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The Perfect Christmas

“Mom, I’m thinking about going to ______________ [a closed country where missionaries go in under other platforms such as business or teaching] over Christmas break.” “What?” “How?!” “With whom?” This text exchange between our youngest daughter and me happened last night. But what Melanie (daughter #4) didn’t know was that this was supposed to be the perfect Christmas. The Christmas I’d waited for. The Christmas where all six kids (including one by marriage) would be home. The one where daughter and son-in-love #1 could join us from South Carolina. The one where daughter #2 would return from her mission in Brazil, where one-and-only son would return from his new job in California. The one where daughters #3 and #4 would have almost a month’s break from college. The one where my mom might join us all the way from Ohio. The perfect Christmas.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               The perfect Christmas. A fully-decorated house. At least two trees. Cookies filling the pantry, tables groaning with other food. The traditional fast-food Christmas Eve supper followed by the candlelight Christmas Eve service. The perfect Christmas. No, we wouldn’t act out the Nativity story as we’d done when the kids were small, but we’d read it from Luke 2 before we opened the presents. We’d eat our traditional Christmas kringler (a Danish coffee cake) and sing “Happy Birthday to Jesus” just as we’ve done every year in, well, forever. “Mom, I was encouraging another girl to go. I said, ‘What’s stopping you from going?’ And then she turned around and asked me, ‘What’s stopping you from going?’ “Mom, I really think God is calling me to go.” My kids have come to expect my answer to almost any big question to run along the lines of “We’ll pray about it,” and “Do whatever God wants you to do.” But the deadline for this decision? Midnight, the same night she called me. So yes, I said the words—but did I mean them? As I...

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3 Tips to Help You Make Room for Prayer (Lessons from My Summer)

Dear Friends, No, this isn’t a back-to-school essay. Well, not exactly. It’s more like a back-to-blog essay. I’ve taken a few months away from this forum. But not from reading, writing, or praying. Not from thinking. Not from connecting with God and my family. In fact, I’ve learned some things during my time away, and I want to share a few of them with you over the next several posts. The first concerns a topic several of you have asked about: How do you make room for prayer in the midst of a busy, often-interrupted life? At home, my days follow a comfortable pattern. This summer, God upended that. We dealt with everything from our son moving cross-country to helping my mom prepare to leave her home of twenty-plus years to the same (and only) son ending up in a California hospital after an accident (he’s much better now, and we’re grateful). I realize your season of life may include no discernible pattern. But I also realize that a time of chaos calls for even more prayer. But how do I do it, Marti? How do I make time for prayer when I’m already overloaded? When I’m on vacation? When my kids are sick or someone’s in the hospital? Here are my quick suggestions. 1. Remember that prayer is both a relationship and an activity. Prayer comes from the overflow of a walk with Christ. The only way we can “pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:18) is if prayer is an ongoing part of our lives. Prayer is not just what we do, it’s who we are. This summer, that meant praying on my way to and from Ohio or as we carried boxes out of Mom’s home. It meant tear-stained prayers in the moments after I learned of my son’s accident and purposeful ones as I drove toward the hospital where he lay in Critical Care. It meant prayer where I was, as I needed it. 2. For prayer to reach beyond the chaos or crisis, it must have a firm foundation in God’s Word. Like most of us, I prayed 911 prayers (“Help me pass this test!”) even before I knew Christ. But if the fuel for prayer is God’s Spirit, the foundation is His Word. In order for our prayers to line up with God’s desires, we must know Him. And in order to know Him, we must grow in our knowledge of His Word. That can be as simple as a few verses or as extensive as a full-blown Bible study. 3. Simple is good. When chaos or confusion strikes, we may not have words to pray. That’s why you’ll see prayers scattered here and there on my blog–because sometimes I can...

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Prayer for Those Who Need Something to Die

“Doctor is monitoring, but for once I need prayer that something will die.” My friend’s brief note explained it: an autoimmune disorder had caused her system to attack her thyroid. And in this case, her health would win if the thyroid lost. For once, she needed prayer for something to die. As I prayed for her, I realized what I often do when I’m praying through the needs in my daily #PrayerKeeper posts: this prayer could apply to more than one person and certainly to more than one situation. Maybe it’s a dream that needs to die. Maybe a relationship. An addiction. Or something harder, deeper, and both more personal and more painful. Father, I come to you today asking that something will die. It might be, like my friend’s thyroid, some reluctant physical piece of our lives that needs to cease function. It might be cancerous tumors and cells that, in order to preserve life, must stop growing and melt away. It might be the problem of pain and rejection. Lord, in your might and by your power, bring these things to a firm, forceful end.                                                                                                     Or it might be pride. It might be selfishness. It might be anger and bitterness. It might be any one of thousands of qualities that show our lives are not as linked to You as well as they should be. Cause these things to die, too, God. Burn away the dross and leave the gold. Blow out the chaff and leave the precious wheat. Thank you, Father, for modeling for us that life can come from death and victory comes from defeat. Thank you, Lord, for revealing to us that sometimes things need to die. Help us follow you so closely that we will know which ones and when. And help us die daily ourselves that our lives may be more fully alive in you. In your name, AMEN. Do you know of something that needs to die? Are you in a circumstance that overwhelms or a relationship that crushes? Contact me in a comment here or on other social media or in an email via the link above. I consider it an honor to pray for you. For His glory,...

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Tips from the Pros: Sharon K. Souza

Did you miss me? Yeah, maybe not so much. I’ve spent the past ten days or so at the beautiful YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado, where I was teaching and serving on staff for the Colorado Christian Writers Conference. More about that in another post! Today, you can find me not in Colorado but over at the Christian Authors Network blog, where I’ve posted a “Tips from the Pros” interview with author Sharon K. Souza. Sharon offers some interesting information about her own writing as well as thoughtful marketing tips for writers....

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5 Things I Wish Young-Mom Me Had (really) Known

5 Things I Wish Young-Mom Me Had (really) Known

Within a few days this week, our house grew noisier, messier, and happier all at once. That’s what happens when two college-age daughters return with all their worldly goods. To be fair, the mess has mostly disappeared (they’ve been in wash/unpack/organize mode). But most of the noise and all of the happiness have remained. I’ve done a lot of thinking in this first year as a pseudo-empty-nester (pseudo only because these two youngest daughters [of the five no-longer-little Piepers] still live here and come home during breaks). And I’ve realized that what I used to take for granted, I now cherish: Buying or making snacks and other food items I know my kids like (the grocery cart looks different when only two of us live here). Letting one of them serve as DJ while I drive (my playlist looks different, too). Having them go to the grocery store or post office (errands take way too much time IMHO). And this one (ohhh, this one): Being able to hug and kiss them whenever I want (I just have to stretch up instead of down to do it). And I wish I had known. I do remember moments when the kids were younger when I would think, “Someday, it won’t be like this,” or even “Hold this moment in your heart.” But I’m not sure I did. I know that often, I was too caught up in the day or the drama or even just pure survival to pay attention to the wonder of these boisterous gifts of grace. To appreciate the extra noise and laughter as signs of real life. To know that the sometimes-hard decisions we made would have long-term positive effects. To find out that who I was as a person and the way I lived my life before my kids mattered much more than whether the house was spotless (never), the dishes done (usually), or the laundry folded (what is this thing you call “fold”?). Other people have said it in all sorts of ways, but if I could go back twenty years or so (My children are 28-18), here are five pieces of advice I’d give myself: Sleep. I know you don’t think so, but you need rest more than you need the dishes put away or the lesson plans tweaked. And the long-term benefits will astound you. Walk.* What you will start in your early forties should be mandatory now. Even just half an hour a day to walk, pray, and think will help more than you know. *Others might substitute run, dance, swim, etc. Focus. Pay more attention to God’s desires for your family and less to what others think. Keep Him as your first,...

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Words with Friends: Yvonne Ortega

Today, I’m delighted to introduce to you one of my dear author friends, Yvonne Ortega. Yvonne lives the title of her most recent book better than almost anyone I know. This dynamo Latina speaks, travels, and ministers in all sorts of ways. Her deep relationship with God along with His faithfulness through her trials has moved her to write her latest book, Moving from Broken to Beautiful. I was blessed to write an endorsement for this book, and here’s what I said: “In one small but powerful package, Moving from Broken to Beautiful combines the wisdom of an older sister, the straight talk of a counselor, and the unconditional love of a longtime best friend. Author, speaker, and licensed professional counselor Yvonne Ortega has the professional credentials and personal experience to speak into readers’ lives with grace, humor, and genuine caring. Take time to process and interact with each of the book’s nine life lessons, and you’ll find yourself leaving destructive patterns of thought and behavior as you move toward a life set free by truth. Excellent read!” But enough of my words. Let’s hear from the author herself. Yvonne, you’re celebrating the release of your new book, Moving from Broken to Beautiful: 9 Life Lessons to Help You Move Forward. What led you to write it? Friends often asked me how I survived and thrived after a domestic violence marriage, divorce, single parenting, breast cancer, several car accidents, and the loss of my only child. I would tell them, and they would say, “You need to write a book about that. It would encourage other people.” After I heard some version of that response dozens of times, I sensed God leading me to write the book. All those trials might cause someone to think the book might be somber or depressing. But I know (both because I’ve read the book and because I know you) it’s not. Do you have any comments about this? Just remember, the subtitle is 9 Life Lessons to Help You Move Forward. The style of writing is positive and hopeful. Friends tell me my sense of humor keeps the message upbeat. I agree! Yvonne, how does your work as a licensed professional counselor influence the book? I became a therapist after the divorce. My training and clinical experience helped me to focus on change for the better rather than being stuck in the past. However, my writing and speaking are not based exclusively on my training and clinical experience but also on the life lessons I learned. Although I’ve also used stories from other people, I have changed names and some identifying details to protect their privacy. And what makes Moving from Broken to Beautiful an interactive...

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