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How to Celebrate, Social-Distance Style

Yesterday marked James’ and my one-year anniversary. He had made a reservation at the restaurant connected with our honeymoon hotel in Tampa, but in light of COVID-19, those plans vaporized. I had given myself the pep-talk that all was well, and we’d celebrate at home, but the morning of, I found myself feeling low. Such a special day seemed to have lost its luster.

So many of you are experiencing similar situations and watching your vacations and special celebrations go down the drain. Friends have had to cancel weddings. (I can’t imagine how heartbreaking that decision must be!) Others have had to cut honeymoons short, miss prom, and the list goes on.

Though easier said than done, we can make lemonade out of our lemons. Today, I want to share some ways we made our home celebration memorable in the hopes that they’ll inspire yours too.

#1: Acknowledge Your Feelings

Yesterday, as I struggled through thoughts of COVID-19 cheating us of our special day, I realized that I simply needed to admit how I felt before I could move on. It was okay to be disappointed.

But I couldn’t stay there. I vented to a friend, and that external processing helped. Then, I was ready to brainstorm.

If you’re feeling the way I did, don’t bottle up your feelings or pretend they don’t matter. They do. Share them with someone and then start thinking about how you can make the best of what you have.

#2. Treat Your Home Celebration as Special as You Would a Fancy Restaurant.

To get started, consider how you usually spend the evening and then ask what you can do differently. In other words, don’t eat at the dinner table the way you do every night.

We just moved into our new lake house and both enjoy eating outside on the porch overlooking the water. Usually, though, we sit in old fold-up chairs.

Though we’re still living out of boxes, I dug around until I found a white tablecloth and some of our wedding decorations. Then, I set up our folding table, covered it with the tablecloth, and started adding the finishing touches. Thanks to my wonderful husband, I had fresh sunflowers (my favorite!) to include.

Though I was tempted to stay in my comfy yoga pants, I realized that even if we could have kept our reservations, I wasn’t dressing up for a restaurant. I was dressing up for James. Ever the bargain shopper, I’d found a little black dress at Ross that I’d planned to wear. After staging our table, I freshened my makeup and slipped into the number.

The look on James’s face told me how much the effort meant to him. He slipped into a nice shirt too.

As for food, we’d made a backup plan a few weeks ago in case something like this happened. He grilled up some filets, shrimp, and Pita bread. (Yes, I’m a lucky girl that my husband is a grillmaster!) We’d also purchased some sparkling apple cider and our favorite Edwards pie.

Maybe you don’t have a porch, but you can decorate your table extra nice. If you don’t grill or like to cook, consider calling to see if a favorite restaurant offers takeout. There are plenty of options, so get creative! Just put in that extra effort, because it will make a difference.

#3. Remember Good Times and God’s Goodness

Instead of groaning about what we don’t have, let’s remember our blessings instead. Last year, we were blessed to go on a once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon trip. In 2019, maybe you had the best birthday celebration ever. Or maybe your last vacation was incredibly memorable, and you just sneaked it in before all the travel restrictions started.

Regardless, Scripture tells us to remember God’s goodness and faithfulness. My pastor has been walking through the book of Lamentations, a timely series for today! May these verses encourage you:

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
(Lamentations 3:22-23 NKJV)

God’s faithfulness doesn’t change due to our circumstances. He is always good to us. When so many things are changing and out of our control, remember that God remains constant.

#4: Plan a Sequel

Just because today’s expectations went unmet doesn’t mean they can’t be reinvented down the road. Yesterday, James and I started talking about possible options for travel this year. We’ve already had one trip canceled, and another one may or may not be a possibility any more. Instead of focusing on the negatives, we considered some other alternatives that would be wonderful too.

Although planning anything right now is almost impossible, add a date on the calendar to come back to the conversation. At that point, you might be able to plan another time when you could celebrate instead. Be sure to write it down! As someone said, a dream is only a wish if it isn’t written down.

As much as possible, we can be intentional in planning ahead and looking to the future, instead of dwelling on the past.

What other ideas would you add to this list of ways to make celebrations special, social-distance style? Please leave a comment below.

~ Kristen

How to Celebrate, Social-Distance Style by @kjhogrefe

4 Core Strengths in Marriage, Pt. 2

Today, I’m excited to share the second part of this Core Strengths series by my friend and author Tami Myer who blogs at Manna for Marriage. If you missed last week’s post, you can go back and review the first two strengths needed for your marriage by clicking here. Personally, this posts are timely, since James and I celebrate our first anniversary this week (social distancing style). I’m so grateful for an amazing first year of marriage, and next week, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned this first year. But for now, please join me in welcoming Tami once more as she shares her last two points with us.

Post by Tami Myer

3. Commitment

Many people think that the most important “C” in marriage is communication. Communication is important, certainly, but I think that commitment is even more essential.

When you and your spouse are committed to one another, you gain a firm platform under your feet that allows you then to work on your communication or any other issue. Being committed to your marriage means that nothing on earth is more important than your relationship. Of course, you want your obedience to God to be your highest commitment, but your obedience to God motivates and strengthens your commitment to your marriage.

Even after exchanging vows on your wedding day, there are times when it is important to verbalize that commitment. When you and your spouse do not agree on the color of the carpet, it can be helpful to say, “I like the green, but I value you more than the carpet.”  Or when you are dealing with something more serious, it can be very stabilizing to say, “This is tough, but I am absolutely committed to you and to our marriage.” Speaking your commitment out loud reminds you both of what you truly value.

Commitment is the solid foundation that undergirds a successful marriage. It is your commitment that protects your love, not the other way around. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it: “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but … the marriage that sustains your love.”

4. Kindness

Is there ever a time not to be kind in your marriage?

Short answer: no. Long answer: never.

Some people seem to think that marriage is a license to be unkind, as if demonstrating thoughtlessness were part of real intimacy.

But God says:

Love is patient, love is kind. … It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. … Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV)

Practice kindness every day with your spouse. Nothing will strengthen your marriage more than simple, ordinary, everyday kindness.

Smile. Be patient. Give a hug. Speak a gentle or encouraging word. Stick a note on the mirror, or leave a small gift in the drawer. Join your spouse on an errand, or rub his shoulders. Refill her empty glass.

These things may seem little, but so are the breaths that we take into our lungs moment by moment. Our lives are sustained by the little things.

Honor. Attentiveness. Commitment. Kindness. These are relational strands that you can weave into your marriage every day. The result of these daily, consistent practices–however small or unseen–will be a strong and successful relationship.

Learn more about strengthening your marriage in “10 Simple But Powerful Ways to Build Your Marriage.”

4 Core Strengths in Marriage by @manna4marriage on @kjhogrefe

4 Core Strengths in Marriage, Pt. 1

If you received my newsletter this month (if not, you can get next month’s by clicking here), you may be looking forward to my friend Tami’s post as much as I am. Tami blogs at Manna for Marriage where she encourages and equips couples in their marriages. As my husband and I near our one-year anniversary, I asked if she would share some advice for building a strong foundation for the future.

Well, I have good news. She shared so much excellent material with me that we decided to break it into two posts: this week and next. Please join me in welcoming Tami today!

By Tami Myer

Every marriage is unique with its own blend of personality styles, family backgrounds, and life circumstances. Even the “secrets to success” can vary from couple to couple.

However, there are four concepts that add immense strength to any marriage. Relationships that build on these four principles will be resilient and healthy. Couples who fail to establish these qualities in their homes can expect pain and crisis.

Developing these core strengths will make all the difference in your marriage: honor, attentiveness, commitment, and kindness.

1. Honor

Learn to maintain an inner posture of honor toward your spouse. In your spirit, keep saluting your husband. In your spirit, keep bowing to your wife.

Work on developing this discipline until it becomes your default position. There are no “days off” and no “time out” when it comes to honor. It is the oxygen in your marriage.

Honor is the oxygen in your marriage. Read more by @manna4marriage on @kjhogrefe.

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. (Romans 12:10, NLT)

Your spouse is created in the image of God. That was true on your wedding day, and regardless of how long you’ve been married, it is true today. And it will still be true on your most difficult days. Your spouse will always be worthy of honor because of the eternal spirit that God created him or her to be.

Your husband’s actions may not always be worthy of respect; but every day, he is worthy of your respect because he was designed by God for greatness and strength. He is an immortal, priceless spirit, created for significance and success, known and valued by God.

So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:33, NLT)

Your wife’s behavior may not always be worthy of esteem; but every day, she is worthy of your esteem because she is an immortal, priceless spirit, designed to bring delight and pleasure to the heart of God. She is loved and cherished by God.

In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. (1 Peter 3:7, NLT)

Honor your spouse by using gracious, tactful speech. You might even want to do what my husband, Chris, and I have done throughout our marriage: banish sarcasm. I realize that sarcasm can be witty and fun, but it can also be like a little crack in the door.

Sarcasm often opens the door wider and wider until truly ugly and hurtful comments come sliding through.

Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (Ephesians 4:29, NLT)

Honor your spouse by using your best manners. Don’t save your polite behavior for company! Instead, use your “fine china” manners with your spouse every day. Sure, you can relax and wear your comfy clothes, but don’t relax the filter on your thoughts or the guard on your tongue. Should we be more courteous to complete strangers in the grocery store than we are to our covenant partners?

I don’t know if I should tell you this next thing about my husband because it might make the women jealous and the men annoyed. Chris opens the car door for me not only when I am getting into the car but also when I am getting out of the car. Before Chris and I were married, someone warned me that my husband would soon quit opening doors for me; but 32 years later, he is still walking around the car to open my door! Chris does this as a gesture of honor to me; but primarily, it reveals him as a great man of honor.

Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10, ESV)

This is something we often forget: when we show honor to our spouses, we are actually demonstrating that we ourselves are people of honor. When we withhold honor from our spouses because we think that they are undeserving, we are only exposing our own insecurities and pettiness.

2. Attentiveness

Dr. John Gottman is a world-renown marriage researcher who discovered that he could predict–with surprising accuracy–the success of a marriage based on a single factor.

Dr. Gottman had expected to find that successful couples communicate at deep, intimate levels throughout the day. He had expected to find that they usually agree with one another. But that was not what the research showed!

Instead, Dr. Gottman discovered that the single most important factor in marriage is attentiveness. Successful couples are attentive to one another’s attempts to connect. Couples who are not attentive to one another in positive ways will eventually break up.

Dr. Gottman found that husbands and wives make bids for attention throughout the day. A “bid” is any attempt to connect with another person. A bid can be spoken words, a touch, a facial expression, or a sound. “Accepting” a bid means responding to a bid in a positive way. This process of making and accepting bids is what knits a relationship together.

Accepting a bid can be as simple as responding to a comment by saying, “Really? That’s interesting!” If your wife smiles at you, you can smile back or wink. If your husband says that there is a red bird sitting on the fence, you can take a moment to look out the window and thank your husband for pointing that out.

Ignoring bids or responding in a hostile way (“Who cares?!”) absolutely shreds a marriage.

This concept of making and accepting bids is simple, but it is extremely important. (It is another expression of honor.) Be attentive to your spouse’s bids, and respond in pleasant ways. Responses may be brief, but making the effort to acknowledge your spouse is critical.

Join us next week for the second half of the Core Strengths series! Until then, what did you learn from Tami today that could encourage your own marriage? Or if you’re a young adult, what idea might you want to tuck away for later? Please share in the comments.

4 Core Strengths in Marriage by @manna4marriage on @kjhogrefe

Writer’s Block: The Basics of Plot Structure

A story doesn’t just happen. The writer intentionally crafts it from start to finish–from inciting incident to denouement. In this meeting, we talk about the ten basic plots, the components of plot structure, and an example that helps visualize the whole process. As always, there’s a writing activity at the end to help you practice what you’ve learned.

Join us on YouTube, and take a moment to comment or share your thoughts on today’s video.

A story doesn’t just happen. Learn the basic components of plot structure and how to map out a storyline from start to finish.

When Was Your Last Spiritual Spring Cleaning?

In college, my dorm mates and I dreaded “white glove,” the once-a-semester deep cleaning that bordered on the ridiculous. You could get called back in for so much as a strand of hair in the shower.

As a clean freak by nature, though, I appreciated the concept, and today, pride myself in keeping a clean house. Well, I thought I was keeping a clean house, until we decided to put it up for sale. All of a sudden, there was dust on the floorboards I’d never noticed before. Dust on the light fixtures in the bathroom. Hints of rust on the washer machine. Spill stains on the kitchen cabinets. Don’t even get me started on the microwave.

In short, grossness! I’d been living in a dirty house all this time, yet from the surface level, it had looked pristine. (Don’t judge me too hard. When is the last time you cleaned your microwave?)

I started to consider how this deep cleaning concept might apply to my spiritual life. Yes, I have my daily quiet time and even my intentional quiet place. James and I love our Sunday school class and church too. But do I just look like a “clean Christian” on the outside? What happens when I take a sub-surface inventory? If you’re daring, join me as we ask some tough questions.

When was the list time God’s Word convicted me?

Oh, c’mon. I just finished reading Leviticus. Surely that counts for spiritual.

Not really. Did I actually learn something from Leviticus or just skim through it to check off that yearly reading chore? If I’m honest, the truth hits closer to the latter.

When I’m feeling spiritually dry, I’ve started asking God to show me what He has for me and give me the ears to hear it. The Bible says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7 NKJV)

The Holy Spirit’s job is to expose areas we need to repent and grow (John 16:8). We must be willing to receive that instruction and do something with it.

Am I faithful in prayer and truly trusting God?

Last year, I shared about a book on prayer one of my friends gave me called A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller. It is by far one of the clearest and most helpful books on prayer I’ve read. One of my takeaways was to write note cards for specific people in my life, what their needs are, and how I can be praying for them.

In the last few months, some of those prayers have been incredibly answered, so much so, that I’ve found myself blinking. Wow, God! I kind of thought that request was a bit high on the “not likely” spectrum, but really? I thought you might go for something easier first, but uh, thanks!

I’m confessing this to my shame. Scripture reminds us that nothing is impossible with God. When the Angel Gabriel visited Mary, he spoke these very words:

For with God nothing will be impossible. (Luke 1:37 NKJV)

Yes, I know that truth, but I must actively believe it. And so, I echo the prayer of the mute boy’s father from Scripture, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24b NKJV)

Do I thank God whether He gives or takes away?

This one can be so hard, especially when our hopes and dreams are wrapped up in our prayers. As my husband and I have been searching for a house, there have been many closed doors. So many that the disappointment literally hurt. But after one especially disappointing “no,” I accepted it and said, “Lord, thank you for protecting us from something that wasn’t right for us.”

We have to remember that perspective when God says no or not yet. His refusals are His mercies, no matter how much they sting at the time. Later, when He does present a yes, how much sweeter it is!

Today, we’re rejoicing that God appears to have opened a new house for us (hence, the early spring cleaning on our current home). Whatever comes, though, may my heart choose to say, “Lord, blessed be your name.”

Am I accepting God’s refining work in my life?

God works in many different ways and through all types of circumstances, some more painful than others. Sometimes, the blessings also present the biggest opportunities for maturity.

My marriage to James has been the biggest blessing in my life, apart from my salvation. Seriously, God knew what He was doing and what we needed so much better than we did! When I look at my wonderful husband, I just shake my head at how much I don’t deserve him.

Still, day-to-day living presents iron-sharpening moments that reveal my own selfishness and need for God’s grace in my life. Having my spouse see me at my worst can be humbling. Instead of trying to shove those moments under the rug, I have to accept them, examine them, and ask God to help me be the woman and wife He’s called me to be.

I like how Michelle Medlock Adams describes this molding process in Platinum Faith, the book she co-authored with Bethany Jett:

We can’t rush through the process even though we’d like to get off the wheel as soon as possible because it’s uncomfortable to be shaped and molded. But as we keep God at the center of our lives, the Master Potter will continue recentering us and removing any imperfections along the way.

Do I care about God’s mission more than my comfort?

The bottom line is that God loves people (John 3:16) and “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4 NKJV). Is that our desire as well? Or are we too comfortable in our little circles to share our faith with others?

Recently, our Sunday school class did a spiritual gifts test. If you’ve never done one, I encourage you to find and take one. Even though we don’t all have the gift of evangelism, we can still share God’s love and our testimonies with others. After all, it’s the story of God at work in our lives. Our stories might just be the one the person next door needs to hear.

Yet we worry about being embarrassed, about saying the wrong thing, about being rejected. At least, I do! May God grant us boldness that we would not be timid in sharing the gospel (Romans 1:16, Philippians 1:20).

Closing Prayer

Lord, you know us better than we know ourselves. Create in us clean hearts and renew right spirits within us that our lives may be pleasing to you (Psalm 51:10).

~ Kristen

Spring cleaning season is almost here! Take a sub-surface look at your spiritual health, too, by asking some tough questions.

Writer’s Block: Poetry in Everyday Life

It’s February, a month famous for sharing sweet sentiments, so what better time is there to talk about poetry? Whether you want to craft a ditty for that special someone–or not–everyone can learn to enjoy and even write poetry.

Most teens groan when their teacher talks about poetry in English class, but the truth is, we use poetry all the time. It adds beauty and extra dimension to writing, songs, and creative expressions. In this meeting, we’ll talk about the basics of meter, the difference between rhyme and free verse, and some common poetic devices. Then, at the end, I’ll share a writing activity so you can practice being your own poet.

Join us on YouTube, and take a moment to comment or share your thoughts on today’s video.

Learn the basics of poetry on Writer’s Block, a community for young writers.

Author Chat with Morgan L. Busse on her Ravenwood Saga

Last year, I discovered Morgan as an author when both our novels were finalists in the 2019 Selah Awards for Speculative Fiction. Her Mark of the Raven later took first place (so well-deserved). The Ravenwood Saga has made her my new favorite fantasy author, and today, it is my absolute pleasure to welcome her as a guest to the blog! In this interview, you can catch her heart for writing, for her readers, and for “the Light.”

Q: What prompted you to write this fantasy series?

All of my books start with a scene that I see in my head. For The Ravenwood series, I saw a young woman assassin standing over the bed of young man. I knew he was important, and I could tell she was hesitating to fulfill her mission. So I started asking who was she? How did she get to this point? Who was the young man? Why was he important? Why was there a target on his life? From that scene Selene’s story grew into what it is today: The Ravenwood Saga.

Q: Selene’s dreamwalking ability is such a creative twist on special powers. Did something inspire you to invent her skill, and if so, what was it?

There are a lot of assassin stories out there, so I wanted to make this one different. Then I thought, what if she had some other power? One of my favorite cartoons to watch with my kids is My Little Pony. The job of one of the royal sisters is to watch over the dreams of the other ponies at night. The moment I saw that episode, I knew what Selene’s power was: to walk in dreams. But it had been corrupted, and her story would be her journey to bring her family’s power back to what it was supposed to be: protecting the dreams of people.

Q: Who is your favorite character from the Ravenwood Saga and why?

Ooo, that is a hard one. Of course I love Selene: her struggle with figuring out who she is and if there is anything redeemable about her abilities. I also love Damien’s quiet but fierce love for both his people and eventually Selene. And of course I love Lady Bryren, the leader of the wyvern riders. She’s a firecracker and a fun character to write about!

Q: Selene and Damien have to grow up quickly due to their circumstances and their life or death decision at the end of book one (no spoiler). Why do you think it is important for young adult fiction to present strong, vulnerable characters who must make hard choices?

Becoming an adult means facing hard choices, and the path we choose many times determines the adults we become. I wanted to show through Selene that we always have a choice in who we become, that we are not bound to the choices our family has made. And by choosing to walk away from the wrong choices our family has made can change not only ourselves, but eventually our family, and our world. Damien is an example that there are strong young adults who are selfless leaders.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from this saga?

Hope and strength. That each step toward the light is worth it. That when we give up ourselves, we save not only ourselves but those around us.

Q: How did you first discover your writing ability, and how have you seen God use it in unexpected ways?

I never wanted to be a writer. I loved reading and that’s it. But my husband continued to encourage me to write. So I finally gave in (he’s quite the persistent cheerleader!). When I write a book, I pray for the person who needs to read it and that God would help me write the message that person needs to hear. And with every book, I get at least one email from someone who needed that story at that time. Last week, there was a young woman who received an advance copy of Cry of the Raven (the last book), and the day she finished the book, her grandmother passed away. One of the themes of Cry of the Raven is dealing with the death of loved ones, and she wrote about how much this book is already helping her with the death of her grandmother.

Q: What advice would you give aspiring young writers?

One: study the craft of writing. Read books, go to the conferences, follow the newsletters of those who teach. Two: write, write, write! You only become good by practicing. A friend of mine once said that most people need to write a million words before they start writing something worth reading. Third: live life. Don’t forget to spend time with your family, go for a walk, enjoy life. The writing is always there, but if you aren’t living, you will have nothing to write about.

Q: Can you hint about what next project you have in the works?

Yes! I’m currently working on a new steampunk series and am already halfway through the first book. The series is currently dubbed The Plague Wars. Here is a quick blurb:

In a world covered in a deadly mist that forces humanity to live in the sky, Cass escapes the purges and survives by her wits until she stumbles onto the airship Daedalus and finds a job as a diver. As a diver, she explores the ruined cities within the mist, searching for treasure and family heirlooms for the rich. But everything changes when a young man hires her to find the very thing that will turn their world upside down: a way to eradicate the mist.

Theodore Winchester is a member of one of the five powerful families that rule the sky over the mist. Following in his father’s footsteps, he searches for the source of the deadly mist that turns people in the undead and hopes to stop the purges used to control over-population. But what he finds are secrets and ambition, and with each question comes horrifying answers. If he continues his search, not only will he encounter opposition, but perhaps even his own death.

But the mist is rising, and if a remedy isn’t found soon, the entire world will be enveloped in its deadly embrace, turning all of humankind into monsters.

Ready to find your next favorite fantasy series? Meet author Morgan L. Busse who shares about her award-winning Ravenwood Saga.

About the Author

Morgan L. Busse is a writer by day and a mother by night. She writes fantasy and steampunk novels and sometimes dabbles in science fiction. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Follower of the Word series, The Soul Chronicles, and award-winning Ravenwood Saga. When she’s not writing, she loves to play games, take long walks, and dream about her next novel.

About Cry of the Raven, Book 3 in the Ravenwood Saga

Lady Selene Ravenwood has come into her full power as a dreamwalker just as the war with the Dominia Empire begins. Working with the other Great Houses, Selene and Damien use their gifts to secure the borders and save those devastated by the war. But conflict, betrayal, and hatred begin to spread between the Great Houses, destroying their unity as the empire burns a path across their lands. At the same time, Damien Maris starts to lose his ability to raise the waters, leaving the lands vulnerable to the empire’s attacks.

The only one who can unite the houses and restore her husband’s power is Selene Ravenwood. But it will require that she open her heart to those who have hurt her and let go of her past, despite the one who hunts her and will do anything to stop her power.

Will Selene survive? Or is she destined to fall like the dreamwalkers before her?