problem. It’s the fact that Martha has become worried, anxious and distracted.

It isn’t wrong to be a planner and an organizer. In fact, without planners, much of the world’s business would never be completed.

It isn’t wrong to care about our homes and to make fabulous meals for our friends and family.

It isn’t wrong to be efficient in our work and do our best.

The problem comes when we’re stressed, overwhelmed and can’t get anyone to help us. That’s when we’re too tired to sit down for a talk with Jesus.

Finding the balance in life is the one of the most important things we can do for our mental, emotional, spiritual and even physical health.

Stress is a killer and when we don’t set healthy boundaries around our time – the world and other people will take advantage of our work ethic.

Check out this article on the effects of stress on the body.

Even something that sounds good can be an over-the-top-stressor and we need to say, “No.”

So let’s not vilify Martha, but let’s learn from her experience.

Let’s organize our time wisely so we CAN do our work effectively. But let’s also make time for joy, for some fun and for that special time with the One who loves us most.

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

How to Counteract Stress

We all experience it in some form or another and sometimes – we actually expect it. Within our busy lives, we expect to meet some version of stress.depressed woman

Stress usually makes itself known as we react to it. We yell at the kids, kick the dog, scream into our pillows and tear old love letters into pieces. We write long passages in our journals, comfort ourselves with a half-gallon of Rocky Road ice cream and promise ourselves that we’ll never, ever do whatever it is that has caused the stress – again.

And even if we manage to take a refreshing vacation, soak in a lavender bath or finish off that half-gallon of ice cream – stress can reappear. We can learn how to manage it and find some relief, but living with stress on a long-term basis can be downright dangerous.

At GateWay of Hope, we deal with the issues of women in a holistic atmosphere. We know that emotional stress can cause physical illness and spiritual apathy. Studies have suggested that prolonged stress may be a factor in certain cancers or the onset of early dementia and Alzheimer’s. And stress can cause a number of joint ailments, headaches, stomach and digestive issues as well as affecting our social relationships.

In our American society, we focus on productivity. We work hard, play hard, exercise hard and expect our bodies to keep up with the demands. Talk to a woman who has flamed out from stress and she will tell you – it’s not worth it. Yet most of us continue to do whatever we can to keep up with all the busyness, sometimes not even realizing what we’re doing to ourselves – until it’s too late.

As insidious as stress can be, it can also lead to burnout – which is even more dangerous. Burnout often manifests as numbing. We’ve become so stressed by a toxic relationship that we no longer have feelings. Or we’ve worked so hard and so long, we can no longer think clearly and lose a job. Or we withdraw and isolate ourselves, wrapping our souls in a false sense of comfort that may lead to depression. Check out some of the signs and symptoms of burnout.

So what can we do to counteract stress?

At GateWay of Hope, we have several ideas:

  • Boundaries – this summer we’ll offer a class called “Beyond Boundaries.” Register now by calling 913.393.GATE (4283).
  • Group relationships – it helps to share with other women who are feeling the same type of stress.
  • Counseling – check out our website  for the counselor you would like to see.
  • Coaching – move over those obstacles that are causing stress and march forward in life.
  • Pay attention to your body – it will often tell you about stress, so listen and learn.
  • Break unhealthy habits – what can you do to eliminate some of the stress?
  • Set realistic goals – perfectionism often causes an increase in stress. Be realistic and practical but at the same time, reach for your dreams.
  • Develop new and healthy relationships – any time we’re in a toxic relationship, it causes stress. Check out the book “Safe People” by Cloud and Townsend.
  • The Serenity Room – we have a special room at GateWay of Hope where women can come to de-stress, spend some time journaling, read a book and/or pray. Our sign-up calendar is in our front entry.
  • Journaling – we’re beginning another journaling class in April. You can register now by calling 913.393.GATE (4283).

All of us deal with some type of stress, but we can learn how to counteract some of its effects. Let us know if we can help you find some peace and protect yourself from too much stress.

©2016 GateWay of Hope – Transforming the lives of women to create new legacies

Keep the Balance

Is it possible to live a balanced life? imbalanced scale - attributed to Flaticon

Women play so many different roles in the course of a day: at home we are wife, mother, cook, homemaker, and chief bottle washer; at work we are employee as well as employer; at church we are active in ministry (often more than one); we strive to be the dutiful daughter and the available friend, and if there is any spare time, we might consider a bit of self-care.

I am exhausted just thinking about it.

So how do we find balance in the midst of all this activity?

Merriam-Webster defines balanced as being in harmonious arrangement. Really? Often my life seems at odds rather than in agreement, even though I have consulted countless books on time-management.

One suggestion I tried was to develop my perfect “ordinary” day. I thought if I intentionally focused on creating a balanced life, I could somehow manufacture its existence.

I meticulously planned each hour with the hope of achieving peace and productivity. Multi-tasking was the keyword; I reasoned if I combined activities for greater efficiency, I could do it all.

I was wrong.

I soon discovered doing it all and having it all are the antithesis of harmony; this logic only leads to overwhelming stress and feelings of not being good enough.

Even the best organizational efforts cannot account for daily emergencies outside our control. Soon the tyranny of the urgent began to dictate my schedule, which meant life’s priorities such as maintaining quality relationships and self-care were often neglected.

Eventually I learned the calendar was not going to give me the peace I desired. Only God could fulfill that need.

This required I put aside others’ expectations and instead accept myself as the person God created. I needed to take an honest assessment of my core values and beliefs and learn to live my authentic life.

Unfortunately, this required I release a few strongholds, like perfectionism. I learned the homemade meal was not as important as sharing time with one another around the kitchen table; I accepted my daily walk was far more valuable than a showcase home; I traded in the accolades of “I don’t know how she does it all” for a sense of peace at the end of the day.

I also had to learn to say, “No,” which came with the risk of disappointing others.

While I know all ministry is important, I realized I did not have to do it all myself. By focusing on my core values and spiritual gifts, I could say, “Yes” to the few that clearly resonated with me, and feel free to say, “No” to others.

This not only eliminated stress and resentment in my life, but it allowed someone else the opportunity to serve.

Philippians 4:13 says: I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

This does not mean I must do all things, but rather, all things God calls me to do. By discerning the things that fit my core values, spiritual strengths, and authentic self, God will give me the strength, time and patience to complete them.

His way is the only way to achieve a balanced, harmonious life.

©2015 Molly Totoro
Molly Totoro is a writer and a recently retired English teacher who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share” and is currently establishing a ministry, Milestone Memoirs, where she helps others discover and write their stories to impact future generations. Molly shares the importance of leaving a legacy at Stepping Stones Publications, and she frequently blogs at My Cozy Book Nook.

Image attributed to Flaticon.

Destructive Thinking 101

How can we work on those negative thoughts that control our minds? Can we get to the point where we no longer play those same destructive tapes?depressed woman

The Apostle Paul reminds us to “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 NASB).

But how does that happen? How can our minds be renewed?

We can begin by recognizing some of the destructive thoughts, such as:

• Too many “shoulds” – thoughts that sound like “I should do this, I ought to do this, Everyone expects me to do this”, etc. The “should” thoughts usually come from a background of perfectionism, trying to gain appreciation because of what we DO rather than being satisfied with WHO we are.

• Worry and fear – those anxious “What if this happens?” thoughts. If you keep a journal about the “What-ifs,” you’ll see how seldom those outcomes really happen. Most of the time we worry about things that never materialize.

• Grudges and Resentments – those “This is what happened that ruined my life” thoughts. Keeping score of others’ mistakes or even our own mistakes leads us down the path toward bitterness, ruined health and mistrust in relationships.

These are just a few of the negative thoughts that can destroy our peace. So how do we deal with these negative patterns? What can we do to eliminate this toxic thinking?

• Memorize and live by the truths of Philippians 4:8. Be aware of negative thoughts and instead replace them with what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good reputation, excellence and praise.

• Pray and ask God to help you focus on the positive rather than the negative.

• Keep a gratitude journal.

• Talk to a counselor at GateWay of Hope who can help you find the root of these destructive thoughts.

• Ask a friend to keep you accountable, to remind you when any negativity comes out of your mouth.

Let’s fight these destructive thoughts so that we can live more peaceful lives and fill our minds with things that are pure and good.

©2014 GateWay of Hope – The Helping Place for Hurting Women

Finding the Authentic Self

Molly TotoroFor years I lived life for others, molding myself into roles I was expected to play: wife, daughter, mother, teacher, cook, chauffeur, church volunteer. I was ensnared in the trap of self-worth based on what I DO and in the process, lost sight of who I AM.

I used to think this was God’s will, after all, He counsels us to “value others above ourselves” (Philippians 2:3 – NIV). But I came to realize that God does not call us to value others instead of ourselves.

Ignoring our own interests leaves us as empty vessels, no longer fit to serve, and if we are not careful, this can lead to resentment, bitterness, and depression.

I had to learn to let go of some activities that defined me (and earned me external praise) in order to learn to accept myself the way God intended.

I had to release internal criticism that told me “I’m not good enough” and instead discover the gifts and talents the Lord so graciously gave me.

And I had to do some prayerful soul-searching to identify my core values.

My process was quite systematic. First, I found an online list of 400 values. I then read through the printed list with a highlighter, indicating any words that resonated with me on some level. This narrowed the list to about 50.

Next I reviewed the refined list and eliminated any that were not truly at the core of my identity OR values I thought were similar, such as responsibility and accountability. This brought the list down to ten.

Finally, I made one final run-through to bring the list to a manageable total of FIVE.

Balance – I believe in moderation of all things.

Contentment – I believe practicing gratitude is key to cultivating a joy-filled life.

Family – I believe the importance of family relationship is second only to a personal relationship with God.

Spirituality – I believe in a sovereign God whose omniscience is superior to my limited perspective. I am grateful He sent His only son as my savior so that I may readily accept His gift of Grace. I am no longer a slave to perfectionism, trying to earn His favor.

Significance – I believe we are put on this earth for a specific purpose, which is not self-seeking, but rather to help and serve others. Life-long learning and teaching others what I have learned is how I achieve this significance.

Once I identified these values, I began to incorporate them into living an authentic life. I now seek to make all decisions through the lens of these values.

It is becoming easier to say “no” when asked to do something I know will cause imbalance in my life, and it is more bearable to do unpleasant tasks that I know will lead to long-term contentment.

©2014 Molly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a writer and a recently retired English teacher who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share” and is currently establishing a ministry, Stepping Stones Publications, where she helps others discover and write their stories to impact future generations.