An old friend…Love.

Love is not only realistic, but our only hope of survival.  -Gary Chapman

I don’t know about you, but God seems to find ANY WAY possible to get a message He needs me to hear into my hands.

Most recently, He used a silly series of events to get me to listen to a book on CD (yes, a CD…those little round shiny things!).

The book was Love As A Way of Life by Gary Chapman, the author of the NY Times Bestseller The Five Love Languages.  I have owned this audio book for several years and it was packed away in boxes from our recent move.  However, it “mysteriously” showed up on the shelf I was cleaning the other day and I set it aside…maybe I would listen to it again once school started and I end up in long car lines.

When I had to drive 2.5 hours to the She Speaks Conference, I decided to listen to the book on the drive.  I thought I had come up with a brilliant idea, when, in fact, I now have no doubt that God planned on me listening just at the time all along.

From the moment I began to listen to Dr. Gary Chapman’s southern drawl, I was drawn into the overall theme of the book…Love as a way of life.

Love…as a way of life.

Almost immediately, I realized that I was not living out that statement.  It’s not that I didn’t love.  It’s not that I didn’t ever show love or receive love.  More so, it was not my current “way of life.”  Let me explain.

In the core of our being, we tend to have a driving force.  Something that drives our daily life and sets the tone for our days.  Dr. Chapman’s book tells us that love should be that driving force.

God’s love for us gives us the ability to love.

We love because He first loved us.  1 John 4:19

He calls us to love…out of ALL the things we do, He wants us to love.  

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.   Colossians 3:12-14

So, what was my “way of life” if I wasn’t “above all, putting on love?”  Fear.

FEAR was my way of life.

And here’s the real clincher….it was a fear of love.  What?!  A fear of love?

Have you ever been hurt?  Have you ever been scared to love because you were fearful of being hurt?  If so, you understand what I am talking about.

When we are hurt, we pretty much have two options: LOVE or FEAR.  Fear is the root of other emotions we may experience after a hurt….shame, guilt, anger, loathing, resentment, etc, etc, etc.  Deep at the core of those feelings is fear.

I was fearful of being hurt.  So I was choosing to keep a perimeter that love couldn’t break through.  When we place walls around us, we create a barrier to all that love has to offer us.  

My drive to that conference was life-giving.  Listening to what “love as a way of life” looks like helped me to see that I wasn’t living that way.  Fear was standing in the way of pure and true love that was waiting to pour out of me and into me.

None of the concepts were new to me, but I needed to hear them again!  How often do we  learn something only to have a need to revisit it, especially when we are prideful enough to think “I got this?”

I strongly encourage you to read or listen to Love As A Way of Life by Dr. Gary Chapman. I pray that God will reveal an area of your life where something other than love is your driving force.

May LOVE be YOUR way of life.

www.sidebysideministry.org

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Chin up?

I looked at my list and sighed.  Like, one of those big sighs that lasts so long, you wonder if there is any breath left in your lungs.  I saw all the tasks that I had found important enough to write down.  You know the tasks…the things for the house, the things for the family, the things for the job, the things for the church, the things for the people….ALL the things.  All. the. things.

All the things.

With that huge sigh, my body sank…in a posture of defeat.  How would I get it all done? Who am I failing by only picking a few tasks to accomplish? Why can’t I be like those other people that have endless energy to pound out all their tasks on their list?

Slowly, my defeat turned to despair.

There was no way I could get it all done.  That thought was paralyzing for me, a very Type A personality.  Something had to give.

So, I thought to myself…Chin up, girl!  Chin up!  Don’t be defeated, just take one thing at a time.  Tackle what you can!  You can do this!  You know all that positive self-talk, right?  The things that those New York Times Bestselling authors tell us to do in order to achieve a million tasks in an hour?  Yes, I tried to tell myself all those things.  All the things.

But it didn’t work.  Because there was still defeat in my heart.  All the self-help authors in the world could not remove that defeat from my heart.  

“Chin up” was not going to cut it.

Then, I heard this statement from a wise woman…..

God cannot lift an unbowed head.

God cannot lift an unbowed head. -Meredith Brock

Remember ALL THE THINGS I had on that very important list of tasks?

Do you think God was on that list?  No.

Do you think I had scheduled time with God in that very busy week?  Nope.

Do you think I woke that morning genuinely desiring to accomplish what God chose? No.

Friends, I did not have ALL the things on that list.  In fact, I was missing the ONE thing that should have been on it!  God!

God cannot lift an unbowed head.

Someone once told me that when you are so busy that you don’t have time to pray, you should stop to pray all the more.  And in that, the prayers are not to be just me asking God for something….they can be heartfelt prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving and reverence for the ONE who created me.

If you are at all like me and need a list to get you through your day of tasks….may I humbly suggest that we put God on our list?  May we consider placing Him at the top, even?

Lets bow our heads to the one, true God…so that when we are overwhelmed or worried or begin to feel defeat, He can gently lift our bowed head.

God IS all the things.  He is IN all the things.  He wants us to bring glory to His name THROUGH all the things.

But He must come first.  He’s the only one that can remove the defeat and replace it with peace.  Not just in our to-do list…but in ALL THE THINGS.

Chin up?  Not in my own effort.  But God will lift my chin high when my head is bowed to   Him.

www.sidebysideministry.org

Do you have a hurt that needs to hear hope?  

You can watch our story…our journey from hurt to hope….HERE.

 

 

 

Summer Fun: Date Challenge!

We are smack in the middle of summer.  Are you wondering where the time has gone?  Have you planned plenty of activities and fun for your kids but none for you and your spouse?

Welcome to the club.  sigh.

How does that happen??  Somehow, we find our calendars filled with all kinds of summer activities, most of which are not dedicated, intentional time with our spouse.  Even those of us without children will tend to focus more on group activities during the summer, rather than dedicated alone time with the one we love.

Group summer activities are not “date night.”  A fun group softball game with friends or a bbq with neighbors are great, social summertime fun!  However, those activities do not count as dedicated, intentional time nurturing your marriage.  

If we are not leaning in to our spouse, we are slowly leaning away from them.

SO, let’s lean in!

Let’s plan some intentional, summer fun for just the two of us!!!

Here are 5 ideas for affordable, easy, fun (and some you don’t have to leave the house) dates for you and your spouse.

5 SUMMER FUN DATES!

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  1. Farmers Market Surprise:  Go to a local farmers market.  Give yourselves $10 each. (or whatever amount you prefer)  Split up for a short amount of time and find something (or many things!) for your spouse, only spending the amount given.  Enjoy the time thinking only of what your spouse would like and then have fun surprising each other!  Once you have your gifts, spend as much time enjoying the market together.

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2.  Game Night:  Grab a board game, new or one you’ve played a million times, and play.  No kids allowed.  If you want to go the extra mile, get The Discovery Game, which is specifically for couples.  I have a good one planned for us…..BeanBoozled.  That looks like it will be a hoot!

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3.  Row, Row, Row Your Boat:  Find a body of water, rent or borrow a canoe or kayak (preferably one you share) and spend a couple of hours rowing your boat.  You can learn a lot about a couple by how they row a boat together!  LOL!  Seriously, though…we’ve had some stressful boat experiences because, shocker, we were fighting over who was in charge of steering the boat!  (Disclaimer: I was in the front and should not have been steering even though I totally was)  However, we have had some beautiful moments on a boat surrounded by nature.  Conversations are different on a boat…I don’t know why, they just are.  Try it.

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4.  Food Adventure:  Time to get daring!  Go to to a restaurant that you NEVER thought you would go to….or make a recipe together that seems a bit scary or includes ingredients that kinda freak you out.  Whichever you choose, decide together to try something new and strange!  What’s the worst thing that happens?? (Don’t answer that)  You could discover–TOGETHER–something new and exciting that you love!  *see above, I LOVED this beet pizza! Steve, not so much.

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5.  Tourist Time:  Find a local “tourist trap” that you have never been to and visit it, just the two of you.  It doesn’t have to cost a thing.  We have local museums with free admission.  Or you can visit a local park or beautiful vista off the side of the road (see above!).  It’s amazing how many wonderful things are all around us…and we only see them when we have guests in town.  (can I get an Amen?)  Go enjoy those interesting, fun and gorgeous places with the one you love most.

OK.  There they are.  Five, easy, totally do-able dates for you!  NOW, go do them.  Here’s the deal.  We are issuing a challenge, that we will do right along with you.  We challenge you to pick 3 of these dates.  Schedule them on the calendar.  Plan your babysitting swap or whatever it takes to free up 3 days or nights BEFORE LABOR DAY.

Experience 3 of the 5 date nights prior to Labor Day (September 3, 2018).  Take pictures (we need proof, kids!) during your date.  Post them to our Instagram or Facebook page with the hashtag #sidebysidedates.  When you have posted 3 dates, you will receive a gift from us!!!

Summer Fun Date Challenge:

  1.  Go on 3 of the 5 dates (just the two of you!)
  2.  Take pics on all your dates and post to FB or Insta with #sidebysidedates
  3.  Receive a fun gift from Side By Side!
  4.  Most importantly….lean in and have fun!!!

We can’t wait to see your #sidebysidedates pics!

http://www.sidebysideministry.org

 

 

Today is the first day of the rest of your life…

This month, we are focusing on celebration! Woohoo!  We recently celebrated our country’s birth and we tend to spend July vacationing, spending time with family, and generally enjoying all that this life has to offer.

So, it may seem odd to you that, in this celebratory season,  I have chosen to share with you the words I spoke at my mother’s funeral in January.  Until you read them.  

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, Go for it.

This was a statement used by my mom, Valerie Strouf, on a regular basis throughout her life.

As a child, she would practically sing it while waking me up in the morning, yanking open my white eyelet curtains.

As a teen, she would remind me, after a bad grade or tough day, that there was always another chance to get it right.

As a rebellious college student, she would write me letters of encouragement and sometimes with rebuking, ending the letters with this statement.

As a young adult, she would end many of our hour-long phone calls with this statement, reminding me that, no matter what, I always had another opportunity to “go for it.” This was especially uplifting when I was auditioning as a green actress in New York.

Once I returned to the path that God had paved for me, as opposed to the self-reliant, destructive road I had chosen for several years, this statement had new meaning to me. It felt best accompanied with Psalm 118:24 “this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, Go for it.

This is how my mom lived her life. She had a blessed life. But it wasn’t an easy life. She had hardships, hurts and plenty of health issues. I am sure that there are many people here that can relate. Life can be hard.

AND she had an amazing strength, given to her by God. God gave her strength, grace, courage, and perseverance. I have walked 44 years with my mom, and I have watched her overcome so much, because of her faith. Not religion…faith. Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance in what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, Go for it. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

There are so many things that I could share with you about my mom. I have lost the woman who knows me best in the world and I just keep thinking about all the wonderful times we had together. From a tiny apartment for two, road trips in the station wagon, perming my hair in the basement, ice cream at Beernsteins, shopping for prom dresses, Macys Thanksgiving Day parade, a perfect hair styling for my wedding, to high tea for two. She was an extraordinarily special woman. I could speak about my memories of her for hours. I miss her deeply.

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But I also know her quite well, and I can confidently tell you that the most important thing she would want me to share with you is that her beauty, strength, grace, perseverance, love, and joy came from Jesus and Jesus alone.

She faced the hardest moments and the most joyous moments of her life with God as her guide. Including throughout her final days. And she had peace in those days because she knew she would be with her Savior in heaven for eternity. And knowing her as I do, I know she would want each of you right there with her.

In the past couple weeks, I have heard many people refer to my mom as “such a special lady” with a “sweet smile” and a “beautiful soul.” Yep, that was my mom and what we all saw in her…that sweet smile and beautiful soul….was the love of God shining through her.

In these last several years of medical issue after medical issue, my mom made the courageous choice to face each day saying to herself, and all those around her, something she has been choosing to greet the day with for most of her life….

This is the the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life…..Go for it.

I love you, Mom, and I plan to do just that.

I pray that, whether you are riding high or at the lowest low, you would celebrate the life that God has given you and see that He has made this day…which is reason enough to rejoice…and celebrate.

www.sidebysideministry.org

 

3 Must-do Tips for Coping

I think its safe the say that we all have experienced difficult times in our lives. As long as we are living here on earth, it is certain that we will have hard times that we need to cope with. (John 16:33)
Depressing, huh? Well, it depends on how you look at it. As I shared HERE, coping with difficulties can be extremely challenging. As Christians, it’s hard to feel God’s presence in the midst of a storm.

Storms are super distracting and can easily derail us from seeing God clearly.

However, God is right there with us in the storm. His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9) and He has power over even the darkest of situations.
If that is true, then how do we—mere mortals—stay the course, or cope, with all that life throws at us?

I have found 3 ways that help me cope with tough times.

1. Pursue God FIRST.

When life hits hard, we tend to run to anything but God. Whether it’s the mall, a drink, exercise, or a slew of other things…we think doing those things are somehow going to “make it better.”
The absolute first thing we need to do when hard times come is PRAY. Talk to God. Ask Him for help. More importantly, pursue Him…get to know Him more. This has been a huge “a-ha!” for me in the last several months.
Many times when I pray or read God’s word, it’s with the goal of attaining a solution to a problem. Even when I am in the Bible for a specific study, I am reading in order to get the answer to the question posed. Most of my time in the Bible was spent seeking an answer to a question.
Recently, I had a hurtful conversation with someone I love. My heart hurt, I was wounded, and I felt utterly confused. I didn’t even know what question to ask.
So, I went to my Bible and just began to read, with the only desire being to know God better. Because if I knew God better, I could understand how to be more like Him. And if I am more like Him, I could respond to the situation as He would.

I read God’s words with a deep desire to know Him more.

And this crazy thing happened! I not only felt closer to God, but He also answered a question that I had not even known to ask yet! It was amazing!

When we approach God with a pure desire to know him, he blesses us with understanding that we didn’t even know we needed.

Resist going to all those other things first.
Things like “retail therapy” and “comfort food” may not be so appealing after you have consulted the Creator. Pursue God first.

 

2. Seek WISE counsel

When times are tough, it’s so easy to go to a friend–or just about anyone–and vent. Oh, we love to vent. Especially we women love to get it ALL out. We seem to feel better when we just “chat it out.”

Venting can easily becoming gossiping or produce a complaining spirit, and that only makes matters worse.

AND,  if we choose to speak to someone who is not like-minded, we can be led to respond to hard times in a way that will only darken the situation more and more.

The Bible tells us to seek wise counsel.

(Psalm 1:1, Proverbs 12:15)

And it also tells us that wisdom comes from God. (Proverbs 2:6)

So, that means we need to be very careful about who we share our problems with or whom we seek advice from. According to the above verses, we are to seek out godly wisdom from friends, family or professionals that follow our same belief system.

Coping well includes being surrounded and supported by people that will help you seek God first and follow His ways.

Don’t be deceived by the ways of the world.  Seek wise counsel, friends.

3.  Lean IN.

For many people, tough situations and hard times are something they prefer to just “forget about.” It seems easier to stuff it down, “let it go,” and move on.

Unfortunately, difficult things that require healthy coping skills rarely just “go away.”

They are usually things that need to be worked through, healed from, or forgiven.

They take time. Oftentimes, they are a process of healing rather than a quick fix.

Stuffing them down, ignoring them, or repressing them will likely lead to further hurt and frustration down the road.

What’s the alternative? Lean in.

See the problem or the hurt and face it head on.

Take the time to follow #1 (Pursue God First) and #2 (Seek Wise Counsel). Learn and grow from this hard time.  Allow the mess to be a message… for yourself or others.

It’s tempting to suppress difficult experiences, but it’s healing and life-giving to face them and experience the blessing God has planned for you through them.

Rather than choosing to ignore difficulties, lean in to them.

Friends, coping with difficult life experiences is not easy. But it can be easier when you choose health coping skills.

Pursue God, seek wise counsel, and lean in. You will be amazed at how God can work ALL things for His good.

www.sidebysideministry.org

Coping: In, Out or Up?

In the month of June, our focus here at Side By Side Ministry is on the subject of coping.  If you haven’t noticed, we do our best to follow a theme each month…addressing subjects that are on our hearts, and might be on yours, too.  Coping is a timely subject, as we have had to do our fair share of coping in the last several months.

The definition of COPE is:  deal effectively with something difficult.

The synonyms are especially interesting to me: manage, survive, subsist, look after oneself, fend for oneself, carry on, get by/through, bear up, hold one’s own, keep one’s end up, keep one’s head above water.

How are we supposed to cope or deal effectively with something difficult?

I can tell you this…it’s much easier to talk about how to do this when there ISN’T something difficult to “manage.”  Right?!  We can easily come up with some lovely answers to this question when our most difficult problem is deciding what to have for dinner.

But when we are burdened, I mean REALLY burdened with something that we have to figure out how to SURVIVE….how should we cope?

Confession time.  In the last several months, I have had several experiences where I have had to figure out how to “keep one’s head above water.” From unfortunate personal attacks– to the bittersweet leaving of friends and family to move to a new state– to the heart wrenching shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland– to my Mother’s recent (and way too early) death.  It’s been a season of difficulties that I have had to cope with.

As I have walked through this season, I noticed that I had three choices of coping: In, Out, or Up.  Let me explain.

3 Ways of Coping: In, Out, or Up

In

This type of coping is generally internal.  We choose to keep things inside, bottle them up, internalize emotions, process quietly, possibly wallow.  We may believe that we are simply “boxing up” the difficulty, perhaps to save it for a better time.  People around us may comment that we are “strong” because it’s hard to see that we are even experiencing a difficulty, as we are certainly not wearing it on our sleeve.  In general, we are counting on ourselves to heal ourselves when we follow “In Coping.”

“I can do this.”  “This ____ won’t get me down.”  “I’m better/smarter/stronger than that.”  

“No one else could possibly understand this.” “It’s too hard to share.” 

These are just a few phrases we might use when we are internalizing our coping.

Out

This type of coping is generally external and inclusive, meaning we are looking to someone or something else to help us manage our difficulty.  What or whom we seek out varies immensely.  We may seek out people, even to the point of clinging to them as we would a lifeline.  We may seek out escape items such as food, drink, drugs, tv, sex, pornography, gambling, extreme hobbies…anything that will help us escape the difficulty.

“I need a drink.”  “Call me back, I NEED to talk to you.”  “When I _______, I don’t even think about ________.”

Again, just a few phrases we may hear when we are externalizing our coping.

Up

This type of coping is the kind that allows you, even when fallen to the floor, to look up and seek God’s face.  Listen, I know this is the obvious “good way to cope.”  What believer doesn’t know that seeking God would be a good way to cope?  What believer doesn’t know this is the winning answer?  Deep in our hearts, as Christians, we know that our best method of coping would be to reach out to God to help us.

Yet, this method of coping is often the last one we choose.  Oftentimes, it’s more likely to be our “last resort.”  We are “reduced to prayer.”  How sad does that sound….reduced to prayer.  Sigh.

Seek the Kingdom of God first, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.  Matthew 6:33 NLT

Here’s the deal, it’s not that we can’t utilize the IN and OUT coping strategies.  BUT when we seek those methods FIRST, we are less likely to utilize them in a healthy, godly way.

When we seek God first, He will lead us to HEALTHY, GODLY coping methods.

The IN and OUT will look different when we seek UP first.

So, when God is sought out at the first sight of difficulty, we can certainly use IN and spend quality time in thought and prayer, processing what just happened with clear leading from the Holy Spirit, who lives IN US.

When we “go to the throne instead of the phone,” He will lead us to healthy external methods of coping….such as sending us to godly friends who will pray with us and keep us accountable or  introducing us to healthy habits like walking out in nature or taking an art class.

If we follow the OUT method without seeking God first, it’s highly unlikely we will seek out godly coping mechanisms.

Coping internally and externally are not necessarily bad, as long as God is guiding you first.

Confession time again.  In this season of difficulty, I have made some good choices in coping methods and I have made some poor choices.  My own choices are the main reason that I wanted to focus on coping this month.  I wanted to learn more about how, as a believer, I can cope with difficulty in a more godly way.  I hope you don’t mind exploring that with me.

In my next blog post, we will talk more specifically about tangible ways that we can cope well, in a godly way, with difficulty.

Friends, may we all seek God first in all we do, not just in hard times.  Knowing Him is what we need most in our lives and will lead us to cope well with all that life throws at us.

www.sidebysideministry.org

 

5:17

May is a month of celebrating for us….especially for me (Lisa).  The month of May includes our wedding anniversary, my birthday, and Mother’s Day.  Big win for me! 😉

Our wedding anniversary is May 17th and this year we will be celebrating 16 years of marriage.  Each year, we find a new way to celebrate.  Some years are bigger than others. (10 years was a trip to Italy…oh, if only all the anniversary celebrations could be that!)

Whether a simple dinner together, a thoughtful gift, or a getaway, we make a point of doing something out of the ordinary to celebrate the extraordinary.

We make a point of doing something out of the ordinary to celebrate the extraordinary.

It is EXTRAORDINARY that we are married for 16 years!  We don’t take that for granted.  Half of marriages end in divorce.  And many end in the first seven years.  We are beating the odds.  That is something to celebrate and thank God for!

Here’s the question, though….when should we celebrate that? Only when that wedding anniversary rolls around?  NO WAY!  We need to celebrate as much as possible.

When we celebrate our marriage, it is more likely we will actually stay married.  

When we look at our marriage as just another part of our existence, the union can quickly become stagnant.

When we view our marriage as anything other than extraordinary, that is exactly what it becomes…anything other than extraordinary.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be in an extraordinary marriage!  I want to rock this marriage thing!  I want to look at my husband every day and say, YES!!! I AM SO BLESSED!!!  And I want him to wonder to himself, HOW DID I EVER GET SO LUCKY TO MARRY HER!

Part of making that dream a reality is simply choosing to celebrate!  Here’s one way we celebrate our marriage.  It’s super simple but highly effective.

Our anniversary date is 5/17.  So, when it’s 5:17AM/PM, and we notice it, we acknowledge it to the other in some way.  If I am sitting at my computer writing and I see that it is 5:17pm on my screen, I stop what I am doing and send my husband a text, “5:17.”

That’s it, you say?  Yep, that’s it.  That is one very simple way that we celebrate our marriage.  We each know that our spouse has stopped everything in the middle of their day to acknowledge our extraordinary marriage.  No money spent, no trip taken, not even actual words.

If we are together when it’s 5:17, one of us will say “5:17” and usually we will give a quick kiss and move on with what we were doing.  Sometimes, it will produce a conversation or further encouragement.  Either way, it is a beautifully simple way to celebrate US.

How are you celebrating your extraordinary marriage?  How can you add celebrations throughout your week?

We would love it if you would share with us your ideas on how we all can be celebrating our marriages daily!  

Follow us on Facebook or Instagram and join the conversation!