I am currently working my way through a wonderful new book by Holley Gerth: What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days: 52 Encouraging Truths to Hold On To. And I am finding so many words of encouragement that I can personally relate to. In fact, I have already flagged a number of pages that I know I will want to go back to so I can reread and savor the messages on days when I might be feeling a bit discouraged.
Holley is a best-selling writer, licensed counselor, certified life coach, and speaker. I have followed her blog: Heart to Heart with Holley (www.holleygerth.com) for quite some time now and often share her posts or some of her words or graphics with friends and family on my Facebook page.
Holley also works in partnership with DaySpring, one of the largest publishers and distributors of Christian greeting cards (and other inspirational products) in the world. Plus, she is the cofounder of (in)courage, an online “home for the hearts of women,” which I love; I have found so many great articles and bloggers through this site.
In fact, there was a recent post on (in)courage from Renee Swope titled “Words for the Weary” that made me think of Holley and the importance of her newest book. To me, Holley Gerth is the encourager of encouragers.
If you haven’t heard of (in)courage before, you should check them out.
So, back to the book: What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days contains 52 similarly formatted devotions based on the book of Psalms, written in a way that helps us remember that “God is good and we’re all in this together.”
Because there are 52 entries, you could easily use this book as a weekly devotional to be processed over a year, taking your time to read the opening Scripture quote and Holley’s words. Then adding your own words to complete the prayer, which has already been started for you under “What My Heart Is Saying to You.” During the week, you can go back and write in your thoughts under “What My Heart Is Hearing from You,” and at any time, you can open your Bible and read and reflect on the three Psalms referenced at the end of that week’s entry.
Of course, the devotions are short enough that you could also choose to read them as daily devotions. Either way, in this comforting book, Holley invites us “to be filled with the strength, peace, and joy that come from God’s promises.”
She provides real-life stories for us to connect with, as well as encouraging thoughts and passages from God’s Word to help us focus on what’s really important—the internal and the eternal.
All we have to do is be willing to open our hearts and receive.
Already a fan of Holley Gerth, her latest book does not disappoint. Not only will you find this book to be soothing for your own soul, but it would make a great gift for a hurting friend or perhaps even a wonderful donation at a women’s shelter. It is also the perfect companion to one of Holley’s other books: You’re Going to Be Okay.
I hope you get an opportunity to read What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days. I will likely be posting excerpts from it in the days ahead.
“God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.”
“The Lord is my strength and my shield:
my heart trusts in him,
and I am helped.”
Disclosure: This book was sent to me free of charge
from Revell for my honest review.
On Day 11 of Bonnie Gray’s 21 Days of Rest Blog Tour, she talks with author and fellow blogger Kathi Lipp about Finding Rest in a World of “Go.” If you’d like to listen in to their conversation, there is a podcast (and more information) available on both Bonnie’s and Kathi’s blogs. I am attempting to add it here as well. Let me know if it works as I’ve never done that before. 🙂
Click Here for podcast.
My favorite part of their conversation was when Bonnie explained how her book, Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening the Soul to Rest, was not about physical rest or the logistics we need to work out to arrange time for rest or space; it’s about nurturing our souls.
What would happen if we allowed ourselves a moment of solitude … to pause … to breathe.
Function, productivity, purpose, goals … these things shouldn’t come first in our lives. We do. … You do.
We all long for rest. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. How this looks is different for each of us depending on our circumstances and our season in life. You may not be able to seek it every day or even every week. But give yourself permission and time to find your moments and determine what speaks most clearly and dearly to your heart.
Remember, even Jesus withdrew from the crowds for rest. He would want the same thing for us.
I pray that you will begin to discover your own spiritual whitespace to recharge, refresh, and restore your soul.
(I’m still working on it myself.)
Do you ever think you might be happier, more fulfilled, less stressed “if only…” you had a better job, you had married someone else, your house was bigger, you made more money, your kids were more respectful? If only things were different? Are you tired of dealing with so many issues? Do you sometimes wish you could take off, fly away, start over? What if the “problem” isn’t everyone or everything else, but you? The way you perceive yourself, your surroundings, and your life in general. Well, there are two things I want to share with you today. 1) Often, when you feel like you are in over your head, you are exactly where God wants you to be. 2) Only you have the power to change your view and find your joy.
I recently started a Priscilla Shirer Bible study on Gideon (Judges 6-8). That woman is an amazing speaker! Today she shared with us that no matter what crisis you are in or where you find yourself in your life, you are not beyond the reach of God. Wherever you are – God can find you. And if you find yourself in a challenging situation or you feel like you are in over your head, hold on and don’t give up hope, you are exactly where God wants you. He will find a way to use your circumstances for your good. Because God is more interested in changing your heart than your circumstances. Check out this short video clip from Priscilla: Your Weakness God’s Strength
No matter how you feel today about your problems or issues, your negative feelings will often lead you down the wrong path. Don’t follow them. Follow the Word instead. And consider this – your crisis often positions you for your calling. But discovering God’s purpose requires that you first recognize His presence. Personally, I connect most with God as Creator. I am more aware of His presence when I am surrounded by (or looking out at) the wonders of His creation. That is why you will find a lot of nature photos in my blog and on my Facebook page if you are a family member or friend. How do you connect with God?
Here is an excerpt from the Gideon study guide that spoke to me: “If we’ll look around, we might also find Him preparing us as He works through our daily lives. Today’s tasks–even the most mundane of them–are often preparation for tomorrow’s calling. They can carry clues to what He is leading us to learn and accomplish as we faithfully serve Him. While it might seem comical to find spiritual principles in washing dishes or answering phones at your desk job, God is teaching you faithfulness, diligence, and integrity through every task.” (p. 47) What I got from this – stay faithful to the task(s) you’ve been given even if it becomes unpleasant or inconvenient; keep trudging on even if you are in a season of your life that you are not happy about – God will find you there. Better yet, he will meet you there.
Speaking of being unhappy in your season or circumstances brings me to my #2 point above: only you can change your view – or viewpoint to be more accurate. I follow a blog called Speak Happiness. I think today’s post fits very well with this conversation: Unhappy? Change Your View. You can look at the same place or the same situation and see it in two different ways. You have to want to be happy to see happy. I also like these words from the author Valerie Alexander’s book Happiness as a Second Language: “One of the most important steps in being happy is ridding yourself of the things that make you unhappy. Whether it’s beating yourself up over an incident that didn’t turn out as you would have liked, or holding a grudge against someone who wronged you, or blaming the universe when things don’t turn out your way, the negative weight of past unhappiness can really inhibit your ability to be truly happy now.” (p. 66) You must take an active role in releasing the negative and embracing the positive. You may not be able to change your situation, but you can change how you view it, what you hold onto, and what you feel in your heart. You can focus on the good and the joyful things in your life.
I also love these words from Holly Gerth, another author and blogger I follow, in a post about her new book You’re Going to Be Okay: “When life surprises us, smacks us on the behind, runs away with our dreams it’s our hearts that are left standing there hurting. Our heads know the truth. We understand what’s supposed to make it right in that moment. But somehow even the truth can ring hollow sometimes. So what do we do then? Is it even possible to live with joy, resilience, and strength in this broken world? After connecting with thousands of women about this topic, searching Scripture, and through my own journey I can say without reservation: YES. And it’s not just possible, it’s what God desires for you. Jesus said, ‘In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).”
The Gideon study reminds me of this: It is through our weakness that we experience God’s strength. Do not let your circumstances define you or direct your view. Keep your eyes on Jesus, and keep your heart open to the happiness that can be yours.
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11, 13
Last year, I entered Real Simple magazine’s fourth annual Life Lessons Essay Contest. The question was: “When did you first understand the meaning of love?” Just last night, I read the winning entry published in the April 2012 issue of the magazine. It was a great story, and it brought tears to my eyes.
It also reminded me that I had not yet shared my own story with anyone, besides a couple friends who provided feedback while I was writing it. So, today, I’m posting another special feature article rather than one of my “usual” posts. I hope it touches your heart, makes you think, and maybe even inspires you to reach out to someone in pain or re-connect with a family member.
I knelt on the bathroom floor, holding Gabrielle’s hair back as she sobbed and threw up; my body shook, but not from the cold tiles. My baby sister had just told me that she was tired of being sick, tired of hurting so much, tired of everything. She wanted to give up. But I couldn’t let that happen. She was only 22, and her 3-year-old daughter, Ashley, needed her.
I clutched my personal heartache close as I watched her suffer. She didn’t need to know about my pain. Not right now. Not when, more than anything else, I had to convince her that life was good and worth fighting for. I prayed a frantic but silent prayer—please God, help me help her.
In the prior year, after a divorce left her with a scarred heart, Gabrielle had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. She underwent surgery and then attempted to move on with her life. As Gabrielle recovered and adjusted to her role as single mother, we all thought everything was on an upswing for her, and we were thankful.
Meanwhile, back at my house: after 11 years of marriage, my husband and I continued to drift apart; we were just so different; we loved each other, but were no longer “in love.” Pick your cliché; the truth was, I felt trapped and unhappy. We rarely spent time together anymore, and neither of us really knew what we wanted in life, or how to communicate, be honest with ourselves, or take action. On top of that, the Lab we got as a puppy shortly after our wedding was not well. I struggled to keep my emotions in check and my life under control as I went to work every day, pretending like nothing was wrong.
But I wasn’t the only one pretending. Gabrielle had been keeping her own secrets. She finally admitted to Elizabeth, another sister, that the cancer was not gone; in fact, it had spread to her uterus and her liver. She had also started chemotherapy treatment without telling anyone.
Everything I researched seemed to emphasize the dangers of chemo. In fact, a lot of people get sicker faster when they are on chemo, and that was exactly what was happening to my sister. Her immune system was wiped out; she began losing weight and became very tired and run down. In her last conversation with her doctors, they had told Gabrielle there was nothing more they could do for her except try to make her “as comfortable as possible.” They gave her a year to live. That’s when she finally decided to share the news with the family, which led up to our bathroom moment.
I watched my sister go through another round of dry heaves. There was nothing left inside of her. Or me. Oh, I was physically healthy at the time, but with Gabrielle’s illness and the painful disconnect in my marriage, I was drained. At home, it felt like we had both checked out already. The only connection we shared at this point was grief over our dying dog.
But I couldn’t deal with my personal issues right now. I had to be strong. I had to come up with a plan to save Gabrielle’s life.
You know, up until that time, I don’t think I had ever appreciated my family quite so much. Growing up with five sisters and one brother was often challenging with limited space, limited funds, unlimited arguing. I used to wish I was an only child. But as my sister lay there beside me, curled up on the floor, I allowed the despair over my own personal loss to mingle with the anguish I felt for her, and I wept.
Then, just like in the Christmas story about the Grinch, I felt my heart swell several sizes with love—real love, not heightened feelings based on hormones and chemistry and starry-eyed dreams of a perfect future, but a true heart connection. Something that had been sadly lacking in my marriage. At that moment, I would have willingly given up my life to give Gabrielle a second chance. But that obviously wasn’t in God’s plan.
So, the first step in my plan was to temporarily get Gabrielle out of Florida, to a place where she could rest and receive special care. The obvious choice—Aunt Robin’s. Robin was living in California at the time, so she sent plane tickets for Gabrielle and my grandmother to come out for a visit. It was a good spot for a stress-free getaway. Plus our aunt is a natural nurturer, so it only made sense. Her main goal was to try to help Gabrielle see that she could still find joy in life if she didn’t give up.
While Gabrielle was out of town, and little Ashley spent time with other family members, I began researching treatment programs. I met with a doctor who focused on treating the whole body, not individual parts or symptoms. The way he explained it made sense: over several weeks, through nutritional changes as well some complementary therapies, the acidic atmosphere that cancer survives and thrives in is neutralized, and a more alkaline and healthy environment is created in the body. I was sold. But now to convince Gabrielle.
An update from Robin provided a glimmer of hope. Gabrielle had gone horseback riding, and her spirits had improved tremendously. She was eating fairly well and actually joking around a bit. Robin told me that Gabrielle was concerned about coming back and having everyone tell her what she should do. So, we agreed that I would be the family spokesperson.
I worked with the rest of the family to figure out a schedule. We made arrangements for who would take Gabrielle to the doctor’s office each day for treatment, who would watch Ashley, who could help financially, etc. Just making a plan gave me a more positive outlook, and it really pulled our already-close family even closer together. When Gabrielle came back, I was happy to find her receptive to our ideas.
Mondays were my days to take Gabrielle to the doctor. Thankfully, the company where I worked was flexible and understanding about my hours during that time. And I chose to ignore my personal heartache and focus on my sister’s health and happiness.
The first visit was fairly easy. We just sat and talked for a few hours while she got an IV drip. I think we developed an even closer bond during that time. The nurses said there were only a few potential side effects, but Gabrielle experienced them all—nausea, loose stool, and later trouble with her IV pic line, which had to be replaced.
Gradually, things got worse. On some days, Gabrielle felt so sick that she couldn’t get out of bed. I got a call one morning from my mom. Gabrielle wouldn’t get up. I left work and spent quite a bit of time convincing her that it was important for her to keep her appointment. She finally went with me.
The worst thing about talking Gabrielle into continuing with her treatments was my own doubts and fears that began to emerge. What if this wasn’t helping her? What if she got worse and it was my fault? Every time I thought of this, my breath caught in my throat and my heart pounded wildly as I blinked away the tears. That just can’t happen! I had to believe that she would get better; I had to believe in something at this point. I couldn’t give up.
Thankfully, despite my concerns, after the treatment plus some added nutritional support through supplements and natural juices, and special home care from our oldest sister, Theresa, Gabrielle began to slowly get better. I think several other factors helped in the healing process: Gabrielle realized that life still held moments of joy and possibility. And we both figured out that it’s important to learn to love yourself first and determine what you want out of life before you can really commit and communicate to building a lasting relationship with someone else.
I also discovered the importance of working in community, being there for one another, not trying to take on the world alone. You know, we’re all interconnected in some way — like pieces of a puzzle. And life just seems to make so much more sense when we look at the big picture and find our place in it.
The happy ending to this story? It has been 14 years since Gabrielle was given one year to live, plus she finally found her soul mate, and they were married just last month.
Me? My dog passed away and my divorce happened shortly after, as it needed to so we could both move on. I not only survived, but I’m now remarried … this time to my true heart connection.
The missing piece to my life puzzle has been put in place, and love is the glue that holds us together.
Disclaimer: I don’t have the best of memories, so I may not have all of the details/facts of the events right, but the story and the emotions are true and real.