Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Without You

As we gear up to celebrate the biggest holiday of the year my heart is heavy. I've found myself thinking of and missing my grandma B quite often the last couple of weeks. She loved Christmas - the gatherings, the presents, the fun. Memories have flooded my mind and tears have filled my eyes. And thankfully hope has filled my heart.
G'ma B with Jed in 2011.
My gratefulness for Christmas has increased...Jesus first had to be born and then He could die. Friends that death was for you and for me. And now as I grieve and experience Christmas without one I love, I'm thankful He came. Regardless of what gift I find under the tree, this Christmas Christ has already given the greatest gift to me. He's saved me and given eternal life. He provides peace, creates joy and gives me hope.

I'm missing G'ma B and Christmas is hard, but yet I'm reminded of Jesus and know Christmas is good! The words below are an attempt to express that a bit better....

Christmas without you just isn't the same.
Empty is the stocking that bears your name.
Thoughts of the presents you'd buy
brings a tear to my eye.
Family gatherings were always fun,
especially when the dishes were done!
Your meals were always delicious
because you were so ambitious!
Memories of the gifts you made
are ones I hope never fade.

Christmas without you is kind of sad,
but I know you wouldn't want me to feel bad.
These feelings of grief during the season
leave me reflecting on the reason.
Christmas is a time to celebrate
something, Someone special and great!
Jesus, the baby, was born
so we wouldn't be torn.
God gave us His Son
so His will could be done.

Christmas without you leaves me thinking of what lies ahead
and I'm reminded of what was said,
"Whoever believes in the baby who came
and confesses in His name
this one will be saved,
his road to heaven is paved."
You did these things
and know the joy it brings,
You've been completely restored
and are now celebrating with our Lord.

Christmas without you is hard,
my heart feels a little scarred,
sometimes the tears fall
and then it's Jesus I call.
With Him I share my heart
and the pain starts to depart.
I'm reminded of the hope He brings
and to Him my soul clings.
This year I celebrate without you,
but someday we'll be together and all will be new.

Thoughts of G'ma B and moments of grief make me think of others too - friends who've lost their mom, another who lost her dad, some who miss their little boy and others celebrating their baby girl's first Christmas without her. Friend, if you are experiencing grief this Christmas, I pray you can look to Christ, the baby in the manager who grew to be our Savior, and find ALL that you need.

The final gift from G'ma B - 5 of the 80+ blankets she made last year.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Our Christmas Letter


Dear blog reader, though I don't know your mailing address, I still wanted to share our Christmas greetings! I'm so thankful God has crossed our paths and blessed me with your friendship! Have a wonderful Christmas!!

Merry Christmas from our family to yours! This has been another busy year with many memories made - a Wisconsin Dells vacation with the Biwer’s to celebrate my parent’s 40th anniversary, the annual Beran Labor Day camp-out and the kids turning 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10!! (Easier ages to say than parent most days!!)

The memory I will forever connect with 2013 is a hard one though…losing Grandma B. She fought cancer hard the first half of the year, we said our final “Good-bye’s” in June and now as Christmas nears we remember her.

The memories can be hard and they make me miss her more, but they remind me of the Reason for the season. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, the boy who didn’t just grow up to be a man, but became my Savior. Jesus is the reason we have hope, the source of joy when the tears fall and our Emmanuel, God with us.

This Christmas we are trying to focus on Him more and talk about Him too! So in an attempt to live out Psalms 20:7b (NLT), “We boast in the Lord our God” here are a few of our thoughts -

Jesus is - “God’s Son; the Prince of Peace; powerful and loving; our Savior; good; God and the baby.”

I boast about Him because - “He is right; He loves me, saved me and changed me; He gave everlasting life; He is the only way to heaven; He never lies; He died on the cross and He luvs me.”

We are looking forward to the family get-togethers, presents and fun, but as we prepare we’re thinking about the first Christmas and what Jesus came to do. And we are thankful for the greatest gift that was ever given - not a present under the tree, but a Savior on the cross!!

We pray you enjoy the Christmas season and have a blessed 2014!

                                                                                                    Merry CHRISTmas!
                                                                                                       Love the Beran’s

And Mary said, “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me - holy is His name.” 
(Luke 1:46-47, 49)

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Peace PTO

Peace is often talked about at Christmas time, but I don't just want to talk about it...I want to experience it!! How about you? I know Jesus is the "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6) and He left us with His peace (John 14:27), but I don't just want to know these truths, I want to receive the gift!!

About a month ago, I was longing for the peace that passes all understanding and found myself calling out to God. He led me on a journey and I pray the summary of it blesses you as well!

I think I read nearly every verse that contains the word peace and eventually God narrowed my focus to the ones about experiencing this peace. I know God provides peace, but I finally asked Him, "What do I need to do to receive it?" and three words came to the surface. They quickly became known as "The Peace PTO"!

A quick word for my non-farming friends...PTOs are an important thing on the farm. I don't know all the details, but it's the Power Take-Off of a tractor. This is where a piece of equipment is attached to a tractor so that it can work. For instance, my husband's feeder wagon - the PTO gives it the power to mix the grain, open the gate and unload the feed. The PTO is what connects the two and makes it work.

The Peace PTO does the same! I know Christ, but this PTO keeps us connected, allows His power to work in me and helps me experience peace.

P - Pray - I understand prayer keeps me connected with God, but I'm learning it has more to do with peace than I first thought. Friends, we may be anxious when we go to God in prayer, but as the conversation continues His peace replaces our anxiety.

Philippians 4:6-7 tells us, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the PEACE of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." 

I'm guessing you know confession is a part of prayer, but do you realize it's a part that leads to peace? In Luke 2:14, a familiar Christmas verse, we read, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE among those with whom he is pleased!” We often hear, "Peace on Earth", but who does this verse say will experience the peace? The ones with who God is pleased!! Oh friend, He is not pleased with the sin we live out nor the sin that lives in our hearts. If we want to experience His peace, we must confess our sins and turn from them!! The BIG ones and the little ones.

Matthew 21:22 is pretty self-explanatory - "And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith." Friends, prayer is a big part of experiencing peace, but it's not the only piece of the puzzle, so let's continue.

T - Trust - Over the years, God has shown Himself faithful time and time again, but daily I must choose to trust Him. Personally this can be hard when trials hit, things unfold in a way I don't understand and plans change, but God is God and He is good. Choosing to TRUST Him brings peace! 

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and PEACE as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13

"You will keep in perfect PEACE those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you." Isaiah 26:3

O - Obey - The final piece of the "Peace PTO" is obedience. A concept that is vital for a follower of Christ and critical if we want to experience peace. It's often said that "blessings follow obedience" and one of the blessings is peace.

But let us remember that obedience is not just following God out of our comfort zones it's also obeying His commands in Scripture. Instead of reading my words about this, let's take a look at The Word -

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.And the God of PEACE will be with you." Philippians 4:8-9

"Turn from evil and do good; seek PEACE and pursue it." Psalms 34:14

"Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in PEACE. And the God of love and PEACE will be with you." 2 Corinthians 13:11

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of PEACE." Ephesians 4:3

Just this morning I was out helping my husband do chores and was reminded of two things...the feeder wagon won't work unless - 1) it's hooked up to the tractor, 2) the tractor is running and 3) the PTO is engaged. Friend, there's also three parts for the "Peace PTO" - if we want the Prince of Peace to reign in our life we must 1) Pray, 2) Trust and 3) Obey! 

Just like the PTO shaft on my husband's tractor turns constantly we must do the same with our "Peace PTO" - all three parts need to work continuously and simultaneously. Friend, I encourage you to meditate on these verses about peace, use them to guide your prayers and then engage the "Peace PTO"! This Christmas let's not just talk about peace, but live in it!!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Me, Mary? (A Post from the Past)

Four years ago I shared these words at Christmas time and I was blessed to read them again today. Pray God speaks through them to you as well!

This past weekend I had the privilege of playing Mary in our Sunday School Christmas program. Six weeks ago when my husband first informed me of the role, I never expected to write the above words. You see acting is not my thing! I'd never been "Mary" as a child and I didn't think now was the time. Honestly when my husband, one of the Sunday School leaders, told me about this I thought he was joking...

But the following Sunday as the kids were practicing and I was in the nursery with our new little man, I was informed I got the part without having to audition!! I realize being the real life Mom of this year's baby "Jesus" had something to do with it, but still...

Anyway, I agreed, thinking if I don't want my kids to be afraid of this I'd better set a good example. Besides it wasn't like I had that many lines!

So the whole month of December we spent Sunday School time practicing for the play and I was given a new appreciation for those who direct! More than that I began to understand why God had cast me in the role I had never received as a girl. Back then I would have never understood and actually I'm not sure I would have a year ago, but this year there was a reason.

Last January, I was in the midst of editing my book and beginning to make plans to organize a women's retreat. Everything was in the early stages, but still I sensed God was up to something. I was excited, but mostly I felt so undeserving. I can remember sharing some doubts, worries and fears with my husband and basically I told him I wasn't worthy of what God was calling me to do.

He listened, reminded me none of us are deserving of what God gives and then asked, "How do you think Mary felt?" The question had me - back in the day when all of us Sunday School girls wanted to be Mary, I would have answered the question rather quickly, "Lucky, Blessed, Special...," but now as an adult I pondered the question a little longer.

Really I even thought about it in a different way and the idea of "why me?" came to mind. I look at her situation and wonder if she felt the same and another question comes to mind, one Scripture shows she asked, "How can this be?" The angel answered her question - the power of the Holy Spirit would come upon her and she was reminded that with God all things are possible.

So the character my husband pointed me to last January became a bit of a study the whole year through. As God continued to call me out of my comfort zone time and time again, thoughts would often go back to Mary, the one who said, "I am the Lord's servant, may it be as you have said." I always knew she was the mother of Jesus, but in 2009 I've looked at her story in a whole new way.

In today's world we often glamorize the story, the beautiful nativity scenes are nice, but it was more than that. When I stop and think about the reality of it all, wow, I cannot imagine. How does a virgin girl explain this situation to her soon to be husband? Have you ever thought about traveling to Bethlehem by donkey when your nine months pregnant? (I thought the 20 miles to Grandma's by car was bumpy and long at times!!) And then there's a baby born in a stable...what a contrast to our sanitary state of the art delivery rooms today!

All of these questions and more have crossed my mind, but what's really been on my heart through out the year was Mary's response. The angel gave her a glimpse of what was to come, but still there was some unknown just like there is for me. What would have I done? What would I have said? I'm afraid to say I don't think my response would have come so quickly. I look back on my life and just as my calling is different than Mary's my response has been as well.

I tend to be an analyzer and in my head I try to play out how things will unfold. I often find myself wondering how it will all work and what people will think. I believe in a way those thoughts had to cross Mary's mind as well. Did the unknown stop her? No! How about fear of what others would think? No! Maybe the thought of "Why me? I don't deserve to be the mother of the Savior of the world" never crossed her mind, but if it did she didn't even allow the feelings she had about herself to trump how God felt about her.

She humbled herself and accepted what God wanted to give. I've often thought humbling myself meant stepping aside, playing the behind the scenes role and letting someone else stand in the spotlight. In a way that understanding is correct - there is only One who should be under the light and take center stage, but my recent acting debut has shown me that sometimes Christ does that through people, even me.

Mary didn't question the role God had for her, well maybe in her mind she did, but she didn't question the One who gave it to her. She responded with some words I've come to know quite well, "I am the Lord's servant, may it be as you have said." My prayer as the new year begins is that God moves me from simply knowing Mary's words and saying them at our Christmas program to living in a way that her words become mine everyday of the year.

Me, Mary? Initially it was a role I didn't want to play, but now has become a desire of my heart. And the thing is there isn't just room for one, I believe God will take as many Marys as He can find, so will you join me today and audition for the role as well? Trust me, it will look different than you expect, but with God as the director we know the final result will be blessed and beautiful.

Last year, my little Joy, was able to play the part of Mary. She did wonderful and I pray Mary's words were etched on her heart as well!!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Praying without Ceasing

A special welcome to those of you joining me from the Encouragement Cafe today! Thank you for stopping by! In my devotion (you can read it HERE), the focus was on 1 Thessalonians 5:17, which says - "Pray without ceasing.”

That is a short sentence and may seem like a simple command, but friend for me it can be a difficult assignment. I can clearly remember the day I described in the devotional, the day God gave me these directions. I'd read this verse before, thought about and even tried to live it out, but my efforts didn't last long.

So this time I did something different...instead of determining to do this in my head, I went to my knees and asked God to change my heart. I had cried out to Him and trusted this was His answer. I knew it was something I couldn't do on my own...reflecting on failed attempts in the past proved that.

As I prayed, I also listened and my heavenly Father, the One who created my heart and knows it best, whispered words I needed to hear. Ones that brought peace and have helped me press on. It was as if I heard Him say, "Don't strive for perfection, I just want perseverance." I thanked Him for that and closed my prayer asking for His help.

Friend, nearly two months have passed and the first thing I'll admit - I don't pray without ceasing. But I'm grateful to announce that I do pray more and am quicker to go to God. He heard my prayer and is answering it!

I asked for God's help and He is clearly providing it. He's pricking my heart in unique ways that lead me to pray first and more. And He's helping me receive the grace that He offers when I fail...which still happens all too often!

Like the other night when my little Jed slipped after taking a bath. He was crying and in pain so I scooped him up, sat him on the bed and started looking him over. As I did this I said to him, "I don't see any blood, nothing is broken...I think you're going to be OK."

Tears fell from his eyes as he continued to cry and then my little 4 year old took my hands and put them together. I whispered, "You want Mommy to pray?" He simply shook his head. So I prayed...asking God to comfort and heal my little man, thanking Him for my child's faith and the marvelous ways He works.

My lil Jed back when he was 2!
Friend, my prayer for you is that you too will take some time and really ask God to help you live out this verse. It is one that is easy to memorize, but hard to live. Praying you will be encouraged to press on in prayer!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Reason for the Season

I'll admit Christmas is not my favorite holiday, but I know it's one of the most important ones! The hustle and bustle, shopping and spending sometimes overwhelm me, but this year I'm trying to enjoy the moments and remember the reason for the season.

Yesterday I came across one of my favorite Christmas pictures...it's of my youngest, Jesse, from last year. He was not quite 18 months and everything was amazing in his eyes. I look at this picture and think about the awe of Christmas. Perhaps he wasn't in awe, but simply contemplating how to get the star down, but still my children do remind me there is something exciting about Christmas.

Really even out and about there seems to be something different...some call it the magic of Christmas. People tend to be friendlier. Everyone is sharing the holiday cheer and offering an extra smile. It is the most wonderful time of the year, but why?

Is it because families come together? Parties are planned, wish lists made and candy created? Perhaps for some that is the reason. Some like to give, others enjoy entertaining and some love to decorate, but as followers of Christ it's about something more.

Sometimes at our house Christmas can become a bit chaotic...fights over how to decorate, worry about someone breaking the nativity and the mess of decorating cookies. But today as I was thinking about the first Christmas I realized my chaos does not compare to Mary's.

Friend, she was 9 months pregnant riding on the back of a donkey looking for a place to stay. Then she gave birth in a stable which in no way compares to the modern delivery rooms we have today. At times I'm guilty of allowing the chaos to distract me and cause me to lose focus, but this year in those moments I'm praying God will remind me of Mary. He helped her persevere and I know He'll help me do the same.

I also find myself looking at our tree and thinking about the cross. We put presents under our tree, but God put the greatest gift on the cross. Jesus, the baby we celebrate, was born to die for me and you. God made Himself man and came to the earth in a way no man ever had. And Jesus, the Son, obeyed in way I  never will. And God, our Father, showed love in a way I can't imagine.

This my friend, is the reason for the season. Luke 2 spells it all out, but John 3:16 sums it all up. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall never perish but have eternal life."

My prayer is that we will celebrate the season as we remember what it is all about. And as we share gifts with ones we love, I hope we remember to share about the One who loves us. This Christmas may we rejoice and reach out!

I'll close with one of my all-time favorite songs...one that has stirred some of these thoughts, but shares them so much better than me! Let the Go Fish Guys remind you what Christmas is all about -

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Ultimate Armor

Under Armour is big! Athletes have worn it for awhile, but now it's one of the most popular logos you see. A visit to the official website says their goal is to make every athlete better and help you stay warmer longer. Personally, I've never owned any Under Armour attire, but recently I've been thinking about another armor.

An armor that is often overlooked and at times even ignored. My friend I'm talking about the Armor of God! What do you think would happen if we wore this armor as often as we do the name brand shirt? What if we invested as much time into God's armor as money that we invest in the world's? Friend, I think our lives, our world, would be different.

I'm only saying this because lately I've been challenged, encouraged and convicted to wear it more and better. I'm currently doing a Bible study and this week the Armor of God was an area of focus. As I'm doing this study, I'm also living life and the Armor of God is something I need!

In no way do I have this mastered...honestly this last week, I have felt like a failure when it comes to being in the Lord's Army. I've been a soldier who fights on my own rather than standing so God can fight for me and through me. One who at times forgets to dress for battle. One who neglects to stay alert and pray continuously.

Thankfully, God has opened my eyes to this, granted me grace and given me the desire to dig deeper. As others were searching for the latest deal on Under Armor, Jehovah Nissi (God our Banner) has led me to search His Scriptures to learn more about the ultimate armor.

I've been reminded that I must continually put the armor on! God has shown me I can't fight this battle on my own...I need His help. And He wants to help and is able to. And the amazing thing I noticed as I looked at the armor is we are not given directions for how to fight, but what to wear. Friend, the goal Paul described is not to win, but to stand. (vs 10, 13 and 14) Jehovah Nissi, God our Banner, He fights for us and remember the victory is already won!!

Today may you be encouraged to think about, study and put on the Armor of God. Then perhaps you can share what you learn with someone else! Yesterday, my kids and I took sometime discussing this and I thought about how God doesn't expect us to win the battle, but we are called to encourage others and He's glorified when we help them put the armor on too!

Under Armour is designed to "make athletes better" and keep them warmer, but God's ultimate armor can do so much more! Will you join me today and put it on!

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities,against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me,that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Monday, December 2, 2013

T + T Does NOT = T

Basic algebra explains the simplicity of the statement in this post's title, but yesterday God used it to remind me of an important Truth. Let me explain...

Have you ever found yourself anxious? Do you know God promises to give us peace, but you struggle to experience it? Me too. Actually lately I felt this way.

I had sought God's direction and then did what He was leading me to do. In a recent discussion with some friends, one of them said, "Obedience brings peace." We all agreed with those words, but the last few days I didn't feel like I was experiencing them.

This began a journey to attempt and understand peace, God's peace, more. Many verses were brought to my attention...

"I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have many troubles. But take heart I have overcome the world." John 16:33

"Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every situation." 2 Thess. 3:16

"Peace I leave with you; My own peace I now give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, do not be afraid." John 14:27

There were many scriptures to read, but two in particular caught my attention as I asked God, "How? How do I experience your peace?" I understood He is willing and able to give it, but I wondered what do I need to do to receive it. He provided an answer with these two verses -

"May the God of all hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13

"You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You!!" Isaiah 26:3

Did you catch the common, key word? As I studied and prayed through these verses the other morning, the word TRUST jumped out at me and then the day began.

As the afternoon unfolded I found myself thinking about the situation that had left me anxious and lacking peace. I was trying to make a plan of what I should do and say while I thought about how the other person would react. This went on for awhile and then God spoke to my heart and He used an algebraic equation to get my attention.

He whispered, "Jill thinking too much and trying too hard does not equal trusting." Friend, God gave us our mind and He wants and expects us to use it. He's given us abilities and gifts that can be used for His glory, but when I, and perhaps even you, focus on what we need to do, and even can do, we get it all wrong.

Trusting is not about getting it all right and understanding how things will turn out. Proverbs 3 tells us it's about trusting Him with all of our heart rather than leaning on our own understanding. Sounds easy, but honestly for me it can be hard.

But friend if you are longing for peace, I believe this is a piece of the puzzle...actually God's Word tells us it is! We must trust Him if we want to receive the peace He provides. In God's math T = P!!

Though the mountains be shaken

    and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
Isaiah 54:10

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Apple pie, tears and giving thanks...

Thanksgiving is always one of my favorite times of the year. I love to look back, reflect and remember. This holiday provides the joy of getting together without the pressure of presents, stress of shopping and occasional chaos that's created at Christmas.

But yesterday the day didn't go like the Thanksgiving eves in my past. I wasn't surprised I found myself missing my grandma...I had actually been preparing myself for that. Five and a half months ago we said "Good-bye" to her and even in June I thought about how the holidays would be different.

Big family gatherings were her thing! Two years ago I remember a conversation with her - she had recently been diagnosed with cancer, passed the age of 80 and her daughters suggested someone else hosting Thanksgiving. Her response? "I don't know why they think I can't do it?"

She did it! Two years ago today I enjoyed my last Thanksgiving at "B's" house with close to 50 other family members. Personally, some days I struggle to get food on the table for all 7 of us, but Grandma thrived on serving others with love! One of her many areas of expertise was apple pie, my favorite.

Last summer, a couple of weeks after Grandma passed away, my son said to me, "Mom, you never did learn to make apple pie like her." He's right, but it wasn't for her lack of trying to teach me. We spent many hours in my kitchen and she even came to our very first MOPS meeting when I begged her to come teach us young moms. I've tried to apply her teaching numerous times, but the end result is typically me proclaiming "I'm never doing this again!" You see she made pies from scratch with lard and used a rolling pin!!

But yesterday, I had the desire to try again. So I did. I started with the job I could do, but one I really don't enjoy...peeling. I have to be the world's worst and my grandma, she was the best. Seriously, she could peel 4 to my 1. And she did it with joy. I made it to apple 3 and the tears started to fall; if you'd of walked into our kitchen you would have thought I was cutting up onions.

Honestly, I was surprised with the emotion and a bit overwhelmed with the memories, but thankful for the reminder from the Holy Spirit as I recalled my pastor's words, "Don't just thank God for the memories thank Him in the memories." I did the job I never enjoy, let the tears falls and thanked God as I remembered.

Then I moved on to the crust...the part I always fail!! I pulled out the rolling pin, my least favorite kitchen utensil, and as I thought about never being able to do this I remembered words a friend had shared as we talked about Thanksgiving without my grandma. She had said, "I pray God will do a 'new thing' and comfort you." I had the thought maybe this will be the new thing - me actually rolling out a pie crust rather than resorting to my daughter's play dough trick. Awhile back when Joy helped and sensed my frustration she advised, "Mom, you could just put it in the pan and push it together!!"

Well, I rolled it all out, put it in the pan and had one small crack to fix. This may be an everyday occurrence for you, but it was answered prayer for me.

I was grateful. It was hard, it is hard to think of Thanksgiving without Grandma B, but it was good to remember the fun we'd had in the kitchen. Memories can leave us sad, but I'm thankful God changed my perspective and reminded me to appreciate what I had rather than just focusing on what, who, was missing.

Last night at our Thanksgiving Eve service, our pastor spoke from Philippians and touched on what God had led me to do during the day. Philippians 4:6-7 says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Friend, I don't know what you're anxious about today, but can I encourage you to pray about it? As you pray about it don't just share your heart and ask God to meet your needs, but do it with thanksgiving. Right now as you miss a loved one, worry about finances, struggle with a relationship or fill in the blank with your source of anxiety, what can you thank God for? 

Thanking Him changes our perspective, reminds us of our purpose and assures us of His presence. This Thanksgiving may we give thanks even when there are tears, trials and the turkey is tough! Friends, He is worthy and provides all we need, today let's thank Him for giving!!

I believe it's good to share our thanks...powerful for us to put it in words and a blessing to hear what others have to say!

Let me start - God's faithfulness, His goodness and presence in my life. For growth spiritually in myself and my children, for opportunities, for family and friends, for my church and the best apple pie I ever made!

Not a perfect pie, but a precious picture - My sweet Joy, a sweet smelling pie and my g'ma's giant cinnamon shaker!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Future Farmers

Growing up, I was the oldest of 3 girls on a dairy farm that also raised sheep and pigs. I was a tomboy, but farming was not my thing. It was work, usually hard work in not the greatest environment...baling hay on hot, humid summer days or scooping silage on freezing, windy days. Just two of the jobs I didn't enjoy. It could also be messy and often it didn't smell the best. There was also the stress...animals getting sick, the weather being out of your control, prices changing and the list could go on. 

I was the sister who often said and I quote, "I'm NOT marrying a farmer!" Well, you can guess what God did!! I left my parent's farm and now live on the Beran family farm. As we raise our family, I'm grateful for the location...sometimes it's still stressful, but I do have a new appreciation for life on the farm and the lessons God teaches me here. 

Farm work is never done!

Recently, I was asked if I thought our boys would be farmers and I simply responded, "I don't know." They're 2, 4 and 10, so only God knows where He will lead them. But I've started to pray He will make them who I never wanted to be...I pray I have 3 future farmers, well, actually 5 - my little ladies can "farm" too.  

This past year, God has really used the farm to speak to me. (Isn't it amazing how He takes what we want to avoid and speaks through it?!) He's given me a picture of cultivating a heart of prayer, a glimpse of Himself as a shepherd and me as His sheep. On the farm, I'm constantly reminded God is in control and He's the One I must trust. Every spring, I see what it means to plant and how the process works and then in the Fall, we remember the harvest is His. 

As I've thought about the possibility of my boys being "farmers" I truly have started to pray, that regardless of where life leads, they are farmers in a spiritual sense. The parable of the four soils (Luke 8:4-21) has many lessons, but lately my eyes have been open to a new point...regardless of the soil condition, the farmer planted the seed!

I pray my boys (and my girls and me) will always plant the seed. Life on the farm will teach them that they don't always grow, but as they grow up surrounded by combines and corn they'll also learn we don't do the growing! Every spring their dad puts seed in the ground, not because he's guaranteed a harvest, but simply because it's a job he's called to do. I pray my future farmers will spiritually do the same!

You really don't farm alone!

Hosea 10:12 are words that come to life for this farm girl. It says, "Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until He comes and showers his righteousness on you." As my little farm boys grow, I pray this verse will become a reality in their life. And friend, whether you're a city girl or a farmer's wife yourself, I pray you are encouraged to do what a farmer does - plant seeds, work diligently, trust the Creator who's in control, pray for rain, endure the storm, enjoy the journey and thank Him for the harvest.

Farming is Fun!

Have you ever thought of yourself as a "Farmer"? Like me is it a job you wanted to avoid? Spiritually, what can do to be a "Farmer" today?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What are you afraid of?

The other day I opened the door to our suburban to find this - 

Job, my husband, who I do love has a sense of humor I don't always appreciate!! I'll admit I screamed and jumped about 3 steps back. Thankfully, nobody was around to see my reaction. Once I caught my breath and moved past the angry thoughts towards my husband, I thought, 'Jill, what are you afraid of?'

This coon, that had made my heart skip a beat, was dead. There was absolutely nothing it could to me, but for a few minutes it kept me from doing what I needed to do. My fear messed with me so much I even resorted to calling my husband and asking, "What am I supposed to do now?" He stated the obvious, I did it and then I moved on with my day.

Later on as I thought about this, God started speaking to me about other things I am afraid of - like failing and letting people down. He also brought up my fear of man. He didn't stop there, He went on to liken them to the coon. These fears can also stop me in my tracks, make my heart race and keep me from the plans God has for me.

Being afraid of a dead raccoon really is ridiculous, but friend it's just as crazy to fear man and failure. An animal that is no longer living truly is not a threat. Though it can't harm me, I'm not saying it won't scare me. I may be scared of failure or letting others down, but I can't let that fear paralyze me and keep me from doing what I need to do.

I've been spending some time studying Ezekiel, the man I really only knew for the dry bones story, but I'm grateful for all God's been teaching me through him. He is a man who was being sent by God to his own people, ones who were rebellious and ones God said would not listen to him. Doesn't that sound like a fun assignment?!?! (If you're a mom, perhaps it's one you can relate to?!? :)

Personally, I would have been afraid! And honestly, I think Ezekiel was too. Why else would God say these words in verse 6, "And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or be terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people." Three times God told him, "Do not be afraid."

Oh friend, God has told me the same thing too many times to count! And often times even though God says that, I can still be afraid. When I read on in Ezekiel I appreciated knowing I was not alone; verse 14 tells us he went on in anger and bitterness. He really didn't want to do it. But more important than our shared feelings is the simple fact that Ezekiel went. He was afraid, but yet he obeyed. 

His obedience trumped his feelings. I hate to admit I sometimes allow the opposite to happen in my life. My feelings, especially those of fear and doubt, can keep me from doing what God asks me to do. How about you?

But the good news is God is a loving Father who teaches us and gives us another chance! The next time He asks you to obey, even if you're afraid, remember you're not alone and our fears can't hurt us, but disobedience does have consequences. 

I didn't want to remove the raccoon from our vehicle, but I did it anyway. I really didn't have any other choice. And friend I pray you and I will walk in obedience in a similar way.  When we're afraid, when obeying is hard and even when it makes no sense, I'm asking God to help us do it anyway!

Something to think about - When is a time fear paralyzed you? Can you share an example of when you obeyed even though you were afraid? How does reflecting on this impact you?

A great song that speaks to this very idea is "Do it Afraid" by Elizabeth South. Listen to it here - 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Picture of a Shepherd

Through the years, I've shared a few posts from life on the farm, specifically ones about sheep. There's been "Feed My Sheep", "A Lesson from my Lambs" and "Me, A Sheep?", but today rather than the animal my focus is on the farmer!

"The Lord is my shepherd..." the beginning words to a very common passage in the Bible. One of the first verses many memorize and a Psalm that says so much. But today as I worked on my Bible study homework these words made me think about my dad. 

He is a shepherd. He has close to 200 ewes (female sheep) and usually spends the majority of every February in his barn caring for his lambs. I'm not just talking about an hour of chores morning and night, he's out there every few hours around the clock. Even during the night, when it's freezing here in Iowa and he's tired. He does all he can to take care of the little lambs when they are born. (My dad may or may not have burnt out a few of my mom's hair dryers through the years!!)

He spends time with them everyday and gets to know them each in an individual way. Believe me, sheep have many different personalities! He knows which ones need extra care and the others who need tough love. He does his best to give them what they need.

My dad doesn't just watch over his sheep during lambing season; he cares for them all through the year. Every summer he spends hours fixing fence and changing pastures. Rather than using a trailer he often saves time by simply putting a little feed in a bucket, calling them and leading them where they need to go. 

And then there are the orphans, the little lambs who for one reason or another don't have a mom. These are the ones who get extra care. Growing up there were a few that even made it into the house for an hour or two. Dad does all he can to nurse these little ones to health. Though the orphans look cute in the picture, they are work!! It can be a challenge to get them to drink and at first it seems their need for attention is constant. 

My little ladies feeding the little lambs G'pa gave them!!
Friends, as I've thought about and tried to paint a picture of my dad as a shepherd, I've been reminded our heavenly Father is the Shepherd. And me, well I'm the orphan lamb. He takes care of me, looks after me and provides for me.

My dad will admit sheep are not the smartest animal and after growing up with them, I agree! But the thing is my dad doesn't raise them for their intelligence. Granted he does raise them for a living, but honestly there may be more profitable choices...I mean really when's the last time you enjoyed leg of lamb?!?! He raises them and spends countless hours with them because he enjoys them, he loves them. 

And friend that statement brings tears to my eyes because I believe the same could be said for our Shepherd. He doesn't do the things He does for me because I'm intelligent or deserve it. He also doesn't work for me because of what I can give in return. He provides, leads, and cares because He loves. It's as simple as that.

Isaiah 40:11 tells us, "He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young." I'm grateful I've watched my dad do all these things, but I'm even more thankful that I have a heavenly Father who does the same for me!

Monday, November 11, 2013

A look at the heart...

But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 NIV

The Lord looks at the heart. Isn’t it interesting to think God looks at the thing that no one else can see? Granted this verse isn’t referring to the beating organ in our chest, but what Samuel is being reminded of is God knows our thoughts and intentions. He sees past our good looks and nice smiles all the while overlooking the extra pounds and crooked teeth, the One who makes our heart beat understands the motives of it.

Perhaps we should pause and do an exercise…I encourage you to bow your head in prayer. Close your eyes and ask God to look at you and tell you what and who He sees.

If you’re not sure how to begin, pray the words of Psalm 26, “Test me Lord and try me, examine my heart and my mind.” Be still and listen to what He has to say. Take time and write down what He whispers to your heart.

Perhaps this exercise is difficult, maybe even painful as we pause long enough to be convicted, but friend remember there is purpose in the pain. God convicts us of things to make us better, to help us change and become who He made us to be.

Don’t work through this exercise too quickly or skip it all together; I know that is a possibility because I’ve been tempted not to include it myself.

Friend, I’ll be honest the report the great physician gave to me didn’t make me feel real good. I heard things like: sometimes I look at you and see selfishness, other times it’s laziness and there are moments when I see one who’s too quick to doubt. Not exactly the happy, uplifting little exercise I expected.

Quite frankly, I was stuck. Who wants to read a post that leaves you feeling depressed? How can asking God to examine my heart help me see myself in a better way?

Honestly I walked away from this post and thought I’ll write tomorrow.

But then God intervened like He always does…my husband asked me to help him and my initial mental response was I have enough to do, I’m tired and really I don’t want to do that right now. I pushed these thoughts to the side and joined my husband in the task at hand. Time passed quickly, eventually the job was done and we were both pleased.

He looked at me with a smile and said, “Thanks, I know you didn’t want to do that.” Friend, those words hit deep. One I was grateful for his appreciation. Two, I was surprised how he saw what I was thinking. And three, as we finished the thing I didn’t want to do I was blessed.

This project was not part of my plan, but God had clearly put it in my path. Remember how I said I put my thoughts aside? I was only able to do that by asking God to help me put my husband first, give me the strength and time to do what needed to get done. He helped me trust and embrace His plan when it didn’t match mine. He answered my prayer, helped me walk in obedience and blessed me as a result.

As I realized this, He instantly brought the heart examination exercise to mind and did two things with it. First, He showed me those ugly things He revealed are true and are areas I need to work on. He sees them and others do too. Secondly and just as importantly, He reminded me there is value in doing what I don’t want to do.

A couple of days have passed since I first wrote about the heart exam and God is continuing His work. Initially the findings He revealed hurt. I wanted to plug my ears and pretend I couldn’t hear what God was saying.

Those strategies didn’t work, so instead I kept seeking Him and looking for wisdom. Like the faithful Father He is, He responded with words to comfort my soul. Jill, if you want to know who you are, you need to know who I see. In the same way you put on a mask or make-up to hide your face from the world at times you do that with your heart as well. You may deny yourself of reality, but I know, I see your heart. Before you can really see the beauty I created when I made you, you must allow me access to the ugly. Remember only I can take what is broken and make it beautiful. Let me change you from the inside out.

Friend, perhaps this exercise hasn’t affected you the way it has me, but I want to share a bit more. Looking in the mirror has never been on the top of my to-do list and this heart examination has helped me understand why. Granted growing up, I never really thought about God thinking I was beautiful. But since accepting Christ as my savior and digging into God’s word, I know He thinks I am.

Knowing this and living like it is true are two different things though. I mean reading Psalm 45:11, “Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord,” doesn’t serve as a magic pill. I know this truth, but still avoided the mirror.

Deep down I now believe 1 Samuel 16:7 had something to do with it. Knowing the LORD looks at the heart impacts me and if you’re honest I’d have to guess you’d say the same. Though we can hide our outer blemishes and inner struggles from others, we too know our heart. When we deny God access and keep Him from examining our heart, the ugly that is there is something we see in the mirror.

So friend, I encourage you to constantly be in prayer and ask God to examine your heart. It’s something you might not want to do, but it’s what we need to do. Though we can’t see our inside, knowing God does can impact the way we see ourselves.

Now you might be thinking what good is it going to do if I allow God to examine my heart and reveal the ugly to me? I look in the mirror and do that myself already. I understand this thinking, that’s exactly why I wanted to forget this exercise. Believe me I didn’t want to make you, or myself, feel worse.

So before you leave my blog never to return again, I want you to think with me a bit about pearls. Chances are you’d like to put a string of them around your neck and look in the mirror; they are beautiful and something of value. But let me remind you, a pearl is a finished product. A pearl is something that is created inside a mollusk, an oyster shell which is not the finest thing to look at.

Some might say the shell around the pearl is ugly, but as time passes and the pearl is created we are left with a thing of beauty. Friend the same is true of our heart, a heart God created, sees and knows.

He isn’t a Father who just sees all of our faults (He does), but He also knows the good. Psalm 139 is one we’ve heard often, but it’s worth revisiting. Take a look at verses 13-14, “For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Friend all His works are wonderful, that means you and me. Let’s stop and ask our question once again, “Who Am I?” Perhaps we’ve given an answer that is based on our appearance, the face we see in a mirror, but I pray as you’ve read this you realize that’s not an answer God gives.

He wants us to look inward, just like He does, and realize beauty begins in the heart. 1 Peter 3:3,4 tells us, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

In God’s eyes beauty is not something we see in the mirror or add on as an accessory, it comes from within. Proverbs 31 tells us beauty is fleeting, but the inner beauty Peter is talking about doesn’t fade away. Actually friend, time adds to this beauty.

Let’s commit to asking God who we are, pledge to believe what He says and allow Him to examine our heart. This process will help us see who He sees and thus become who He created us to be. We might still be little (or big), but we are beautiful when our heart is pure, our motives are right and our character is like Christ.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"Just trust me."

Have you ever found yourself worrying? Do you struggle doing what God calls you to do? Me too. Actually the other day I realized this was consuming me. God had made it clear He was leading me to do something I didn't want to do. Something that would be hard, something that might not turn out like I expect and something that might not be understood by others.

I was wrestling with this and though God confirmed His guidance again and again I grew more and more anxious. My mind was focused on all that could go wrong. I could say the wrong thing. The other person may misinterpret what I'm trying to say. And the more I listened to these doubts the more I began to worry. I found myself questioning what I already knew. Things like God's goodness, His faithfulness and even His provision.

I could feel this consuming me and after attempting to fight the battle myself I finally listened to that still small voice and went to Him. I opened my prayer journal and as the words began to flow the tears started to fall. I confessed my doubts, worries and fears along with my selfishness and pride. And when I stopped talking, I was encouraged to listen.

God quietly whispered words I needed to hear and Truth I needed to remember. This situation wasn't about me or the person He was leading me to talk with, this was about Him, His glory and His Word. I am not in control, but He is. His plan is good and His ways are not my ways. My job is obedience and His role is to take care of the results. He will lead, but I must choose to follow.

So that night I laid my struggle down and asked God to remind me to let it go when I try to pick it up again. I committed to following Him even when He leads me where I don't want to go. I thanked Him for who He is - my Creator and Provider, my Rock and my Redeemer, my Shepherd and my Father, all things He never forgets, but I need to remember!

Our time together ended and peace had replaced my anxiety. I had the desire to trust what I had begun to doubt. The fear of man had left me paralyzed, but now my love for the Lord gave me the desire to obey.

That night before I went to bed I opened a daily devotional and smiled when I read a common, but always powerful verse - "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Friend, I tell you all of this for a few reasons - first the one that may be a bit selfish - to keep myself accountable. In my heart and mind I'm trusting God with this, but I have yet to actually do it. By putting this out there I'm using the old practice what you preach philosophy - since I've shared all of this, I know God will remind me of what I said!! Second - I think it helps to know we are not alone. Your struggle may be different than mine, but if I had to guess you've struggled with doubt or walking in obedience before. And finally, sometimes I think we just need reminders, I know I do!

So today I encourage you to remember this -
God is GOOD! - For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. (Psalms 86:5)

God is FAITHFUL! - God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9)

God is PRESENT! - So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

As you leave here today my prayer is that you have been encouraged, reminded and can hear God whispering the same words He said to me, "Just trust me." Friend, I don't know what challenge you are facing or the struggle you're in, but I do know the One who is with you and I believe He can provide whatever you need. Seek Him, trust Him and obey Him!! Then pray for me as I do the same!!